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New Czech titles

September 9, 2022 Leave a comment

Now published in Czech, two closely connected books: the translation of What is Media Archaeology? (transl. Michal Šimůnek) and Martin Charvát’s book about my work Jussi Parikka: Od archeologie ke geologii médií (“Jussi Parikka: From Media Archaeology to Geology of Media”). Very excited and grateful to both of them for their work, insights, and careful attention.

The publisher is NAMU press.

Below a short glimpse of the interview we did with Martin for his book (note that the original English discussion has not been tidied so please excuse any minor language hiccups).

<M. C. As I see it, in your work there is a strong tendency present: from the analysis of „dark sides“ of digital culture to geology of media, to the (on the one hand) abstract but strictly material frameworks (or empirical conditions of possibilities) of contemporary digital culture based on using (in a sense of dependency) material from Earth, and to the (on the other hand) urgent need to look at these phenomena through (to put it in Deleuzean terms) “geology of morals”, which transcends a priori critique of technique, and thematizes the usage or cultural techniques emerging in contemporary society and connect them with geo-political climate.

J. P. I was originally trained in Cultural History (in Turku, Finland) which was great background education to consider the broader historical contexts of contemporary culture. It was also a context where I had to do extra work in figuring out how I can continue my theoretical interests while engaging in historical methods. One line of thought that cuts across those themes, those tendencies, is that I am interested in the anomalous, whether that is in relation to the dark sides and accidents of technological culture or in terms of the alternative methodological and conceptual angles that unfold a different perspective. The Deleuzean impact was early on really important for me – I still remember well the course on Deleuze (and a bit on Guattari) that professor Jukka Sihvonen gave in Turku and that I attended together with my friend, media scholar Pasi Väliaho. It was an eye-opener. I did not know how to place it exactly in terms of my other studies but it crept into some work I did in Finnish (including a book that was published in Finnish, Koneoppi) and then to some themes in Digital Contagions that was also my doctoral project that later turned into a book. Another influence was Friedrich Kittler, also introduced by Sihvonen, and whose work then became a different way of trying to start thinking questions of materiality which led into discussions also in new materialism from a much more material feminist position. Rosi Braidotti’s seminars in 2005 were another eye opener.

But in terms of the theme of the anomalous – it does not necessarily mean even marginal. Just that from Digital Contagions to later work, I was trying to come up with questions that are not necessarily at first obvious; conceptual twists that offer different perspectives while building on existing theoretical and scholarly traditions, but also rhetorically are able to frame a different way of understanding those conceptual entities inside “media studies” but also way outside it.

The geopolitical that includes Earth energies is far from marginal but I felt a necessary way to continue the link between conceptual work, extended media studies perspectives, and burning contemporary topics. I was trying to avoid it being merely a contribution to the Anthropocene debate about this new geological period defined by industrialism, synthetic chemistry and massive scale of agriculture, the nuclear age and mass exterminations of multiple kinds – including as many have pointed out, colonial time scales – and think of ways how the question of materiality can be placed in questions of ecology. Geology of morals turns into a Robert Smithson inspired large-scale, landscape-scale changes impacted by media and technological culture that also challenges models of agency and definitely forces non-anthropocentric perspectives both in analysis and in coming up with ethical solutions. To riff with Braidotti’s ideas: it was the ideal of the human in the modern Western humanism that got us into a lot of trouble with its colonial human (able-male) centric ways of organizing worldviews; now we are in the midst of a larger transformation where other questions have to be brought forward for a more radical sustainable future.

[…]

M. C. Currently you are the head of GAČR EXPRO project at Prague Famu. Could you elaborate please a little bit about the topic of the research? (Operational images)

J. P. Operational images is a concept that stems from the filmmaker Harun Farocki’s work and investigations. Already in his work in the 1980s and 1990s he mapped visual forms of measurement and rationalization of the world in relation to political history, violence, holocaust, and industrial scale violence although the concept emerges in a more articulated form in the Eye/Machine video series of installations between 2000-2003. While Farocki’s work is interesting as such – in how it articulates themes of proximity/distance, visuality/calculation, war/media – our project picks up on the concept itself: operational images as images that function primarily as part of a (technical) operation like in the case of self-guided missile systems, machine vision systems, robotics, etc. The concept has had a vivid afterlife following Farocki and it pops up in use by theorists and artists such as Hito Steyerl and Trevor Paglen, as well as in works by many of the colleagues in media studies etc., but we are interested both in how to use it as a concept to outline alternative histories of photography and visual culture and to open up new questions in contemporary contexts of art and visual theory.

