Diagonal Science and the Species Homo from a Termite Perspective


Lecture and Seminar

The term anthropocene defines humans as the actors who have assumed the “administration of the earth,” and nature as their passive backdrop. Peter Sloterdijk’s analysis of the term, beyond the scope of the scientific discourse of geophysics, outlines the complexity of the question of establishing our responsibility or agency. In an apocalyptic perspective, associated with advanced capitalism and the development of technology, humans have to step back, or aside from their central position as a an actor against the backdrop of nature, and learn how to cooperate in a network  “in which the actors of today’s world generate their existence in the mode of co-immunity.” The sociologist and philosopher associated with the Surrealist movement, Roger Caillois proposes a line of thinking and analysis, which will have to bracket the anthropocentric point of view. Diagonal science does not explain “certain certain puzzling facts observed in terms of man,” but on the contrary, it explains man terms of behavioural forms found throughout species. Some insects engage in behaviours like mimicry, which exceed the simple law of survival and indicate that nature can pursue  excess, luxury and pleasure. In fact, the law of survival, in a certain sense, can be considered as a simple anthropomorphic projection determined by concepts of finality and utility (very much like the logic of capitalism).  Can we then consider nature in a way which liberates it from finality of that logic? Stefan Themerson offers us a shift of perspective which might allow us to see things differently, perhaps more clearly. His novel Professor Mmaa’s Lecture examines the species homo from an insect point of view. A  group of termite scientists belonging to a termite society with its science, politics and revolutionary struggles, plan to capture a homo and study it. We will read a section of professor Mmaa’s lecture, which explains his theories about the Bold Ape.


Peter Sloterdijk, “The Anthropocene: A Process-State at the Edge of Geohistory?” In: Art in the Anthropocene: Encounters Among Aesthetics, Politics, Environments and Epistemologies, ed. Heather Davis and Etienne Turpin (London: Open Humanities Press, 2015)

Roger Caillois, “Diagonal Science” In: The Edge of Surrealism: A Roger Caillois Reader, ed. Claudine Frank (London: Duke University Press, 2003)

Stefan Themerson, Professor Mmaa’s Lecture, foreword by Bertrand Russel (New York: The Overlook Press, 1984), Foreword, Chapter Two