ponedjeljak, 13. kolovoza 2012.

Jussi Parikka - biologija i tehnologija, medijska arheologija

Jussi Parikka je finsko-engleski cyber-teoretičar s povelikom sljedbom, također je popularan blogerNjegovu knjigu Insect Media možete čitati ovdje.

 Jussi Parikka
© Jussi Parikka and Figure/Ground Communication
Dr. Parikka was interviewed by Laureano Ralon on July 12th, 2012
Edits by Katharine Armstrong

Jussi Parikka is media theorist, writer and Reader in Media & Winchester School of Art (University of Southampton). He is Adjunct Professor (“docent”) of Digital Culture Theory at the University of Turku, Finland. In addition, he is a Senior Fellow at the Winchester Centre for Global Futures in Art Design & Media. Parikka’s books include Koneoppi, (2004, in Finnish) and  Digital Contagions: A Media Archaeology of Computer Viruses is published by Peter Lang, New York, Digital Formations-series (2007). The recently published  Insect Media: An Archaeology of Animals and Technology (2010) focuses on the media theoretical and historical interconnections of biology and technology and was published in the University of Minnesota Press Posthumanities-series. The co-edited collection The Spam Book: On Viruses, Porn, and Other Anomalies from the Dark Side of Digital Culture is published by Hampton Press, and Media Archaeology: Approaches, Applications, Implications came out with University of California Press (2011). In addition, the edited collection Medianatures: The Materiality of Information Technology and Electronic Waste is out in the new Living Books About Life-project (Open Humanities Press, 2011). His new book, What is Media Archaeology? (Polity, 2012), is just out. Currently, Parikka is interested in the concept of the aesthetico-technical as well as materiality of e-waste. His website and blog: http://jussiparikka.net
  I’m currently researching the points of contact between media ecology and existential phenomenology, particularly the connections between McLuhan and Heidegger. Recently, I’ve been thinking that these two thinkers were both studied through other people: in the case of Heidegger, it was politically correct in Europe to read Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, Levinas, Derrida and Lacan – all of whom were deeply influenced by Heidegger; in the case of McLuhan, after his death in 1980, people approached him – often unknowingly – through Baudrillard, Virilo and Kittler, while McLuhan’s work was no were to be found in university libraries. In light of this, I’ve been reflecting on the importance of going back to the source, because strictly speaking, one can’t fully comprehend Lacan or Derrida without first reading Heidegger, and in a similar fashion, one can’t make full sense of Baudrillard or Kittler without first understanding McLuhan. What do you make of this appreciation? I know you have some thoughts of your own on the particular interplay between McLuhan and Kittler.
I think this question is one of those where I would have to say “yes” and “no.” To elaborate, and reflecting on my historian background: the further back you can go, the better. Excavating the long genealogies of thought is important, time-consuming, and hence rewarding. And yet, that kind of thinking can become itself a way to use institutional power and stop refreshing ideas from emerging. The idea that you should not speak about Derrida or Kittler if you do not understand everything about the history from which his thoughts comes from leads into an endless tracing (very Derridian, right?) that never is able to take the thinking forward. Philosophical inquiry becomes tracing the influences, not something that might be able to develop transversal, new ideas. This is a very Deleuzean and Guattarian way of emphasizing the pragmatics of language and philosophy. Instead of trying to decipher origins, meanings, and in general such hermeneutical dimensions of something, let’s see how it works and how we can make it work. Having said that, I think we need time – and let thoughts have time – for such “uses,” and tracing histories can perhaps can become a methodology for creation of something new, something useful for our situation. Perhaps this is the media archaeologist in me talking now. Mapping histories has to do with creations of the new.
In terms of McLuhan and Kittler – sure, this is one lineage of thought worthwhile excavating. It’s interesting to remember how the “roots” of “German” media theory are, in so many directions, including Canada. And yet, let’s avoid master narratives and thinking that reading McLuhan is the only “key” to Kittler. Kittler was both influenced by his thought but also often critical, and demanded a more radically material take on histories of media technology. He was also more anti-humanist, of sorts, and in so many theoretical ways, going into a very different direction than McLuhan. Although, I do know that there is much more to the supposed humanism of McLuhan.
To build up on the previous question, what are some of the texts that young scholars should be reading in this day and age?
There should be no one set reading list. Kittler read Lacan and Foucault, Aristotle and Pynchon. It is always good to start with those, but it is not enough, as we know, to imitate the previous generations. Regarding media theory, I still find a lot being published in Germany of outstanding quality and of such rigorous scholarship with quirky ideas that are astonishing. I have been reading recently literature on cultural techniques, including works by Bernhard Siegert, who I highly recommend. Similarly, there are always loads of thinkers that might be quite central, but would still demand even a more central place in terms of our media theoretical debates. I have always been such a huge fan of Adrian Mackenzie’s work, as well as Matthew Fuller, and a range of feminist materialists, who early on were promoting the non-human turn (consider Rosi Braidotti’s work). At times theory gives you not only ideas, but great affective moods and modes.
But what someone should read – I hesitate to be in a position to start telling people that. I might suggest and plant ideas, but we all find our specific academic kinks that inspire us, on a regular basis. It’s always good to be surprising; I am at the moment reading Tim Ingold’s Lines: A Brief History, which is to me a fantastic way to approach media studies topics as well. Always read outside your discipline.
Alvin Toffler once declared that “the illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn” – a statement which, by the way, Heidegger would approve. As a professor of Digital Culture Theory, do you agree with Toffler. Should scholars and academics make use of social media? What would you say to those who still resist it on the ground that scholarship should be based on a detached, disinterested, contemplative attitude?
