Aesthetic Knowledge and its Geometric Imaginary: an introduction

After the decline of the idealistic systems there is no point in artificially trying to resuscitate aesthetics as a branch of philosophy. A valid, if difficult, approach for a future aesthetics would be to find the right combination of production-oriented experience and philosophical reflection. Such an aesthetics would transcend the level of a phenomenology of art works, linking it to the medium of conceptualization. Theodore Adorno[i]

Part I: Aesthetic Knowledge: the first break with Kant

  1. Aesthetic Knowledge as Judgement

If improperly understood, the term, aesthetic knowledge, could be assimilated to the Kantian tradition of aesthetics. Kant’s approach was to provide the logical, and therefore scientific, evidence that aesthetics is far more than an act of description, or set of principles that determine the nature of art, beauty, taste, etc. With Kant, aesthetics is a integral to the faculty of the mind responsible for making judgements in general, and as such is constitutive of human experience, of ALL experience, and therefore of all domains of knowledge. For Kant, judgement is an aesthetic faculty grounded in the contest between the noumenal “the-thing-in-itself” and phenomenal substrate of reason and understanding. Judgement, again ALL judgement, is aesthetic, constitutively. Aesthetic knowledge, therefore, could be understood as an attempt to foreground this Kantian drive-toward-proof and facticity, the drive to make of aesthetics a scientific discipline. I in no way intend this reading, and it will be encumbant upon the following to make this distance justifiable. Further, it is an attempt to achieve the right combination Adorno refers to in the above epigram.

  1. a note on asymmetrical syntax

Aesthetic Knowledge in literary practice, or, literary aesthetic knowledge vs the aesthetic knowledge of art practice, or artistic aesthetic knowledge

This pair of subject headings demonstrates a paradigmatic terminological problem that derives from an aporia of grammatical parallelism, which syntax dictates. I will not be considering the aesthetic knowledge of literary practice, (though this could be done), but will address literary aesthetic knowledge. On the other hand, it is the “scientific-aesthetic of art practice” that I’m interested in and wish to avoid the ambiguity of the term “artistic,” with its conotations of being “creative,” “artsy,” “talented,” etc. It is a term that tends toward the colloquial to such a degree that it endangers the more serious epistemological project I pursue here. Hence, the subject heading would read with the following unavoidable lack of parallelism:

Literary aesthetic knowledge vs the aesthetic knowledge of art practice. The reason and signficance of this syntactical problem will be made clear in the following discussion.

  1. a note on the problem of the term “aesthetics”

The lack of parallelism just described is not a trivial problem. It is indicative of a range of similar category problems this book seeks to illuminate, and hopefully, eliminate. As will become obvious below, I will give an account of the use of literature in poststructuralism. I am interested in the “literary,” as opposed to works of literature and their authors per se, as it functions theoretically in the works I will address. This is significant because there has been a long tradition of privileging literature as the model and source for philosophical accounts of the “aesthetic.” If one asks the question, “Is an “aesthetics” derived from literary models adequate to account for non-languaged based forms of art practice?”, a negative answer would find easy support. Astonishingly, this is never done, and accounts shift seamlessly from poems to sonatas to, mostly, paintings, without situating their terms relative to the material dimensions of the art form in question. Some of the worst abuses are to be found in the writing about art by critics, cultural theorists, historians, etc.[ii] My point is that the term “aesthetic” is so naturalized that it is rarely questioned. For example, to my knowledge the following question has never been addressed: is a linguistic model adequate to comprehending an “art work” that takes the form of “language?” I sugggest that the answer is not obvious. In general, we will have to confront the fact that the linguistic turn has done great damage to art with its linguistic reductivism. “Compared with music all communication by words is shameless; words dilute and brutalize, words depersonalize, words make the uncommon common.” (Nietzsche, 428) Keeping in mine Nietzsche’s almost constant irony, this statement is not meant “literally.” If the referent of music is Wagner, then this statement should be taken positively, in that aesthetics should tend toward the cruel, toward de-anthropomorphizing, to revaluing such that what is in a given moment uncommon is brought toward the common. However, if taken in the context of Nietzsche’s criticism of Hugo, it would be read negatively. My point here is that in the context of the linguistic turn, and of the continual hegemony of the literary, music may indeed offer a model for aesthetics more appropriate for some forms of art, even those that might employ linguistic elements. So while locating the following discussion in poststructuralism, we must be continually on guard against linguistic hegemony, even while borrowing from it.

Further, aesthetic theories are largely complicit with the biases deeply embeded in historical, museological, and market practices, rather than calling them into question. Historians, curators, and critics write about artists always pre-approved by some prior mechanism, whether it be art history and studio courses in graduate schools, or Gogosian or Boone stables, or the mainstream market journals like Art in America and Artforum, or the ligitimizing of museum collections. Most journalistic writing is equally complicit in the marketplace and should be considered more a form of PR (or anti-PR) than criticism. Curatorial practices can be seen in the same light. My point is not that one can escape such mechanisms, but that the writing on “aesthetics” in particular often doesn’t address the social/cultural/economic practices that systemically generate the material base of works and practices that an aesthetics is meant to understand. Aesthetic discourse, therefore, tends to be reactionary, rather than investigative and constituting. This is largely due to the persistence of the philosophical tradition based on the Kantian directive of generalization first, application, never. I agree with Adorno that the idealist philosophical tradition of aesthetics from Baumgarten to Kant to Hegel, etc., fails miserably the simple test of application to real works of art and art practice; such an approach should be abandoned. Yet the tenacity of its persistence is remarkable; to overturn it requires a change in the model of knowledge perhaps as dramatic as Kepler’s contributions to overturning Aristotelian physics. While this may appear a hyperbolic and strangely anachronistic claim, I will show that it’s not. How is it that art, its practices and practitioners, have such an embattled and marginalized status in terms of knowledge production? And yet, how can art and artists, be a predominant target/scapegoat in the rise of ultra-conservatism today? Situated between capitalist knowledge production and its formalist/idealist hermeneutics; relegated to a marginal epistemological status; taken as politically threatening and literally excised from the public imaginary; just what does this peculiar contradiction signify? This is a very strange state of affairs.

We still have much to learn from Kepler’s aesthetic-scientific motivations.[iii] It is not only science fiction and the music of the spheres that can be traced to him. That perfect circularity is an impoverished aesthetic criteria by which to judge celestial “appearances” was a crucial lesson. We must get “ugly,” not beautiful, to save them; it is the elliptical that brings “truth” forward.

We must, I think, concur with Adorno that

Philosophy, indeed theoretical thought in general, suffers from an idealistic prejudgment because it deals only with concepts, never directly with what these concepts refer to. One of the labours of the Sisyphus of philosophy, therefore, has to be to reflect upon and perhaps undo the damage it does by being conceptual. Philosophy cannot paste an ontic substratum into its treatises. (1970: 365)

While Adorno is one of art’s great allies, he falls into a trap structured by language itself, that contributes to the further detriment of the artist. Note that Adorno’s call for a corrective to ‘theoretical thought in general’ is identical to his suggestion of how to resuscitate aesthetics in the epigram that began this introduction. General, nonidealistic questions of philosphical relevance, in other words, would seem to be coextensive with aesthetic questions of relevance. Adorno’s claim: “Aesthetic questions always boil down to this: is the objective spirit in a specific art work true?”, is syntactically interchangeable with: Philosophical questions always boil down to this: is the objective spirit in a specific social/natural referent true?

And yet, the conceptual parallelism instantly decays. Leaving aside the obvious problems with the term, objective, we may still ask: Is an art work specific and objective in the same way that theoretical thought in general is specific and objective? The equivocation here obviously lies in the false substitution of an “objectified” art work for the “objectifiction” of theoretical thought. What I wish to point out here is the consequence of a deep and long standing conceptual bias, an unconscious one, in philosophical thought and its practitioners, in making the category mistake of substituting the art work for theoretical thought and obviating the dictates of syntactical parallelism that would lead to a very different conclusion.

