Bruns and Dewey

Bruns argues that a composer at a desk constructs the piece step by step, and accompanies the process, witnessing every detail; therefore, having the capacity to edit “consequences, redundancies and the like, can audaciously, bitterly, moodily or lazily modify everything by direct, point by point inspection of what they had just written or of what they were just about to be write”. The composer who writes a program inputs the instruction as codes and the computer takes care of the rest—he can only edit the entire program after the computer has digested it fully.

The validity of each, in my opinion, is explained in Brun’s interpretation of systems, states and algorithms, which are essential to the composer’s process. Here he argues that a system is defined by its information potential and by the algorithms that control that particular system. Two systems are compatible with each other when they are similarly defined. He states that the largest, most general and most flexible systems controllable today are the high speed digital computers. It is a system that is compatible with all others due to its high network potential that offers conditions for nearly any algorithm one can think of. Earlier in the article he states that “Contemporary ways of creating music have generated new means of musical understanding (…) It not only will show noticeable changes in the concept of the acoustical system, not only propose new schemes of organization, but also provoke the creation of new circuits in the listener’s mind”. I interpreted this to mean that the digital age, and its systems of functioning bring about new forms of understanding and structuring art/music in ways that were not thought about before. It is less participatory in the sense that the composer is not able to see all the steps taken by the computer; however, it is a new system within itself that induces different approaches when analyzing it.

Dewey talks a lot about the idea of an experience and art through experience. He believes that impulsion is the initial stage of any experience because it is the movement of an organism as a whole towards something. Impulsion proceeds from the need that can be supplied only through relationships with one’s environment. He goes on to say that “an environment that allows our impulses to be executed immediately will set a “term to growth” […] impulsion forever boosted on its forward way would run its course thoughtless, and dead to emotion for it would not have to give an account of itself in terms of the things it encounters and hence they would not become significant objects” (Dewey 59). This to me expresses a pessimistic view towards artistic development and experience in the digital age. Given that the environment today allows any impulsion to be executed immediately due to every growing presence of technology and automaticity throughout society, the inherent meaning of experience and its relation to the environment is compromised. Dewey argues that “obstacles generate emotions and authenticity – resistance rises curiosity and solicitous care”. In an environment where any impulsion can be translated seamlessly through technology, it is difficult to imagine how expression and experience can be complete without the obstacles and resistance present in “old” times.

Furthermore, Dewey goes on to say that art needs a passionate subject to be generated from. “The real work of art is the building up of an integral experience out of the interaction of organic and environmental conditions and energies (…) the act of expression that constitutes a work of art is a construct of time, not an instant emission” (65). Through the use of metaphors and analogies Dewey explains that the work of art is a composition of factors fermenting inside the human mind with situations presented by the environment. Impulsion is a necessary condition for expression; however, the real value of art and aesthetics is a construct of time, tradition and context. In the digital age, these concepts seem to be often lost due to the sheer magnitude of works being produced given the mechanic and rapid nature of their production. Dewey’s theory allows me to understand that it is not one thing that constitutes the act of producing something with aesthetic value, but a combination of internal and external forces and energies that propel an eventual artistic expression.

 

What stroke me the most in both the perspectives narrated by the authors is the value of understanding the medium [process] and materials of each of the artistic practices. Their focus on the process of creating something is much greater than the product itself. Both writings attribute the aesthetic value of a piece of art to the translation of materials in a medium. I believe that this process has been interrupted and cut short in many cases by the digital reality we live in today. The interpretation of the work is challenged in the sense that it is difficult to understand the level of artist engagement and intervention in a work constructed digitally. This brings us to many other questions regarding today’s technological age including to what extent is digital art, art/what is music/reproduction vs originality and so on… AHHH!! So confusing!

The Aesthetic Revolution (?!)

This is a very complex and difficult topic for me to internalize because of its sheer broadness and complete and utter subjectivity. I started off by trying to connect Benjamin’s and Rancière’s perspectives by finding common words repeated throughout their writing that described the aesthetic experience: autonomy, originality, mass, collective, art, intersections, life, “art for art’s sake”, tradition (among others) were the ones that popped up over and over. I have humbly and very “un” fastidiously concluded that the aesthetic experiences started off (way back when) as an autonomous, almost transcendental, relation to a fixed creation connected to a time and place, symbolizing its respective cults and rituals and loaded with an almost mystical aura of connections between beliefs and reality. Now, the aesthetic experience has morphed into a collective (mass) appreciation of the cult of beauty, often driven by political intent in its sole purpose to drive intersections between various reproductions and concrete phenomena that plague society today. I mean, I think the only real conclusion that I am qualified to take from all of this is that the aesthetic experience has definitely changed as technological advancements have perpetrated every realm of society and the understanding of the world around us has “evolved (?!)” in the way that it has.

