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Simon Penny at Exeter


While I’m on it – here’s a great talk happening at Exeter in the 6th May featuring the well-known work of Simon Penny, with Aron Vinegar, Giovanna Columbetti and Andrew Pickering responding. Blurb below;

, Professor of Studio Art, University of California, Irvine:

16.00-18.00 MR1 Queens Building, Tuesday 6 May 2014.

Art and Cognition—Embodiment, Processual Dynamics and Material Engagement

ARON VINEGAR, Director, Programme for Art History and Visual Culture


SIMON PENNY is an interactive media artist who has a long history of building interactive systems that attend to embodied experience and gesture. He has a longstanding concern with the embodied and situated aspects of artistic practice. He explores – through both artistic and scholarly work – dimensions of the fundamental problems encountered when machines for abstract mathematico-logical procedures are interfaced with cultural practices (such as aesthetic creation and reception) whose first commitment is to the engineering of persuasive perceptual immediacy and affect. These cultural practices mobilize sensibilities and non- propositional cognitive modalities alien to the technology and possibly incompatible with its structuring precepts: the kind of intelligence required by cultural practices involving handwork, bodywork and material engagement (crafts, “popular,” and “higher” art forms) is embodied, kinesthetic, and multi-modal. In his digital art practice, Penny has attempted to find a way to integrate the intelligence modalities required for such ‘bodywork’ into alphanumeric logico-symbolic forms of expression. In this context has developed a critique of notions of intelligence reified in computer technologies, rooted in post-cogntivist conceptions of cognition, self and agency. His interactive digital art installations, such as “Fugitive”, “Traces” and Petit Mal, possess interfaces sensitive to sensorimotor modalities of aesthetic response. His current book project focuses on articulating a new aesthetic theory for interactive media, digital cultural practices, and the arts in general, which deploys contemporary embodied and post-cognitivist perspectives to provide an language for the discussion of cultural practices which is aware of and attends to situated, embodied and enactive intelligences.

Simon’s visit is sponsored by the Exeter Science, Technology and Culture Initiative and the Programme for Art History and Visual Culture.


Through the twentieth century, a staunchly internalist conception of cognition gained traction, culminating in the computationalist positions of Artificial Intelligence and Cognitivist cognitive science. In the 80s, the computationalist paradigm showed increasing signs of failure around questions of common sense and lived experience. New theorisation and research in Enactive, Embodied and Embedded (EEE) cognition have increasingly elucidated the shortcomings of Cartesian/Functionalist conceptions of cognition. Meanwhile, new neuroscientific technologies are revealing neurophysical realities that challenge traditional notions of mind, self and intelligence. I argue that this new generation of research has resounding implications for our understanding of art and cultural practices.

My path into these concerns is unusual but also, I think, emblematic of the concerns at hand. My theoretical concerns arise out of practice itself. As an artist working with computer technology at the cusp of the ‘information revolution’ the difference in world view between the traditions of computing and the traditions of art practices was stark. I was surprised that few around me felt as I – that rhetorics of ‘convergence’ were utterly hollow, and what we were (and still are) immersed in was an ontological crisis of historic dimensions. Almost of all of my work in that period addressed different aspects of this problem, centering on the challenge of building computational systems that attended to embodied interaction.

In this presentation I will present some of those works, contextualizing them in with respect to historical precedents, including Von Uexküll’s ethnology, Gibson’s Ecological Psychology and Maturana’s Autopoietic Biology, which provide a theoretical basis for various non- internalist conceptions of cognition. I will outline some of these EEE positions and go on to elucidate their relevance to thinking about making and cultural practices. I will briefly discuss the emerging field of neuroaesthetics from this perspective.

Governing Academic Life – Para-academic Life


A quick update here. Just to say that I’ll be in a panel titled “Para-Academic Life: Becoming ungovernable” for the Governing Academic Life conference taking place at the LSE,  June 25th – 26th.

Anne, the organiser, got in touch with me and Paul a while back I think, with the intention of including the work of Speculations and Continent, and we’re thrilled to be speaking about our experiences running para-academic journals in the neo-liberal wasteland of mainstream academia. We’re especially thrilled to have Fintan from DUST  on board plus a live link from Eileen.

My talk is entitled ‘Para-academia and the Education of Grownups’ (another Cavell link). So all in all, an important set of events. You can see the provision programme HERE and the aims of the conference HERE.

Para-academic Practices: becoming ungovernable?
(Convenor Paul Boshears)

Paul Boshears (European Graduate School; continent), ‘Rudderless Piloting, Unwavering Pivoting, Governing without Coercion’
Fintan Neylan, (Dublin Unit for Speculative Thought), ‘The Logic of Para-Organisation’
Robert Jackson (Lancaster) ‘Para-academia and the Education of Grownups’
Eileen Joy (Punctum Books) (by weblink)

My Holy Nacho?


