Thought Beyond Thinking: Aesthetic Force

Robert Jackson

In the last few years a growing number of vocal philosophers and thinkers have affiliated themselves with the movement known as ‘Speculative Realism’. The paper will give an overview of this contemporary philosophical current and illustrate its ideas with examples from software ‘runtime’ art, in order to investigate new preliminary models of aesthetic engagement.

The term ‘Speculative Realism’ originates from the title of a conference held at Goldsmiths: London in 2007 and the follow-up conference two years later at the University of the West of England. The original conference brought together four philosophers (Quentin Meillassoux, Ray Brassier, Graham Harman and Iain Hamilton Grant) under a dual philosophical dissatisfaction; firstly to refute the inherited Kantian principle which argues that human beings or human thought can never have access to the world ‘as it is’ or ‘things in themselves’; and secondly, a renewed attention to materialist and realist opportunities surrounding the nature of reality itself rather than a continuation of linguistic signs or hermeneutic texts.

The paper will offer brief summaries of the factions that separate the four thinkers leading to a more detailed synopsis of two thinkers in particular; Quentin Meillassoux’s philosophy of ‘radical contingency’ of which the impossible is always a priori possible and Graham Harman’s ‘object oriented metaphysics’ where autonomous, independent objects co-exist with one another in subterranean networks . Using examples of software art from John F Simon and Antoine Schmitt, my intention is to highlight how these technological art objects propel vigorous independence, worlds away from any presupposed artificiality.