Sybille Krämer’s Medium, Messenger, Transmission: An Approach to Media Philosophy is the first book in our new book series Recursions (Amsterdam University Press). The influential book that represents one significant strand of so-called German media theory is translated by Anthony Enns and is now available!
Enns has also written a very good introduction to the book that offers a context in which to understand Krämer’s impact in the field of media theory and media philosophy. Her work has over the years addressed philosophy of technology, cultural techniques and processes of formalisation in mathematics, as well as themes relating to artificial intelligence, language and rationalism. Krämer is interested in how a focus on the technical apparatuses is not sufficient for us to understand the wider field in which media works – she is interested in mediality. Krämer’s take on media philosophy introduces different models for such medial operations of transmission and messaging.
As Enns outlines in his translator’s introduction, Krämer’s position suggests that:
“(1) A philosophy of mediality can only begin by recognizing that there is an unbridgeable distance between the sender and the receiver ‒ a distance that can never be overcome.
(2) The medium occupies the intervening space between the sender and the receiver, and it is able to facilitate their connection while still maintaining the distance that separates them.
(3) All forms of communication are reducible to acts of (non-reciprocal) transmission between the sender and the receiver, as unification and dialogue remain impossible.
(4) Transmission is an embodied, material process, yet it is frequently understood as disembodied, as the medium is supposed to be invisible through its (noise-free) usage.” (Enns 2015, p.13).
Enns outlines how Krämer’s phlosophical position refuses technological determinism but is constantly interested in how the non-human participates in communication even if we often mistake and reduce agency to the humans participating in the event. Hence it is a take different from Friedrich Kittler’s but also differs from the hermeneutical accounts to understand mediality. Enns continues how “[a]ccording to Krämer, all of these various forms of transmission ‒ angels,
viruses, money, translators, psychoanalysts, witnesses, and maps ‒ can be seen as media in the sense that they simultaneously bridge and maintain differences between heterogeneous worlds. The messenger model thus depends on the basic insight that a community of different individuals is founded on the distance that separates them, which precludes the possibility of unification or intersubjectivity, and all attempts at communication are actually acts of transmission, as communication is fundamentally unidirectional, asymmetrical, and non-reciprocal.” (Enns 2015, p. 16).
As series editors, we hope that the book will have the wide impact it deserves, being such an important take on fundamental issues that speak to media and communication scholars but also to the wider philosophical and cultural discourse concerning what mediation means.
You can find the introduction to the Recursions book series online (Academia.edu) and copied below.
Please consider asking your library to order a copy of Krämer’s exciting study!
For review copies, you can contact AUP or one of us series editors.
Recursions: Editors’ Introduction by Jussi Parikka, Anna Tuschling and Geoffrey Winthrop-Young
Recursions: Theories of Media, Materiality and Cultural Techniques is a book series about media theory. But instead of dealing with theory in its most classical sense of theoria as something separate from practice that looks at objects and phenomena from a distance, we want to promote a more situated understanding of theory. Theory, too, is a practice and it has an address: it unfolds in specific situations, historical contexts and geographical places.
As this book series demonstrates, theory can emerge from historical sources and speculations still closely attached to material details. We therefore speak of the recursive nature of theory: It is composed of concepts that cut across the social and aesthetic reality of technological culture, and that are picked up and reprocessed by other means, including the many media techniques featured in this book series. The recursive loops of theory and practice fold and define each other. The genealogies of media theory, in turn, unfold in recursive variations that open up new questions, agendas, methodologies, which transform many of the humanities topics into media theory.
The Recursions series revolves around the material and hardware understanding of media as well as media archaeology – a body of work that addresses the contingent historical trajectories of modern media technologies as well their technological condition. But we are also interested in addressing the wider field of cultural techniques. The notion of cultural
techniques serves to conceptualize how human and nonhuman agencies interact in historical settings as well as to expand the notion of media to include the many techniques and technologies of knowledge and aesthetics. This expansive – and yet theoretically rigorous – sense of understanding media is also of great use when considering the relations to biology and other sciences that deal with life and the living; another field where media studies has been able to operate in ways that fruitfully overlap with social studies of science and technology (STS).
