Stéphan Barron was the first to develop the concept of Technoromanticism between 1991 and 1996 for his doctoral thesis at the University Paris VIII. The main theme of his research is what he calls “Technoromantisme/Technoromanticism”, a neologism which he created and which has been adopted by other English-speaking researchers. Technoromantism is the theory of links between art and new technologies, within the context of the threats posed to nature by technoscience and economic development. Technoromanticism also seeks to analyse the return of the human body within technological arts, formulating the hypothesis that a technological society needs a corporeal rebalancing of perceptions. Delayed for editorial reasons, his book Technoromantisme was published by l'Harmattan in 2003. Technoromanticism is a term used to indicate those aspects of contemporary culture that ascribe to advanced technologies the capacity to promote the power of the imagination, to restore the role of genius and to bring about a unity; in other words that revive and perpetuate the legacy of the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century artistic and philosophical movement known as Romanticism, but by technological means. The term was used in 1999 in a book that bore the title Technoromanticism outlining evidence of romanticism in many commentaries on digital technology at the time.
As such, technoromanticism attributes to technology the capacity to redeem humankind from its problems and bring about techno-utopias. According to this thesis, technoromanticism is idealistic, it also looks backwards, seeing in advanced technologies the opportunity to return to craft values, analogous to William Morris’ romance with Medieval guilds. It appeals to narratives of wholeness, against rationalism which is putatively reductive. Moves to invoke digital networks as a means of returning human society and the world to an organic whole could be regarded as technoromantic, as well as digital technology’s supposed religiously redemptive aspects.
The term “technoromanticism” seems to draw resonances from its opposition to the concept of technorationalism, targeted by critical theorists such as Theodor W. Adorno and Herbert Marcuse. One motivation for describing certain aspects of digital culture as ‘’technoromantic’’ may be to signal that what many people claim about advanced networked computing is old fashioned and embedded in traditional ways of thinking, however innovative the technology. The term also buys into debates within the design methods movement about Rationalism and Romanticism, or in philosophy between objectivism and subjectivism, particularly as articulated by the philosopher Richard J. Bernstein. The term may also encourage critique of certain commentators who seem to claim they are adopting postmodern ways of thinking when in fact they may be referencing romanticism, or lapsing into what George Lakoff and Mark Johnson describe negatively as “armchair phenomenology.”
Criticism of the term
Technoromanticism is therefore mainly a pejorative term for a naïve attitude to what digital technologies are and may accomplish. As such the label may misrepresent the profound aspects of the philosophical movement of Romanticism as advanced by Schlegel and Schelling, and on whom many radical twentieth century thinkers have drawn, particularly Martin Heidegger. There are those who deliberately label their activity as technoromantic, such as the artist Stéphan Barron, who has adopted the word in a positive way to categorise his art.
Oppositions to technoromanticism
The most potent opposition to technoromanticism seems to come less from a return to rationalism than from arguments advanced from the positions of embodiment, situated cognition, Pragmatism, Phenomenology, and the strategies of Deconstruction as outlined in the context of digital computing by Winograd and Flores, Clark, Dreyfus and Coyne.
- The term "Technoromantisme" is quoted several times in Barron's doctaral thesis "Art planétaire et Romantisme Techno-écologique", Université Paris VIII, 1997 http://www.technoromanticism.com/theorie/TEXTES_THESE_HDR/these.html
- Technoromantisme, Ed. L’Harmattan, Paris, 2003
- Furst, L. R. 1969. Romanticism in Perspective: A Comparative Study of Aspects of the Romantic Movements in England, France and Germany. London: MacMillan.
- Coyne, Richard. 1999. Technoromanticism: Digital Narrative, Holism, and the Romance of the Real. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press
- Moravec, Hans P. 1988. Mind Children: The Future of Robot and Human Intelligence. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
- Wertheim, Margaret. 1999. The Pearly Gates of Cyberspace: A History of Space from Dante to the Internet. London: Virago.
- Marcuse, Herbert. 1991. One-Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society. London: Routledge.
- Bernstein, Richard J. 1983. Beyond Objectivism and Relativism. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
- Turkle, Sherry. 1995. Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson.
- Lakoff, George, and Mark Johnson. 1980. Metaphors We Live By. Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press.
- Winograd, Terry, and Fernando Flores. 1986. Understanding Computers and Cognition: A New Foundation for Design. Reading, Mass.: Addison Wesley.
- Clark, Andy. 1997. Being There: Putting Brain, Body and World Together Again. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
- Dreyfus, Hubert L. 1972. What Computers Can’t Do: The Limits of Artificial Intelligence. New York: Harper and Row.
- Coyne, Richard. 1995. Designing Information Technology in the Postmodern Age: From Method to Metaphor. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
- Coyne, Richard. 2005. Cornucopia Limited: Design and Dissent on the Internet. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.