July 8-9 Two-Day Ellul Conference: “The Arts, Culture and the Environment in a Technological Society: Revisiting Jacques Ellul”
Best known as the author of The Technological Society (1954, English trans. 1964), Jacques Ellul (1912-94) wrote over sixty books and hundreds of articles, among them a sustained reflection on the arts, The Empire of Non-Sense: Art in the Technological Society (1980, English trans. 2014). This conference is an opportunity to consider the role of the arts in a technological society, paying particular attention to environmental issues in relation to artistic practices and industries.
Ellul’s perspective on the arts has rarely been considered. In The Empire of Non-Sense, Ellul analyses a range of artistic movements, including Pop Art, Art Brut, abstract expressionism, and Happenings, taking up critiques offered by Bernard Charbonneau, Theodor Adorno, Pierre Daix, Guy Debord, Marshall McLuhan and Abraham Moles, among others. Ellul claims that the most dramatic transformation has been modern artworks’ inability to symbolize beyond themselves, or beyond the values of Technique. In a technological society, writes Ellul, symbols become clichés or mere images, signaling a loss of place and meaning; they become technical phenomena or materialized theory. Ultimately, Ellul worries that the arts are incapable of confronting the hegemony of Technique; that, for the most part, they tend to reproduce dominant ideologies rather than create spaces for opposition.
Ellul was introduced to environmental issues by his friend Bernard Charbonneau, and together they advanced ideas that continue to inform discourses in modern environmental and décroissance movements. For most of his life, Ellul remained in his native Bordeaux, where he took part in organized actions against environmental destruction under the guise of development in the Aquitaine region. After serving on Bordeaux’s municipal council immediately following the war, and seeing firsthand the limitations of State politics (which, to Ellul, are incapable of escaping the logic of Technique), Ellul’s commitment to direct political action through small, autonomous groups deepened.
Montreal regular registration: USD $115 / CAD $140
Montreal regular with banquet: USD $165 / CAD $200
Montreal student / financial hardship: USD $50 / CAD $60
Montreal student with banquet / financial hardship: USD $85 / CAD $100
We invite papers and presentations from scholars, artists, activists, curators, and critics, that consider the intersection of the arts and environmental issues through an engagement with Ellul’s work, as well as that of his colleague, Bernard Charbonneau. In crafting abstracts, potential participants are encouraged to consider the following questions: What is the role of the arts in a technological society? What strategies do artistic practices offer in refusing the dominant order and logic of Technique? What aspects of the arts and culture industries are sustainable or unsustainable if we are to take seriously measures to prevent climate change and environmental degradation?
Topics may include, but are not limited to, the following: