Why technology needs beauty

We need the technique and we need beauty. But how to conjugate them? Severino recalled that since the dawn of Greek civilization, and more clearly with Plato, being is associated with technology, that is, to do, to produce, to a creative activity. In The Sophist, Plato writes: “I propose a definition: institutions are nothing but power” (Plato, 2000b, 247D-E), having specified just before that all that has power, that is, that it is predisposed to produce something or to undergo an action, is what it really is.

The various distinctions between the various types of téchne (productive, acquired, divine or human) do not change the substance of the problem: the technique ultimately implies a nihilism, an annihilation of each institution, as seen only within a usability relationship, or, in broader terms, usability and operation. For Galimberti, all this means that “if something is not technikin, if that is, it does not produce or is not produced, or it is not part of the process of producing-being produced, then it is not, that is, it is nothing” (Severino, 1982, p. 197) ” (see, on this, criticism of the usefulness in the society of operation).

G. De Chirico, The Greek Philosophers (1925)

The idea that we are as we do, well supported by a lot of contemporary philosophy – think of the quehacer of Ortega y Gasset, for example – ends up shifting the focus to practice, procedures, standards and everything that optimizes the end of human life: production. It is the openness of credit to the technique and every possible domain.

This assumption requires ethical competence at every level – meta-ethical, ethical, prudential – to prevent the technique from continuing to advance on that inclined plane of domination over the world: in this imperiousness, “we see a reversal of subjectivity: no longer the subject man and the instrument technique at his disposal, but the technique that has nature as his background and man as his official” (Galimberti , 1999, p. 345).

This reversal of subjectivity not only leads to self-growth and self-feeding of the technique, as Jonas had well predicted (2009) – but opens up a horizon of total uncertainty: if living is to do, therefore an attempt to operate on the world for human purposes, with the completion of the overthrow of the human-technical relationship, the human ends vanish: and the ends of the technique remain mostly unknown, while the effects of its doing are only partially imagined; often the unwanted ones suddenly emerge.

Horror God / Techne (2017)

What is an indication first? Recovering life. To recover its sense of doing, returning to human subjectivity in the relationship with technology, that is, with the world. If life is to do, if existence is a continuous farsi, because by nature we are thrown into the world as de-formats, that is, without an established form, everyone will do and will do to find the form and meaning of their own life; each for their own. But this doing is not fantasy: it is the creation, virtuality, in a fully poietic sense, of a production of what was not there before, but starting from the world, for an operation on the world, therefore in relation to the world.

The history of civilizations is the history of the relationship with the world and how technology has modified this relationship. We have always looked to the world, to the space-environment, that is to say to nature, to be able to recreate it, improved, as in a cultivated field, in a livestock farm, in a greenhouse of flowers, or in the hydroelectric power station that exploits the waters of a dam; as in the selection of stingrays, in the force of the wind as propulsion on a sail, such as fire to cook and heat, such as the force of steam and so on. Human production has always been based on nature to overcome it – as in Emerson's beautiful pages on the human-nature relationship in terms of cooperation.

What is a second possible indication? Nature is not only power, that of Plato or that , understood as energy, of Heidegger (1976), from which to replenish as if it were a “bottom”. Nature is also beauty. According to Emerson, “the beauty of Nature is re-formed itself in the mind, and not for sterile contemplation, but for new creations. […] The creation of beauty is Art” (Emerson, 1904a, p. 23) and technique should remember it. Emerson's big message is that no artistic form, no painting, no architecture, basically no engineering, so no technical production would be possible if they weren't always from nature, if they didn't contain some reference to nature. And for this to happen, it is necessary that the human being does not look away from the curious, astonished, by nature, that he does not take it for granted, that he never forgets the great creative and inspiring force.

Already in the orderly nature of the flower beds and sidewalks of the cities, in the rose gardens of Regent's Park, in the Japanese Zen garden or in the Italian one emerges a technique that moves from nature, trying to steal secrets, measure, magic. Beauty is a gnoseological ideal: “Beauty is the form in which the intellect prefers to study the world,” Emerson announced (1904b, p. 287). But beauty, in relation to technique, is also a moral ideal: the idea of the connection between beauty and harmony is, moreover, certainly ancient: think of the pupil of Pythagoras, Filolao, who theorized the concepts of symmetry and proportion already present in previous centuries in various artistic forms, from the archaic period – which finds expression in the note Hera of Samo or in the Kore of Antenore – to the “severe style” of The , with its chiastic construction, or from the classical period of Fidia, Prassitele and Lysippo, to the Hellenistic age of its various schools (neoattic, parchment, rodia, Alexandrine).

