Book Review: “Digital Baroque: New Media Art and Cinematic Folds”

On: September 20, 2010
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About Marije Rooze
Full time New Media student, part time geek.

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What is the relation between new media art and baroque? Is there any connection? According to the book Digital Baroque: New Media Art and Cinematic Folds (2008) by Timothy Murray there is. Murray states that there are conceptual and historical links between digital art and the baroque. Murray argues that new media art works resonates early modern baroque philosophical concepts and texts.

An important idea in Digital Baroque is that due to the advent of digital media there has been a significant conceptual shift from the projection to the fold. The fold is a concept developed by Gilles Deleuze in his book The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque. The fold can be seen as an embodiment of the elasticity of seriality, intersubjectivity and cross-cultural knowledge. The shift from projection to the fold means a shift from linearity to nonlinearity. The concepts of Deleuze are broadly discussed in Digital Baroque:

… the very project of Digital Baroque remains deeply indebted to Deleuze’s many evocations of the baroque paradoxes of incompossibility and the fold, from Logique du Sense to Dialogues. (Murry, 2008: 239)

Incompossibility is a term Deleuze borrowed from Leibniz. The term plays a significant part in Digital Baroque. It refers to elements of thought and art that can not reunite with each other ‘while still not negating or rendering each other impossible. Rather than converging or remaining impossible for each other, rather than being included or excluded, they stand in paradoxical relation to one other as divergent and coexistent: as ‘incompossible'” (Murray: 2008: 248). This incompossibility is typical paradigms of baroque. Murray describes the baroque as ‘psychosocial enigmas of analogical disjunction, temporal shifts, spatial simultaneities’ (Murray: 2008: XI).

The structure of Digital Baroque is nonlinear. The book has four parts and ten chapters, readers can determine their own path. The writes explicitly claims that the book has to be ‘folded and unfolded in the process of reading’ (Murray, 2008: 26) Murray takes in this case a stand against teleological reading, there is no clear beginning nor end.

The chapters addresses a wide range of approaches. Murray analyzes the work of, in most cases, well known artists. Names like Jean-Luc Godard, Nam June Paik, Peter Greenaway, Bill Viola and Jill Scott pop up through the book. He describes the art works with great insight and also pays attention to critics and the opinions of the artists themselves. Murray connects the art works with the early modern philosophy of art. He argues that while the new borrows from the old, the new also presents the old in new perspective:

Contemporary experiments in video and electronic discourse contribute to the retrospective understanding of artistic concepts, visions, and practices of the early modern past. (Murray, 2008).

A certain kind of knowledge about philosophers like Deleuze, Hegel, Benjamin and Leibniz would definitely be helpful while reading this book. The author overwhelms the reader with theories, names, citations and concepts.  It is hard not te be impressed by the knowledge of Timothy Murray, he makes profound connections between otherwise unrelated objects. His enthusiasm and passion about the art works is noticeable. This is most apparant when he mentions his own opinions and experiences.

For those who don’t have a background in philosophy will probably be baffled by the book. In this case I would recommend to first get acquainted with the concepts of Deleuze and Baroque philosophy before diving into Digital Baroque. It may not be a light read but it is definitely a book that offers an interesting philosophical insight in new media art.

About the author

Timothy Murray is director of the Society for the Humanities, curator of the Rose Goldsen Archive of New Media Art, and professor of compartive literature and english at Cornell University.  His research and teaching crosses the boundaries of new media, film and video, visual studies, twentieth-century Continental philosophy, psychoanalysis, critical theory, performance, and English and French early modern studies.

Full Details:

Digital Baroque: New Media Art and Cinematic Folds
By Timothy Murray, 2008
University of Minnesota Press
ISBN 978-0-8166-3402-6

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