Max Bense

From Monoskop
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Bense in 1955.
Born February 7, 1910(1910-02-07)
Strasbourg, France
Died April 29, 1990(1990-04-29) (aged 80)
Stuttgart, Germany
Web UbuWeb, Wikipedia

Max Bense (1910, Strasbourg – 1990, Stuttgart) was a German philosopher, writer, and publicist, known for his work in philosophy of science, logic, aesthetics, and semiotics. His thoughts combine natural sciences, art, and philosophy under a collective perspective and follow a definition of reality, which – under the term existential rationalism – is able to remove the separation between humanities and natural sciences.


This section is based on an essay by Christoph Klütsch, "Information Aesthetics and the Stuttgart School", 2012.

Bense spent his early childhood in his birthplace Strasbourg and in 1918 his family was deported from Alsace-Lorraine as a consequence of WWI. Starting in 1920, he attended grammar school in Cologne and after 1930 he studied physics, chemistry, mathematics, geology, and philosophy at the University of Bonn. During his studies, his interest in literature is revealed by several contributions to newspapers, journals, and broadcast, for which he wrote several radio dramas. In 1937 he received his doctor's degree (Dr. phil) with his dissertation Quantenmechanik und Daseinsrelativität [Quantum Mechanics and Relativity of Dasein]. He used the term Relativity of Dasein, which he adopted from Max Scheler, for explaining that novel theories do not have to contradict classical science. Bense – declared opponent of national socialism – knowingly opposed the Deutsche Physik of the Nazi regime, which rejected the theory of relativity due to Einstein's Jewish origin. Therefore he did not receive his postdoctoral qualification.

In 1938 Bense initially worked as a physicist at the Bayer AG in Leverkusen. After the outbreak of World War II he was a soldier, first as a meteorologist, then as a medical technician in Berlin and Georgenthal, where he was mayor for a short time after the end of the war. In 1945 the University of Jena appointed him to curator (Chancellor of the University) and offered him the possibility of postdoctoral work (habilitation), which was likely to be cumulative, at the Social-Pedagogic Faculty, which was followed by an appointment to Professor extraordinarius of philosophical and scientific propaedeutics.

In 1948, Bense fled from the political development of the Soviet occupation zone to Boppard; and he was appointed as a guest professor in philosophy and theory of science by the University of Stuttgart in 1949, and as senior lecturer (associate professor) there in 1950. He taught philosophy of technology, science theory, and mathematical logic there until 1976. In 1955, Bense raised a controversy concerning mythologizing tendencies of German postwar culture. Thereupon he became the target of public polemics, resulting in a postponement of his appointment to full professor until 1963.

Between 1954 and 1958, Bense followed a request by Max Bill to teach "information" at the Ulm Hochschule fUr Gestaltung (Ulm School of Design). During that time, Bense founded the magazine Augenblick, one of the most important German literary magazines of the era. Shortly thereafter, litterateurs Helmut Heißenbüttel (1955) and Reinhard Dohl (1959) came to Stuttgart. In 1960, in collaboration with his later partner, Elisabeth Walther, Bense started another editorial project: a set of small books called edition rot with a reappearing quote by Ernst Bloch on their back covers: "There are also red secrets in the world, actually, only reds." By the late 1950s, Max Bense had become increasingly interested in the relation between algorithms (mathematics) and aesthetics (the arts). (Klütsch 2012:65-66)

Bense had founded the Studiengalerie des Studium Generale in 1958, and, by the time the gallery closed in 1978, he had presented ninety-one exhibitions.

He was also guest professor at the Hamburg College for Visual Arts from 1958 to 1960 and in 1966/67. Bense became professor emeritus in February 1978.

Concrete poetry[edit]

Beginning in the 1950S, literary groups such as the Vienna group, the Darmstadt circle of visual poets, and the Graz circle of Austrian and German musicians and writers emerged in rebellion against the normative political and cultural climate of postwar Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. A new, procedurally experimental literature offered radically alternative means of producing written words. Language was newly conceived of as an artistic material that could be combined with new procedures ofliterary production. The most radical of these new procedural approaches was visual or concrete poetry, in which words are transformed from literary signs into graphical signs. This opened a new field for aesthetic experimentation. In Stuttgart, the literary element of the group consisted, besides Bense, of the philosophers and writers Reinhard Dohl, Ludwig Harig, and Helmut Heißenbüttel and the typographers Hansjorg Mayer and Klaus Burkhardt. In 1964, Bense and Döhl wrote the manifesto for the literary component of the Stuttgart group. Entitled "Zur Lage", meaning "Toward an experimental condition or state of affairs", the essay articulates the following elements of concrete poetry in terms that emphasize typography and process: (Klütsch 2012:66)

  • Types-type arrangements-type pictures
  • Signs-graphic arrangements-font pictures
  • Serial and permutational realizations-metrical and acoustic poetry
  • Sound-sound arrangement-phonetic poetry
  • Stochastic and topological poetry
  • Cybernetic and material poetry.

