Test the limits of ekphrasis
October 12, 2021 7:23 AM   Subscribe

It's an engaging allusive essay. A bit slippery in what it's getting at in some places, sure, but I think usefully so for how it is considering internet "criticism" (the quotes for internet criticism as Alioto seems to have it not being of the traditional kind).

I don't want to overburden the suggestive elements of the piece by being too dogmatic, but I think I'm a bit more cautious than Alioto over some of the ideas being played with. I think there is something being left out, on purpose or otherwise, in how heavily the piece leans into criticism being in guiding feeling and in how it frames the distance between critic and reader as vaguely unhealthy without hint of earned experience as a value that reversal negates. Appreciating the world as it is doesn't mean there isn't a need to appreciate what it might mean and that's where feeling may not fill the need.

(There's also a bit more to the concept of aesthetic emotion than the piece let's on, but it isn't without its own problems that aren't quite what the piece is looking at, well, not directly anyway.)
posted by gusottertrout at 9:41 AM on October 12

How is Daisy not Mefi's own?

Like, that the internet isn't wholly about the internet. "On the internet, nobody knows you're a dog" but cats can't be fucked with password managers and a mouse you can't eat -- and yet there's so much of the internet that's about cats (wedging them in scanners &c &c).

And the "architecture of the metaverse"? [Cracks knuckles] Have I told you how shit it is? It's Rube Goldberg machine after Rube Goldberg machine, economically and in terms of how data flows about and in terms of what we do to each other and in terms of who we become within the machine -- the grift, however is recognisable all the way through.

The two organising thoughts of computer systems: they reflect our own structures as we model offline worlds in the online structures -- said better in 1966 by Melvin Conway as "Any organization that designs a system (defined broadly) will produce a design whose structure is a copy of the organization's communication structure."

The other organising thought is that adding workers always incurs overhead organising them, quantified in Amdahl's Law. The network effect for people playing their part and sharing information is a gain, but moderation and deciding what to do is all incurred cost of organisation.
posted by k3ninho at 2:03 PM on October 12 [1 favorite]

The choice in celebrating ekphrasial (is that a word?) criticism is an interesting one architecturally because the life on the internet is a more atomistic experience than, say, reading a book, which is a more holistic experience, at least traditionally. Ekphrasis, in the sense linked in the essay, is the poetic celebration of detail looked at less as part of a whole than as something of moving significance in its own right. The internet excels at drawing out significant detail in part due to its design, where a fragment is more easily related and approached than a whole, where the architecture of interaction better supports brevity and the whole is essentially made apparent as unimaginable in its complexity in both design and its global reach of fellow users.

The traditional critic is of little use in celebration of fragments as their desired skill is in seeing things whole and providing a more complete frame for engagement. The very idea of aesthetic emotion came from that kind of criticism, where it was imagined as being the feeling someone sufficiently sensitive has when confronted by work that exhibited "significant form". That is to say that the attempt was in capturing the state of felt appreciation that is not accounted by any other emotion save that in apprehension of the power of the formal elements of the work alone without other reference. Clive Bell used the concept to explain how he understood the reaction to abstract art, where there is or need be no reference to the the real world for one to attach emotional response to, just the arrangement of lines, shapes, and colors in the work that draw out an emotional response of aesthetic appreciation.

While Bell was speaking of significant form as a holistic concept, he also gives example of seeing a painting across a room, just for a moment, but immediately feeling a sense of "rightness" about it that one responds to. That perhaps could be extended to hearing only a moment of a song or seeing just a brief scene in a film and feeling there is something compelling about it that separates it from other works, it generates an immediate "emotional response" in its formal qualities even when the whole isn't fully apparent. Bell's concept fell under attack in a number of ways, but the idea of aesthetic emotion has not disappeared and has been revised repeatedly since Bell's time. Most successfully, by my accounting, when it is used as a way to describe the " non-discursive or emotional logic" of a work by Susanne Langer. The logic of an artwork, that which we respond to, isn't the same as a philosophical or legal notion of logic, but one of its own, which is centered on a kind of emotional response.

This has some application to "criticism" on the internet, but instead of it being an appreciation of the logic of the piece its often appreciation of the failure of logic, the ecstatic moments of the "works", where works no longer need be seen as art in that same traditional sense, it might just be a tweet or post that captures the fancy of some and is amplified into something more. Examples are found in the memes that pull out one detail of a bigger work to give it intensified notice, something like how this clip was a meme for a while. Or it can be a personal recounting to some element of a work that doesn't necessarily say anything about the whole, but speaks to the person posting outside its frame, or it can be things like the many "reviews" that are approached more as works in themselves, just using the song or movie or post as a jumping off place for some exaggerated response drawing out the implausibility of an otherwise familiar trope as in this near 20,000 liked letterboxd post, or using details to reconstruct some idea of the whole in a new manner of association like this review, or pretty much any from FernandoFCroce on letterboxd, or this much longer one from Uncas Blythe on Mubi, or this excellent video from B. Kite.

As we've moved from sampling as a subject of debate over its aesthetics towards a multiverse built on fragmented experience, the way we see the world changes with it so internet criticism is ever more tied to its form of engagement, with TikTok and all the other purely internet based works being something even further removed from traditional holistic response. Celebration of detail coming from the virtual world of distanced "encounters" and vast size echoes the way we each interact with the web or the "multiverse" as one infinitesimal voice in a enormous sea of perspectives.
posted by gusottertrout at 4:55 AM on October 13

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