Archive for the ‘nomadic science’ Category

What is Media Archaeology? — out now

It’s out, and gradually in book stores — What is Media Archaeology? (Polity),
my new book about media archaeology (what a surprise)!

It picks up where the edited volume Media Archaeology: Approaches, Applications, and Implications (Huhtamo and Parikka) left off; this means the implications bit, and how media archaeology relates to other recent discussions in art, cultural and media theory: software studies, new materialism, archives, and more. In other words, it complements the earlier collection.

So in short,

1) What IS media archaeology?

– depends who you ask. If you ask Erkki Huhtamo or Siegfried Zielinski, you might get a different answer than from asking me. For Huhtamo, it is the recurring topoi/topics of media culture; for Zielinski, a poetic exploration of deep times and variantology; and so forth. For me, it is an exciting theoretical opening to think about material media cultures in a historical perspective. However, it expands into an experimental set of questioning about time, obsolescence, and alternative histories as well. In one way, it is about analyzing the conditions of existence of media cultural objects, processes and phenomena. It picks up on some strands of “German media theory”, but connects that to other debates in cultural theory too.I like what Bernhard Siegert has said about the early ethos of media archaeology being that of Nietzschean gay science — experimental, exploratory, radical. Perhaps in this vein, media archaeology is one answer to the need to think transdiscplinary questions of art, science, philosophy and technology.

2) Isn’t it just media history that tries to rebrand itself?

– No, not really. A lot of the media archaeological work expands to strong theoretical arguments as well as quite different sorts of historical inquiry than one recognizes in media historical work. Having said that, perhaps this is where the interesting connections are emerging; how media archaeology can contribute to media historical inquiry as well as to thinking about archives and cultural memory. There is one chapter on archives in this new book. A lot of media archaeology owes to earlier new cultural histories and new historicism, so the link is there.

3) Isn’t media archaeology only a footnote to Kittler’s work?

– That would be unfair towards a bunch of other theorists, German and non-German. Kittler himself denied being a media archaeologist, even if a lot of the stuff has taken much inspiration from him and the idea of looking at “conditions of existence” of cultural formations through (technical) media. Even Germany is filled with media archaeological work, since 1980s, and a lot of that expands to such new directions as Cultural Techniques (Siegert, Krajewski, Vissman, and others) as well as other media archaeologists — not least Wolfgang Ernst. In addition, the book offers an insight to other media archaeological theories, such as Huhtamo’s, Zielinski’s, new film history (Elsaesser et al) as well as the links to emerging media studies fields such as digital humanities (eg Kirschenbaum’s work).

4) Sounds like the book is all theory, huh?

There is more than just media theory — although I admit, that because of the nature of the book, was not able to work too much of new empirical material there. However, one key thing that pops up in the book is the use of media archaeology as an artistic method. There is a whole chapter dedicated to that. I think one of the most exciting directions is to see how these methodologies can be used in design, arts and other fields of creative practice that anyway are interested in themes of obsolescence, media and technological affordance, the environment and ecology, remix and for instance hardware (even analogue!).

5) What next?

– No more media archaeology for me. Well, I have jokingly promised that I won’t use the term anymore, even if I am interested in seeing where this term might take us. I will come up with a disguise, a theoretical disguise.

6) your chance to ask me a question!

– and I will answer, if I can.

Meanwhile, here is the info about the book:

(From the Publisher’s catalogue and website):

This cutting-edge text offers an introduction to the emerging field of media archaeology and analyses the innovative theoretical and artistic methodology used to excavate current media through its past.

Written with a steampunk attitude, What is Media Archaeology? examines the theoretical challenges of studying digital culture and memory and opens up the sedimented layers of contemporary media culture. The author contextualizes media archaeology in relation to other key media studies debates including software studies, German media theory, imaginary media research, new materialism and digital humanities.