 

Benjamin talks a lot about authorship and authenticity in the age of mechanical reproduction. He argues that “the authenticity of a thing is the quintessence of all that is transmissible in it from its origin on, ranging from its physical duration to the historical testimony relating to it” (22). With the rise of the mechanical age and technological reproduction authenticity has demised given that the very tradition and history endured by the work is what gives it authenticity– everything is reproducible and therefore does not stand the test of time. He goes on to say that one thing lacks in even the most perfect reproduction: “the here and now of the work of art – its unique existence in a particular place. It is this unique existence – and nothing else – that bears the mark of the history to which the work is subject” (21). Technological reproduction devalues the here and allows copies to be placed in situations which the original cannot attain – in time, losing one of the main characteristics of an artwork’s originality, its aura. He defines aura as “a strange tissue of space and time: the unique apparition of a distance; however, near it may be” (23). Technology reproduction has increased people’s desire to get closer to things at the same time overcoming each thing’s uniqueness by assimilating it as a reproduction.

 

Rancière discusses the political implications of aesthetics. I believe the two approaches intersect in the sense that Benjamin talks about the switch from “L’art pour l’art” and the idea of pure art into representational art that serves not only a political purpose, but instigates connections of the type in its viewers. “As soon as the criterion of authenticity ceases to be applied to artistic production, the whole social function of art is revolutionized. Instead of being founded on ritual, it is based on different practices: politics” (25) states Benjamin. When the exclusive emphasis is placed on the exhibition value of the art work, works of art become a construct with new function and its artistic quality becomes incidental. Rancière argues the concept of aesthetic illusion and states that aesthetic judgement is structured by class domination. He goes on to use the phrase Aesthetic Regime of Art and theorizes about the heterogeneity of the aesthetic experience dismissing all autonomous implications of the process. The idea that art becomes life in my opinion illustrates Benjamin’s point in the sense that the aesthetic experience today is driven by the way in which art emulates life and political ideas – in a way, reproducing what we live everyday – this is especially true for film.

 

It is very interesting to explore these concepts because we are inundated with so many forms of aesthetics, never thinking about where it all originated from, how this has shaped our way of perceiving as a collective group as well as how do we face the fact that nothing is original anymore –everything is a reproduction. Have we reached (forgive me) an almost Marxist stage where there is no longer control over originality? Scary.

“Diacies”

According to Jay David and Richard Grusin, repurposing as remediation is both what is “unique to digital worlds and what denies the possibility of that uniqueness” (50). In the first section of the text the authors explain immediacy, hypermediacy and remediacy, disclaiming that these are not universal truths by any means.

Immediacy explains the aesthetic where the medium itself should disappear and leave us in the presence of the thing represented. It suggests a unified visual space, as in a window to the world. Digital graphics and photography are both examples where the human agent is erased; however, in the computer’s case, it is not representing an external reality, but rather another medium. When you remove the artist as the agent who stood between the viewer and the image you are practicing immediacy in the sense that there is no trace of this intervention.

Today, a concept that resonates with me discussed by David and Grusin and present in many of the devices we interact with is Transparent Immediacy. In order to understand this, I had to break down the concept into two different parts – transparency and immediacy. Transparency refers to the “interface less interface” – a program that is made so intuitive it erases itself from the users: “In this sense, a transparent interface would be one that erases itself, so that the user is no longer aware of confronting a medium, but instead stands in an immediate relationship to the contents of that medium” (24). This lead me to understand the concept of immediacy as the desire for immediate access, understanding and interaction with the medium, “the automatic or deferred quality of computer programming promotes in the viewer a sense of immediate contact with the image” (28). Virtual reality denies the presence of the mediator (computer) and forces the user to stand an immediate relationship to the contents of that medium. It is interesting to see people wearing the high-tech virtual reality glasses in store fronts today and how they are literally transported to the world in which they experience through the computer program. It is important to note; however, that transparent immediacy does “not commit the viewer to a naïve or magical conviction that the representation is the same thing as what it represents.”

