Thursday, 27 December 2012

Hit & Run: On Finnish Baseball and War

It’s war on the school playing ground. Pitch and duck, run and take cover. The just barely disguised educational aims of Finnish sports are more cruel when you scratch the surface. Obviously, it applies to all sports, especially in school, with the cruelty that only kids are capable of.  But there is something curious about some of the Finnish sports that kids like me had to – and still do – play on a regular basis, for years during their school career.

In terms of Finnish baseball, pesäpallo, what intrigues me are its military roots. Invented by Lauri “Tahko” Pihkala, a far right leaning cultural spokeman and sportsman, pesäpallo took form as a Finnish variation of the American and already existing European versions. However, what the rather militaristic Pihkala planned, just in the after wake of Finnish independence, and the bloody civil war, was a form of education of the body. I would like to think of him as the Finnish equivalent of Ernst Jünger, of sorts. War is the mobilisation of the body, and drilling of the national body to the specific requirements of war. Of course, there was a sense of antiquated aspiration in this. In the coming militarised war, the blitz, a different sort of management of speed was needed, although one has to say that for such specific war fronts like the wintery Finland of 1930s and 1940s, men on skis had their use. Indeed, for Pihkala, preparation for military manoeuvres starts from the sports field.

With roots in late 19th century, the idea for this particular game grew in his head for twenty years, with the first test match in 1920 in Helsinki between a military battalion (Pioneeripataljoona 1) and a quasi-military right wing group (Suojeluskunta). Even the rules of the games were officialised as an appendix to a military brief in 1921 (Armeijan päiväkäsky).

Reading Pihkala’s thoughts is fascinating in the jungeresque way. It is a form of cultivation – a cultural technique one can say – of the physical body in relation to a wider set of social goals for survival.

What else than training for hunting and fighting was the basis of sport in those times: running and jumping, throw-ing, clubbing, shooting, wrestling and boxing. In those times every man who wished to stay alive had to be an able huntsman and a soldier, that is a good athlete – thus became sport both an everyday task and a national service.”  

This is an important part in the cultural history of 1920s and 1930s – both in terms of a prelude to WWII as well as the anthropological theories of play articulated at that time. Indeed, in Pihkala’s ideas, plans and writings, the two streams coalesce.

Only man is capable of training, an activity requiring systematic, far-sighted deliberation and patience that are essential for sport.

Play/sports are a second-order cultural technique of cultivation: training of the bodily senses which as an activity attaches to such widely discussed modern themes like patience and attention. So much of the anthropology of the urban, modern life was of course geared towards this specific theme that is not solely about observation, but that more specific nature of attention (indeed, psychopower of sorts, that with theorists like Stiegler has been the recent years been picked up as part of analyses of attention economy, but has these long roots in media and social theory).

Sports is war, and war is less about killing than about the drilling, training of the body. In Pihkala’s words:

Sport is more or less methodical training for martial tasks that appeal to our instincts either because of their ancient origins or because of the speed they implicate in order to gain the maximum performance.

Aim and throw, duck and run -- the mobile warfare. Hit and run: the game is a modulation of speed. Apparently Pihkala had considered that whereas the American version is more like trench warfare, his version would be equipped for a more speed-oriented mobile war that according to some sources was planned to support the specific requirements of the milieu of Finland: forest warfare. Shoot and move. It’s a sort of a simulation of warfare in this sense.

Much later, in the 1960s, Pihkala was introducing another new sport, “flash ball” (salamapallo). Worried about the increasing sitting down that is crippling our culture (remember, Finland was too on its way from primarily agricultural mode of production to a more service based urban culture), Pihkala was keen to pitch running as a key to healthy cultural state. Here too, in a radio column by him, Pihkala is talking about how running/agility/movement are essential to ability to defend oneself, which I am sure he allegorically meant as part of a national task as well. In general, the column is an interesting listen from the perspective of cultural techniques of running.

A further chapter to this invention of Finnish national sport as a military mode of training is when one would discuss that through Friedrich Kittler. Kittler’s enthusiasm for war and media technologies is known, as is his fondness, of sort, of Jünger. There would be curious narratives to be written from the Finnish perspective too, as a way to understand cultural techniques of drill and distraction.

Some sources:

Also, here as PDF the Finnish art group Iconoclast (Söderlund & Suonpää) publication “Hit and Run” that acted as key inspiration for this little text. Some of the Pihkala quotes are from that art publication.

Saturday, 22 December 2012


The amount of discarded electronics, like broken or almost-broken televisions, computers nearly spewing their guts on the sides of streets - you do know where it all goes? Well, some of it goes to UnLunDun.

China Miéville's writings are quite inspirational, and some of his books with a clear steampunkish edge to them as well. However, Un Lun Dun (2007) -- UnLondon - is one weird mix of the other side of London; ever so slightly alternative universe into which the two girl protagonists Zanna and Deeba are transported.