Here lies the problem:

“theoretical thought” is categorically accepted as something theorists have; while “aesthetic thought” is also something theorists have. Artists apparently, in philosophic terms, have objects but not thought. While it is generally accepted that scientists have scientific thought, and philosophers have philosophic thought, and in general, theoreticians have theoretical thought, artists do not seem to have an equivalent species of “aesthetic” thought constitutive of their epistemological production.

It is this unfortunate machinery of linguistic parallelism, and the conceptual negation it inevitably generates, that the term aesthetic knowledge seeks to displace. With it, relative to the practice of specific artists and their work, I will consider artists thinking, and will consider the meaning of, “aesthetic thought.” I will, however, avoid any claim to an essential type of thought unique to artists. This is the deep terminological/theoretical problem this book faces. Since “aesthetics” is so thoroughly assimilated by discourses outside of art practice, it has a frought and largely negative value here; at least until it’s put on practical foundation. And to further exascerbate things, artists are, of course, complicit in the use of the term “aesthetics” and its detrimental effects against them. I, therefore, will assume that artists do think, and that that thought has parity with “theoretical thought.” But this “thought” must not be considered “aesthetic.” As Nietzsche said: “At bottom, it has been an aesthetic taste that has hindered mankind the most…” (WP, p. 262) The question is: Can the term “aesthetic” be reclaimed? Or must it be abandoned? Can it be abandoned? Can it usefully be particularized? These are questions that obviously necessitate a deconstructive response.

I have cited Adorno here to illuminate this syntactical problem of parallelism, but also because he recognized the importance of using nominalism[iv] to challenge “aesthetics” and because he recognized the deep alliance of aesthetics with nominalism’s importance to theoretical thought generally. Without universals to appeal to, only particulars may form the basis of an “aesthetics.” But this criterion gets far more stringent when the converse is considered; particulars are not understood as species of higher, universal categories. Nominalism therefore requires a suspension, or severe limiting, of generalization in general. This was one of Nietzsche’s insights: “… between two thoughts all kinds of affects play their game; but their motions are too fast, therefore we fail to recognize them, we deny them…”[v] Characteristically, he says this is another form, “All unity is unity only as organization and co-operation – just as a human community is a unity… as a pattern of domination that signifies a unity but is not a unity.”[vi] Deleuze and Guatrari use the mathematical express, n – 1, to express this: literally subtacting the concept of unity from a multiplicity.[vii] We might take this as a definition of deconstructive method; and it mandates that the term “aesthetic” be displaced from signifying a unitary discourse.

It is by establishing the limits of theory that we may limit theory’s damage. How does one “operate” in an epistemological arena without universals? Strategically. Tactically. Through exemplars. Through “situating,” which is a tactical move, and further, by “orienting”, which is a strategic move. “Orienting knowledge” means adding vectorial force-with-direction to epistemological analysis and production. Both are necessary. By finding the right proportion between them we might arrive at the right proportion between “production-oriented experience and philosophical reflection.” This is the task nominalism demands. I will show aesthetic knowledge to be a variety of this type of “objectivity.” It may be that art practice may offer important lessons, similar in import to those of Kepler, to epistemology and ethics in terms of its relation to the “ontic substratum.” The ellipsis created by the problem of syntactical parallelism may turn out to be inhabited by the yet to be recognized ‘thoughts that artists have.’ In fact, since the historical constitution of theoretical thought as idealist is predicated on the negation, specifically, of the thought of artists, I will cautiously venture the claim that the thought of artists has been negated as systemically as the concept of “woman.” The “feminization” of the artist is the means by which “aesthetic” thought is oriented through situations of gender. It is not accidental that 75% of art students are women. (Nor that 90% of “successful” artists are men.)[viii] Aesthetic knowledge and its challenge intends, therefore, to add a corrective to Adorno’s corrective. Indeed, if two negatives give a positive, then hopefully, two positives will yield a negative and cancel the prejudice that structurally excludes the epistemological relevance of art.