For example, I am working with Abelardo Gil-Fournier on outlining questions of vegetal materiality and visual culture, from late 19th century plant physiology and framing of photosynthesis to broader scales such as in Vladimir Vernadsky’s take on the planetary biosphere. We are interested in how from questions of photography and visual culture we can outline a take on operational images in scientific contexts, planetary scales of plants and agriculture, and this refurbishing of the planet by way of terraforming that has taken place for example indeed in agriculture.

Of course the project incorporates more than that. Tomas Dvorak’s investigations into photography as measurement is one insightful way of dealing with the overlap between methods in history of science and media; previously, our conference theme was on Expert-Readable Images expanding the idea of machinic agency of images (Machine-Readable) to the work of experts and specialist practices too. Also our book Photography off the Scale that came out in 2021 with Edinburgh University Press included contributions from our project team on the question of measure, scale, and quantity in photographic culture.

The book Operational Images. From the Visual to the Invisual is forthcoming from University of Minnesota Press in 2023.

The Lab Book is out!

April 20, 2022 Leave a comment

I am very happy that our co-authored The Lab Book: Situated Practices in Media Studies is out. Written with Lori Emerson and Darren Wershler, the book stems from research that started around 2015 and investigates the changing status of the lab as it features especially outside the fields of science and engineering. The mushrooming of labs of all sorts – and not all only academic, as many coffee labs, brew labs, and hair labs testify – has resulted in a situation we refer to as the hybrid lab. The many aspects that make up the hybrid lab are captured in this diagram on the extended lab, a model that also guides our book’s chapters

We are also grateful for the several dialogues, interviews, and other help that several people affiliated directly or indirectly with labs provided. We were able to test our ideas and get really important feedback from so many different lab setups that also showed the many scales of labs. Some of the interviews are available on University of Minnesota Press’ Manifold platform.

Do get in touch with any queries, review copy requests, or alike.

“Lively, timely, and filled with vivid examples, The Lab Book is a highly readable and critically sophisticated account of current lab culture. Written by three distinguished practitioners, it examines the rhetoric that links real and imaginary ideas of experimentality with systems of power and authority across a surprising range of disciplines. A fun, smart, useful guide to ongoing work in media studies.”

— Johanna Drucker, author of Visualization and Interpretation: Humanistic Approaches to Display

The Lab Book makes an extremely important contribution to contemporary discourse about the production of knowledge. In many ways, it is the most important book on the topic since the laboratory studies of Bruno Latour in its potential reach across disciplines and methodologies. Its careful close reading of images and quoted material is particularly compelling, and the writing style is accessible and clear, even while explaining somewhat arcane topics in science studies around infrastructures, apparatuses, ideologies, and assemblages.”

— Elizabeth Losh, author of Hashtag

Sensoria by McKenzie Wark

August 17, 2020 Leave a comment

McKenzie Wark’s new book Sensoria: Thinkers for the Twenty-first Century is out and I am chuffed (as the British say) to be included in the fabulous lineup of theorists and writers that she rolls out in this follow-up of the General Intellects volume.

“As we face the compounded crises of late capitalism, environmental catastrophe and technological transformation, who are the thinkers and the ideas who will allow us to understand the world we live in? McKenzie Wark surveys three areas at the cutting edge of current critical thinking: media ecologies, post-colonial ethnographies, and the design of technology, and introduces us to the thinking of seventeen major writers who, combined, contribute to the common task of knowing the world. Each chapter is a concise account of an individual thinker, providing useful context and connections to the work of the others.

The authors include: Sianne Ngai, Kodwo Eshun, Lisa Nakamura, Hito Steyerl, Yves Citton, Randy Martin, Jackie Wang, Wang Hui, Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing, Achille Mbembe, Eyal Weizman, Cory Doctorow, Benjamin Bratton, Tiziana Terranova, Keller Easterling, Jussi Parikka, Deborah Danowich and Eduardo Viveiros de Castro

Wark argues that we are too often told that expertise is obtained by specialisation. Sensoria connects the themes and arguments across intellectual silos. The book is a vital and timely introduction to the future both as a warning but also as a roadmap for how we might find our way out of the current crisis.”

Oberhausen interview

Here’s a new video interview, done for the Oberhausen film festival. Click below the image to get to the video  where we discuss viruses, digital culture, masks, and more. The book Digital Contagions is one starting point but we end up in many other areas too.

