During my MECS-fellowship at Leuphana-university in Germany also the DCRL-bunch interviewed me. Here is the video interview where I answer their questions about digital culture.
meson press’ first book, Rethinking Gamification (PDF), was just released in Lüneburg. Part of the Hybrid Publishing Lab at the Leuphana University, the press focuses on digital culture and network media with the aim to “challenge contemporary theories and advance key debates in the humanities today.” I was interested in inviting one of the representatives of the press, Mercedes Bunz, to share in the style of some earlier mini-interviews I have conducted what she sees as the stakes in coming up with a multiple-format publishing house that focuses on theory.
Most of scholars are increasingly frustrated with the dinosauric habits of big academic publishers, but how to establish alternatives in the academic world that is challenged both by the necessity of new formats and by the only slowly changing recognition systems of the academic world?
The burning questions in publishing seem to be about the changing media ecology of academia of which publishing is one part – and inherently connected to institutional settings and subject-positions.
“What and why is meson press as a theory publishing project and does it connect with the wider question of the “post-digital scholar?”
Mercedes Bunz: “You are right: publishing itself gets profoundly questioned by digital media, it isn’t just that digital media is an exciting field for theory because it never stands still.
The interesting thing: while we all know that within publishing there is “disruption”, oddly enough this doesn’t necessarily mean that there will be change. It might be true that technology offers alternative ways of publishing. However, reputation management and academic recognition systems stand in the way and ensure that nothing changes. Thus, the situation we find ourselves in is slightly mad: technically there are many ways to publish and share intelligent thoughts by now. However, young academics can’t use those alternatives because then their book a) can’t find its way into academic libraries which means b) they don’t get cited, or c) the book isn’t recognized for their CV. For all of that it still needs an approved publisher. Our technical super-connected, post-digital world is left helpless.
Of course, one can’t accept this.
meson press works its way through this situation. Naturally as academics who are also media scholars, we are quite interested in exploring the question: What chances are there in digital book production for theory debates? Our answer so far is the following: We publish open access, and this makes books easily findable and pushes citation. Also we foster the findability of our books regarding search engines and catalogues, and take marketing quite serious. However, the most important difference in my opinion is the conceptual understanding of what this is: a book.
Similar to Mattering Press, or Christopher Kelty’s scholarly magazine Limn http://limn.it/ our publishing project is an academic cooperative: from academics for academics. This means in our view, a book becomes a place to meet and debate, similar to a lecture, a workshop, or a seminar. Editing a book was always a starting point for a discussion, copy-editing was always a way to connect or disagree. It is this tendency which now needs to be further amplified. In other words, we take quality assessment very serious and try to turn it into a concept: A book isn’t just a product that starts a dialogue between author and reader. It is accompanied by lots of other academic conversations – peer review, co-authors, copy editors – and these conversations deserve to be taken more serious. In a post-digital world one needs to understand that a book is a process that gives good reason to meet in person. Formats like book sprints have lead the way. Wendy Chun has also inspired us to create a writing group in which we constructively discuss a non-completed essay or chapter.
So I suppose this is how meson press connects to our situation as post-digital scholars. As a publishing house which is also a publishing project, we focus on the book as a form of communication, and this communication is an important part of its production. This is a way to optimize its task: to intervene, and challenge (which is not an easy task in our neoliberal societies). But we like the humanities, and we like them alive and kicking.
If I may give you a little overview of our upcoming publishing projects: After”Rethinking Gamification” we will publish two forgotten classics: The first will be by the Greek-French philosopher Kostas Axelos “On Marx and Heidegger”, which is edited with great care and expertise by Stuart Elden. We are very interested in Axelos’ take on technology and alienation. The second will be by Antonia Caronia “The Cyborg”.
Also we are very proud that Yuk Hui and Erich Hörl have started editing the series “After Simondon” with us, and we are preparing two edited collections “Diffracting Kittler: German Media Theory and Beyond” and “Critical Keywords for the Digital Humanities”.
Sorry, but may I end this little interview with an appeal? If anyone has an idea for a thrilling book proposal in the context of digital culture and media studies, please send us a short trenchant abstract and chapter overview to: firstname.lastname@example.org.”