Of interest to the fans of the obsolete are the constructions of moil: Mildly Obsolete in London, but completely useful in the tinkering Un Lun Dun:

"[..] a building made from typewriters and dead televisions", that they pass from an itself obsolete abandoned London double-decker bus. The "Em Oh Aye Ell"s are pieces of discarded stuff, like old computers and radios, abandoned on the streets:

"Sometimes rubbish collectors have taken it, but often as not it ends up here, where people find other uses for it. It seeps into UnLondon. You might see residue: maybe a dried-up puddle on a wall. That's where the moil dripped through. And here, it sprouts like mushrooms on the streets."

And it's the whole system of media/transport; old buses, diesel trains but more importantly not just obsolescence but even the play with existence/non-existence where they are going: the other "abcities", such as Parisn't, No York, Helsunki, Lost Angeles, Sans Francisco, Hong Gone, Romeless - a network of existing non-places.

As for moil, it's not really just "old manky rubbish", like Zanna's judgment goes. It too organises (although, one has to say the smog that escaped London while developing a brain of its own is a thingy in its own class!). Moil is organised to tribes, with their own leaders, pointing to the organisation of rubbish - rubbish just is not rubbish. It has histories, pasts, futures, modes of organisation. Indeed, "Certain substances in UnLondon exist in prologue form in London, and enter a second life-cycle here with new purposes, even as sentient denizens of the abcity", this logic is later explained in slightly more detail.

Hence, you have princesses of discarded typewriters, and jacks of cracked glass, the pope of empty mousetraps -- a whole royalty of obsolescence.

Miéville's moil points to the fact that when things break down, they become something else. Losing purpose does not mean disappearance, like broken media just does not disappear. Umbrellas become unbrellas.

Miéville is so good on this point: the persistent duration of materiality that insists on its transformational quality. Something persists, and yet changes; the other worlds are those transformations, topological, or to account for the spatial qualities, grosstopical too - to use a term he uses in The City & The City, another weird materialist story of space/unspace.

Wednesday, 19 December 2012

New reviews

Some new reviews -- Insect Media and Media Archaeology: Approaches, Applications and Implications were reviewed in Information, Communication & Society.

And What is Media Archaeology? has received it's first reviews. A new one came out in Literary & Linguistic Computing, an Oxford University Press journal.

Monday, 17 December 2012

An interview with Wolfgang Ernst

The countdown to the Wolfgang Ernst volume, Digital Memory and the Archive, is on...only a couple of weeks. Meanwhile, listen to this new audio interview with Ernst - in English!

Friday, 2 November 2012

A Review of What is Media Archaeology?

An interesting take on What is Media Archaeology? in Reviews in History. Not sure if I agree with all of the notes made by the reviewer, for instance:

"Alongside the sophisticated middle-class consumer preferences and jaundiced post-Cold War politics sit references to all the popular cultural theories imbibed by the part of that generation that stayed on at university to get PhDs."

Indeed, I go through the consumer culture fascinated by "Retro", but to me it is better to take that aboard, instead of neglecting it. The reviewer writes earlier that I spend a bit too time on quirky things, instead of docile normality, but then also writes that I focus on "middle-class consumer preferences...". I would just say that indeed, I do both. Both the consumerised retro and vintage, and fascination with the past -- and the more interesting alternative insights into how to think technology and time. The slightly twisted, alternative, parallel and just off the radar approaches in artistic projects and historical examples are ways to actually approach the "normal".

Also, in terms of "popular cultural theories" I thought actually that the likes of Zielinski, Ernst, Siegert recent platform studies, software studies, and even Kittler are not really that well known (, especially in the Anglo-American world (Kittler is definitely not well known in UK academia) -- hence instead of exactly focusing on the canon (except for instance Foucault), I decide to do focus on slightly less debated theorists, and emerging directions, to illustrate new ways of understanding the theoretical force of media studies. Even the likes of Aby Warburg, or more generally German tradition of Bildwissenschaften are not always well known in current discussions in art and cultural theory/academia! This is why at times the "rediscovery" of writers such as Flusser makes exciting things happen. They open new paths in the brain, even in academia.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Don't call him a media philosopher!

It was one year ago that Friedrich A. Kittler died. The German newspapers reacted, and slowly, The Guardian too, with a couple of writings and a podcast. I think that was it, for the English-speaking mainstream press. I wrote this piece for The Guardian.

The academic discussion picked up speed even more, during the past year. It has included  fantastic pieces like the memoir by Geoffrey Winthrop-Young of the Kittler-before-Kittler (i.e. the early 1980s one) '"Well What Socks is Pynchon Wearing Today?" A Freiburg Scrapbook in Memory of Friedrich Kittler' in Cultural Politics Volume 8, Issue 3, and a forthcoming ZKM conference Of Gods and Scripts around the Mediterranean, newspapers are doing more stories.

Some newspaper stories did second rounds through social media repostings. Here is for instance FAZ: Jede Liebe war eine auf den ersten Blick.

Indeed, Kittler got the human (well, actually "spirit", "the mind", Geist - Geisteswissenschaften) out of humanities, and inserted the machine. Suddenly, inside the body we found all kinds of hardware. Typewriters, grammophones, circuit boards, computer chips.

However, don't inscribe "media philosopher" on his grave stone.

