Tag Archives: technology

New Book: New Aesthetic, New Anxieties

New Aesthetic New Anxieties is the result of a five day Book Sprint organized by Michelle Kasprzak and led by Adam Hyde at V2_ from June 17–21, 2012. Authors: David M. BerryMichel van DartelMichael DieterMichelle KasprzakNat MullerRachel O’Reilly and José Luis de Vicente. Facilitated by: Adam Hyde

You can download the e-book as an EPUB, MOBI, or PDF.

EPUB: http://www.v2.nl/files/new-aesthetic-new-anxieties-epub

MOBI: http://www.v2.nl/files/new-aesthetic-new-anxieties-mobi

PDF: http://www.v2.nl/files/new-aesthetic-new-anxieties-pdf

Annotatable online version: http://www.booki.cc/new-aesthetic-new-anxieties/_draft/_v/1.0/preface/

The New Aesthetic was a design concept and netculture phenomenon launched into the world by London designer James Bridle in 2011. It continues to attract the attention of media art, and throw up associations to a variety of situated practices, including speculative design, net criticism, hacking, free and open source software development, locative media, sustainable hardware and so on. This is how we have considered the New Aesthetic: as an opportunity to rethink the relations between these contexts in the emergent episteme of computationality. There is a desperate need to confront the political pressures of neoliberalism manifested in these infrastructures. Indeed, these are risky, dangerous and problematic times; a period when critique should thrive. But here we need to forge new alliances, invent and discover problems of the common that nevertheless do not eliminate the fundamental differences in this ecology of practices. In this book, perhaps provocatively, we believe a great deal could be learned from the development of the New Aesthetic not only as a mood, but as a topic and fix for collective feeling, that temporarily mobilizes networks. Is it possible to sustain and capture these atmospheres of debate and discussion beyond knee-jerk reactions and opportunistic self-promotion? These are crucial questions that the New Aesthetic invites us to consider, if only to keep a critical network culture in place.

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The New Bifurcation? Object-Oriented Ontology and Computation

Alan Turing

There are now some interesting challenges emerging to the philosophical systems described in object-oriented ontology, such as Alex Galloway’s recent piece, ‘A response to Graham Harman’s “Marginalia on Radical Thinking”’ and Christian Thorne’s, ‘To The Political Ontologists‘, as well as my own contribution, ‘The Uses of Object-Oriented Ontology‘.

Here, I want to tentatively explore the links between my own notion of computationality as ontotheology and how object-oriented ontology unconsciously reproduces some of these structural features that I think are apparent in its ontological and theological moments. In order to do this, I want to begin outlining some of the ways one might expect the ‘ontological moment’, as it were, to be dominated by computational categories and ideas which seem to hold greater explanatory power. In this regard I think this recent tweet by Robert Jackson is extremely revealing,

Robert Jackson (@Recursive_idiot)

04/06/2012 13:34

I think this Galloway / OOO issue can be resolved with computability theory. Objects / units need not be compatible with the state.

Revealing, too, are the recent discussions by members of object-oriented ontology and the importance of the computational medium for facilitating its reproduction – see Levi Bryant’s post ‘The Materiality of SR/OOO: Why Has It Proliferated?‘, and Graham Harman’s post ‘on philosophical movements that develop on the internet‘.

It is interesting to note that these philosophers do not take account of the possibility that the computational medium itself may have transformed the way in which they understand the ontological dimension of their projects. Indeed, the taken-for-granted materiality of digital media is clearly being referred to in relation to a form of communication theory – as if the internet were merely a transparent transmission channel – rather than seeing the affordances of the medium encouraging, shaping, or creating certain ways of thinking about things, as such.

