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Author: George S. Vascik
Title: Sean Cubitt's Digital Aesthetics
Publication Info: Ann Arbor, MI: MPublishing, University of Michigan Library
September 2002

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Source: Sean Cubitt's Digital Aesthetics
George S. Vascik

vol. 5, no. 2, September 2002
Article Type: Book Review

Digital Aesthetics

Sean Cubitt, Digital Aesthetics (London: Sage, 1998).

Sometimes when reviewing a work, it is tremendously useful to read the publisher's blurb; in the case of Digital Aesthetics, this amounts to 232 words on the back of the paper edition. If you assume that the author of the work at least approved the text, then one has a yardstick by which to judge the text itself. We are informed that, "[t]his is the first full length study to investigate the aesthetic nature and purposes of computer culture in the contemporary world." One doesn't have to be an aesthetician to appreciate that this is an important topic. We are informed (or warned) moreover the question of digital aesthetics "goes beyond design issues and taste and leads to the issue of digital ethics." We are further informed that the book turns "a cool eye on the claims of cybertopians" and argues for a "genuine democracy beyond the limitations of the free market and the global corporation." Surely this all amounts to an ambitious agenda.

Cubitt's chapter organization is sensible. Chapter One discusses the forms of reading. Chapter Two investigates the realist perspective, whose favored form Cubitt defines as the map, while Chapter Three examines the spectacular aspects of visual media. In this later chapter, Cubitt argues that perspective is best understood as a special effect. An historiographically challenged Chapter Four claims to explore "the transformation of sounds in the arts of recording and broadcasting." In his final chapter, Cubitt takes on the problem of convergence. In sum, this volume takes serious questions seriously.

Unfortunately, for this reader, the writer's ideological lens is problematic. Plowing through a dense barrage of lit-crit semantics and post-Marxian leftist cant was no easy task. Cubitt does not help his cause by clearly developing his arguments. He continually makes political asides with blinding self-assurance and takes no trouble to substantiate them. He mistakes harangue for argumentation, and papers over points of contention with dense prose. I found whole passages of the work incoherent. In the end, this reviewer was left to wonder if he had read anything more than an anti-globalist, anti-liberal tract. What happened to a discussion of the aesthetics of computer culture?

All told, was Digital Aesthetics worth the read? Some chapters, such as the first (Reading the Interface) are sprinkled with fascinating insights. Others are less so. All are suffused with the most elegant narcissism - see how much I know; see how broadly I have read. This reviewer is glad to be done with it.

George S. Vascik Miami University