Insect Media

Jussi Parikka In this book, Parikka examines insects, and our relationships to them, through the lens of media theory. Doing so, he claims, "reveals a whole new world of sensations, perceptions, movements, stratagems and patterns of organization that work much beyond the confines of the human world" (ix). Using what he terms as a neo-materialist approach, Parikka leverages the writings of Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari, Gilbert Simondon, Eugene Thacker, and Jacob Uexküll (among others) to examine the ways in which insects have inspired approaches to new media experiences in film, robotics, computing, animation, and art.

For instance, robotics offers an interesting ethological approach between robots and their environment, computer networking and graphics display different models and techniques of swarming, while artists have used insects not just as inspiration for creating new material experiences for their audiences, but also as subjects of study, and inspiration of alternative logics from which to make work. Parikka's approach brings to the fore the different ways that insects are interwoven into our cultural media practices. Art, biological sciences, computing sciences, cultural theory seem not different disciplines so much as an orchestrated movement—a swarm of interconnected workers moving toward the same goal.

Parikka's work holds a significant position within my own research. First, it is a model of analysis of a specific class of nonhuman entities, specifically focusing on the experiential components of insects in relation to an interdisciplinary understanding of media. Second, Parikka mobilizes arguments from a number of the theorists that I see important in my dissertation. Both his approach of an insect understanding of media and his analysis of critical theory offer tools through which I can approach my research to nonhuman experience.

The Aesthetics of Gilbert Simondon: Anticipation of the Contemporary Aesthetic Experience

Yves Michaud Michaud suggests that the theory of aesthetics Simondon presents at the end of The Mode of Existence of Technical Objects foregrounds popular aesthetic experience of today. Aesthetics, like religion and technics, and other human systems of being in the world, engenders certain kinds of individuation in the ways in which they allow resolutions of metastable states. Simondon's argument is that aesthetics harkens back to a "magical phase" where humans directly experienced the world without separation between subject and object. Religion and technics created processes of mediation of this direct experience, objectivizing and mobilizing previously geographically bound key-points of power. Michaud, following Simondon, argues that the aesthetic object is defined by its "insertion" in the world, "and not the fact that it is an imitation of whatever there is," yet one necessarily caught up in technical processes (125). This insertion, found in fashion, turns of phrase, parks, and the modulation of voice, is local and situated, dependent upon "the gesture of placing, inscribing, inserting, a mark in the natural or technical or religious world" (125). Michaud argues that it is Simondon's emphasis on aesthetics, rather than on art, that is of most importance. It allows consideration of any experience in the world as aesthetic experience. Simondon's argument is one that vaporizes an aesthetics of the banal, according to Michaud. At the end of his essay, Michaud claims that Simondon's aesthetics can be expressed in “three keywords”: "aesthetic impression (rather than aesthetic object), techno-aesthetics (rather than natural aesthetics), and aesthetic attractors (rather than masterpieces)” (131).

Michaud's interpretation of Simondon's aesthetics adds great nuance to an argument that can sound anachronistic and out of touch with the affective potential of contemporary art of its day. In true Simondon fashion, he resolves tensions within the original argument pointing us to new areas of aesthetic potential. However, in many ways this is a generous reading of Simondon’s aesthetics. The disconnect between Simondon and contemporary art is a point of tension, in my reading, which reifies traditional forms of beauty and experiences therein, without considering the affective potential of the artworks to engender new individuations at both individuation and collective levels. I will use Michaud’s essay to consider the ways in which art made with living entities might exemplify a co-mingling of the above three key-words, specifically in relation to living and non-living nonhumans.

Individuation, Relationality, Affect: Rethinking the Human in Relation to the Living

Venn, Couze. 2010. “Individuation, Relationality, Affect: Rethinking the Human in Relation to the Living.” Body & Society 16 (1) (March 1): 129–161. doi:10.1177/1357034X09354770. Venn delves into Simondon's ontogenetic philosophy to consider the implications of ongoing metastable individuation for humans, individually and collectively. Venn sums up three interrelated areas within Simondon's oeuvre: an ontology of individual-collective affective relations; an imbrication of the human within "nested networks" of all living beings; and a politics formed through overlapping "technical and psychic" structures. Together, these three strands reveal the need for a "rethinking of ontology and ethics, thus politics" (154).

Venn describes affect as a relational force through which the individual relates to the collective, or transindividual, within Simondon's philosophy. It is multidirectional force, that is both individual and transindividual emerge through affects, but at different scales. Similarly, Venn argues that Simondon's philosophy leads to an expanded view of the collective, where humans maintain relations to all living entities—paralleling Haraway's "naturecultures" (157). Such entities comprise human milieus and are fundamental in the formation of new metastabilities to which individuals must respond. Finally, Venn claims that Simondon's adhesion to material and historical facets align with Foucault's dispositif, or "power, knowledges, strategies, assemblages" that bring specific forces, tensions and energies together. The importance here is an attention to the specificity of relations that create super-saturated areas of potential.

Venn's essay brings to light the ethics produced by Simondon's commitment to concrete elements of relation. However, he does not discuss Simondon's technics, the ways in which technologies affect the transindividual and mediate between humans and nature—which relates to his three areas of concern listed above. In fact, Venn critiques Simondon for "neglecting…the effects of technics or a technical apparatus inscribed in a material world…in the co-contitution of specific individuals and the group" (149). This is an uncharitable reading of Simondon, and avoids Simondon's urgent demand that technics be considered as part of culture and to develop a form of technical mentality based on the function of technology rather than its use. However, even with this oversight, the essay offers a number of viable links to my own research, most especially his discussion of affective relations between individual and collective and the link to nonhuman living beings.