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Superconversations Day 20: Adam Kleinman responds to Mohammad Salemy, "Art After the Machines"



Dear Mo

Captain Picard by Steven White

Q: What does Starfleet Captain Jean-Luc Picard tell us about the future?

A: Even though we’ll soon travel faster than the speed of light, we still won’t know how to cure baldness!

Although this fictive trade off doesn’t sound so bad, I think Star Trek is a bit too utopian in its outlook.

According to the International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery, $2bn is spent per year on hair loss science. There’s no reporting on warp drive funding, so to set a scale on the study of baldness, let’s compare it to other research in the medical field…

Malaria research, for example, only clocks in to about $547m per annum according to the WHO, while about $1bn is spent on searching for a cure for AIDS/HIV. For a capitalist, this makes both sense and cents; there are far more cases of baldness, and thus, it provides a bigger industry and justifies the expenditure. But, there is another issue here: Malaria and AIDS/HIV kill, while baldness doesn’t. Although it might be possible to prove that deaths caused by the aforementioned diseases detract from the labor force, and thus effect the economy negatively, I don’t need to rely on scientific ‘proofs’ to justify my malcontent with the oversized baldness industry.

Imagine you’re watching a film. In it a man cries as he tries to cover his head with a comb over that just doesn’t fool anyone. Cross cut: another person cries, a death letter can be seen in her hands. You might assume that the first man was sick and that the stories are somehow related, but you’re probably not thinking about the man’s lost vanity, I hope.

As a journalist I can make a truth claim, for example, that Greece is reeling from the effects of austerity. Likewise, a string of stats from the IMF compared to national unemployment and foreclosure rates, and so forth, could support that claim. While this furnishes numerical benchmarks, it lends little to the reader’s imagination—except maybe when a hypothetical model is presented to project a totally fictional and over determined goal. On the other hand, a rich narrative account of what it is to live under such conditions, say a story of a depressed young mother who must turn to prostitution so as to feed herself or her child, does something else. While the quantitative report presents facts, or what could be called knowledge that such and such exists (this is similar to your idea), the lived account is not only an example of that which is, it is also a knowledge of what something is like, interpersonally (which is not the same as your idea of a knowledge of ‘how to do something’, which in this case, would be: how to sell yourself to feed your kid). Both are descriptions, yet the second presents a concrete reality through perception; it is not just a proposition. By definition such a narrative is vicarious; its power lies in the flavor of its portrayal, not in how well it tells someone how to model the situation—Les Miserables would be a novel along the above plot line for those keeping score.

If I recall correctly, Machiavelli thought that the centaur presented the truest image of how people are: creatures which have the capacity to be rational, but are not totally rational by definition—rationality being signified of course by the human-like top half of the mythical beast, while the opposite force, irrationality, is represented by the horse-like bottom half. While my above musings might sound quaint, understand that art too only has a capacity for compassion, or empathy, and likewise, it only has a capacity to act as a manual, or a record, to give guidance and so on. This doesn’t mean that art is or will ever provide what it is called upon to do exactly…that’s something called an intentional fallacy. While this lack of control might make some people nervous, it also has turned others into censors or academics replete with codified rulebooks and tomes. Let’s not go there, please.

At present, the only fear computing devices present to me though is not that they are mind-numbingly complex, it is that no matter how complex they seem, each runs by a strict textualism predicated on a very close reading of code and metrics. The real quandary isn’t then what should art and science learn from each other vis-à-vis computing, the question is: are our interlinked machines turning more and more into an association of Prousts and Hugos, or into an army of literal minded Antonin Scalias?

Since I’ve probably exceeded the length of a typical response I just want to ask: how can procedure be prevented from superseding substance in all forms, and moreover, how to stop quantification from being the lone arbiter of quality? I might end up being a Cassandra, but I don’t think creating more commands for what is now a rule following machine is the answer in itself.

Adam Kleinman is a writer and curator. He was dOCUMENTA (13) Agent for Public Programming.


