The Finnish Institute in London has an interview series “Made By”. Alongside earlier interviews with designers, artists, etc., they did a little chat with me which you can find here.
Around the same time as this came out, early February, we had a conversation event at the Institute on historical knowledge, technology and the digital humanities. Notice the Finnish design and wooden materials that characterize the space – a sea of Aalto waiting for the audience.
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: email@example.com.”
The news about the (re)discovered Andy Warhol-images, excavated by digital forensics means, has been making rounds in news and social media. In short, a team of experts – including Cory Arcangel – discovered Warhol’s Amiga-paintings from 1985 floppy discs. As described in the news story: ”
“Warhol’s Amiga experiments were the products of a commission by Commodore International to demonstrate the graphic arts capabilities of the Amiga 1000 personal computer. Created by Warhol on prototype Amiga hardware in his unmistakable visual style, the recovered images reveal an early exploration of the visual potential of software imaging tools, and show new ways in which the preeminent American artist of the 20th century was years ahead of his time.” The images are related to the famous Debbie Harry-image Warhol painted on Amiga.
The case is an interesting variation on themes of media art history as well as digital forensics. As Julian Oliver coined it in a tweet:
The media archaeological enters with a realisation of the importance of such methods for the cultural heritage of born-digital content, but there’s more. The non-narrative focus of such methodologies is a different way of accessing what could be thought of as media archaeology of software culture and graphics. The technological tools carry an epistemological, even ontological weight: we see things differently; we are able to access a world previously unseen, also in historical contexts.
But there is a pull towards traditional historical discourses. The project demonstrates a technical understanding of cultural heritage and contemporary software culture but rhetorically frames it as just another part of the art historical/archaeological mythology of rediscovering long lost masterpieces of a Genius. This side still needs some updating so that the technical episteme of the excavation, detailed here [PDF] can become fully realised. Techniques of reverse engineering as well as insights into image formats as ways to understand the technical image need to be matched up with discourse that is able to demonstrate something more than traditional art history by new means. It needs to be able to show what is already at stake in these methods: a historical mapping of the anonymous forces of history, to use words from S. Giedion.
Scholars such as Matt Kirschenbaum have already demonstrated the significant stakes of digital forensics as part of a radical mindset to historical scholarship, heritage and media theory and we need to be able to build on such work that is theoretically rich.
There is a new book on digital art, archives, preservation and memory out now. Edited by Annet Dekker, Speculative Scenarios, or what will happen to digital art in the (near) future? is an interesting and again timely take on some of the issues that connect media studies with archival specialists, cultural heritage with contemporary digital art practices. There are several great writers in the collection. You can find it online here and a printed version is out soonish too.
On the publisher website, the book is described as follows:
“There is a growing understanding of the use of technological tools for dissemination or mediation in the museum, but artistic experiences that are facilitated by new technologies are less familiar. Whereas the artworks’ presentation equipment becomes obsolete and software updates change settings and data feeds that are used in artworks, the language and theory relating to these works is still being formulated. To better produce, present and preserve digital works, an understanding of their history and the material is required to undertake any in-depth inquiry into the subject. In an attempt to fill some gaps the authors in this publication discuss digital aesthetics, the notion of the archive and the function of social memory. These essays and interviews are punctuated by three future scenarios in which the authors speculate on the role and function of digital arts, artists and art organisations.”
I was interviewed for the book and I talked about topics from zombie media to media archaeology & time, from the media archaeological fundus in Berlin to issues of the social. “In a way, practices – or one could say cultural techniques – of memory are actually what create the social. Perhaps the social doesn’t even exist without the various ways in which memory is sustained, articulated, archived, controlled, passed on, distributed, received, and remixed.”
Here another earlier recorded interview I did, this time with Dr Robin Boast. Our chat was inspiring for me, as usual; we talked archives, metadata, cultural heritage institutions and digital culture, and I always find Boast’s insights so provocative, so fresh. Boast is really someone who can talk of archival fevers and the history of the discipline; archive as a profession and an institution. He offers wonderful archival, museum science and anthropological insights, infusions, into digital culture.
You can find the interview Mp3 here. The timing of re-uploading of the interview, from January 2011, is good; Boast has just been appointed Professor of Cultural Information Sciences at the University of Amsterdam in Netherlands, leaving behind UK and Cambridge. Great catch for Amsterdam!
Just to remind: all of these interviews I have been posting were made originally in the context of the Creative Technology Review podcasts, that I did with Julio D’Escrivan.