French literature and philosophy, Independent
Fellowship : October 2021 to June 2022
Discipline(s) : Literature, Philosophy
Pays : Switzerland
Whether it is a question of individual performance or collective efforts, social services or economic returns, governance today is often reduced to a question of optimisation. However, the concept did not originate with the financial capitalism of the last 20th century. To shed light on its meaning, we need to go back to the time of the Enlightenment, which, in this area as in many others, helped to shape our frameworks of thought. Borrowed from Latin, the term optimum appears in Leibniz’s Essays on Theodicy (1713) to describe the most favourable state of a thing according to given conditions and objectives.
Under the names of ’philosophical optimism’, ’market balance’ or ’social equilibrium of passions’, it still permeates many fields of knowledge. However, the optimum was not in itself the subject of debate, nor did it give rise to a positive science; rather, it constitutes a diffuse set of thoughts actualised in various forms and discursive regimes, whose expressions are scattered across multiple disciplinary fields. The study of what the project generically calls "thoughts of the optimum" is therefore transversal in principle and interdisciplinary in nature.
Slaven Waelti is a researcher in French literature and philosophy. Originally from French-speaking Switzerland, he studied at the University of Basel, where he defended his doctoral thesis in 2012 on the question of communication and the literary incommunicable in Klossowski (publication: Droz 2015). This work led him to take an interest in German media theory, and he contributed in particular to the translation and French reception of Friedrich Kittler’s thought. Extending his thinking from the media of communication to the economy of exchange in general, he turned for his post-doctoral research to the literary and media knowledge of the economy in Enlightenment France. In addition to his teaching and research duties at the University of Basel (2013/2021), he has been supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation on several occasions and has carried out research stays at the ENS Paris Ulm (2007/2008), at the Humboldt University in Berlin (2008/2009) and at Harvard University (2016/2017).