Monday, May 22, 2017

Iain Grant, Ray Brassier, and Robin Mackay reflect on accelerationism and the CCRU

Because the article is part of The Guardian's "long read" series - in the interest of accelerating time - I'll include below what I thought were the most interesting parts and then link to the full article below. The title is "Accelerationism: how a fringe philosophy predicted the future we live in," published back on May 11.  Also involving time (because I just haven't had any) is why it took me so long to publish this post.  But please do read, alot of interesting reflections.

At any one time, there have probably only been a few dozen accelerationists in the world. The label has only been in regular use since 2010, when it was borrowed from Zelazny’s novel by Benjamin Noys, a strong critic of the movement. Yet for decades longer than more orthodox contemporary thinkers, accelerationists have been focused on many of the central questions of the late 20th and early 21st centuries: the rise of China; the rise of artificial intelligence; what it means to be human in an era of addictive, intrusive electronic devices; the seemingly uncontrollable flows of global markets; the power of capitalism as a network of desires; the increasingly blurred boundary between the imaginary and the factual; the resetting of our minds and bodies by ever-faster music and films; and the complicity, revulsion and excitement so many of us feel about the speed of modern life. 
... 
Noys says: “Accelerationists always seem to have an answer. If capitalism is going fast, they say it needs to go faster. If capitalism hits a bump in the road, and slows down” – as it has since the 2008 financial crisis – “they say it needs to be kickstarted.”...In recent years, Noys has noticed accelerationist ideas “resonating” and being “circulated” everywhere from pro-technology parts of the British left to wealthy libertarian and far-right circles in America.

...

Yet it was in France in the late 1960s that accelerationist ideas were first developed in a sustained way. Shaken by the failure of the leftwing revolt of 1968, and by the seemingly unending postwar economic boom in the west, some French Marxists decided that a new response to capitalism was needed. In 1972, the philosopher Gilles Deleuze and the psychoanalyst Félix Guattari published Anti-Oedipus. It was a restless, sprawling, appealingly ambiguous book, which suggested that, rather than simply oppose capitalism, the left should acknowledge its ability to liberate as well as oppress people, and should seek to strengthen these anarchic tendencies, “to go still further … in the movement of the market … to ‘accelerate the process’”. 
Two years later, another disillusioned French Marxist, Jean-François Lyotard, extended the argument even more provocatively. His 1974 book Libidinal Economy declared that even the oppressive aspects of capitalism were “enjoyed” by those whose lives the system reordered and accelerated. And besides, there was no alternative: “The system of capital is, when all’s said and done, natural.” 
In France, both books were controversial. Lyotard eventually disowned Libidinal Economy as his “evil book”, and moved on to other subjects. Deleuze and Guattari warned in their next book, A Thousand Plateaus, which was published in 1980 – as relatively benign postwar capitalism was being swept away by the wilder, harsher version of the Thatcher-Reagan era – that too much capitalist acceleration could suck society into “black holes” of fascism and nihilism. 
Yet in Britain, Anti-Oedipus and Libidinal Economy acquired a different status. Like much of postwar French philosophy, for decades they were ignored by the academic mainstream, as too foreign in all senses, and were not even translated into English until 1983 and 1993 respectively. But, for a tiny number of British philosophers, the two books were a revelation. Iain Hamilton Grant first came across Libidinal Economy as a master’s student at Warwick in the early 90s. “I couldn’t believe it! For a book by a Marxist to say, ‘There’s no way out of this’, meaning capitalism, and that we are all tiny pieces of engineered desire, that slot into a huge system – that’s a first, as far as I know.” Grant “got hooked”. Instead of writing his dissertation, he spent an obsessive six months producing the first English translation. 
... 
By the early 90s Land had distilled his reading, which included Deleuze and Guattari and Lyotard, into a set of ideas and a writing style that, to his students at least, were visionary and thrillingly dangerous. Land wrote in 1992 that capitalism had never been properly unleashed, but instead had always been held back by politics, “the last great sentimental indulgence of mankind”....He [Land] saw civilisation everywhere accelerating towards an apocalypse: “Disorder must increase... Any [human] organisation is ... a mere ... detour in the inexorable death-flow.”