What is Media Archaeology? advances an innovative theoretical position while also presenting an engaging and accessible overview for students of media, film and cultural studies. It will be essential reading for anyone interested in the interdisciplinary ties between art, technology and media.

And the blurbs:

‘Jussi Parikka offers a lucid, concise, and highly readable account of a new and exciting field – media archaeology. He demonstrates that contemporary media forms are rooted to the past by multiple threads – untangling them helps us understand the media frenzy that currently surrounds us.’
Erkki Huhtamo, University of California Los Angeles

‘A fabulous map of media archaeology that, as its subject compels, produces its territory anew.’
Matthew Fuller, Goldsmiths

‘The most comprehensive coverage to date of this fascinating area of study. Parikka’s book offers an excellent overview of connections between the material and social aspects of media technology. He provides a thorough review of the diverse and sometimes contrasting theoretical foundations and provides a host of concrete examples of media-archaeological practice that serve to bridge the gap between heady theoretical trajectories and the concerns of practicing artists, users and other readers who take their technology seriously.’
Paul DeMarinis, Stanford University


Table of Contents

Chapter 1
Introduction: Cartographies of the Old and the New
Chapter 2
Media Archaeology of the Senses: Audiovisual, Affective, Algorithmic
Chapter 3
Imaginary Media: Mapping Weird Objects
Chapter 4
Media Theory and New Materialism
Chapter 5
Mapping Noise and Accidents
Chapter 6
Archive Dynamics: Software Culture and Digital Heritage
Chapter 7
Practicing Media Archaeology: Creative Methodologies for Remediation

Conclusions: Media Archaeology in Digital Culture
Note: the book is hitting the bookstores now in the UK (May), and soon in North-America (June) and rest of the world.


It’s All in the Technique

October 12, 2011 Leave a comment

Heads up on what looks like a great little Dossier of German Media Philosophy – in the new issue of Radical Philosophy (169). Indeed, as Eric Alliez in his short (hence telegraphic?) afterwords points out, this is not philosophy of media, as we might tend to think, for instance in the English language academia. It is not so much of philosophy about the media, but how philosophy and media share a certain a priori.

I myself co-edited a collection of Continental Media Philosophy in Finnish in 2008, following this idea of (positive) separatism of a certain German agenda concerning philosophy in the age of media. And it’s not only the slightly worn idea that we need to rethink philosophy because we have the internet, but understanding how the a priori of humanities might actually be technical media. This is not a techno-determinist statement in the a-historical sense, but something that at least tries to account for the birth of modern humanities in the 19th century at the same time technical media was giving us a new ontology (and hence epistemology) of the world.

What is disturbing about this special issue is the generic problem of German academia and often media theory: it’s lack of women. Whereas one could say that the dossier and the conference at Kingston University that preceded it just honestly replicates the situation, it merely replicates the bias. Lack of such people like Sybille Krämer, Marie-Louise Angerer or Eva Horn – or any younger scholars! – is unfortunate, and it seems that this blind spot was transported along with the conference, the translations to Radical Philosophy now.

This of course does not take strength away from some of the texts. Without offering a full-fledged review of the issue, I just want to point out the joy it brings me to read Bernhard Siegert. This time his short text “ The Map Is The Territory” is about something, well, not obvious to media studies: maps. But what the article turns out to be is both an investigation into the epistemological cultural practice, or technique, of map-making, the question of representation and explication what Cultural Techniques are for the German media theorists. As pointed out in a recent e-mail to me, Geoff Winthrop-Young (who is the true expert in these matters) too underlines how important of a concept it is, and represents something that the Anglo-American reception of “German media theory” has still not started to grasp. As such, for the English speaking audience, Siegert’s text is the best entry point to the concept that does not reduce itself to Marcel Mauss’ bodily techniques, nor even completely to Michel Foucault’s ideas of practices (where it however takes a lot of its inspiration).

