Sunday, 28 November 2010

On ruins - Benjamin

If media archaeology is thought and analysis that emerges from the ruins - takes left-overs, waste, rubble and ruins of media cultures as its fuel then it is quite naturally Walter Benjamin who stands as one of its grounding figures. The work of Arcades-project is emblematic in this regard with its multilayered approach that methodologically picks up on the theme of the fragment when writing about the ruins (in which we live) of modernity, mass culture, emergence of media cultures, and capitalism.

The idea of "allegory" as a driving force of Benjamin's methodology is explained in his earlier work Ursprung des Deutschen Trauerspiels (1928) in a passage on "ruins". In short, and literally in a condensed fashion Benjamin outlines how "allegories are in the sphere of thought what ruins are among things" (Benjamin, Gesammelte Schriften, Band 1.1, p. 354). Whereas he goes to explicate this in the context of his study - the 18th century theatrical genre - for us this has media archaeological and ecological implications in how he ties together the ruins of material culture as part of the ecologies of thought, and in a way precedes some of the ways in which media archaeological research and cultural histories of material culture have tried to engage with these themes. We live among layered historical times - concretely - of which architectures are the most common example to an extent that has afforded even grounding ontological and metaphysical insights as with Heidegger, but we can extend that to architectures and ruins of media culture, which demonstrate what Braudel would have called the various durations of history. The long duration, the intermediary, and the time of the event intermingle and mix, and our seemingly contemporary is one of old, the past as well in a way that does not fit in with either linear nor cyclical notions of time. Same applies to thought which resides in ruins as well and where the idea of "archaeology" might be more apt than "history" as a notion to carve out the layered constellation in the cognitive and the affective take place. This is also why Freud himself was fond of archaeological metaphors, but also why Freud, in a way, and in his own way as a contemporary of Benjamin is another predecessor of media archaeology as Thomas Elsaesser shows (in his article forthcoming in Media Archaeology: Approaches, Applications, Implications). In this sense, the allegorical as understood by Benjamin is a parallel, partly competing, partly complementing concept to those master concepts proposed by Huhtamo (cyclical topoi) and Zielinski (variantology, the minor genealogies of media culture).

Thoughts, things, surroundings emerge from ruins, but so they return as ruins. Dead media is an index of ruins of media cultures, but also a reminder of the continuing environmental significance of discarded waste - haunting zombies.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Archaeologies of telegraphy - J.J.Fahie

Not that we should be fetishistically interested in the questions of firsts - the first inventor of this and that - but still this is a source worthwhile mentioning. Thanks to Doug Kahn's tip, I discovered the writings of John Joseph Fahie and especially his magnificent early history of telegraphy - even the first volume which maps this history to the year 1837 is over 500 pages, and the other part, focusing on the wireless telegraphy, continues to year 1899 with over 300 pages. Moreover, interesting is the way Fahie frames his interest of knowledge as "archaeological" - an archaeology of electricity and electric communications, of tracking "foreshadows" and working with "submerged" materials (as he points out when talking about the submarine telegraph cable histories extending the metaphor).

To quote from the Preface of the first of the two books, A History of Electric Telegraphy, to the year 1833, from 1884:

"Soon after joining the telegraph service, in 1865, our archaeological bent took another turn, and we now began to collect books and scraps on electricity, magnetism, and their applications--particularly to telegraphy, and with the same industrious ardour as before." (viii)

So is J.J.Fahie the first media archaeologist? Perhaps indeed not a relevant question, but both the use of such metaphors in terms of the objects of knowledge (and the fact that he is interested in the history of technical communication) as well as the interest in "notes, scraps, &c" (ix) is of interest in this early work of excavation. The heterogeneous nature of the source materials is to be noted - the way he explicates it as well. Similarly as with the much more famous figure interested in digging through heterogeneous materials of modernity - its rubble and ruins - Walter Benjamin, Fahie is himself a product of that modernity where the "fragment" seems to be the constituting source for knowledge creation.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Zombie Media nominated for a theory award

To mention the nomination on this blog as well...roll on media archaeology!: the with Garnet Hertz co-authored piece "Zombie Media: Circuit Bending Media Archaeology into an Art Method" has been nominated for the Transmediale 2011 festival Vilem Flusser Theory Award!

The text is a theoretical excavation into thinking such art methods as circuit bending as media archaeological, and hence, expanding the notion of media archaeology from a textual method into something more strongly connected to the political economy of clipped shut information technology and material digital culture art practices: tinkering with technology that is not meant to be opened, changed, modified.

Hence we mobilize such key themes as "black boxes" which have of course been well thematized in Science and Technology Studies (STS), but now in a media archaeological and hacktivist setting. Hence, the name zombie media: not dead media, even if old, passed away even; we write in the conclusions: "media never dies. Media may disappear in a popular sense, but it never dies: it decays, rots, reforms, remixes, and gets historicized, reinterpreted and collected. It either stays as a residue in the soil and in the air as concrete dead media, or is reappropriated through artistic, tinkering methodologies."

Of course, media archaeological art has been done - and we are not the first one's to tap into this idea. We are hence following the footsteps of such great practitioners as Paul DeMarinis, Zoe Beloff, and a range of others who use media archaeological methods, ethos or the more general idea of remediation in their practices that put old media and new media into dialogue. What is however still missing is the theoretical discussion concerning the art methods in media archaeology, and our text is a contribution in that direction.

Here the info from the Transmediale 2011-website:

Vilém Flusser Theory Award
Congratulations to the following four nominees of Vilém Flusser Theory Award 2011!
The Vilém Flusser Theory Award (VFTA) promotes innovative media theory and practice-oriented research exploring current and pending positions in digital art, media culture and networked society. The call was open to publications, positions, and projects from a broad range of theoretical, artistic, critical or design-based research that seeks to establish and define new forms of exchange, vocabularies and cultural dialogue.

Zombie Media: Circuit Bending Media Archaeology into an Art Method
Garnet Hertz & Jussi Parikka

Jordan Crandall

_Social Tesseracting_: Parts 1 - 3
Mez Breeze

Digital Anthropophagy and the Anthropophagic Re-Manifesto for the Digital Age
Vanessa Ramos-Velasquez