In this list, the material of concrete poetry, i.e., language, is broken down into its atomic elements and investigated by the relation between signs and their stochastic frequencies. The elements of sound, meter, and graphic form are isolated and considered as independent parameters. Instead of conventional lyric production, the isolated elements become the material for experimental stochastic and algorithmic processes. That same year, at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, Jasia Reichardt launched the exhibition Between Poetry and Painting, which was heavily influenced by the experiments in Stuttgart. It was here that Bense and Reichardt met for the first time, inspiring her to make "something with the computer." As a result, Reichardt curated the legendary exhibition Cybernetic Serendipity in 1968 at the same institution. (Klütsch 2012:67)

Information aesthetics[edit]

The information aesthetics initially developed by Max Bense and Abraham A. Moles in the latter half of the 1950s tried to bridge philosophy, psychology, aesthetics, social sciences, and art theory. The goal was to develop a theory that would allow one to measure the amount and quality of information in aesthetic objects, thus enabling an evaluation of art that goes beyond "art historian chatter". Information aesthetics investigated the numerical value of "the aesthetic object" itself. Based on David Birkhoff's mathematical theory of aesthetics (1928-33), the theoretical mathematician Norbert Wiener's Cybernetics: or, Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine from 1948, Claude Shannon's information theory from 1948, and Charles Sanders Peirce's semiotic theory, Bense focused on physical concepts such as entropy, process, and co-reality, while Moles, similar to Daniel Berlyne, accentuated aspects of perception theory and psychology. (Klütsch 2012:67)

Bense's early thinking on aesthetics starts with a Hegelian view in which art is seen as a teleological epistemic process. By the 1950S and 1960s, his interests had shifted to Peirce's pragmatic semiotics, which views logic as a function of signs and symbols. By understanding aesthetic objects as signs, Bense linked semiotics to Shannon's purely technical information theory, where he adapts the concepts of linguistic signs to the problem of signal loss in technological communication. As a link between the technical notion and the human notion of communication, Bense built on Wiener's cybernetic theory. Following Wiener's theory of feedback, whereby some proportion of the output signal of a system is passed (fed back) to the input, Bense devised a model for theorizing how the process of art production, consumption, and criticism is procedurally related in terms that suggest computation. In this theoretical frame, Bense aimed to create rational aesthetics free from subjective speculation and grounded on a purely scientific base. (Klütsch 2012:67)

As a keystone for his scientific aesthetics, Bense adopted Birkhoff's mathematical measurement of aesthetic values. In the late 1920S, Birkhoff had presented a simple formula to measure the aesthetic values of art: M = O / C, where the aesthetic measure (M) is defined as the ratio of order (O) and complexity (C). to This formula was adapted in very different ways. Whereas Bense adhered to the original equation, M = O / C, Moles modified the formula into M = O x C, with drastic implications. If you take low order (O) and low complexity (C), for Bense the measurement (M) can still be high, but with Moles's modification it would be at a minimum. If both values C and O are high, Bense gets a comparatively low measurement (M), while Moles gets a maximum. Both approaches serve a purpose, and both pose problems. Bense was focused on the relation of the two values, and couldn't explain why very low values for O and C would be considered high aesthetic values. Whereas Moles's formula excludes the problem of the extreme ends of the function, it doesn't have an answer for the relation of O and C (O = 0.1 and C = 10 have the same value as O = 2 and C = 5). This fundamental problem was not discussed in detail in the Stuttgart school. (Klütsch 2012:68)

As these structuralist approaches to sign systems emerged, Bense combined Shannon's information theory, especially his analysis of the English language, with Birkhoff's mathematical analysis of aesthetic measure and Noam Chomsky's generative grammar (an idea of a general grammar that is hardwired into human brains and serves as a base for all natural languages). He formed a theory that allowed for the analysis of an art object on a microaesthetic level by investigating the use of sign repertoire. Having a repertoire and rules for combining the elements of that repertoire, Bense now had the tools to form a model for the macroaesthetic values of aesthetic objects. In art he saw a process that moves in the opposite direction of the typical physical process. While for Bense the physical world heads toward chaos (entropy), the world of art heads toward order (negentropy). Both process and order are key terms in his aesthetic, and these concepts deliver the ontological basis for his scientific approach. (Klütsch 2012:68)

