Monday, 19 December 2011
Monday, 5 December 2011
In the interview, Beloff discusses her work and the various techniques that relate to a critique of progress and understanding new media through the pasts: " I felt we could learn from the incredibly imaginative outpouring of ideas, ranging from the philosophical to the crazy and poetic, that came hand in hand with these inventions. At the same time, I wanted to show that, in many ways, what was being hyped by corporations as the latest thing in the digital domain was no more than a reworking of 19th century technologies, like the panorama or the zoetrope. So I also think of it as very much a critique of progress in the way that Walter Benjamin discussed."
The interview has now been published in the Electronic Book Review.
Sunday, 20 November 2011
Ta daa: a key reason why this blog was started -- as the working blog for my sabbatical year and it's main project, my new book on Media Archaeology -- has now become one step more concrete. You can find here, on Polity Press webpages, more information on What is Media Archaeology? It will be out around May 2012!
Friday, 28 October 2011
“every discourse is always as much about discourse itself as it is about the objects that make up its subject matter.” (Tropics of Discourse: Essays in Cultural Criticism [London / Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1978], 4.)
Friday, 14 October 2011
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.
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.
Wednesday, 21 September 2011
Another reason is that Kittler himself denounced his affiliation with Media Archaeology (despite so many attaching the term especially to his name, and of course, Bernhard Siegert talking of 1980s and 1990s German media theory as media archaeology as Nietzschean gay science.)
Anyhow, have a look at the article in the most recent Theory, Culture & Society - such a great journal, which constantly features especially Friedrich Kittler's work. Now a bit of Ernst too.
And next year, or so, forthcoming from University of Minnesota Press a whole book of Wolfgang Ernst writings...
Monday, 5 September 2011
Indeed, what Peters is able to show is how the differences are not matters of merely translation and language - but the wider academic background from which ideas come from. Suffice to quote him in full:
"The standards in German media scholarship are so much higher - in terms of knowledge of languages, history of science and technology, philosophy, the arts, and literature - that I sometimes despair of German media theory ever fully crossing the Atlantic. Bernhard Siegert's splendid Passage des Digitalen, for instance, provides quotations in seven languages and features mathematical equations; American publishers I have tried to interest in its translation tend to quiver in fear. Doctoral students in the United States in media studies are generally expected to be publishing three or four years after the bachelor's degree, and many of them barely learn to read another language, let alone mathematics, history, philosophy, physics, literature, or programming. However iconoclastic Kittler may seem, he is a traditional Ordinarius in his deep and deeply footnoted command over a domain of learning."
And yet, the recent years of American media theory - platform studies, software studies, computer forensics - have been able to offer their own exciting further-development of some media materialist themes. Some of these have been insisting on a fuller understanding of the scientific basis through which humanities can really be become particular - not by distancing but engaging head on. The take on "revisiting humanities" that Peters maps as one of the useful legacies of German theory is something that Digital Humanities seems to want to do -- and with an emphasis on digital, computing tools, but the epistemological consequences and field is much deeper than tools. To follow Peters's reasoning, reading Kittler, we have a long tradition of science-arts collaboration, and quantification as part of what the humanities is about. Perhaps it was only because of the birth of social sciences and such, as part of biopolitical regimes of national modernity since the 19th century that gave such a bad name to quantification (and which scholars like Latour are trying to salvage with help from Gabriel Tarde). Indeed, a critique of "language/meaning/interpretation-only humanities" (such as Gadamer) has become a stock in trade part of material critique of some humanities (I myself have carried my own arguments into that debate of "against interpretation, against Gadamer", but in Finnish mostly).
"The split of Geist and Natur, even when it produced some compelling accounts of the uniquely humane office of language, literature, and history by figures such as Hans-Georg Gadamer and Hannah Arendt, ultimately impoverishes self-knowledge among us humanoids. There is no human world without a medium: whether the body, the voice, the text, or the computer screen, there's always a medium with its carrying capacities and standards. Human life is mediated - by nature, medicine, texts, buildings, lenses, hearing aids, digital bits, not to mention drugs, food, climates, water supplies, microbes, and other people."
Despite the shortcomings of various theorists, for instance Kittler, of not addressing gender, being disinterested in political economy, and often being a bit too much at home in the conservative political camp, some of the inspiration of the approaches is still for me, exactly as Siegert flags it, "gay science": exciting, fresh, and different.
(note: Siegert talks of media archaeology as gay science in the 2007 translated, Winter 2008 issue of Grey Room. The article is called "Cacography or Communication?" and is translated by Geoffrey Winthrop-Young).
Wednesday, 31 August 2011
Whether media archaeology is part of "Digital Humanities" is another question; but at least it can provide further insights into ways of thinking computationally. A good example is the work of Vannevar Bush - well known especially for his Memex-device which surely features in some Digital Humanities self-reflections - and his differential analyzer. Besides being a tool for solving, well, differential calculations obviously, it ties interestingly as part of histories of not only computation but also data visualisation. Bush was occupied with the "integraph" calculating instrument already in the 1920s, for integrating functions, where the method of drawing graphical curves was an essential part of the process (of course, dealing with analog computing). (See Mindell's Between Human and Machine, p.153-154).
