Friday, 19 February 2010

Archaeologies of media archaeology

In terms of the archaeology of media archaeology, the roots of many of the media theoretical debates in the early 20th century writers and artists are important. The references to Walter Benjamin are already part of the tool box of the theories of media archaeology, similarly as they recognize for example Dolf Sternberger's Panorama of the 19th-century as one of the forerunners of thinking old media. Indeed, the social and technological changes that branded the first decades of the century left their mark in a close rethinking of memory, history and media technology as intimately connected.

This is where it would be interesting to ask questions such as how Erkki Huhtamo's ideas of recurring topoi, topics, related to Aby Warburg's dynamograms that Buchloch describes as "the recurring motifs of gesture and bodily expression that he had identified in his notorious term 'pathos formulas." (See Buchloch's article in the 2006 book The Archive.) And its not only that, but as I wrote above, the wider term changes in terms of understanding ruins, remnants, media technologies - in addition to a polarized social political atmosphere. Here we already find a great articulation of a new form of subjectivity and historical consciousness emerging that is less universalising, less narrative and more open to media technological (i.e. not only literary) articulations. I find Buchloch's summary intriguing:

"Thus one could argue that by the mid 1920s a variety of homologous new models of writing and imaging historical accounts emerged simultaneously, ranging from the montage techniques of artistic practices to Warburg's Atlas or those of the Annales historians. In all of these projects (literary, artistic, filmic, historical) a post-humanist and post-bourgeois subjectivity is constituted. The telling of history as a sequence of events and accounts of its individual agents is displaced by a focus on the simultaneity of separate but contingent social frameworks and an infinity of participating agents, while the process of history is reconceived as a structural system of perpetually changing interactions and permutations between economic and ecological givens, class formations and their ideologies, and the resulting types of social and cultural interactions specific to each particular moment."

What the text could emphasize more, or directly, is that memory becomes immanently modulated in media technological constellations. That is the value of Warburg's Atlas as a work of juxtaposed imagery (memory as images), as well as the reconfiguration of everyday sensations, perceptions, and structures of memory in the midst of mass-produced media. Furthermore, interesting in terms of archaeology of media archaeology is the connection established with the Annales in the above quote. Whereas the link between media archaeology emerging in the 1980s and new historicism (and new cultural histories) is clear, we can find yet another link already in this pre WW-II school of historical thought. In terms of intellectual content, excavating this link to Foucault and hence channeled further to later media archaeological theories might be one way to establish interesting connections; in terms of a media technological history, its the links to Warburg, Benjamin, the Surrealists, montage-thinking and other different ways of conceiving memory, perception and temporality that could provide alternative ideas.

Of course, when talking of 1920s, a connection between Mnemosyne-atlas as a mode of clustering and the current project driven by Lev Manovich concerning cultural analytics in the age of computing power has clear parallels.

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