March 7th, Tuesday, we will be launching our new books with Tony Sampson in London. Tony’s wonderful study The Assemblage Brain and my Digital Contagions (2nd, revised edition with a new preface by Sean Cubitt that can also be read for free online) will form the context for our short talks under the broad rubric of “experiencing digital culture”.
A short description below and to book tickets (free) see Eventbrite. Kings College London and their Arts & Humanities Research Institute are hosting the event.
We’ve worked with Tony since our joint edited book The Spam Book: On Viruses, Porn and Other Anomalies from the Dark Side of Digital Culture, which I still feel is a timely book with a pretty impressive cadre of writers such as Matthew Fuller and Andrew Goffey (on evil media!), Steve Goodman, Luciana Parisi, Susanna Paasonen, Greg Elmer, Alex Galloway, Eugene Thacker and many others. Ever since, I’ve always gotten a lot out from following Tony’s work, and same applies to his new book.
I also wrote the blurb for The Assemblage Brain and can warmly recommend it:
‘Tap my head and mike my brain’; Tony Sampson’s new book might silently echo Pynchon’s famous lines, but this is also an original, inspiring, and theoretically savvy take on the culture of the affective brain, from sciences to business, cybernetics to political power. Warmly recommended.
Experiencing Digital Culture
Jussi Parikka and Tony D. Sampson’s work has threaded its way through the digital cultures field by means of a series of radical interventions, drawing on such concepts as anomalies, accidents, assemblages, contagions, events, nonrepresentation, affect and neuroculture, in order to critically rethink how the power of the digital age is experienced and embodied.
In this discussion the two theorists follow some of these fibrous conceptual strands as they intersect and overlap with each other in two recent publications: the new revised edition of Parikka’s landmark Digital Contagions: A Media Archaeology of Computer Viruses (Peter Lang, 2016) and Sampson’s new book, The Assemblage Brain: Sense Making in Neuroculture (University of Minnesota Press, 2016).
The discussion will be followed by a joint book launch and drinks, which will be generously provided by University of Minnesota Press in the Somerset Café.
Peter Lang have kindly offered a 30 % discount flyer for the event for those interested in ordering Digital Contagions.
I am very glad to announce that Writing and Unwriting (Media) Art History: Erkki Kurenniemi in 2048 is out from the printers, hot off the (MIT) Press! Edited with curator, writer Joasia Krysa, the book focuses on the Finnish media art pioneer Kurenniemi, and is the key international collection on the curious thinker, sound and media artist-tinkerer, who became known for his remarkable synthetizers and archival futurism. Kurenniemi has gathered attention in the electronic music circles for a longer period of time, and with Documenta 13 he become known in the international art world too. His thoughts and work resonate with the work of other early pioneers; Simon Reynolds once called him a mix of Karlheinz Stockhausen, Buckminster Fuller, and Steve Jobs. In 2002, Mika Taanila directed the film The Future is Not What It Used to Be about Kurenniemi.
The book includes foreword by the eminent media archaeologist Erkki Huhtamo and a range of critical essays on digital culture, archival mania and media arts. Key academic and art writers address Kurenniemi’s work but also more: the condition of the archive and sound arts, sonic fiction and speculative futures of singularity are some of the key themes that run through the book with contributions by many established names in media studies, art and sound technologies. In addition, we included many of Kurenniemi’ own writings over the decades, including some interviews that elaborate his wider computational views of the world, including his thought: by 2040s, the human brain can be completely simulated. His archive plays a key role, like an actor in itself: the archive also featured as a key “object” as part of the earlier Kiasma exhibition and we included some snippets, as well as an extensive visual section.
Writing and Unwriting (Media) Art History sits as part of the Leonardo-book series, edited by Sean Cubitt. The book was started by Krysa through her curatorial work at the 2012 Documenta 13 exhibition. It is thanks to Joasia that I am part of the project and she deserves major praise for her amazing eye for detail, enthusiasm and energy in driving this project, from a major exhibition to a book, and more.
