Research Review February 2017 – In Media Res


It is three years since I submitted my research proposal to the CHASE Doctoral Training Partnership.  The proposal was (and is) titled: Cyborg Music: A Future Musicotechnographic Aesthetic.  The research question it introduced was: Will current and future developments in music’s interface with an exponential expansion of technology lead to a new musical aesthetic?  There are a number of assumptions underlying the title and the research question which perhaps need a little in the way of explication and justification.  I hoped to show that all music is produced by cyborgs, that amalgam of human beings with technological tools which Andy Clark calls “human-technology symbionts (2003: 3).”  If all humans are cyborgs and music is only made by humans then all music is made by cyborgs. The fact that music is produced by cyborgs makes the case for an interface between music and technology.  The question becomes one of determining to what extent the technological side of this symbiosis is critical to any aesthetic appreciation of those musics. By musicotechnographic I meant no more than writing about aspects of the music produced by the human-technology symbionts.  I use the term exponential in the sense of an ever-increasing non-linear rate of growth.

Cyborg was a word which seemed, successfully, to capture the (funding) Zeitgeist.  But as time has passed, I am left wondering more and more whether the term “cyborg” is tautologous when used in conjunction with the term “human”. And, of course, “aesthetic opens a can of worms and is the proper subject matter of the entire thesis.  At the time I wrote the question, I was using “aesthetic” in a conventional analytical way, in the sense that has been passed down from enlightenment thinkers, from Kant to Scruton.  This would be a parochial position.  I am now more inclined to be thinking about “aesthetic” in terms of its original etymology, aisthesis (αἴσθησις), a much broader sense of “perception” than is allowed for in the enlightenment derivation and usage.  A fundamental flaw in the enlightenment-derived aesthetic is its acknowledgement of a transcendent / immanent dyad.  This thinking descends from the Platonic Kantian notions of noumena and phenomena.  I have never believed in such a dichotomy.  To posit the transcendental noumenal is anti-Occamist and does not provide what Deutsch would call a “good explanation (2011: vii).”  What is required is an epistemology based upon a monadic ontology, a monadic recognition of the immanence of everything that there is, with no place for the transcendent.  In short, an aesthetic rooted firmly in this world.

O’Sullivan (2006) eschews an art history predicated on the object, a practice which relies on “ideological critique and semiotic approaches (2006: 7).”  Musicology, too, has been so predicated.  Pace O’Sullivan, I shall explore the Deleuzian notion of “affect” (which involves aisthesis, directly) in describing an immanent aesthetic.  So fundamental is this concept of affect through aisthesis that Shaviro, developing Whitehead’s thought, describes aesthetics as “first philosophy (2014: 13).”

If there is a “golden thread” running through this thesis, it is the thought and writing of Gilles Deleuze.  During the eight years or so that I have been reading his work (and also his writing in collaboration with Félix Guattari) I have followed the exhortation in A Thousand Plateaus to read widely and to follow lines of flight to new territories, new writers and thinkers.  The potential cross-reference of though and ideas has as many synapses as the human brain.  But having mulled over the implications for my thesis, I constantly return to the Deleuzian concepts of the plane of immanence, de- and reterritorialisation, lines of flight, and assemblages.  And so it is with those concepts as the fibres of the golden thread that I am now revisiting my previous writing and embarking on the new, relying upon secondary literature insofar as it supports the central thrust of my thesis, and taking issue with that literature where it does not so support.  I am not uncritical of Deleuze.  For instance, I do not believe that Deleuze and Guattari give sufficient consideration to the entangled nature of strata and the lines of flight that de- and reterritorialise them.  There are no territories, no strata, which manifest themselves ex nihilo.  But that is not to say that assemblages are not novel, they almost always are.  I will describe an Entangled Network Space to accommodate this thinking.

A major concern for me at the moment is that of style.  All of my academic writing to date has had a certain scholarly style, relying on the conventions required of such work.  I should like to do justice to the spirit of Deleuzian writing.  As O’Sullivan says, “We need to repeat the energy and style of his writings without merely representing his thought (2006: 3).”  Of course, footnotes and in-line citations leading to bibliographic references are themselves lines of flight, so that is a start!  I want the thesis to be rhizomatic.  It is, after all, an assemblage.  So I am, as usual, in media res, which is not a bad place to be.  This is just as well, since one can never actually be anywhere else.

Works (Lines of Flight):

Clark, A., 2003. Natural-born cyborgs : why minds and technologies are made to merge. New York: Oxford University Press

O’Sullivan, S., 2006. Art Encounters Deleuze and Guattari. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan

Shaviro, S., 2014. The Universe of Things: On Speculative Realism. Minneapolis MN: University of Minnesota Press

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