Hansen, Mark B. N. New Philosophy for New Media. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2004.
In New Philosophy for New Media, Hansen argues that digital media has changed how we perceive. He claims it is no longer an ocular event but an affective event of the body. Hansen employs Bergon’s theory of perception and his emphasis on the body (what he calls “a center of indetermination within an acentered universe”) to argue that the “digital image” encompasses the entire process by which information is made perceivable through embodied experience. He places the body in a privileged position – as the agent that filters information in order to create images. By doing so, he counters prevailing notions of technological transcendence and argues for the indispensability of the human body in the digital era. Hansen claims that we are undergoing a paradigm shift in “aesthetic culture”– a shift from from a dominant ocularcentrist aesthetic to a haptic aesthetic rooted in embodied affectivity.” He wishes to demonstrate that new media artists “have focused on fore-grounding the foundation of vision in modalities of bodily sense” (12).
I can see how this kind of argument will help us move aesthetics from a surface level concern to a more experiential domain. It points to a shift in aesthetic experience, where the old model — disinterested perception of an object– is replaced by a more particular and embodied approach (something that sounds a lot like Wysocki’s “Sticky Embrace of Beauty”). Hansen questions: “Why is it then, that we continue to speak of the image, even following its digital transfiguration (dissolution)? Why do we take recourse to a hybrid infrastructure? Why, given the disjunction between surface level appearance and materiality, do we continue to associate a given set of numerical coordinates or of information with a visually perceivable form? While Manovich’s aesthetic questions hint at some of these same concerns, Hansen claims that he extends Manovich’s thinking. Hansen says, not only does the user actively “go into” new media, the user creates the image – it is a process which takes place within the user’s body. He states: “we must accept that the image, rather than finding instantiation in a privileged technical form (including the computer interface), now demarcates the very process through which the body, in conjunction with the various apparatuses for rendering information perceptible, gives form to or in-forms information. In sum, the image can no longer be restricted to the level of surface appearance, but must be extended to encompass the entire process by which information is made perceivable through embodied experience” (10).
Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin. Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge: MIT Press, 1999.
In this classic Bolter and Richard Grusin develop a theory of mediation for the digital age that challenges the assumption that new media needs a new set of aesthetic and cultural principles. They argue instead that new (visual) media achieve their cultural significance by reusing and refashioning earlier “new” media, such as perspectival painting, photography, cinema, and television. Their theory of remediaton recalls that earlier media have also refashioned one another: photography remediated painting, film remediated stage production and photography, etc.
The authors define medium as “that which remediates” (19) and claim that all media work by remediating–or translating, reshaping, refashioning and reforming other media in both form and content. The authors claim that new media will never be new, that we will not invent a new set of aesthetic and cultural principles to negotiate it. Instead, like its precursors, “digital media can never reach this state of transcendence, but will instead function in a constant dialectic with earlier media, precisely as each earlier medium functioned when it was introduced” (50). Here the authors claim that what is new about new media lies in their particular strategies for remediating television, film, photography, and painting” (Bolter 50). Bolter and Grusin state “In collage and photomontage as in hypermedia, to create is to rearrange existing forms” (p. 39). Consequently, to bring something new into existence–to create–is to rearrange forms/media which already exist. Notably, Lev Manovich takes up Bolter and Grusin’s idea of remediation but also extends their notions of what the aesthetic is to new media.
Cheryl Ball. “Show, Not Tell: The Value of New Media Scholarship.” Computers and Composition 21.4 (2005)
In “Show, Not Tell,” Ball is deeply concerned with the scholarship of new media and what it should look like. She discusses the changing nature of scholarly publications in relation to technology and promotion and tenure. She offers criteria for what constitutes “online scholarship”, “scholarship about new media”, and “new media scholarship.” She defines new media texts as ones that juxtapose semiotic modes in new and aesthetically pleasing ways and, in doing so, break away from print traditions so that written text is not the primary rhetorical means. By applying this definition to scholarly online publications, readers can be better prepared to recognize and interpret the meaning-making potential of aesthetic modes used in new media scholarly texts. Ball claims that
“New media scholarship has a necessary aesthetic component because of its designed, multimodal elements, and because these multiple modes can be read in conjunction with written text to form the text’s meaning” (404).
This article both thrills and perturbs me. I’m thrilled because Ball has set a definite springboard for my research study. She unflinchingly takes up the aesthetic and discusses its importance in composition with new media. She warns that “For readers unfamiliar with understanding how a video, sound, or photograph can function as a way of creating meaning in a scholarly text, new media scholarship may be dismissed as having an unnecessarily fussy “advertising aesthetic” (Glazier, 2001) making it unworthy as a scholarly text in the eyes of the reader” (411). Ball asks how can readers understand the potential of using artistic strategies in new media scholarship? (and points out that these modes are more often associated with art than composition studies). She claims that “It is the combination of understanding the use of aesthetic elements within intellectual meaning-making strategies that will best help readers interpret scholarly new media texts (411). She concludes with a kind of confession: “Compositionists, myself included, have much to learn about the role aesthetics can play in composing meanings” (414) This is why I’m thrilled with this article–I feel my research study can help to answer this question: What is the role of the aesthetic in meaning-making?
And yet, I am somewhat perturbed by this article. In Ball’s conclusion, she offers an analysis of a scholarly new media text, “Digital Multiliteracies.” My problem, I believe, is that Ball’s analysis of the aesthetic is too comfortably situated within the realms of the multimodal. She categorizes her analysis into Text Clips, Still Clips, Audio Clips, each referring to the “argument” or “underlying meaning” which the aesthetic elements help to facilitate. What bothers me is that the reading is limited and the wonderful questions that Lev Manovich poses about possible conceptions of the aesthetic cannot even be asked. Questions like: “Is it necessary for the concept of the aesthetic to assume representation? Does art necessarily involve a finite object?” (Manovich). This is not Ball’s fault. She is doing everything she can to discuss the aesthetic. It’s just that we as a field are so limited… The closest Ball gets to this more expansive notion of other aesthetic possibilities happens when she claims: that the Still Clips [of yawning, coffee cups, carpet, fluorescent lights] show “the reader what it felt like to be there at the symposium. Though these clips, the audience can register a kind of felt experience of the symposium, can even make some meaning through their interaction with the “mollage” [montage/collage] of candid still clips. Ball doesn’t really say this outright, though.