Re: [-empyre-] what is to be done?

There is a habitual or received assumption about the ontology of both art and theory that is bound to the very problem of beauty that Oliver references. There are many ways to describe this assumption, I will try my best here. Both artists and cultural theorists participate in an activity of representing gestalts that lead to new knowledge. As in, representing something through form, organization of discrete elements (including arguments), balance, harmony and the quest for an analytical clarity of sorts expressed either in an aesthetic or intellectually communicative language. This is true even if that clarity is clarity regarding that which we are unclear about or are on the precipice of understanding; both artists and theorists specify and define "problems" to be solved, as well as occasionally solving them. The languages and techniques may be different very different between art and theory, or between various schools of theory or between various schools of art, but they all try to express something that is at the end of the day pedagogical if not didactic. Even if, as is often the case in art, that pedagogy is often delivered via an intentionally obscure or subversive methodology. In other words, I don't think many of us would disagree that art and theory are both in their own ways trying to speak something that we (artists, theorists) assume will or at least might lead anyone digesting it toward a gestalt of some type. The assumption includes an audience, a conversation, and ultimately beauty if we conceive of it as form, organization, comprehension, understanding, or as Kant said the "free play of the presentational powers to directed to cognition in general."

Thus the assumed ontology of art and theory is communicative - and as Oliver points out, the (digital) materials we analyze and work with as media now have unprecedented abilities to participate in the conversation and even to produce aesthetic experience, and further, to lubricate the relation between the material world as now represented by digital technologies and human culture. It can't be said often enough that one of the surprising and terribly interesting consequences of the computer and communications revolution is that is enables more rigorous, dynamic, near-real-time feedback to occur between humanity and the environments we inhabit, in effect causing a phase shift. The exponential explosion of feedback and exchange between human culture and the material world has emerged an organizationally different relationship today than it was only 20 years ago. In a formal sense, materials have always spoken to artists (the triteness of a painter who "lets the materials speak"), but today we can imagine the materials speaking without relying on some foo-foo-psuedo-metaphysical rubbish where a human artist is assumed required as mediator or receiver of aesthetic experience. Not only do machines write, they are capable of writing for each other.

So, what to do? Well, certainly we have returned to a state of befuddlement where we are unsure as artists how to proceed. We are desperate for answers and in due diligence are asking "what is to be done?" For me, there is no clear answer yet, but I posit that it could be a productive strategy to let go of our received assumption about the ontology of both art and theory: that these are in some sense pedagogical, (or healing, or enlightening, or can produce an important critical gestalt). At the same time, I hasten to add, I am not re-proposing to wallow in the dead waste of postmodernism, the endless mirrors of negation, or the nihilism of hovering in our own confusion. No, there is an escape hatch, and I am not sure what to call it, productive-theory, local theory, the art of exploration, or a move toward performance and experimentation with the data that now mediates the relationship between us and our environment, (I am confused as anyone else, obviously.)

The closest I can come to specifying this in theoretical terms that might map well to the problem is to say that beauty can not help us at this moment. Beauty is the aesthetic of quality and understanding, the terminal state of reason. Pursuing the sublime, which Kant related to quantity and the stimulation of our reasoning capabilities out of necessity (because the problems are too big for us to understand, the sublime is the starting point of reason and not its terminus), is to me a productive strategy. The necessary tactics of course remain to be explored, which gives us all plenty of work to do. How artists and theorists relate to our material environments, and their mediation (and shift to very different forms of feedback and organization) through "art" will require a lot more experimental doing as research that constitutes practical exploration of the new realities. It should be a surprising and adventurous time, leaving us in awe of the historical novelty of our new condition. Maybe art and theory will be able to "say" something about this unique cultural moment at some future time, but for now, our confusion can at least be made productive if we try to create (and report on) experimental configurations of experience within our strange new reality.

Brian Holmes wrote: wrote:
 What is to be done with a process that helped create our
perception of the metaphysical, but whose operations, whose forms and sometimes even content are now within the control of machines? When most of what art produces today ignores humanity’s need for the transcendent, when what most of what art produces today responds to machine’s perceptions of the world?

This is a great text, with interesting references and a clear relation to present reality. But I think the onus is on you to give some initial ideas of what is to be done. There is, effectively, nothing in the Western philosophical tradition that will help respond.

I am currently reading a philosopher from that retrograde country, France, one who writes in the minor imperial language most of them still use over there, his name is Bernard Stiegler. He thinks that the entire European production of technological writing machines in the enlarged sense - the kind of machines with which we cultivate ourselves, along the lines sketched out by Foucault in his text "writing of the self" - should be reoriented so as to basically save the inhabitants of Europe and perhaps elsewhere from a threatening reduction of human singularity, and with it, of any possible ethics. He thinks that capitalism, in the advanced economies, is now primarily cultural, focused around the different devices whereby memory and creativity of all kinds is exteriorized into objects and traces. He thinks such machines are essential, a basic part of the human experience in time, but that care needs to be taken with their production, so that persons can go on becoming individuals ("individuating") in a relation of creative tension with societies which are also constantly individuating. If this care for the social and psychic self cannot be translated into a change in the kinds of machines which are produced, he believes that a generalized disenchantment with democracy will grow more widespread, leading to a collapse of desire into gregarious, instinctual outbursts of destructive violence. His latest book, Reenchanter le monde: La valeur esprit contre le populisme industriel, begins precisely with a chapter entitled "What is to be done?" However, if I have understood the post you sent, this whole approach and anything like it is already obsolete. So I am quite curious what you think is to be done.

all the best, Brian Holmes

empyre forum

-- Brett Stalbaum, Lecturer, PSOE Coordinator, Interdisciplinary Computing and the Arts Major (ICAM) UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, SAN DIEGO Department of Visual Arts 9500 GILMAN DR. # 0084 La Jolla CA 92093-0084

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