Land gave strange, theatrical lectures: clambering over chairs as he spoke, or sitting hunched over, rocking back and forth. He also spiced his pronouncements with black humour. He would tell lecture audiences, “I work in the field of The Collapse of Western Civilisation Studies.” A quarter of a century on, some former Warwick philosophy students still talk about him with awe. Robin Mackay says, “I think he’s one of the most important philosophers of the last 50 years.”
...
At Warwick, however, the prophecies were darker. “One of our motives,” says Plant, “was precisely to undermine the cheery utopianism of the 90s, much of which seemed very conservative” – an old-fashioned male desire for salvation through gadgets, in her view. “We wanted a more open, convoluted, complicated world, not a shiny new order.”To observe the process, and help hasten it, in 1995 Plant, Fisher, Land, Mackay and two dozen other Warwick students and academics created a radical new institution: the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit (CCRU). It would become one of the most mythologised groups in recent British intellectual history....For decades, tantalising references to the CCRU have flitted across political and cultural websites, music and art journals, and the more cerebral parts of the style press. “There are groups of students in their 20s who re-enact our practices,” says Robin Mackay. Since 2007, he has run a respected philosophy publishing house, Urbanomic, with limited editions of old CCRU publications and new collections of CCRU writings prominent among its products....These days, Iain Hamilton Grant is an affable, middle-aged professor who wears a waistcoat with a pen in the top pocket. Yet when I asked him to describe the CCRU, he said with sudden intensity: “We made up an arrow! There was almost no disharmony. There was no leisure. We tried not to be apart from each other. No one dared let the side down. When everyone is keeping up with everyone else, the collective element increased is speed.”....Grant explained: “Something would be introduced into the group. Neuromancer [William Gibson’s 1984 novel about the internet and artificial intelligence] got into the philosophy department, and it went viral. You’d find worn-out paperbacks all over the common room.” 
... 
Even inside the permissive Warwick philosophy department, the CCRU’s ever more blatant disdain for standard academic practice became an issue. Ray Brassier watched it happen. Now an internationally known philosopher at the American University in Beirut, between 1995 and 2001 he was a part-time mature student at Warwick. 
“I was interested in the CCRU, but sceptical,” Brassier says. “I was a bit older than most of them. The CCRU felt they were plunging into something bigger than academia, and they did put their finger on a lot of things that had started to happen in the world. But their work was also frustrating. They would cheerfully acknowledge the thinness of their research: ‘It’s not about knowledge.’ Yet if thinking is just connecting things, of course it’s exciting, like taking amphetamines. But thinking is also about disconnecting things.” 
Brassier says that the CCRU became a “very divisive” presence in the philosophy department. “Most of the department really hated and despised Nick – and that hatred extended to his students.” There were increasingly blunt bureaucratic disputes about the CCRU’s research, and how, if at all, it should be externally regulated and assessed. In 1997, [Sadie] Plant resigned from the university. “The charged personal, political and philosophical dynamics of the CCRU were irresistible to many, but I felt stifled and had to get out,” she told me. 
... 
After his [Land's] breakdown, Land left Britain. He moved to Taiwan “early in the new millennium”, he told me, then to Shanghai “a couple of years later”. He still lives there now. “Life as an outsider was a relief.” China was also thrilling. In a 2004 article for the Shanghai Star, an English-language paper, he described the modern Chinese fusion of Marxism and capitalism as “the greatest political engine of social and economic development the world has ever known”. At Warwick, he and the CCRU had often written excitedly, but with little actual detail, about what they called “neo-China”. Once he lived there, Land told me, he realised that “to a massive degree” China was already an accelerationist society: fixated by the future and changing at speed. Presented with the sweeping projects of the Chinese state, his previous, libertarian contempt for the capabilities of governments fell away. 
... 
In 1970, the American writer Alvin Toffler, an exponent of accelerationism’s more playful intellectual cousin, futurology, published Future Shock, a book about the possibilities and dangers of new technology. Toffler predicted the imminent arrival of artificial intelligence, cryonics, cloning and robots working behind airline check-in desks. “The pace of change accelerates,” concluded a documentary version of the book, with a slightly hammy voiceover by Orson Welles. “We are living through one of the greatest revolutions in history – the birth of a new civilisation.” 
Shortly afterwards, the 1973 oil crisis struck. World capitalism did not accelerate again for almost a decade. For much of the “new civilisation” Toffler promised, we are still waiting. But Future Shock has sold millions of copies anyway. One day an accelerationist may do the same.

Link to the full article HERE.