Already Mindell flags the idea that we are dealing here, very concretely, with a graphical user interface, but also the wider interest Bush had in graphical notation. For Bush, such modes of calculation+graphics was a way to think in terms of diagrams, and learn mathematics through the mechanical aid. As such, for Bush it was part of a wider pedagogic way of thinking: mathematics could be taught in such machinic assemblages. Such realizations from the 1930s and 1940s serve as good reminders of the various early ideas in terms of methodologies for enhanced learning - and environments of technical learning. We need to keep both eyes open - one for the technical side, the other for the graphic/aesthetic side that often becomes more understandable through methodologies known from visual culture studies -- but also media archaeology.
In other ways too, Mindell's book mentioned above is a great source. It shows the work of pre-cybernetics as a significant platform for signal based technical media cultures. Furthermore, it is able to introduce many forgotten ideas and contexts. One such fascinating one that contributes to a further visual media+computation-link is Gordon Brown's 1938 dissertation on the "cinema integraph" that continued the work in combining graphical methods with mathematics of integration. Again, part of the histories of analog computing, but something that in a fascinating way highlights the reliance on other media materials of its time. In short, Brown's innovation (suggested by N. Wiener) was to continue the work in using photocells for tracking and analyzing curves necessary for the calculation - but enhancing this with the transparency of the film material so as to be able to increase the speed of the operation: "Norbert Wiener, who advised the Bush laboratory on calculating machines suggested a way to speed up calculation by lightening the load, literally, on the mechanisms. Plot images of functions on film, Wiener suggested, shine light through the film and electronically integrate the light passing through it with a photocell." (Mindell, 2002, 164). This idea that never picked up really was however a good example of the various intermedial relations in those earlier cultures of innovation -- already completely "multi-media".
Tuesday, 30 August 2011
Friday, 19 August 2011
Here are some pictures from the recent Recrystallization workshop by Jonathan Kemp, Martin Howse and Ryan Jordan that took place in Berlin July 18-20, 2011.
The workshop consisted of dismantling with various means computer hardware down to its material bits, including gold, so as to excavate some of the components of "digital life." This is less metaphoric than experimental approach to look at the continuum between the material and the political economic.
"recrystallization was convened around the premise that while life itself starts from aperiodic crystals that encode infinite futures within a small number of atoms, the digital crystallization of the flesh by capital limits these futures to the point of exhaustion."
In more detail, recrystallization (following from an earlier workshop by Kemp and Jordan in London) consisted of:
Three sets of concurrent, feedbacking play and activities across three days:
1] Attempting to recover minerals and metals (including copper, gold and silver) from abandoned computers through execution of various volatile and chemical processes
2] The re-crystallisation of these minerals in novel arrays using raw/renditioned mineral assemblies including piezoelectrics, positive feedback, colloidal dispersions
3] The re-purposing and embedding of components and structures within wider geological and geophysical systemsMicroresearch lab's performances and projects touch a new side in media archaeology that opens up our constituent machines, with various means including the chemical, in order to excavate what kind of modulations of light and energy sustain our contemporary hallucinations.
Related was the recent live (on Berlin Reboot FM) "data carvery":
"Data carving treats the user’s hard drive (and memory chips) as a surface for constant excavation. Reverse engineering daily data sediments promotes new forms of digital archaeology, with hard disk trouvee as rich seams to be opened and mined for mineral and personal gems."
Digital archaeology is mobilized into new, artistic-experimental operations.
At times, media archaeology might come with a Health and Safety warning.
The image(s) by: Martin Howse and Kathrin Günter.
Wednesday, 10 August 2011
It illustrates a point concerning imaginary media research not being only about objects and ideas imagined, but how practices of media consumption always draw from a variety of influences, including various discursive contexts. In short, this text paraphrases Erkki Huhtamo’s idea (from his chapter in the Book of Imaginary Media, 2006, edited by Eric Kluitenberg):
Imaginary media objects can be both devices but also practices of using media. Thus, for example “peeping” as a media practice (Huhtamo 2006) can be described in its various links between actual practices and devices, and the wider discursive contexts of desire, sexuality, and embodied activity.
For Huhtamo, peeping travels across such examples and from desktops of early religious worldviews, to later curiosity cabinet devices, it folds as part of 19th century visual culture of stereoscopes and other devices – and attaches to the topic of “armchair travelling” (2006: 111-113) and later to 20th century avant-garde practices such as Oscar Fischinger’s use of Mutoscope and Marcel Duchamps employment of peeping in Hand-made Stereopticon Slide (Hand Stereoscopy, 1918-1919) and Rayon vert (1947). (137).
One of the characteristics of imaginary media as mobilized by Huhtamo’s (2006, cf. 2011) method of topos-analysis is that it is not placed solely on one already existing media apparatus, but is more like a link, a network between a variety of source materials, discourses of “real” and “fiction” and hence a travelling mode of practice/knowledge.
 For a literary example from the late 18th century, see Xavier Maistre’s Voyage autour de ma chambre-novel (1794) – “A Journey Around my Room”.