Max Bense tried to place the aesthetic value of aesthetic objects within a metaphysical framework of process ontology and semiotics. Their intersection is the basis of information. He inverted the physical process of entropy in the arts: art seeks order, not chaos. The relation of chaos/complexity and order defines the aesthetic value. This implies a fundamental principle, which has the status in his thinking of a natural law. Order is a state of circumstances; it is a property, that is, a relation between entities. Artificial objects have special properties of "coreality"; they are more than their material carrier. In the case of aesthetic objects, coreality is determined by macroaesthetic rules. These rules can be interpreted as executed algorithms; the result refers to a process of neg-entropie (negentropy). English philosopher Alfred North Whitehead (Process and Reality, 1929) developed a process-ontology that was useful for Bense in this regard. (Klütsch 2012:68)


(in German unless noted otherwise)

Early writings[edit]

  • Raum und Ich. Eine Philosophie über den Raum, Berlin: Luken & Luken, 1934, 88 pp. [1], Chapter.
  • Aufstand des Geistes. Eine Verteidigung der Erkenntnis Stuttgart and Berlin: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 1935; Nachdruck R. Oldenburg, 1935.
  • editor, with Peter Schäfer, Kierkegard-Brevier, Leipzig: Insel, 1937.
  • Anti-Klages. Oder von der Würde des Menschen, Berlin: Widerstands, 1937.



