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Resolution of the Technosublime

Michael Thomas


In the last chapter of The Return of the Real (1996) the American critic Hal Foster addresses the contemporary anxieties towards new technologies and media in the western, highly industrialised consumer societies.
Applying Benjamin's 'surgically penetration' of the spectator's body and McLuhan's 'electrically extension' of the human, Foster characterises the situation of the individual subject as a new intensity of dis/connection.
Confused, terrified, and yet fascinated, we have - despite a spatial and often emotional remoteness - become wired to the technoscope of media spectacles by television and so-called new communication technologies: For Foster, this dis/connection has reached a new level of pain-and-pleasure and presents for the author 'a partial return of a fascistic subjecthood'.
In the following thesis I try to detach Foster's notion of a technosublime from its pejorative framework. My aim is not to reactivate the sublime as a nostalgic conception of modern aesthetics, as the unrepresentable was here applied only to be put forward as a 'missing content' (Lyotard).
Alongside Donna Harraway's Cyborg Manifesto (1985), N. Katherine Hayles' reception of the posthuman subject (How We Became Posthuman, 1999), and Friedrich Kittler's idea of synergy between humans and machines, I like to apply the notion of the technosublime as a kind of white rabbit to enter, like Alice, the contemporary setting of a technological Wonderland.
And yet, if the postmodern dis/connection, as Foster argues, either produces indifference, cynicism, or reactive value judgments, we also have to develop and acknowledge new forms and models of criticism, which might no longer depend on a classical position of critical distance but rather locate the research and work inside 'the belly of the monster' (Haraway).
If this agenda, this form of practice, is still to be called art, is irrelevant. A notion, which in the meantime might have become more important, might be 'not-just-art' (I/O/D).

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