Well, aside from the inner workings of the ship itself, one could also argue that Star Trek was one of the least utopian science fiction works, even if it was not dystopian either. As Gender Goggles points out, if you define utopian works as those concerned with the articulation of a single, seamless universe in which becoming and conflict have been eradicated, Star Trek may not really fit the bill. And while you then say you don’t need to rely on scientific proofs to justify your advocacy of more money being spent on malaria and AIDS/HIV, you also say this just after providing very precise, and presumably, scientifically-verifiable evidence for your reasoning. I assume this is because while personalistic accounts can certainly be important, they tend to function best when connected with something beyond the free-floating liberal individual self. Not just the Enterprise, in other words, let alone any single character residing within it, but the unpredictable, continually-changing multiverse in which the Enterprise moves. A multiverse which is itself a conceptual personae for the Star Trek series, albeit it the least utopian, and the least dystopian, figure of them all.


@agkleinman Quantity and Quality have a moebus like relationship, one that does not always remain binary; at some point in their intermingling, one will transform into another. This for instance is the logic of repetition in one of Gestalt principles calls similarity. While, as you suggest, our current machines suffer from their sole dependence on discrete math, digit numbers and binaries, there is no guarantee that this will remain the same in the future as digital positivism inherent in planetary computation gives way to the emergence of new forms of machinic consciousness.


@DADABASE Yes, and (deep) surface is a way to learn, as you suggest in your text, not only for art, but for machine ‘eyes’ in general (so not sure its just a question of art). For example, the implied medium specificity (2.0) i read through the text, offers a ground with which to make a syntax…We are already seeing computers make associations that art historians have not by following strict relations between line, form, color, texture, etc. and likewise, on-line censors and face detection software are also doing the same by categorizing what shade a nose makes and what shading a cock makes and so on–from my understanding, machines see by ‘reading’ surfaces based on mapping key shade points and then indexing against that, instead of looking for iconography, and so on…this was the big breakthrough, and from here, an extrapolation followed that such a process is an analog to learning and language apprehension. This isn’t unique to art, but basically is one way computing machines see everything, that is, by comparing and contrasting mapped forms to indexes, and then by also having outside support feed into these lexicons to ‘correct’ them. This doesn’t have to rely on surfaces though, an can refer to stylometry, or geography, or simply light in general, or anything that can be tested against a standard and modeled accordingly. Instead of saying what sets the standard, it should be noted that we move (or will we move) again to the idea that the exception proves the rule…

The interesting thing is we ‘taught’ machines to look at things, by not having them look at things the way we do with our eyes… so, as those rules play out, what will be the new aesthetic, and more over, will it have anything to do with what we see, or will it involve humans learning to look differently again (as the camera did, etc)…the answer to that is most probably. However, structurally, and from the point of language as a syntax, we have taught machines to see things the way we do, but through abstract reasoning that is now grafted onto what we refer to as retinal phenom. While I think you are saying these two plains could meet by keying in on the idea of greater and greater abstraction, there is also a floating signifier in there that is greater than the sum of its parts…so, back to an old philo problem, what is the manifold?


Perhaps irrelevant but as I tried ever so hard to penetrate what now seems the keyhole of the chastity belt (outside the Milky Way?) I was reminded of our humble beginnings:

The old adage of Thales of Miletus:

“Because of his knowledge of astronomy, Thales figured that it would be a good season for olives and grapes. So in the off season, he cornered the market on the presses needed to crush olives and grapes. When the season sure enough turned in a bountiful crop, the local growers suddenly found out they had to pay a premium to Thales in order to get their produce crushed. Thales made a tidy sum and the locals realised that the philosopher was not poor because he had to be but because he wanted to be. He was busy about other, higher things and could not be bothered with useful things like business and cornering the market in other affairs to make a fortune. The conclusion evidently was that philosophy was beyond use by choice and not necessity”

Gregorianum 87, 4, pg 427

this same man fell down a well while walking, staring up at the stars!!!


@Oliver The sense of confusion surrounding this text was expected. This happens when a conversation which takes place privately and between people with shared philosophical ground is brought out into the public.


