Date of Publishing:
August 28, 2019

2019 © Anderwald + Grond

Navigating in the Unknown

Karoline Feyertag & Alice Pechriggl

This is an excerpt of the interview by Karoline Feyertag with Alice Pechiggl to be printed in the book Dizziness-A Resource, which will be published in autumn 2019 in the publication series of the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, Sternberg Press.

Karoline Feyertag – I would like to combine two topics in our conversation: on the one hand, the topic of dizziness and vertigo, of losing one’s sense of orientation and balance, and, on the other, your project concerning the development of a theory of action, especially in regard to withstanding dizziness. Considering that uncertainty is one of the most important aspects of dizziness, I suggest that action is the other major issue. In the conception of the exhibition “Dizziness—Navigating the Unknown” at the Kunsthaus Graz, the idea of falling into dizziness, going through it, but also coming out of it, was very important. The chief curator, Katrin Bucher-Trantow, realized that the visitors also had to be accompanied out of the exhibition, so they were not left alone, lost in dizziness. For our research project we use the Keat’s term “negative capability,” which is similar to the term “containment,” coined by the psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion.

Alice Pechriggl – Maybe this would be a good point for me to cut in, or otherwise this discussion might be too long.

KF – Yes, I was thinking we would start the conversation with the individual, because this was also the starting point of our research project. During the project, we came to realize that the individual itself is not enough but that he or she can be understood as a starting point for the experience of dizziness. With regard to the term “experience,” I would like to quote your announcement text for the workshop “Navigating the Unknown” that we held together in Klagenfurt in 2015: “What are we doing when we try to rethink the concept of action including unconscious action? That is the initial question that needs to be answered not only in a theoretical manner, but also through an empirical approach. We intend to shed light upon the term “empirical,” and to realize it in a philosophical manner based on the term empeiria, experience […]; in the framework of an artistic analysis of the world, that is by means of improvised as well as planned action, and attentive, as well as thoughtful follow ups concerning lived experiences.”[1]
Your approach of “an artistic analysis of the world” is comparable to that of Ruth Anderwald and Leonhard Grond, regarding their approach toward dizziness, inasmuch they combine experience with reflection. It seems that both approaches use as their starting point the term empeiria, or bodily experience. How much self-observation and also self-forgetfulness can be found in your philosophical-empirical approach? Where do you see moments of dizziness in your work process?

AP – This question really moved me – right away I had to think of the four phases of execution that I developed within my emergence ontology, as I wanted to distance myself from the Aristotelian teleology that is found within any theory of action. To this day, the philosophical-teleological model of dynamis (possibility), energeia (potentiality and actuality), eidos (cause of form), telos (cause of purpose), and entelechia (completion or goal-orientated realisation) stands in the foreground in all sciences that deal with the concept of action. Therefore, I developed a four-phase model comprised of mise en scène (creativity in actu), mise en sens (logos and deliberate action),[2] mise en acte (potential and its actualisation), and mise en abîme (chaos as negativity, the potential of collapse). However, the order in which these four phases occur is irrelevant. What is important is how the single phases are combined. These combinations do not intend to replace Aristotle, but rather expand on his theory.

The mise en sens accounts the action, the act of giving meaning, the thought devoted to what we do, the reflective moment within deliberation or boulêsis.[3] – while the mise en acte is always at work. The latter corresponds to energeia according to Aristotle. It means that you are always doing something, either alone or with others, when thinking, speaking, but also physically – you are always active, even when sleeping. The mise en acte is actually the most natural; the mise en sens is what we finally produce when we think about what we have done. It is our mental and dianoetic contributions that have the power to transform our acting out into deliberate action. However, it is important I mention that also within acting out in the psychoanalytical sense of the term that there is a thought process present: it is subliminal, thus unconscious. Resembling latent thought within dreams, thought is at work within the unconscious, yet in a very different manner.

It was also of great interest to me to take a close look at the mise en scène: I therefore began with three phases of execution and worked with it for two years. The mise en scène accounts for the imaginary, thus the imaginary institution of our society, and I have dealt with the social imaginary according to Cornelius Castoriadis for a long time. If you were to ask me about experience, empeiria, I would say that I went to Paris to experience the imaginary with Castoriadis;[4] and later I turned toward dealing with questions concerning the body. You then wrote your dissertation, that I had the honor of supervising; I also found the experience of working together to be wonderful, and am happy that we think of each other again, years later. This matrix of people that we enjoy working with is very important to me, to my individuality – it is something I consider to be very real, because I was recently very sick, and I became highly aware of my own mortality.

Coming back to the three phases of execution, at that point they seemed complete to me. But then I had a major skiing accident, in which I fell so badly that I got a slight tear in my aorta. I could not remember anything – I had retrograde amnesia, forgot everything, and said the same thing again and again every few minutes, which everyone found rather disturbing. After eight hours, these symptoms disappeared and even my concussion was not that bad. Afterward, I had to take things very slowly, and was on sick leave for three weeks, yet I constantly thought about my book Agieren und Handeln and about the three-phase model. I thought to myself that something was missing. Well, and then I realized that the fall was missing – how to come out of the act of falling? Why do you fall so far that you almost die? This question became so important to me that I added mise en abîme as the fourth phase of execution.

[…]The complete interview is printed in the book ‘Dizziness-A Resource’ published in the publication series of the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, Sternberg Press.


Alice Pechriggl, cited in Taumel, no. 2 (2015), Unless otherwise noted, all translations by Christopher Hütmannsberger.

This refers to action that relies on deliberation, that is, on discussion by a group and on reason-guided reflection.

Boulêsis is not only deliberatio and deliberate will, but also establishes a positive freedom as something with which people decide upon their world; in the history of institutions it established a democratic government (boulê) as a collective act of giving the matter thought, thus the self-governing polis.” Alice Pechriggl, Agieren und Handeln: Studien zu einer philosophisch-psychoanalytischen Handlungstheorie (Bielefeld: transcript, 2018), 25.

The concept of the social-historical imaginary was established by Cornelius Castoriadis in his seminal book The Imaginary Institution of Society (MIT Press, 1998). Alice Pechriggl earned her habilitation degree with a thesis on Castoriadis’s philosophy. It was published in French under the title Corps transfigures. Stratifications de l'imaginaire des sexes/genres (Paris: Harmattan, 2001).