Sunday, 19 January 2014

On the Temporal Logic in Ernst

There is a very nice review in Postmodern Culture on Wolfgang Ernst's Digital Memory and the Archive. I like how it focuses on Ernst's notion of time - something I believe essential to understand the wider project of the German media theorist. Indeed, in "The Temporal Logic of Digital Media Technologies" Kurt Cavender connects Ernst to Kittler's thought, Matthew Fuller's media ecologies as well as points some of the shortcomings of the arguments (or at least the lack of articulated connections to some other recent theories of software and platform culture).

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Gender in media archaeology: only a boys' club?

One of the set critiques of media archaeology is that it is a boys' club. That is a correct evaluation in so many ways when one has a look at the topics as well as authors of the circle of writers broadly understood part of  'media archaeology'. I make the same argument for instance in What is Media Archaeology?, but there is also something else that we need to attend to.

There is however a danger that the critique also neglects the multiplicity inherent in the approach. For sure, there are critical points to be made in so many aspects of Kittler's and others' theoretical work, but at the same time it feels unfair to neglect the various female authors and artists at the core of the field. In other words, the critique often turns a blind eye to the women who are actively involved in media archaeology. Let's not write them out too easily.

For instance Zoe Beloff's work is of essential value in this regards as her artistic practice digs out alternative media histories of women in a feminist media archaeological way. One should also check out such artists as Aura Satz and for instance Rosa Menkman too. (And the list could/should be extended!)

Lori Emerson is an active figure in the field through her Media Archaeology Lab. In terms of theorists, how can one neglect the pioneering work of Cornelia Vismann? Or for instance Wendy Chun (whether she identifies herself as media archaeologist or not, her work is such an inspiration always)? One of the key writes is Wanda Strauven with her film theory background. Several people in the field explicitly argue how central Carolyn Marvin's classic When Old Technologies Were New was to their thinking. Machiko Kusahara is bringing exciting topics on the media archaeological agenda and such inspirations like Margaret Morse and Vivian Sobchak - again, professors who do not necessarily identify with media archaeology per se... - are important forerunners. Lisa Gitelman and Lisa Cartwright's work pops up frequently. I myself consider for instance Jennifer Gabrys' work (especially on e-waste) a fantastic contribution to the media archaeology/obsolescence discussions. Similarly Shannon Mattern is someone whose work always deserves a shout out.

But for sure - this is just not enough. We could continue listing fabulous scholars but we also need to attend to the finer micropolitics of how articulations of gender, sexuality and embodiment could make the field increasingly vibrant. I myself am keen to follow the route of feminists like Braidotti in her expanded feminism that takes also ecology and animals as part of the concern: what are the processes of writing out, discursive and in non-discursive practices, which are threatening not only the life understood as Bios, but as well as Zoe: the very fundamental dynamics of life on the planet and beyond. Feminism also extends outside the questions traditionally considered about gender.


Thursday, 23 May 2013

A German Affair?

Simone Natale reviews Media Archaeology alongside other media archaeology books (Zielinski and Kluitenberg).

The full review came out in the Canadian Journal of Communication and you can find it here.  But the first footnote is good and interesting. I better quote it in full:

"Although it has recently been largely influential in English-speaking scholarship, media archaeology is indebted to the work of European intellectuals, particularly from Germany, the Netherlands, and Northern Europe. Taking into account the context of its development is essential to comprehending its ends and means. In particular, the German-speaking tradition of scholarship brought to this field some important characteristics: its strong focus on theoretical concerns; its antiquarian vocation, manifested in media archaeology through the attention to “dead” or obsolete media and artifacts; and, last but not least, the leading role that archaeology tout court has had in German culture since the nineteenth century."

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

What is Media Archaeology? reviewed in Neural

A new review of What is Media Archaeology in Neural (April 2013):
"To understand the "futuristic" present we live in it's very important to know our past. This seems particularly true when it comes to media culture. In fact it appears that the only feasible kind of time traveling is what is usually defined as "media archaeology", which allows us to re-create and use the same mediations on content that have been used by people in the past, refashioning their specific media context." [...]

The Archival Command: To Transmit and to Preserve

Whether media archaeology is even that close to Michel Foucault’s archaeology of knowledge is not always questioned. For Wolfgang Ernst, the link is very close, due to the notions of monument that one inherits from Foucault, as well as the non-semantic emphasis of Foucault. However, a lot of media archaeology still vows to principles that are at times further from Foucault. For instance, Foucault was insisting that his archaeology is not so much about giving “voice to the silent”, the neglected or repressed ones of media history. Indeed, his was not a “search and rescue” operation of what was lost, but an analysis of how the various “Gaps, voids, absences, limits, divisions” are distributed. No repression, just a production of distributions.