In summary: The entire structure of language, predicated on the syntacal parallelism problem, has led to the systematic exclusion of the epistemological relevance of the thought that artists have. This is a fundamental characteristic of the patrimony of phallogocentrism. The thought that artists have, has been negated as systemically as the category of woman. One may not be born a woman. But with the invention of woman, artists may be born. Therefore, all “unsuccessful” artists are, categorically, women.

The aesthetic component of the s aesthetic knowledge I will put forward must therefore derive from mathematics and physics rather than from art. And the epistemological component must derive from art, because some artists are indeed investigating the non-Euclidean that some domains of math and science still eschew, or perform investigations that might at least lead to what a non-Euclidean-aesthetic might be. This requires a radical break not only from Kant, but from a naturalized privileging of sensory perception as Euclidean. The project is to begin a process by which an “aesthetics” based on a non-Euclidean geometry may begin to be “imagined.” Such an imagined aesthetic knowledge will be quite different than the truth and beauty school of traditional, Kantian aesthetics. It may best arise, I claim, in the gaps opened by the space of differance opened by Mallarme; but entered by Rousell, Artaud and Kafka in a “literary” appropriation based not on narrative, but on a challenge to master narratives, to signification, and to language itself. Rousell used a mechanico-chance method to produce his “novels,” an extra-linguistic process through which language is produced. Similarly, Artuad sought in his Theater of Cruelty, not “psychological states” of identification between audience and actors, but “spiritual states” expressed “between gesture and language,” based on bodies moving in relations that suggest meanings language prohibits. Kafka sought a writing which mobilized the non-Germanic components of German through moblizing the non-written elements of Yiddish and the dialectical components of the Chech German dialect, mobilizing systems of extra-semiotic exchange. It is in this work, that a literary representation may diverge into a non-literary art practice situated and oriented with reference to what Derrida, speaking of Artaud, calls the closure of representation.[ix] This is a complex term with several meanings; here I will only say that it refers to the problem of subtracting unity from multiplicity; to the necessity of limiting theory to a metonymic range. In Einstein’s language, we may speak “only of the space belonging to a body A.” We can only recover the non-Euclidean potential repressed by Kant’s work, however, within a critique of science that begins the deconstructive project. Still, we must be careful not to privilege the non-Euclidean over the Euclidean. We must recover the non-Euclidean moment of the late 19th century, and use it to re-erase the hegemony of the Euclidean imaginary today.

Methodologically, by stepping “outside” science and into art, we may criticize science; and, by stepping “outside” of art and into mathematics, we may criticize art. Art, in its dominant expression, continues to aid the Euclidean imaginary; one need only look at Modernism’s commitment to pure, positivistic expressionism based in a rigorous reduction to Euclidean elements. The flat plane, more than anything, is the symbol of standardization, the absolute, the rational, embodied in its most ideal form by the grid. What could be more cartesian? And this commitment has not lessened during the post-modern period, though formalism is not the driving force. It is because art and science are so unconsiously intertwined, that I pursue the pendulous trajectories between both discourses.

Part III The Art Practice Context

The concept of aesthetic knowledge is not meant to replace the concept of aesthetics in general. My concerns were originally motivated by “aesthetic” questions raised by a specific group of artists: artists who not only use scientific and technological concepts and methods, but whose work is intentionally about epistemological and interpretive problems that lie intersectionally between art and science. This particular group of artists is very sophisticated in their technical, historical and philosophical understanding of science and technology. In some cases these artists are less knowledgeable about their own field. This calls into question the general significance of art historical and art critical discourses to the production of art itself, and the role of other discourses within art and art history. As a result, until recently and with a few exceptions, these artists have been overlooked; or, when discussed,[x] have been assimilated to preexisting art historical, critical discourses that result at best, I claim, in a mis-understanding of these artists and their work. This situation has made it necessary for me to step vertiginously far outside the methods and strategies of traditional art history. This book is, therefore, not a work of art history. Yet it falls in a non-arbitrary and very specific nomansland: one designated by the specific group of artists and their practices on the one hand, and by scientists and mathematicians who have taken up the discourse of aesthetic thought within the production of science. It is the “shape” of this elsewhere that I wish to reveal. Hence, this project lies among of the discourses of science studies, cultural studies, visual studies, and poststructuralism. It is partly a work of history, but more, a work of poststructuralist theory (not to say philosophy). It is a result of what Barthes described as interdisciplinary, not because of some theory-motivated desire to merge disciplines, but because there are practices in the world, “real-world” problems, that demand such an interdisciplinary approach.

