Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Rumination from a working group discussion on phenomenology and media

At the reading group on phenomenology today, we were discussing Mark Hansen's latest work on ubiquitous sensations in talking about new media art, which attempts to interrogate the notions of the "atmospheric, impersonal and microtemporal" in media even as we are trying to make sense of Varela's project of using neuroscience to fill in the gaps of the Husserlian phenomenological model (I don't think we did much in making a connection of them). However, in talking about ubiquitous computing, the meaning of art and the productive (unproductive) intervention of phenomenology in the discourse on art (particularly of art taking place in a non-traditional or new medium), I want to point to the latest issue of the ACM on cloud computing/ volunteer computing in my attempt to draw a correlation between a form of relationality/interactivity mediated through technological hardware but going beyond that as the main players are the human agents who determine how and what they want form of 'scientific' projects they wish to participate in, I suppose in the same way that a person experiencing and feeling art, or even the art practitioner producing the object of art, would like to do. The author of the said article does take a critical and slightly skeptical look at the social-scientific implication of such a 'networked' endeavor (think SETI). There is a ubiquity to it that is not quite in the same sense as what Hansen's referring to but it is also rich for interrogation of the notion of presencing and de-presencing which he had raised. 

In my own work, I am trying to understand how the phenomenological actually work in art (and it doesn't seem to get as much currency among art critics, historians and practitioners alike. I suppose locating phenomenology within a 'naturalized' substrate that seemingly delimits it within the boundaries of cognitive neuroscience is problematic for those who are interested to see art at the level of its relationality to its audience or perceiver, as media res, at the level of what Sobchak refers to as cinesthestic which is another way of talking about synaesthesia..
I am wondering if one may generate an other kind of phenomenological model to supplement the current limitations of an existing theory (which I now understand to be what Varela is trying to do, though my criticism would be that he does not draw a clearer argument of what he sees to be the limits of the neuronal model in accounting for the Husserlian model, and at times, his attempt at naturalizing the Husserlian model seems to have taken it out beyond the realm of the phenomenological. Or perhaps, the best way to understand what Varela is trying to do is to use the examples in high energy physics.

Phenomenology as a term is defined differently in high energy physics which sees it as a way of correlating theories to empirical models (and data derived from experiments). A concrete example would be the Monte Carlo simulations of theoretical models of physics processes in colliders, by plugging in the data obtained from the colliders as well as extrapolating from the material data to a form of theory especially when the data is not easily obtainable, or where there is a data 'gap' (incidentally, I am trying to understand this process by doing a visualization project, by using the very same tools that a new media artist would use to lay out invisible subjectivities that are always inherent in any simulation processes). The quick and dirty in wikipedia explains it quite well, as that is precisely what I see the physicists I am working with as doing.

But I suppose, taking the Husserlian and post Husserlian model (maybe Merleau-Ponty is the best person to draw on, but I may have to revisit his philosophy of nature to tease that out) as the platform of departure, could I envision another form of phenomenology that goes beyond an empirical correlation of 'fiction' (theory i.e. standard model) to 'fact' (experimental data or simulated models). I see Varela's text, "The Specious Present" on naturalizing phenomenology as what the physicists here have been doing for quite awhile, and it would seem that the Husserlian time-consciousness model and temporality may be more amenable to though I would not suggest such reduction of the phenomenological project as being fruitful to its interrogation. I also like to venture that the Bohmian model of quantum physics (I suggest reading chap 7 of his book "Wholeness and the Implicate Order" if not the whole book and having a look at this site ) is in a way trying to bring in indirectly the ontic world of phenomenology that is different from the more reductive stance in current day HEP. I venture without more argument at this point that phenomenology plays a role in paradigm shifting in the physical sciences (I am not sure about the biological sciences so I would like to hear from others on this).

But back to the question of art, especially of the avant garde as was raised, if the project of art is to defamiliarize at one level, how would one then connect with the various movements of classical art that seek to idealize rather than defamiliarize. Or is it merely that our perception of defamiliarization changes as continuous bombardment with particular images of art that were considered 'avant garde' in their time have made them banal or commomplace to us? Can this be explained at the microtemporal level that is the subject of our conversation today? So I guess the question of what is art is somehow parallel, though not of the same playing field, as what is new about 'new media' and how would the phenomenological theory as we know today really explain its ontology. Or, if there's a need for the post-phenomenological, how would that look like?

i guess if we are having more readings in the future, I would like to think about these questions. It seems that the concern of visual studies people with the application of scientific theories/models/ideas to art may be a way by which we can unpack the many layers of hyle-ness in phenomenology.

In case anyone is interested, I found the Journal of Neuro-Aesthetics online with wide ranging articles in the latest issue ranging from rhythm to affectivity to the pre-perceptual to attempts in interrogating consciousness. 

I suppose the larger question I would have to ask is how can we link the phenomenology that seems in some way to privilege, or at least attempt to excavate the unchanging (immanent) form (I may be wrong in this and I am still figuring it out over here) help us think about the kind of politics we are practising in this point in time.

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