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 am pretty chuffed about this visit: I received one of the University of New South Wales (Sydney) Distinguished Visiting Scholar awards and will be giving some talks and a workshop, as well as meeting loads of people during my time in the Southern hemisphere.
It’s not a big surprise that my talks and workshop will focus on media theory, materiality and history. In the workshop, or “master class”, we will be reading key texts of German media theory, especially focusing on the concept of cultural techniques.
One of the talks (on March 17) will be on the geophysical materialities of media in art and technology, “a story less about extensions of Man than extensions of the planetary.” It’s a preview of the forthcoming book A Geology of Media.
In addition, another talk (March 16) is an early attempt on what might become a research/book project together with Lori Emerson and Darren Wershler on humanities labs/media archaeology labs. Below is the abstract for that. Thanks to Tom Apperley at UNSW for coordinating and facilitating the visit. For any queries related to the talks, contact Tom.
A Laboratory Practice? Media Archaeology Labs and Humanities Knowledge as Creation and Hacking
This talk will address media archaeology but from the angle that considers it as a spatialised, institutionalized practice. By addressing existing and emerging media archaeology labs such as in Berlin, Boulder (Colorado) and other places, it aims to offer ideas how to contextualize the idea of “labs” in contemporary humanities. Media archaeology labs are often pitched as a way to think cultural heritage and contemporary technology outside the more established institutional practices of archives and museums. Instead, the labs seem to have become sites of “hacking”, opening up technologies and pedagogical ways of appropriating past technologies as epistemological ways of understanding modern technological culture. Besides offering examples and introduction to some key ideas and practices, the talk aims to expand to artistic practices and other cross-disciplinary ways of humanities knowledge-creation.
In the new e-flux issue #62 you will also find an interview Paul Feigelfeld conducted with me: “Media Archaeology Out of Nature“. It focuses primarily on the themes of media theory, ecology and interfaces also with the work we do with the emerging Consortium (with WSA, University of California San Diego and Parsons School of Design, New School); synthetic intelligence, the planetary media condition, remote sensing, etc.
With a focus on the “media ecology”-trilogy of Digital Contagions, Insect Media, and the forthcoming A Geology of Media, the interview maps topics related to the ecopolitics of technological culture. A warm thanks to Paul for the interview and supporting my aspirations to be a digital thought deserter.
“Media theory would become boring if it were merely about the digital or other preset determinations. There are too many “digital thought leaders” already. We need digital thought deserters, to poach an idea from Blixa Bargeld. In an interview, the Einstürzende Neubauten frontman voiced his preference for a different military term than “avant-garde” for his artistic activity: that of the deserter. He identifies not with the leader but rather with the partisan, “somebody in the woods who does something else and storms on the army at the moment they did not expect it.”7 Evacuate yourself from the obvious, by conceptual or historical means. Refuse prefabricated discussions, determinations into analogue or digital. Leave for the woods.
But don’t mistake that for a Luddite gesture. Instead, I remember the interview you did with Erich Hörl, where he called for a “neo-cybernetic underground”—one that “does not let itself be dictated by the meaning of the ecologic and of technology, neither by governments, nor by industries.”8 It’s a political call as much as an environmental-ecological one—a call that refers back to multiple (Guattarian) ecologies: not just the environment but the political, social, economic, psychic, social, and, indeed, media ecologies.”
Besides that longer e-flux text, two other short texts appeared the same day: a general audience text on media and the Anthropocene in Conversation and also a mini-interview conducted by the Finnish Institute in London as part of their Made By-series.
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
A lovely new interview with Geoffrey Winthrop-Young has been posted online: “More things in theory than heaven and earth are dreaming of.” Conducted by Melle Kromhout and Peter McMurray, it brings out great points. Winthrop-Young is always a pleasure to read, both because of the tone and the insights. Of course, in this case I remain biased, with the focus of the interview being about the so-called German media theory (which is not, as we are reminded, not so German, not pretending to present a big theory nor is it really merely German), Bernhard Siegert, cultural techniques and by the end, also about “media biology”. What’s not to like.
GWY has a fantastic sense of explication when it comes to media theory. When he responds about the subject topic of the interview that “cultural techniques are further installation of modern theory’s crusade against the as such” it both gives a subtle sense of how it maps as part of the contemporary theory landscape (and the persisting enthusiasm for the ontological as suchs) and also reminds me why I feel attracted to cultural techniques and related media analytical directions; I am, after all, a slowly recovering (cultural) historian who does not mind that the notions we operate by, the cultural layers, “all the levels all the way down are made up of historically locatable practices” even if with various twists of complex feedback loops.
After just finishing reading the final proofs for A Geology of Media, I wanted to post the cover design online. The image motif is from the Crystal World project by Kemp, Jordan, and Howse; such an inspiring project that features especially in the book’s chapter III on Psychogeophysics.
A Geology of Media is out in April 2015 – meanwhile, you might be interested in reading the short “single release”, The Anthrobscene (ebook)!
The Anthrobscene is now out and available as a short e-book in the new University of Minnesota Press series Forerunners. The short book (77 pp) extends on the notion of the deep time of the media (Zielinski) to talk of the geological and electronic waste layers that characterise media technological materiality. It consists of four short sections
1. And the Earth Screamed, Alive
2. An Ecology of Deep Time
3. A Media History of Matter: From Scrap Metal to Zombie Media
4. Conclusion: Cultural Techniques of Material Media
The sections outline the idea of materialities of media in the context of the Anthropocene – the suggested and widely discussed term for the geological period where the human being has had such a significant effect on the planet to merit a new periodization. But the idea is to extend this to emphasise the obscenities of the environmental damage that works across natural, social and media ecology.
The Anthrobscene is a preview or if you prefer, a single, of the forthcoming longer book A Geology of Media (out next Spring).
The book is one of three that kickstarts the new Forerunners series, “a thought-in-process series of breakthrough digital works written between fresh ideas and finished books” and characterized as “gray literature publishing: where intense thinking, change, and speculation happens in scholarship.” The series is edited at the University of Minnesota Press by Danielle Kasprzak.
The Anthrobscene is available for download directly on the UMP website as well as in your “local” Amazon (Kindle and the slightly more expensive print on demand paperback) and gradually in other e-book stores too, including now already on Barnes & Noble & Kobo. The Amazon-page has a preview of the content.