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Trash aesthetics and the sublime: Strategies for visualising the unrepresentable within a landscape of refuse

Living in a technology-dependent society, it seems inevitable that our vision of the world is mediated and extended through our interactions with technology. We often realize the extent of technological mediation when our machines cease to function correctly. When a machine fails, we leave the predictably functioning world and enter into another realm. Think of the primitive magic of lighting candles during a power cut, where there is the potential of experiencing something sublime—something beyond the order and structure that technology imposes on us. On the other hand, when technology breaks it is also an opportunity to experience a myriad of emotions such as frustration, rage, loss, or boredom. In the face of technological failure, our ingrained response is to obtain a replacement, an upgrade, that promises greater freedom and a new way of visualizing the world. The old piece of technology turns to trash and falls silently and invisibly from our consciousness, as new technological vistas take command of our attention. The failure of machines can also be an intentional consequence of industry, such as the kind of in-built redundancy that drives the production and sale of new products, as discussed in Vance Packard’s book The Waste Makers or Slavoj Žižek’s commentary in Astra Taylor’s 2008 documentary Examined Life. While, in this sense, trash is intentional, there is also something about trash which has moved beyond function and human purpose: this is the link between trash and the realm of the sublime that I wish to explore in this essay.
Journal Article
Type of thesis
Snake-Beings, E. (2015). Trash aesthetics and the sublime: Strategies for visualising the unrepresentable within a landscape of refuse. New American Notes On-line, 7(The Aesthetics of Trash).
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