Hmmm - I’m sorry, do I sound confused? Perhaps metaphors of astronomy, references alluding to the origins or commencement of “Western” ie heretic thought (think hen panta/archei/apeiron), and the juxtaposition of the medieval symbol of castration, somewhat hinting at the movement of Levinas ‘Otherwise’, in relation to Merleau-Ponty was not made sufficiently explicit. I am struggling with the limits of exposure, lInguistic relevance, and the ever imposing and totalising demand for obscurity - perhaps I’ll respond properly later, but I abhor making plans that already, always have finished in conception: Immaculata


I sincerely hope I am not taken as condescending or antagonistic: I am penultimately of the opinion the prosthesis is valid but arbitrary. Yet I am a man of poor measure, which can be costly.


I hope the coming sentence won’t be too arrogant as a reply, but living outside the western world, I had to deal with more of the products of Japan and India, Iran and Pakistan, and Europe and US, so fortunately or unfortunately I never watched Star Trek, and I don’t know if I will have time to watch it anytime soon. The reason I am mentioning this personal story is that again and again in these 20 years of Supercommunity and Conversations what one sees is thick layer of Western world, which probably not on purpose but automatically deprives the reader and replier of the possible things non westerners have made out of these problems. finishing Mohammad’s text, I was more in a joy of imagining fantasies of Green Movement, Arab Spring, the world that I got through internet, the first time as a teenager I chatted with an Israeli teen which probably was the most fantastic Yahoo messenger had ever brought to me.

Anyway, maybe that’s not only directed to the reply but also to what the first text points out:

“What conditions have made visual arts a concern of Western culture?”

Actually I don’t agree with Mohammad that we should have a very broad research field to look at why Western culture has become concerned with visual arts. Western culture has not failed to look over the history and geography, reaching out to pre-history, Japan, future, America, etc but avoiding one thing which according to Norman O. Brown has been the greatest repressed object of the Western Culture: Islam.

Islam in contrast to Western culture has made visual culture secondary. Spectacle is basically the problem, if I understand Salemy correctly. Then Islam has a very sharp political reply to that, which throughout centuries Western culture represses:

“And [for] their saying, “Indeed, we have killed the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, the messenger of Allah .” And they did not kill him, nor did they crucify him; but [another] was made to resemble him to them. And indeed, those who differ over it are in doubt about it. They have no knowledge of it except the following of assumption. And they did not kill him, for certain.”[4:175}

or the way Brown puts it:

“But the passage about the Crucifixion that I’m working with: “They slew him not, not did they crucify…” I’m giving you a variety of possible translations now…“They slew him not, not did they crucify him, but it appeared so unto them; and lo! those who disagree concerning it are in doubt thereof; they have no knowledge thereof save the pursuit of a conjecture.”
Another translated: " it was caused to appear to them that way”; “he was counterfeited for them.” Or, “They have been caught in the trap of the assimilation committed by themselves”…(page 40 the Challenge of Islam)


The cross is seen as the fundamental symbol of the Gnostic perception that there is a contradicion, a contradiction between appearance and reality. And that is via a dialectic of negation of appearance that we arrive at the truth. Contradiction and Crucifixion. Crucifixion being seen as the symbol of contradiction, as in Pascal, for those of you who know his theology of illumination. Although Crucifixion is a revelation, I think it may be fair to say that one of the reasons for the Docetic Islamic posture with regard to the Crucifixion is that for the the Transfiguration–that episode that I gave you from Matthew 17-- is the fundamental narrative about the revelation of what Christ meant: the Transfiguration." (Brown, The Challenge of Islam, 41)

Well, now, who disagrees that maybe the Cross was the most prominent image in the western culture, before and during the modernisation? this obsession with the spectacle, according to Brown has a political and psychoanalytical function: if we believe what we see (jesus on the cross), we believe in god’s reincarnation into the body of his own son, killing him and there you go, we are not responsible for whatever horrible things that happen in history. But what was the political emphasis of Islam to change the narrative of Crucifixion and to say Jesus was not killed but it only appeared to us? Then we are responsible, we were the evils who wanted to kill him. And this is just the beginning of the story of obsession with Spectacle. Docetism, Gnosticism. After all Western culture yet is not dealing rationally with the emergence of Christianity edition 2.0: Islam.

“do we really need art with its professional attire and technical language to create this kind of social construction?”
Brilliant! This is exactly where the essentialist thinkers like Kristeva become useful. many years ago she already talked about intertextuality and the irrelevance of art in this market driven society.