For those of you interested in more imaginary media research (before my chapter comes out), check out Huhtamo’s and Kluitenberg’s chapters in Media Archaeology.
Monday, 25 July 2011
Basically his argument stems from the observation that we in cultural and media studies and humanities more widely are confronted with a sea of possibilities - having "access to unprecedented amounts of media." It's a claim that relates to both the ways in which we produce media in unprecedented amounts - but more importantly, as an archival question, how we approach it. A wonderful point: we also access media mediatically:
"The popular media access technologies of the 19th and 20th century such as slide lanterns, film projectors, microfilm readers, Moviola and Steenbeck, record players, audio and video tape recorders, VCR, and DVD players were designed to access single media items at a time at a limited range of speeds."
And this relates to Manovich claim concerning theories and methods of interpretation:
"Together, these distribution and classification systems encouraged 20th century media researchers to decide before hand what media items to see, hear, or read."
Manovich continues to argue that even computer search does not take us away from this restricted mode of accessing and hence analyzing cultural data - referring to the "blank frame" of search. I won't continue on the point of "Against Search", but just point two questions/comments on the overall framing;
1) as also Robin Boast noted on Twitter, already 19th century cultural institutions were reacting to the flood of information, which was transforming the way we think about theory and data. We could continue about the obvious points concerning birth of new ways of thinking about data in sociological disciplines (and as Foucault analyzed, birth of biopolitics) in late 19th century - or the ingenious ways in which Gabriel Tarde was proposing his microsociological investigations as one solution in this context. But already the earlier changes in ways of interpretation and for instance producing commentaries as part of academic practice are reactions against the flood of data - new interfaces, new methods of reading and writing, interpreting - something that among others Friedrich Kittler has flagged.
2) Related to this point, the sheer existence of huge amounts of data does not have automatic requirements that we need to use quantitative methods. This fact that data exists and its connection to methods of analysing it need more careful framing - otherwise we risk the being too close to naive positivism or just producing more data for its own sake (as so often with data visualization). If we are faced with unprecedented amount of data I hope we can also be inventive, imaginative enough to come up with unprecedented methods, theories, ideas and transversal modes of producing knowledge. Perhaps such cultural analytics has the possibility of being thought in relation to the politics of knowledge, institutions, crossdisciplinary, transversal modes of knowledge production in the midst of the global crisis of public sectors.
Sunday, 24 July 2011
Indeed, this has perhaps plagued some of the media archaeological research that is more discursive in its nature. And yet, there are various contexts in which the term is used far from metaphorically. On the one hand, the variety of media archaeology often associated with Sophienstrasse 22 address in Berlin has insisted on the technological agency of objects/signals and materiality of the networks in which our methodologies of media research of the past have to function. On the other hand, now in other context "digital archaeologists" are taking up the challenge and focusing for instance on microchips as excavation sites for digging down, unpacking and taking apart. The link contains a fascinating take on 6502 microchip that stems from mid-1970s; it points towards the important realization that to understand the media archaeology of technical media, we need to focus on the components - such as chips - and not just the "end results", the media-objects that we usually recognize as media.
Wednesday, 13 July 2011
For me, even if not explicitly and only media archaeology, these projects have again an edge that lends itself to media archaeological inquiry - concerning obsoleteness, the intertwining of the imaginary and the material, of "under-the-hood" methodologies, Pynchon, Ballard and more.
Workshops in collaboration between Ryan Jordan, Jonathan Kemp and Martin Howse.
Saturday, 9 July 2011
“…in Kenya, like everywhere else on the continent, mobile phones literally never die, because of the technical expertise of thousands of meticulous workers constantly dismantling phones, studying circuit by circuit, re-adapting spare parts, never giving up until they learn how to fix the handset or to unlock it. But this creativity goes further: modified phones with dual SIM cards, helping to cope with poor network coverage or high interconnection fees, solar or car battery-powered mobile chargers for area not yet covered by mains electricity – the list of opportunities sought after by jua cali entrepreneurs is endless, in a constant form of struggle for the appropriation of a technology designed elsewhere and originally with the devices' planned obsolescence in mind.”
(Ugo Vallauri, “Beyond E-waste: Kenyan Creativity and Alternative Narratives in the Dialectic of End-Of-Life” International Review of Information Ethics vol. 11 (10/2009, p.23)
Sunday, 3 July 2011
Thursday, 30 June 2011
After being recently occupied with waste and energy – not least to inspiration from reading lots of Sean Cubitt, and of course other great texts – these passages from a Nikola Tesla talk from 1893 seemed resonate really well with current discussions concerning post-CO2-economies. In short, we are now starting to understand that the 1990s started (marketing) hype about post-atom and hence post-co2 based mode of production is completely false, and the immateriality of digital technologies is embedded in a very energy-heavy infrastructure (see Cubitt, Hassan and Volkmer in Media, Culture & Society).
