23 May 2019

Milieus of Minutiae

Contextualizing the Small in Science, Philosophy, and Literature
The eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were replete with large-scale projects and interests: the rise of the most colossal modern literary form, the novel; the craze for panorama; the pursuit of imperial ambitions by both European and American powers.At the same time, however, interest in minutiae proliferated on both sides of the Atlantic, as histories of the microscope and the micrological have revealed. The molecular and infinitesimal gained new importance in philosophy, mathematics, the natural sciences, medicine, and literature, as new technologies gradually rendered the ‘invisible world’ available to human observation. In tandem with this development, the notion of milieu became increasingly prevalent, as instantiated most prominently by the concept of the ecological niche in evolutionary biology. The question of how organisms interact with their milieus emerged as a new area of inquiry across a range of fields; the minuscule beings and objects that had hitherto attracted interest mainly because of their newly discovered individuality were now scrutinized with growing intensity in their environmental context.

This conference brings together scholarly work that addresses these two cultural-epistemological developments: first, the role of minutiae, as manifested in all kinds of diminutive units or categories (for instance: the animalcula, theinfinitesimal, the minor, the particular, the seemingly irrelevant, the typographic detail, the cellular, the clue); and, secondly, the interaction between these tiny phenomena and their surroundings. Milieus of Minutiae explores the ways in which what is subvisible or easily overlooked is situated in philosophy, cultural production, and scientific experimentation from early modernity through the twentieth century, with a view towardthe contemporary moment. Medieval thought granted discrete being to that which is otherwise considered negligible and only relational—a status later held by both the minor and the milieu—and this conference constellates approaches that restore ontological viability to both of these categories between premodern and contemporary thought. At the same time, it explores the historical dimensions of a micrology of knowledge and aesthetics, reflecting on the objectivity, supra-metonymy, and epistemological value of these units across a wide range of cultural, intellectual, environmental, social, and material milieus.

Natalia Cecire
Tita Chico
Anne Eusterschulte
Roger Maioli
Nikolai Preuschoff
Pauline Selbig
John H. Smith
Elisa Tamarkin
Cynthia Wall
et al

Keynotes by Hans-Jörg Rheinberger and Marianne SchullerElizabeth Brogden, Christiane Frey, and Ulla Haselstein, in cooperation with the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and the Freie Universität Berlin, generously supported by the Thyssen FoundationThe event, like all events at the ICI Berlin, is open to the public, free of charge. The audience is presumed to consent to a possible recording on the part of the ICI Berlin. If you would like to attend the event yet might require assistance, please contact Event Management.

10:00-10:30 Introduction
Elizabeth Brogden, Christiane Frey, Ulla Haselstein

10:30-12:45 Looking Closely
Chair: Ulla Haselstein

Tita Chico. Thinking Small: Or, a Literary History of Scrutiny

Elizabeth Brogden. Clew-less Fiction: Narrative Detail Beyond Realism

Elisa Tamarkin. Regarding Irrelevance

14:00-16:15 Diminutive Aesthetics
Chair: Mareike Schildmann

Pauline Selbig. Minor Milieus: Benjamin’s Mode of Writing

Nikolai Preuschoff. The Minute in Robert Walser’s Novel The Tanners

Marlon Miguel & Elena Vogman. Le Moindre Geste: Cinema and Milieu after Fernand Deligny

16:45-18:15 Trivia{l} Matter{s}
Chair: Christiane Frey

Cynthia Wall. ‘of a Parenthesis’

Roger Maioli. The Rise of the Novel and the Knowledge of Particulars

19:00 Keynote (In German)
Marianne Schuller. Nanoästhetik: Zur imaginativen Kraft des Kleinen10:30-12:15 Mere Milieus
Chair: Claudia Peppel

Amelia Groom. Partially Submerged Ruins

Malte Fabian Rauch. Counter Cartography: Agamben – Debord – On Kawara

13:45-16:00 Minimal Relation
Chair: Arnd Wedemeyer

John H. Smith. The Calculus of the Psycho-Physical Difference

Anne Eusterschulte. Interactions between Metaphysical, Physical and Literary Minutiae: From Giordano Bruno to James Joyce

Christiane Frey. Encapsulated Minima: Duns Scotus, Leibniz, Ruyer

16:30-18:00 Micro-Worlds Magnified
Chair: Elizabeth Brogden

Natalia Cecire. Shelled Life: Sexuality and Subjectivity at the Level of the Cell

Daniel Liu. Positivism vs. Molecular Imagination after the Abbe Diffraction Limit, 1874–1939

19:00 Keynote
Hans-Jörg Rheinberger. Experimental Environments: ‘Micrologies of Knowledge’


ICI Berlin
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Natalia Cecire
Tita Chico
Anne Eusterschulte
Roger Maioli
Nikolai Preuschoff
Pauline Selbig
John H. Smith
Elisa Tamarkin
Cynthia Wall
Hans-Jörg Rheinberger
Marianne Schuller

Organized by

Elizabeth Brogden
Christiane Frey
Ulla Haselstein
In cooperation with the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and the Freie Universität Berlin, generously supported by the Thyssen Foundation

In English

First published on:
Rights: © ICI Berlin
Cite as: Milieus of Minutiae: Contextualizing the Small in Science, Philosophy, and Literature, conference, ICI Berlin, 23 May 2019 <>