“Now, if knowledge becomes just a secondary concern and the focus is instead placed on art as a platform bridging the internality of the art world to its externality, art will then make available different forms of knowledge that science has not and will not be concerned with.”

This one remind me of the works of Adam Phillips and Leo Bersani. Phillips, the psychoanalyst who has withdrew from the psychoanalytic circles, who believes artists were and are always the idols for psychoanalysis, who believes Freud was never a scientist and in fact he doesn’t have a future as a scientist but as a writer, degrades knowledge in the course of psychoanalytic session and rather pays attention to analysis and art as ways of connecting inside and outside, internatl/external. the fact that science has reduced emotions to chemistry, doesn’t end the fact that we still have an inner world experience.


Between Mohammad’s statement in his piece that “Art has a cognitive role but should not be thought of as a cognitive product. This, again, suggests a continuity rather than an interchangeability with the idea and practice of science.” and your query Adam " how can procedure be prevented from superseding substance in all forms, and moreover, how to stop quantification from being the lone arbiter of quality?" there seems an equilibrium may be established. There also seems a profound mis-communication which is not necessarily a bad thing since between the two statements may lie a relevant concept, which is: Cognition has (at least) these two different registers (the procedural quantification and the “skinning” of reason) that when coalesced as one (as two aspects of a single consciousness) resolve any debate as to what determinate direction future thought and/or aesthetics will take. The “other” of the machine of course can be programmed to simple represent left-brain coding and metrics which would cybernetically mimic the repression of free association and perhaps even a disinterested aesthetics. Mohammad’s piece emphasizes how the human is and will continue to be programmed by machines. Rather than usurping our humanity, his point seems to be, these machines will help us ( by objectifying the standard/ metric) prevent the endless replication of willed fallacies that have characterized human history and culture for centuries. I believe his focus on surface is significant technically, as a literal reference to traditional image-production as in painting and photography, but also metaphorically as in keeping things from delving back into a solipsistic humanism that prevents art’s potential from serving as adequate to a contemporary cognitive role. Morals deeply quantified, in other words, is a bigger problem than a surface- scanning of the world of cognition. Perhaps this is the value relative between a comb-over and a clean shave.


@tommcglynn clean shave vs comb over! lovin’ it :wink:

Of course the human is and will continue to be programmed by machines… that has been happening at least since the invention of writing, and according to many anthropologists, probably well before that too. Likewise, I am in total agreement with you (and Mo) that surface is as good a place as any to study how this age old song has modulated again; surfaces/shades/geometries provide the raw material to advance deep learning/machine learning or whatever we want to call it right now. Yet, we should not forget that that raw material doesn’t have to be surfaces or anything visual at all, or more importantly, it shouldn’t be so narrow to only focus on such.

Consider AI’s trying to write novels, etc; here, just like in the study of surface, machine reasoning is about patterns and filters of those patterns, including things like syntax, profile and context, etc–a lot of AI research not only studies images, but studies decision making and response to stimuli in situated time and space, which is similar to association, however, not exactly. Since east/west was brought up above, which could be clarified as a concern for cultural difference and context, it is worth noting that a cross in one culture vs. the exact same cross in another can have a radically different reading, even if the surface is exactly the same–why Kuleshov is also hidden in my reply amongst the jokes, which I probably made too many of. Along these lines, wouldn’t it be interesting to see a surface bot and content bot start to talk? Now that might begin a fuller aesthetics. Said in another way, surface is necessary, but not sufficient, and this is the importance of Mo’s idea that the humanities need to be brought in.

Moving just beyond just art (since ethics etc have been invoked throughout, even though art/ethics is really a big sour pickle) the grander moral point is yes, technology will help us just as writing created accounting so as to be able to manage grain production and feed people. However, writing also created an inventory from which to levy taxes and punish those who didn’t pay, replete with images to ‘educate’ people about such rules–this will become a key issue again as internet service will soon be extended to more and more illiterate communities. Ideally machines will help us from repeating some fallacies (willed or otherwise), but will they necessarily prevent us from making more? The future isn’t written, but history says not really: just as perspective and other projective and descriptive geometries radically changed artistic representation (and science), they were also instantly recuperated into the study of ballistics and defenses, and likewise were essential for mapping countless colonialist projects. While computers might rethink immigration laws (in fact they have, and many studies advance that open boarders are economically more viable and potentially more safe) we cannot forget that the study of deep surface is also (and was first) questionably applied for facial recognition software at boarder controls and other places (can’t forget geopolitics when we talk about ‘planetary’-scale machines). For society (or art) to say this is a right or wrong is not a question that can be resolved superficially…