Download the introduction to Avanessian's and Mackay's #Accelerationist Reader (.pdf)


On Avanessian's academia.edu page HERE, or back-up link HERE.

Download the introduction to Quentin Meillassoux's Time without Becoming (.pdf)


Sunday, May 21, 2017

Ernst Jünger’s The Worker: Dominion and Form (new book)


Written in 1932, just before the fall of the Weimar Republic and on the eve of the Nazi accession to power, Ernst Jünger’s The Worker: Dominion and Form articulates a trenchant critique of bourgeois liberalism and seeks to identify the form characteristic of the modern age. Jünger’s analyses, written in critical dialogue with Marx, are inspired by a profound intuition of the movement of history and an insightful interpretation of Nietzsche’s philosophy. 
Martin Heidegger considered Jünger “the only genuine follower of Nietzsche,” singularly providing “an interpretation which took shape in the domain of that metaphysics which already determines our epoch, even against our knowledge; this metaphysics is Nietzsche's doctrine of the ‘will to power.’” In The Worker, Jünger examines some of the defining questions of that epoch: the nature of individuality, society, and the state; morality, justice, and law; and the relationships between freedom and power and between technology and nature. 
This work, appearing in its entirety in English translation for the first time, is an important contribution to debates on work, technology, and politics by one of the most controversial German intellectuals of the twentieth century. Not merely of historical interest, The Worker carries a vital message for contemporary debates about world economy, political stability, and equality in our own age, one marked by unsettling parallels to the 1930s.

Link HERE.

Ernst Jünger’s Philosophy of Technology: Heidegger and the Poetics of the Anthropocene (new book)



This book examines the work of Ernst Jünger and its effect on the development of Martin Heidegger’s influential philosophy of technology. Vincent Blok offers a unique treatment of Jünger’s philosophy and his conception of the age of technology, in which both world and man appear in terms of their functionality and efficiency. The primary objective of Jünger’s novels and essays is to make the transition from the totally mobilized world of the 20th century toward a world in which a new type of man represents the gestalt of the worker and is responsive to this new age. Blok proceeds to demonstrate Jünger’s influence on Heidegger’s analysis of the technological age in his later work, as well as Heidegger’s conceptions of will, work and gestalt at the beginning of the 1930s. At the same time, Blok evaluates Heidegger’s criticism of Jünger and provides a novel interpretation of the Jünger-Heidegger connection: that Jünger’s work in fact testifies to a transformation of our relationship to language and conceptualizes the future in terms of the Anthropocene. This book, which arrives alongside several new English-language translations of Jünger’s work, will interest scholars of 20th-century continental philosophy, Heidegger, and the history of philosophy of technology.

A hefty price tag but the eBook is obviously cheaper. Link HERE.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Christopher Roth's and Armen Avanessian's HYPERSTITION (video)

Happened to come across a trailer that I somehow missed last year for Roth's and Avanessian's Hyperstition (2016).  On their Vimeo page there is a fifteen minute excerpt of the hour and forty three minute film which can be streamed on demand for $4.99.  Unfortunately due to privacy settings I can't embed that here but I can embed the trailer.


Hyperstition Trailer Who? from Christopher Roth on Vimeo
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Friday, May 19, 2017

On Ernst Junger and Yukio Mishima (Better than Food Book Reviews)

I recently discoverd a great YouTube channel called Better than Food: Book Reviews. The host (Clifford Lee Sargent) and I apparently have nearly identical tastes in literature - and so alot of the reviews are of books that I enjoy quite abit. He also had his first podcast with Greg Sadler (also quite famous from YouTube); Greg was a pleasure to speak with when I consulted him about possibly transitioning After Nature from blog to vlog.

Astonishingly, Clifford is also one of the few folks out there who appreciates in the German philosopher and literary figure, Ernst Juenger, what I do.  Namely, he does not so much look at Juenger as a mere conservative political figure as much as he does see him as a philosopher whose mode of operation is literature (perhaps like Bataille, another philosopher whom we both enjoy) and whose ideas are neither right nor left per se.  One may wish to consult Juenger's figure of the "anarch" in his science fiction masterpiece Eumeswil (1977) or even his political critique found in On the Marble Cliffs (1939) to see how this is the case.