Tesla is talking in his great speech first of the primary significance of the eye for our being in the world, and then continuing how this is reliant on light – some beautiful passages concerning light’s importance there. For Tesla the eye and light make human beings the species they are – light is their specification. Yet he does this in a manner that is evolutionary, admitting that other species might have different organs for same purposes, but it is the eye that makes us man: the specific relation to the world it affords us. And indeed, this specificity of man is related to the world of physics through light, and its vibrant manner. “There is no death of matter, for throughout the infinite universe, all has to move, to vibrate, that is, to live.” (300)
He quickly however continues to talk about its material basis in waves, and hence connecting to other forms of wave-phenomena and “high frequency phenomena.” Here, he makes his move towards electricity, affiliating light with other vibrant forms of matter. What is curious is how he talks about energy economies indeed, and already then, starts talking about the post-CO2 worlds of electricity – and yet, in a manner that does not take us away from energy, but insists on alternative forms of energy production at the core of this new mediatic situation. Electricity is here the transporting force for such energy economies. And to emphasize, my interest is less in the accuracy/inaccuracy of his scientific reading, but in the vision that sees energy at the core of this coming cultural situation.
Therefore the phenomena of light and heat and others besides these, may be called electrical phenomena. Thus electrical science has become the mother science of all and its study has become all important. The day when we shall know exactly what "electricity" is, will chronicle an event probably greater, more important than any other recorded in the history of the human race. The time will come when the comfort, the very existence, perhaps, of man will depend upon that wonderful agent. For our existence and comfort we require heat, light and mechanical power. How do we now get all these? We get them from fuel, we get them by consuming material. What will man do when the forests disappear, when the coal fields are exhausted ? Only one thing, according to our present knowledge will remain; that is, to transmit power at great distances. Men will go to the waterfalls, to the tides, which are the stores of an infinitesimal part of Nature's immeasurable energy. There will they harness the energy and transmit the same to their settlements, to warm their homes by, to give them light, and to keep their obedient slaves, the machines, toiling. But how will they transmit this energy if not by electricity? Judge then, if the comfort, nay, the very existence, of man will not depend on electricity. I am aware that this view is not that of a practical engineer, but neither is it that of an illusionist, for it is certain, that power transmission, which at present is merely a stimulus to enterprise, will some day be a dire necessity. (Martin 1894: 301)
Martin, Thomas Commorford (1894) The Inventions, Researches and Writings of Nikola Tesla (New York: The Electrical Engineer/D. van Nostrand Company).
Tuesday, 28 June 2011
It is indeed out! Media Archaeology: Approaches, Applications and Implications, edited by Erkki Huhtamo and myself, published by University of California Press sums up years of work on this project and also sums up a range of approaches that we have grown accustomed to call "media archaeology": from various traditions such as new film history, media arts as well as digital culture research, it has emerged as one synthetic approach to think old media and new media intertwined. Hence, we are celebrating its launch in Berlin (and further events are planned, hopefully one in the UK too).
Welcome to our July 15 event at Institute of Media Studies, Humboldt University in Berlin - where we are both celebrating the launch of Media Archaeology and even more importantly, processing (excuse the pun) the closing of a certain era of German media theory. The by now legendary address of Sophienstrasse 22 is closing down and the institutes are moving premises. This is the address where Friedrich Kittler worked, and a whole generation of German media theorists can consider their alma mater...
TRANSMIT, PROCESS, STORE
Goodbye Sophienstrasse - Book presentation Media Archaeology
On the 15th of July 2011, the time of the Institute for Media Studies at Sophienstraße 22a is coming to an end and together with the other institutes, we will relocate to the Pergamon Palais on Kupfergraben, on the site of Hegel's house. This transmission marks an occasion to bring together teachers, researchers, students and friends of Sophienstraße to process and store the times and ideas which emerged in this spot, in order to duly celebrate our farewell. Furthermore, we will present the new volume Media Archaeology, edited by our current research fellow Jussi Parikka together with Erkki Huhtamo.
We cordially invite you to join us in talks, discussion and celebration on Friday, July 15th 2011, starting 4 p.m. Berlin's best book store Pro qm will be present with a book table.
Location: Medientheater (ground floor of Sophienstrasse 22a):
Welcome: Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Ernst, Paul Feigelfeld und Dr. Jussi Parikka
4.15 - 5.45
Contributions by: Prof. Dr. Friedrich Kittler, Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Ernst, Prof. Dr. Claus Pias, Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Hagen
Book presentation "Media Archaeology" (University of California Press), edited by Jussi Parikka and Erkki Huhtamo. Talks and discussion with Jussi Parikka, Paul Demarinis, Claus Pias and Wolfgang Ernst.
Followed by drinks and music, until security shuts us down.
Thursday, 9 June 2011
There is a history of the processes of perception. The nineteenth century moved from the physics of light to the physiology of vision [Crary 1990]. The twentieth shifted from the physiological thesis of retinal retention to the cognitive thesis of the Phi effect, from the eye smoothing over the gaps to the brain interjecting the “missing” elements by intermittent images […] Looking back from the twenty-first century, film’s visual coherence depends on suturing light, eye, and brain, optics, physiology, and psyche—the ensemble of film theory calls the cinematic apparatus.” (Cubitt 2003: 66).