Hence, the problem is a double one: art historical/critical discourse has not evolved to accommodate works emerging in the intersections of art, science and technology in epistemological terms; and artists working in this place have meager historical/philosophical discourse resourses specific to their concerns to appeal to for support, critical interpretation, or sustenance. As a result, in increasing numbers, artists themselves are now theorizing their own production at a scholarly level (in some cases after having returned to school to obtain Ph.D’s).[xi] This fact introduces another fascinating wrinkle into the problem of art history and its accompanying discourses. This is not the first time that the artist-theorist has appeared, but this is the first time that they are situating themselves professionally and institutionally on an equal footing with other academics.

It is to this end that I am developing a new language in order to adequately historicize and comprehend the artists I am interested in. Thus, the twin readings of history and philosophy of science and technology on the one hand, and the history and philosophy of art, on the other. Aesthetic knowledge does not intend to be another universalizing category, but one tailored specifically to the conceptual and material interests of the specific group of artists I study. I will use the scientific-aesthetic in order to counter the marginalization, and retrieve from invisibility, the epistemological work that these artists perform. But in so doing, I hope that this might be an example of specifying aesthetic discourse relative to practice, rather than relying on the empty, universalizing category of “aesthetics” in general.

The term, aesthetic knowledge, is generaly descriptive of a type of work; more importantly, as has been stated, it points toward the type of “thought that a specific group of artists have.” In order to orient aesthetic knowledge in a more situated, epistemological direction, I propose that it be founded on another term that I will call “aesthetic empiricism,” a term responsive to the work of Neitzsche and to the history and philosophy of science of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The mid-nineteenth century created the now notorious concept of logical positivism which assumed the role of puritanical judge of scientific validity; it placed a troubled and short-lived concept of “positive” knowledge in the High Inquisitor’s seat. It accepted as ‘scientific’ only that knowledge that could be verified by ‘directly observable phenomena.’ As the well known story goes, the philosophical agenda of logical positivism came under immediate attack, and eventually gave way to less absolute variants. One of these was called ‘logical empiricism’ by Einstein; he meant to give scientific thought not “directly” observed as perceptual data, thought that was more indirect and abstract than ‘sensory thought,’ though physical nonetheless, the place and status of scientific ‘truth’ in its own terms. Analogously, the term, ‘aesthetic empiricism’ is itself a hybrid designation that substitutes the term aesthetic for the term logical, to suggest a type of cognition which “interpenetrates” with that of science. To retain empiricism as the root noun is to insist on the material conditions, which inevitably ground any aesthetic or logical thought. This is not to say that all thought must conform to either the paradigms of art or science. But it does insist on their reciprocally contaminating, cognitive aspects and their contingent epistemologies.

Aesthetic empiricism might then be thought of as the organic logic of a more generalized entity that I call the scientific-aesthetic. Language, in its written form at least, tends toward antinomies even before meaning can be made. I wish the hyphen to forestall this binarism, and to suggest a third epistemelogical process, something that can’t be contained by either category alone. It calls into existence a specific type of cultural object that expands both the concepts of science and of art, though, without eliminating either. I suggest we call this third thing, borrowing from geology, a suspect terrane; a terrane is a large rock unit or land mass or proto-contignent. Continents are formed by acreting terrains. Similarly, elements of this third thing have always been present, but a new discourse formation is acreting in ways more intensely folded than has been historically possible until now. This is not the place to say why. But it must be said of this emergent terrane that it requires, not the crossing of borders, but the gathering together of things that have been unnecessarily isolated and obscured by being too narrowly delimited by them. Thus the chapter descriptions that follow may be considered as examples of these accreted, suspect terranes.

