Inspired Part 1: Artistic Science and Technology or Modernized Art

I am still enchanted by the visionary reads of the last few days: John Tresch’s The Romantic Machine and Lee Vinsel’s posts on “What-I-Will-Call-ics Anonymous,” part 1, 2 and 3. Both Vinsel and Tresch present their ideas clearly and vividly, making their works accessible and enjoyable. Because I highly recommend your reading them, I won’t even try to summarize them here.

I will write about them nonetheless. Today, I will start with a few thoughts concerning Tresch’s exposition of the interrelatedness of science and art in the Romantic age. He devotes an entire part of his book to an analysis of common themes, methods and visions in science/technology and art in the early 19th century. By sharing parts of my dealing with technological art or artistic science, I will come out as a “What-I-Will-Call-ic” myself. Unlike Vinsel, however, I am not able to tell you yet what subsequent posts will look like, and when you will be able to read them. Just be patient, and bear with me.

Back in Berlin, I wrote a paper on “Stochastische Texte und Genpoesie” (Stochastic Texts and Genetic Poetry—sorry for its being German). Even after rereading, I still don’t understand why my professor graded it with 1.7.1 I really liked the assignment, and this is the first reason why I want to share it with you. Number 2 is Tresch’s assertion that “the arts and the emotions were indispensable to [the Saint-Simonians’] vision” (194). I don’t know if he meant to convey that, but I felt like he suggested that arts and emotions are inseparable. I can offer contrasting views held two centuries later by the guys in my poetry paper:

  • Max Bense’s 20th century information aesthetics were a deliberate attempt to make rational accounts of art possible. Himself a mathematician and physicist, he aimed at modernizing poetry by employing newly developed machines, namely computers, to produce stochastic texts. This way, he meant to lay the foundations for objectifying and de-metaphysifying aesthetics. Science and art ought to be used to make the world comprehensible, to capture and portray it. To reach this goal, he deliberately separated art and beauty; poetry was merely the result of a technical process involving aleatory elements.
  • Christian Bök’s still ongoing Xenotext Experiment puts the same emphasis on the process of making art. He is a poet who writes with nucleotide triplets in living cells: He uses science to inscribe his art in nature (or whatever we will call it) and lets it transform the original lines into a new poem. He believes that possibilities of creating art should be extended.

So far, Bök seems entirely in line with Bense; however, he attempts not only to modernize the methods of creating poems, but also to advance the life sciences themselves. Simultaneously to his improvement of genetics, he argues, biologists should be given the possibility to discover the artistic features of their own scientific practice. Obviously, we find a little more emotion and enchantment in Bök than in Bense, but it’s certainly not the Saint-Simonians’ vision Tresch lays out so beautifully.

Reason number 3 for my digging out this old paper: I am one of the “What-I-Will-Call-ics” Vinsel wrote about—and not even anonymous any more. See this paragraph:

Aufgrund der recht strikt determinierten Ausgänge sowie der zuvor erfolgten eingehenden theoretischen Beschäftigung mit ästhetischen und epistemologischen Konzeptionen können diese literarischen Projekte nicht als exploratives Experimentieren im Sinne von Friedrich Steinle oder gar von Richard M. Burian bezeichnet werden, gehen aber doch weit über die Vorstellung eines Experimentalromans von Riccardo Nicolosi hinaus. Was bei Bense und Bök geschieht, ist nicht – wie Nicolosi seinen Ansatz formuliert – Experimentieren in der Literatur, sondern mit ihr; genauer: mit den Mitteln der Literatur. Vermutlich existiert bisher noch keine Bezeichnung für das in einem Hybrid aus Kunst und Wissenschaft betriebene Experiment, dem es weder um die Entdeckung oder Beziehung wissenschaftlicher Größen noch um die Formulierung einer Theorie geht, sondern um das Finden und Testen neuer Möglichkeiten zur Verwirklichung der Kategorie Innovation. Daher sei an dieser Stelle der Vorschlag gemacht, solche Experimente unter dem Begriff der Methodenexploration zu fassen.

It is buried in the last sentence: “This is why I propose to call these [literary] experiments exploration of methods.”—I am so sorry that the translation doesn’t really work. Methodenexploration sounds so much more sophisticated than exploration of methods. You might want to learn German.

While you are doing so, I will think about what other thoughts provoked by the above-mentioned reads I want to share with you.

1 It is a German 1.7, though: 1.0 best, 4.0 worst.


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