I don’t know who said the following, but it stood out for me:

“First, the art of tomorrow needs to be freed from the shackles of the logic of art history and particularly the long but thick chain that leashes it to modernism. Second, art needs to be freed from serving as the purveyor of meaning, a duty that accompanies this history.”

This is exactly wrong. Art as negation of meaning is modernism, and sadly that understanding has been lost. The restoration of meaning in art has been the task of conceptual art and all other forms of discursive practice. The question why modernist art could not sustain itself as a negation of meaning is a difficult one, and not reducible to the problematics of the market.

For example, if you looked at the literature to try to gain an understanding of minimalism, most of what you might read would give you nothing at all beside description. So you might then be happy to discover the conceptualist critique that shows that minimal works are mimicry of glass curtain wall architecture or corporate logos. So now you have a meaning. But the rich discourse around those works as having no meaning at all, and why that was important, is not really available. In fact it was so pervasive back in the day that it made no mark on the standard histories, and the current critical histories don’t know how to handle it because they are too beholden to restorative conceptualism.

But it’s all about art world politics. Since criticism has been reduced to journalistic labels, one is forbidden from advocating modernism, for example, because that’s supposed to be over. So one has to come up with a new name for the same thing, a kind of reinvention of the wheel.


Thanks, Adam, for your considered response. As an artist myself, the world of appearance is anything but superficial, but I still don’t possess x-ray vision. (drat). Technology can mitigate this type of deficit with heat sensor visualization and sound mapping of course, but in my everyday experience I witness layers of surfaces that create deep contextual relations. The “made” world is spread out before me as an uninterrupted surface. It’s also a topography shared by everyone, but perhaps to greater or lesser degrees of conscious “making” awareness. The world is still highly articulate in it’s surfaces. We live in a baroque splendor of folds of the world’s surface. Scopic regimes such as data-visualization archives add to these folds a meta -dimension that is nevertheless a continuation of an uninterrupted visual field.
Plain sight is perhaps utopic in it’s naivete but also, potentially, quite situationally aware. Machines don’t really perceive like this yet. Sensory data is still partitioned in a way more denotative than connotative, at least from the machine’s perspective. The distraction of the connotative “organ” of humanity in relation to machines, how we tend to humanize and relativize basically inert information as augmented and accelerated by machines, is a problem in that a mimetic regime built of partitioned images can supplant one of a continuous (phenomenological?) vision. This is the McLuhan massage. As the landscape of the made world becomes less diverse in it’s folds, as architecture, for instance, begins to look more like it’s autocad realization, the perception that we are living inside the machine starts to look very real. At present this illusion is discontinuous though, and it’s lack of seamless continuity has not yet replaced the continuous, associative and creative vision of any given individual. At present technology is still a discrete extension, a tool rather than a conscience. If ever machines gain sentience on par with humans their seamless reality will still be interrogated by the human ideal. To begin to change the nature of that ideal from one that perpetuates the illusion of progress as a cover for regressive social policy is perhaps the larger point here. By taking the continuity, the surface, of the pre-existent “made” world (both man and nature) as the “real”, we might begin to get rid of idealized human partitions that tend to alchemize ancient, leaden, survival instincts into technological gold.


@tommcglynn of course, this is fun :smile: (And I know carrots help with night vision… x-ray, uranium???)

Couldn’t agree more ‘To begin to change the nature of that ideal from one that perpetuates the illusion of progress as a cover for regressive social policy is perhaps the larger point here.’ Let’s make it so, together.


