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The New Aesthetic

How do you grasp the schauung in the weltanschauung, and the geist in the zeitgeist? Where is the boundary between the “New Aesthetic” and a new aesthetic?

So far, the best evidence that something has really changed is of this kind. Imagine you were walking around your own familiar neighborhood with some young, clever guy. Then he suddenly stops in the street, takes a picture of something you never noticed before, and starts chuckling wryly. And he does that for a year, and maybe five hundred different times.

That’s the New Aesthetic Tumblr. This wunderkammer proves nothing by itself. It’s a compendium of evidence, a heap of artifacts, and that evidence matters. It’s a compilation of remarkable material by creative digital-native types who are deeply familiar with the practical effects of these tools and devices.

Still FREAKING OUT!!!!!
Bruce Sterling for Wired

Also:

http://new-aesthetic.tumblr.com/

The New Aesthetic Needs to Get Weirder
Ian Bogost

The New Aesthetic/ New Politics #4
Poszu/Adam Rothstein

Thanks Brigitte!

How would you know if some new aesthetic was really and truly a “new way of seeing?” How would you prove that this had happened in real life? What would be convincing evidence that such an event had taken place in our world? What proofs could one demand, or offer, that such a thing was an authentic cultural change?

People are asking me that now, and sometimes offering answers of their own, such as, “My students are asking me New Aesthetic questions without being prompted from the podium, so that shows that something new is happening.”

I lack good answers to these questions, and I’m unsure even how to formulate the problem. Furthermore, it’s unfair to hang this barnacled anchor around the necks of activists in the New Aesthetic network. On that issue, I’m in the Julian Bleecker camp: when the iron gets hot, it’s time to tighten your lips and hammer the anvil.

If creatives over-indulge themselves in abstract speculation, nothing will happen. Real Artists Ship, people; don’t let networking become not-working. That’s why theorists exist.

That being said, somebody who’s not all that itchily-creative is gonna try some critical problem-formulation, and by golly, I’m gonna belly up to the theory bar here. I’ve got the time for it, don’t you worry. We Zenlike gray eminences of Swiss media-philosophy are not atemporal for nothing.

Normally, I don’t burden the surf-blog here with deep, time-consuming analytical essays. Now I will. This may take me all summer, or a decade, a whole noospheric kalpa maybe, who knows — for me personally, this is a compelling and attractive issue, and I won’t let it go till it gets somewhere.

How do you grasp the schauung in the weltanschauung, and the geist in the zeitgeist? Where is the boundary between the “New Aesthetic” and a new aesthetic?

So far, the best evidence that something has really changed is of this kind. Imagine you were walking around your own familiar neighborhood with some young, clever guy. Then he suddenly stops in the street, takes a picture of something you never noticed before, and starts chuckling wryly. And he does that for a year, and maybe five hundred different times.

That’s the New Aesthetic Tumblr. This wunderkammer proves nothing by itself. It’s a compendium of evidence, a heap of artifacts, and that evidence matters. It’s a compilation of remarkable material by creative digital-native types who are deeply familiar with the practical effects of these tools and devices.

They’re looking for instances when this use-activity pops out of the background of some older, contrasting worldview. Without this eye-catching glitch aspect, without this sharply perceptible and thought-provoking contrast, it wouldn’t look or feel “new.” That’s what’s “new” about New Aesthetic — not that it’s new by arbitrary calendar time, that it happened after, say, January 1, 2010 — but that it demonstrates some sharp apparent contrast with the surroundings of an earlier order.

There’s an “eruption” going on, but it’s not visible to everyone, and it will always vary in meaning and significance to people of different sensibilities. In the many entries of the New Aesthetic Tumblr, many people appear. Yet it’s rare for those people in these New Aesthetic images to show any visible awareness that an eruption has occurred. They are standing around in the eruption, and part of it, yet they’re not witnesses to it — they don’t perceive their situation with a New Aesthetic sensibility.

