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Interview with Stefan W. Schmidt (guest researcher)

PhD Stefan W. Schmidt is for four months, from September to December, a guest researcher at the CRC 1015. The philosopher, aesthetician, and phenomenologist occupies himself here with his research project, “The Meaning of Artifacts in the Configuration of Places and Situations of Otium”. He presents himself and his work in this short interview.

You earned your PhD at the University of Wuppertal with a dissertation on Heidegger’s theory of freedom. Does this already set an academic or biographic path to the theme of otium?

Even though the title of the work is about freedom, the concept of the world and its relation to our practice of justification is central. Freedom, the world, and reason are the central notions of a positive metaphysics, which Heidegger formulates in the late 1920s. In this respect there was no reference to otium. However, the work is also about the way we become aware of the world. In particular, it is about how the involvement with things determines the concrete shape of the world. The work has thus led me indirectly to the meaning of the things and artifacts that are now at the center of my project at the SFB Otium.

 

Throughout your work at the CRC 1015 Otium you occupy yourself primarily with the role of artifacts. Why is this of interest in relation to otium? Which questions are at the center of your research?

Situations of otium are dependent upon a series of aspects. One of them which stands out, is that we must always actively create basic conditions for otium. This does not only include spaces of otium, but those arrangements are also frequently connected to artifacts. Many practices of otium are particularly bound to the use of artifacts. This may be a writing utensil, books, or ceremonial items whose properties play a role within their corresponding otium practices. At the center of my project is therefore primarily the examination of the connection of sensuality and materiality of artifacts to our corporeality and how this relationship is then used as the foundation for situations of otium.

 

Could you describe your thoughts by means of a concrete object? How do you set up your philosophic or personal approach to it?

Certain artifacts require us to take a pause, as for example tea bowls in a Japanese tea ceremony do, which are designed in a way that they invite you to a close observation and therefore to a concentrated contemplation. On the material level, there is also the weight of the bowl when we hold it in our hands and drink from it, its color, the structure of the surface, and the traces of the tea once we have drunk from it. Since one of my main research areas is aesthetics, I am already dealing with otium artifacts on this level. Generally speaking, of course, my philosophical work as such is essentially anchored in a practice of otium.