Call: Symposium: “The digital subject: In-scription, Ex-scription, Tele-scription”

Call for papers

International symposium: “The digital subject:  In-scription, Ex-scription, Tele-scription”

University of Paris 8 Vincennes Saint-Denis, Archives nationales, November 18-21, 2013

Pierre Cassou-Noguès (Department of philosophy, LLCP, SPHERE, EA 4008)
Claire Larsonneur (Department of anglophone studies, Le Texte Étranger, EA1569)
Arnaud Regnauld (Department of anglophone studies, CRLC – Research Center on Literature and Cognition, EA1569)

This symposium is part of a long-term project, “The digital subject,” endorsed by the LABEX Arts-H2H ( and follows a first symposium on Hypermnesia held in 2012.  We are exploring the ways in which digital tools, be they real or fictional, from Babbage to Internet, have altered our conception of the subject and its representations, affecting both its status and its attributes. We welcome contributions from the following fields: philosophy, literature, arts, archivistics, neurosciences, and the history of science and technology.

The working languages will be French and English. Contributions may be submitted in either language and should not exceed 3000 characters. Please enclose a brief bio-bibliographical note.

Please submit your abstracts via EasyChair:

Do not forget to upload your document in PDF format.

For further information, you may write to

Deadline for submissions: September 15, 2013.

Contributors will be informed of the scientific committee’s decision by October 1, 2013.

Opening keynote by Mark Amerika: Nov. 18th, 8-10:30 PM at Conservatoire National Supérieur d’Art Dramatique

Keynote Speakers:
Jean-Luc Nancy, Bertrand Gervais (UQAM, Montréal),
Wendy Chun (Brown University), Laurent Cohen (Salpêtrière INSERM).

How is writing revisited by digital media? In what ways does the digital turn affect the three dimensions embedded in writing: the production of an artefact, the crafting of meaning and the advent of the subject? We aim at investigating this new field of research from a variety of points of view such as philosophy, arts, neurosciences and archiving and welcome contributions from researchers in all those fields.

With digital technologies writing shifts from paper to a screen or a network of screens. But this is no move into a virtual world: writing is still a gesture, the body is still at writing, still acting under a set of constraints, just different ones. And that shift goes much further than a rewriting of rules. It entails transcribing, usually through digital duplicates or reencoding. It paves the way for what we might call tele-scription, writing at a remove via a technical device, exposing the fallacy of immediacy and introducing another strata of mediation in the process of writing.

“Exscription passes through writing — and certainly not through the ecstasies of flesh or meaning. And so we have to write from a body that we neither have nor are, but where being is exscribed. If I write, this strange hand has already slipped into my writing hand.” (Jean-Luc Nancy, Corpus, Richard A. Rand trans., New York, NY: Fordham UP, 2008, p.19). Writing ex-scribes. Works from another edge. Of course writing is about describing things or states of affairs but it also points to another dimension, that of exscription. Can digital tele-scription be viewed as a form of exscription, spacing out the subject as posited by Nancy or Derrida? Or is digital tele-scription to be understood in the light of the changes it introduces in our relationship to time, and from there on, explored as an entirely novel phenomenon? Will it bring about a radical upheaval of the relations between such notions as writing, technology, the body, the subject?

Digital writing is a brand new world we are barely beginning to explore. See for instance all the second-thoughts of writing, the words crossed out, erased and overwritten, all the editing process which we now keep track of: our traces and drafts are no longer set in their ways but potentially continuously evolving. Will such an instability affect how the subject relates to the traces she leaves, the meanings she construes, her own definition of self? Digital media also revisits our distinction between the original and the copy: once digitized, the trace we inscribe may be reproduced ad libitum, much like a manuscript fans out through the production of fac-similes. That trace may also be augmented through tagging, commentaries and linking. Inscription is no longer the one-off act of a single author but a process entailing various forms of reencoding, transposing, adding, categorising, a whole array of human and technological interventions. Or take this emblematic sign of personal identity, the signature, and see how it is now interfaced and multiform. What used to be the most intimate, chosen mark of our self is now devolved to sets of electronic sequences, usually encoded, sometimes automatically generated, at times delegated, occasionally even produced without our prior knowledge. This is no trifling matter: will the subject, through these new technologies of self-inscription, turn into an avatar? What new interplay between the individual and the institutions (libraries, archives, universities) arises through this collective writing process? One may also consider the legal consequences for the atomised self, who finds herself encoded into binary data within the cloud, and whose history is archived and exposed publicly to an extent she may not control. How is tele-scription played out in fiction, in arts or in our daily activities (such as email)? Where does it come from? How and why was it established? What are its uses? And crucially, what does it change —if indeed it changes anything— in the relation of the subject and her body to writing? Could tele-scription renew our understanding of what constitutes a subject?

In-scription then. Or re-inscription. While writing shifts to the screen, another major contemporary trend, fuelled by the advances of neuroscience and medical imagery, re-ascribes the advent of meaning to the body, more specifically to the brain which is to be made legible. Reading the mind by reading the brain, drawing from what we can now access in terms of neuronal activity, this is largely today’s scientific agenda. A number of recent experiments in neuroscience focus on imagination and on how humans craft fiction. Some may try to catch what we do as we dream, or as we let our thoughts roam free; some intend to detect lie; some strive to build a “brain reading machine” which would ideally display on screen all that goes on inside our minds. It all rests upon the assumption that who the person really is, her intentions, the images she likes, her biases, even that part of her she may not be aware of, are inscribed in her brain, set into patterns we do not have direct access to but that a machine may read and decipher. What is happening in the field of neuroscience and how is it echoed in fiction? For fiction — literature, the cinema, philosophical thought experiments, all these traditions that largely pre-date neuroscience — provide us with the tools to explore the workings of the mind through the body of the subject. How can we make sense of this re-inscription, being contemporary to digital tele-scription?

Tags:  subject, self, brain, mind, digital technologies, writing, signature, annotation, imagery.


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