Overall, the themes emerging from the Recursions book series resonate with some of the most interesting debates in international media studies, including issues of non-representational thought, the technicity of knowledge formations, and the dimensions of materialities expressed through biological and technological developments that are changing the vocabularies of cultural theory. We are interested in the mediatic conditions of such theoretical ideas and developing them as new forms of media theory. Over the last twenty years, and following in the footsteps of such media theorists as Marshall McLuhan, Friedrich Kittler, Vilem Flusser and others, a series of scholars working in Germany, the United States, Canada and other countries have turned assumptions concerning communication on their head by shifting the focus of research from communication to media. The strong – and at times polemical – focus on technological aspects (frequently referred to as the ‘materialities of communication’) has since given way to a more nuanced approach evident in appellations such as ‘media archaeology’ and ‘media ecology’. These scholars have produced an important series of works on such diverse topics as computer games, media of education and individuation, the epistemology of filing cabinets, or the media theories underlying the nascent discipline of anthropology at the end of the nineteenth century, thereby opening up an entirely new field of research which reframes our understanding of media culture and the relationship be tween media, culture, politics, and society.
In other words, these approaches are distinguished by the emphasis on the materiality of media practices as well as the long historical perspectives they offer. A major part of the influences of recent years of media theory, including fields such as software and platform studies, digital forensics and media ecology, has been a conjunction of German media theory with other European and trans-Atlantic influences. The brand name of ‘German media theory’ commonly associated with, though not restricted to, the work of Friedrich Kittler – is a helpful label when trying to attempt to identify a lot of the theoretical themes the book series addresses. However, we want to argue for a more international take that takes into account the hyphenated nature of such influences and to continue those in refreshing ways that do not just reproduce existing theory formations. We also want to challenge them, which, once again, refers to the core meaning of recursions: variation with a difference.
I was asked to participate in this short online Q&A on “Three Questions on Media Criticality”. It is presented at transmediale 2015 on this Sunday (1/2/15).
The responses were to be very short and focused. As I cannot make it to the panel myself, here are my very short responses to questions posed by Jamie Allen and his team.
Submission Date 2015-01-05 10:28:47/Jussi Parikka
What are promising modes of critique today?
I am interested in critique that produces something. In other words, a critique that sets itself not merely as oppositional but alternative; it produces alternative worlds alongside the ones it wants to depart from. Critique is creative – critique creates; this is not meant as a fluffy “everything goes”-sort of an embracement of the world but as acknowledgement of the various modalities in which critique can work, across different media practices.
What is critical about media technologies?
Media technologies offer the critical situation in which issues of power and knowledge are constantly operationalized. In other words, while we have to learn to be critical of media in the sense of media literacy, we also have to see how media IS critical; it divides and differentiates; it grounds and processes distinctions that are fundamental to cultural formations even if not always anymore even perceptible to us. After phenomenology, media ontology.
What comes after critique?
While there are good reasons to move on from critique as automatically assumed primary method and rhetorical form of theory, we have to recognize that also “critique” is a historical, changing form of a cultural technique. It has to become mediatic, executed in different materials and modalities. Critique that distances in order to keep the world (humans or non-humans) at arms length does not interest me as much as critique entangled with the world
Transmediale has released its theme for 2014: afterglow. It refers to the feeling of “after”, “post” the digital enthusiasm that branded the past decades, and now somebody needs to pick up the trash. The theme summons connotations of trash, waste and other aftereffects of the digital, both material and immaterial.
Winchester School of Art is happy again to be official partner of the transmediale-festival and participate in curation of some of the academic content. Below more info on transmediale-theme – and a link to the call for works.
The digital revolution is over again and this time “YOU” lost.
In the wastelands of its aftermath, what is still burning?