[i] Theodor Adorno. (1970a: 459-60) This translation is distinctly different in style from the newer translation of Aesthetic Theory by Robert Hullot-Kentor, Univeristy of Minasota Press. 1997. While the latter is more consistent with Adorno’s technical philosophical terminology, the subtance is the same. Hullot-Kentor’s translation follows for comparison:

After the demise of idealistic systems, the difficulty of an aesthetics that would be more than a desperately reanimated branch of philosophy is that of bringing the artist’s closeness to the phenomena into conjunction with a conceptual capacity free of any subordinating concept, free of all decreed judgements; committed to the medium of concepts, such an aesthetics would go beyond a mere phenomenology of artworks. (1970b: 334)

The point I wish to emphasize in what follows is the “right combination of production-oriented experience and philosophical reflection,” in Lenhardt’s translation; or, “bringing the artist’s closeness to the phenomena into conjunction with a conceptual capacity free of any subordinating concept” in Hullot-Kentors. The language of my essay uses the earlier tranlsation.

[ii] Herbert Marcuse’s seminal work, The Aesthetic Dimension, cites literary texts almost exclusively. He nods definitively if cursorily in the direction of anti-art, referring only to Andy Warhol by name. He uses the terms expressionism, collage, montage, dislocation, and refers to Tristan, subsuming all art forms to a generalized “aesthetics,” all the while privileging literature as its model. We find a similar totalizing tendency in David Harvey’s comment “something called ‘postmodernism’ emerged from its chrysalis of the anti-modern to establish itself as a cultural aesthetic in its own right.” (1990: 3) This “cultural aesthetic” seems to have a status similar to a weltungshung. He goes on to describe everything from the novel, to architecture, to photography, to cinema as participating in it. His view is consistent with Jameson’s “cultural logic.” (Jameson. 1991) Terry Eagleton’s, The Ideology of the Aesthetic, beyond using a painting by Caspar David Freidrich, and a quote or two from Shakespeare, makes no reference to artists or works at all, showing that his version of a marxist tradition has not escaped the idealist theorizing it critiques. It’s not surprising that “aesthetics” remains “ideology” when an analysis of it eliminates its practice. A few more reference points are necessary in order to indicate the complexity of this deep naturalization of “aesthetics.” Even the landmark work, The Anti-Aesthetic, (Foster, 1983) did no better. The deliberately agonistic term, Foster claims there, “signals that the very notion of the aesthetic, its network of ideas, is in question…. also signals a practice, cross-disciplinary in nature, that is sensitive to cultural forms engaged in a politics (e.g., feminist art) or rooted in a vernacular – that is, to forms that deny the idea of a privileged aesthetic realm.”, we find that it is only the aesthetics of a universalizing, (non-vernacular) modernity, and the philosophy of Adorno, that are to be overturned in favor of ones positively seeking to achieve resistance, without bringing the category itself into critique. In passing, it should be noted that Foster’s reading of Adorno is oversimplified. Similarly, Burgin, in “The End of Art Theory,” simultaneously calls into question the inherited traditions of modernity, and seeks to realign it with “the objectives of theories of representations in general: a critical understanding of the modes and means of symbolic articulation of our critical forms of sociality and subjectivity.” It is unclear, however, whether the deliberate ambiguity of his title intends to call the category itself to an end. (Burgin. 1986: 204) While Foster maintains something of Adorno’s negative in the term anti-aesthetic, and Burgin substitutes a “postmodern” end for a modern one, both maintain the category itself unchallenged. More recent work along these lines fares no better. Even in the midst of important attempts like those of Shohat and Stam (1998: 31), in which great care is taken to look at Third World aesthetics as alternatives to Eurocentrism, we find again the same monolithic tendency: “These (3rd World) movements have also been fecund in neologistic aesthetics, literary, painterly and cinematic:….. the ‘aesthetics of hunger’ (Glauber Rocha)…. ‘cigarette-butt aesthetics’ (Ousmane Sembene)….’diasporic aesthetics’ (Kobena Mercer)…. ‘santeria aesthetics’ (Arturo Lindsay).” While such qualifying modifications are useful, they still whitewash the material difference between literature, painting and cinema. On the other side of these texts, are the Foucauldian inspired theorists working after what W.J.T. Mitchell, following Richard Rorty, dubbed “the pictorial turn.” These authors situate themselves in the field of “visual culture,” or “visual studies.” I speak here only of those in the stricter sense of Mitchell: “Whatever the pictorial turn is, then, it should be clear that it is not a return to naïve mimesis, copy or correspondence theories of representation, or a renewed metaphysics of pictorial “presence”: it is rather a postlinguistic, postsemiotic rediscovery of the picture as a complex interplay between visuality, apparatus, institutions, discourse, bodies, and figurality.” (Mitchel. 1994:16) Here we encounter the opposite problem. The term “aesthetics” has been universally deleted from the discourse, replaced largely by the term, visuality. Also see Foster (1988), Crary (1990). These theorists attempt to put the “picture” on par with the “sign.” The difficulty here is that by privileging the picture, or the visual, they exclude a great deal of art, as object, as practice, as phenomenal source. For this reason, the terms picture or visuality, have the same idealizing tendencies as “aesthetics”.