Commonly, they have no idea that they’ve committed a gaffe, been present during a glitch. Consider, for instance, the Indian legislators porn-surfing on iPads while their legislature is in session. These dignitaries are not performing-freaks who are there to amuse us. They are fellow human beings just trying to get through their day. Real legislators are always bored silly by legislation. That’s rather the point of grinding down the opposition in long procedural debates. But it doesn’t occur to these Indian nabobs that their brand-new Apple anti-boredom toys are big screens flashing sleazy softcore pr0n to indignant shoulder-surfers. So that’s the rupture there; that’s a digital eruption big enough to qualify as a regional political scandal.

That’s why this interesting incident shows up on the New Aesthetic tumblr radar. The prurient Indian press thinks that this story is all about porn and the class privilege of the Indian ruling caste. The New Aesthetic crowd thinks it’s about the social impact of handheld-device deployment. They’re both right, but porn and class privilege are both eternal, while iPad deployment is a phenomenon we’re all still getting our heads around.

Sometimes the people under New Aesthetic surveillance are screechingly aware of the “eruption.” For instance, consider this recent tweet by globalized British radical pop star M.I.A., aka @MIAuniverse, aka Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam. After months of public admiration of hacker radical Julian Assange, she is thunderstruck to physically encounter him:

@MIAuniverse julian assange borrowed my computer last week, im still FREAKING OUT !!!!!

I’d judge that MIA is having a conscious moment of the New Aesthetic type there. She’s not star-struck about Julian Assange, who’s obviously a lesser “star” than Madonna, a celebrity with whom MIA creates videos. She is FREAKING OUT because this legendary emblem of global computer dissidence physically took her own computer and typed on it with his real, three-dimensional hands, thus endowing her beloved computer with, well, some form of contemporary Walter Benjamin aura, basically.

How are we to react to this New-Aesthetic piece of evidence, what does it signify, what does it mean? Well, for the many MIA fans on Twitter, the proper social reaction is not “FREAKING OUT!!!!!”, although one might imagine that it should be. It is not the right reaction, because the fans will not do that, and MIA doesn’t expect that of her Twitter fans. The proper reaction of MIA’s Twitter fans is some simple, old-fashioned, much-impressed, popstar-wannabe adulation. Something akin to: “Wow Maya u are so brave and out-there and politically uncompromising! XOXO <3″.

If you lack the native reactions of a freaky MIA fan on Twitter, and are more the contemporary and yet contemplative digital Walter-Benjamin type, the reaction feels rather different. It is a culturati illumination, a private stream-of-thought, something like this: “Well. Look at that. Nowadays, I live in a world where the radical musical underground, and the radical hacker underground, really do share some profound compelling interests. They’re united by their shared hardware — united to the point where sharing a digital device becomes a genuine totem of intimacy to them. Henceforth, it’s going to be increasingly difficult even to distinguish them, formally.”

That is the change in the weltanschauung. Really, to the extent that a historic weltanschauung is different from some cornball mystic noosphere, that is true change in the world. Aesthetically, it’s a change within contemporary music, as MIA feverishly glides off with her politically-contaminated laptop to obligingly compose the soundtrack for Assange’s new TV show, so that he can continue their joint struggle through yet another medium. Because she did that for him, right away. And he appreciated that action on her part, and showed that. And it’s all there, now, on the net, blatant and obvious. You can agree with their politics or consider their actions abhorrent, but it should be pretty clear that they’re not merely carving cute 8bit stencils there.

The New Aesthetic eruption displays itself as a FREAKING OUT!!!! curiosity — but it’s also evidence about the way the world works nowadays, and how this world differs from the world that an older generation once knew — a world which is receding, with more than all-due speed, into the past. It does not state that conclusion in any long and labored blog-post, like this one. But it is carrying that water-bucket. And rather effectively, too.

So, I’d wrap-up today’s head-scratching textual contemplation with an analytical QED here — but to wrap things up, in an ivied, literary, fashion, is never very New Aesthetic. The New Aesthetic practice would be to unwrap it, post it, and leave it there all ragged with retweets, favorite buttons, permalinks and an open-API, so that somebody on the network can *do something* with it.


Connections — Tags: — sb @ 11:49 pm