Hypermediacy is sort of the opposite of transparent immediacy in that its goal is not transparency, but rather to be very apparent so that the user may interact with the interface. “Its raw ingredients are images, sound, text, animation and video, which can be brought together in any combination” (31). The user is continuously brought back and made aware of the interface. The most obvious example of this for me is desktop interface of my computer. I am aware of the interaction with the medium at all times and I know exactly what each item means and represents. I know that I am using the computer, I know what it entails, but there is still and immersive factor in this act.

Remediation refers to the idea that all new media relies on one or more preceding medium, often refashioning or repurposing them. Many new media examples, like video conferencing, draw on existing mediums like film, photography, painting etc. Some new media remediates by trying to absorb the old media entirely. Netflix remediates television shows, Itunes remediates MP3s and CDs. “Repurposing as remediation is both what is unique to digital worlds and what denies the possibility of uniqueness” (50).

Skype is a combination of Immediacy, Hypermediacy and Remediation. By use of the video, it places the user right in front of another human being, including awareness of sound, appearance, gesture, facial expression. In this way, it removes the controls people have to use when using other mediums to communicate such as chat, messages, email, DM etc. You simply have to push play and you are transported to the conversation immediately. However, there are still other controls on the screen including the possibility to message and send gifs etc. that push for hypermedia and make the interface as interactive as possible. It is also a remediated form as it takes from other mediums, such as film.

Tech and Cyb

From what I understand immersion and embeddedness are related in the sense that they are both transcendental experiences; however, differ in level and nature of engagement.

Lahti talks about the relationship between man and the machine through their interactive experiences with video games, which ultimately transport the user to a separate virtual reality, in the “corporealization of the experience of playing”. He argues that games represent a complete symbiosis between humans and computers; a fusion of spaces, goals, options and opinions. Man becomes completely immersed into the technology when playing through its “bodily, uncognitive dimension…sucked into the game”. Furthermore, he argues that the natural body becomes replaced by the cyber enhanced version of itself in these games. From what I understand, Lahti believes that the video games function as a paradigmatic site for producing, imagining, and testing different kinds of relations between body and technology through a fully immersive relationship. To this extent, he is saying that the player becomes a cyborg when consumed by the video game’s realm; however, he does not go so far as to saying that the technology is embedded within man and different realms of society.

Haraway, on the other hand discusses circuits of information and material technology as being embedded in the experience of being a human in contemporary times, “in short, we are cyborgs” (150). The Cyborg has become our nature, it gives us our politics she argues. Technology has become so essential to the functioning and is embedded so deeply into the core of society and individuals that there is now a conjunction between material and reality, which in turn makes historical and political transformation possible. She goes on to say that the father of cyborgs are militarism and patriarchal capitalism as well as state socialism; however, the tricky part is, they are not essential for their existence, given Cyborgs don’t need an origin to exist. Given this, Haraway expresses that identity construction in a reality dominated by Cyborgs is completely stripped from the norms, rules and classifications that we hold true today. The construction of identity “marks out a self-consciously constructed space that cannot affirm the capacity to act on the basis of natural identification, but only on the basis of conscious coalition, of affinity, of political kinship” (156). When the need of taxonomy via natural identification is gone society will be able to create a poetic/political unity without relying on a logic of appropriation, incorporation and taxonomic identification. Politically speaking, from one perspective a cyborg world is about final imposition and construction of a grid for control of the planet; from another perspective, a cyborg “world might be about lived social and bodily realities in which people are not afraid of their joint kinship with animals and machines, not afraid of partial identities and contradictory standpoints” (155).

It is interesting to think about immersion and embededness through the perspective that we have created a virtual realm of existence in which we are immersed in, but which is also embedded into our daily lives in such a dramatic way. Haraway mentions that “due to their ubiquity and invisibility these cyborgs are hard to see politically and materially. They are about consciousness or its simulation” (153). The physical size of these technologies have become smaller and smaller over the years making them easier to embed within ourselves. The sheer notion of size and volume of the machines we surround ourselves has made me reflect on the idea of technology as immersive and further embedded.

