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SUSANNE KCHLER

Materiality and Cognition: The Changing Face of Things (25 pp.)


This chapter is a material approach to thinking and knowing. It tries to understand how things
and thought, whether embodied or not, relate each other in conditioning a conscious mind.
Kchler starts by questioning herself: Why does a cognitive approach to culture need things at all?
Her reason to address the issue of cognition lies in the technological advent of the electronic image,
which is displacing the word as the primary vehicle of knowledge transmission. Besides, the
modeling of cognition now thrives on the material analogue of perception in computer simulation
Far from being unprecedented, explain Kchler, the advent of the intelligent objects reaches back to
premodern notions of animate matter whose artificial evocation drove Enlightenments art and
industry. The creation of conductive materials, however, fuses the material and the mindful in
a way that will provoke a radical rethinking of the modes upon which we have based our
understanding of cognition.
By talking about intelligent objects, Kchles means that we are vivifying dead objects by
making them responsive to human need and emotion. No longer is technology just out there
at our disposal for enchanting the world. There are wireless computing and wireless
technologies: We are presented with the dream of a world in which attachment is facilitated
by images that are vehicles of associative thought.
So Kchler argues that, in our new contexts, our assumptions about materiality have to be revised to
acommodate a new economy of knowledge technology:
For too long we have lived with the notion that the material is receptive to concepts that are
projected onto it. This projectionist fallacy, the oppositional framework of culture and
objecthood in which objects merely serve as substitutes for persons, falls apart as
animated things, althought responsive to human need and emotion, become effective in
managing connective and analogical relations.
She also exposes that the shift implied in the advent of the intelligent object, however, exposes
assumptions not just about objects, but also about cognition: A coherent theory of cognition
relevant to the humanities and social sciences has never existed, yet one single domain issue has
come toprevail in studies of culture. This, of course, is memory. This model of memory, which had
long served to legitimize the management of archives and museums, lost its significance within an
impeding intellectual economy in which proprietary rights were no longer extended to things, only
to resources.
Kchler widely talks about clothing. She says that cloth become the vehicle of cutting-edge design
and technology: We are finding ourselves in the midst of a technological revolution that brings to
the fore the interface of cloth surfaces and the conduction of thought. The possibilities for
technologized clothing have emerged as smaller, cheaper, and more powerful electronic
components, wireless comunication, and portable computers have become available.
Kchler is talking out of prototypes of electro-textiles. That is the alliance between the industries of
fashion and information technology as illustrated with the development of Elektex and Robotics

Jackets. She focuses on this issues because she thinks that animated surface that is capable of
conducting thought recalls pre-eighteenth-century visual and, essentially, analogical modes
of learning. The responsive textile surface serves as the carrier of thought, and thus make us
think in terms of associations that are no longer unique and discrete, but that are couched in
the materiality of the thing within which the image dwells.
The material quality of bound surfaces, of drawn or placed lines, or of woven planes thus
may resonate with thought of a particular kind. Though quite unespecific in nature, while
making tangible and visible connections that lie at the heart of the art of describing, the
textures surfaces of things carry what may be called formulaic thought. Through the
embedding of formulaic connections that are made materially manifest in things, things can
become the starting point for realizing such connections in other domains of life. formulaic,
materialized thought makes possible associative strings, fashionably described by the term
adbuction, that connect up the word of the material with the world of humankind. Our
understanding of what facilitates such mindfulness thus cannot proceed without the study of
materiality.
So no longer can we regard things as passive receptacles of discursive thought; rather, as we
have indeed long suspected, thought can conduct itself in things, and things can be
thoughtlike: this is the kernel of the chapter. Arguably, we have, in the past, made the mistake of
taking this claim too literally, by asuming that this thought that resides in the surface of things
would equal words, concepts, or even categories. Intelligent objects have shown to us already
that the kind of thought that dwells in the surfaces of things os often abstract, conductive, and
connective in nature. It is this connectivity, says Kchler, essential to the art of describing, which
has become of vital importance in capturing how things partake not just in thinking, but also in the
shaping of knowledge.
Yet althought the advent of this technologies promises to fullfill the humans dream of ultimate
control over matter, it also carries a radical challenge to our most trusted assumptions about things:
We have to ask how a thing can be thoughtlike or how thought can conduct itself in things.
Further, rethinking those issues is important because we are at the threshold of a new age, not just
intellectual economy and of new ways of managing knowledge but also of materiality, in which not
objects but images reign.