Friday, 27 May 2011
These kinds of challenges to cinema and human sensation-based media theories relate perhaps to what in part have been accelerated by software embedded media cultures, and what Katherine Hayles has (following Nigel Thrift’s lead) formulated as the technological non-conscious --- the fact that
"[h]uman cognition increasingly takes place within environments where human behaviour is entrained by intelligent machines through such everyday activities as cursor movement and scrolling, interacting with computerized voice trees, talking and text messaging on cell phones, and searching the Web to find whatever information is needed at the moment. As computation moves out of the desktop into the environment with embedded sensors, smart coatings on walls, fabrics, and appliances, and radio frequency ID (RFID) tags, the cognitive systems entraining human behaviour become even more pervasive, flexible and powerful in their effects on human conscious and non-conscious cognition." (Hayles 2008:27-28).
Thursday, 26 May 2011
"How a media archaeology can constitute itself against self-legitimation or self-reflexivity is crucial as if it is to circumvent the reinvention of unifying, progressive, or “anticipatory” history—even as it is challenged to constitute these very vague histories as an antidote to the gaping lapses in traditional historiography. Indeed it is this very problem that afflicts media archaeology. The mere rediscovery of the forgotten, the establishment of oddball paleontologies, of idiosyncratic genealogies, uncertain lineages, the excavation of antique technologies or images, the account of erratic technical developments, are, in themselves, insufficient to the building of a coherent discursive methodology.” (Druckrey 2006: ix).
Wednesday, 25 May 2011
Instead of just part of discourses of artificial intelligence, many of such were more accurately understood as Augmented Intelligence, as Douglas Engelbart underlined. The question hence was not posthumanism in the sense of replacement of Man from the picture altogether, but a new ecosystem of sorts where humans and machines were synchornized through various equipments and input/output-procedures. This is how Pias (2002: 92-98) sees this culture of interface development, where pedagogy of the non-human algorithmic world was to be fine-tuned as part of the possibilities and speeds of the human one. This involved a perspective on the hardware-software-and wetware (human) systems, even if the last term is of more recent origin. Engelbart’s team was interested in both gestural integration of computers and perception systems (new forms of computer displays) as well as cognitive handling and use of such systems, for example file systems. See Engelbart and English 1968. Also easily found on the web is the famous 1968 tele-presentation by Douglas Engelbart from the San Francisco Computer Conference, where he introduces key elements for future computing interaction, including the mouse and shared collaborative online work platforms. See for example http://www.dougengelbart.org. What is significant, and what is underlined by for example Licklider (1969) is that the fundamentals of computer graphics lie not only in their representation technical values such as colour, detail and such, but in how it is approachable now as an image – the potential for interaction. Licklider (1969: 619) writes: “In my assessment, however, communication is essentially a two-way process, and in my scale of values, interaction predominates over detail, gray scale, color, and even motion. In my judgment, the most important problem in computer graphics is that of establishing excellent interaction—excellent two-way man-computer communication—in a language that recognizes, not only points, lines, triangles, squares, circles, rings, plexes, and three-way associations, but also such ideas as force, flow, field, cause, effect, hierarchy, probability, transformation, and randomness.” The image is, by definition, a call for action and a relation to the perceiving, gesturing body. Any archaeology of contemporary understanding of augmented reality devices for example on smart phones should start with the considerations expressed already by these earlier researchers. Bardini (2000) offers a good elaboration of Engelbart’s work and the early development of a variety of sensory-motor interface systems for computer interaction beyond that of the hand: the knee, the back and the head were considered in various experiments (102, 112-114).
Tuesday, 24 May 2011
Siegfried Giedion’s Mechanization Takes Command (1948):
To illustrate the media archaeological relevance of Giedion’s seminal book, it is worthwhile to mention Paul DeMarinis’s 1990 performance Mechanization Takes Command. DeMarinis, himself at the forefront of media archaeological art, writes of the book in such ways that highlights its key role as a transdisciplinary take on history of modernity and technics that is at the same time much more than “just history” and hence summarizes so much of the book but also of the inspiration where media archaeology has been drawing from: “The title’s active present tense conveys the once-fresh immediacy of the bygone mechanical age that spanned the 19th century, during which human invention overwhelmed and re-defined the human being. Contrasting the natural resources, availability of skilled labor, and historical proclivities of Europe and America, he examines, chapter by chapter, the effects of mechanization on the various realms of human endeavour. The lock and key, bread baking, slaughterhouses, furniture and the very notion of comfort, kitchen appliances, and bathing are among the subjects of Giedion’s scrutiny. Ever attentive to the impact of mechanization on the organic world, our lives and our bodies, Giedion’s critical perspective surpasses mere historical documentation, teleological theory, or scientistic adulation: he bares the roots of the many contradictions underlying our current global crises of life and humanity versus the corporate mechanism and the ruling taste. Mechanization Takes Command is a sourcebook of problems, solutions, and the solutions that became problems.” (Demarinis 2010: 211).
