[-empyre-] neuroaesthetics and modeling

Anna Munster A.Munster at unsw.edu.au
Wed Oct 1 09:49:18 EST 2008


Well, it's the end of the month in Australia but perhaps not yet in US/ 
Canada/Latin America - so I will chance one more post to reply to  
Johannes' intriguing and challenging questions:

> I would then ask Anna or Barbara why, in their opinion, the theories  
> of "affect"  (as Massumi has helped to popularize them) have been of  
> such interest to artists and psychologists  (maybe this is obvious),  
> more so than to scientists perhaps  (those neuroscientists i have  
> met seemed predominantly interested in observable, mappable data  
> based on scans during action (motorsensory),  and yet more so to  
> theorists and cultural scientists than to perforrmer and designers,  
> unless emotion design and affective computing are considered  
> scientific or neuro-aesthetic.

I don't know that I can answer this comprehensively but the Massumi- 
affect ideas are put into circulation by for example, artists  like  
Chris Salter -http://www.chrissalter.com/, and I also think there is a  
sustained dialogue between those kind of notions of affect and  
architectural/spatial/ installation practice, especially in the work  
coming out of the Melbourne based research lab SIAL (www.sial.rmit.edu.au/) 
. Additonally Raphael Lozano-Hemmer's work is certainly in a constant  
dialogue with those characterizations of affect, as he and Massumi  
collaborate on a number of projects. Although I certainly wouldn't  
want to claim that these artists 'apply' Massumi's affect, there are  
certainly resonating relations - for both art and philsophy between  

Why neuroscientists 'en masse' are not so interested in these more  
difficult ideas about affect, I can't answer concretely but can only  
speculate. First, I think as we've all observed throughout this debate  
the neurosciences are not a unified field anyway and perhaps Johannes  
you have only met a certain kind....I have mentioned Steven Rose who  
is a neurobiologist and who wrote: The Future of the Brain: The  
Promise and Perils of Tomorrow's Neuroscience 2005. Much of the  
critique of methodology, determinism etc that Lucette (who keeps being  
confused with trish!) has raised in this discussion are proposed also  
by Rose. Perhaps he doesn't read Massumi but I can see that he would  
certainly take a much more open relation to affect than deeming it  

Then there is Damasio - I have some problems with his  
epiphenomenological relations between brain and mind but he certainly  
is open to affect. In fact, he goes to some of the same sources as  
Massumi does (if only because Massumi is drawn to  Deleuze who is  
drawn to Spinoza), in his last book - Looking for Spinoza: Joy,  
Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain.

And then there is Varela and Thompson - who Barbara might put on the  
beyond phenomenology side of things - a philosopher and a  
neuroscientist who critique cognitivism via phenomenology and  
Buddhism...although these ideas are not 'Massumian' - I think there  
are some interesting relationships around affect.

In these examples I've listed I think there are 2 important sets of  
resonating interests around affect - 1)Rose, Damasio and Varela are  
all neurobiologists or have biological training. I'm not sure what to  
make about this except to say that this makes its way into their  
philosophical frameworks because all are very strongly embodied  
neuroscientists and this makes a difference to their 'nonmappable'  
views of mind and world. Likewise, Massumi's work is very much about a  
radical conception of embodiment (which also admits that 'the body' is  
abstract). 2) All neuroscientists and thinkers are in some way  
interested in 'joy'....no doubt reaching back into a Spinozist  

I think there is much much more that needs to be done around joyful  
affect ( and I don't mean the psychology of happiness movement which I  
think is profoundly neo-liberal to draw in another thread of the  
discussion!). And in fact I don't feel so depressed by present times  
and the 'collapse' of the world even though I do think it's a very  
serious collapse, it may also turn out to be a joyful one....

best anna

Dr.Anna Munster
Senior Lecturer
School of Art History and Theory
College of Fine Arts
P.O. Box 259
NSW 2021
612 9385 0741 (tel)
612 9385 0615(fax)
a.munster at unsw.edu.au

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