Just wanting to direct some attention to this. A fabulous project by my good friends Jamie Allen and Bernhard Garnicnig, called My Holy Nacho. Updating László Moholy-Nagy’s Telephone Pictures series (1923) into the realm of networked media. The title is taken from a Chinese whispers confusion over Moholy-Nagy’s name as a productive misunderstanding of communication which constitutes the ecology of online services.

Beginning with one single object, Allen and Garnicnig transform certain fabrication processes via online services and indirect communication through different ecologies of infrastructure. The final sculptural object is then contingently produced after ten processed steps, and forms part of a gallery exhibition alongside the documentation and dialogues with the manufacturers and shipment companies.

To find out more, hit Regine’s interview with Allen and Garnicnig over at We Make Money Not Art:  The way they understand ecology is very close to my own: the unavoidable creative (I dare say, Romantic!) mystifications of unpredictability that take place in-between various modes of control:

“There are inherent contradiction in trying to control any process. The more noise there is, in a sense, the more predictable something is: It will always be noise. And processes you think you have complete control over are always the ones that bite back hardest, generating more “WTF” moments and leaving people wondering how someone could not have understood something the way they do. So the process — this kind of ping-pong of process selection that we have embarked on — is in one sense highly specific, and in another sense entirely outside of our control.

Actual collaboration is in many ways impossible. Collaboration is more about the love of misunderstanding and the impossibility of knowing than most people think. It’s not about feedback, but pushing each others ideas and intuitions forward, developing unique things together. Imagine two people cooking together, for example, discussing each condiment and about whether now is a good moment to stir — that’s not really how it works. Someone nudges ideas and materials this way or that, and then someone else comes along and nudges it some other way. That’s just how bodies, brains and time work.”

It reminds of Cavell’s most cited passage from Emerson: that is “the evanescence and lubricity of all objects, which lets then slip through out fingers then when we clutch hardest,” – of what is the most unhandsome part of the human condition. It’s true for Emerson as it is today.

Ordinaryism: An Alternative to Accelerationism. Part 1 – Thanks for Nothing


Bit late in the day – but a link to my new Furtherfield article. It’s a two-parter delving into a Cavellian critique of accelerationism. For some reason, there are 1250 odd “reads” so far (discounting spambot reads etc).

If anyone else  is interested in more critiques of accelerationism, Joshua Ramey had a great rejoinder on AUFS last year, coupled with my response.

Heidegger and The Work of Art History


Lovely to see that this is available for purchase now. I’ve read through the whole thing and its all great, and incredibly important (I can’t think of any body of work that has taken Art History as a discipline, and Heidegger this seriously before). You can read Aron and Amanda’s introduction HERE.

Also, I have at my disposal, a 20% discount code should anyone want it.


Derrida-Bergson. Sur l’immédiateté


For those of you whom, are interested in new relationships between Derrida, Bergson and their juxtaposition within speculative realism, Pierre-Alexandre Fradet (ENS de Lyon / Université Laval de Québec) has a new book out HERE.


Four notes towards Propaganda APRJA


Glad to see that the post-digital APRJA newspaper has finally been put online. Here’s my contribution on the post-digital, propaganda and technology. It’ll probably give everyone some idea on what my upcoming book on BioShock will tackle, in relation to games.

Erm. So I have a book coming out.


Yeah I have.

Before I get to that though, the academic videogame Twitto-Blogo-Tumblr-sphere went into overdrive this week in response to Brendan Keogh’s solid essay Across Worlds and Bodies: Criticism in the age of Video Games in the newly christened (and open access!) Journal of Games Criticism.

It’s a fine, clever essay, and its entire strategy is to signify a rhetorical break with the dominant, generalised purist study of games studies thus far, in favour of a phenomenological, interrelated ‘bottom up’ approach to specific videogame artefacts. Granted, such a purist position is a bit of a straw man, Keogh knows that: but I’m guessing that wasn’t the essay’s point, other than it was a solidly constructed overview of  critical videogame contemporaneity right now.

Sure Keogh, might eventually be wrong in grouping up formalism as a single world-view, but to quote Fried, it is better to be wrong than to be irrelevant (yes I am aware of irony considering Fried’s medium specificity, but thats complicated in itself)

And yet bizarrely as this went on, I’ve been finishing off the last pages for an upcoming, small book project that I’ve been working on throughout 2013, which might exemplify what Keogh argues for (as he did with Spec Ops: The Line). Whether it does or not, will be up the academic games community, but its funny how related/unrelated things work out like that.

So, the book is called BioShock: Decision, Forced Choice and Propaganda, it’ll be out on Zero Books this year, and it focuses entirely on the BioShock franchise (specifically Irrational’s games BioShock and BioShock Infinite) and how the series might reveal living in, what Jacques Ellul would call, the technological society.

