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Reversibility

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Organizer: Jan Mieszkowski

Co-Organizer: Julia Ng

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“What’s done is done.” From the Second Law of Thermodynamics to our most basic ideas about origins, events, and the very nature of life and death, few realms of human experience escape the long shadow of Lady Macbeth’s imposing dictum. At the same time, there are many domains in which the putative impossibility of reversing, repealing, or rescinding is challenged, be it in philosophical discussions of the past, present, and future, dramatic treatments of chance and fate, or theological debates about forgiveness and redemption.

In this seminar, we invite participants to explore the powers and limits of reversibility in all its guises—and to consider the ramifications of refracting common assumptions about thinking, judging, and acting through it. One focus could be logical or semantic reversibility, including figures of inversion or conversion. Reflecting on “re-versification” or “per-versification,” we might ask what it would mean for a text to be readable—or to demand to be read—forwards and backwards. If graphemes are innocent—as Pound and later Derrida held, projecting from the “nature” of Chinese script—are “we” who are bound to the rules of grammar and logic destined to pronounce ourselves guilty with every sentence we utter? Conversely, does any sincere use of language that is not a hoax strive towards an ideal notation that is concrete, voiceless, and ultimately reversible? How might the interchangeability of container and content complicate models of reading and understanding based on reflection, or permute nature’s operations as transferences of physical force?
 
When its origins are interrogated, reversibility allows its movement to be tracked in science, religion, politics, economy, law, and art. Papers might consider how invertible or reversible functions in mathematics or reversible reactions in biology, chemistry, and physics are co-implicated in neighboring domains. Do these dynamics alter our understandings of system, order, and consequence or map out untold adventures in the generation of forms? If time reversibility is a key feature of Newtonian mechanics, how does this change in post-Newtonian thought and what are the implications for literary and philosophical notions of identity, transience, or return? Phenomenology suggests that reversibility is embedded in the structures of knowability, hence reconstructions of touch (Merleau-Ponty) and causality (Nietzsche) that are predicated on anticipation and time-reversal. Cast in the light of reversibility, psychoanalytic concepts of repression, transference, or repetition yield unsettling intimacies with the desire to be restored to an original state. In political philosophy, reversibility can take us back to classical discussions of isonomia; in a legal context, we encounter the notions of “reversible error” and the “irreversible crime,” retribution and restitution.
 
We welcome proposals for papers dealing with any period, genre, or linguistic tradition.

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