Richard Kriesche

(The Metaphysics of the Information Environment)



individualism has a direct relationship towards technology. it is synchronised with the breakdown of matter to its smallest bits. by doing so, the individual loses any responsibility to the social body. at the final stage, this kind of individual can change into any other individual, just like the smallest entity, the pixel on the screen, which can bear any information at any given moment. Just as the pixel, the individual doesn't have an individuality any longer. "the spirit of the times is, in fact, neither one of TERROR, nor one of REVOLUTIONARY MESSIANISM, but rather, as we are told in every quarter, one of tranquil hedonism and grasping individualism thirsting for immediate pleasure, all against a backdrop of economic and political liberalism." (gaillard, francoise. technical performance: postmodernism, angst, or agony of modernism?)

individualism has led to the conscious loss of historical orientation, to the depolitisation of the information-based society as a whole, to a generalised indifference evident in the ANEMIC condition of the SOCIAL BODY. the state of the art of this social body is its common combination of DISINVESTMENT of the FUTURE with a DEVALUATION of the PAST. suspended in frivolous tranquility, free from nostalgia, free from nihilism, just 'COOL.'

with the end of the individual, the arts themselves have arrived at a dead end. in the postmodern outcome, their domain results in an individual, secluded in his/her singularity, which is no longer DIALECTICALLY linked - as it used to be in the romantic and avant-garde eras - to a transcedence, wears him/herself out in restless persuit of a personal style, which might well be referred to as the individual 'look.' one may say: the run for personal style is 'styling' the collective encephalogram for our society. all symptoms converge to indicate that we have entered upon a new era in the history of DEMOCRATIC societies, which might be the result of individualism carried to its logical conclusion.

even if we are totally aware of this social diagnosis, it misses the real point, that the 'culture of individualism' is synchronised with a techno-based bias. the social fabric, as well as its techno-information-based environment, have both been broken down to their smallest entity: the individual on the one hand, the bit on the other. the state of the art for globalisation is grounded in the direct reference of the 'culture of the individual' to the 'culture of the bit.' the postmodern individual is mirrored in the bit and vice versa. instead of becoming a form, i.e., personality, the postmodern individual is being broken down to information only, able to adapt to any changes whatsoever. according to the bits, which are neither qualitiy nor matter, but possessing the ability of becoming nearly everything. this techno-based relationship is the final stage of a culture with extreme narcissism, with its offspring, the 'cool' culture of postmodernism. it is in line with the teleological vector, for 'isolation,' 'egoism,' 'monadisation,' 'solipsism,' 'mono-orientation' in a 'mass-mono-environment.'

ironically, the contradiction between the isolation of the individual and the communication of the society to which the individual is told to belong, has led to the liquidation of the traditional individual, and the creation of a ghostly reality. in terms of freedom, the electronic individual can be everywhere; in terms of reality, it's becoming aware of being nowhere. a privilege we have given God only, or ghosts.


individualisation, as well as fractalisation, has led to the communication breakdown of the social body. in this respect, Paul Feierabend's statement, "anything goes," the postmodern statement per se, makes sense -- out of nonesense. by facing the technological based 'bitisation, ' the above statement must be reversed into: "'rièn ne va plus' - beyond." (nothing goes anymore - beyond. ed.)

the vacuum for fresh concepts, the lack of goals, of direction and therefore, the loss of gratification, made the postmodern society 'meaningless' in itself. the lack of alternatives made it in keeping with the outmoded goals of modernism: autonomy/individualism, social criticism or even subversion. the sole outcome of this 'postmodern transition' from the revolutionary 'hot' modern society is the consensual and 'cool' post-modern society.

this depression of values, not to be confused with their depreciation, clearly affects the social field as a whole. tolerance has turned to INDIFFERENCE, freedom of expression to the NEUTRALISATION and BANALISATION of MESSAGES, the search for consensus to FLATTENING and HOMOGENISATION. 'COOL,' the virtue of social liberalism, is a drastic drop in temperature, threatening to plunge the SOCIAL BODY into an irreversible COMA.