Modernism in general and minimalism in particular should never be reduced to a sheer negation of art. Salemy’s statement that you quote above actually asks for this type of negation of modernism, a continuance of a tradition of negation that you propose was the modernist agenda. If as you say " the conceptualist critique that shows that minimal works are mimicry of glass curtain wall architecture or corporate logos" then this too is a type of idealized modernist negation or qualification of the supposedly underdetermined mode of minimalist presentation. The view that all preceding art is necessarily in a positivist position to be negated presupposes the need for a dialectical frisson that helps differentiate one aesthetic irruption from the next. Minimalism has an unspecific history and a continued influence the constantly un-specifies that history in the present. As you say "current critical histories don’t know how to handle it ". They can’t handle it because it never really had a determinate handle. Like the history of Modernism itself, Minimalism doesn’t represent any monolithic thrust. The modernist “torpedo” was largely an invention of Alfred H Barr. Neither Modernism nor Minimalism can be properly negated since they were never properly constituted as a consistent ideology in the first place.


of course you’re right that minimalism doesn’t really exist - it’s only an abstract journalistic label. And from that perspective neither does modernism for that matter. But my point remains - that initiatives of the last century are still valid, but current discourse feels compelled to avoid certain labels, certain names and certain identifiers even as it repeats what those happened once before in proximity to those names. Personally I think that negation of meaning has a political value - that’s one of the reasons I espouse abstraction. There’s lots of precedents in art, going back a couple hundred years.



Dear Mohammad,

thanks for this amazingly curated and executively produced contribution. In my answer, I will refer to some paragraphs adding some likes, comments, projections, questions and critique.

§ 4

  • I like the term of “pro-active risk-taking” as a new task for artistic practice. Recently, I have become interested in the term “animation” as a possibly powerful metaphor for both epistemological behavior and ontological structures. In this context, I came across some essays of Alan Chodolenko who characterizes animation (together with theory and speculation) as “risky business” and therefore as necessarily a form of “theory-fiction”. We can apply this to your conception of art, I think, and also emphasize the shift from activity to receptivity well expressed in this quote from Chodolenko: “If theory is speculative, a kind of risk, gamble, game, then why not play, as well as be played?”

§ 5

  • I agree that art must more than ever not be reduced to a network of signs (semiotic function) and/or to the experience of the receiver (phenomenological function). I like that you stress not only the material dimension of the artwork, on line with the renewed interest in materialism and the vibrancy, responsivity and plasticity of matter (Bennett, Malabou, L. Bryant), but also its normative function. I think we should look closer to the works of Robert Brandom (as e.g. Negarestani and Brassier already do) in order to conceptualize more rigidly how art works not only are inscribed in a context of normativity, but how they inevitably produce normative assumptions (more or less propositional) as they emerge. (cf. also: § 21)
  • We should not only look at analytic philosophy, but also to phenomenology in order to make our theoretical labor more interesting. Against common prejudices that phenomenology can only encounter naively given experience in an already established “life-world”, there are lots of attempts to overcome this humanist and positivist restriction of the traditional field. I think here especially of the “ontological” Merleau-Ponty (Le Visible et l’Invisible), Patocka, partly Levinas and most of all the Belgian-French philosopher Marc Richir (a star within contemporary phenomenology, totally unknown beyond the field). Richir has worked extensively on concepts like “interpassibility” and “interfacticity” that from a micro-phenomenological perspective explore in depth what you claim for art after the machines, that it has to become “fully processual and transmittable”.

§ 8

  • I like your definition of art as a technology to unlock “new forms of beauty and unconditional and indefinable value”. It might seem to be a negligible detail, but I like to think of art (and other fields of practice) rather as a technology in search for hyperboles than the absolute. I am inspired by Vilém Flusser who claimed that the absolute/impossible/ineffable etc. don’t exist. All that exists is the very-difficult (le “Très-Haut” in Blanchot’s terms). I think that we would win a great deal of clarity and complexity in trying to abolish all forms of thinking the absolute and substitute it through a multiciplity of hyperboles.

