BAHAR Seminar Series on Adam Curtis Films

BAHAR is holding a series of three seminars this autumn to discuss some of the themes raised by Adam Curtis in his provocative series All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace broadcast earlier this year on BBC2 (see the Wikipedia page on the film series and also this interview with Adam Curtis).

Unlike traditional seminars, each session will begin with a short presentation (10-15 minutes) designed to initiate an extended, free-wheeling discussion amongst participants who will, we hope, have watched Curtis’s programmes in advance.

Wednesday 26 October 2011 Film 1: Love and Power. (Presentation: Dr Ian Kenway, Director of CISCHR and Honorary Research Fellow in Ethics and ICT at Cardiff University) (Humanities 3.48, 5.10 to 6.45 p.m.)

Wednesday 16 November 2011 Film 2: The Use and Abuse of Vegetational Concepts. (Presentation: Dr Chris Groves, CESAGEN, Cardiff University) (Humanities 3.48, 5.10 to 6.45 p.m.)

Wednesday 30 November 2011 (*Please note change of date from earlier announcement*) Film 3: The Monkey In The Machine and the Machine in the Monkey. (Presentation: Prof. Geoffrey Samuel, Director of BAHAR, Cardiff University.) *** PLEASE NOTE: Because of the National day of Action on 30 November this event will be held off-campus at Geoffrey Samuel’s house in Pontcanna. Please contact Geoffrey if you are interested in attending.***


Adam Curtis’s previous work has included The Century of the Self in 2002, which set out to show how “those in power have used Freud’s theories to try and control the dangerous crowd in an age of mass democracy” and The Power of Nightmares: The Rise of the Politics of Fear in 2004 which argued that neoconservatives “invented a phantom threat of Islamist terrorism as a means to maintain their power”.

In All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace, Curtis makes the bold and extended claim that computers have failed to liberate us and instead have “distorted and simplified our view of the world around us”. In Episode One, entitled ‘Love and Power’, he tracks the effects of Ayn Rand’s ideas on American financial markets, concluding that they were not only unable to bring about “financial stability” but indeed “trapped them into a rigid system of control from which they were unable to escape”. In Episode Two, entitled ‘The Use and Abuse of Vegetational Concepts’, he “investigates how machine ideas such as cybernetics and systems theory were applied to natural ecosystems, and how this relates to the false idea that there is a balance of nature.” Finally, in Episode Three, entitled ‘The Monkey In The Machine and the Machine in the Monkey’, he examines the selfish gene theory and wonders whether a “fatalistic philosophy based on humans as helpless computers” allows us “to explain and excuse the fact that we are unable to improve and change the world”.

Curtis’s vertiginous cinematographic skills deliberately blur the distinction between argument and art in laying bear the fundamental connections between cybernetics, genetics, ecology, politics and personal responsibility. As our understanding of the interplay between body, health and religion necessarily involves considering the achievements and aspirations, as well as the failures and fears, that link homo faber, homo sapiens and homo adorans, Curtis’s programme offers members of BAHAR with an interesting opportunity for lively debate about the relationship between technology, environment and spiritual values.

Since there will not be time to screen the programmes in their entirety during the seminar itself, participants are invited to prepare for discussion by watching each episode in advance. Please contact Dr Ian Kenway if you need assistance in accessing copies of the videos.


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