Monday, 23 May 2011
An illustrative example is Baron von Schrenck-Notzing’s Materialisations-Phänomene (1914) which outlines through especially a case study with a medium Eva C key themes of the medium of the medium, in its direct relation to media technologies, such as photography, as well as indirect relations to cinema through phenomena such as somnambulism and psycho-physiological disorders analysed by Väliaho (2010) and Crary (2000). “Mediumship” becomes itself a practice of communication, and as such presented by Schrenck-Notzing as a speculative future practice closely related to science and apparatuses of recording and measurement: “So long as spiritism develops outside scientific laboratories, the traditional usages of the sittings must be put up with. It is only when science has seriously tackled the subject that one can attempt to reduce the phenomena to a system. Modern spiritism has the same relation to the future science of mediumistic processes as astrology had to astronomy, and alchemy to chemistry. We must, therefore, endeavour to get beyond the state of raw empiricism in which we stand at present, to increase the confidence of the mediums in science and its representatives, and use of physical instruments and apparatus. Better even than dynamometers, balances and metronomes, in Morselli’s opinion, is the photographic camera, since it gives positive proofs in the real sense of the word.” (Schrenck-Notzing 1923: 12). A media archaeological reworking of the Schrenck-Notzing case, and the medium in case, Eva C, see Zoe Beloff’s Installation The Ideoplastic Materializations of Eva C (2004).
Another fascinating character in that chapter is Baron Carl du Prel - a 19th century mysticist from Germany too whose ideas resonate with the emergence of the scientific world view, offering both a curious way to understand human evolution (in relation to posthuman theories too) and its mediatic contexts:
Carl Du Prel’s writings were part of his larger worldview that outlined a mystical overview of evolution that developed continuously new transcendental spheres of apperception. What is important to note is that he tried to tie the mysticist views together with sciences such as Darwin, as well as physiological research, even if denying that he was a materialist. Instead, Du Prel emphasized being interested in what seems to escape the scientific methods and modes of observation. One can see how the psychophysiological theories of his age, such as Helmholz’s, had influenced him in how he underlined that such “circuits of knowledge” were entirely tied to both “the number of its senses” as well as the “strength of the stimuli on which its senses react.” (Du Prel 1889: xxiv). He continued to argue that biological development and such phenomena as somnambulism are interlinked, and the latter also had to do with the “displacement of the threshold of sensibility”, and acted as a signal of what he called the “future biological form” (xxv). Hence, we can see such mysticists as part of the larger redefinition of nature and the invisible world that had suddenly scientific backing through Maxwell and other key scientists in relation to “media” phenomena. New media and technologies, echoing in advance what Benjamin wrote of the photographic and cinematic as the scientific-surgeonlike cutting to non-human perceptions and depths, are for du Prel (1889: 8) something we would now call posthuman: “as there are parts of nature which remain invisible to us, being out of relation to our sense of sight—for instance, the microscopic world—so are there parts of nature not existing for us, owing to entire absence of relation to our organism.”
Saturday, 21 May 2011
In addition to arts contexts, the question of archiving and excavating digital material is one that is crucial for post World War II scientific cultures, and hence histories of science and technology. For such cultures of innovation, where for the first time scientific research was inherently articulated through computational media, the materials left for “future archaeologists” present practical problems. As flagged by Tim Lenoir, such “information archaeologies” point towards how a mapping of science is a mapping of the software and hardware platforms instrumental to the research. Of course, also the development of so many aesthetic innovation in terms of HCI and screen technologies rose from similar science-tech labs too. In Lenoir’s (2007: 365-366) words: “Historians will need to add new tools of information archaeology to their tool-kit in order to write the history of recent science and technology born digitally. Among the types of tools we need are, for instance, emulators of older systems, such as the IBM 360, and other machines, such as Burrough’s machines, Osborn’s, and others that do not have legacy systems maintained by large companies or successor firms. Even early-generation Silicon Graphics machines that appeared in the late 1980s and early 1990s are becoming scarce today. In order to research the programs that ranon these machines, we need to construct emulators that run on current generation machines. Beyond this we need to render the original programs in forms readable by current disk drives and other data-reading technologies. While genealogies of software and software languages are being constructed, more attention will have to be devoted to the history of software languages, and their implementations.”
A footnote from what will be chapter III on Imaginary Media:
Actually, it’s not the people that are alive, but the fragments made possible by technical media. Voice is in itself an interesting special case due to its historical relation to death and the uncanny through the technical recording of meticulous accuracy (“vocal vibrations of air waves” as the above-mentioned Scientific American story explains) that was much awed at in the early reports from 1870s onwards as well as in theoretical sense. Mladen Dolar’s (2006) work on the uncannyness of the voice is masterful in how it outlines how the voice always has a possessive, excessive and haunting quality that questions the solidity of body boundaries. The voice seems to have a relation to the body, but we do not own our voices. With speech synthesis technologies, voice becomes furthermore detached from the human organic bodies, inhabiting a further uncanny quality of the dislocated voice as addressed by the sound artist Paul DeMarinis (2010: 212): “The voice, once it is taken away from the body and reconstituted as a being without corporeal substance, without status or place, without viewpoint, without the fleshy vulnerability a bared throat offers, is re-incarnated as a new clarified being. Perhaps a voice of authority, or an oracle that can speak from beyond the grave. It gives us deliriously false confidence, this chest resonance without chest, these nasals without nose, plosives without lips or tongue, this singer of songs-without-throats.”
