Aesthetic Autonomy and Sensuous Appearing: Two Questions in the Aesthetics of Digital Poetry

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In this paper I would like to consider the aesthetics of digital poetry with reference to ideas of aesthetic autonomy and sensuous appearing.
The notion of autonomy, whether of the art-work or of a mode of experience with which it is associated, has been central to the historical development of the idea of the aesthetic itself. Andrew Bowie defines it as ‘the idea that works of art have a status which cannot be attributed to any other natural object or human product’ (Aesthetics and Subjectivity, p. 2). It is an idea which has been seen as ideologically driven, as when Terry Eagleton suggests that ‘the idea of autonomy – of a mode of being which is entirely self-regulating and self-determining – provides the middle class with just the ideological mode of subjectivity it requires for its material operations’. Yet Eagleton also argues that aesthetic autonomy can provide a ‘vision of human energies as radical ends in themselves which is the implacable enemy of all dominative or instrumentalist thinking’, implying that it has potential for avant-garde or critical purposes (Eagleton, Ideology of the Aesthetic, 9).
The role of the sensuous it also central to ideas of the aesthetic. Martin Seel argues that aesthetics should begin with a concept of ‘appearing’ [Erscheinen], as the crucial shared property of all aesthetic objects, such that aesthetic experience means ‘to apprehend things and events in respect to how they appear momentarily and simultaneously to our senses’. This he relates to ‘presence’ and self-reflection’: ‘In perceiving the unfathomable particularity of a sensuously given, we gain insight into the indeterminable presence [Gegenwart] of our lives. Attentiveness to what is appearing is therefore at the same time attentiveness to ourselves … [especially] …when works of art imagine past or future, probably or improbable presences’ (Aesthetics of Appearing, xi - xii)
Should digital poetry be placed in the avant-garde tradition of an anti-aesthetic, involved a critique of ideas of aesthetic autonomy and an avoidance of sensuousness? Or can autonomy be rescued as a critical force? Does the multi-medial or intermedial of richness of digital poetry re-instate sensuous appearance in a digital culture? How does interactivity bear on issues of the autonomy of the aesthetic experience, and the idea of ‘attentiveness to what is appearing’ as ‘attentiveness to ourselves’? I will explore these and related questions in relation to well-known works of digital poetry, such as Maria Mencia’s ‘Birds Singing Other Birds’ Songs’, John Cayley’s ‘Translation’ and Talan Memmott’s ‘Lexia to Perplexia’.
(source: author-submitted abstract)

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Eric Dean Rasmussen