Here’s a preview of the book’s table of contents and Huhtamo’s Foreword.
For review copy requests, or other questions, inquiries about the book, please get in touch! We are hosting some book events in Montreal, Helsinki, Berlin and London over the coming months but more info on those separately.
Writing and Unwriting (Media) Art History: Erkki Kurenniemi in 2048, eds Krysa and Parikka
Over the past forty years, Finnish artist and technology pioneer Erkki Kurenniemi (b. 1941) has been a composer of electronic music, experimental filmmaker, computer animator, roboticist, inventor, and futurologist. Kurenniemi is a hybrid—a scientist-humanist-artist. Relatively unknown outside Nordic countries until his 2012 Documenta 13 exhibition, ”In 2048,” Kurenniemi may at last be achieving international recognition. This book offers an excavation, a critical mapping, and an elaboration of Kurenniemi’s multiplicities.
The contributors describe Kurenniemi’s enthusiastic, and rather obsessive, recording of everyday life and how this archiving was part of his process; his exploratory artistic practice, with productive failure an inherent part of his method; his relationship to scientific and technological developments in media culture; and his work in electronic and digital music, including his development of automated composition systems and his “video-organ,” DIMI-O. A “Visual Archive,” a section of interviews with the artist, and a selection of his original writings (translated and published for the first time) further document Kurenniemi’s achievements. But the book is not just about one artist in his time; it is about emerging media arts, interfaces, and archival fever in creative practices, read through the lens of Kurenniemi.
“Sex, annotation, and verité totale: Kurenniemi is a missing mixing desk between so many interesting aspects of late-twentieth-century culture. No wonder he ends up offering us a new archival futurism!”
—Matthew Fuller, Professor, Director of the Centre for Cultural Studies, Goldsmiths, University of London
“Providing a long-overdue critical and historical introduction to the amazingly multifaceted work of media pioneer, visionary thinker, and self-archivist Erkki Kurenniemi, this book becomes both a media-archaeological excavation and engaging reflection on the challenges of writing media art history. The range of Kurenniemi’s fascinating practice—including electronic music composition, experimental filmmaking, robotics, and curation—defies traditional classifications, and calls for new historical narratives of media art. Started as a compilation of the long-term research that went into the exhibition of Kurenniemi’s work at Documenta 13 in Kassel, Germany, the volume combines highlights of his own writings and interviews with excellent contributions by scholars, contextualizing his archives, art, music, and vision.”
—Christiane Paul, Associate Professor, School of Media Studies, The New School; Adjunct Curator of New Media Arts, Whitney Museum
“This book is a major contribution not only to the unprecedented scientific and artistic imagination of Erkki Kurenniemi, but also to the whole research on media and ‘real time.’ The text unveils and critically presents the reader with a series of complex technological and artistic systems exploring the man-machine relationship under the assumption both do have consciousness. Kurenniemi’s work provides us with one of the most solid grounds to examine perception, the brain, the will to speculate and travel back and forth between several realms of knowledge. Kurenniemi is bold; this text is bold and a great contribution to new forms of studying risk taking in art and science.”
—Chus Martínez, Head of the Institute of Art, FHNW Academy of Art and Design
Some recent books by friends:
Gombrowicz, Polish Modernism, and the Subversion of Form provides a new and comprehensive account of the writing and thought of the Polish writer Witold Gombrowicz. While Gombrowicz is probably the key Polish modernist writer, with a stature in his native Poland equivalent to that of Joyce or Beckett in the English language, he remains little known in English. As well as providing a commentary on his novels, plays, and short stories, this book sets Gombrowicz’s writing in the context of contemporary cultural theory. The author performs a detailed examination of Gombrowicz’s major literary and theatrical work, showing how his conception of form is highly resonant with contemporary, postmodern theories of identity. This book is the essential companion to one of Eastern Europe’s most important literary figures whose work, banned by the Nazis and suppressed by Poland’s Communist government, has only recently become well known in the West.
