Praxis Seminar: Research Colloquium in Practical Philosophy 2020/21, Session 10

Emma Ingala

Complutense University of Madrid

Beyond the False Dichotomy between the Symbolic and the Material

16 March 2021, 18h00 (Lisbon Time — GMT+0)

Online seminar (Zoom link here)



In the past two decades, philosophy and the humanities in general have witnessed the rise of a number of approaches that call for a return to matter, bodies, facts, or objects, arguing that these have been dismissed or at least radically downplayed by modern and contemporary Western thought. New materialisms, object-oriented ontology, and speculative realism, amongst others, have accused philosophy of somatophobia, of disregarding matter and biology, and of privileging the subject and the human in our understanding of the world. According to this perspective, it is the burgeoning of poststructuralist theories in the second half of the past century and the beginning of the new millennium that has fostered and consolidated this neglect by reducing everything to a social or cultural construction. On this telling, the imaginary and symbolic dimensions of our lives –how our identities, our relations, and our world or reality are shaped and conditioned by the images and symbolic frameworks through which we apprehend them– have been foregrounded to the detriment of the biological, material, or objective dimensions that are actually fundamental. Although returning to these fundamental dimensions seems particularly timely in order to combat the popularity of post-truth and alternative facts –which, for example, deny the reality of climate change– as well as with the irruption of our bodies and biology in the public scene during the Covid pandemic, my contention is that this re-affirmation of the materiality of existence does not require that we belittle its symbolic and imaginary aspects; on the contrary, these dimensions must be understood to be intertwined and inseparable. Basing the analysis on a false dichotomy between the symbolic and the material risks overlooking the way(s) in which the material is itself always symbolically presented to us and the extent to which this presentation can be translated into inequalities, exclusions, and violence that do not respond to anything exclusively material. Correcting this requires, so I will argue, that we recognize and explore the potentiality inherent in the symbolic and the imaginary to maintain that it is only through this potentiality that facts, matter, bodies, and the truth can be reclaimed and reengaged with.