Of course, they might respond, clearly the speed and publishing affordances allow them to get their messages out quicker, correct them, and create faster feedback and feedforward loops. However, I would argue that the computational layers (software, applications, blogs, tweets, etc.) also discipline the user/writer/philosopher to think within and through particular computational categories. I think it is not a coincidence that what is perhaps the first internet or born-digital philosophy has certain overdetermined characteristics that reflect the medium within which they have emerged. I am not alone in making this observation, indeed, Alexander Galloway has started to examine the same question, writing,

[T]he French philosopher Catherine Malabou asks: “What should we do so that consciousness of the brain does not purely and simply coincide with the spirit of capitalism?”….Malabou’s query resonates far and wide because it cuts to the heart of what is wrong with some philosophical thinking appearing these days. The basic grievance is this: why, within the current renaissance of research in continental philosophy, is there a coincidence between the structure of ontological systems and the structure of the most highly-evolved technologies of postfordist capitalism? I am speaking, on the one hand, of computer networks in general, and object-oriented computer languages (such as Java or C++) in particular, and on the other hand, of certain realist philosophers such as Bruno Latour, but also more pointedly Quentin Meillassoux, Graham Harman, and their associated school known as “speculative realism.” Why do these philosophers, when holding up a mirror to nature, see the mode of production reflected back at them? Why, in short, a coincidence between today’s ontologies and the software of big business? (Galloway, forthcoming, original emphasis)

He further argues:

Philosophy and computer science are not unconnected. In fact they share an intimate connection, and have for some time. For example, set theory, topology, graph theory, cybernetics and general system theory are part of the intellectual lineage of both object-oriented computer languages, which inherit the principles of these scientific fields with great fidelity, and for recent continental philosophy including figures like Deleuze, Badiou, Luhmann, or Latour. Where does Deleuze’s “control society” come from if not from Norbert Wiener’s definition of cybernetics? Where do Latour’s “actants” come from if not from systems theory? Where does Levi Bryant’s “difference that makes a difference” come from if not from Gregory Bateson’s theory of information? (Galloway, forthcoming).

Ian Bogost’s (2012) Alien Phenomenology is perhaps the most obvious case where the links between his computational approach and his philosophical system are deeply entwined, objects, units, collections, lists, software philosophy, carpentry (as programming) etc. Indeed, Robert Jackson also discusses some of the links with computation, making connections between the notion of interfaces and encapsulation, and so forth, in object-oriented programming in relation to forms of object-orient ontology’s notion of withdrawal, etc. He writes,

Encapsulation is the notion that objects have both public and private logics inherent to their components. But we should be careful not to regard the notion that private information is deliberately hidden from view, it is rather the unconditional indifference of objects qua objects. Certain aspects of the object are made public and others are occluded by blocking off layers of data. The encapsulated data can still be related to, even if the object itself fails to reveal it (Jackson 2011).

This, he argues, serves as a paradigmatic example of the object-oriented ontologists’ speculations about objects as objects. Therefore, a research project around object-oriented computational systems would, presumably, allow us to cast light on wider questions about other kinds of objects, after all, objects are objects, in the flat ontology of object-oriented ontology. In contrast, I would argue that it is no surprise that object-oriented ontology and object-oriented programming have these deep similarities as they are drawing from the same computational imaginary, or foundational ideas, about what things are or how they are categorised in the world, in other words a computational ontotheology – computationality.

The next move is the step that Alex Galloway makes, to link this to the wider capitalist order, postfordist or informational capitalism (what I would call Late Capitalism). He then explores how this ideological superstructure is imposed onto a capitalist mode of production, both to legitimate and to explain its naturalness or inevitability. Galloway argues,

(1) If recent realist philosophy mimics the infrastructure of contemporary capitalism, should we not show it the door based on this fact alone, the assumption being that any mere repackaging of contemporary ideology is, by definition, anti-scientific and therefore suspect on epistemological grounds? And (2) even if one overlooks the epistemological shortcomings, should we not critique it on purely political grounds, the argument being that any philosophical project that seeks to ventriloquize the current industrial arrangement is, for this very reason, politically retrograde? (Galloway, forthcoming).

He further writes,

Granted, merely identifying a formal congruity is not damning in itself. There are any number of structures that “look like” other structures. And we must be vigilant not to fetishize form as some kind of divination–just as numerology fetishizes number. Nevertheless are we not obligated to interrogate such a congruity? Is such a mimetic relationship cause for concern? Meillassoux and others have recently mounted powerful critiques of “correlationism,” so why a blindness toward this more elemental correlation?… What should we do so that our understanding of the world does not purely and simply coincide with the spirit of capitalism? (Galloway, forthcoming, original emphasis).

