The Posthuman Turn


Word Count"The 'New Aesthetic' is a native product of modern network culture." So says Bruce Sterling in describing artistic and theoretical responses to a world where humans are deeply interconnected to machines, especially computing machines which have their own agencies in constructing knowledge. We've a long history of questioning "instrumental and anthropological definitions of technology" (Heidegger 312) and of linking tools and creative artifacts with our epistemologies (Bolter), but the new aesthetic extends the human-machine dynamic by imagining a "machine vision" that operates (in some versions) independently from humans.

Machine vision represents an aesthetic corrolary to philosophical movements toward objects and things. Privileging objects and their in(ter)dependence (Harman; Reid) and/or tracing their connections with other entities (Latour) pushes against the anthropocentric impulse; instead, object oriented approaches ask us to "put things at the center of a new metaphysics" (Bogost 9). The gesture offers a helpful corrective that inverts our familiar subject/object dynamics. And, as we'll see in chapter four, object oriented approaches call for more than simple inversion. We need to consider "the conducting medium that extends between objects and makes their interactions possible" (Harmon 153). We need to account for agency in circulation among objects (Mol & Law). We need approaches that engage objects in terms of "scaling, zooming, embedding 'panoraming', individualizing, and so on" (Latour 220).

And even object oriented approaches participate in the temporal dimensions of metaphysics, the understanding that the world "is continually doing things" (Pickering 6). In fact, what thing-based philosophy might offer (in addition to challenging anthropocentricism) are artifacts that speak to the interplay among objects and events, the instances where entities "coalesce together and recede again" (Bogost 28). We need richer understandings of emergence. Sterling calls the new aesthetic "temporal . . . hands-on, immediate" and James Bridle cites "dissatisfaction with . . . nostalgia and retro" as the movement's driving force.

And the new aesthetic, like object oriented philosophies, seems unable to fully escape the challenges of representation. Sterling reminds us that describing machines in terms of vision or thought is really just another act of making metaphors, the "mental chains of the old aesthetic." Common among digital practices and thing philosophies are the spatial metaphors of layers and boundaries and the making metaphors of craft. Harman and Bogost deploy the figure of carpentry to account for things in the world. Latour asks for clamps to stabilize the constructed networks of entities. And we still have to recognize that these metaphors return us directly to discourse, to a mode that accounts for the ways that "actors do something and don't just sit there" through "a narrative or a description or a proposition" (Latour 128). Quickstart Guide for Dismantling the New Aesthetic

The continual discurve return reminds us of the ways that machine and object oriented approaches (despite their best efforts) evoke the presence of the human. Is it possible to articulate any kind of posthuman perspective through that most human of materials, words? Sterling reminds us that aesthetics are about "a human sensorium." Bridle suggests that aesthetics are "co-created emergent thing[s]," mediated exchanges between humans and machines. In fact, it is the interplay between the humans and materials that offers a possible paradigm for understanding screen composing and its related aesthetics. Pickering's metaphysics is cast as a "recipricol tuning of machines and disciplined human performances" (20), what Latour might call composing.