James Burton is lecturer in cultural studies and cultural history at Goldsmiths, University of London. He holds an MA and PhD in Cultural Studies (Goldsmiths, 2009) and a BA in English (Cambridge, 1999). He has taught cultural theory and media/cultural studies at universities in the UK and Austria, and, prior to joining the ICI Berlin, was a Humboldt research fellowship at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum, examining the cultural and philosophical significance of metafiction. His book The Philosophy of Science Fiction: Henri Bergson and the Fabulations of Philip K. Dick (2015) examines the cultural and political functions of fictionalizing and its imbrication with ideas of salvation and processes of mechanization, through a joint study of Henri Bergson’s philosophy of fabulation and the science fiction of Philip K. Dick.

While at Bochum, he developed research interests in the concept and history of ecological thought, co-organizing a research network and conference on the topic of ‘general ecology’. He has published articles on the philosophy of memory and time, political theology, method in Continental philosophy, science fiction and mythology. Recent projects include a role as scientific/text editor for the book Forensis: The Architecture of Public Truth (Sternberg), and collaborative work on Michel Serres’ The Parasite.

The Animation
of Error

ICI Project 2014-16

What do we do with errors when we do not try to correct them? Three tentative answers posed here form frames for exploring a series of case studies: we fabulate, imaginatively transmuting errors into quasi-living forms; we laugh at errors; and we make use of them. These are diverse ways of animating error which reveal and respond to deep-seated doubts about the limits of our own agency, our capacity to succeed or merely survive–ultimately, concerns around the threat of de-animation. The chosen case studies reflect the ways such questions are redoubled and complexified under the conditions of modern technology (e.g. the mechanisation of life, the proliferation of nonhuman forms of agency, the threat of ecological disaster).

In the first strand, I examine animated figures of error such as the gremlin, the bug, the glitch and the virus. In the second, I consider the role of error in thinking about humour, and the prominence of themes of mechanisation and animation in such thinking in Bergson, Freud, Bateson and AI research. The third strand addresses ways error is put to use in contexts ranging from glitch art to problem-solving strategy, political discourse to research methodology.