No Aesthetics without Ethics

In their introduction to "Digipopo," a special issue of Public that focuses on digital politics and poetics, Gear et al. (2005) write:

We all believe that work done on digital media arts needs to be informed by humanities and social science discourses as well as by a close understanding of media aesthetics.

To forward that goal, the issue features a series of media performances derived from a 2003 interdisciplinary conference exploring the intersections of digital politics and poetics. Absent from that rich representation of viewpoints and disciplines is rhetoric, the field that sits on the cusp between politics and poetics, humanities and social sciences. In this webtext, I rectify that omission by exploring in a small way the insights into digital politics and poetics provided by a rhetorical orientation. I argue that the anomalous position of "author" in interactive digital texts, especially interactive poetic digital texts, can be fruitfully conceptualized through the lens of Aristotelian ethos. What we gain through such a framing is a renewed understanding of the ethical as well as the rhetorical nature of aesthetics and, reciprocally, a renewed understanding of the aesthetic nature of both rhetoric and ethics.