Friday, 20 May 2011
In this classic of software history and structured programming, Edsger W. Dijkstra’s (1968: 147. Cf. Chun 2004) “Go To Statements” considered harmful he writes:
[…] although the programmer’s activity ends when he has constructed a correct program, the process taking place under control of his program is the true subject matter of his activity, for it is this process that has to accomplish the desired effect; it is this process that in its dynamic behavior has to satisfy the desired specifications. Yet, once the program has been made, the ‘making’ of the corresponding process is delegated to the machine.”
If read through the media theoretical lenses of Kittler and materialist media theory, such an idea is not only part of the emergence of structured programming in the 1960s, but a good crystallization of the bootstrapped autonomy of process of language – also software.
Tuesday, 17 May 2011
Reading Nollet’s (1749) Recherches sur les causes particulières des phénomènes électriques gives an insight to the enthusiasm concerning the Leyden jar at that time, and Nollet’s continous experiments that had to do with the different material characteristics of bodies – organic and non-organic – to convey, to communicate with each other through the medium of electricity. Later, a similar enthusiasm surrounding Tesla’s performances in his laboratory at Colorado Springs were reported both in wider public as well as specialist publications. The Tesla Coil was a spectacular demonstration of the powers of electricity – and the new worlds of different materialism emerging with that worldview, not without implications to how we approach and think about media technology:
“As early as 1890 this savant had produced electrical disturbances in his laboratory at Colorado Springs equal to the lightning produced by Nature. Although a number of years have elapsed since these experiments were conducted, not a single scientist or engineer has been able to produce such awe-inspiring, electrical performance as did Dr. Tesla. It is true that he is far ahead of his time in many of his inventions, yet he has ably demonstrated that it is possible to imitate some of Nature’s secret forces, but he was performing certain experiments on the problem of radio transmission of electrical energy through space.”
(Samuel Cohen, “ “Lightning Made to Order”, The Electrical Experimenter, New York, November 1916, 474. Quoted from Tesla 1961: 93-94).
More garbage coming out from the Media Archaeology and Digital Culture: yet another footnote who hit the wrong note, had a date with the guillotine, and finished his days. This one on Brewster's kaleidoscope.
Sir David Brewster’s ideas concerning the ontological and practical implications of his device are intriguing and hint both towards a history of genetic algorithms and the birth of the creative industries. He outlines the kaleidoscope as an machine for infinity of forms, where to paraphrase Brewster (1858: 132) even one single line as the object of the device is able to vary into “an infinite number of figures from this single line.” Patterns emerging out from objects, lines, and mathematical simplicity reminds of the artificial life patterning that took hold of the aesthetics of the 1990s digital culture, but it also points towards how Brewster imagined this to revolutionalize design and the creative process. Indeed, in the midst of the industrial revolution in England, it was not only the manufacturing of “simple” objects such as pins that could be automated – but visual culture too: “When we consider, that in this busy island thousands of individuals are wholly occupied with the composition of symmetrical designs, and that there is scarcely any profession into which these designs do not enter as a necessary part, so as to employ a portion of the time of every artist, we shall not hesitate in admitting, that an instrument must have no small degree of utility which abridges the labour of so many individuals. If we reflect further on the nature of the designs which are thus composed, and on the methods which must be employed in their composition, the Kaleidoscope will assume the character of the highest class of machinery, which improves at the same time that it abridges the exertions of individuals. There are few machines, indeed, which rise higher above the operations of human skill. It will create, in a single hour, what a thousand artists could not invent in the course of a year; and while it works with such unexampled rapidity, it works also with a corresponding beauty and precision.” (Ibid.: 136).
As an example, see Sutherland (1965) for early speculation of haptic and embodied display design in computer graphic environments, but also mentioning displays based on smell and taste. Of course, what has to be noted is that even the notion of “touch” is itself complex and does not automatically translate as haptic, but is divided into more than one system of sensation. To quote from a haptic interface design perspective: “As described by Klatzky and Lederman [Klatzky and Lederman 2003], touch is one of the main avenues of sensation, and it can be divided into cutaneous, kinesthetic, and haptic systems, based on the underlying neural inputs..The cutaneous system employs receptors embedded in the skin, while the kinesthetic system employs receptors located in muscles, tendons, and joints. The haptic sensory system employs both cutaneous and kinesthetic receptors, but it differs in the sense that it is associated with an active procedure. Touch becomes active when the sensory inputs are combined with controlled body motion. For example, cutaneous touch becomes active when we explore a surface or grasp an object, while kinesthetic touch becomes active when we manipulate an object and touch other objects with it.” (Otaduy and Lin 2005: 1)
Tuesday, 10 May 2011
And indeed, we can find great ideas in Flusser. His essay on the typewriter ("Why do typewriters go 'click'") is one of my favourites, and similarly in this text on "Text and Image" Flusser's thoughts amount to a medium-specific understanding why technical media demands a different attitude to that of a focus on narrative and story-telling. In short, Flusser is saying that it is almost an ethical demand that we do not see technical media such as TV as story-telling...
Hence, his way of pointing towards a post-historical attitude is curious in relation to media archaeology as a possibly post-historical, mediatic way of understanding for instance perception, consciousness and time.