With the theme afterglow, transmediale 2014 suggests that in a world where resources (human, bodily, material, environmental, economic …) are more and more used up, the digital does not any longer stand up to its promise of antiseptic high-tech worlds and opportunities for all. On the contrary, digital culture is more and more becoming a post-apocalyptic wasteland ruled by a few powerful clan leaders. Still, digital culture is full of things that shine and glow, both promising and uncanny: from social media to big data. On the one hand, this afterglow can be seen as an extreme expression of the wasteful state of digital culture (excess, overload, endless repetition, pre-emption of meaning, exploitation), but on the other hand, as “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”, this afterglow is also providing the transition to new forms of being. If we are living in a post-digital culture, then afterglow is what characterises its aesthetics and politics during the transition to new cultural forms that are still unknown to us.
In the 2014 edition of the transmediale festival, the idea of an afterglow of digital culture is taken as an opportunity to speculate on positions that lead beyond the digital: not beyond the digital in a literal sense as in doing away with digital technology, but beyond the digital as a metaphysical character that overcodes all forms of existence. Even a supposedly critical term like “post-digital” is in this sense only promoting an idea of the contemporary and of the future as predetermined by the digital. Instead of revelling in the hypes of the post-digital, we invite the contributors of transmediale 2014 to reflect on this afterglow: to exploit our nostalgia for the pre-digital through the use of trashed technologies, ideas and narratives and/or to imagine new modes of existence and new modalities of critical intervention, by junking the afterglow of digital culture.
Lori Emerson has interviewed Wolfgang Ernst for the Library of Congress blog. It is a great conversation that also addresses the differences between digital preservation and Ernst’s Media Archaeological approach. The latter is, as mentioned on this blog as well, placed and spatialised in the Media Archaeological Fundus (Fundus= bottom, ground), part of his Media Studies Institute. (This idea worked even better at the original Sophienstrasse 22 address of the Institute, because it was located deep in the concrete bunker type basement).
Ernst emphasises the connection between teaching media theory and practicing material “hermeneutics”: to have access to technological devices, opening them up, reverse engineering. Operationality is at the centre of this view concerning media studies. A dysfunctional television is just a design object: media starts when it can operate signals. Ernst’s approach draws from a Heideggerian pun (of sorts) of the objects of the Fundus as Epistemological Spielzeug (ref. to Heidegger’s Zeug), “epistemological toys” for pedagogical purposes.
Ernst responds to one of Lori Emerson’s questions:
“The bias of MAF based teaching is to train students to resist the nostalgic or even melancholic impulse which is normally associated with so-called “dead media”, and to discover the retro-futuristic element instead. The electric telegraph, e. g., operates with discrete signal transmission: a code which after an age of AM media (such as radio) returned in unexpected ways. Whereas digital data transmission is much too fast to be perceivable directly to human senses, the classic telegraph “dots and dashes,” when connected to an acoustic mechanism, may serve as a way of slowing down and sonifying the nature of coded signal transmission.”
Such a focus on spatialities of media studies emphasises more points concerning the current interest in thinking about “theory as practice”: the various techniques, institutions and spatialities in which cultural/media theory takes place. For instance the Fundus is a sort of a ground(ing) as well as underbelly of media theory, in how the technical and tactile engagment with technologies enables a connection to text and theory. Ernst is very reluctant to call this “Digital Humanities”: it’s media studies!
Read the full interview here.
We had in Berlin just last week our joint book launch with Ernst: his Digital Memory and the Archive alongside my What is Media Archaeology? It was great to be launching the theory books in the midst of yet another great bunch of transmediale exhibitions of media archaeological resonance: the Octo Pneumatic Media System (a Rohrpost in action), the Evil Media Distribution Centre, Refunct Media vol. 5, and more.
Transmediale starts today with its puzzling, great theme Back When Pluto Was a Planet (BWPWAP). Except conceptual, temporal and spatial shifts and displacings of various sorts. This is the first year our Winchester School of Art also is collaborating with transmediale, and as part of that we are hosting a panel on military technologies, space and Cold War.
In addition, I am sharing a book launch with Wolfgang Ernst: It is the book I edited of his writings alongside my own What is Media Archaeology? Join us for that on Friday, 1st of February.