This leads to questions of how something is “transmitted and preserved”. This sort of archaeology is completely positive in this particular sense, and insists on this monumental aspect: why is something there, and why has it been brought to us. Indeed, his archaeology is handy when it comes to questions of transmission as preservation, the archival command.  A key quote from Foucault elaborates exactly what we are considering also in relation to software preservation/archival matters. There is a “remanence” proper to statements, which is not so much a way back to “the past even of the formulation”. Instead their duration (and distribution) needs to be explained.

Consider Foucault:

“To say that statements are residual is not to say that they remain in the field of memory, or that it is possible to rediscover what they meant; but it means they are preserved by the virtue of a number of supports and material techniques (of which the book is, of course, only one example), in accordance with certain types of institutions (of which the library is one), and with certain statutory modalities (which are not the same in the case of a religious text, a law, or a scientific truth). This also means they are invested in techniques that put them into operation, in practices that derive from them, in the social relations that they form, or, through those relations, modify.”

That quote, from Archaeology of Knowledge, is definitely a killer quote. It both highlights the specificity of Foucault’s approach as well as its relevance to the work of maintenance we call “memory”. It also hitns of that connection to Friedrich Kittler’s note near the end of Discourse Networks 1800/1900 that Foucault’s archaeology of knowledge needs to be updated to account for the technical media age: not all discourse networks are libraries and consist of books! And yet, that is already there in Foucault who steered clear from analysis of technical media but still leaves the door open to those other material techniques etc. Obviously Kittler knew this: we need to read carefully the afterwords to the Discourse Networks. It speaks of Foucault's methods, not his theory, acknowledging that difference inside Foucault's own writings and research.

Besides Kittler, there are hints towards the recent work of “cultural techniques” (for instance Bernhard Siegert). This is not to say that this more recent notion in German media theory is a footnote to Foucault -- like Kittler’s work cannot be reduced to such – but only that the emphasis on techniques is definitely something of consideration when tracking some of the archaeologies of the concept of “cultural techniques”.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Media Archaeology and Technological Debris

An event at Goldsmiths College in London:


Postgraduate Workshop & Conference: Media Archaeology and Technological Debris
Thursday, June 20 – Friday, June 21, 2013, Goldsmiths, University of London
This workshop aims to bring academics and PhD students together to
discuss emerging research projects on the field of media studies. It
means to combine the thriving approach of media archaeology with the
growing environmental concerns about technological debris, emphasizing
the complementary character of these topics in the construction of a
material understanding of media practices=92 past, present and future.
We expect to gather a number of emerging investigations that can shed
new light over the socio-political, economic, cultural, technological,
material and aesthetic dimensions of the continuous phenomena of
novelty and obsolescence of media systems. In doing so, we also hope
to create conditions to examine the systems of relationship formulated
around these topics, paying particular attention to the regimes of
value that define media objects either as museum artifacts or as
rubbish in different global/local contexts (such as Europe and Latin
America).
10-15 PhD students will be selected to participate. The workshop
itself will last for two days: The first day will be composed of
closed reading groups in which the seasoned researchers will act as
respondents and mediators for the presentation of the participating
students, while the second day will be a small conference open to the
public. As such, the workshop intends to create a platform for
exchanging ideas and research methods upon this interdisciplinary
field.
The event is being organized by students and graduates of Goldsmiths’
Department of Media and Communications, and is sponsored by
Goldsmiths’ Graduate School.
Confirmed speakers: Sean Cubitt (Media & Comms, Goldsmiths); Graham
Harwood (Cultural Studies, Goldsmiths); Jennifer Gabrys (Sociology,
Goldsmiths); Jussi Parikka (Media & Design, University of
Southampton); Gabriel Menotti (Audiovisual, UFES); and people from
Access Space (Sheffield).
Possible themes include:
- archaeological and anarchaeological research
- the repurposing of old devices (for fun & profit & art)
- programmed obsolescence and the temporality of materials and technologies
- precarious technical milieus
- artifact materiality and value
- media museography and historiography
- transnational contexts for zombie media
- industrial media and environmental hazards
- practices and economies of recycling technology
- electronic recycling and archiving of technological artifacts
- qualities, histories and applications of media systems and media ecologies
- global and local economic forces in cycles of innovation and decay
To apply, please submit a text document containing a title, a brief
description of your project (no more than 250 words), and a brief
biography to mediaarchdebris@gmail.com by Sunday, April 21, 17:00 GMT.
For more information, see: http://www.technologicaldebris.info

Thursday, 14 March 2013

On the moving panorama and other media archaeological inspiration


Not every professor has an office like this. Peep into Erkki Huhtamo’s (UCLA) media archaeological office through this video, and get a taster of his enthusiasm as a collector: zoetropes, mutoscopes, kinetoscope. It demonstrates the curiosity cabinets of media history but also the need to train specialists who are able to maintain these instruments as part of the living heritage of media cultures outside the mainstream. The devices prompt us to ask questions concerning difference: how different media culture could be, and has been.
The video  is a good insight to the just released Huhtamo book on the moving panorama: Illusions in Motion, just out from MIT Press.