Monday, 23 May 2011

Kill the darling part 7: ghosts are dead

In the chapter on Imaginary Media I touch on things haunted (inspired by Jeffrey Sconce's Haunted Media, among other theorists). And yet there are too many things already dead and occult in that chapter so getting rid of some passages like this reference to Baron von Schrenck-Notzing - a link between spiritualist medium techniques and media technologies:

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.”

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