McKenzie Wark Interviewed about “The New Aesthetic”

David Cox:

What are your thoughts on the so-called “New Aesthetic”?

McKenzie Wark:

I don’t really see the ‘new’ in it, but in general I like it, in the way that one likes an aesthetic, and an aesthetic is those class of things one ‘likes’.

That machines perceive, that their perceptions exceed human ranges, and that their perceptions produce their own artifacts. This all seems in line with a certain kind of modernism. The fetish objects of the machine world change, however.

David Cox:

So really what we’re experiencing is form of modernity, albeit one reflecting the unique properties of our own time?

McKenzie Wark:

Modernity in two senses. Firstly, the emblematic machinic vision, being, secondly, the one that draws attention to itself as machinic, and hence of its time.

David Cox:

How would you equate today’s New Aesthetics with the ideas and aesthetics (if that is the right word) of the Situationists? Particularly the game/map tactics oriented theories of Debord, the urban Constant, and the more esoteric Northern European tendencies of Jorn, and COBRA? There would definitely seem to be some overlap here. And as we know the SI’s stomping ground in London was also Spitalfields/Hoxton (the pre-gentrified version of course!).

<em>(Cox note – Bridle has mentioned the SI in his talks)</em>

McKenzie Wark:

There is no Situationist aesthetic. There’s really no connection.

David Cox:

Do you have any views on the the rise of a kind of superstition about machine intelligence or is this par for the course with modernity? Are ghosts-in-the-machine part of the deal when the shock of the new makes its impact felt? Why must phantoms and ghosts accompany British user-interface led digital design movements today?

McKenzie Wark:

Its always a category mistake to separate machine intelligence from human intelligence. There’s always a network between them. We are products of our prostheses, and always were, back to paleolithic times.

David Cox:

What century are we living in? Is Bruce Sterling right about Atemporality and temporality – is the NA purely temporal (not interested in the art of the conflation of time periods, but its opposite – being very much in the here &amp; now?) Funny, given that many of the ‘hipsters’ who embrace the NA actively embrace an Edwardian/Victorian dress sense (handlebar mustaches, old typewriters, tweeds etc – as William Gibson put it “its more important for them to *look* like D.H. Lawrence to have actually read him…!”

McKenzie Wark:

That whole steampunk thing was interesting when Gibson and Sterling did it — but not since.

David Cox:

How might we adapt the NA for political forms of empowerment? Are there ways to interpret the movement’s fascination with unmanned aerial drones for example into a new type of Praxis about US &amp; UK foreign policy? Might the movement’s easy but not overt alliance with Occupy and Anonymous suggest new types of what we might call “processual” politics? What might this look like?

McKenzie Wark:

I find, say, Trevor Paglen more interesting, and he predates this whole thing, as does the work of Jordan Crandall. As usual, its the right kinds of artists who were ten steps ahead on this.

David Cox:

In one of your books you once described seeing a render ghost (artifacting pixels on a digital cable news channel) whilst watching news coverage on TV of 9/11 – did this sense of uncanny underscore the mediated nature of this event-scene? How does ‘the uncanny’ feed into our sense of living in these current times?

McKenzie Wark:

Yep, i did the ‘new aesthetic’, in about 1989! That was a very uncanny year. Lots of ghosts in the televisual machine, and proliferating on the network machines.

David Cox:

On the subject of publishing James Bridle has been calling for new ways to counter the monopoly of Amazon and Apple and Google over the control and distribution of e-books and e-book data – as a writer what are your views on this? Do you have any views on the role of the writer in a time when not only the words, but the metadata and bookmarks and related information about the books is as important as the actual book is what publishers are vying for? What is the role of the author in this? Has the author and the publisher morphed into a new type of hybrid?

McKenzie Wark:

Well, I recommend O/R books, for example, who actually did a book about drones. They are trying to do ebooks outside of the Amazon jungle. Its why I did Gamer Theory in WordPress and why with the Institute for the Future of the Book we came up with the CommentPress plugin for it, so that it would be easier to do longform writing in digital form outside the proprietary formats. There’s a lot that’s being going on under all these headings for years, of which the above are just passing examples. But you know, you can do it, then promote it, or you can just promote it…

McKenzie Wark (b. September 10, 1961) is an Australian-born writer and scholar. He works mainly on media theory, critical theory and new media. His best known works are “A Hacker Manifesto”, “Gamer Theory” and “The Beach Beneath the Street”

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