01 October 2012

The New Aesthetic: A Maieutic of Computationality

Screen testing at main stage for the Republican convention in Tampa, Fla (2012)
Many hasty claims are now being made that the new aesthetic is over, finished, or defunct. I think that as with many of these things we will have to wait and see to the extent to which the new aesthetic is "new", an "aesthetic", used in practice, or has any trajectory associated with it. For me, the responses it generates are as interesting as the concept of the new aesthetic itself.

And regarding the "remembering" (perhaps, territorialization) of new media and previous practices, let's not forget that forgetting things (deteritorialization) can be extremely productive, both theoretically and in everyday practice (as elpis, perhaps, if not as entelechy of new generations). Indeed, forgetting can be like forgiving,[1] and in this sense can allow the absorption or remediation of previous forms (a past bequeathed by the dead) that may have been contradictory or conflictual to be transcended at a higher level (this may also happen through a dialectical move, of course).[2] This is, then, a politics of memory as well as an aesthetic.

But the claim that "NA is that it seems to be all gesture and no ideology" is clearly mistaken. Yes, NA is clearly profoundly gestural and is focused on the practice of doing, in some sense, even if the doing is merely curatorial or collecting other things (as archive/database of the present). The doing is also post-human in that algorithms and their delegated responsibility and control appears to be a returning theme (as the programming industry, as logics of military colonisation of everyday life, as technical mediation, as speed constitutive of absolute past, or as reconstitution of knowledge itself). It is also ideological to the extent that is an attempt to further develop a post-human aesthetic (and of course, inevitably this will/may/should end in failure) but nonetheless reflects in interesting ways a process of cashing out the computational in the realm of the aesthetic – in some senses a maieutic of computational memory, seeing and doing (a "remembering" of glitch ontology or computationality).

As to the charge of the inevitability of historicism to counter the claims of the new aesthetic, one might wish to consider the extent to which the building of the new aesthetic may share the values of computer science (highly ideological, I might add) and which is also profoundly ahistorical and which enables the delegation of the autonomy of the new aesthetic (as code/software) as a computational sphere. But this is not to deny the importance of critical theory here, far from it, but rather it is to raise a question about computation's immunity to the claims that critical approaches inevitably make – as Ian Bogost recently declared (about a different subject), are these not just "self-described radical leftist academics" and their "predictable critiques". Could not the new aesthetics form an alliance here with object-oriented ontology?

Within this assemblage, the industrialisation of programming and memory becomes linked to the industrialisation of "seeing" (and here I am thinking of mediatic industries). What I am trying to gesture towards, if only tentatively, is that if the new aesthetic, as an aesthetic of the radically autonomous claims of a highly computational post-digital society, might format the world in ways which profoundly determine, if not offer concrete tendencies, towards an aesthetic which is immune to historicism – in other words the algorithms aren't listening to the humanists – do we need to follow Stephen Ramsay's call for Humanists to build?

Here I point to both the industrialisation of memory but also the drive towards a permanent revolution in all forms of knowledge that the computational industries ceaselessly aim towards. That is, the new aesthetic may be a reflexive sighting (the image, the imaginary, the imagined?) and acknowledgement of the mass-produced temporal objects of the programming industries, in as much as they are shared structures, forms, and means, that is, algorithms and codes, that construct new forms of reception in terms that consciousness and collective unconsciousness will increasingly correspond.

Notes

[1] "Forgiving is the only reaction which does not merely re-act but acts anew and unexpectedly, unconditioned by the act which provoked it and therefore freeing from its consequences both the one who forgives and the one who is forgiven" (Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition, page 241), "and if he trespass against thee... and... turn against to thee, saying, I changed my mind; thou shalt release him" (Luke 17: 3-4)
[1] Here I am thinking in terms of Mannheim's concept of "Generation Entelechy" and "Generation Unit" to consider the ways in which the quicker the tempo of social cultural change, here understood as represented through digital technology, the greater the chances that a particular generation location's group will react to changed circumstances by producing their own entelechy. 

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