13 Nov 2009


Mapping 20th Century Subversions in Materialism
If one of the pinnacles of 19th century idealism consisted in the establishment of the subject-object couplet and its dialectic, the materialist ‘turn’ of the late 19th and the 20th centuries questioned this relationship by subtracting the primacy of the subject or reason as origin and goal. From Marx’s attempt to put Hegelian dialectics on ‘its feet’ in human practical activity, through Nietzsche’s anti-metaphysics, and to Freud’s transformation of the subject into an object (of the psychoanalytic science), the materialist advance consisted in the subversion of the subject and a tentative move towards the primacy of the object.

In this year’s seminar, we would like to trace the moments of subversion in these gestures of subversion: moments in which the very attempt to subtract one term and establish the primacy of the other ends up producing the real excess of the subtracted element. In other words, if 20th century materialism thus starts with the establishment of the primacy of the object, it soon encounters the problem of the subject as an immanent excess of objectivity. Instead of constituting the exclusive reign of one term over the other, materialist philosophy revolves around a constant subversion and displacement of object and subject: their irreducible tension.

In order to map these turns and tensions, this year’s seminar meetings will pass from different formulations of the primacy of the object in philosophy (in Marxism, psychoanalysis and epistemology), through attempts at revisiting the dialectic of subjectivity and objectivity (via the notions of repetiton, alienation, contradiction and subtraction), and finally to debates which multiply and make more complex the meanings of “subject” and “object”; (haecceitas, Ding/Sache, subject of/subject to).First seminar: Marx’s gegenständliche Tätigkeit

We will start with Marx’s 1845 “Theses on Feuerbach”, where the thesis of the primacy of the object appears as an attempt to found a materialism of practice. The paradox that we will explore is how Marx — who both rejects the temptation to make matter a substance and criticizes Feuerbach’s idea of the passivity of the object given to intuition — ends up siding with idealism by identifying objectivity with activity, that is, with the human practice of the (revolutionary) constitution of the world.


ICI Berlin
(Click for further documentation)

Organized by

Bruno Besana
Ozren Pupovac

In English

First published on:
Rights: © ICI Berlin
Cite as: Object-Subject: Mapping 20th Century Subversions in Materialism, workshop, ICI Berlin, 13 November 2009 <>