Just a note that Juenger's philosophical observations were well, well ahead of his time, especially concerning his predictions about scientific technology, which is what makes him so important for NrX or "right accelerationism" (he predicted the iPhone, which he called the "phonophore," the internet which he called the "datasphere," and so on). I am going to post below a link to a documentary about Juenger where this is discussed in the second half. It is really worth watching and is actually the best documentary about Juenger that I have come across so far.  I should mention that in the documentary according to Juenger we will move from the age of the Titans to the gods by the 2200's - which for him means a union of humans and machine, accelerating intelligence, singularity, and encounter with extra-human forms of intelligence. Very interesting to hear.

Clifford also reviewed Yukio Mishima's Sun and Steel (1968) - which was great - as recently I've been obsessed with Mishima, and so I'll include some videos embedded below about him as well.









Thursday, May 18, 2017

Of the Wand and the Moon "A Cancer Called Love"

Exclusive and unreleased track care of Kim Larsen. Also check out his new project called White Chamber which is, in Kim's words, "Dark electronic music inspired by the 80's, John Carpenter and more." First, though, is a great track by his long-term project Of the Wand and the Moon - with a great song called "A Cancer Called Love" recorded at The Lone Descent album sessions back from 2011.



Of the Wand and the Moon "A Cancer Called Love" lyrics

I used to make long speeches to you after you left.
I used to talk to you all the time, even though I was alone.
I walked around for months talking to you.
Now I don't know what to say.
It was easier when I just imagined you.
I even imagined you talking back to me.
We'd have long conversations, the two of us.
lt was almost like you were there.
I could hear you, I could see you, smell you.
I could hear your voice. Sometimes your voice would wake me up.
It would wake me up in the middle of the night, just like you were in the room with me.
Then... it slowly faded.
I couldn't picture you anymore.
I tried to talk out loud to you like I used to, but there was nothing there.
I couldn't hear you.
Then... I just gave it up.
Everything stopped.
You just... disappeared.
And now I'm working here.
I hear your voice all the time.

Jägerblut "Hunting"



Jägerblut "Hunting" lyrics, from the album 1896-1906 (UMB label, CD released 2007)

Leave concrete, mortar, brick behind
We are naked, two of one kind
We touch the dirty ground beneath
Worm and beetle greet us: we breathe

Into forest, up the trees
Down the lake and into seas
Burn the fire, eat the ground
Walk in spirals round and round
Talk to spirits, trapped and bound

Into forest, up the trees
Down the lake and into seas
Eat the fire, burn the ground
Walk in spirals round and round

Far from cities people, hate
The dawn is near, the hour late
The moon is grinning in the sky
We come to run, we come to fly
We come to hunt, we come to die

Mist is rising, come and see
Come my darling, lie with me

Soon we'll be rotting in the earth
We'll be free: I'll be you and you'll be me
A brilliant feast for wolf and snake
A monstrous wind the woods shall shake
A monstrous wind the world will take
A hunter in the forest wake

Rain is falling endlessly
Come my darling hunt with me

You hunt me: I will be you


Friday, May 12, 2017

Bataille’s Revenge

Craig H. blogs about Bataille and much more, as linked below. Recently I've been reading quite abit of Bataille, actually - due to my recent foray into the accelerationist philosophy of Nick Land. Bataille's Nietzschean aesthetics of intensity reminds me very much of the 20th century German literatur Ernst Juenger, and as I've mentioned before Juenger's thought - mostly in essays such as "Total Mobilization" but moreso his treatise The Worker: Dominion and Form - could very well be a hidden gem of so-called "right" accelerationist philosophy, whatever that might mean. 

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Bataille's Revenge
// Technocommercium

In truth, Bataille seems to me far less an intellectual predicament than a sexual and religious one, transecting the lethargic suicide upon which we are all embarked. To accept his writings is an impossibility, to resist them an irrelevance. One is excited abnormally, appalled, but without refuge. Nausea perhaps? —Nick Land, A Thirst for Annihilation … Continue reading Bataille's Revenge