And as a Kittlerian cherry on top, on Saturday evening I am participating in the performance Sources, Synths, Circuits that focuses on the reconstruction of the late Prof Kittler’s synthetizer. We discuss that from the perspective of not only Kittler, music, technology but also archives.
Good news for the start of 2013: the volume of Wolfgang Ernst writings Digital Memory and the Archive is out! The book is soon available in bookstores. The collection that I edited is the first to introduce this very important German media theorist whose style of media archaeology is highly exciting and provocative. Ernst is one of the significant names in the German media studies landscape, and represents one of the directions where theory is going in the post-Friedrich Kittler world.
Ernst’s interest in media archaeology is very material, and insists on the agency of the machine. His theories are interested in material epistemologies and the operationality of old media devices. Media devices govern our ways of seeing and hearing, but also our modes of knowledge. Hence, Ernst’s media theory is a way to understand the change in our archival logic in software culture. But it’s not only about the digital and not only about archives. Indeed, his writings on the sonic and in general media arts are important insights into a meticulous material media theory that represents a unique way to understand the persistence of history and time. Ernst writes his theory through mediatic paths: from television to internet cultures, media arts to archival institutions, Hertzian discoveries to sound.
The collection has a longer introduction by me, as well as the section introductions that I wrote. Ernst was kind enough to write his own preface to this English edition of his writings where he pitches the idea of cross-Atlantic influences and meditation on what is happening in media studies at the moment. An inspiring read. Or in Wendy Chun’s words, quoting her endorsement:
“Digital Memory and the Archive offers the most compelling and insightful account published to date of how and why objects matter. Moving beyond textual analysis, its careful, theoretically rigorous engagement with the relic—the physicality of the archive—promises to change the direction of the digital humanities. Thanks to this book, we will all now be addressing the microtemporality of archives and the mechanics of remaining. Finally, a definitive collection in English of one of the most brilliant and influential media archaeologists.”
Below you will find the short blurb from the publisher University of Minnesota Press website as well as the table of contents.
In the popular imagination, archives are remote, largely obsolete institutions: either antiquated, inevitably dusty libraries or sinister repositories of personal secrets maintained by police states. Yet the archive is now a ubiquitous feature of digital life. Rather than being deleted, e-mails and other computer files are archived. Media software and cloud storage allow for the instantaneous cataloging and preservation of data, from music, photographs, and videos to personal information gathered by social media sites.
In this digital landscape, the archival-oriented media theories of Wolfgang Ernst are particularly relevant. Digital Memory and the Archive, the first English-language collection of the German media theorist’s work, brings together essays that present Ernst’s controversial materialist approach to media theory and history. His insights are central to the emerging field of media archaeology, which uncovers the role of specific technologies and mechanisms, rather than content, in shaping contemporary culture and society.
Ernst’s interrelated ideas on the archive, machine time and microtemporality, and the new regimes of memory offer a new perspective on both current digital culture and the infrastructure of media historical knowledge. For Ernst, different forms of media systems—from library catalogs to sound recordings—have influenced the content and understanding of the archive and other institutions of memory. At the same time, digital archiving has become a contested site that is highly resistant to curation, thus complicating the creation and preservation of cultural memory and history.
Contents of Wolfgang Ernst, Digital Memory and the Archive
Archival Media Theory: An Introduction to Wolfgang Ernst’s Media Archaeology , by Jussi Parikka
