Nervousness: The Micro-politics of Human Interaction

Hosted by the Jutland Art Academy, Denmark (Feb-May, 2012)

The seminars series, Nervousness: The Micro-politics of Human Interaction, examines nervousness as the product of an open-ended and unresolved conflict between two sets of emotions: On one hand, the over-excitability and investment in society – the desire to belong to a collective body – and on the other hand, the inhibition or resistance to conform to society and the governance of public life.

During the second half of the 19th century the discovery of Neurasthenia (nervous exhaustion) was made. The psycho-pathologicalization of nervousness (fatigue, anxiety, depression and panic) started from this point on. In reference to the physiology of the nervous system, the artist Edvard Munch addressed the contemporary belief that art was the product of nervous disorder and heightened sensibility, and that artistic creation was nervous release (Cordulack, 2002). In Munch’s works on anxiety, the parallel between body and mind— psychic and physiological life—has often been overlooked, yet this parallel may have served as a cartography of how life science and visual art overlapped, and made Expressionism a political project of autonomy, in the circles of the Kristiania Bohemia in Scandinavia during the worldwide economical crisis of the 1870s.

The current economic crisis in Europe, insists the activist and media theorist Franco Berardi, gives evidence to the impossibility of sustaining neoliberal economic models of growth since they create a state of exhaustion, that is not merely economic or environmental but also affective (Bifo, 2010). By following the trajectory of Expressionistic art, this series of seminars will explore the mechanics of nervousness and the transmission of affect, towards developing a physiological institutional critique.

The project consists of 5 seminars sessions with 3 invited guest speakers, a reader, film screenings followed by a two-day practical workshop, where a zine will be produced (collectively or individually) from compiling ideas and material generated during the course of the seminars. The guiding idea of the course is to firstly trace a genealogy of nervousness across disciplines, to establish a historical, cultural and scientific framework for understanding the human body and the historical development of the Central Nervous System. Secondly, the course aims to use cartography as a critical tool to map the transmission of affect based on more immediate modes of communication between individuals and their physical and social environments.


#1. Micro-politics of Nervousness. Introduction by Sidsel Meineche Hansen.

#2. The Central Nervous System and Nervous Exhaustion. Guest speaker: Dr. Troels Wesenberg Kjaer.

Dr. Troels Wesenberg Kjaer, MD, PhD is a specialist in clinical neurophysiology and chief physician in the Department of Clinical Neurophysiology in Rigshospitalet University Hospital in Copenhagen. Kjær will speak about the production of nervousness from a clinical point of view. He will introduce the function of the central nervous system by explaining how the nervous system respond to anti-depressants and anti-psychotic drugs. Kjær will further lay out the historical development of research on neurological signals and how information in the brain is calculated.

#3: Existential Embarrassment and the notion of Expressing Oneself. Guest speaker: Eva Kenny

Eva Kenny studied English and Art History at University College Dublin and earned a Masters in critical theory at New York University before starting the PhD program in Comparative Literature at Princeton University in 2008. She works between the departments of Comparative Literature and Art and Archaeology at Princeton and is writing a dissertation titled “Existential Embarrassment,” on the concept of embarrassment both as such and in relation to art, particularly German painting of the past forty years.

#4: Anomie/Bonhomie – from Endocolonialism to the Affective Soviet !!

Howard Slater is a volunteer play therapist, writer and member of the London-based MayDay Rooms initiative. Whilst he has been writing since the early 1980s he has of late mainly been published in Mute Magazine. Howard Slater will take his newly published book: Anomie/Bonhomie & Other writings (Mute books, 2012) as a starting point for considering the possibility of collective affective practices that can help combat Capitalism’s colonisation of the psyche.

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