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To Media Study

April 26, 2020 Leave a comment

I was invited to contribute a short text for the inaugural issue of the new journal MAST – The Journal of Media Art Study and Theory. The whole issue is a great compilation of interesting and insightful texts that you can access as direct PDF here.

My text was a brief take on media studies – both media studies as a discipline and media study as an activity. Here’s the beginning of the text that can be accessed through the PDF link above.

To Media Study: Media Studies and Beyond

To study media is to study more than what we already recognize as media. The beauty of media study should involve the possibility of methodological and theoretical labor that investigates what even constitutes its object of knowledge and the process through which such objects of knowledge are stabilised as the thing that circulates as “media” in academia. It even includes the possibility of considering academia as an institution and its practices as “media,” a proposition made by Friedrich Kittler (2004). Indeed, universities consist of a changing set of practices and techniques programmed into students and future staff, hardware from libraries to mail systems and objects of knowledge that provide one operating system for a range of contemporary operations—mathematics to philosophy as well as computing. Not that we need to accept all the details and specifics of the story (and its European bias, as Kittler also stated) but the methodology of realising that media relates not to “communication,” but to material architectures, cultural techniques, and infrastructures from hardware to standards is the key takeaway. In short, even the academic study itself is, well, media.

To study media is to study what then even becomes media in the first place, and how mediation is much more than what counts as media as such. Hence, media study and its stabilized version in academia, Media Studies, can be in a privileged position to understand how the question of media shifts from the human scale of interface to large-scale networks, infrastructure, and logistics. Some of the greyest things are the most exciting when it comes to understanding the powers of media: administration, logistics, infrastructural arrangement and territorial governance. Media is placed in actual spatial, material, and institutional realities.

Not that the academia is the sole place of media study – media study also happens outside Media Studies. Indeed, to radicalize Kittler’s point about media at the university, we need to recognise the subtle – and sometimes not so subtle – mechanisms of economic power that enable and disable the possibilities of study. To study media is also to recognise, as Stefano Harney and Fred Moten (2013) importantly argue, that it happens in contemporary contexts of debt and governance that are, one might add, part of the “media” and cultural techniques of the university and of how it produces experience and habit. To study should not be about the reproduction of misery as part of the policy of the current academic institutional landscapes, or as Moten puts it: “I think that a huge part of it has to do simply with, let’s call it, a certain reduction of intellectual life – to reduce study into critique, and then at the same time, a really, really horrific, brutal reduction of critique to debunking, which operates under the general assumption that naturalised academic misery loves company in its isolation, like some kind of warped communal alienation in which people are tied together not by blood or a common language but by the bad feeling they compete over.” (Harney and Moten 120).

[…continues: here. PDF]

Virality and Digital Contagions

April 13, 2020 2 comments

The publisher of my book Digital Contagions: A Media Archaeology of Computer Viruses (2nd updated edition, 2016) has given free access to the preface by Sean Cubitt and my Introduction to the book.  The download can be accessed on the publisher’s website.

From Sean Cubitt’s opening words:

“There is a disturbing etymological puzzle underlying the title. “Contagion” appears to be a late fourteenth-century coinage, appearing in the wake of the Black Death in mediaeval French and Middle English, from the Latin roots “con,” meaning “with,” and “tangere,” the active verb “to touch.” The puzzle comes from another word we associate at least equally closely with electronic media, “contact.” Here the root words are the same, with the only exception that “contact” comes from the passive form “tactum,” “to be touched.” Oddly, most people probably feel positive connotations about “contact,” but negative connotations from “contagion.” We have had six hundred years to develop these connotations, and yet there remains a nub of their origins: the contagious principle of something coming to touch us or to touch us together is more subjective than the principle of contact, where any two things could be brought together. The usefulness of the electrical contact as a major metaphor, dating back through early electrical experiments and familiar from the literature of the pioneering days of motoring and aviation, gives it both a certain objectivity and a sense of familiarity that we bring into the realm of communicative contact. Not so contagion, even though it is very close, at least etymologically.”

In this context, it might be also relevant to mention the piece the French publication AOC commissioned us with Tony Sampson to write on different models of virality and media.

Here’s the link to the French version.

And Boundary 2 Online published the English version: The New Logics of Viral Media.