As Siegert emphasizes, the concept is post-media but not as leaving media behind, but post as in “post-new-media” and wanting to take distance from Internet studies or mass media studies (not a surprise if you are a scholar in the Kittlerian vein). It seems like a mixed bag, the way he outlines it, inclusive of techniques of measurement and time, like calendars, to techniques of hallucination and trance. And yet, as a mixed bag, it resonates closely with what emerged since the 1980s as  “German media studies” – often referred to as media archaeology too:

“The concept of cultural techniques thereby took up a feature that had been specific to German media theory since the 1980s. This specific feature set apart German media studies from Anglo-American media studies, as well as from French and German studies of communications let alone sociology, which, under the spell of enlightenment, in principle wanted to consider media only with respect to the public. German media analysis placed at the basis of changes in cultural and intellectual history inconspicuous techniques of knowledge like card indexes, media of pedagogy like the slate, discourse operators like quotation marks, uses of the phonograph in phonetics, or techniques of forming the individual like practices of teaching to read and write. Thus media, symbolic operators and practices were selected out, which are today systematically related to each other by the concept of cultural techniques.”  (14)

I think that long quotation was worth it to illuminate the centrality of the concept, which has enjoyed a bit of visibility in the name of such institutions as the Berlin Helmholtz Centre for Cultural Techniques.

In another context, Siegert has called this media archaeological 1980s as a phase of gay science– of exploration and fresh ideas. Indeed, I have to agree on some of his critique that he points towards some of the dogmatic media and cultural studies that already from the beginning know the research results: The Marxists always find the commodity form, and Cultural studies always finds race, gender and class. Interestingly, whereas a lot of Cultural and Media Studies for instance in the Anglo-American world brought with it a suspicion of ontology as something that still smells like the old library books of metaphysics, and  a focus on epistemology (preferably linguistically determined, representational, or at least empirical), the emphasis on knowledge and epistemology that one finds in cultural techniques is slightly different. Epistemology is indeed embedded in a range of practices from the body to science (obviously), but at the same time Siegert insists that part of the work of analysis of cultural techniques is to investigate how cultural practices are everywhere – to take his example, for instance no time outside techniques of time. And yet, Siegert does not turn his back on ontology. Let’s quote again: “ This does not imply, however, that writing the history of cultural techniques is meant to be an anti-ontological project. On the contrary, it implies more than it includes a historical  ontology, which however does not base that which exists in ideas, adequate reason or an eidos, as was common in the tradition of metaphysics, but in media operations, which work as conditions of possibility for artefacts, knowledge, the production of political or aesthetic or religious actants.” (15) There is no mention of Ian Hacking in this context by Siegert, but for someone with a bit time on their hands, there are possibilities to track some connections to recent years of “new materialism” too.

Don’t worry if its not mass media, it is at least a cultural technique.

When Siegert picks up on Gilbert Simondon, the critique of hylomorphism and embracing the idea of cultural techniques (and as I too have called media archaeology) as Deleuze-Guattarian nomadic science, we are on to the specific emphasis on materiality again. This however is not a materiality determined by a clean-cut causality chains from scientific-engineering solutions, but one that investigates them in a bundle with techniques of various ranges. Across a historical hylomorphic assumption of separation of content and form, things interfere across such regimes – like in maps, materiality infects the content. And as such, the interference offered by some such texts might be a really excellent distraction if you are bored reading the introductions to mass media or introductions to representations of media content, that still fills our media studies understanding.


April 28, 2010 Leave a comment

The easiest target to ease your pain in the midst of funding cuts and the crisis of British universities is to blame the post 1992 universities – the ex-polytechnics. It seems that in the still very rigidly divided British class society, its the ex-polytechnics that are responsible for all the bad in the academic cultures of the Empire. It seems that the good old values in hard sciences and English (which still quite recently, less than 100 years ago was seen as a Mickey Mouse subject as well, but now celebrated as a corner stone of UK universities) are being threatened by such transdisciplinary newcomers as media studies. Indeed, I would be afraid too, as what the future of universities will need are new mixed perspectives, hybrid disciplines that are able to smoothly maneuver between critical theory, technology and culture and develop an understanding of the nature-culture (i.e. science-humanities) continuum.

