Prometheanism 2.0 – Introduction by Bassam El Baroni

Prometheanism is an ‘-ism’ derived from its namesake the Titan Prometheus who stole fire from the Gods of Greek mythology and taught humans how to make their own tools. Prometheus’s name means ‘forethought’, his Titan brother was Epimetheus meaning ‘afterthought’, Prometheus’s course was driven by his brother’s erratic actions when they were both given the mission to develop creatures to inhabit earth. Already – through this ancient mythological component inscribed in the term Prometheanism – we can ascribe a basic lattice of connected ideas that forms a research area for subsequent Prometheanisms thereon. This lattice is composed of: thinking for the future and planning (evident in Prometheus’s name, forethought), a need for rationalism or sound reasoning since thinking for the future, and planning cannot be guided by mere hunches, the contestation of power based on the breakdown of boundaries between what is perceived to be given by nature (the Gods didn’t grant Prometheus permission for fire, he stole it from them) and what is human-made (with the stolen fire he went on to teach humans to unearth iron and craft tools for their survival and wellbeing), putting thought and action in the service of a totality of humans, and finally living with the consequences of such articulations-in-action bent on the progression of humans (for Prometheus this meant harsh punishment by the Gods, ironically through the metaphors of infinite growth and eternal repetition, his regrowing liver devoured by an ever-encircling eagle).

If we graft these components onto more recent portrayals of the promethean, we find them obstructed by questionable notions of morality[2], smuggled into fear-mongering scenarios that deter from more urgent concerns, or damaged by the actual misuse of rationalism. The latter emerged at the point when rationality and reason were thought to be encrypted in objective reality and not socially constructed processes[3]. As for the fear-mongering scenarios, the romanticism of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818) is a kind of blueprint for a cinema-script imaginary endlessly populating screens today, associated with the limits of the human and the idea that there are givens that we should not tamper with because they are greater than human. The film industry is obsessed with and hammers into our heads the idea that there is something vitally given in nature, an élan vital that if we dare challenge, nature will take its revenge (Prometheus’s punishment), this is opposition to artificiality by an industry that is now almost fully based on artificial man-made technology.

Opposing this, philosopher Ray Brassier calls the embrace of artificiality ‘the promethean trespass’, humans making the given. This is regarded as a sin by many because it consists in “destroying the equilibrium between the made and the given between what human beings generate through their own resources, both cognitive and practical, and the way the world is, whether characterised cosmologically, biologically, or historically.”[4] Prometheanism 2.0, a temporary label for the work of a wide group of thinkers and actors, can be said to be primarily concerned with the development of concepts, methods, and aesthetics for making the given, i.e. the construction of reality through the transformation of the equilibrium between the made and the given. However, its gist has to do with the much broader issue of discerning and contesting the concepts, limits, and powers that stand against “articulating action and knowledge in the perspective of totality”.[5] The event intends to unpack these various dimensions from their political and aesthetical angles offering a snapshot of what a contemporary prometheanism questions, articulates, and is concerned with.

[1] Ray Brassier, 2014, Prometheanism and its Critics. In #Accelerate: The Accelerationist Reader Mackay, Robin and Avanessian, Armen (eds.). Falmouth: Urbanomic, 469-487

[2] Alberto Toscano writes “Prometheanism is precisely the refusal of the articulation between divine (or political) authority and human mortality. […] To the extent that domination is still based on the exploitation of our mortality – and especially of the cares and fears that so often prevent political mobilisation – the figure of Prometheus is […] the bearer of the open question of how we, creatures that draw their breath in gasps, can manage not be subject to the violent prerogatives of sovereignty.” The Plea for Prometheus, 2009

[3] This is the misunderstanding and misrepresentation of science as reason-giving rather than cause-revealing.

[4] Ray Brassier, 2014, Prometheanism and its Critics. In #Accelerate: The Accelerationist Reader Mackay, Robin and Avanessian, Armen (eds.). Falmouth: Urbanomic, 469-487

[5] Alberto Toscano, The Prejudice Against Prometheus



via Dutch Art Institute

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