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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.

Media Archaeology in Chinese

April 10, 2019 Leave a comment

Our co-edited volume, Media Archaeology: Approaches, Applications, and Implications has been translated into Chinese. The translation (媒介考古学:方法、路径与意涵 ) is published by Fudan University Press (earlier translations by the press has included e.g. Friedrich Kittler’s Gramophone, Film, Typewriter). Furthermore, the book will be launched in late April with a seminar on “Chinese communication research from the perspective of media archaeology” in Wuhan.

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MediArXiv open archive launches

We are thrilled to announce that MediArXiv—the free, nonprofit, scholar-led digital archive for media, film and communication studies—is officially launching this week. MediArXiv is an open platform, hosted by the Center for Open Science, for media, film, and communication scholars to upload working papers, pre-prints, accepted manuscripts (post-prints), and published manuscripts. The service accepts articles, books, and book chapters, and we plan to support multimedia submissions in the future:

https://mediarxiv.org

FAQs are available on our companion site:

https://mediarxiv.com/faqs/

MediArXiv joins the growing movement started by the math/physics/computer science-oriented http://arXiv.org over 25 years ago, as one of the first full-fledged “preprint” servers conceived for humanities and social science scholars. Our aim is to promote open scholarship across media, film, and communication studies around the world. In addition to accepting and moderating submissions, we plan to advocate for policy changes at the major media, film, & communication studies professional societies around the world—to push for open-access friendly policies, in particular, for the journals that these associations sponsor.

Commenting on the launch of MediArxiv, professor Sean Cubitt (Goldsmiths) stated:

“MediArXiv offers an open access platform to share research run by and for researchers.  Its growing community of scholars and papers in media and communications opens international dialogues on scholars’ own terms. Our field is especially critical of the operations of power and money in cultural evolution: here is a practice that turns critique into an new actuality we can all learn from.”

MediArxiv is launching with a 17-member Steering Committee of scholars and open access advocates from around the world. The Committee includes members from five continents, every rank (including graduate students), and along gender and other lines of equity. We support submissions in English, Spanish, Chinese, French, Portugeuse, German, Dutch, Finnish, and Turkish:

https://mediarxiv.com

MediArXiv was initiated by the nonprofit Open Access in Media Studies:

https://oamediastudies.com/

As a free, nonprofit, community-led digital archive, MediArXiv is fully committed to the Fair Open Access principles:

https://www.fairopenaccess.org/

The Center for Open Science (our hosting partner) press release:

https://cos.io/about/news/center-open-science-mediarxiv-and-bodoarxiv-la…

Please consider submitting your manuscripts to MediArXiv, and thank you for your support.

The MediArXiv Steering Committee

* Jeff Pooley, Associate Professor of Media & Communication, Muhlenberg College (USA) [Coordinator]
* Jeroen Sondervan, open access expert & and co-founder of Open Access in Media Studies. Affiliated with Utrecht University (Netherlands) [Coordinator]
* Sarah-Mai Dang, Postdoctoral Researcher at the Institute of Media Studies, Philipps University Marburg (Germany)
* Lai-Tze Fan, Assistant Professor of Rhetoric and Digital Media, University of Waterloo (Canada)
* Catherine Grant, Professor of Digital Media and Screen Studies, Birkbeck, University of London (UK)
* Jonathan Gray, Lecturer in Critical Infrastructure Studies, King’s College London (UK)
* Adelheid Heftberger, Head of Film Access, Bundesarchiv (German Federal Archive) (Germany)
* Leah Lievrouw, Professor of Information Studies, UCLA (USA)
* Nyasha Mboti, Associate Professor of Communication Studies, University of Johannesburg (South Africa)
* Gabriel Menotti, Associate Professor of Communications, Federal University of Espírito Santo (Brazil)
* Ricardo Cedeño Montaña, Associate Professor of Communications, Universidad de Antioquia (Colombia)
* Maria O’Brien, PhD Candidate, School of Communications, Dublin City University (Ireland)
* Kate O’Riordan, Professor of Digital Culture & Head of School of Media, Film and Music, University of Sussex (UK)
* Jussi Parikka, Professor of Technological Culture & Aesthetics, University of Southampton (UK)
* Xiang Ren, Senior Lecturer in Chinese Media and Culture, Western Sydney University (Australia)
* Cheryll Ruth Soriano, Associate Professor of Communication, De La Salle University (Philippines)
* Ece Vitrinel, Assistant Professor of Communication, Galatasaray University (Turkey)

twitter: @mediarxiv
email: mediarxiv@mediarxiv.com
main site: mediarxiv.org
companion site: mediarxiv.com
rss: http://tiny.cc/zwzq4y
github: github.com/orgs/MediArXiv/dashboard

De insectos, máquinas y posverdades

December 1, 2018 Leave a comment

The new issue of the Luthor journal (published by colleagues in Argentine) is out and with a focus on media archaeology. The issue also includes an interview with me (“De insectos, máquinas y posverdades“) for those interested. We discuss media archaeology and transdisciplinarity, materiality, questions of geography as well as some brief points about literature in relation to the field. I also mention some current and emerging projects, from fashion film to operational images.

Edit: now the original English version of the interview (not copyedited) is also available (PDF): download here.