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Homo Mimeticus: Theory and Criticism

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - HOM (Homo Mimeticus: Theory and Criticism)

Reporting period: 2019-03-01 to 2020-08-31

The Homo Mimeticus (HOM) project reframes one of the most ancient and influential concepts of Western aesthetics (mimesis) in light of the contemporary confirmation that humans are, for better and worse, imitative creatures. While dominant translations of mimesis in the humanities still tend to confine mimesis to the problematic of aesthetic representation (realism), the HOM project relies on fields as diverse as literary theory, continental philosophy, political theory and the neurosciences to face the broader challenge of mimetic behavior (mimetism) in view of addressing societal challenges we are facing today. These include, for instance, accounting for the theatrical dimension of subject formation via literary classics like Oscar Wilde who anticipated the performative turn in critical theory; establishing an innovative connection between mimesis and non-representational arts such as music via the case of Baroque opera; accounting for the role new digital technologies play in currently transforming human subjectivity by treating recent science-fiction films as non-realistic mirrors to reflect critically on emerging digital practices; and diagnosing the way political leaders with an authoritarian bent, both in Europe and the US, rely on the theatrical register of mimetic contagion that trigger emotions such as fear and resentment, which once are amplified by new media, are instrumental to come to power via democratic means.

Such case studies make clear that understanding the powers of imitation (mimesis) in the digital age is crucial to come to grips with some of the major challenges of the twenty-first century such as the digital revolution and the rise far-right movements. In fact, if growing evidence from the neurosciences (mirror neurons, brain plasticity) shows that humans have an involuntary tendency to mimic dominant models, be they good or bad, real or fictional, then much more critical attention should be devoted in the humanities to understand not only how humans represent the world (mimetic realism) but also how the world is currently forming and transforming humans (mimetic behavior). The HOM project's main objective is to contribute to this paradigm shift on discourses of imitation by engaging in scholarly and public debates that address fields as diverse as literary theory, continental philosophy, musicology, film studies, and political theory in terms that are relevant for both academic and non-academic audiences. Planned outputs include academic talks, lectures and workshops, scholarly articles, monographs (both in English and in translation), journals' special issues, radio interviews, and video interviews, all of which are currently ongoing.
Outputs available in print up to this mid-term report include 4 book chapters (Palgrave 2018, Routledge 2019, Pellegrini 2020), 17 academic articles in peer-reviewed journal (MLN, Esprit Createur, Symploke, Contagion, Partial Answers, College Literature, Theory & Event, Political Research Quarterly, et al.), two journal special issues (Conradiana 2016, MLN 2017), two translations of monographs (Mimesis ed. 2018, 2020)—all available in OA. Other publications, including a monograph (MSUP 2019) and a number of peer-review articles and chapters (5) are forthcoming. A HOM Seminar was set in place in the autumn of 2017 to facilitate interdisciplinary collaborations between Arts and philosophy and is ongoing (https://hiw.kuleuven.be/hua/events/hom-seminar). As part of the dissemination strategy, HOM set up a website (http://www.homomimeticus.eu/) opened Twitter and Facebook accounts, engaged in a number of interviews with newspapers (10) and radio (5) and started a series of video-interview titled HOM Videos (http://www.homomimeticus.eu/hom-videos/) which engages major international figures in critical theory, philosophy, political theory, social sciences among other fields. Three episodes are complete and available on-line (YouTube); others are forthcoming. Total number of publications so far: 28.
I am happy to report that the HOM team, which includes the PI, a PhD student, a postdoc, and an affiliated member (non-ERC funded), has made progress beyond the expected results despite a transfer of HI at the end of year 1, which delayed the assemblage of the full team to September 2018. Among the publications mentioned above, I highlight the publication of a special issue of a prestigious international journal (MLN) in 2017, the translation of a monograph that testifies to the transnational interest in mimesis (Mimesis ed. 2018), the publication of a monograph titled (New) Fascism on a topic that is attracting attention both in Europe and the US (MSU P 2019), two forthcoming book publications (OUP, MSU P) and the release of HOM Videos on the HOM project YouTube channel, which is currently contributing to the dissemination to a wider audience.

Expected results will include more articles than originally foreseen for the theoretical part of the project (SP C) as well as a monograph on violence and the unconscious (in preparation), the unplanned publication of a co-edited special issue for the literary part of the project (SP A), the organization of a mid-term workshop and respective publication of the proceedings (SP C), the organization of lectures and seminars as part of HOM Seminar and the organization of a major final international conference at the end of the grant. While it is possible that some of the intended publications for SP A and B will be delayed with respect to the initial timetable, the publications in SP C, and the collaboration with major international figures it entails, will not only amply compensate for it but will increase the international visibility and impact of the HOM project.