Rhea Myers

The Cognitive Science Question For Art

When I got to art school in the early 90s, cultural studies was the face of the literary theory land grab in that part of the academy. Its stranglehold wouldn’t be broken until the Sokal Hoax some years later. I resisted semiotics and deconstruction as the hegemonic narratives of a coercive authoritarian culture. The long cry of denial of those who’d missed the boat in ‘68 echoed through the postmodern era. It was vapid, tedious bullshit entirely congruent with the managerial ideology of the day.

Technology was opaque to the Derrida-and-Deleuze brigade, however much they protested to the contrary, so mid-90s interactive multimedia was a good place to resist Theory from. Computing machinery was part of another land grab, but criticism of it was possible. And numbers were at least a means of resisting the claim that everything was a text(e).

You’d think given this that I’d be all for the Cognitive Science land grab on literature, but no. To try to explain Shakespeare or Austen in terms of evolution, cognition or economics is fucked up. Literature and the aesthetic are what is needed. Parsing the literary into consumable and mashable data is complicit with corporate (and academic) information culture, the terrible cool of Alan Liu’s excellent “Laws Of Cool”.

The literary and the aesthetic are desperately needed by a culture that threatens to prolapse into mere information. Cognitive Science can explain why you see stripes or why events follow one another in time, and economics can excuse any crime, but the indigestible objects of THE literary and THE aesthetic, not as mystifications but as emergent (epi)phenomena of socialized humanity are needed as an irrational to the sociopathic “rationality” of neoliberalism and managerialism.

We do need another hero. Because no amount of economic incentives or cognitive exegesis is going to escape the gravity well of vapid cool.

If art cannot be grounded in cognitive science, where can it be grounded? In a non-cognitive aesthetic. What can a non-cognitive aesthetic be in the post-postmodern era?