[iii] Kepler: 1967,1981,1997. While Copernicus gets the credit for the heliocentric displacement, it should be recalled that Kepler’s Laws, (elliptical orbits, non-uniform planetary motion, i.e. acceleration, period/radius ratio constancy for all planets) together with Galileo telescopic and kinetic discoveries, brought the question of ‘force’ fully to bear, and gave rise to what Bernard Cohen has described as the birth of the new physics.(Cohen, 1985) The shift was from Aristotelian speculative reasoning to materially constituted events that could be mathematically coded. One “aesthetic” moment is embodied in Galileo’s visualisations of a “star gazer”, including the phases of the moon and the “Medici Stars,” both evidence of astronomical bodies rotating around other rotating astronomical bodies. Kepler’s aesthetic motivation was his theory of the music of spheres, in which, after overturning Plato’s Axioms (orbital circularity, uniform motion, geocentrism) that had reigned for 2000 years, attempted a kind of safe face reinscription of Platonism in using the Platonic solids, as the geometry explaining the relationships of the orbits in a unified planetary system, based on the premise that the five regular solids can all be comprehended within a sphere. The mathematical proof is to be found in the last book of the Thirteen Books of Euclid’s Elements. But Kepler didn’t stop there. He assumed that the planetary motions would emit sounds that obeyed musical ratios discovered by Pythagorous. Galilean “aesthetics” is a form observational realism in keeping with both the southern and northern Renaissance, while, Kepler’s “aesthetics” is simply science fiction.

[iv] Belief that only particular things exist, as opposed to realism.Nominalists hold that a general term or name {Lat. nomine} is applied to individuals that resemble each other, without the need of any reference to an independently existing universal.

[v] Nietzsche. 1968: 264

[vi] Nietzsche. 1968: 303

[vii] Deleuze and Guattari. 1980: 17-25

[viii] I recognize that his discucssion is still very inadequate. I plan to develop it at a later point. But thought it important to state here, in its abreviated form, to make the comparison work in the service of the artist.

[ix] “The Theater of Cruelty and the Closure of Representation,” in Derrida (1978: 232).