And no, he did not like being called a media archaeologist either.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

A Kittlerian moment with numbers

Pythagorian prayer to the Tetractys
"Bless us, divine number, thou who generated gods and men! O holy, holy Tetractys, thou that containest the root and source of the eternally flowing creation! For the divine number begins with the profound, pure unity until it comes to the holy four; then it begets the mother of all, the all-comprising, all-bounding, the first-born, the never-swerving, the never-tiring holy ten, the keyholder of all".
-  quoted from the tweet by Symposion (@Kittler_ZKM), posted Thu 11th Oct, 2012.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Low light of the past

"We make our journeys out there in the low light of the future, and return to the bourgeois day and its mass delusion of safety, to report on what we've seen. What are any of these 'utopian dreams' of ours but defective forms of time-travel?"
These are the words of Thomas Pynchon in Against the Day (2006), one of the favorite fiction writers for media theorists and media archaeologists.

Could we say the same thing about the past , as journeys to the past that are like defective forms of time-travel? To past times when old technologies were once new, and puzzled and awed, with their low lighting, crackling, noise, and pixelated style? 

See for instance some of Torsten Lauschmann's works...also on now at John Hansard Gallery, in Southampton.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Technological Archaeologies of Fetish

For some while, before really picking up on researching and writing what turned out as Insect Media I was gathering material and ideas for something on "Technological Perversions" - a sort of a theory/cultural history of the entanglement of perversions and modern technology. Similarly as Insect Media turned out to be a reading of technology and media through the non-human (compound) lense(s) of the insect, this book was to become a similar take - but through sexual perversions. Fetish, perversions, desire gone awry, etc. as the insights into modern relations to/with/in technology.

The underbelly of such narratives and dispositifs reveals a more interesting insight into the proximity with technology as desire - and one involving truly non-human objects. As such, there is indeed something there of the beautifully fetishistic relation that one finds more often from classifications of sexual perversions. Kraft-Ebing's grounding work would in this sense have to be read as part of the constellation, but also captured in poetic form in a range of literary work.

Indeed, Thomas Pynchon would have a special place in that book - here writing of the "top of a lady's stocking, this transition from silk to bare skin and suspender", in Gravity's Rainbow (A book of weird entanglements of erections, engineering and modern science indeed):

"It's easy for non-fetishists to sneer about Pavlovian conditioning and let it go at that, but any underwear enthusiast worth his unwholesome giggle can tell you there is much more here--there is a cosmology: of nodes and cusps and points of osculation, mathematical kisses . . . singularities!"

Within a couple of sentences, Pynchon carries this topological connection to further topologies: stocking to singularities, to cathedral spires, mountain peaks, the Rocket in the sky.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

How Many Media Archaeologies?

I gave recently some talks in Canada -- a talk and a seminar at Western University in London, Ontario, and then the keynote at the Canadian Communication Association-conference.

Here is the first talk, How Many Media Archaeologies? as an audio recording.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Cultural Technique?

If you are wondering what the term Cultural Technique(s), or in its native language, Kulturtechniken, refers to - this is the quote you need. In most articles on the topic, Thomas Macho's words are recounted, and used so why not recirculate them once more:

"Cultural techniques—such as writing, reading, painting, counting, making music—are always older than the concepts that are generated from them. People wrote long before they conceptualized writing or alphabets; millennia passed before pictures and statues gave rise to the concept of the image; and still today, people sing or make music without knowing anything about tones or musical notation systems. Counting, too, is older than the notion of numbers. To be sure, most cultures counted or performed certain mathematical operations, but they did not necessarily derive from this a concept of number."

- Thomas Macho, “Zeit und Zahl: Kalender- und Zeitrechnung als Kulturtechniken,” in
Bild-Schrift-Zahl, ed. Sybille Krämer and Horst Bredekamp (Munich: Wilhelm Fink Verlag,
2003), 179. (The passage translated by Geoffrey Winthrop-Young).

Quoting this also hints at what I am occupied with now - together with Winthrop-Young and Ilinca Iuraşcu; a special issue on Cultural Techniques for Theory, Culture & Society.

Saturday, 11 February 2012

Search For a Method-panel - TM12

We had a great "media archaeology" panel at Transmediale 2012 -- organized by Timothy Druckrey, with Inke Arns, Siegfried Zielinski, Wolfgang Ernst and me. Really good interventions, and the discussions that ensued were helpful for people, I am sure, in carving out the different approaches. Much of the emphases went to a Zielinski vs. Ernst debate, that was probably for theatrical reasons a bit overemphasized -- but still, there are significant differences too: Ernst kept on emphasizing the importance of the mathematical and non-semantic mobilized also as media archaeological method (hence not just a theme for analysis), and Zielinski was keen to defend his poetics of difference, deep times, and so forth.

My talk "Exhumation as Artistic Methodology" can be found here.

Image from Transmediale Flickr. © Genz, Lindner / transmediale

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Complicity with Anonymous Media

I wrote a short post on Negarestani -- or perhaps more like riffing off Negarestani, to speculate about speculative media archaeology. It's on my other blog, and titled Complicity with Anonymous Media. (Yes, there is the obvious Negarestani reference, but also a nod towards Siegfried Giedion).