Let’s start by reflecting on McLuhan’s quote that Clough chose as the introductory note to this document:
…the emergence of a new media is too violent and superstimulated a social experience for the central nervous system simply to endure.” Marshal McLuhan (1994, 43).
In a nutshell, McLuhan exposes the fact that a new medium is like a virus for which humanity hasn’t yet developed antibodies. The superstimulation comes from both the amount of information, and from delivery methods of new media: the inability to filter signal from noise. Our brains gorge on the influx of information like a 3-year-old who’s given a bowl of sugar and a spoon. In this initial phase of a new mediatic landscape, humans painfully re-create their barriers and filtering systems, and interestingly enough, with each new form of media we find ourselves to be less able to erect the protective walls — each of the latest mediatic paradigm shifts (from radio and television, through early internet and social media, to algorithmic filtering, and AI-driven content) brought to us a new, arguably exponentially higher level of both influx of information and its memetic ability of bypassing our cognitive barriers and latch directly onto our brainstems. The immediacy of delivery, made possible by a reduction of levels of effort to parse and interact, paradoxically makes the exponential growth of information we receive that much more complex and unmanageable with each turn.
This is why I find it curious that Clough chose that opening passage: in her paper (at least according to my reading), Clough defines the new ontological turn of our relationship with objects, spurred (or made visible) by the information onslaught. The new potentiality of objects is defined as causal in and of itself — objects themselves own their potentiality, and their potentiality is defined in relation to other objects, removing the human perception as a defining metric for objects’ potentiality from the ontological loop.
This conceptual overlap between McLuhan’s superstimulation and the insistence on the ontological turn makes me wonder how much our present overwhelmed state of little or no control over the newest mediatic evolutions influences our perception of the ontology of objects. The turn itself is being measured from within a paradigmatic shift that positions us in a state of little control, so it seems likely that we will find the ontological turn appealing. This might also mean that, when (if) we develop antibodies, our own informational antimemetics, we will experience an opposite reaction to our relationship with, and understanding of, objects: our affective, material, cognitive perception of how objects are known will shift back into focus, thanks to our greater feeling of control over the objects themselves.
Now over to Clough’s reading of arts as politics, and how the recent commodification of art undermines the fundamental need of art to expose and impose new mindsets, perspectives, and create original thought and affect. This drive, too, can be analysed from the perspective of humanity’s lack of informational antimemetics. As long as the informational tail wags humanity’s dog, we lack the ability to own art, and position ourselves as focus of creation. Rather, creation is dependent on informational streams, and therefore acts as generator. While this shift in and of itself wouldn’t be problematic, and might even be seen as refreshing and original in an alien, “art that is never before seen” way, we must remember the economic and capitalist underpinnings of the new informational revolutions. The current era of information, while born from a push for neutrality, equality, and betterment of humanity, has been coopted and taken over by market systems that overwhelmingly drive innovation and have, for all intents and purposes, become owners, creators, and rulers of the new informational spaces. This means that the creation of new aesthetics that originates from without the human sphere will be driven and informed by a machinic system designed for maximum return of financial investment as its intrinsic goal. This is antithetical to what we as humans recognize as “aesthetic endeavour”, and therefore feel alienated when caught within the content production industry. I fully agree with Clough when she declares that
…we need first to rethink the object and commodification; we need to rethink neoliberalism’s forms in terms of the developments of digital technology.
The new ontology, and the relation with the non-human turn, has the potential to be the single biggest revolution in artistic creation. Dethroning the human is neither a new proposition (eppur si muove), nor is it inherently good or bad. However, we must not forget how the current dethroning has been shaped, which forces drive it, and which goals it strives toward. For this to happen we need to wait for two factors to become true:
- We need to develop informational antimemetics, and
- The non-human object needs to reach a stage of self-awareness that will permit it to shape its own artistic vision
Summary and critique of “Computational Aesthetics in The Practices of Art as Politics” - Patricia Ticiento Clough