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This article explores artistic responses to emergent technologies of surveillance. It suggests looking at the military drone as the paradigmatic surveillant eye and proposes that the primary characteristic of “droning,” or of surveillance as a type of image-creation through algorithmic data gathering, should be thought of as predation-by-aesthetics. This term is introduced as a concise paradigm for the features of surveillance capitalism that this article sees as fundamentally transformative of the world overall: namely the way algorithmic data gathering captures information about individuals and communities and uses it to govern the world through feedback loops that operate at the level of sensation and affect. The figure of the drone sheds light on the way cybernetics has fundamentally transformed the idea of an image, loosening it from a merely optic connotation to a kind of synesthesia. How does the eye of the drone “program” the political potentialities of those it is watching, and can this be harnessed by artists? I interrogate how effective the artistic techniques of camouflage and hyper-visibility are when they try to use the very machines and techniques of surveillance they purport to disrupt. I ask whether, in creating and viewing these works, we become complicit in surveillance networks.
That contemporary art is fundamentally irreducible to modernist art and aesthetics has become a commonplace of contemporary art theory and criticism. In marking this distinction, reference is often made to the obsolescence of once-dominant aesthetic categories and the need for breaking with aesthetic theories traditionally allied with artistic modernism. For many in the field of philosophical aesthetics, this means going beyond the work of Theodor W. Adorno and creating a conceptual discourse more appropriate to the current state of contemporary art. The present paper reconstructs the stakes of this legitimation crisis and sets Adorno’s writings on art and aesthetics in relation to some of the most significant debates in recent art criticism. In the process, it demonstrates that many of the most pressing problems in contemporary art are integral to Adorno’s aesthetic theory and that it is precisely at those points where his thought is today regarded as most problematic that it is often most instructive. Through a sustained examination of art’s essential relation to what Adorno calls “natural-history,” the problems of contemporary art and aesthetics are then situated within the wider context of art’s relationship to a history of domination.
Poems, according to Ernie Lepore, are partly about their own articulations. This is a provocative proposal that deserves examination. I offer such treatment here and examine Lepore’s proposal sympathetically, defending the bulk of it, or a view very much like it, from a pointed critique by Peter Lamarque. Together with my own critical commentary, I suggest ways of developing the account further, then explore some of its implications for our general understanding of literature.