[-empyre-] A Post-Futurist or a Neo-Baroque perception?

stamatia portanova stamatiaportanova at yahoo.it
Fri May 8 02:01:44 EST 2009

In the 21st century, the new avant-garde 'happenings' are Internet-based performances and satellite-facilitated mobile event-improvisations. I see this cybernetic art as the outcome of a futuristic fascination for technology that started to animate the first still and moving pictures of moving and dancing bodies one hundred years ago. Can our techno-art (and, more in general, our techno-lives) be critically understood in Futuristic terms? Futurism certainly had taken a different, non-critical but enthusiastic position with respect to technology, but in order to criticize another institutionalized power: that of the academia and all its political, financial and cultural 'suffocations'. And yet, many fundamental conceptual differences appear between 'our' and 'their' Futurism. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the acclaimed superiority of (Western) man was guaranteed by the rapidity and power of his machines, which transformed him into an
 ‘over-grafted’ ‘overman’, an inhuman entity, a sort of animal body mingled with the superpower of a metallic body annihilating time and space through its dynamic performances. The speed of the Futurist art and life was a progressive acceleration of pace, a velocity acquired, one century before the performances of body artist Stelarc, by an already obsolete humanity through the incorporation of the technical machine. 
Today, science and philosophy have taught us a lot. Expanding the stasis/movement dualism and the limited notion of movement as a powerful and fast invasion of space (through bodily displacement but also through the mastering act of looking) suggested by the Futurist speed-obsession, the 21st century has drawn on pre-socratic ideas to create new conceptions of stasis and motion as two different moments of the same dynamic event, two different states always passing into one another. In other words, speeds and slownesses both compose a rhythm. The main philosophical reference I'm thinking about here for this analysis comes, once again, from Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of ‘machinism’, i.e the conceptualization of the body as a ‘machine’ characterized by particular internal/external relations and rhythms, links and dis-connections, more than by specifically defined components. And yet, of course, there is an important discrepancy between the
 contemporary commercial and corporate discourse on technology (a still obsolete Futurist apology), and our critical, aesthetic and political considerations of it.
The critique of rhythm and speed intended as 'pure velocity', and also the more critical thought of how our everyday lives are (not always positively) affected by technology, constitute the main shift from a Futurist to what Franco Berardi (BIFO) has defined as a Post-Futurist era. His Post-Futurist Manifesto, in response to the one hundred-years-old original Manifesto of Futurism, can be read at: 


In fact, being not not totally in agreement with all of Bifo's Post-Futurist definitions or points, I would also like to talk about Deleuze's own definition of 'Neo-Baroque' (a definition he used, in 'The Fold', to talk about Whitehead's early-20th century philosophy, and how it constituted a variation of Leibniz's Baroque thought). I think that the idea of a Neo-Baroque could also be interesting to understand what is happening to our technologized movements and perceptions, not only because of its 'aestehtic' resonances, but mainly because this definition refers to a particular relation between science, thought and life. 

In fact, I think that the presence of technology does modify our thinking and perceiving habits in a very subtle and 'imperceptible' way, and that this modification can be paradoxically noticed even in our perception of the less technologized forms of art. Painting, for example, which seems to be one of the more distant, almost dying expressive forms of our age. Among the ‘slowest’ or most ‘static’ forms of art, painting seems to take an excessively long time to be ‘enjoyed’ in its obsolete material richness. Digital technology is the opposite. It is all about short temporalities and small scale. But like the microscope in the 17th century, it shows an incredible capacity to affect perception and thought. An almost ‘hallucinatory’ vision unfolds itself, constituting a sort of Neo-Baroque visionary field where art and philosophy share a particular 'molecular' taste (a ‘way of treating things’) with science. For the visionary scientist,
 now or back in the 17th century, it does not matter that the dissection can not go ad infinitum, insofar as it shows a way, or a tendency, towards the infinite. For Gottfried Leibniz, the inventor of differential calculus, a myriad of ‘inconspicuous perceptions’ emerge on the surface, as the little folds composing the consciousness of one single moment, but without individually standing out enough for us to be aware of them. 

The digital age is a ‘Baroque’ age: digital technologies make us ‘almost’ aware of our micro-perceptions, with a capacity to transform even our enjoyment of the ‘static’ arts. In fact, the duration of a painting, differently for example from time-based arts like film or performance, does not 'force' you to wait for any temporal span; it only needs an intensive interval, a differential of perception and thought, to ‘appear’ in its force, in its originality and strength. And then you can chronologically stretch the interval as much as you can. Of course, the more you look, the more details you discover (and this is where quantity becomes an important qualifying element). But one moment is enough: this is what is being suggested to us by our technological days, when every micro-moment goes so fast, and yet it is at the same time so much emphasized that it becomes the most malleable of durations. It is like a sort of 'perceptual calculus'
 that is coming to surface, a feeling that Whitehead defines as a ‘strain-feeling’: the sensation of rhythm as an infinite intensity geometrically distributing itself between a series of finite, distant perceptions. 

In short, my final question is: given our intensive, Post-Futurist conception of time, how do we critically respond to the small-scale quantifications and restrictions, or accelerations, of space-time by digital technology, without going back to a simultaneous chronological and metric conceptions? In the end, one moment can be as long as a life...



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