Tech Takeover

So “is a blind man’s cane part of him?”; “Are our iPhones and androids an extension who we are?”. The idea that technology is part of an integrated system of communications that extends from the human interface to cybernetics is interesting to think about as we move into an age where human communication is almost entirely dictated by technology.

Hayles argues that Wiener’s main point of view is that “communication is about relation, not about essence” (91). This is built on the premise that Wiener’s entire understanding of communications is through analogies. “Analogy is not merely an ornament of language but a powerful conceptual mode that constitutes meaning through relation” Hayles states. Analogies have played a crucial role in the construction of cybernetics using the idea that objects are constructed through their relation with other objects – it has nothing to do with essence. Wiener “questioned whether humans, animals and machines have any “essential” qualities that exist in themselves, apart from the web of relations that constituted them in discursive communicative fields” (91). Here, he argues that the role of the observer is inevitable to any experience in the field of cybernetics and the system of communications itself.

Going further, Hayles analyzes Wiener’s presumption that the world is completely based on probabilities. “Envisioning relations on the macroscale as acts of communication was thus tantamount to extending the reach of probability into the social world of agents and actors”(90). We live in a probabilistic universe where control is based from the feedback of the system itself. This is truer than ever today given that the media –in all of its realms (new, traditional, entertainment, political etc.) creates content and mediums based on the feedback provided by its audience. The idea that communication is based on relations is evidenced in the endless cycle audience research and feedback sponsored by big media corporations today.

Thinking of humans and technology as an integrated system is, to put it in the simplest term possible, scary. Taking a humanistic approach, it is sad to think that we are continuously sidling towards an age where technology will take over the human experience instead of humans controlling technology. This is an old discussion; however, when reading about Wiener’s theories it is clear to me that if communication is relation based and no object exists without a relation to another object, it is inevitable that technology will take over all communication realms of our society. Our phones have become extensions of ourselves given our online presence constitutes 50% of our interaction with the world (or more in some cases) I don’t see this changing in the near future. My question is where will all this lead and how do we prevent a technological takeover of human relations?

Classifications and Representations

“Persuaders listen to us others won’t and tell us exactly who we want to be. Best of all, they make us feel powerful” (Frontline, PBS). Once the market becomes the lens in which we choose to view the world there is no line between the media and the consumers – we are all persuaders in the end given that the messages we consume are strategically derived from extensive people research.

From what I understand, the media today is dependent on classifying audiences in order to create content and promote ideals that basically loop around and tell us what we want to hear. Osborne and Rose state in Public Opinion that “The activity of politics, of advertising, of marketing, indeed public debate itself seems unimaginable without reference to public opinion. And the term ‘public opinion’ conjures up, as its necessary technical aspect, the public poll.”  (Obsborne & Rose, p.5). Marketing, political campaigns and media entertainment as a whole has become completely dependent on the classification, monitoring and feedback from the audience. It is through the analyses derived from market research that the media is able to create content and appeal to the public in the most intimate and specific levels in order to profit from either visibility or sales.

The Frontline Documentary Persuaders states that messages today are catered to appeal to different aspects of various demographic groups. Messages, whether they are political, advertising or aim for visibility are calculated and divided to each demographic group. These groups are often divided in terms of race, age, gender, ethnicity, religion, general interests and consumer trends (among others) – with the overwhelming ability to collect individual information and create tailored messages for each of these groups the media is able to push their objectives even further. In addition, we slip easily into these demographic tribes – given individuals are continuously looking for ways of fitting in and creating identity.

Throughout all the readings, the word code repeated itself in various circumstances and settings – its overall meaning, in my opinion, is a way of quantifying hidden meanings, associations and ideas in order to connect to the audience in the deepest way possible. Herman Grey talks about the way the Bill Cosby show recoded African American views and televisual practices in contemporary society: “The Cosby Show’s most significant contribution to television’s representations of blacks and the ongoing discursive adjustments that are central to such a project has been the way that it repositioned and recoded blackness and black (middle class) subjectivity within television’s own discursive and institutional practices” (Grey, 449). The identity phenomenon created by television representations and the entertainment industry is unprecedented in Grey’s opinion. The way in which television both interprets and sometimes creates phenomenological change fascinates and annoys me given the fact that these representations are often limited in relation to what actually happens in society. In Grey’s view not only do the shows themselves demonstrate limited aspects of the culture itself, the inner and unseen hierarchies of the media corporations are often what determines the final product – creatively and institutionally.