I am pretty happy about spending some time in Germany over the summer– and not just any trip, but as Senior Fellow at the Leuphana University Media Cultures of Computer Simulation-centre (MECS). MECS is one of the exciting developments at Leuphana (in Lüneburg) and in Germany, collecting some of the most interesting media theorists, analysts and historians. Led by Claus Pias and Martin Warnke, MECS’s project description tells the story of mutually informing investigations of media culture and science. Indeed, MECS presents itself as part of analysis of changes in scientific methods but also rather fundamental questions as to the nature of scientific knowledge itself. Furthermore, digital media becomes an agent in this transformation. “Digital media develops a medial obstinacy; it generates and at the same time processes problems which in the past were often inaccessible, either by analysis or experimentation.”
MECS’s annual themes for the coming years are found here – for this year, the focus is on Wissen referring to knowledge and the media epistemology of computer simulations, followed next year by Rechnen: to calculate/calculation.
In this context my own project focuses on the double bind of the media epistemological (e.g. sensors) and the environmental questions (such as smog) in a theoretical context of media materialism. I have been interested in how to expand media materialism to a wider set of material questions that include media ecology and the environmental too, partly in the context of Geology of Media. I also need to write a couple of commissioned articles on Friedrich Kittler during the summer. In addition, with Paul Feigelfeld we will edit a short e-issue focusing on Kittler for Theory, Culture & Society.
We at the Winchester School of Art (#WSA) are hosting this lovely little event – with quite the trio: Benjamin Bratton, Jordan Crandall and Ed Keller are coming to Winchester for meetings and agreed to give a joint panel on Design, Biopolitics and Contemporary Technological Realities – and imaginaries we might want to add.
More info here, and below their titles for the short interventions in the panel:
Benjamin H. Bratton: “On Platform-Based on Robotics”
Jordan Crandall: “The Materiality of Drones”
Ed Keller: “Shadow Ecologies, An Alternate Biopolitical History”
We are proud to announce the launch of a new book series titled Recursions: Theories of Media, Materiality and Cultural Techniques. Placed with Amsterdam University Press, a publisher known for its strong track-record in film and media studies, the series will publish fresh, exciting and important books in media theory. This includes both translations and other volumes that address the core themes outlined below. I am very excited about this project and working with my co-editors Anna Tuschling and Geoffrey Winthrop-Young. We have already some significant projects lined up for 2015 and more forthcoming that we will announce in the coming weeks and months. We are supported by a very strong international advisory board. Get in touch if you want to learn more but first read below for more information!
New Series Announcement
The new book series Recursions: Theories of Media, Materiality, and Cultural Techniques provides a platform for cutting- edge research in the field of media culture studies with a particular focus on the cultural impact of media technology and the materialities of communication. The series aims to be an internationally significant and exciting opening into emerging ideas in media theory ranging from media materialism and hardware-oriented studies to ecology, the post-human, the study of cultural techniques, and recent contributions to media archaeology.
The series revolves around key themes:
- The material underpinning of media theory
- New advances in media archaeology and media philosophy
- Studies in cultural techniques
These themes resonate with some of the most interesting debates in international media studies, where non-representational thought, the technicity of knowledge formations and new materialities expressed through biological and technological developments are changing the vocabularies of cultural theory. The series is also interested in the mediatic conditions of such theoretical ideas and developing them as media theory.
- Sybille Krämer – Medium, Messenger, Transmission: An Approach to Media Philosophy.
- Claus Pias – Computer Game Worlds.
- Jussi Parikka (University of Southampton)
- Anna Tuschling (Ruhr-Universität Bochum)
- Geoffrey Winthrop-Young (University of British Columbia)
- Wendy Hui Kyong Chun (Brown University, US)
- Geert Lovink (Hogeschool van Amsterdam, The Netherlands)
- John Durham Peters (University of Iowa, US)
- Thomas Y. Levin (Princeton University, US)
- Marie-Luise Angerer (University of Arts Cologne, Germany)
- Eva Horn (University of Vienna, Austria)
- Markus Krajewski (University of Basel, Switzerland)
- Erick Felinto (State University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)
- Adalberto Müller (Federal University of Niterói, UFF, Rio de Janeiro)
- Eivind Røssaak (National Library of Norway)
- Steven Connor (Cambridge University, UK)
- Peter Krapp (UC Irvine, US)
- Antje Pfannkuchen (Dickinson College, PA, US)
- John Armitage (Winchester School of Art, UK)
- Till Heilmann (University of Siegen, Germany)
- Isabell Otto (University of Konstanz, Germany)
- Astrid Deuber-Mankowsky (University of Bochum, Germany)
- Sean Cubitt (Goldsmiths College, London, UK)
- Claus Pias (Leuphana University, Germany)
- Stefan Rieger (University of Bochum, Germany)
- Andrew Murphie (University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia)
- Axel Fliethmann (Monash University, Melbourne, Australia)
- Yuji Nawata (Chuo University, Tokyo, Japan)
Proposals for monographs or edited volumes should kindly follow the standard AUP Proposal Form (http://en.aup.nl/en/service/authors) and should also include the envisaged table of contents, an overview of the volume and abstracts of the proposed chapters or articles.