Depends on what kind of social media you are talking about. I do silently chuckle a lot of the various “new innovations” in learning technologies and social media. A huge amount of young scholars’ time is in risk of being redirected to that metalevel of research activity; research becomes a never-ending exercise of research management. But I am also traditional in the sense that the old fashioned things like reading, writing, and publishing are quite useful if you want to be a scholar. But this takes different forms now. I am happy that we are moving away from the institutionalised book form, governed by a small range of academic publishers, and at times with incredibly grim business models that have not much respect for the writers, the academics. A new colleague at our school, Paul Caplan, has introduced me to thinking about remix practices as one way of considering arts and humanities publishing. Indeed, forms of open publishing, experimental writing, and collaborative ideas using new forms of networking, mobility, location, and movement are inspiring. They force us to rethink institutional boundaries.
As a friend of mine, Professor Darren Wershler at Concordia University in Montreal, said casually on Twitter as part of our conversation, he does not like the idea of “schools” (such as in academic traditions, clusters) so much as :networks.” Indeed, that has been my line too. It’s the much wider networks, outside traditional institutional boundaries, from and in which our thought emerges. These are not only technological, but technology might enable ways to think differently.
I do kind of like Toffler’s little idea, and its dynamics. As important as “learning” is “unlearning” – NIetzschean forgetting – as a way of getting rid of the baggage of institutional history. Institutions are effective in installing internalised guidelines and police forces, of which we need to unlearn too. Besides reading and writing, we need to be able to be open to new kinds of affective, habitual, and organisational arrangements. Of course, this corresponds to the neoliberalist emphasis on flexibility and constant-readiness – the willingness to learn and change habits – but it can of course be something useful for a critical productive stance, too. Social media is in this sense only one kind of a node, which is important for learning new habits. In addition, to go back to what I said earlier, it is important we develop an understanding of the proprietary contexts of so much of social media, and its relation to the online contexts -institutions – in which we are writers and readers.
Your most recent book is entitled Media Archaeology. It is an introduction to the emerging field of media archaeology and analyses the innovative theoretical and artistic methodology used to excavate current media through its past. Who were some of the authors that influenced you to write this book, and who are some of the antecedents in the development of this new interdisciplinary field?
Media archaeology has been practiced by writers and artists since at least the 1980s and early 1990s; Siegfried Zielinski, Erkki Huhtamo, Thomas Elsaesser, and such artists as Paul Demarinis and Zoe Beloff have been important in outlining its various forms. Friedrich Kittler has also been understood as part of this way of thinking because of his interest in the Foucauldean mapping of conditions of existence of technical media culture; technical media is itself a condition of existence for ways in which we write, read, hear, think. More recently, Wolfgang Ernst has emerged as a singular thinker in this media archaeological field.
Of course, we could push further back. We can track uses of the notion of “archaeology” in so many other fields too – archaeologies of cinema, archaeologies of knowledge, of modernity, of the psyche. There is a wonderful book out just now by Knut Ebeling, Wilde Archäologien (Wild Archaeologies), which basically maps an archaeology of the concept of archaeology in cultural theory. Just to add, in Germanic style it is over 700 pages, so please do not expect me to offer a summary just yet.
For me, what media archaeology does besides offering a certain epistemology of cultural analysis or highlighting huge amount of interesting specific studies in the crossroads of art, science and technology, is to think about time. It offers ideas about temporality. Media archaeology is so much more than just a footnote to Foucault or Kittler. By this emphasis on temporality I mean how it allows us to think of other times; of times of long duration (to nod at the direction of Fernand Braudel), of microtemporalities that might be of technological quality, of time percolated and folded like braided, zigzagging, revolving and unfolding lines (Michel Serres talks of such dynamic times). Ernst’s concept or idea of microtemporality is very much an interesting one, and escorts us to think of the other “times” than those of historians.
What are you currently working on?
Lots of things and nothing! In other words, I have no one big project on at the moment, but I  have been toying around and drafting some ideas on how to combine some of my media theoretical and archaeological interests with post-Fordist political theory – for instance, how to approach the notion of “cognitive capitalism” from a media archaeological perspective. Otherwise, I am now writing texts on critical engineering, media ecology, and electronic waste, as well as on time-criticality in network culture. I am also co-editing a special issue on cultural techniques for Theory, Culture & Society.
What I would want to do is to find that modest five to ten years to work on something in a focused manner – something in the spirit that does not so easily find a place in the measurement oriented and short-term academic cultures of contemporary education and research. I already have nostalgic feelings about my Ph.D. times, when I was able to write the same book – that came out as Digital Contagions – for five years, full time.
In Winchester, we are getting off the ground our new research Centre: Winchester Centre for Global Futures in Art, Design and Media, with lots of great colleagues. As part of that, we are establishing local and national partnerships and activities, as well as international ones, in Europe and elsewhere. Certain regions are of special interest to me, including Berlin, but also Istanbul where I, as Centre representative, will be involved with the Amber Festival.
Questions of “what” one is working on should be complemented with questions of “when” one is working on something, and where.
August 5, 2012 Leave a comment
I recently gave a talk about Torsten Lauschmann’s art. This took place in Southampton, at the Hansard gallery with my great colleague prof. Ryan Bishop. In my quite informal presentation, I picked up on points such as… (excerpts to follow):