Technosphere Magazine


“Exploring the amorphous fabric of technologies, environments, and humans shaping Earth’s critical future. 
The technosphere is the defining matrix and main driver behind the ongoing transition of this planet into the new geological epoch of humankind, the Anthropocene. Stemming from the ubiquity of human culture and global technologies, it forms a new and highly dynamic component of the Earth system, amorphous in its gestalt yet powerful in altering the history of this planet and the conditions for life on it. Mobilizing and transforming massive amounts of materials and energy, it is comparable in scale and function to other terrestrial spheres such as the bio- and hydrosphere, with which it connects and intersects. Put differently, it constitutes a form of a higher ecology generated by the cumulative interweaving of technologies and natural environments to the point where both become inseparable. 
Manifest since at least the mid-twentieth century with the onset of the “Great Acceleration,” the technosphere has now reached an enormous, not yet determinate potential to alter the surface of the Earth as well as its great depths – from the orbital level to the deep sea. Owing to the capability of a single species to actuate technics that radically transform our planet, the technosphere thus represents a steep rupture and a qualitative shift in the way our planet has functioned for millions of years. How does the technosphere operate? How does it reorganize and re-functionalize the physicality and chemistry of living and non-living matter? And how does it change the ways we perceive the world?” 
Technosphere Magazine maps out specific dimensions, condensations, aggregations, “apparatuses,” problematics, conflict zones, ruptures, and operational failures, through and by which the technosphere becomes visible.” (from Editorial)
Editors-in-chief: Katrin Klingan, Christoph Rosol
Editorial team: Nick Houde, Anna Luhn (-2016), Christoph Rosol, Johanna Schindler, Mira Witte
Illustrations: Nina Jäger
Publisher Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW), Berlin, 2016-19
Open access

Monoskop link HERE.

Friday, May 5, 2017

Nature as Event: The Lure of the Possible


This looks amazing. Very, very excited for this book (Amazon link HERE for pre-ordering).

Nature as Event: The Lure of the Possible by Didier Debaise. I would love to review this.  Wow!

UPDATE: To After Nature readers who wrote in: No, this is not the book published through the Edinburgh University Press Speculative Realism series.  Thankfully Debaise had enough sense to publish this through Duke University Press which is eminently more respectable and legitimate given that Duke's editors actually are consummate professionals (as editors should be).

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Saito's Everyday Aesthetics revisited

For those interested in aesthetics, the below post from Aesthetics Today blog discusses Saito's influential book (as well as some pretty important connections to philosophers such as John Dewey in an "aesthetics of the everyday.")

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Saito's Everyday Aesthetics revisited: call for the in-between
// Aesthetics Today

So it has been ten years since Yuriko Saito's Everyday Aesthetics (Oxford University Press, 2007) came out, a seminal work in the burgeoning new field of everyday aesthetics.  She will be having a new book on the topic coming out soon.  But perhaps now is a time to revisit some of the issues raised especially in the first chapter of Everyday Aesthetics with the understanding that this is not necessarily her current position.  The chapter is titled "Neglect of Everyday Aesthetics."  It is available here.  Most of what Saito says in this chapter I agree with and it should be understood that the purpose of this post is simply to use her piece as a jumping off point for reflection, as I have in the past.  Saito makes a strong distinction between two kinds of experience in everyday aesthetics. One kind is the "stand out" experience, roughly similar to Dewey's idea of "an experience."  The second is another set of reactions we might and often do have to sensuous and/or design qualities of objects.  These would include the reaction of seeing an object as dirty and wishing to clean it up.

I accept Saito's expansion of the concept of the aesthetic to include these kinds of responses.  There is a dialogue going on here since Saito may have been partly inspired in this by an early article of mine on neatness and messiness as aesthetic qualities. "Everyday Surface Aesthetic Qualities:  'Neat,' 'Messy,' 'Clean,' 'Dirty'," Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism53:3 (1995) 259-268.  Reprinted in The Aesthetics of Human Environments  ed Allen Carlson and Arnold Berleant (:  Broadview Press, 2007).  What I currently want to push is an in-between dimension of aesthetic experience, something between the two extremes Saito posits:  a domain that I believe is fundamentally important not only for everyday aesthetics but for aesthetics in general.  In the tradition of Karl Marx of the 1844 Manuscripts and John Dewey in Art as Experience, but also of Thich Nhat Hanh on mindfulness, I want to call for expansion of this in-between domain, one that overcomes the alienation (usually based on exploitation as Marx would put it, or inadequate social arrangements as Dewey would put it) that characterizes experience at the low or "practical" end of the aesthetic spectrum.  I also see the three levels of aesthetic experience,  (1) the practical, (3) what I will call, after Buddhist thought, the mindful, and (4) the special/extraordinary, as dynamically inter-related.   So, whereas Saito favors a dichotomy between spectator-like experiences and experiences that "prompt us toward actions, such as cleaning, discarding, purchasing..."  I posit this, the middle "mindfulness," realm.  Following Nhat Hanh in his discussion of washing dishes with mindfulness and Marx in his notion of non-alienated labor, I think that there is a problem at the lowest level of the aesthetic:  a problem if the cleaning or discarding is not mindful, the purchasing is based on false consciousness in a society of consumerism (as critical theorist followers of Marx argued), and so on.  Low level activities of the sort that happen when one cleans for entirely functional purposes or purchases clothes just for comfort, usefulness, or getting ahead, become enhanced when they are are mindful of aesthetic qualities. This means that I favor a notion of low-level contemplation, for example contemplative as opposed to mindless shopping. Whereas Saito associates the idea of contemplation only with the high level experience of fine art experience or contemplation of natural beauty, I think that mindful washing of dishes, for example, is contemplative in its own way.  

