Festsaal im Goethehaus, Weimar

Latency and the Possible – Latencies of the Possible Tagung von Vittoria Borsò, Lorenz Engell und Christiane Voss am IKKM Weimar

Since the problem of future contingents discussed by Aristotle (De Interpretatione) in the famous example of Alexander and the sea-battle, the dominant narratives of Western philosophy have seen in the possible different kinds of modalities of what is ontologically necessary. Nevertheless, Aristotle’s solution of the principle of bivalence gives rise to other interpretations which release the possible from the restriction to necessity and to a kind of “certainty”. His reasoning that the sentence “the sea battle will take place tomorrow” is neither true nor false fosters the idea of contingency as an agent of future openness and the image of time resembling an infinitely ramifying tree. The introduction of contingency and indetermination prefigures the possible as a potentiality of the real, raising the question of its particular efficacy and temporality. In fact, different narratives that go beyond logical and modal solutions unfold from the problem of future contingents and touch upon the efficacy of the possible as a force: the relation between the possible and the actualization of power (potentia) as two versions of δύναμις by Dun Scotus, Giordano Bruno’s definition of nature as the mediation of the infinite potentiality of matter, his impact on Baruch Spinoza, Leibniz’s response to the paradox and his distinction between individual and universal necessity (Discourse on Metaphysics) are only a few examples. This genealogy and the rewriting of these positions in modernity and in contemporary philosophy (Bergson, Deleuze, Agamben, Esposito, the post-foundational Heideggerianism, Meillassoux and New Materialisms) may give a proof of a latent history where the possible means not only a force, but a force that is immanent to the real instead of being opposed to it. The conference aims to explore this ontological status of the possible by focusing on the relationship between the possible and latency. The question arises whether latency and the possible are not only related to each other, but also whether latency accounts for the ontology of the possible. Does, for instance, the possible inhabit the real as a latent force? Does the latency constitute the materialization of the possible, understood as a potentiality of the real emerging within the deferring operations of temporality? How can we describe their interaction productively without reintroducing a pre-established, determined level? Both latency and the possible foster the contingency, which destabilizes the epistemological order of the present and the past, eventually questioning its cognoscibility. Both are related to temporality, shifting the focus from givenness to gradual operativity. The possible unfolds from the temporalizing power of time that enables “the multiplicity of Dasein's modes of Being” (Heidegger). Latency addresses the spatial-temporal dynamics of quiescence and suspends chronological continuities. As an agential materialization of physical and technological processes (i.e. “virus”), as well as of cultural productions (i.e. music, memory), it operates with time intervals and intervenes eventfully. The conference will address the ontological status of the possible by displacing the inquiry of the possible from the status of an object of knowledge and of a modal allocation of the real to one of “latent force”, intended as a material, autonomous agency of reality. Based on this, the question how latencies could become an agency may also allow other rhythms within the “modes” of existence (Simondon, Latour) of the possible and the real in the “spread presence”(Gumbrecht) within the contemporary culture as well in the history of Western culture to emerge. In order to examine latencies of the possible, the conference is organized into three intertwined interdisciplinary panels systematically focusing on the ontological, historical and aesthetic aspects of the problem:


Considering the possible as immanent to the history of culture, the conference does not concern itself with the existence of the possible, but with the configurations of concepts where the forces of its latency emerge. The topological relations between different concepts and spatial models may be addressed, i.e. the hierarchy between the possible and the real, between transcendence and immanence. Ontological questions are related to (historically variable) concepts such as “substance”, “contingency”, “potentiality”, “virtuality”, “fictionality” and their relation to “latency” and “actualization”. The discussion may address Baruch Spinoza’s substantia, its relationship to “contingency” and subjectivity and its rewriting through Whitehead and Deleuze, Leibniz’s “contingency” of several impossible worlds simultaneously existing and “the fold” by Deleuze, or configurations upraised from the Aristotelian concepts of potentia (“potential absoluta” and “potential ordinata”) in Dun Scotus, Giordano Bruno, Giambattista Vico that are at stake in contemporary Italian philosophy (Agamben, Esposito, Marramao). As far as the ontological status of latency is concerned, the question arises whether the way of its existence is the Heideggerian play of concealment and disclosure, emergence and disappearance. How is the interplay of presence and absence, closeness and distance, evidence and concealment related to latency?