Literary works
  • grignan-serie. beschreibung einer landschaft (edition rot, text 1), Siegen and Stuttgart: augenblick, June 1960.
  • après-fiche für uns hier und für andere. Werbung für „Rheinlandschaft“, Faltblatt, Handpressendruck Klaus Burkhardt, Stuttgart, July 1961.
  • bestandteile des vorüber. dünnschliffe mischtexte montagen, Cologne and Berlin: Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 1961.
  • Reste eines Gesichtes, Handpressendruck Klaus Burkhardt, Stuttgart, [1961].
  • Entwurf einer Rheinlandschaft, Cologne and Berlin: Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 1962. Review.
  • vielleicht zunächst wirklich nur. monolog der terry jo im mercey hospital (edition rot, text 11), Stuttgart: o.v., May 1963.
  • Die präzisen Vergnügen. Versuche und Modelle (Limes Nova, 1), Wiesbaden: Limes, 1964.
  • Zufällige Wortereignisse, Einzelblatt (verschiedene Versionen), Stuttgart: hansjörg mayer, 1965.
  • jetzt, Einzelblatt (verschiedene Versionen), Stuttgart: hansjörg mayer, 1965.
  • tallose berge (rio) (futura, 3), Faltblatt, Stuttgart: hansjörg mayer, 1965.
  • "Poetische Texte", in Peter Hoch, porträt m. b., acht rezitative, Nr. VIII (7 Notenblätter + 8 Seiten Erläuterungen), c1965.
  • Epische Studie zu einem epikuräischen Doppelspiel (tangenten, 7), Cologne: Hake, 1967.
  • Die Zerstörung des Durstes durch Wasser. Einer Liebesgeschichte zufälliges Textereignis, Cologne and Berlin: Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 1967.
  • existenzmitteilung aus san franzisko, Cologne: Hake, 1970.
  • nur glas ist wie glas. Werbetexte (Schritte, 17), Berlin: Wolfgang Fietkau, 1970.
  • Zentrales und Occasionelles. Gedichte, Stuttgart: Edition Künstlerhaus, 1981.
  • Das graue Rot der Poesie. Gedichte, Baden-Baden: Agis, 1983.
  • Kosmos Atheos. Gedichte. Suzette, 1985, Baden-Baden: Agis, 1985.
  • Nacht-Euklidische Verstecke. Poetische Texte, Stuttgart, Suzette, Bloomington, 1986/87, Baden-Baden: Agis, 1988.
  • Poetische Abstraktionen. Gedichte und Aphorismen, Stuttgart: manus presse, 1990.
  • Der Mann, an den ich denke (edition rot, text 53), Stuttgart, 1991.
  • grignan 1 – grignan 2. Beschreibung einer Landschaft (edition rot, text 60), February 1996.
On art, aesthetics, semiotics
  • Konturen einer Geistesgeschichte der Mathematik, Bd. 2, Die Mathematik in der Kunst, Hamburg: Claassen und Goverts, 1949. Theoretises a relationship between mathematics and art in terms of a relationship between order and chaos.
  • Literaturmetaphysik. Der Schriftsteller in der technischen Welt, Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 1950.
  • Ptolemäer und Mauretanier oder die theologische Emigration der deutschen Literatur, Cologne and Berlin: Kiepenheuer, 1950.
  • Plakatwelt. Vier Essays, Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 1952.
  • Die Theorie Kafkas, Cologne and Berlin: Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 1952.
  • Aesthetica. Metaphysische Beobachtungen am Schönen, Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 1954.
  • aesthetica II, Aesthetische Information, Baden-Baden and Krefeld: Agis, 1956.
  • Rationalismus und Sensibilität. Präsentationen, Baden-Baden and Krefeld: Agis, 1956.
  • Estética, Buenos Aires: Nueva Visión, 1957, 160 pp. (Spanish)
  • aesthetica III, Ästhetik und Zivilisation. Theorie der ästhetischen Kommunikation, Baden-Baden and Krefeld: Agis, 1958.
  • aesthetica IV, Programmierung des Schönen. Allgemeine Texttheorie und Textästhetik, Baden-Baden and Krefeld: Agis, 1960, 128 pp, PDF.
  • Theorie der Texte. Eine Einführung in neuere Auffassungen und Methoden, Cologne and Berlin: Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 1962.
    • Teorie textů, trans. Bohumila Grögerová and Josef Hiršal, Prague: Odeon, 1967, 133 pp. (Czech)
  • Aesthetica. Einführung in die neue Aesthetik, Baden-Baden: Agis, 1965, 348 pp, IA. Contains four volumes of aesthetica along with the 'manifesto' for computer graphics.
    • Aesthetica: Introduction à la nouvelle esthétique, trans. Judith Yacar, Paris: Cerf, 2007, 482 pp. [2] (French)
    • Aesthetica, trans. Robin Parmar, 2022. Trans. of introduction and the chapter "Projects of Generative Aesthetics". (English)
  • Brasilianische Intelligenz. Eine cartesianische Reflexion, Wiesbaden: Limes, 1965.
  • Semiotik. Allgemeine Theorie der Zeichen, Baden-Baden: Agis, 1967, 79 pp, IA.
  • editor, with Abraham A. Moles, bit international 1 – the theory of information and the new aesthetics / teorija informacija i nova estetika, Zagreb: Galerije Grada Zagreba, 1968. With texts by Max Bense, Matko Mestrovic, Abraham A. Moles, Radoslav Putar. [3] (English)/(Serbo-Croatian)
  • kleine abstrakte ästhetik (edition rot, text 38), Stuttgart, 1969, 32 pp.
    • "Breve estética abstracta", Convivium 30 (1969), pp 85-102. [4] (Spanish)
    • Pequena estética, ed. Haroldo de Campos, trans. J. Guinsburg and Ingrid Dormien Koudela, São Paulo: Perspectiva, 1971; 1975; 3rd ed., 2003. (Brazilian Portuguese)
  • Einführung in die informationstheoretische Ästhetik. Grundlegung und Anwendung in der Texttheorie, Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1970.
  • Artistik und Engagement. Präsentation ästhetischer Objekte, Cologne and Berlin: Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 1970.
  • Die Realität der Literatur. Autoren und ihre Texte, Cologne: Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 1971, 175 pp, IA.
  • Zeichen und Design. Semiotische Ästhetik, Baden-Baden: Agis, 1971.
  • editor, with Elisabeth Walter, Wörterbuch der Semiotik, Cologne: Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 1973.
  • Semiotische Prozesse und Systeme in Wissenschaftstheorie und Design, Ästhetik und Mathematik. Semiotik vom höheren Standpunkt, Baden-Baden: Agis, 1975.
  • Die Unwahrscheinlichkeit des Ästhetischen und die semiotische Konzeption der Kunst, Baden-Baden: Agis, 1979.
  • Das Auge Epikurs. Indirektes über Malerei, Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, Stuttgart, 1979.
  • Das Universum der Zeichen. Essays über die Expansionen der Semiotik (Internationale Reihe Kybernetik und Information, 14), Baden-Baden: Agis, 1983.
  • Ptolemäer und Mauretanier oder die theologische Emigration der deutschen Literatur, erweitert um eine „Nachbemerkung zur Neuausgabe. Ptolemäer und Mauretanier, noch einmal“, Zürich: Haffmans, 1984.
Philosophy and mathematics
  • Geist der Matematik. Abschnitte aus der Philosophie der Arithmetik und Geometrie, Munich and Berlin: R. Oldenbourg, 1939, 173 pp. Review.
  • Einleitung in die Philosophie: eine Einübung des Geistes, R. Oldenbourg, 1941, 191 pp. Review.
  • Über Leibniz. Leibniz und seine Ideologie. Der geistige Mensch und die Technik, Jena and Leipzig: Rauch, 1946.
  • Technische Existenz: Essays, Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 1949, 250 pp.
  • Zwischen den beiden Kriegen, Bd. 1, Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1951, 470 pp. Survey of the 20th century philosophy. Review.
  • Descartes und die Folgen – Ein aktueller Traktat, Krefeld and Baden-Baden: Agis, 1955. Supplement to Augenblick 2.
  • Ungehorsam der Ideen - Abschließender Traktat über Intelligenz und technische Welt, Cologne: Kiepenheuer & Witsch, Köln, 1965.

