Theodor W. Adorno+Michael Betancourt+Umberto Eco+Rosa Menkman +++

Rosa Menkmann, An Ecology of Compression Complexity, 2023

Subverting Systems
Critical Theory

Art as an inherently critical mode of production
Michael Betancourt is a Glitch Art pioneer, theoretician, artist, activist and reflects on the genre "glitch art" from the perspective of Aesthetic Theory (Theodor W. Adorno). Betancourt emphasizes the intrinsic, subversive-critical practice of Glitch Art, which is shown in the visualization of the vulnerability and deconstruction of the perfection surface of artefacts, the demonstration of interruption techniques, and the transformation of function into dysfunction: Theodor Adorno's Aesthetic Theory argues that art is an inherently critical mode of production, where the emergence of the material basis of art brings the audience an awareness of the reality of its production.
Adorno: Art as Opposition
Adorno's argument for certain forms of media being inherently critical depends on a specific conception of 'art' that places this concept outside of the social frameworks ("its opposition to society") that enable its identification: his description of 'art' follows the specifically avant-garde formulation common prior to World War II. This dimension is readily apparent in his statement that art "criticizes society by merely existing" because, for his argument, art necessarily has no function at all: art exists in a separate domain from use value. Such a definition ignores the anthropological role of art as a social status marker—both for distinctions between different classes, and within the same class: "art" is not a neutral designation. Instead, the readily apparent stratification of the art world into distinct markets focused on promoting, distributing and presenting various works whose formal characters are quite divergent, are nevertheless united by a constant social function—art as marker of distinction. Art serves to separate different classes into subgroupings whose status and membership in those groups is reflected by the art they embrace: art's function depends on its social context. (Reference to: Steven Willats. Art and Social Function, London: Ellipsis, 2000)
Rosa Menkman: Glitches are a revelation of the digital artifice
It is this dimension of his theory that provides the "inherently critical" claim for Formalist media; it provides the unacknowledged supports for Rosa Menkman's argument that glitches are a revelation of the digital artifice. Aesthetic Theory gives this revelation a specifically political dimension, inherent to 'art' itself (...).
Breakdown of the perfect surface
The interruption that the glitch poses is the breakdown of the "perfect surface" of digital works, a signifier of violating what Adorno calls "bourgeois functionalization." The ontological concern is raised (by Hugh S. Manon & Daniel Temkin) as the difference between a "pseudo-sabotage" and a "real-sabotage." An indeterminate ontology provides the foundations for their assumption of passivity, supported by an assumption that the digital is a perfect, immaterial, other-world remote from the constraints and material limitations of analog media. Their analysis succumbs to the same stripping of the physical from consciousness (the aura of the digital) that their discussion attempts to critique.

Digital 'production' is the autonomous action of a machine, rather than the particular labor of a human: the difference between the anticipated form and the one produced suggests (and is understood as) a discrepancy between incoding and decoding, rather than as an event emergent from human action; this issue is both immediately obvious and well known when considering both sampled data and the secondary use of compression algorithms in digital technology.
Glitch is a break in continuity
The "reappearance" of the underlying digital material whose assembly creates the perfect surface can also be understood in terms of a rupture in that work's functionality—in their argument the glitch is a break in continuity only if the audience is passive in relation to the work they encounter; however, as Umberto Eco has noted, "It is evident that even the most banal narrative product allows the reader to become by an autonomous decision a critical reader. The assumption that the audience is passive does not mean this is how audiences engage media: to assume a passive audience mistakes physical immobility for a lack of mental activity.
(Reference to: Umberto Eco. "Serial Form" in: The Limits of Interpretation, Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1994, p. 92.)

Quotes from: Michael Betancourt: Critical Glitches and Glitch Art,, 2014


Theodor W. Adorno. Aesthetic Theory. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1998, pp. 225-227.

Steven Willats. Art and Social Function, London: Ellipsis, 2000).

Hugh S. Manon & Daniel Temkin. "Notes on Glitch" in World Picture 6, WRONG 2011,, par. 25.

Umberto Eco. "Serial Form" in The Limits of Interpretation, (Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1994). p. 92.

Cloninger, Curt. "GltchLnguistx: The Machine in the Ghosts / Static Trapped in the Mouths," Glitch reader(ror), Nick Briz, Evan Meaney, Rosa Menkman, William Robertson, Jon Satrom, Jessica Westbrook (ed.), Unsorted Books: 2011, p. 35

Peter Burger. Theory of the Avant-Garde, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984, p.11.