What several of Lauschmann’s pieces conjure is a different way of seeing media than just as communication. Media is trickery, a way of modifying realities, and has been for a long time; deceptions of the senses, of virtual realities and false impressions – this is the work of media, which brings it closer to the military psy-ops, and a history of hallucinations, other realities and indeed – magic. In other words, forget the idealistic notions of media as communication between people to exchange messages – instead, entertainment worlds are even down to their physiological effects about tricking the eye, the ear and the mind in ways that attract and affect the spectator. Media is sometimes closer to sorcery, It can conjure and produce realities in very effective ways – think of the long lineage from indeed magic and sorcery to current PR culture… (Fuller and Goffey, Evil Media).

What is significant is perhaps exactly this imagining a parallel world of media that borrows from past. But what is borrowed are perhaps not always very suitable ideas. Yet such can be employed as tools of investigation, critical ways to see our current media culture. It can also be about picking up individual motifs, minor details or ideas, and working them into the art piece, like Lauschmann seems often to do. More generally, in differing ways such works  mix the way in which we understand media time – it is not only a progression from the old to the new, but how ideas got discovered and rediscovered, recycled, like concretely in some recycling based DIY art; or in the midst of our reborn enthusiasm for 8-bit pixelated aesthetics, vinyl music listening, of retrogames you remember from 1980s, also old technology presents itself as an alternative way of understanding the new: to take an old piece of technology, visual or audio, and try to think how it enables a different way of understanding media aesthetics.
Defective ideas and forms become standardized as our ways to think of time and media.
We make our journeys out there in the low light of the future, and return to the bourgeois day and its mass delusion of safety, to report on what we’ve seen. What are any of these ‘utopian dreams’ of ours but defective forms of time-travel?” ( Pynchon, Against the Day, 2006)
Couldn’t we say the same thing about the past: journeys to the past that are like defective forms of time-travel? To past times when old technologies were once new too, and puzzled and awed, with their low lighting, crackling, noise, and pixelated style? The obsolescent entertainment device, the pianola, melancholicly playing its tune in the middle of the room reminds of such time-travels from which Lauschmann poached ideas and devices that trigger much more than nostalgia.

In his part of this double act, Bishop talked about Lauschmann in relation to histories of automation, labour and for instance mechnical music, including the player piano.

New virals

More viral analysis is out: a special issue of WSQ just came out, a special issue on Viral – edited by Patricia Clough & Jasbir Puar. It is an extensive one, so do try to grab a copy somewhere. It also includes a review of Insect Media. The book is reviewed alongside Jodi Dean’s Blog theory and Steven Shaviro’s Cinematic Affect. Great to be featured alongside such writers.
Besides that special issue, another one to keep your eyes open for: Tony Sampson’s monograph Virality is now out! An excellent analysis which indeed “resuscitates Tarde” and analyses cultures of virality from memes to terror and love. I also really enjoy the manner in which Sampson employs notions of hypnosis into an analysis of network culture. it reminds of the idea of “evil media” that Fuller and Goffey have the past years developed (check out The Spam Book for a short intro to what Evil Media Studies is.)

