Future Research Groups

2023-2026: Passivities: Modes of Feeling, Modes of Knowing

The opposition of passion and action pervades Western epistemological self-understanding. It is arranged in metaphors that contrast the mind as a mirror, passively reflecting external reality, to the mind as a searching lamp, projecting its own light on its surroundings. It is embedded in the philosophical polemic between a materialist notion of human existence, as a passive reaction to external stimuli, and the idealist celebration of the human creative capabilities in fashioning their own environment. The dichotomy thus constitutes the dynamic interface between human mental processes and the external world providing the foundational framework for any cognitive act. Critically assessing this interface and the subtle moments of passivities it involves, our interdisciplinary project suggests tackling it from two angles, one historical, focusing on early modern Europe as a transitional phase; and the other, critical and philosophical, examining the notion of passivity from a phenomenological point of view.

Our collaborative project takes its cue from Edmund Husserl's intuition that a passive order of experience undergirds all phenomenological processes. This moment represents an epochal shift in the history of ideas, an Archimedean point where passivity ceases to be perceived as a lack of initiative or a failure of the individual will. The aim of our research is to trace the genealogy of this founding moment, to chronicle the way it problematised the traditional hierarchical distribution of the active/passive binary opposition, and to explore its implications in the fields of science, art and aesthetics for the formation of modernity.
Challenging long-standing assumptions about models of moral agency and epistemological mastery, our research will invite a re-examination of passivity not only in the realms of aesthetics and affect theory but also in the political sphere. The project will approach the concept of passivity in a comparative and multidisciplinary way, combining a history of emotions with a material history of science, and putting these in dialogue with the discourses of art and literature, thus suggesting a novel point of departure for a synthetic examination of the historiography of culture.

Research Team:

  • Prof. Ruben Borg, English Department
  • Prof. Raz Chen-Morris, Department of History 
  • Dr. Lola Kantor-Kazovsky, Department of Art History
  • Dr. Gur Zak, Department of General and Comparative Literature

"Passivities: Modes of Feeling, Modes of Knowing" Full Research Proposal

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