Geologie médií

March 22, 2020 Leave a comment

The Czech translation of A Geology of Media is now out and available with Karolinum publishing house (Prague) as Geologie médiíAlso the Czech translation of What is Media Archaeology? is forthcoming (probably 2021) as well as a book focusing on my work (planned to be out in 2021).

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How to practice variantology of media?

December 17, 2019 Leave a comment

I was commissioned to write a short popular audience piece on Siegfried Zielinski for the Korean article series “The Front Lines of the 21st Century Humanities and Social Sciences”. The series has featured many theorists from Kittler to Haraway, Barad to Latour, as well as one article on my work. The text on Zielinski is now published and I wanted to post the original English text (not copy-edited, apologies for awkward language hiccups) here. Please find it below. The short text was also written to note the just published volume of Zielinski texts, Variations on Media Thinking (University of Minnesota Press, 2019.)

Siegfried Zielinski: How to practice variantology of media?

One way to understand a theorist’s work is to look at how she or he is being talked about. What do your friends or enemies say? What are the concepts, ideas, or generic style of a theorist that catch wind and which ones are left to the side? While Siegfried Zielinski has become known for his significant work as one of the early theorists of media archaeology and as a poetic palaeontologist of deep times of art and science, it is curious to have a peek at the little book Objects of Knowledge – a Small Technical Encyclopedia that functioned as a Festschrift, a celebration of Zielinski’s 60th birthday, written by his colleagues and peers. In the eyes of his friends, Zielinski’s work extends to a whole glossary of odd objects, things, and speculations that reveals the influence he has had in extending the discussion of media to clearly things not usually considered media. A wild list of “media” objects constitutes the book’s entries: basket, bathtub, book destruction machine; Dried Food, Filmoscope, Fountain Pen, and Geiger Counter; Hand, Line, Phenakistoscope; Sardine Can, Side Scan Sonar, Slide Rule, Typewriter, and Wall Socket are some of the examples of where we end up when riding with Zielinski’s mind set.  While Zielinski himself has recognized that perhaps media, as a term, has become superfluous, this also was one form of a liberating feeling: finally we are not stuck with only mainstream set of a focus on media as entertainment, media as pleasing viewers and customers.

In this manner, one would do justice to the broad career of the German media theorist and professor Zielinski by calling him a variantologist of media. True, he has mobilized a range of terms that speak about deep times and palentology of media, suggesting that our usual historical timeframe is not sufficient to understand the longer histories of art and science collaborations. And true, he has engaged in the alternative histories of media – something that ties him into the field of media archaeology interested in these unknowns or forgotten paths of past media practice– when discussing the hegemonic histories of television and cinema perhaps only as entr’actes in the wider cultural history of audiovisions. This is the exciting bit for anyone bored of the usual media studies discussions of only television, film, internet, computers – indeed, the “audiovisual overlaps with other specialist discourses and partial praxes of society, such as architecture, transport, science and technology, organisation of work and time, traditional plebeian and bourgeois culture, or the avant-garde.” That, already, then tells us one firm thing: media studies is truly cultural studies is truly interdisciplinary studies. Variantology is then one name for this drive to look beyond disciplinary conventions and boundaries, and look at the most mundane with new eyes: the usual household item of the video-recorder becomes in Zielinski’s writing a time machine in the fundamental sense, a suburbian living room equivalent of time/space manipulation.

On can say that Zielinski’s constantly overarching approach has been to look at the variations – the non-normative, the alternative, the minor, and the differing practices that define technological arts and mediations of seeing and hearing. This idea is also present in the name of the most recent English translation of his works: Variations on Media Thinking. Of course, his earlier book Deep Time of the Media stands out as almost programmatic declaration. The book moves from Antique Greece philosophy of perception (Empedocles) to the Jesuit priest Athanius Kircher’s explorations of “light and shadow” in the 17th century. Early versions of all sorts of audiovisual but also cryptographic, hence algorithmic, techniques of media emerge from that story, argues Zielinski with a poetic touch. It illustrates a different understanding of technology than the current market and economy oriented focus on Silicon Valley and consumer gadgets. For our current media culture so determined to believe in the all-saving grace of new technologies as the solutionist  credo this twists things around somewhat ingeniously: to look for the old in the new, and the new in the old, to use Zielinski’s own phrasing.

Besides Zielinski’s objects of knowledge and wonders that Deep time of The Media book and others chronicle – Kircher’s arca steganographica (a machine for encrypting and decrypting letters), Martin van Marum’s 1785 “electrification machine”, or the “Self-writing wonder machine” by E. Knauss’s automata from 1764 – one can find an interesting program for variantology as an approach. In other words, this is not merely a collection of interesting discoveries in an alternative archive of art, science and media, but an inquiry into an-archaeologies.

