The title of this essay refers both to the burial of a human corpse and the aesthetic debasement of the corpse into something in-human. This posthumous vilification – a gruesome and spectacular punishment required by law in several European countries until the Industrial Revolution – was reserved for those who had taken their own lives. After thinking through its motivations and implications, I listen for echoes of this strange aesthetic practice that may still be audible in the twentieth century and even today – not just in art but also in the actual treatment of certain, villainous bodies.
Frances Dyson, Sounding New Media: Immersion and Embodiment in the Arts and Culture.
Can aesthetic judgments motivate conservation? It is neither desirable nor accurate to reduce the beautiful to the ethical, or aesthetic judgments to moral judgments. But without this correlation, how can we claim that aesthetic concerns may discourage ecological violence? This article examines recent trends in environmental aesthetics, alongside theories of aesthetic experience, contemporary artistic practice, and the instrumentalisation of beauty, in order to ask the following question: Can aesthetic considerations lead us to do what is right for the environment, without compromising the flexible and inclusive definition of beauty for which current aesthetic practices – including environmental aesthetics – specifically strive?
Co-authored with Joanna Demers.
With Aristotelian teleological convictions, humans in the 21st century remain bent on believing that human happiness is the ultimate end of all human activities – especially aesthetic ones. All such activities generate waste: leftover paint, wrong notes, old drafts. Indeed, the very act of living inevitably terminates in the decomposition and decay of all organic and artificial structures. Yet, while aesthetic practices and theories emphasize various kinds of productive potential (e.g. for meaning, growth, beauty) as innately human, they tend to denigrate or ignore decay as something intrinsically non-human. The notion of decay is frightening because it signals the messiness and inessentiality of human life. Our paper considers visual, literary, and musical artists that confront decay, often by inducing decomposition within the artwork itself. Alongside Bernd and Hilla Becher’s photographs of industrial architecture, we discuss the decomposition of abandoned objects in the video work described in Michel Houellebecq’s The Map and the Territory. We evaluate W.G. Sebald’s notion of writing as “natural history,” which emphasizes the reclamation of ruined landscapes by vegetation. And we analyze William Basinski’s use of the deterioration of magnetic tape as a musical process. We speculate on the consequences and questions, both aesthetic and ethical, that result from aestheticizing decay – from artistically affirming reality at its most terrifying.
This paper was presented at the 2012 meeting of the Society of Literature, Science, and the Arts (SLSA), held in Milwaukee, WI. Read it here.
Download this talk here.
The “sound object” first appeared in the 1950s as Pierre Schaeffer’s conceptualization of music’s “raw element,” which he believed listeners could learn to hear. Post-Schaeffer, the sound object acquired several definitions and exists today in a variety of contexts. A sound object may be a sampled or recontextualized sound, as the author Chris Cutler describes. Alternately, as in the electronic music of Curtis Roads, a sound object is simply a sonic unit, comprising anything from a noise to a melodic segment. The sound object is also a musical genre for ringtone composers such as Antoine Schmitt. Elsewhere, it is a sonic evocation of physical gesture, as in Rolf Inge Godøy’s research on motor-mimetic music cognition.
My objectives are to assess the term “sound object’s” potential as an increasingly prevalent aesthetic category, and to theorize and critique the sound object as a materialistic manner of description too often taken at face value. To be sure, the “sound-as-thing” may serve as a basic analytical category that may foreground the importance of subjective listening to analysis. But the tactility implied by the word “object” may misrepresent sonic and musical experiences as tangible and stable, despite their actual temporality. That said, the word “object” may elicit reflections on music’s relationships to embodiment, and critique habitual assumptions concerning musical experience and music’s ability to communicate truth.
This paper is preliminary work for what will be my first monograph: an aesthetics of automobiles. The paper attempts to locate principles for such an aesthetics in the philosophy of David Hume. It was presented at the 2011 Annual Meeting of the American Society for Aesthetics (Tampa, FL), in honor of the three-hundredth anniversary of Hume’s birth.
The version of this paper presented to the ASA is available here.
This paper investigates Jacques Lacan’s possibly deliberate misreading of the Pre-Socratic philosopher Democritus. Read it here.