Media Archaeology as a Trans-Atlantic Bridge, Wolfgang Ernst
Part I. The Media Archaeological Method
1. Let There Be Irony: Cultural History and Media Archaeology in Parallel Lines
2. Media Archaeography: Method and Machine versus History and Narrative of Media
Part II. From Temporality to the Multimedial Archive
3. Underway to the Dual System: Classical Archives and Digital Memory
4. Archives in Transition: Dynamic Media Memories
5. Between Real Time and Memory on Demand: Reflections on Television
6. Discontinuities: Does the Archive Become Metaphorical in Multi-Media Space?
Part III. Microtemporal Media
7. Telling versus Counting: A Media-Archaeological Point of View
8. Distory: 100 Years of Electron Tubes, Media-Archaeologically Interpreted vis-à-vis 100 Years of Radio
9. Towards a Media Archaeology of Sonic Articulations
10. Experimenting Media‐Temporality: Pythagoras, Hertz, Turing
Appendix. Archive Rumblings: An Interview with Wolfgang Ernst , by Geert Lovink
Winchester School of Art, and our research centre in Global Futures is happy to announce a new partnership with the transmediale-organisation and festival in Berlin! This coming year’s theme is Back When Pluto Was a Planet (BWPWAP) and we are besides participating with a panel and a range of other talks also already thinking ahead to the future years with the great folks of tm. They have a great track record of working with universities, including Aarhus and now Leuphana. I could not be more excited about this link to Berlin – tm has been one of those festivals/conferences that get my mind actually working. And it’s socially such a good spot to catch up with lots of people. One of the most exciting things happening in our field of critical arts/media/practice/theory at the moment. And Berlin is great.
Below the more official press release.
WSA to collaborate with a leading European festival for art and digital culture
The Winchester School of Art (WSA) has formed a new partnership with the organisers of one of Europe’s most significant festivals for art and digital culture.
The WSA, part of the University of Southampton, will engage academics and students in a wide range of activities with transmediale, the world-renowned festival and year-round project based in Berlin.
From Winchester, the key activities will be co-ordinated through the WSA’s Centre for Global Futures in Art Design & Media which shares a number of areas of mutual interest with transmediale across the fields of media arts, cultural theory and politics, aesthetics and digital culture.
Future activities linking the WSA and transmediale related to these shared interests shared research projects, joint workshops, curatorial developments related to transmediale and its all-year platform “reSource transmedial culture,” various educational platforms and events, and WSA’s participation in the planning activities and events leading towards transmediale festivals and the reSource activities.
Academics and students are already making plans to participate in transmediale from February 2013. WSA and transmediale are also keen to involve students as an active part of the partnership and establish a long-term link that represents the Winchester scholars’ interest in digital culture, media and critical contemporary arts. It also consolidates important high-level links the School has with Europe.
“We’re very excited by the prospects and benefits that working with transmediale will bring to the Winchester School of Art,” said Professor Ryan Bishop, Co-Director of the Winchester Centre for Global Futures in Art Design & Media. “The activities supported by transmediale offer an important interface between academic research, the arts and the general public which creates a perfect fit with the ethos and activities of our own Centre. In return, the WSA is perfectly positioned to facilitate additional collaborative links across partner institutions, providing a dynamic network of researchers working on related and complementary concerns which we believe will benefit everyone involved in organising and participating in transmediale each year.”
The artistic director of transmediale, Kristoffer Gansing reinforced this perspective by saying that “For transmediale, the collaboration with WSA and the Centre for Global Futures represents a great opportunity to develop new activities within a burgeoning international research setting. “ Stressing the transdisciplinary nature of the festival, “the combination of art and research is central to our critical approach to media art and digital culture” Gansing continued, adding that he is “hoping for new creative approaches to joint presentations of artistic and academic research between the two institutions.”
Each year, transmediale presents new positions in the fields of art, culture and technology to an audience of more than 20,000 visitors who experience an extensive range of exhibitions, conferences, screenings, performances and publications. transmediale’s broad cultural appeal and high artistic quality is recognised by the German federal government which supports the festival through its programme for beacons of contemporary culture.
Critically concerned with art and design practices of making, thinking and representation, the WSA engages in education and enterprise, exploring the contribution of media, materials and technologies to the improvement of human societies globally. In addition to producing world class research and engaging in educational possibilities, the WSA’s Centre for Global Futures hosts a wide array of issue-based activities that centre around globally relevant topics such as the environment, society, politics, art and demographics. By involving high profile academics, artists, curators and filmmakers, the Centre is creating a platform for the local and regional communities to engage in these areas.