Critique With a Cause – on Lovink’s new book

June 5, 2012 3 comments
Geert Lovink can be provocative – very provocative. This is one of the pleasures of diving into his writings and books, just like with Networks Without a Cause, the most recent one published by Polity.
Lovink is a good “network barometer”, a measuring device in his own right, who captures significant themes being debated, even if not always within academia. And I say that as a good thing.
Lovink’s style of defending the work of concepts and theory but steering clear of stuffy academic language and managerial games, of investigating global trajectories without buying into neoliberal globalization speak, and investing so much into perspectives that stay close to code and technology without reducing his work into techy-geekyness is always a good combo.
Networks Without a Cause works it’s way through the current crisis of social media and the  public sector, including universities, and provides insights into the managerial cultures that combines both. Of course, these are two different kinds of crisis; Social Media companies are perhaps not in the financial crisis as the public sector, but in a state where their stance towards security, surveillance and privacy is being increasingly questions; and well, public sector both being pressed by the cuts and austerity programs as well as the managerial attitude creeping into a range of institutions. Hailing the liberatory effects of Social Media is just, well, naïve in the age when no user is probably unaware of the surveillance and business logics of such proprietary platforms. Similarly, Lovink picks up on the crisis of theory in universities, or more specifically a take on media studies’ role in current educational landscape.
For a media studies scholar, the chapter (see also a piece co-written with Ned Rossiter) is a tough read – but thoroughly enjoyable! I found a weird sense of satisfaction reading it, despite disagreeing on points; something about the provocation was to me spot on, in terms of placing media studies as part of the managerial drive in current universities – and UK is an especially apt case. While noting the running down of Arts and Humanities worldwide, Lovink picks up on media studies as “an academic genre [that] sprang out of the heads of education consultants and bureaucrats and blended into unrelated departments and intellectual cultures, in order to scale-up output.” (83) In other words, while registering the birth of media studies as a jumbled together mixed bag of variety of disciplines from film to theatre, cultural studies to new media studies, Lovink continues the argument as one related to theory. On the one hand, a “neutering” of innovative theory that has become a mechanical mode of application (“watching Heroes with Zizek in our favorite interpassive mode, flowing through the national libraries with Castells, understanding Google a la Deleuze, or interpreting Twitter via Butler?”); on the other hand, academic theory becoming only a means towards the end of managerially controlled research output exercises.
Yet, one could object – and should. As Michael Goddard noted on Facebook, where does this place then such fields as Media Ecology (after Matt Fuller) or Media Archaeology, which I also would claim is not only a look backwards to the old media studies groundings in television, radio or visual culture? Furthermore, whereas institutional settings in our discplines such as media are becoming threatened by admin culture, media studies scholars are happy to carry the legacy foward and come up with extra-institutional and other innovative settings for theory work and critique — read for instance Mirko Tobias Schäfer’s recent thoughts on tactics of going rogue. Another objection might be raised when Lovink quotes Lev Manovich, and Manovich’s critique of 1960s-1980s theory that has lost its relevance “because commercial culture and computers today run on many principles of this theory – from irony and the self-referentiality of advertising to ‘rhizomatic’ networks. So to use many of these theoretical concepts is to state the obvious.”
Manovich has a nice point here of the recursive nature with which earlier critical theory has turned part of the advertising folks toolkit. To a large extent, that can be seen true, but also we need to be aware that a very uninspiring and loose use of for instance notions like “rhizome” in 1990s cyberculture studies does not equate into it being completely part and parcel with the network condition. That a lot of Anglo-American adaptation of French philosophy for instance produced a range of misreadings and reliance in such notions of distributed nature, rhizomes, irony etc. is not exactly the same as assuming that a misplaced metaphor suddenly determined the state of new media. Such a stance would just validate bad theory. We need to be able to really read theory – and understand where theory turns rotten, uninspiring, and badly applied; not just dismiss it altogether that easily and uncritically.
However, Lovink picks up on exciting ways to develop theory. It is not about being dismissive, but clearly wanting to see something new to happen. Although I would claim that a lot of this is happening – however, not much supported in the creative industries/digital economy academic culture of for instance Britain – and gradually carving out more visibility. I agree with Lovink that such openings as Fuller & Goffey’s Evil media is among them, similarly as McKenzie Wark’s notes that are as needed. Even Manovich’s quantitative cultural analytics can be seen as an interesting move away from a traditional hermeneutics approach, developing media specific methodologies.
Indeed, media studies – like pretty much all arts and humanities disciplines – is in a difficult spot in relation to funding cuts, decrease in public support (well, in the UK media studies has historically been in a bad spot as the blamed mickey mouse-field, hated by the Tories and media), increasing managerial culture surrounding research (REF) and teaching (counterintuitive QAA), as well as the temporal issues. As Lovink notes, in an increasingly quickly changing media cultures, the cycles of academic studies are just too slow to be up to date, and often their destiny is to focus on historical phenomena.  Whereas some approaches, such as media archaeology, might be able to turn that to their advantage, that does not hide the problem entirely. More radical structural changes are needed in publishing and recognition systems. This means for instance on such levels as REF a sustained commitment to supporting open access journals and experimental formats of publishing academic research.
Lovink writes about writing (net criticism genre), radio, blogging, google, wikileaks and more – pretty much a range of the most debated events and platforms of past years. And still his book feels something that you actually enjoy reading. This might sound like a casual and banal observation, but I mean it in the sense of actually expecting to reach the end of the page, just to turn to next page. Lovink observes, inscribes and reports – but with a twist that makes his style so recognizable. His provocative style is attractive, and whether you agree or not on the points, well, he is making a point.