§ 10

  • Not completely unrelated with this suggestion, I think that the agenda of “freeing art from meaning” has to be reformulated as a “reconstruction of the adventure of sense-making” (Richir). Again, instead of the absolute abolition of “meaning”, we need a navigational theory that accounts for its construction, its genetic becoming and its functional place in the ecology or architecture of reality. Instead of the absolute negation of meaning that can’t transcend the binary logic of sense and non-sense (that already paralyzed the avant-gardes after the necessary eruption of tradition and the system), we should search for hyperbolic ways of radically restricting the realm of “meaning”, some of them being epoché (acting as if there was no meaning), contextualization (characterizing the genealogy of meaning) and provincialisation (reconstructing the geo-political and geo-ontological roots and limits of meaning). All kinds of avatars of critical theory can be injected in this agenda, but none of them is self-sufficient.
  • I like your reversal of Negarestani’s notion of “upgrading” towards “downgrading” and I have to think of the, in my eyes, highly significant concept of “undercoming” and “lameness” that can be found in the work of one of my favorite thinkers, Timothy Morton. I quote from “Hyperobjects”

How do we overcome Nietzsche? We can’t, because Nietzsche is the high priest of overcoming. As I’ve argued elsewhere, we have to creep lamely underneath Nietzsche and get away like that. Malcolm Bull has written a very powerful escape manual for lame creatures who want to exit Nietzschean modernity, entitled Anti-Nietzsche. Thinking needs to begin to set the bar incredibly low for solidarity between humans, and between humans and nonhumans—including non-“sentient” humans. Otherwise we become gatekeepers of solidarity, and remain within Nietzschean ontotheology—nihilism. (Hyperobjects, 157)

§ 11

  • I understand the importance of extracting art from a certain configuration of history and ontology, namely from teleology and being as a form of terrorism (Levinas). But is that really what you say? Do you mean we have to free art from a certain and wrong way of conceptualizing history and ontology? Or from the very concepts themselves?
  • I like your insistence on the simultaneity of negativity (skepticism) and risky affirmation that mustn’t outplay one form against the other.

§ 12

  • an amazing paragraph

§ 17

  • Your scientific notion of the “topological surface” together with the biological notion of “the skin” seem to be the best metaphor of seeing reality, the world, nature or however you want to call it. Not as a depth that has to be excavated (Heidegger), not as a surface as the arena of the interchangeable play of differences (postmodernism), not even as an interface (McLuhan?), but as a “surface of a profundity”, a relief (Merleau-Ponty), a responsive, vibrant, plastic, semi-permeable substance that at the same time contains processes of regulation and protection. In order to elaborate further the notion of “skin”, a new look on Vilém Flusser could be helpful.

§ 18

  • I applaud the new modesty that characterizes art as an auxiliary practice whose functions are not to dominate communities and life-forms, to colonize ways of expression, to produce commodities etc. but rather to facilitate access, to administrate affectivity, to erode traditions, to unlock latent potentials and to provoke the emergence of new practices and institutions. Art is autonomous (cf. § 26), but it is not autarkic.
  • In your typology of interactions, are the human and the machinic the only two categories of agents? What about the animal, the animatic, the mineral etc.?

§ 19

  • In this paragraph art clearly appears as a form of metis and poetics as opposed to aesthetics. Nevertheless, I find easy binaric confrontations always boring as hell and I would like to hear more about the importance of aesthetics. This is somehow related to what I’ve said before about “meaning”: rather than abolishing it fully, we should account for its construction (and, if you want, deconstruction).
  • I agree with the importance of a “functionalist turn”: from art as a product to art as performativity.
  • I also agree with the shift from an interchangeability of science and art towards a continuity. Tales of smooth and universal reversibility (Baudrillard, sorry guys…) belong to the worst outcomes of postmodernist theory and practice. Again, it is a pleasure to hear Morton’s acute commentary on this:

The ultimate goal of this project, it seems, was to set up a weird transit lounge outside of history in which the characters and technologies and ideas of the ages mill around in a state of mild, semiblissful confusion. (Hyperobjects, 4)

§ 21

  • Again there is the highly significant topic of normativity (cf. § 5). We learn that art should not or not in the first place limit itself to the “questioning” of semiotic and cultural configurations, but rather produce new and relate existing commitments that transcend the restricted realm of institutional art or even what we understand by culture. In analogy to Negarestani’s polemics against kitsch-marxism, we have to fight against the excessive outcome of “différance-kitsch” that colonizes most of the cultural space available for ethically significant contributions.
  • Art is all about rhythm. This defines for me its autonomy from science. Science tends to stabilize and sterilize rhythmic existence. That is for me at stake when you say that: “Future art could synchronize its material and normative commitments with social commitments, thereby beginning to allow concrete and determinate artistic judgments.” Again, I don’t think I overinterpret the paragraph when I suggest that your critique of some forms of art “being stuck in indeterminacy and whimsy” posits itself against the domination of différance-kitsch in contemporary art and theory.