About the Author(s): Michael Goddard After completing his Ph.D. at the University of Sydney, Michael Goddard was employed as Visiting Professor of Cultural and Media Studies at the University of Lodz in Poland, and as Professor of Cultural Studies at Mikolai Kopernikus University, Torun. Since September 2007, he has been lecturer in media studies at the University of Salford in the United Kingdom. He is an active member of the European Network for Film and Media Studies (NECS) and participates actively in a range of international conferences and other academic and cultural events.
In Mapping the Moving Image, Pasi Väliaho offers a compelling study of how the medium of film came to shape our experience and thinking of the world and ourselves. By locating the moving image in new ways of seeing and saying as manifest in the arts, science and philosophy at the turn of the twentieth century, the book redefines the cinema as one of the most important anthropological processes of modernity. Moving beyond the typical understanding of cinema based on optical and linguistic models, Mapping the Moving Image takes the notion of rhythm as its cue in conceptualizing the medium’s morphogenetic potentialities to generate affectivity, behaviour, and logics of sense. It provides a clear picture of how the forms of early film, while mobilizing bodily gestures and demanding intimate, affective engagement from the viewer, emerged in relation to bio-political investments in the body. The book also charts from a fresh perspective how the new gestural dynamics and visuality of the moving image fed into our thinking of time, memory and the unconscious.
Pasi Väliaho is lecturer in film and screen studies at Goldsmiths College, University of London.
A commanding and consummate study of art, philosophy, the human sciences, physics and biology in the matrix of cinema at the turn of the twentieth century. Blending contemporary theory with close readings of the foundational writings of modernity—Freud, Bergson, Nietzsche—Väliaho shows how the autonomy of the movie-machine shapes the ways we believe we think and live today. A broad and compassionate study, Mapping the Moving Image stands high and strong in an impressive body of scholarship on early cinema. It will be a point of reference for every student of cinema, consciousness and perception.
– Professor Tom Conley, Harvard University
“The brain is the screen”, announced Gilles Deleuze some decades ago and summed up – beforehand – a range of things to come. The enthusiasm for the brain whether in terms of screen cultures (a range of films that play with mind, brain, and memory, and what Thomas Elsaesser has called the mind-game genre) or in new kinds of media interfaces e.g. for gaming is paralleled by a range of cultural and media theory looking into the notion of brain as a key metaphor, or node, for understanding contemporary media culture. Far from an earlier enthusiasm for the mind as separated from the body, and as an emblematic figure for the oh-so-much-hated-by-cultural-studies Cartesian worldview, the more recent enthusiasms is as much oriented towards brain as the fleshy epicentre of nerves, and sensation. The brain, too, is fleshy, vitalistic, and full of mattering matter, intensity, and in the world.
This is paradoxically why Christopher Nolan’s Inception is such a disappointment. Despite fitting in perfectly with a range of screen culture examples from past years such as his own Memento to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, or Doll House ,
The Matrix, etc., it does not bring anything new to the genre, or an elaborated, innovative, or even exciting take on the centrality of the cognitive for current media culture. To be honest, with a topic like this, can you fail? Memory and the cognitive can be so interestingly be connected to key contemporary processes of cultural production and capitalism, even to an extent that has been branded as cognitive capitalism. Not only knowledge, affects, and such as an endproduct that can be packaged (thanks Edison, thanks copyright laws) and sold as a discrete unit of cultural industries, but the whole process of production that is more akin to an ecology of seemingly immaterial, cognitive, or emotional values that can be harnessed into value-creation and raise important issues concerning the current “creative precariat” is where these themes concerning feelings, memory and the self are debated and become crucial for the political economy.
