The Turku School of Media Theory?
Under the term of “a New Media Archaeology”, the inaugural issue of NECsus – European Journal of Media Studies has a review of Insect Media, Media Archaeology as well as Pasi Väliaho’s Mapping the Moving Image. Picking up on these three books out of four is not out of selfishness or wanting to dismiss the fourth book (Cinema beyond film: Media epistemology in the modern era ) touched upon in the review/report but to point to a funny detail or a coincidence. In the same review, all of us from me to Erkki Huhtamo (co-editor of Media Archaeology) to Väliaho studied at the University of Turku, even if Huhtamo already in the 1980s, and by the time me and Pasi came to the university, Huhtamo was on his gradual way to media archaeological fame.
Hence, the title of this posting, “The Turku School of Media Theory”, is very much tongue in cheek and not to be taken completely seriously, although one has to say there was a minor buzz back then. I briefly asked Huhtamo about his 1980s Turku-times and influences; for him, early 1980s literature studies lectures by Hannu Riikonen were the ones to introduce Ernst Robert Curtius. This also meant picking up the notion of “topos”, so important for Huhtamo, and gradually by late 1980s, starting to think media culture too through it. Indeed, like mine also Huhtamo’s roots are in cultural history. Huhtamo was for instance in the 1980s using the idea of recurring topoi to investigate late 16th century Italian travel narratives.
Huhtamo had in the late 1980s picked up on various media theoretical strands for instance through the cultural semiotics of Eco as well as Barthes. Siegfried Zielinski visited Turku back then (probably early 1990s?) and Zielinski’s Audiovisionen was one of the books that was read in Turku by Huhtamo and for instance Jukka Sihvonen – currently professor of Media Studies. Sihvonen was the one who acted as the catalyzer for my and Väliaho’s (among other folks’) inaugural interest in such media theoretical oddities as Kittler and German media theory in general. In addition, Sihvonen’s seminar on Deleuze in the late 1990s was really one of the key elements which kick-started a lot of the interest in material media theory. (I will leave it to someone else to provide fullfledged and accurate histories of Finnish and Turku academia of the 1990s). One needs such minor exits, escape routes, and suddenly academic classes can shift into exciting eye-openers and turning points.
Similarly one could say that a lot of the stuff happening in Turku in media theory – not only in Film and TV studies (later Media Studies) but also Cultural History – was despite the seemingly internationally peripheral location great quality (lots of other things were happening then and still, including Women’s Studies, which for instance has produced lots of very interesting feminist art theory). Oh and it has not disappeared anywhere – Media Studies is doing excellent, Art Studies has taken a new materialist turn in Turku, and in addition, for years the University has had its own folks in Digital Culture (where I am affiliated Faculty member as an Adjunct Professor, Docent) too!