The relationship between latency and the possible can be seen from the viewpoint of genealogical epistemology. This means both the historical variability of their configuration and the impact of both terms for the philosophy of history. The question about latency of the possible may focus on emergent “forces” at historical crisis and within the heterogeneous provenance (Herkunft) of historical processes (Nietzsche, Jacob Burckhardt, Foucault). The following questions can be addressed: Can latency be considered as a metonymic presence of the possible (Eelco Runia)? Is the tension between the general and the particular (subjectivity and the collective) a mediator of (the) latencies? Are special chronotopoi or spatial-temporal configurations related to the latency of the possible? Do objects foster the presence of the absence, i.e. do things we cannot touch nonetheless touch us? (Ethan Kleinberg, Ranjan Ghosh, 2013)? How can this processuality of latency as agency be described?


Aesthetic mediations and transfigurations are presumably a privileged domain of the emergence and/or activity of the possible and of its latency. Concerning the role of art work, the possible does not require aesthetic revolutions as a condition to open the frontier to the possible. What should rather be taken into account is the fact that, being a sensible seismograph for what occurs at the margins of cultural patterns, artistic work may be able to represent what exceeds discourses and is latent in them; its mediation may hence translate the experience of latency. The Aristotelian question about the preference for the impossible probable against the improbable possible may be discussed with respect to the impossible and the unthinkable emerging in art and destabilizing the (discursive) order of the possible. Cultural technique related to the media agencies (“aesthetic objects”, etc.) as well as the role of subjectivity (embodied experience, affect, presence) as agency of the (im)possible may be debated.


Donnerstag, 11. Dezember

Welcome Remarks & Introduction

Vittoria Borsò, Lorenz Engell, Christiane Voss


Panel 1: History

(chair: Lorenz Engell)


Contingency of the Past: Possible Histories and the Relation of Times

Achim Landwehr (Düsseldorf, Germany)


Latency and Intensity: The Paradox of Zeno and why there Is No Continuity of Becoming

Astrid Deuber-Mankowsky (Bochum, Germany)


Coffee Break


The Latency of Plant Dynamics: Ontological Problem and Anthropological Chance

Nicole Karafyllis (Braunschweig, Germany)


Novel Impossibilities! Some Remarks on Narrative Environments

Roger Lüdeke (Düsseldorf, Germany)




Keynote Lecture

chair: Bernhard Siegert

“Everything Possible”/ “No Latency Left”. The Apocalyptic Light of Our Broad Present as a Universe of Contingency

Hans-Ulrich Gumbrecht (Stanford, USA)



Freitag, 12. Dezember

Panel 2: Ontology

(chair: Vittoria Borsò)


Haunting History: Possible Pasts and Past Possibles

Ethan Kleinberg (Middletown, USA)


Coffee Break


Objective Possibility and Latency: Materialize the Ontology

José Luis Villacanas (Madrid, Spain)


How Can Something Be Present and Yet Not Exist?

Frank Ruda (Berlin, Germany)


Lunch Break


Panel 3: Aesthetics

(chair: Christiane Voss)


Seeds. Latent Life and Material Perception

Emanuele Coccia (Paris, France/Düsseldorf, Germany)


Beyond the Surface of Things: Between the Visible and the Possible

Daniel Blanga-Gubbay (Düsseldorf, Germany)


Coffee Break


How the Absent Informs the Present. On Negative Perceptions, Counterfactual Possibilities and Latencies in **The Searchers**

Maria Sibylla Lotter (Bochum, Germany)


Closing Remarks

Vittoria Borsò, Lorenz Engell, Christiane Voss