“Gernot Böhme was extremely tolerant,” says his former student Dieter Mersch, who now teaches aesthetics and theory at the Kunsthochschule Zürich.

“I came from a more semiotic, post-structural, deconstructive direction, which he didn’t like at all. But his attitude was: I’m interested, I’m interested in what somebody else thinks – like a moment of resistance that might also make him think about it again.”

Co-initiator of the “Darmstadt Declaration”

Böhme, who taught philosophy at TU Darmstadt from 1977 to 2001, was a controversial and politically engaged scientist. As soon as he arrived in Darmstadt, he was one of the co-initiators of the “Darmstadt Declaration”, which was to go down in history as the so-called refusal formula. Science explicitly rejects research on armaments.

Mersch points out that Böhme’s thought was characterized by a critique of the primacy of technology, not technology itself.

One of the key concepts in his thinking was ‘corporeity’, which he saw in contrast to ‘physicality’. That is to say “we have a body that we can transform into an object. Medicine examines physical conditions. But the body is something that we are. And it is the nature that we are ourselves. In this regard, it is something like self-awareness that is separate from the external experience of the body.

The experience of oneself in a time of technical preparation

According to Mersch, this self-awareness must be reacquired at a time when the body is also technically modified.

“This band-aid causes us to either deny our own bodily experience or escape from that own bodily experience.”

According to Mersch, the Institute for the Practice of Böhme’s Philosophy, which he directed in 2005, devoted itself to practical exercises to advance this type of self-awareness.

Gernot Böhm in conversation (2018)

In our 2018 philosophy program “Being and Dispute” we discussed with Gernot Böhme what being human has to do with bodily self-awareness and why we need to stand up for a common reality.

Another central aspect of Böhme’s thought was the concept of atmosphere. It means the experience “that we are in the world and not confronted with the things that make objects into objects”, says Mersch. “But that objects protrude into us or protrude from us. Things also have a kind of active role that forces us to turn towards them.

This term should then make jurisprudence as a theory of perception which says goodbye to the simple interpretation of art, that is to say less intellectualization, more sensuality.

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