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An Aesthesia of Networks: Conjunctive Experience in Art and Technology

An Aesthesia of Networks: Conjunctive Experience in Art and Technology

Today almost every aspect of life for which data exists can be rendered as a network. Financial data, social networks, biological ecologies: all are visualized in links and nodes, lines connecting dots. A network visualization of a corporate infrastructure could look remarkably similar to that of a terrorist organization. In An Aesthesia of Networks, Anna Munster argues that this uniformity has flattened our experience of networks as active and relational processes and assemblages. She counters the “network anaesthesia” that results from this pervasive mimesis by reinserting the question of experience, or aesthesia, into networked culture and aesthetics.

Rather than asking how humans experience computers and networks, Munster asks how networks experience—what operations they perform and undergo to change and produce new forms of experience. Drawing on William James’s radical empiricism, she asserts that networked experience is assembled first and foremost through relations, which make up its most immediately sensed and perceived aspect. Munster critically considers a range of contemporary artistic and cultural practices that engage with network technologies and techniques, including databases and data mining, the domination of search in online activity, and the proliferation of viral media through YouTube. These practices—from artists who “undermine” data to musicians and VJs who use intranetworked audio and video software environments—are concerned with the relationality at the core of today’s network experience.

“Over the last decade, Anna Munster has emerged as a leading voice in the critical and scholarly discussion of networks. This book will have broad appeal to scholars working in the digital humanities, social science, media and communications, and behavioral studies involving neurology, affect, and perception.”
Darren Tofts, Professor of Media and Communications, Swinburne University of Technology

“A powerful, compelling, and evocative countergradient against the invisible force field of network topologies, An Aesthesia of Networks disrupts the numbness of contemporary digital perception by exploring the ‘patchiness of the network field’—its recursive loops, viral refrains, and complex conjunctions. Writing at the futuristic edge of art and technology, Anna Munster asks an insistent and critically important question, namely how to think in a more complicated, subtle, and relational way in a digital universe where bodies with minds of code and ‘nerves of data’ circulate in data networks that are viral, contagious, and sometimes as sublime as they are pervasive.”
Arthur Kroker, Canada Research Chair in Technology, Culture and Theory, University of Victoria

“In this engaging and well-researched book, Anna Munster casts light on the emergence of various types of networks in the current media landscape. Taking seriously the reality of relations that unfold in and via YouTube videos, database art, and Google, she allows us to sense the ongoing pulsating dynamic in which various networking processes come together—as well as apart.”
Joanna Zylinska, Professor of New Media and Communications, Goldsmiths, University of London