Edited journals and book series[edit]

Collected writings[edit]

Selected Book chapters, Papers and Articles[edit]

  • "Der geistige Mensch und die Technik", 1946; repr. in Ästhetik als Programm: Max Bense/Daten und Streuungen, Zürich/Berlin: diaphanes, 2004, pp 32-43. [5]
  • "Über den Essay und seine Prosa", Merkur 1:3 (1947), pp 414-424. [6]
    • "On the Essay and its Prose", trans. Eugene Sampson, in Essayists on the Essay: Montaigne to Our Time, eds. Carl H. Klaus and Ned Stuckey-French, University of Iowa Press, 2012, pp 71-74. (English)
  • "Über die spirituelle Reinheit der Technik", Merkur 3:8 (1949), pp 767-780; repr. in Plakatwelt. Vier Essays, 1952, pp 63-89. [7] [8] [9]
  • "Technische Existenz", in Technische Existenz: Essays, Stuttgart: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 1949; repr. in Ausgewählte Schriften, Bd. 3, 1998, pp 122-146.
  • "Charakteristik einer ternären Logik", Theoria 16 (1950), pp 78-81. Commentary.
  • "Manifest des existentiellen Rationalismus" [1951]; in Ausgewählte Schriften, Bd. 1, 1997, pp 1-4.
  • "Kybernetik oder Die Metatechnik einer neuen Maschine", Merkur 5:3 (March 1951), pp 205-218; repr. in Ausgewählte Schriften, Bd.2, 1998, pp 429-446, n473; repr. in Ästhetik als Programm: Max Bense/Daten und Streuungen, Zürich/Berlin: diaphanes, 2004, pp 50-61. [11]
  • "Kunst in künstlicher Welt", 1956; repr. in Ästhetik als Programm: Max Bense/Daten und Streuungen, Zürich/Berlin: diaphanes, 2004, pp 84-90. [12]
  • "Text und Kontext", Augenblick 1 (1959).
  • "Textästhetik", 1960; repr. in Ästhetik als Programm: Max Bense/Daten und Streuungen, Zürich/Berlin: diaphanes, 2004, pp 106-114. [13]
  • "Max Bill 1963", Art International 7:3, Lugano, Mar 1963.
    • "Max Bill", trans. George W. Staempfli, in Max Bill, London: Hanover Gallery, 1966, pp 3-16; repr. as "Max Bill 1963", in Visual Poetics, ed. Stephen Bann, Scottish Academic Press, 1976, pp 12-18. [14] (English)
  • with Reinhard Döhl, "Zur Lage", 1964; repr. in konkrete poesie, ed. Eugen Gomringer, Stuttgart: Reclam, 1972, pp 165-166. [15], English excerpt.
  • "projekte generativer ästhetik", in Bense, Georg Nees, Computer-grafik (edition rot, text 19), eds. Max Bense and Elisabeth Walther, Stuttgart, February 1965, pp 11-13; repr. in Ästhetik als Programm: Max Bense/Daten und Streuungen, Zürich/Berlin: diaphanes, 2004, pp 184-199. [16]
  • "Kunst und Intelligenz", 1965; repr. in Ausgewählte Schriften, Bd. 1, 1997, pp 350-361.
  • "Computergrafik", Kritisches Jahrbuch 1, ed. Wendelin Niedlich, Stuttgart: W. Niedlich, 1966; repr. in Semiosis 3-4 (1990), pp 3-5. Speech written by Bense and read in his name by Reinhard Döhl at the opening of Computer-Grafik exhibition at Galerie Wendelin Niedlich in Stuttgart on 5 November 1965. [17]
  • "Ästhetik und Programmierung", 1966; repr. in Ästhetik als Programm: Max Bense/Daten und Streuungen, Zürich/Berlin: diaphanes, 2004, pp 208-213.
  • Bense in Merkur
  • More literary articles
  • More articles on art
  • More articles on philosophy
  • More


On Bense's aesthetics[edit]



See also[edit]