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New philosophy for new media

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Mark B. N. Hansen's New Philosophy for New Media departs from much theorizing about the cognitive effects of new media to argue that the embodied experience--rather than a de-contextualized, disembodied flow of information--is the proper framework for understanding perception. His nuanced claims, infused with both cognitive theory and science, offer compelling insights into the human interaction with the digital image, but the book falls somewhat short of its title’s dramatic promise. Ultimately, Hansen's project it to update Henri Bergson's notion of the "affective body" for the 21st century. He claims that in the world of interactive new media "the 'image' has itself become a process, and, as such, has become irreducibly bound up with the activity of the body." The body acts as a filter to frame the digital image. In contrast, Hansen offers a sustained critique of Gilles Deleuze’s "treatment of the movement image in which the cinematic image is purified of connection with the human body" (as described by Tim Lenoir). The book expands Hansen's vision across seven chapters that variously engage with new media art theory, virtual reality, the "digital facial image," and digital artwork. His most compelling illustration comes in the final chapter, where he demonstrates how artists Douglas Gordon and Bill Viola open "experience to the subperceptual inscription of temporal shifts (machine time)." Here, drawing on work of neuroscience, he shows that art actually engages the body and expands perception of the interstices between what human normally experience as "now." While, like many contemporary works of theory, Hansen sometimes falls into opaque passages of academic, postmodern jargon, he tries to ground his theorizing in a concrete language that he lays out early on (with definitions of such terms as "embodiment" made explicit in relation the neuroscience). In the end, though, Hansen doesn't make entirely clear why this "new" philosophy of embodied experience is actually particular to new media. His supposition seems, rather, that new media art--interactive digital images--heighten the felt experience of perception, but this difference appears to be quantitative, rather than qualitative, relative to the experience of "old" media. In the end, then, Hansen provides a useful remedy to the abundance of "disembodied" theories of virtuality, but his book does not present a comprehensive "new philosophy" for those seeking guidance in a the new media era. --Patrick O’Kelley

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