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.
Technicities is a new book series, edited at the Winchester School of Art by my wonderful colleagues John Armitage, Ryan Bishop and Joanne Phillips. The series is published by Edinburgh University Press, and is promising to “publish the latest philosophical thinking about our increasingly immaterial technocultural conditions, with a unique focus on the context of art, design and media.” Armitage and Bishop are two of the co-editors of Cultural Politics-journal, which should give some idea what sort of books they are looking for.
Aivokuvia sounds much groovier in Finnish than in English; the translation to the word would be “Images of the Brain”. But it also resonates with the idea of “brain scans”, making the term more interesting in English too; a nod to Deleuze’s film theory, but also to the fascination with the materiality of the corporeal brain, interconnected with possibilities of perception and sensation, but also with the cultural-technological framing of it.
Professor Jukka Sihvonen, whose 60th birthday is celebrated by a seminar as well as the launch of his new book Aivokuvia, has always been someone who in his writing incorporated a fantastic sense of the potentials in Finnish language and how to bend it as an active medium itself for the writing of media and film theory. Sihvonen is a major figure on the Finnish scene as well as for my personal development: he was the one who introduced so many of us at the University of Turku, 1990s and onwards, to the theoretical figures of Paul Virilio, Gilles Deleuze, Friedrich Kittler and others. Besides proper names and theorists, he inspired us to engage in a certain mode of thinking: rigorous, but creative; refusing the most obvious questions and answers; a style of thinking in the Deleuze-Guattarian sense of the word. After his Deleuze-course, we spent several extremely long houred sessions with Teemu Taira and Pasi Valiaho excavating A Thousand Plateus in our reading group. Sihvonen spoke about Virilio and video games; he suggested to read Kittler, and made us ponder what this odd German theorist was trying to say in his Kittler-deutsch. Some of us went on to participate in Kittler’s seminars, some in Wolfgang Ernst’s, both at the same address of Sophienstrasse 22. I myself owe so many of my research ideas to his inspiration – insects, for instance. Sihvonen’s interest in Cronenberg was probably initially behind that route.
A bit in tongue in cheek (yes, do not take such branding exercises ever seriously)I have also called him one of the master minds behind a “Turku School of Media Studies“.
The new book Aivokuvia is exemplary of his interests over the years. It is more of a film theoretical book: Aivokuvia ties together the films of Tarkovsky, Bigelow and Cronenberg with the philosophical engines of Deleuze and others. Besides this new book, it is still Konelihan varina [The trembling of the machinic flesh] which is my favourite book of his, and which really as a student inspired me to dive in to theories of media and technology enmeshed in a cultural historical context.
University of Turku is organising the celebration seminar Video: media, taide, teknologia [Video: media, art, technology] as well as the launch of Aivokuvia, published by Eetos-association. I wish I could be there to celebrate. Warm congrats to Jukka. Looking forward already to the next book of his.
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.
March 20, 2013 – Wednesday at King’s College, London, Strand Campus.
Seminar 4.30-5.30 in room K.311 and the book launch 5.30-7.00 in the the Small Somerset Room.
In 2009 Parikka and Sampson coedited The Spam Book, a collection of articles intended to probe the “dark side” of digital culture. The Spam Book addressed a shift from a digital culture very much defined in terms of the economic potential of digital objects and tools toward a discourse describing a space seemingly contaminated by digital waste products, dirt, unwanted, and illicit objects.
In this seminar and the following book launch, Parikka and Sampson discuss emerging ideas and theoretical approaches to digital culture. Parikka’s media archaeological approach and Sampson’s research on virality provide insights into worlds of affect, anomaly and the alternative genealogy from which our network culture emerges. Parikka’s recent book What is Media Archaeology? pitches media archaeology as a multidisciplinary 21st century humanities field that resonates with a range of recent scholarly debates from digital humanities to software studies and digital forensics. Media archaeological excavations and discussions on such theorists as Friedrich Kittler offer an alternative insight to the current digital culture/economy debates in the UK.
Sampson’s approach to digital culture brings together a Deleuzian ontological worldview with the sociology of Gabriel Tarde. His subsequent theory of network contagion does not, as such, restrict itself to memes and microbial contagions derived from biological analogies or medical metaphors. It instead points toward a theory of assemblages of imitation, viral events, and affective contagions. For Sampson, contagion is not necessarily a positive or negative force of encounter; it is how society comes together and relates. Sampson provides an assemblage theory of digital culture concerned with relationality and encounter, helping us to understand digital contagion as a positively sociological event, building from the molecular outward, long before it becomes biological.
Parikka’s media archaeology and Sampson’s contagion theory both figure the importance of a materialist approach to the imaginary and the nonconscious as central to an understanding of digital culture. Hence, the seminar asks the question: what is the nonconscious of digital culture?
Both books are available at the event along with wine.
The event page on Facebook.
Jussi Parikka: What is Media Archaeology? Polity Press: Cambridge, 2012.
Tony D. Sampson: Virality: Contagion Theory in the Age of Networks. University of Minnesota Press: Minneapolis, 2012.
Jussi Parikka is Reader in Media & Design at Winchester School of Art, and author of Digital Contagions (2007) and Insect Media (2010) as well as (co-) editor several edited collections, including The Spam Book (2009), Media Archaeology (2011) and Medianatures (2011). He blogs at htt://jussiparikka.net.
Tony D. Sampson is a London-based academic and writer currently lecturing at the University of East London. A former musician, he studied computer technology and cultural theory before receiving a PhD in sociology from the University of Essex. His research blog is at http://viralcontagion.wordpress.com/
To find the venue:
London, King’s College, Strand Campus.
4.30-5.30 in K3.11 on the Strand Campus of KCL.
K3.11 (King’s Building, Third Floor, Room 11)
To find K3.11 you take stairs up from the Second Floor King’s Building at the Strand end of King’s Building. You can ask for directions at the Strand Reception.
From 5.30-7.00 the Small Somerset Room
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.
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