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‘Nature’ quo vadis. Semiosis and Topology of a Misunderstanding

Doctoral Seminar, November 7-9, 2023, Ca’ Foscari University, Venice


‘Nature.’ Everyone talks about it, everyone invokes it, everyone seeks it, but no one knows what it is or where it is. Yet, few doubt its existence, which seems to be undeniable.

The widespread belief that ‘nature’ exists and is discoverable is what has allowed it to be listed among the first entries in the catalog of indisputable ‘facts’: akin to ‘simple substances’ included in Mendeleev’s periodic table of elements, the existence of the entity called ‘nature’ is considered a ‘fixed point,’ a certain and indisputable ‘given.’ From the time of Heraclitus to that of Heidegger, a rich and animated group of writers, readers, thinkers, and speakers have worked to ensure that there was ‘knowledge’ and ‘information’ about the entity called ‘nature.’

All of them, firmly convinced that the ’empty object’ was nevertheless present, even though it nestled in hidden crevices, strove to maintain the foundational role assigned to the ‘subject’ of the predicate of existence. In short, this is the problematic core of the theme that will be examined, explored, and discussed during this seminar initiative, held at the Department of Asian and Mediterranean African Studies at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice.

The project unfolds in two distinct phases: an extended series of reading sessions and two plenary meetings.

Taking advantage of the contributions of scholars from different perspectives, during the plenary meetings—the first one being from November 7 to 9—the ancient and global problem of representing ‘nature’ will be illustrated and discussed. The goal is to clarify the ways and logics through which the ‘object’ in question has been ‘textualized’ and confined within the boundaries imposed by the most common descriptive-representational ‘modes’ and ‘methods.’

These meetings are complemented by cycles of intensive reading sessions, focusing on a selection of excerpts—from ‘Buddhist’ works in Pali, Sanskrit, and Chinese—in which the theme of ‘nature’ serves as a pretext to ‘reverse’ the usual way in which we tend to look at the ‘nature’ of the things around us.

The goal of the two phases of this seminar initiative is to provoke a ‘shift in perspective’ in our way of thinking and talking about ‘nature,’ so as to delay all those postulates and discursive devices aimed at the reification, objectification, ad hypostatization of reality, restoring topical salience to the dynamics of concomitance that shape its becoming.

The project is organized by Prof. Federico Squarcini and the DREST doctoral candidate Maria Electra Pacini and is also organized thanks to the Italian Buddhist Union’s support to Dr. Pacini’ research.

Download the program here.

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