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Hardcover | $43.95 Trade | £36.95 | 408 pp. | 7 x 9 in | 140 figures | August 2010 | ISBN: 9780262014212
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Enfoldment and Infinity

An Islamic Genealogy of New Media Art


In both classical Islamic art and contemporary new media art, one point can unfold to reveal an entire universe. A fourteenth-century dome decorated with geometric complexity and a new media work that shapes a dome from programmed beams of light: both can inspire feelings of immersion and transcendence. In Enfoldment and Infinity, Laura Marks traces the strong similarities, visual and philosophical, between these two kinds of art. Her argument is more than metaphorical; she shows that the “Islamic” quality of modern and new media art is a latent, deeply enfolded, historical inheritance from Islamic art and thought. Marks proposes an aesthetics of unfolding and enfolding in which image, information, and the infinite interact: image is an interface to information, and information (such as computer code or the words of the Qur’an) is an interface to the infinite. After demonstrating historically how Islamic aesthetics traveled into Western art, Marks draws explicit parallels between works of classical Islamic art and new media art, describing texts that burst into image, lines that multiply to form fractal spaces, “nonorganic life” in carpets and algorithms, and other shared concepts and images. Islamic philosophy, she suggests, can offer fruitful ways of understanding contemporary art.

About the Author

Laura U. Marks is Dena Wosk University Professor in the School for the Contemporary Arts at Simon Fraser University. She is the author of Enfoldment and Infinity: An Islamic Genealogy of New Media Art (MIT Press).

Table of Contents

  • Enfoldment and Infinity
  • Leonardo
  • Roger F. Malina, Executive Editor
  • Sean Cubitt, Editor-in-Chief
  • The Language of New Media,
  • Lev Manovich, 2001
  • Metal and Flesh: The Evolution of Man: Technology Takes Over,
  • Ollivier Dyens, 2001
  • Uncanny Networks: Dialogues with the Virtual Intelligentsia,
  • Geert Lovink, 2002
  • Information Arts: Intersections of Art, Science, and Technology,
  • Stephen Wilson, 2002
  • Virtual Art: From Illusion to Immersion,
  • Oliver Grau, 2003
  • Women, Art, and Technology,
  • edited by Judy Malloy, 2003
  • Protocol: How Control Exists after Decentralization
  • , Alexander R. Galloway, 2004
  • At a Distance: Precursors to Art and Activism on the Internet
  • , edited by Annmarie Chandler and Norie Neumark, 2005
  • The Visual Mind II
  • , edited by Michele Emmer, 2005
  • CODE: Collaborative Ownership and the Digital Economy
  • , edited by Rishab Aiyer Ghosh, 2005
  • The Global Genome: Biotechnology, Politics, and Culture
  • , Eugene Thacker, 2005
  • Media Ecologies: Materialist Energies in Art and Technoculture
  • , Matthew Fuller, 2005
  • New Media Poetics: Contexts, Technotexts, and Theories
  • , edited by Adalaide Morris and Thomas Swiss, 2006
  • Aesthetic Computing
  • , edited by Paul A. Fishwick, 2006
  • Digital Performance: A History of New Media in Theater, Dance, Performance Art, and Installation,
  • Steve Dixon, 2006
  • MediaArtHistories,
  • edited by Oliver Grau, 2006
  • From Technological to Virtual Art
  • , Frank Popper, 2007
  • META/DATA: A Digital Poetics
  • , Mark Amerika, 2007
  • Signs of Life: Bio Art and Beyond
  • , Eduardo Kac, 2007
  • The Hidden Sense: Synesthesia in Art and Science
  • , Cretien van Campen, 2007
  • Closer: Performance, Technologies, Phenomenology
  • , Susan Kozel, 2007
  • Video: The Reflexive Medium
  • , Yvonne Spielmann, 2007
  • Software Studies: A Lexicon
  • , Matthew Fuller, 2008
  • Tactical Biopolitics: Theory, Practice, and the Life Sciences
  • , edited by Beatriz da Costa and Kavita Philip, 2008
  • White Heat and Cold Logic: British Computer Art 1960–1980
  • , edited by Paul Brown, Charlie Gere, Nicholas Lambert, and Catherine Mason, 2008
  • Curating New Media Art
  • , Beryl Graham and Sarah Cook, 2010
  • Green Light: Notes Toward an Art of Evolution
  • , George Gessert, 2010
  • Enfoldment and Infinity: An Islamic Genealogy of New Media Art,
  • by Laura U. Marks, 2010
  • See <> for a complete list of titles in this series.
  • Enfoldment and Infinity
  • An Islamic Genealogy of New Media Art
  • Laura U. Marks
  • The MIT Press
  • Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • London, England
  • © 2010
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical means (including photocopying, recording, or information storage and retrieval) without permission in writing from the publisher.
  • For information about special quantity discounts, please email
  • This book was set in Stone Sans and Stone Serif by Toppan Best-set Premedia Limited. Printed and bound in the United States of America.
  • Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
  • Marks, Laura U., 1963–
  • Enfoldment and infinity : an Islamic genealogy of new media art / Laura U. Marks.
  •  p. cm.—(Leonardo books)
  • Includes bibliographical references and index.
  • ISBN 978-0-262-01421-2 (hardcover : alk. paper)
  • 1. New media art. 2. Islam and art. 3. Aesthetics, Arab. I. Title.
  • NX456.5.N49M37 2010
  • 704’.088297—dc22
  • 2009042901
  • 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
  • Contents
  • Series Foreword
  • Acknowledgments
  • 1 Getting Things Unfolded
  • 2 Islamic Aesthetics and New Media Art: Points of
  • c
  • ontact
  • 3 The Haptic Transfer and the Travels of the Abstract Line, Part I
  • 4 The Haptic Transfer and the Travels of the Abstract Line, Part II
  • 5 The Haptic Transfer and the Travels of the Abstract Line, Part III
  • 6 Baghdad, 830
  • Birth of the
  • a
  • lgorithm
  • 7 Baghdad, 1000
  • Origin of the Pixel
  • 8 Cairo, 972
  • Ancestor of the Morph
  • 9 Herat, 1487
  • Early Virtual Reality
  • 10 Karabagh, 1700
  • Seeds of Artificial Life
  • Epilogue
  • Notes
  • Index


“Admirably researched, beautifully documented, and written with dedicated passion, Enfoldment and Infinity convincingly demonstrates the deep continuities between ancient Islamic art and new media art. With this book, Laura Marks makes an original and important contribution to understanding the aesthetics of contemporary media culture and its hidden Islamic genealogies.”
Patricia Pisters, University of Amsterdam
“After reading Laura Marks's lucid Enfoldment and Infinity, which leads us through the deep time layers of Arabic-Islamic arts and sciences, we have to give up our established concepts of media history. There remains no substantial reason to declare our culture and technologies of communication the most advanced in the world. Chapter by chapter, it becomes more evident that some of the most important paradigms like algorithms, pixels, morphs, or even virtual reality and artificial life have not been originally generated by the Occident, but through L'Age d'Or of the Orient, especially Mesopotamia with Baghdad in its center.”
Siegfried Zielinski, Academy of Arts Berlin
Enfoldment and Infinity is the most inventive synthesis of European and Islamic thought since Reza Negarestani's Cyclonopedia. This is a book full of imagination and theory, restlessly refusing to remain in the usual continental, philosophic, or chronological borders, continuously reimagining contemporary abstraction as a profoundly Muslim visual discourse.”
James Elkins, School of the Art Institute of Chicago