Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Fellowship - and reading Foucault

I am happy to announce that the Alexander von Humboldt-foundation has offered me a research fellowship for Spring 2011. This exciting piece of news ensures for me the possibility to concentrate on my Media Archaeology book contracted with Polity, and the fellowship complements the already awarded short-term fellowship with the London Science Museum.

In the midst of the news, I have been engaging - again - with Foucault's archaeology of knowledge - and the book of same name. Indeed, re-reading it has made me realize the extent to which projects such as mine that aim to write archaeologies of media archaeology are themselves establishing temporary unities on otherwise widely dispersed epistemological fields. In this paradoxical sense, this method of cultural archaeology of knowledge and power formations seems to work against its own premises --- and to show the discontinuities, dispersions, ruptures, and movements which form any illusion of unity for a body of work, statements, theories, practices. This way of applying Foucault to media archaeology as a discipline produces interesting realizations that have to be taken critically, and meticulously. It produces itself a way of redistributing the lineages and relations between precedents and antecedents, of influences and follow-ups form. The existence of various layers in which media archaeology forms (at least 1) as part of Benjamin, and wider early image and media theory e.g. in Germany of early 20th century, 2) as part of new historicism and cinema studies as well as media arts fields of 1980s and early 1990s, 3) the wider use of the term to refer to imaginary media research, variantology, and excavations of hidden and forgotten media since the 1990s, including media artistic work and 4) more recent developments in media theory that develop it as a methodology for excavation into contemporary media and aim to include new fields of analysis such as circuit bending and software cultures) a crucial challenge of how to write archaologies in the multiple but preserving consistency, and how to bring in a temporal dynamics to this enterprise.

This dynamics is actually part of Foucault's insistence of "discourse" already when he defines the term in The Archaeology of Knowledge:

"Discourse in this sense is not an ideal, timeless form that also possesses a history; the problem is not therefore to ask one-self how and why it was able to emerge and become embodied at this point of time; it is, from beginning to end, historical - a fragment of history, a unity and discontinuity in history itself, posing the problem of its own limits, its divisions, its transformations, the specific modes of its temporality rather than its sudden irruption in the midst of complicities of time." (Foucault 2002, p.131).

In a very good article on media archaeology and new film history, and in other contexts as well I believe, Thomas Elsaesser has demanded that we do not only focus on e.g. the definition of cinema -- but to its temporality; not only what is cinema, but when is cinema. This media archaeological question -- which is not only media archaeological in its theme and content but also in its method of temporal dynamics -- is very Foucauldian in the sense as it insists we need to investigate the distribution over time and in time of such constellations of epistemological (as well as perceptual, affective, cognitive) value. Indeed, applied to media archaeology it is a similar institutional question; not only what is media archaeology, but when is media archaeology. The notion of it as a traveling discipline (on the move, between disciplinary boundaries and institutions) points to its "when" as a formation of knowledge in productive crisis situations where we are rethinking knowledge-production, knowledge-institutions, the pervasiveness of "media" for perception, memory, cultural heritage and such -- and hence aim through media archaeology think not only media studies and academia, but archival and other institutions involved in new regimes of mediated memory. When is media archaeology then? Its in an age of redistributed responsibilities within academia, of new forms of knowledge production enhanced and rethought with the Internet, software cultures and open source, of reinvented collaborations across academia and other bodies, of technical media as the lingua franca for advanced communications, of knowledge and practices in which understanding media is often doing media -- which however is not dismissing the need to understand the complex genealogies in which contemporary media is formed.

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