10Aesthetics of the Digital

Sean Cubitt

Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto.

[I am a human being, I consider nothing that is human alien to me.]

Publius Terentius Afer

Straying from its ancient Greek root meaning ‘“sensation,” the term “aesthetic” has had to bear an increasingly heavy load since becoming current in Europe in the 18th century. Attached variously to the physical or phenomenal sensations of the body as it senses the world; the natural or artificial objects that give rise to such sensations (especially pleasurable ones); the specific qualities of beautiful objects, and the emotional and intellectual reactions we have to those objects and sensations, aesthetics has come to attach itself to the realm of art. Badiou (2007) suggests that aesthetic history can be divided between two moments: the Classical aesthetic, describing the realization of an ideal of beauty in an artwork, an ideal to which all artworks seek to aspire and which transcends history; and the Romantic, accepting the historical nature of beauty and placing its faith in a future realization. The Classical thus addresses the past, the Romantic the future. And yet, if we accept the idea that the aesthetic describes a moment when objects and senses come into contact—generating forms, sensations, and psychic events—then surely the aesthetic is par excellence the experience of the present?

The problem we face in tracing an aesthetic of the digital then begins in the problem of the present, a moment ...

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