with no concern for meaning, and least of all, the meaning of meaning, can artistic acitivities - to speak only of art for the moment - have any meaning? "with the loss of meaning and the de-substantialisation in postmodernism, art has defined itself by eliminating the gap between art and life, between AFFIRMATION and SUBLIMATION, between artistic values and everyday values, art eliminated itself. (...) " (note: in line with the duchampian gesture)

according to the logic of a consensus liberal society, the post-avantgarde had to run into AFFIRMATION, in which digital-electronic artforms, more than any other art, have taken over the predominant role, heading towards banalisation and kitschisation. (see siggraph art shows, ars electronica linz, imagina monaco, etc.) THE (MODERN) BIAS TOWARD THE AESTHETICISATION OF THE BANAL HAS IN FACT LED TO A (POSTMODERN-ON THE ELECTRONIC-DIGITAL PLATFORM) BANALISATION OF AESTHETICS.

Citron already predicted this in the 1950's in terms of aesthetics: "the absence of this contradiction has been leading to a vacuum as the price for freedom. liberal society, by eliminating 'mystery,' 'the absolute,' 'order,' and lacking true metaphysics as well as true policy, throws the INDIVIDUAL back upon himself, all the while divorcing him from what he really is, from his own depths."

it follows that the individual is finding his/her identification in the absolute order of a mysterious, ghostly environment.

I. but we must evalutate this on top of the information-based platform. the new dialectics arise in-between the 'ghostly' individual and its 'ghostly' surroundings. it is true that on this newly built information-based platform, the traditional individual feels lost, unanchored in reality, divorced from its evolutionary heritage, left by his/her own senses. whereas we can see that a meta-individual is already searching for information-based anchorage to gain his/her depths by immersion into the digital environment, into the fabric of the virtual/real net. (internet in 1995: each month 150 thousand individuals are entering the internet.)

II. up until now, we have been confronted with the creation of a machine-based environment outside ourselves. now we are faced with the info-based environment inside ourselves, with the creation of a self, interfacing our own inner-world with the outer, with the creation of a cybernetic organism. (to quote Donna Haraway: with a cyborg.) this is the search of the eternal 'meta-individual,' which the eremites in the desert of Syria, the monks in Christian monasteries were striving for, it has been the struggle for a one-ness combined with the whole-ness. socially alone, mentally united, technologically omnipresent. this is the fresh new field of dialectic action for a true information-based art.

III. by inFORMing ourselves, this means to inprint form onto and into ourseves, 'to what we really/virtually are,' on the surface and in depth, on screen and in real -- this will be art's unique, prime and singular role. which again, no one else but the information-based artist in every one of us can fulfill.

this is what we should talk about in our art schools to the students, when we are asked about the singular role of the arts, the aesthetics of the ethics of the information-based environment. The information-based students are, in many degrees, more conscious about their artistry than most of the long-term artists nowadays.

this is a technologically inter-connected member of mankind, the so-called information-based artist in all fields. the artist is the one who might be aware of this relationship. i would give you an example, a conformation. what i am talking about has been published in Der Standard, an Austrian newspaper, 6 September 1995. it says: a gift instead of a payment for a rent, Vienna. this is connected to …


Vienna, St. Stephen's Cathedral, the official introduction of Windows 95 has been celebrated. a marketing act which has cost Microsoft Austria half a million schillings (approx. US$ 50.000). it is said that neither the church, nor Microsoft understand the amount as being a payment for rent, but as a donation to the organisation "save St. Stephen's Cathedral." Microsoft's Austrian general manager, Egon Salmutter, declared to the Archbishop of Vienna, Christof Schönbrunn, that he sees St. Stephen's Cathedral as "a symbol for faith, for energy of work, and for creativity - of the Austrian values with which Microsoft identifies."