But the exact nature of ‘how’ BioShock reveals this is the contention of the book: because (and this where I probably differ from Keogh), this is not a specific study of what the BioShock games feel like to play, nor does it seek to discuss video game criticism or culture outright. Neither does it stake a critical claim in what sort of existing allegorical message is present in the text for the player to mull over.

Instead, the book asks how BioShock emerges from a political ecology of systems (what I call decisional ecologies), and moreover how that ecology enacts communication, control and propagation: the very hallmarks of its content. What happens to the BioShock ecology once allegorical interpretations are shown to be less than useless?

Blurb and TOC below.

Published by 2K and developed by Irrational Games, the first person shooter videogame franchise BioShock, (comprised of two titles, BioShock and BioShock Infinite) received positive reviews on release. Moreover the series has attained something of a hallowed status as one of the greatest examples of commercial videogame artistry ever made. Its complex moralistic narrative, level of emergent customisation, immersive dark tone and technical artistry all culminate into a series of videogame experiences, somewhat elevated from the usual “cause and effect” shooter.

The BioShock series is often touted as “making the player think whilst playing.” The combination of narrative, game design, politics and philosophy takes place in failed dystopian futures and alternate universes (Randian Objectivism and American Exceptionalism), whilst the player addresses issues concerning free will and ethical consequence. However, Robert Jackson argues that the BioShock series indirectly reveals deeper, cultural meditations on the nature of decision, choice and propaganda on a wider level, within an ecology of systems and decisions. Instead of understanding BioShock as a ‘lesson’, ‘allegory’, ‘meta-commentary’ or ‘reading’ that applies to videogame culture alone, Jackson analyses how the franchise informally propagates and structures ideals inherent to our technological society. 

Spoilers obviously.

Table of Contents


  1. Decision Ecologies: How can a Choice be ‘Forced’?
  2. Decision and Forced Choice Inherent to Videogames
  3. Forced Choice: BioShock and Retroactive Causation
  4. Forced Choice and the Apparatus: Fate, Allegory and Retroactivity in Psychoanalysis.
  5. Decision: The Split of BioShock Infinite
  6. Decision: Propaganda, Turing, Ellul and the Reality of Automated Ideals

Postscripts: The Future of BioShock: The Future of Propaganda.


Recorded talk at Dublin: SR and Art


Fintan and Paul have kindly posted it HERE - if you want to hear me go on, and say ‘in that sense’ an awful lot.

Whilst I essentially dodged the question of ‘what happens next’ – (although if you’re an art writer, you don’t really ask such things, other than looking backwards) it was a great crowd, Rebecca and Teresa asked some great questions: plus things seeming to flow quite nicely. Especially since I had about a day to expand a 25 minute talk into a 50-55 minute one. The learning curves will never stop.

UPDATE: After a few requests, I’ve uploaded sides and videos from the talk below or HERE in a new tab. Click on the videos to play, I’ve uploaded them as online video.




Speculations 5: SR and Aesthetics – TOC


It’s in the final stages and will be released imminently I’m told. I’m in there with a three part monster of an essay revisiting/updating my previous essay on Harman and Fried, as well some thoughts on inherent aesthetic splits within SR itself.

Part 1: The Art of Theory

Steven Shaviro, “Non-Phenomenological Thought

Theodor Leiber and Kirsten Voigt, “Beauty, the Will to Power, and Life as Artwork: Aesthetico-Speculative Realism in Nietzsche and Whitehead”

Matija Jelača, “Sellars Contra Deleuze on Intuitive Knowledge”

Claire Colebrook, “Not Kant, Not Now: Another Sublime”

N. Katherine Hayles, “Speculative Aesthetics and Object-Oriented Inquiry (OOI)”

Jon Cogburn and Mark Allan Ohm, “Actual Qualities of Imaginative Things: Notes towards an Object-Oriented Literary Theory”

Miguel Penas López, “Speculative Experiments: What if Simondon and Harman Individuate Together?


Part 2: The Theory of Art

Graham Harman, “Greenberg, Duchamp, and the Next Avant-Garde”

Bettina Funcke, “Not Objects so Much As Images: A Response to Graham Harman’s ‘Greenberg, Duchamp, and the Next Avant-Garde’”

Thomas Gokey, “Strategic Invisibility: The Zero Point of Modernism and the Avant-Garde”

Robert Jackson, “The Anxiousness of Objects and Artworks 2: (Iso)Morphism, Anti-Literalism and Presentness”

Roberto Simanowski, “The Alien Aesthetic of Speculative Realism, or, How Interpretation Lost the Battle to Materiality and How Comfortable this Is to Humans”

Francis Halsall, “Art and Guerrilla Metaphysics: Graham Harman and Aesthetics as First Philosophy”

Magdalena Wisniowska, “Images I Cannot See”

Sjoerd van Tuinen, “Disegno: A Speculative Constructivist Interpretation”