C. McCartney, Spring, Regent's Park, London (2017)

As is well known, Plato, more than technique, links the concept of beauty to the ideas of justice and harmony. But it is in the Greater Eppia that he comes to admit the haortic character of beauty – “beautiful things are difficult” (Plato, 2000a, 304 E) – it is not satisfactory to reduce the beauty to the convenient or the useful. On the other hand, Aristotle, in recalling the importance of composition in a tragedy, states that “what is beautiful, both in an animal and in everything else made up of parts, must have not only these neat parts in their place, but also a magnitude that is not random; the beauty lies in the greatness and orderly arrangement of the parts” (Aristotle, 2000, 1450 B).

And this is true even today even in an area where aesthetic judgment is viewed with suspicion, such as the natural sciences: Hoffman's “molecular beauty theory” (1990) recovers mathematical concepts of order and harmony that are based on the aura and the fact that spirals are ubiquitous in nature, starting with mathematics (think fibonacci numbers or the logarithmic spiral). , well-themed by Aronofsky in the film). Beauty, therefore, would be a human reading of a natural fact, otherwise translatable in geometric terms, as Galileo intended.

Why don't we notice all this beauty around us? Why don't we adopt beauty as the main criterion? The answer is not easy. Many factors come into play: from the strength of habit and routine, which characterize the hectic or apathetic life, especially in the city, to that blasé attitude, which Simmel (1903) had well described precisely in relation to the metropolis and modern man; or, also, the emotional stunner, a continuous use of technological devices that increase the dromocratic sense of which Virilio spoke (1977), pushing us to operations faster and faster, to ever faster consultations, often hasty, to relationships too often superficial.

Fr. P. Rubens, Juno and Argus (1611)

For example, when we give more importance to economic data, our art is only commercial, conveys low functions and provides no real inspiration: because it claims to do without the natural data, that is, the space-environment in which the human being is placed. Not taking into account nature, which as we have seen is harmony, proportion, but also energy, power, strength, amazement and magic, the individual does not have much left: his doing becomes a mechanic execute, an assembly instead of a create, a flattening towards procedural routines and standardized procedures, which open an infinite horizon of robotic doing – robot is from the term Czech robot (servitude, slavery) , especially in the sense given by Eapek as an automaton). And it projects an action that is production only as a re-production, because allowed by the era of technical reproducibility, as Benjamin announced (2013): it is the loss of the aura, of that “magic” of which the product is surrounded as unique. It is, finally, the reduction of every vision, every imagination, every hope, every passion, every dream and everything that moves us towards doing to a copy, to a re-do, in the sense of an infinite repetition (and on this Kierkegaard would have had much to write), to a self-referentiality, which ends up closing every progressively opening towards the unknown , the unexpected, the bizarre, the curious, the wonderful; towards each other.

Beauty is an anthropological paradigm and an ethical criterion. Every living being seeks beauty or wants to be a worthy representative of it: the flower that must be allowed to pollinate does not want to wither, the female peacock will choose the male with the most beautiful wheel, the birds fill the world with their chirps, many animals give life to dances, or show their power in clashes and struggles, others migrate through endless journeys or the last of their lives. Life is beauty and vanity is the most manifest tool, explained Paul Rée (2005).

No human being would want to watch a bad movie, or sit in an ugly, dirty restaurant and where they serve poor food. And when we try to improvise painters, poets, cooks and lovers, do we not look at how beautiful it has already been done? We go to museums, admire the works of art kept inside them, we go to concerts and listen to music, we read, we look at the world not out of mere curiosity but to hope to find you at every corner a moment of beauty. 

J. Srijemac – Pop Art Beauty with Red Hat (2018)

We yearn for beauty, as if it were oxygen. And we look for it both in the majestic works of the artist and genius, as in the small flower caught under a stone. We continually seek beauty: each one his own, according to the theories on the taste of Kant or Nietzsche. Here it is not in question what is taste or the sublime, here it does not matter whether beauty is the result of a mathematical proportion, or the personal search for a specific taste: the central fact is that beauty is the language with which nature and humanity can dialogue. 

The economic principle that underlies the company of operation, which requires speed, efficiency, optimization, wants to extract from nature only its efficiency, forgetting that the measure of its efficiency is a measure of harmony, that is, it is beauty. The efficiency of nature is not a mere transmission of genes in a test tube: it is the dance of courtship, it is the struggle for the female and for food, it is the return to bear life after a long hibernation, it is what “will give lilac from the dead ground, confusing memory and desire” – as the Poet sang (Eliot, 2011). 