Without going into too much detail (as I recognize my shortcomings as a film critic…) I would summarize Nolan’s attempt as itself a bit pale, a bit short of exciting. Despite the references to Kubrick, which I personally do not understand at all, Nolan’s film is exactly not daring sci-fi when it comes to dealing with the brain or the self. The cliched guiding idea of getting caught in a dream at the expense of reality does not become transported into a more powerful and political “don’t get stuck in someone else’s dream” but only a bit sentimental storyline. The parallels between political/financial power and power over the mind remain very vague, and the attempt to multiply dimensions of reality (or dream) itself a bit boring. Whereas some critics have at least hailed the visuals as stunning (I beg to differ), what is bothering that it seems to be acceptable to recycle such outdated notions of the mind and the brain in supposedly futuristic settings. Metaphors of depth, architecture, and the subconscious remain mostly vague perhaps Freudian allusions, but on a level that is as insightful as I would expect The Sun’s summary of psychoanalysis to be.
Indeed, I admit after reading some more positive writings and after discussions that there would have been potential for much more. The theme of “contagious ideas”, or more interestingly “emotion contagion” (that is of key scientific interest for social media cultures). The labyrinthine architectural formations in which urban structures, the psyche and various realities intertwine in a Borgesian or Dickian (as in Philip K. Dick) manner are a strong cinematic trope of contemporary digital culture. Writers such as Peter Krapp have pointed out how film itself has acted as “a medium of aberrations of memory” from such avantgarde works as Chris Marker’s La Jetée to more recent science-fictions of The Terminator series and even Men in Black, and indeed its interesting to map how hallucinated, and often psychoid realities are being framed increasingly in such settings which do not take multiple realities only as delusional but at the core of power and control.
However, despite for a second trying to be optimistic and positive I have to return to my original feeling about the film; if such supposedly informed publications as the Wired are even asking if Inception is the scifi heavy-weight of the year, I must myself be in the wrong reality now.
>Meditations after watching Doll House (and in the midst of the emerging genre of avatar/surrogate-films such as The Gamer, Surrogate, etc.):
Memories are valuable to any corporate/neoliberalist logic as pathways to subjectification. Subjectification works through capturing memory, and the Lockean idea of tabula rasa as the ground for subjectivity-through-experience is more of a pragmatic than ontological assumption. Contemporary capitalism works through creations of worlds, argues Maurizio Lazzarato, and Doll House exemplifies in this sense not (only) a world of high tech virtual realities, but the functioning of Leibnizian neoliberalism. It’s about the refrains that stick to your mind, and create habits that pave the way for consumerist etc. behavior. Mind and body are hence synced. The other link to neoliberalism comes through Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine: through shock that reduces to a childlike status the mind/society becomes open to reprogramming (thanks to Joss Hands for the reminder re. Klein.)
Lazzarato and his reading of Tarde is in many aspects an apt opening to such worlds as Doll House’s. Subjectivity as an automate would be the perfect tuning of behaviors for a certain goal — something clearly visible in the idea of being able to program people for specific tasks, and for such tasks only. (cf. Lazzarato’s Les Révolutions du capitalisme). But this is not the whole truth. Memories leak, also through the tabula rasa. This is what Doll House is about; how memories while being captured, still leak, and how memory is less a storage space that can be filled and emptied according to will than a dynamism that cannot be detached from the body. Hence, memory becomes a dynamic engine with different layers suddenly converging and diverging. In Bergsonian terms, its the duration of lived memories that persists despite the quantified “memory bytes programmable” that seem to ground the fantasy of drone people á la 21st century.
Memory is much more material and dirty than anything that could be wiped away. It sticks. (An obvious direction would be to write this through Freud’s memory machine metaphor, and talk about the dynamic materialism inherent in any process of imprinting/wiping.)
Where goes then the line between living and dead labour?
Agency is not one, nor is it even two as with doppelgangers, twins, or any other classic film doubling of minds/bodies. Its multiple, much more akin to a logic of infinite variation that characterizes digital technologies than an optical metaphor. But such avatars are not only projections stemming from the human, so to speak. They feed back. This seems to be something at the core of some of the media examples emerging now. There is a much more interesting feedback loop between bodies and avatars, minds and surrogates than only a projection of fantasmas. Bodies resonate with their spectral variations, and such spectral variations can return. (No return of the repressed through.)