One difficulty here is that Saito associates contemplation and disinterestedness with rejection of the proximal senses of taste, smell, and touch.  This is not my approach:  I see contemplation as applicable to multi-sensory experience.  Contemplative aesthetic experience of sexual intimacy for example is the preferred mode. Thus, on my view, one can take an aesthetic attitude towards everyday phenomena, and that this can be a more valuable, actually is generally a more valuable, way to approach such phenomena, as long as it does not interfere with getting the job done.

Actually, then, I disagree with the notion that actions such as cleaning, discarding, and purchasing without any contemplative dimension are "typically the way in which aesthetics functions in everyday life."  They may in fact be typically the way in Western alienated capitalist society.  But they may not be in other societies, for example in Denmark or Bhutan.  Moreover, a better society would be one in which the contemplative or disinterested dimension of aesthetic experience of the everyday would be enhanced.  So, to put the point in another way, when Saito says that she wants to include not only aesthetic experiences of art, however broadly defined, but also "those responses that propel us toward everyday decisions and actions without any accompanying contemplative appreciation" (11) I would count this domain as, yes, aesthetic, but only at the very lowest level, and not something to be encouraged.  It is at the mid-level, where responses such as cleaning and choosing are not "almost automatic" as Saito puts it, but are mindful and at least minimally examples of contemplative appreciation because mindful of aesthetic qualities, that a happy life is constituted.  (I also think that other things that Saito says in her first chapter are actually more in accord with this position.) 

I understand the motive behind Saito's dichotomy: the need to move away from the hierarchy in which everything is seen in terms of Western fine art.  Saito eloquently demolishes that position. What I am offering is hopefully the dialectical next stage.  As with Saito, I also think my approach being more in accord with a multi-cultural, global viewpoint.  But this is because I think that in most traditional or tribal cultures, and in many other non-Western cultures, the middle, mindful, aesthetic domain, plays a more important role in life.  I agree with those people who believe that we should be more like the Navajo or the Bali people in their approaches to aesthetic experience, as much as we can given the Western-based world that surrounds us.  It is the Western mindset that promotes the dichotomy of humdrum practical vs. high art aesthetic.  I think that ultimately both Saito and I wish to undercut this dichotomy.

I also agree with Saito in attacking the tendency to see the aesthetic either as "highly specialized and isolated from our daily concerns, namely art, or else something trivial and frivolous, not essential to our lives, such as beautification and decoration" (12) and I agree that the low-level experiences that we are both interested in are important for practical purposes.  

However, although we both want to "restore aesthetics to its proper place in our everyday life" (12) and reclaim its status in shaping the world, I wish to do so by encouraging and enhancing mindful and contemplative approaches to the everyday, whereas Saito is concerned that these approaches are too associated with an art-centered approach to aesthetics.  I agree that art-centered aesthetics can "compromise the rich diversity of out aesthetic life" but am not convinced that it always does.  Nor am I convinced that what she calls "experience-oriented aesthetics" (12) is detrimental to a sound everyday aesthetics as long as "experience" is not just understood in such a way as to privilege the distal senses or extreme forms of disinterested approaches to aesthetic objects. 

I also agree with Saito that "art is almost always regarded [in Western aesthetic theory] as the quintessential model for an aesthetic object" (13) and I believe that she is absolutely right to pursue this line.  (This makes me consistent with her quote from my 1995 article in support of her position, thank goodness.)  Saito presents an excellent discussion of the problems of art-centered aesthetics in the section with that name.  