Galloway concludes his article by making the important distinction between materialism and realism, pointing out that materialism must be historical and critical whereas realism tends towards an ahistoricism. By historicising object-oriented ontology, we are able to discern the links between the underlying computational capitalism and its theoretical and philosophical manifestations.

Chales Darwin

More work needs to be done here to trace the trajectories that are hinted at, particularly the computationality I see implicit in object-oriented ontology and speculative realism more generally. But I also want to tentatively gesture towards object-oriented ontology as one discourse contributing to a new bifurcation (as Whitehead referred to the nature/culture split). In this case, not between nature and culture, which today have begun to reconnect as dual hybridised sites of political contestation – for example, climate change – but rather as computation versus nature-culture.

Where nature-culture becomes a site of difference, disagreement, political relativism and a kind of ‘secondary’ quality, in other words ‘values’ and ‘felicity conditions’. Computationality, or some related ontological form, becomes the site of primary qualities or ‘facts’, the site of objectivity, and is foundational, ahistorical, unchanging and a replacement for nature in modernity as the site of agreement upon which a polity is made possible – a computational society.

Here, the abstract nature of objects within object-oriented programming, formal objects which inter-relate to each other and interact (or not), and yet remain deeply computational, mathematical and discrete is more than suggestive of the flat ontology that object-oriented ontology covets. The purification process of object-oriented design/programming is also illustrative of the gradual emptying of the universe of ‘non-objects’ by object-oriented ontology, which then serves to create ontological weight, and the possibility of shared consensus within this new bifurcated world. This creates a united foundation, understood as ontological, a site of objectivity, facts, and with a strict border control to prevent this pure realm being affected by the newly excised nature-culture. Within this new bifurcation, we see pure objects placed in the bifurcated object-space and subjects are located in the nature-culture space – this is demonstrated by the empty litanies that object-oriented ontologists share and which describe abstract objects, not concrete entities. This is clearly ironic in a philosophical movement that claims to be wholly realist and displays again the anti-correlationist paradox of object-oriented ontology.

This ontological directive also points thought towards the cartography of pure objects, propositions on the nature of ‘angels’, ‘Popeye’ and ‘unicorns’, and commentary on commentary in a scholastic vortex through textual attempts to capture and describe this abstract sphere – without ever venturing into the ‘great outdoors’ that object-oriented ontologists claim to respect. What could be closer to the experience of contemporary capitalist experience than the digital mazes that are set up by the likes of Facebook and Google, to trap the user into promises of entertainment and fulfilment by moving deeper and deeper around the social ontologies represented in capitalist social networks, and which ultimately resolve in watching advertisements to fuel computational capitalism?

Galloway rightly shows us how to break this spell, reflected also in the object-oriented ontologists refusal to historicise, through a concrete analysis of the historical and material conditions of production, he writes:

One might therefore label this the postfordist response to philosophical realism in general and Meillassoux in particular: after software has entered history, math cannot and should not be understood ahistorically… math itself, as algorithm, has become a historical actor. (Galloway, forthcoming, original emphasis).

Bibliography

Bogost, I. (2012a) Alien Phenomenology: or What It’s Like To Be A Thing, Minnesota University Press.

Galloway, A. R. (forthcoming) The Poverty of Philosophy: Realism and Postfordism, copy supplied by the author.

Jackson, R. (2011) Why we should be Discrete in Public – Encapsulation and the Private lives of Objects, accessed 04/06/2012, http://robertjackson.info/index/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Aarhus-presentation.pdf

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Taking Care of the New Aesthetic

Strangely, and somewhat unexpectedly, James Bridle unilaterally closed the New Aesthetic Tumblr blog today, 6 May 2012, announcing ‘The New Aesthetic tumblr is now closed’, with some particular and general thanks and very little information about future plans. Perhaps this was always Bridle’s intention as a private project, but one can’t help wonder if the large amount of attention, the move to a public and contested concept, and the loss of control that this entailed may have encouraged a re-assertion of control. If so, this is a great pity and perhaps even an act of vandalism.