§ 23

  • I like the term “rigorous art”.
  • I like the idea that art is a mediation between “the empirical and the constructed”. A similar thought can be found in a more structuralist view in the work of Henri Meschonnic who describes the artwork as rhythmic oscillation between realism (the empirical) and nominalism (the constructed).

§ 24

  • Throughout the whole text you worked against the exceptional position of art. Now you say that “it is only through art that we might be able to find a nontrivial cybernetic system for reestablishing a shared inhuman ethical foundation.” Really? And why this sudden prioritization of art? Must art be saved? Is the saving of art not another gesture of chivalrous heroism we have to overcome (or rather: to undercome)?


What does art after the machines look like? I think that’s the question behind the criticism of art looking like science, which in a recent thread dissected Ryoji Ikeda’s work, very much along the lines of:

we have to avoid the vulgar equation between art and science like the bubonic plague. Today’s art has no direct epistemic effects, or if it does, they are merely contingent. (13)

I can think of many artists (often, older) whose works do engage with metaphysics directly. For example, Monir Farmanfarmaian’s investigations of geometry, or, let’s say, Gu Dexin’s piles of things, or, say, Vyacheslav Akhunov—this list is getting ridiculous, but I feel that I have little to lose in saying who I admire…

So my question is, how does one discern between what came up in the commentary on Latour’s conference as the right and wrong kinds of modeling? I wasn’t satisfied with the language used by @vincentnormand to distinguish between two kinds of aesthetics, Latourian “becoming sensitive,” and “real simulation.” So, how to overcome “a catastrophic lack of criteria for making judgments on art” and instantiate new criteria, which will advance through a great deal of examples and discussion—although whether it will be number-crunching or close inspection, I think is an open question.

It seems to me that beyond thinking about the artwork’s capacity to enable thought, to adjudicate knowledge, it would also be fruitful to think through simulation or modeling as the main semiotic operation that ties art to world. This would be distinct from the usual critical clinchers, representation, indexing, analogy. I assume there’s clever writing about this already, though I don’t quite know where. If that’s the case, then there really wouldn’t necessarily be a clear distinction between the roles of artist, curator, critic—perhaps collector, gallerist… In a word, what would the relation between simulation and judgment be? Between the executive and the judiciary? And where is the legislative arm, which creates the new performative norms.

Perhaps following on Chatelet’s discussion of mathematical diagrams, which have a capacity to be re-activated, to not get used up or “exhausted.” Or perhaps following on the parts of Baudrillard’s writing that aren’t cited so often, the earnestness as well as the glibness? And that seems to be a common thread in some of the sections of “Art After the Machines.” To put it in terms of @tommcglynn’s description of the depth of visual surfaces:

This distinction between discrete and continuous surfaces, between digital and analogue, between the absolute and the relative (in Ruyer’s terms, following Jon Roffe). It seems to me that we could claim discrete surfaces as a special construction within the category of continuous surfaces, but I look to be corrected. Returning to Chatelet’s writing in The Stake of the Mobile, that book enjoins us to resist the idea of infinity as an indefinitely huge number of things stacked together: for example, trees receding into the horizon, or real numbers piled on top of each other very, very high or very, very low. These diagrams undergird the idea of society as a population, of subjects as units. Chatelet’s other antagonist is the practice of “cutting out” a part from a whole, analyzing it, and then reinserting it, as if this cutting did not leave “scars” in his words.

(I think you’ve addressed this before, but a form of continuous computation isn’t quite existent yet, but we can’t foreclose the possibility.)

Both cutting and replication are ways of making continuous surfaces discrete, and he wants to retain their continuity. It seems to me that this is a place that art could make a serious contribution: perhaps in conjunction with @samir_sellami’s discussion of micro-phenomenology, as a resource for making experience “fully processual and transmittable.” Navigating diagrams.