ABSTRACT

Rather than technical and mathematical devices, this chapter argues that underlying recommendation engines are ontological assumptions about culture, and more specifically about aesthetic judgment. We lay bare two of these assumptions by analyzing public discussion about Amazon’s and Netflix’s recommendation engines: that aesthetic judgment is objective, that is, that judgments can be obtained by analyzing observable online behavior without tapping subjective contemplation; and that it is individualistic, that is, that one’s relationship with culture is dyadic, and geared toward satisfying personal needs, without reference to inter-subjective deliberation. We historicize and relativize this particular model of aesthetic judgment by comparing it to the modernist model, formulated by Arendt after Kant. For Arendt, aesthetic judgments are neither objective nor individualistic; instead, they involve subjectivity and inter-subjectivity, since aesthetic judgment lies not in the realm of truth, and since it entails communal, communicative process. By unpacking the assumptions behind the algorithmization of aesthetic judgment, we further the conversation on the politics of digital platforms.