Harpa, Iceland  (Berry 2011)

This, then, is a critical turning point, or krisis,[1] for the nascent New Aesthetic movement, and, for me, the blog closure heralds an interesting struggle over what is the New Aesthetic? Who owns or controls it? And in what directions it can now move.? Certainly, I am of the opinion that to have closed the blog in this way insinuates a certain proprietary attitude to the New Aesthetic. Considering that the Tumblr blog has largely been a crowd-sourced project, giving no explanation, allowing no debate, discussion over the closure, etc. makes it look rather like it harvested peoples’ submissions on what could have been a potentially participatory project. Whichever way it is cast, James Bridle looks rather high-handed in light of the many generous and interesting discussions that the New Aesthetic has thrown up across a variety of media.

One of the key questions will be the extent to which this blog was a central locus of, or collection for representing, the New Aesthetic more generally. Personally I found myself less interested in the Tumblr blog that became increasingly irrelevant in light of the high level of discussion found upon ImpericaThe Creators ProjectThe AtlanticCrumb and elsewhere. But there is clearly a need for something beyond the mere writing and rewriting of the New Aesthetic that many of the essays around the topic represented. Indeed, there is a need for an inscription or articulation of the New Aesthetic through multiple forms, both visual and written (not to mention using the sensorium more generally). I hope that we will see a thousand New Aesthetic PinterestTumblr, and PinIt sites bloom across the web.

Urban Cursor is a GPS enabled object (Sebastian Campion 2009)

Nonetheless, it is disappointing to see the number of twitter commentators who have tweeted the equivalent of ‘well, that was that’, as if the single action of an individual is decisive in stifling a new and exciting way of articulating a way of being in the world. Indeed, this blog closure highlights the importance of taking care of the New Aesthetic, especially in its formative stages of development. Whilst there have been a number of dismissive and critical commentaries written about the New Aesthetic, I feel that there is a kernel of something radical and interesting happening and which still remains to be fully articulated, expressed, and made manifest in and through various mediums of expression.

The New Aesthetic blog might be dead, but the New Aesthetic as a way of conceptualising the changes in our everyday life that are made possible in and through digital technology is still unfolding. For me the New Aesthetic was not so much a collection of things as the beginning of a new kind of Archive, an Archive in Motion, which combined what Bernard Stiegler called the Anamnesis (the embodied act of memory as recollection or remembrance) and Hypomnesis (the making-technical of memory through writing, photography, machines, etc.). Stiegler writes,

We have all had the experience of misplacing a memory bearing object – a slip of paper, an annotated book, an agenda, relic or fetish, etc. We discover then that a part of ourselves (like our memory) is outside of us. This material memory, that Hegel named objective, is partial. But it constitutes the most precious part of human memory: therein, the totality of the works of spirit, in all guises and aspects, takes shape (Stiegler n.d.).

Thus, particularly in relation to the affordances given by the networked and social media within which it circulated, combined with a set of nascent practices of collection, archive and display, the New Aesthetic is distinctive in a number of ways. Firstly, it gives a description and a way of representing and mediating the world in and through the digital, that is understandable as an infinite archive (or collection). Secondly, it alternately highlights that something digital is happening in culture – and which we have only barely been conscious of – and the way in which culture is happening to the digital.  Lastly, the New Aesthetic points the direction of travel for the possibility of a Work of Art in the digital age.

In this, the New Aesthetic is something of a pharmakon, in that it is both potentially poison and cure for an age of pattern matching and pattern recognition. In as much as the archive was the set of rules governing the range of what can be verbally, audio-visually or alphanumerically expressed at all, and the database is the grounding cultural logic of software cultures, the New Aesthetic is the cultural eruption of the grammatisation of software logics into everyday life. That is, the New Aesthetic is a deictic moment which sheds light on changes in our lives that imperil things, practices, and engaging human relations, and the desire to make room for such relations, particularly when they are struggling to assert themselves against the dominance of neoliberal governance, bureaucratic structures and market logics.[2]

The New Aesthetic, in other words, brings these patterns to the surface, and in doing so articulates the unseen and little understood logic of computational society and the anxieties that this introduces.

Notes

[1] krisis: a separating, power of distinguishing, decision , choice, election, judgment, dispute.

 

[2] A deictic explanation is here understood as one which articulates a thing or event in its uniqueness. 