In Cybertypes: Race, Ethnicity, Identity on the Internet tells us that the internet is not as free and unlimited a space as we imagine. Like others have stated, the inner workings of all businesses are directed by human beings who have preexisting ideas, and embedded culture and a certain way of looking at the world. In the internet’s case, portal production is often designed by male, white programmers working under large corporations. So even if the internet’s message today is to be all inclusive and a free space to share everyone’s thoughts and ideas, its intrinsic structure is still created and manipulated by a few. The interface and workings of the internet does not belong to the majority of people – why are all the comment boxes on the bottom and not on top of the articles in the online version of the New York Times… just a thought.

I still don’t know the overall importance of knowing how the media classifies audiences represents different types of people given that the chance that we can change or even ignore these classifications is zero. The relationship between media and audience has been developing in this form for decades and through advancements in technology segmentation, targeting and specificity increases every minute. Is it important to know how the media classifies people in order to think about what we really want? To figure out the hard truth about the way we view the world and others around us? Is it to separate ourselves from great movements or become less materialistic? Or is it to learn that these classifications and research tools exist and how they function so when we get to top tiers in corporations we can use them wisely in order to reach maximum profit? Daunting.

Intrinsic Power and Disciplined Societies

According to Galloway and Thacker, the Deleuze’s societies of control provide a medium through which protocol is expressed. What allows protocol to form and materialize all types of networks is information itself. Information allows the creation of networks and therefore is the key commodity in the organizational logic of protocological control — “information is the substance of protocol” (Galloway and Thacker, p. 20). It is just the thing that makes protocol matter. In an era where we are bombarded with information through the medium of information technology, networks and protocols are intrinsically built in all levels of society and are used by individuals to organize themselves – in a way controlling their behavior and homogenizing societies.  The structures (both technological and biological) we have built to understand information exercise a subtle control over the population through protocols and networks which work independently of individual authoritative figures.

Focault’s Panopticon argument agrees in a sense with the view that the perception of power has shifted from outright controlling and repressing to intrinsic and completely embedded into the structures that discipline society and discourse. Focault states that the Panopticon is “arranged in such a way that the exercise of power is not added on from the outside, like a rigid, heavy constraint, to the functions it invests, but is so subtly present in them as to increase their efficiency by itself increasing its own points of contract” (Focault, “III. Discipline, 3. Panopticism”). If power and control over a society are exercised through the notion of individual freedom, transparency and visibility, its permeability is absolutely unrestricted and will not be censored.

People’s behaviors are largely shaped by their engagement with these sets of networks and protocols built specifically for a better understanding and organization of the individual self. The media itself functions according to protocols and networks – within the private sphere, it is a profit-based phenomenon with the main intent of shaping opinions and increasing product sales. However,  due to the individual’s psychological perception of freedom within this organizational system, this power relationship, which allows molding and shaping, is not perceived. Even though people have the tendency to say they are exempt from advertising attempts or other media influencing techniques, the true power of control is intrinsic to the system as a whole and imperceptible to the “naked eye”.

Prison structures and places where discipline and control are easily visible allows us to understand the larger intent of this kind of structure and why it has been implemented for so long. The objective of the Pantopticon is truly psychological in the way that it is physically built. “The major function of the Panopticon is to “induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power” (Focault). Each individual is confined to a cell from which he is seen from the front by the supervisor. He is observed, controlled and analyzed clearly by the supervisor; however, he cannot see the latter or interact with his companions. Therefore, he is transported to a psychological exertion of power – given that the supervisor might not even be there; however, the looming fear for the prisoner, that he is always being watched and controlled, is. “The crowds, a compact mass, a collective effect and the merging of individuals is abolished in this architectural format — it is replaced by a collection of separated individualities…the guardian is able to multiply, number and supervise. The inmates feel sequestered and in solitude” (Focault).

The embedding of control structures in individuals is much more powerful than an outside exertion of force. When trying to understand the meaning of all of this I identified with Focault’s description of a disciplinary society. The discipline mechanism becomes a functional mechanism that must improve the exercise of power by making it lighter, more rapid, more effective, a design of subtle coercion. Therefore, discipline exerted through power increases skills of individuals and maximizes their utility, increasing productivity and profit.  Ultimately, marginalized individuals are elevated to inclusive levels, being able to have productive jobs due to increased discipline.