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
One of the low points of architecture in 2013 was architect Zaha Hadid’s football stadium in Qatar. Designed for the forthcoming games of 2022, the main part of the discussion has been about whether it resembles a vagina or not.
Besides reducing architectural discourse to a pretend shock about female genitalia, the case is emblematic of how design is detached from the actual world conditions. Instead of engaging in any way with the reports about abusive working conditions in the construction sites of such stadiums for Qatar 2022, we are left debating the building’s pinky Freudian connotations. Despite the pseudo-feminist debate it raised, a rather sad moment for design. It actually just flags detachment of both architectural popular discourse and architects such as Hadid from a connection with things that might have some material meaning or a meaningful impact for those whose lives this has a direct lived relation.
The underbelly of star designers are: “long working hours, hazardous working conditions, the workers being unpaid for months, had their passports confiscated, forced to live in overcrowded labour camps, denied the right to form unions, and without access to free drinking water in extreme heat”.
But the creative industries backed discourse of stars and creativity demands this underbelly of grey abusive low-paid and globally displaced hard work that is sustaining the fluffy public discourse about design.
I am glad to see that a couple of years after the release of Insect Media, reviews are still coming out. This one was just released in Parallax, and offers a very good insight into the book’s “aesthetics of non-human media where technological as well as biological bodies may be seen as media: relationalities of information transfer, memory, perceptions and affects” (p.108).
Another recent-ish good review that pops to my mind was published in Body & Society, with good critical points about language and anthropocentrism: “Swarms of Technology, Melodies of Life.” Read it too.
Neural – one of my favourite publications in the media arts, theory and sound field – published a short review of my What is Media Archaeology? Read it now online.
I am reading Elizabeth Wilson’s most recent book Affect and Artificial Intelligence (2010), and as before with her writings, really enjoying the fresh, interesting and quirky take on the intertwining of the human/cultural with the material (earlier more about physiology, as with her Psychosomatic-book, now with technologies of AI). I will be writing a short review of the book for Leonardo, so more there; now, I just wanted to point towards her good way of tackling the lack of critique about critique — or how we cultural and media studies scholars so easily embrace our stock-in-trade tools for tackling cultural reality (the axis of evils in relation to gender, race, capitalism, and so forth), and engage what could be a paranoid/projective mode of analysis. Wilson is far from a naive critic of such critique, and not so much dismissing such – neither am I despite my interest in finding alternatives – and connects to some more recent rethinkings of how should we engage with our sources and readings. How to rethink critique?
Revealing is her epigraph, from Bruno Latour: “What would critique do if it could be associated with more, not with less, with multiplication, not subtraction“. Such a figure of the analyst and critic is one that resembles an “assembler” (as in another passage where she quotes Latour, on page xi of Wilson’s book), and that in a manner resembling DeleuzeGuattari tries to embrace the naive experimentor over the already educated and cognizant critique who is able to unveil forces of ideology in cultural reality. Like the additive mode of the experimenter of DeleuzeGuattari who adds, asks for more connections, instead of hermeneutic-critic subtraction (reduction of cultural realities to underlying effect, meaning, structure, plot, ideology, oppression, etc), this mode of critique is keen to add more insights, more ideas, more fresh paths, and more alternatives where to continue – critically. It uses its sources to go forward, not just read back. Luckily, we are seeing more and more of this kind of work that I have often referred to as “post-representational” – something that is not interested only in representation analysis but seeks to go forward with the sources. (Good examples of such work that has always been inspirational to me include Rosi Braidotti and for instance Karen Barad — material feminists!).
Through such methodological choices, Wilson is able to bring fresh readings. The early AI research and figures as Turing are cast in new, interesting, passionate light – where Turing is not only a tragic victim but an intellectually and emotionally bursting, giggling figure – and where the seemingly cold, and rationalized modes of artificial intelligence research are actually filled with passions, desires and introjections. Indeed, to quote her on this point :
“While the figure of the paranoiac will appear now and again in later chapters, this book is interested in turning critical analysis of the artificial sciences away from projective, paranoid readings. The tendency to read artificial agents as screens for projection (projection of masculine, late-capitalist, or heterosexual anxieties, for example) will be displaced in favor of reading for the introjective bonds that have been established between us and artificial worlds. Affect and Artificial Intelligence is interested in the large-hearted, easily inflamed attachments that Ferenczi attributed not only to neurotics but to anyone capable of object love.” (28)
I admire Wilson’s style to weave her theoretical points from inside the empirical case studies, and in this case for instance, to bring ideas regarding readings of psychoanalysis (Sandor Ferenczi’s ideas about introjection from 1909) to how we do cultural theory.
(Note: an earlier, brief discussion about critique after my Coventry talk of Jan 25, 2011 can be found here.)