William Stewart is a PhD candidate in the Princeton University Department of German and Princeton's Interdisciplinary Doctoral Program in the Humanities.
With an undergraduate background in Western great books, he came to Princeton in 2015 after working for a number of years in the Berlin studio of Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson.
His dissertation traces a cultural and intellectual history within German-speaking contexts in the decades after the Second World War, one marked by a left-political commitment to rationalism and technology. While it considers the reception of early cybernetics and information theory in the German-speaking avant-garde during this period, it also analyzes longer trajectories reaching back to 19th-century mathematical developments like set and number theories, and even stretches to Enlightenment projects like Diderot and d’Alembert’s Encylopédie or Leibniz’s mathesis universalis. This cultural history is composed of case studies that exhibit both direct engagement with this material—such as Max Bense and Oswald Wiener—as well as more mediated instances—such as the Hochschule für Gestaltung Ulm, Hanne Darboven, and Uwe Johnson.
For the 2018-2019 academic year, he is a Fulbright scholar in Germany, affiliated with the IKKM.
Fields of Research
Cultural History, Media Philosophy, Cybernetics, Encyclopedics, 19th-century Mathematics, Neoliberalism, Bureaucracy, Literature and Art of the Neo-Avant-Garde
IKKM Research Project
Fall 2018: Recursion and Iteration in the Aesthetic Theory of Max Bense and the Product Design at the Hochschule für Gestaltung Ulm
This project analyzed the centrality of repetition and iteration as well as the immanent recursion in aesthetic theories put forward by Max Bense during the 1950s. Given Bense’s roll in the development of the Abteilung Information at the Hochschule für Gestaltung Ulm, these theories served to establish affinities between his interest in theoretical recursion and the modular, interlocking building and product design at the HfG, making apparent the deeper historical and conceptual significance of an often overlooked Ulmer design logic.
During the summer semester 2019, I am continuing work on my dissertation, in which I am currently researching Max Bense’s interest in the encylopédistes of the 18th century as a paradigm for a pluralist, democratic, and techno-positive form of knowledge production.