[x] The fact is, the artists I refer to have been written about very little, if at all. Paul Demarinas is one them, and we may take his situation as representative. Beyond a few catalog essays, journalistic articles, there is one essay I know of that, if it goes a step further, does so only because of where it is published, in the larger discussions of technoculture represented by other essays in Penley and Ross (1991), which, to give an indication of context, began with an interview of Donna Haraway and its “Postscript” written by her. This essay is by artist Jim Pomeroy, one of the Bay Area figures who like Demarinas, was at the forefront of art, science and technology experiments since Frank Oppenheimer opened the doors of the Exploratorium in 1972, creating a base of operation for artists interested in science and technology. Pomeroy’s essay, “Black Box S-Thetix: Labor, Research, and Survival in the He[Art] of the Beast,” (Penley and Ross. 1991: 271-294) was written shortly before he tragically died. He gives a brief account of Alan Rath, Ed Tannenbaum, Julia Sher, Survival Research Laboratory, in addition to DeMarinas. The extent of his theoretical comments are contained in two paragraphs in the “Coda” of that article. Techno-art, Pomeroy claims, “basks in the narrow window of aesthetic permission sanctioned by an art market that recognizes the principle of aggressive innovation, in a culture of illusory permissiveness that respects the posibility of profit from inventive play. In this respect, the dynamics of techno-art presents a lucid example of how cultural production is obliged to emulate the high legitimacy given to technological R&D…” This is on the one hand. Pomeroy continues, “In its more constructive aspects, however, techno-art is a powerful and appropriate vehicle of cultural confrontation and discursive commentary upon the technological religion of our times. Because it embraces the contradictions of our technically advanced society, and amplifies those very tendencies that expose the contradictions, it raises the specter of our extreme hopes and fears regarding technology.” (Penley and Ross.1991:293). My point here is not that Pomeroy’s comments are wrong; they are in fact quite true. My point is that Pomeroy can appeal only to social critique, because there simply is no other reference point to allow for his politics, while these discourses assimilate techno-art to its epistemological, political and methodological point of view, from “outside” what contributions such work might make, independently, of the discourses from which it borrows. There is no frame of reference from which to query either its negatively complicit of positively challenging engagements from a critical perspective sensitive to art practices, that in fact, are motivated by unique sets of concerns, conditions of possibility and existence, by “practices” that such social critique is inadequate to address.

[xi] See the issue of AI and Society, edited by Victoria Vesna that can be found at, Essays by Sharon Daniel, Eduardo Kac, Lev Manovich, Robert Nideffer, Victoria Vesna and Fabian Wagmeister all represent this trend. Vesna, along with Margot Lovejoy (SUNY, Purchase) and Christiane Paul (assitant curator of new media, Whitney Museum of American Art) are co-editing a book entitled, Context Providers, MIT Press, forthcoming, with essays by Sharon Daniel, Katherine Hayles, Maggie Morris, Christine Styles, Ed Shanken, Sara Daimond. Artists such as Joseph Nechvetal (School of Visual Arts, NYC), Bill Seaman (UCLA), Jill Scott (unaffiliated), Eduardo Kac (School of the Art Institute of Chicago), Victoria Vesna (UCLA) and others have all recently taken, or in the process of obtaining, Ph.D’s at CAIIA-STAR, Centre for Advanced Inquiry in the Interactive Arts, at the University of Wales College, Newport, and STAR, the Centre for Science, Technology and Art Research, in the School of Computing, University of Plymouth. CAIIA-STAR was founded and currently directed by Roy Ascott, an artist and theorist whose writings were quite influential in the 60’s and 70’s. See, for a full description. Ascott’s writings are forthcoming in a collection edited by Ed Shanken. To give just a few examples: Nechvetal’s dissertation was entitled, Immersive Ideals / Critical Distances:A Study of the Affinity Between Artistic Ideologies Based in Virtual Reality and Previous Immersive Idioms, Seaman’s, Recombinant Poetics: Emergent Meaning as Examined and Explored Within a Specific Generative Virtual Environment, and Vesna’s, Networked Public Spaces:An Investigation into Virtual Embodiment. Robert Nideffer (UCI) holds both an MFA in new media/digital arts, and a Ph.D in Sociology, both from UCSB; his dissertation was entitled, The Fine Art of Appropriation. Lev Manovich (UCSD) attained a Ph.D. from the University of Rochester, one of the few Ph.D level programs open to practicing artists. He has just published, The Language of New Media, MIT Press, 2001.


Aesthetic Knowledge and its Geometric Imaginary: an introduction

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