to comprehend this new dialectic between the real and the virtual, we have to see the fundamental change from matter to mind. we must recognise that beneath the "sur-face" of the 'screen,' the new "face" of the world is being in-formed. right at the end of the millennium, at the peak of mankind's rationalism, something unexpected is going to happen: the DESACRILISATION of the world is going to end. we can see the resurrection of the religions! the loss of meaning in our postmodern culture is going to be answered by religion. according to Orientalist Gilles Kepel, "only religions are the basis for identity and passion, (...) which in sync with the mediatisation, are transgressing all nationalistic borders towards uniting the cultures."

i don't wish to argue further about this statement, but instead to discuss this astonishing fact on the basis of its religious-fundamentalist background. in terms of our western culture, i would like to juxtapose the religious-fundamentalist findings with the deeper lying informational-fundamentalist facts, which are the reason for this global awareness. high-rational technology, which is an offspring of Occidential-Christian consciousness, is excavating and empowering the mythical tradition of mankind.

to speak reversely: high-rational-informatisation is the global evangilisation. the religions are well aware, that according to informatics, western culture will then be the 'operating system,' on which the traditional religions and cultures will run as sub-programs. this is the meaning of culture becoming a 'religion.' and the culture/religion, which will understand this first and best, will define the fate of earth. informatisation will then not only surpass 'all' thresholds; it will transgress all cultures as a 'METARELIGION.'

this is the reason for traditional cultures and religions to oppose this 'informational-fundamentalist message' with its own fundamentalist consciousness by empowering their gods. this is the reason even for the resurgence of the Christian fundamentalists. thanks to its information-based, high-tech-environment, the West is at the peak of its power; thanks to the vacuum of Western postmodernism, dialectically, we are witnessing a global phenomenon: 'the retreat to the roots': anchoring beyond culture, in past 'realities' and in passé 'religions'; but also in the techno-based but spiritually empowered metareality!

for the sake of our global culture, only the arts, which have been grounded in the individual-informational-bit-based reality, open and imagine the fresh view beyond the imminent social processes already taking place: RESACRALISATION, RESPIRITUALISATION, RE-EVANGELISATION.

this transition of our 'reality' is going to occur not by the force of spiritualists, religious fundamentalists, voodooists, shamans, or magicians, but on the most rational machine basis man has ever invented. it is the machine itself which as well, tends towards re-evangelisation as it challenges our imagination.

"reality," to quote Michael Heim (Virtual Reality Check, Oxford University Press,1993), "has lost its meaning. the coming VR engines may force a change in that general line of thought and shed new light on classical METAPHYSICS. the next century may have to dig again in the very ancient field of metaphysics excavated by the engines of computer-simulated virtual reality, the METAPHYSICAL MACHINE PAR EXCELLENCE."

in this metaphysical machine environment, it is not only art, but the whole creation, from art to politics, which is at stake. to emphasise this, let me quote in conclusion, in admiration and modesty, a Central European witness, Vaclav Havel, from his speech given in Philadelphia, in Independence Hall, on 4 July 1994: "Only someone who submits to the authority of creation, who values the right to be a part of it, and a participant in it, can continually value himself and his neighbours. and thus honour her/his rights as well. it logically follows that in today's multicultural world, the truly reliable path to coexistence, to peaceful coexistence and creative cooperation must start from what is at the root of all cultures, and what lies infinitely deeper in human hearts and minds than political opinion, convinctions, technology, antipathies and sympathies. it must be rooted in self-confidence. transcendence is the hand reached out to those close to us, to foreigners, to a human community, to all living creatures, to nature, to the universe. transcendence is a deeply and choicely experienced need. to be in harmony even with what we ourselves are not, what we do not understand, what seems distant from us in time and space, but with which we are nevertheless mysteriously linked because together with us, all this constitutes a singular world. transcendence is the only real alternative to extinction."

© richard kriesche, graz/offenbach/paris 1995
Back to "The Moment Before Discovery"