 

Bibliography

Stiegler, B. (n.d.)  Anamnesis and Hypomnesis, accessed 06/05/2012, http://arsindustrialis.org/anamnesis-and-hypomnesis

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The Gigantic

We now live in a world where the very size of the real-time stream begins to exceed capacities to understand or make any sense of the sheer flow of data, and Twitter which currently handles 250 million tweets per day, or 1.25 billion per week, is a great example of this (Totsis 2011). Ways of thinking about the real-time stream as a totality are needed to help think through the implications of this data rich world and provide a contribution towards a cognitive map. For this reason I think that Heidegger’s notion of the concept of the ‘gigantic’ that he introduces in Contributions to Philosophy (From Enowning) might prove to be useful. For Heidegger, the gigantic represents a new moment whereby the very impossibility of understanding the extremeness of small and large sizes as calculability becomes itself a change in quality. As he argues in ‘The Age of the World Picture’:

A sign of this event is that everywhere and in the most varied forms and disguises the gigantic is making its appearance. In so doing, it evidences itself simultaneously in the tendency toward the increasingly small. We have only to think of numbers in atomic physics. The gigantic presses forward in a form that actually seems to make it disappear – in the annihilation of great distances by the airplane, in the setting before us of foreign and remote worlds in their everydayness, which is produced at random through radio by a flick of the hand. Yet we think too superficially if we suppose that the gigantic is only the endlessly extended emptiness of the purely quantitative. We think too little if we find that the gigantic, in the form of continual not-ever-having-been-here-yet, originates only in a blind mania for exaggerating and excelling (Appendix 12) (Heidegger 1977: 135).

And as Livingston (2003) further explains:

At first, the ‘gigantic’ simply means the unlimited processes of quantification and assumptions of quantifiability that make possible modern technological means of expression and control. But when understood in a broader historical perspective, the ground of the ‘gigantic’ is not just the absence of limits on the process of quantification, but a fundamental aspect or feature of quantity itself (Livingston 2003: 332-333).

Here the gigantic is understood as the very possibility of quality being derivational from quantity itself. Thus the kinds of quantitative possibilities for human existence are measured, calculated, listed, captured, pure data itself as being:

But as soon as machination is in turn grasped being-historically, the gigantic reveals itself as ‘something’ else. It is no longer the re-presentable objectness of an unlimited quantification but rather quantity as quality. Quality is meant here as the basic character of the quale, of the what, of the ownmost, of be-ing itself (Heidegger 1999: 94).

The gigantic then becomes the mark of the age of the real-time stream inasmuch as the gigantic becomes the ‘greatness’ of this moment. We therefore increasingly use this notion of gigantism as a means of assessing the very importance of things within our everyday experience, not, that is, that the specific value itself has any particular or important meaning, but rather that the sheer impossibility of conceiving of the number (whether large or small) becomes a kind of sublime of unrepresentability. A mere mood or feeling that is associated with the gigantic then becomes something that we routinely consider to be a way to understand meaningful difference.

The gigantic is rather that through which the quantitative becomes a special quality and thus a remarkable kind of greatness. Each historical age is not only great in a distinctive way in contrast to others; it also has, in each instance, its own concept of greatness. But as soon as the gigantic in planning and calculating and adjusting and making secure shifts over out of the quantitative and becomes a special quality, then what is gigantic, and what can seemingly always be calculated completely, becomes, precisely through this, incalculable. This becoming incalculable remains the invisible shadow that is cast around all things everywhere when man has been transformed into subiectum and the world into picture (Appendix 13) (Heidegger 1977: 135).

Heidegger helpfully lists the forms of the gigantic:

1. The gigantism of the slowing down of history (from the staying away of essential decisions all the way to lack of history) in the semblance of speed and steer ability of “historical” [historisch] development and its anticipation.

2. The gigantism of the publicness as summation of everything homogeneous in favour of concealing the destruction and undermining of any passion for essential gathering.

3. The gigantism of the claim to naturalness in the semblance of what is self-evident and “logical”; the question-worthiness of being is placed totally outside questioning.

4. The gigantism of the diminution of beings in the whole in favour of the semblance of boundless extending of the same by virtue of unconditioned controllability. The single thing that is impossible is the word and representation of “impossible” (Heidegger 1999: 311).