The efficiency of production, if it forgets beauty, finally forgets itself, prepares for that nihilism that annihilates every relationship with the world, as it does not in view of an operation on the world and in relation to the world, but in view of a production end to itself; she repeats the production without a creative principle, but only as an act on itself and for itself. Dances, fights, songs, calls are all the invitation to a nature that dispels the myth of efficiency and the least waste possible, and that imposes the need for the relationship: the rival, the companion, the predator, the prey.

If human doing, artifice, and nature are connected, it means that art and nature are closely connected: if I grow up in an ugly city, made of ugly or un functional buildings, of roads not passable, without parks, with houses piled up and without any aesthetic criteria, with unregulated traffic, in which cars run and there is no place for pedestrians or cyclists , it is likely that my idea of a city is exactly that and that, in general, it tends not to pose problems of order, pollution, efficiency. I mean, beauty. 

V. Van Gogh, Terrasse du café le soir (1888)

The pages of Vittorini, by Rosario who speaks to his father, are emblematic, especially because they are written by those who knew well often problematic urban environments, such as those in Sicily:

People are happy in cities that are beautiful. […] And you know she's happy. It has beautiful streets and beautiful squares in which to walk, has magnificent watering holes in which to water the beasts, has beautiful houses to return to in the evening, and has everything else it has, and it's nice people. […] You say it must be for good air, but the more beautiful the city, the more beautiful the people are, the better the air. […] In bad cities, people are also bad. […] People are unfortunate, in places like this, they have nothing to cheer about, nothing that ever makes them a little happy, and then it's bad. She's ugly and she's bad, she's dirty and she's bad, she's sick and she's bad. […] A city is not born as a thistle. […] Or are the angels coming to lay it on a hill? […]It all depended on the way people lived. Where people lived as in Enna you had Enna, where people lived as in Licata, you had Licata (Vittorini, 1969, pp. 13-18).

Dewey warned that as long as art remains the beauty salon of civilization, and not a moral criterion for doing, neither art nor civilization will be safe. Why is the architecture of our great cities so unworthy of a beautiful civilization? It does not depend on the lack of materials, nor on the lack of technical capabilities. And yet not only the slums, but also the apartments of the well-heeled are often aesthetically repugnant, because they are devoid of imagination, Dewey noted. Their character is determined by an economic system in which the land is used for profit, resulting from rent and sale. Until the land is freed from this economic burden, beautiful buildings can occasionally be erected, but little hope remains for the appearance of a general architectural construction worthy of a noble civilization (Dewey, 2008, p. 346) – see, for example, the digital city.

V. Kandinsky, Moscow, Red Square (1915)

Beauty must be the moral criterion of technique, of doing, in order to shape life and, with it, to the world. Beauty fills the technique of relationality with itself, with others, with nature, that is, with the world: lost sight of this relationship with the world, it no longer makes any sense to do anything. Because “nothing is beautiful alone; nothing is beautiful except in relation to the whole. […] Beauty, in its broadest and deepest sense, is an expression of the universe” (Emerson, 1904a, p. 24). Let us also make sure that it is the expression of each of us.

References

  • Aristotle. 2000. Poetic. Milan: Bompiani
  • Benjamin, Walter. 2013. The work of art in the era of its technical reproducibility (1935). Milan: BUR
  • Dewey, John. 2008. Art as Experience (1934). In Boydston, J. A., ed., The Later Works of John Dewey. Vol. 10. Carbondale: SIU Press, Carbondale
  • Eliot, Thomas Stearns. 2011. “The Burial of the Dead.” In The Waste Land (1922). Toronto: Broadview Press
  • Emerson, Ralph Waldo. 1904b. The Conduct of Life (1860). In The Complete Works. Volume 6. Boston: Houghton Mifflin
  • Emerson, Ralph Waldo. 1904th. Nature (1876). In The Complete Works. Volume 1. Boston: Houghton Mifflin
  • Galimberti, Umberto. 1999. Psyche and techne. Milan: Feltrinelli
  • Heidegger, Martin. 1976. The Question of Technique (1954). In Essays and Speeches. Milan: Mursia
  • Hoffmann Roald. 1990. “Molecolar Beauty.” In Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 3, 48
  • Jonas, Hans. 2009. The Principle of Responsibility (1979). Turin: Einaudi
  • Plato. 2000a. Major epium. In All Writings. Milan: Bompiani
  • Plato. 2000b. Sophist. In All Writings. Milan: Bompiani
  • Rée, Paul. 2005. The Origin of Moral Feelings (1877). Genoa: The New Melangol
  • Severino, Emmanuel. 1982. The Earth and the Essence of Man (1972). In Essence of nihilism. Milan: Adelphi
  • Virilio, Paul. 1977. Vitesse et politique. Paris: Galilée
  • Vittorini Elio. 1969. The cities of the world. Turin: Einaudi

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