If you are interested in publishing a book with us please contact Jeroen Sondervan, Senior Commissioning Editor for Film & Media Studies at email@example.com or one of the series editors.
More information about Amsterdam University Press.
Winchester School of Art are one of the partners of the transmediale-festival, which takes place again in January/February 2014 in Berlin. This short text below is a sort of a trailer to our bit for the event: the text is co-written by myself and Ryan Bishop and the the contribution to tm14 is likewise co-curated by us. The text gives an indication of some of the themes we will discuss during the festival and conference week, and it draws on some of our work on these topics: Ryan’s writing on the four elements and contemporary aesthetics, and my work-in-progress book project on “geology of media” and what I pitch as the anthropobscene – a new geological era catalysed by the corporate capitalist measures of depletion and exploitation.
Ryan Bishop and Jussi Parikka:
The Elemental Media Condition
Ever since such early geologists as James Hutton and Charles Lyell voiced a distance from biblical time, the Earth has had a proper history. The natural historical durations of the Earth have, despite academic disciplinary divisions, always intertwined with human history. In the current moment, the complex interactions of the two seem more prescient than ever. To follow in the footsteps of Dipash Chakrabarty, the horizon of the anthropocene forces historians to think of durations of nature as entangled with social history, and the historiographical functions of temporality need to be considered alongside such vectors that acknowledge the work of capitalism as a specific epoch. In this sense, we would like to refer not only to the anthropocene as the debated new geological era in scientific classification, but also what can be called the anthropobscene. This portmanteau word combines anthropocene with obscene, thus highlighting the vicious exploitative actions of corporations, governments and other agencies operating on different levels: from human individuals to multigovernmental organisations and transnational corporations. In much the same manner that Jean Baudrillard reconfigured the subject-object relationship placed within a scene as a network-screen relationship in the obscene, the anthropobscene reconstitutes the relationship between human scales of intervention into those of the geological. Thus, amongst other things, it refers to the obscenity of heavy pollution of the earth and the air, bringing back discussions of the four elements as found in the Pre-Socratic thinker Empedocles, whose writings strike both ancient and contemporary chords. Cultural theorists, such as Gary Genosko, have voiced an urgency for a renewed consideration of the elements.
For Empedocles, humans, nature and the universe contain the same elements. Flesh and blood are composed of approximately equal parts of earth, fire, water, and aether: the four elements that constitute the universe. The entire material world for Empedocles comes from the mixture and amounts of these four elements, the mixing of which he likens to paints on an artist’s palette with their different effects due to combinatory portions. This insight of multiple and diverse substances generated through combinations and proportionality becomes a cornerstone of modern science and chemistry. The harmony of Love and the discord of Strife result from the proportionality of the elements with each constantly changing and warring with the others. The Empedoclean elements of this cosmogony and in nature constitute both media and content. They make, transform and destroy at the same time.
Empedocles’ writings use physics to derive an understanding of ethico-political, even moral, laws. In the teaching of Empedocles the problem of substances as they present themselves to us takes a specific form: how do the Many come from One and One from Many? The primary and ultimately determinate forces behind the various manipulations, combinations and transformations of the elements in Empedocles are in the standard translations Love and Strife, which move in cycles of harmony and disharmony that reign over all of nature, including humans, fish, beasts and birds. But the elements are not simply passive recipients of the forces of Love and Strife. They can and do themselves act as causal agents, influencing the waxing or waning of Love or Strife.
Contemporary media culture can be opened up through such a consideration of elements. Indeed, as the philosopher Erich Hörl has argued, the technological is one crucial condition for the discourse – and practical existence – of this hypothetical anthroposcene – and anthropobscene, we might add. For artists such as Robert Smithson in truly Empedoclean fashion, the tectonic realms of the Earth and the mind are interconnected. Smithson’s account amounts to a critique of the McLuhan-focussed idea of technology as extensions of Man. Instead, for Smithson, writing in 1968 in Artforum, it is elemental. One is here tempted to think it is elemental in the sense of the Pre-Socratic four elements, as well as elemental in the sense that those elements are more crucial than ever for a consideration of the biopolitical condition. Such aspects range from the materiality of data mining to environmental exploitation.