Hence, it is joyful to read in the midst of polytechnic-bashing about 19th-century — and British 19th-century specifically, when such institutions as the Royal Polytechnic Institution were not only celebrated back here but also envied across Europe. Such Polytechnics were indeed leading in various fields so crucial for the whole birth of technological, scientifically driven media culture that was emerging back then. Scientific progress, new forms of visualisation and spectacle, curiosities of useful and ephemeral kinds, were recognized to co-exist in a manner that indeed was a mix of popular attractions and scientific interest. As said, such polyverses were envied across Europe: “‘When will Paris have its own Polytechnic Institution?’ Abbé Moigno asked impatiently in his magazine Le Cosmos in August 1854″ (Mannoni, The Art of Light and Shadow, p 268). (Moigno was btw. anyway a big fan of Anglo-American sciences, and did translations and introductions to developments at the other side of the Channel). The French had been at the forefront of developing inventions concerning light and its manipulation in terms of various projection and other apparatuses, but it seems that around mid 19th-century, Britain was able to provide a strong institutional support for development of such inventions on a wider scale too.

What to me is curious about such institutions that engaged with not so much in high abstract science but in experimental, hands-on and engineering approaches to new ideas and innovations is how they are, actually, different from Royal Science. Indeed, in this case I am using Royal a bit differently and more in the fashion that the philosophers Deleuze and Guattari used the concept. For the two French philosophers, Royal Science is one connected to the State as a power formation, and aims at stabilized formations, predictabilities, abstracted forms of ideal and imperial kinds. Naturally such classic institutions as Royal Polytechnics and such were created closely with State interests (science and technology was seen already then as the flagship for the Empire, not only know in the midst of the Digital Economy hype), but perhaps there is a potential to see a nomadic undercurrent in some of the interests of knowledge/creation in them as well, that is relevant for a consideration of contemporary institutions. This is indeed where the other concept, an alternative from Deleuze and Guattari kicks in; nomadic science that is an intellectual/pragmatic war machine for them. It is less interested in discovering organic, ideal and fixed essences than mapping out matter in its intensity, full of singularities that can take that active matter into surprising directions.

Nomadic science experiments with matter on hand; it teases out potentials, and directions for becoming/use/applicability to use a bit different terms in a manner that does stay close to the dirtyness of the world. This is where practical, experimental sciences, engineering and “applied perspectives” can actually carve out more about the world in its intensive materiality, than the royal sciences. It is for me an artistic perspective to science/technology; the much talked about field of sci-arts that can work taking aboard “the best of both worlds”, so to speak. The cutting edge ideas in science and technology, but recontextualised in artistic methodologies and critical agendas. (And yes, not being only naive: I am completely aware how well embedded certain science-art collaborations are in economic wealth creation and even in military related developments and institutions).

Perhaps such perspectives have importance on various levels; to perspectives of media archaeology that are interested in nomadic ideas, practices and such assemblages of experimentation where invention happens in pragmatics. Not the inventions of for example media technologies in terms of their mathematics or logical implications, but in terms of experiments with materials, machines and such. A media archaeology of dirty machines, and trying out.

But it has importance also to ideas concerning contemporary institutions of knowledge/creation. Ex-polytechnics should perhaps more explicitly celebrate the engineering, arts, and applied sciences background, but not forgetting that theory is a practice too. This includes it as work of trying out, aberration, and dirty experimentation that works best in close proximity with the materiality of the world. Naturally its clear that there is a strong pull towards such Polyverses as the flagship of Royal interests; i.e. in various cases for example part of the new Digital Britain and the future of the Digital Economy. Yet, we should dig out minor passages, imperceptible places of research-creation and such where also new ideas, tinkering and experimentation without respect to theory-practice division can take place.