Thus that we live in a flow of real-time information that exceeds our capacities to understand or follow it – for example when we have followed enough people such that our stream in Twitter is too fast to parse – is the kind of affect that I think the notion of the gigantic points towards. This is not a feeling of being overwhelmed or being in a situation of losing control, rather it is a feeling of pure will-to-power, as it were, experiencing the gigantic as a manifestation of yourself. Equally, the flows of data both into and out of your life then become a marker of your gigantism, the subjectivity of the stream is constituted by the flow of data through which a moment of curation take place, but a curation of gigantism, not a reduction as such, but a wholeness or comprehensiveness of coverage. Each of us then becomes our own gigantic in as much as we increasingly generate data flows into and out of the networks of social life mediated through software and code.

In the culture of the modern subject who would master the world according to the logic of representation and through the technologies grounded in such a logic, which seem to overcome the very limits of space and time, the mystery of transcendence can indeed seem to “appear” only through its sheer absence.  Such a culture, then, would appear to be a culture of absolute immanence or even “total presence,” a culture de-mystified by a subject who, most notably in the technologies of all-consuming light and image, seems to comprehend all (Carlson 2003).

This is a total presence in the real-time stream, presented through such real-time streaming technologies as Twitter, Facebook (especially through their Ticker), the Jawbone Up, and the concept of frictionless sharing that Facebook has advocated (MacMannus 2011). This is a world in which the sheer gigantic incalculability of the calculable becomes an experience beyond the mere technical process or possibility of data collection, transmission, and transformation. Indeed, it becomes the very moment when one is caught within the mystery of the sheer unrepresentability, or perhaps better, comprehensibility of our own streams of data generated and flowing through these new forms of social network. Made manifest, perhaps though digital technology, but also pointing towards the other unencoded that remains outside of these networks, as plasma or the region, and from which this data is drawn.

But Heidegger offers the suggestion that within the gigantic there is opened a shadow in the form of a moment of possible transcendentalism, perhaps even a new form of sacred, that points to the possible reconfiguration of previous marginal practices or a reconfiguration of things. This, I want to suggest, opens up new possibilities for a human subjectivity that can undertake the practices of listening and harkening to that which lies behind the rushing sound of the real-time streams and their shadows.

By means of this shadow the modern world extends itself out into a space withdrawn from representation, and so lends to the incalculable the determinateness peculiar to it, as well as a historical uniqueness. This shadow, however, points to something else, which it is denied to us of today to know. But man will never be able to experience and ponder this that is denied so long as he dawdles about in the mere negating of the age. The flight into tradition, out of a combination of humility and presumption, can bring about nothing in itself other than self-deception and blindness in relation to the historical moment… Man will know, i.e., carefully safeguard into its truth, that which is incalculable, only in creative questioning and shaping out of the power of genuine reflection. Reflection transports the man of the future into that “between” in which he belongs to Being but remains a stranger amid that which is (Heidegger 1977: 136).

 

 

 

Bibliography

 

Carlson, T. (2003) Locating the Mystical Subject, in Kessler, M. and Sheppard, C. (eds.) Mystics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, accessed 02/12/2011, http://www.soc.ucsb.edu/projects/ct3/docs/LocatingtheMysticalSubject.doc.

 

Heidegger, M. (1977 [1938]) The Age of the World Picture, in The Question Concerning Technology and other Essays, New York: Harper Perennial, pp115-154.

 

Heidegger, M. (1999) Contributions to Philosophy (From Enowning), Indiana: Indiana University Press.

 

Livingston, P. (2003) Thinking and Being: Heidegger and Wittgenstein on Machination and Lived-Experience, Inquiry, 46, 324–345.

 

MacManus, R. (2011) The Pros & Cons of Frictionless Sharing, ReadWriteWeb, accessed 02/12/2011, http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/frictionless_sharing_pros_cons.php

 

Totsis, A. (2011) Twitter Is At 250 Million Tweets Per Day, iOS 5 Integration Made Signups Increase 3x, TechCrunch, accessed 02/12/2011, http://techcrunch.com/2011/10/17/twitter-is-at-250-million-tweets-per-day/

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