"The new post-historical existential climate which characterises the technoimage culture articulates itself in many ways, for instance in structuralism, cybernetics, scenario-based politology, or trans-ideologisation. It may be concretely observed in the programs impressed into the memories of computers, intelligent tools, and miniprocessors. However, it is as yet very far from having become entirely conscious. We live, all of us, as yet on the magico-mythical and on the historical level. We decipher, all of us, TV programmes as if they were traditional images or as if they were linear texts telling some story. Which means that we find ourselves in the same situation that illiterate Israelites found themselves in faced by the Sinai stone tablets. Instead of deciphering these programmes critically, we adore them. It is difficult for us to live and think on the level on which techno-images are made. This is why they tend to programme us, just as texts programmed the masses during their illiterate situation. Unless we learn how to decipher techno-images, unless we may achieve what may be called "conscious techno-imagination" , we are bound to become dominated by the apparatus-operator complex. Which seems to function objectively, but which in reality manipulates us from the subjective, although inhuman, point of view of the apparatus." (Flusser, in Variantology 4. On Deep Time Relations of Arts, Sciences and technologies in the Arabic-Islamic World and Beyond, edited by Siegfried Zielinski and Echard Fürlus. Walther König, Köln 2010: 115).¨
You can find echoes of such a relation to media competency in Zielinski too (Deep Time of the Media, for instance the final chapter), and it's relation to understanding digital image cultures is intriguing. The links to media archaeology are multiple, and probably we will soon more good work that explicates these links in more detail.
Friday, 22 April 2011
I am giving next week (28th of April, 2011) a talk in Malmö (at MEDEA Collaborative Media Initiative , 15.15 pm) that draws on the chapter I am writing at the moment - on media archaeological art methods.
In the chapter I investigate media archaeological art from DeMarinis and Beloff on to more recent practitioners such as the Institute for Algorhythmics and for instance Rosa Menkmann's work. I try to offer both an overview of different ways of thinking media archaeology as an art method that ranges from thematically addressing media history in fresh ways that intertwine it with "new media" cultures to work with concrete archives, themes of obsolete media, rethinking and doing alternative media histories and concretely opening up technologies - a new twist to the idea of "descent" that we find in Foucault's genealogy.
Here is the short abstract for the talk:
Practicing Media Archaeology: Creative Methodologies for Remediation and Creation
This talk focuses on some ideas and examples from media archaeological art practice. By visiting projects by prominent artists from Zoe Beloff to Paul Demarinis, as well as some more recent names, it aims to elaborate some ideas of how such media archaeological art is able to address questions of the “material”, temporality and nature. As such, the projects are themselves excellent articulations of some of the challenges media archaeology faces in terms of developing itself as an innovative approach to digital culture – practically and theoretically.
Image credits: © Zoe Beloff, from her Charming Augustine 3D 16 mm film.
Wednesday, 13 April 2011
With a keen interest in the 19th century, Hagen is able to tap into the formative technicality of media cultures - and hence the prehistory of the contemporary "software unconscious". As such, this quote by Hermann von Helmholtz, requoted from Hagen (and his translation) is a good example of the German focus on Helmholtz as important figure as for instance Freud in thinking about the medial unconscious of our culture - and aesthetics. A lot of this you recognize from emphases of Kittler ("psychophysics" as the way to understand the emergence of the So-Called-Man of media cultures), but here in the own words of Helmholtz:
"Aesthetics seeks the essence of the artistically beautiful in its unconscious rationality. I have... sought to reveal the hidden law that determines the mellifluousness of harmonic tonal connections. Actually, this is something that happens unconsciously as far as the overtones are concerned, which are indeed perceived by the nerves but do not usually come forth into the domain of conscious ideation; nevertheless, their pleasantness or unpleasantness is felt without the listener knowing where the grounds for such feelings lie." (Helmholtz,Über die physiologischen Ursachen der musikalischen Harmonie, lecture from 1857, published in Vorträge und Reden in 1896 90).
Hagen's article - from which this quote comes from - is in the book Artists as Inventors, Inventors as Artists.
What's more, this quote points to the early formulations and scientific basis that relates to economies and politics of affect - such a crucial part of societies of spectacle and post-Fordism.
Tuesday, 12 April 2011
“There is no longer any tendency to speak of electricity as ‘contained’ in anything. Painters have long known that objects are not contained in space, but that they generate their own spaces. It was the dawning awareness of this in the mathematical world a century ago that enabled Lewis Carroll , the Oxford mathematician, to contrive Alice in Wonderland, in which times and spaces are neither uniform nor continuous, as they had seemed to be since the arrival of Renaissance perspective.” (McLuhan, Understanding Media, McGraw Hill book company, New York, 1964, p.348)
Monday, 11 April 2011
Related to this, read here for more on a recent project where Aleks was involved - the EVP phenomena examined through the Edison wax cylinder format! He is not the only media archaeologically tuned practitioner who is interested in EVP...check out here another as exciting project by Martin Howse (Micro Research Lab) who mobilizes EVP into a wider media archaeological, cartographical method for mapping signals...