Saturday, August 13, 2022

"Aesthetica" by Max Bense, partial translation to English

Max Bense (1910-90) was an important philosopher, publishing over 80 books. Unfortunately none have been translated from German to English. Of particular interest to many digital artists is the volume Aesthetica: Einführung in die neue Aesthetik, published by Agis Verlag (Baden-Baden) in 1965. 

As a small contribution, I have translated the introduction and one key chapter of Aesthetica, so that English readers can finally get a sense of this work.

Bense was one of the first writers to take seriously the application of computers to art, and hence today is important to practitioners of algorithmic art, digital poetry, etc. Some of my 1990s work on recombinant texts would find direct support in Bense, had I been aware of him at the time. In this book, Bense applies semiotics to aesthetics, with influences from mathematics, statistics, and communication theory (Claude Shannon).

Bense published the four volumes of Aesthetica in 1954, 1956, 1958, and 1960. During this time he was teaching philosophy at the Technische Hochschule Stuttgart (now the University of Stuttgart). One of his students was Georg Nees (1926–2016), considered one of the original computer graphics artists. His doctorate thesis, published as "Generative Computergraphik", was supervised by Bense. 

The book in question is an anthology of those four volumes. Bense added an early work by Nees as illustration. I have "translated" this graphic by implementing a similar algorithm in Processing. You can grab the code from Github.

The text can be ponderous, Bense having an affection for scare quotes that borders on a fixation. In one passage there's even a quote within a quote, neither strictly necessary! Nonetheless, I have kept the style intact, also preserving the page breaks to make referencing trivial.

I know only a few words of German, so this was very much the work of Google Translate. Corrections are welcome!

Grab the PDF from the Internet Archive. 


More on Nees at the Heike Werner GalleryCompact: Centre For Excellence Digital Art, and Spalter Digital.

The Max Bense website (in German) is archived. His very first work was published in rot 19, which you can grab at Monoskop. You will also love to read the comprehensive catalogue for the exhibition Cybernetic Serendipity (1968).

These books really deserve a considerate publisher:

Georg Nees. 1969. Generative Computergraphik. Berlin: Siemens AG.

Georg Nees. 1995. Formel, Farbe, Form: Computerästhetik für Medien und Design. Berlin: Springer-Verlag.


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