Variantology is thus slightly anarchic in its pursuit of discourses and practices of magic, science, technics and media in history. It defies the hegemonic forces of what Zielinski coins the psychopathia medialis: the drive towards homogenising uniformity in media practices and discourses that characterises the capitalist culture of media understood as entertainment. Instead, the task of the variantologist is to dig out moments of difference, resistance, and experimentation that help us to imagine things differently.

Furthermore, there is an important methodological cue when Zielinski notes that we also need to shift the focus of our interest. Instead of the usual Western stories and capital cities of media production, we need to look South and East: Zielinski wants thus “to advocate a two-fold shift of geographic attention: from the North to the South and from the West to the East” which leads into a program of excavating histories of art, science, and media, stories and practice of alternative techniques from Far East, Mediterranian, Asia Minor, Greece, Middle-East, and South America.

This programmatic call was partly realised then in the Variantology-book series he set into motion with other editors, leading into volumes that offered case studies of such alternative stories. So while Zielinski’s own work and theoretisation emerged from 20th century core set of experimental practices and histories – from Godard to Virilio, Bauhaus to Lynn Hershman Leeson, from theorists of 1968 to the media theoretical boom in Germany since the 1980s – he also was able to shift the focus to collaborations with a much wider geographical and intellectual reach. Even if Zielinski’s 2011 book After the Media takes account of contemporary forms of media thinking from a self-declared Berlin perspective, he is still adamant the this is only one situated perspective as part of a wider cartography of media: “comparable thematic genealogies need to be written by authors who bring in their own cultural and intellectual experiences and areas of competence, before we can bring them together at scales of greater dimensions and can explore and try out their compatibility in the long term.” Also theoretical work has its own geography, and theoretical work has its own deep time.

Is this excavation in some sense also political? Can one say that this is a more activist way of doing media archaeology? While his compatriot Friedrich Kittler became famous for his insistent way of changing humanities agenda through technological knowledge, Zielinski’s work emerges with an emphasis on the artistic, which is reflected in his own personal history as part of some key art institutions of Germany, including in Berlin, Cologne, and Karlsruhe. For Zielinski, then, the question is not only about technology – even if he never dismisses knowing about technologies and engineers – but about potentials of experimentation and change: “to create a better world than the one that exists”, as he writes. Indeed, this is what connects to his pursuit of imaginaries of media, which itself is not merely personal fabulation but a systematic strand in history of thought.  In a pithy fashion, Zielinski states: “Imagination and mathematics have never been irreconcilable opposites and will not be so in the future.” Deep times also link to alternative futures, against psychopathia medialis.

Aesthetics/Politics/Technology – A Czech Interview

This video interview made with a Czech platform is now online and available. Recorded during Spring 2019, it was done also in the context of my FAMU visiting scholarship in Prague and discusses questions of aesthetics, politics, technology, deep times, anthrobscene, materiality and more.

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Click here for the full video interview.

My work with FAMU continues in the context of the Operational Images project until end of 2023.

In Search of Media: Remain

April 26, 2019 Leave a comment

I am excited to announce that our co-authored booklet Remain is now out and available via University of Minnesota Press and Meson Press (Open Access PDF). Together with Rebecca Schneider, and Ioana Jucan who wrote the introduction, we were offered the term “remain” to respond to as part of the series of investigations as to “terms of media” in contemporary context. From the book’s description and with two blurbs from Joanna Zylinska and Steven Shaviro:

In a world undergoing constant media-driven change, the infrastructures, materialities, and temporalities of remains have become urgent. This book engages with the remains and remainders of media cultures through the lens both of theater and performance studies and of media archaeology. By taking “remain” as a verb, noun, state, and process of becoming, the authors explore the epistemological, social, and political implications.

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“What emerges in this short book is a theory of media as that which remains. Mediating deep time with temporarily fossilized moments in our cultural history, the book’s multivoice narrative raises important questions about human responsibility for matter and other matters.”

— Joanna Zylinska, Goldsmiths, University of London

“This book spells out the ways in which past media and past practices continue to haunt and inflect our present social and technical arrangements.”

— Steven Shaviro, Wayne State University

 

For paperback, see University of Minnesota Press page.

For Open Access, see Meson Press page.