My only caveat would be a response to Korsmeyer's approach to the aesthetics of food. Saito quotes Korsmeyer with approval as saying "the addition of taste and food to the domain of established aesthetic theory presents problems:  both inevitably come off as distinctly second rate, trailing the distance senses and fine art."  I just cannot agree that it is never right to understand food in terms of fine art:  my own view that something like the El Bulli dining experience is at the same level of high art as the best example of Japanese tea ceremony, and for the same reasons.  We must not turn our Western prejudices against the proximal senses into a determination of what makes fine art:  i.e. that fine art must use the distant senses. 

Nor do we have to see all food preparation as fine art in order to concede that some really is.  Those who see the highest level Michelin star type dining experiences as somehow second-rate in relation to fine art painting for example are missing the point.   Saito further quotes Korsmeyer that "the concept of art, dominated as it is today by the idea of fine art, is a poor category to capture the nature of foods and their consumption." (17)  This just seems a category mistake since food as a category is broad like photography as a category.  Most photography is not art, and even less is fine art, and yet this does not mean that photography cannot be fine art. Similarly if we want to broadly capture the nature of foods and their consumption it would be best to focus not on El Bulli but on the vast number of practices involving food.  I would venture to say that virtually any social practice:  dance, food, music, video games, advertising, religious ritual, etc., can have a fine art manifestation (can be a product of genius, in Kant's sense).  But most dance, food, music, etc. is not fine art.  In any case, I would not want to, as Korsmeyer puts it, "divert attention from the interesting ways in which the aesthetic importance of foods diverges from parallel values in art." (18)  Of course one of the things that food as fine art does is focus our attention on such "interesting ways" just as dance as fine art focuses our attention on features of dance that differentiate it from other art forms.       

Saito further quotes Wolfgang Welsh as holding that sport, for example, "cannot substitute for Schonberg, Pollock, or Goddard" which, in my view, is just plain silly, since (1) no one is calling for substitution, and (2) the correct comparison class is master artists. It is not sports against Pollock, but Pollock compared to the El Bulli master chef, Adria. 

Saito is also excellent in his list of various things that are associated with the paradigms of classical Western art and which do not apply to everyday aesthetics.  Putting the point negatively, she says that there are various features that make certain everyday aesthetic phenomena non-art, like "absence of definite and identifiable object-hood and authorship, our literal engagement, transience and impermanence of the object, and the primacy of practical values of the object" (17) although I am somewhat concerned about the notion of "primacy of practical values" which can be interpreted in different ways.  

Saito's discussion of frames as unique to art as opposed to everyday aesthetics is of particular interest.  Ronald Hepburn had once noted that non-art objects are frame-less and that we then become the creator of the aesthetic object:  the frameless character can, as Saito puts it, "be compensated by exercising our imagination and creativity in constituting the aesthetic object as we see fit." (19)  I agree with this, but then I also think that this means that we are then virtually framing the object and thereby treating it as if it were a work of art at least in respect to being something that is now unified and has an imaginative/creative dimension, although this time introduced to some extent by ourselves as viewers.  This is why I say in my book that artists are the greatest experts in the aesthetics of everyday life.  They are constantly seeing landscapes for example as if they were works of art by framing them and exercising their imaginations in the process.  It is interesting in this regard that Saito's examples of such framing (a baseball game, the streets of New York, and drinking tea) read like a poet's appreciation of these things.  She has a fine poetic sensibility.  But poetry is an art form.  Moreover, when she says "in appreciating the smell and taste of green tea, I may incorporate the visual and tactile sensation of the tea bowl, as well as the sound of slurping" I note that this is exactly how one ought to appreciate tea in the setting of the Japanese tea ceremony, which Saito elsewhere recognizes to be an art form. (15)  

Saito admits that "In constructing the object of our aesthetic experience in these cases, we do select and specifically attend to certain ingredients in our perceptual field, just as we do when we appreciate art as art." (19)  The difference in her mind is that, in art, we determine this based on social convention and "institutional agreement" not on the basis of "our personal preference, taste, and inclination."  And she is right at least in that there is some greater degree of institutional agreement in the realm of art, but it strikes me that this is only a matter of degree and that there certainly a lot of relying on "our own imagination, judgment, and aesthetic taste as our guide" in art as much as in everyday life. Moreover, as Saito herself has described, there are some everyday practices that involve a lot of institutional agreement, for example sports and cat beauty contests.

Monday, May 1, 2017

quote of the day






"That which is falling should also be pushed."

- Friedrich Nietzsche