What is Media Archaeology? — out now

May 8, 2012 5 comments
It’s out, and gradually in book stores — What is Media Archaeology? (Polity),
my new book about media archaeology (what a surprise)!
It picks up where the edited volume Media Archaeology: Approaches, Applications, and Implications (Huhtamo and Parikka) left off; this means the implications bit, and how media archaeology relates to other recent discussions in art, cultural and media theory: software studies, new materialism, archives, and more. In other words, it complements the earlier collection.
So in short,
1) What IS media archaeology?
- depends who you ask. If you ask Erkki Huhtamo or Siegfried Zielinski, you might get a different answer than from asking me. For Huhtamo, it is the recurring topoi/topics of media culture; for Zielinski, a poetic exploration of deep times and variantology; and so forth. For me, it is an exciting theoretical opening to think about material media cultures in a historical perspective. However, it expands into an experimental set of questioning about time, obsolescence, and alternative histories as well. In one way, it is about analyzing the conditions of existence of media cultural objects, processes and phenomena. It picks up on some strands of “German media theory”, but connects that to other debates in cultural theory too.I like what Bernhard Siegert has said about the early ethos of media archaeology being that of Nietzschean gay science — experimental, exploratory, radical. Perhaps in this vein, media archaeology is one answer to the need to think transdiscplinary questions of art, science, philosophy and technology.
2) Isn’t it just media history that tries to rebrand itself?
- No, not really. A lot of the media archaeological work expands to strong theoretical arguments as well as quite different sorts of historical inquiry than one recognizes in media historical work. Having said that, perhaps this is where the interesting connections are emerging; how media archaeology can contribute to media historical inquiry as well as to thinking about archives and cultural memory. There is one chapter on archives in this new book. A lot of media archaeology owes to earlier new cultural histories and new historicism, so the link is there.
3) Isn’t media archaeology only a footnote to Kittler’s work?
- That would be unfair towards a bunch of other theorists, German and non-German. Kittler himself denied being a media archaeologist, even if a lot of the stuff has taken much inspiration from him and the idea of looking at “conditions of existence” of cultural formations through (technical) media. Even Germany is filled with media archaeological work, since 1980s, and a lot of that expands to such new directions as Cultural Techniques (Siegert, Krajewski, Vissman, and others) as well as other media archaeologists — not least Wolfgang Ernst. In addition, the book offers an insight to other media archaeological theories, such as Huhtamo’s, Zielinski’s, new film history (Elsaesser et al) as well as the links to emerging media studies fields such as digital humanities (eg Kirschenbaum’s work).
4) Sounds like the book is all theory, huh?
There is more than just media theory — although I admit, that because of the nature of the book, was not able to work too much of new empirical material there. However, one key thing that pops up in the book is the use of media archaeology as an artistic method. There is a whole chapter dedicated to that. I think one of the most exciting directions is to see how these methodologies can be used in design, arts and other fields of creative practice that anyway are interested in themes of obsolescence, media and technological affordance, the environment and ecology, remix and for instance hardware (even analogue!).
5) What next?
- No more media archaeology for me. Well, I have jokingly promised that I won’t use the term anymore, even if I am interested in seeing where this term might take us. I will come up with a disguise, a theoretical disguise.
6) your chance to ask me a question!
- and I will answer, if I can.
Meanwhile, here is the info about the book:
(From the Publisher’s catalogue and website):
This cutting-edge text offers an introduction to the emerging field of media archaeology and analyses the innovative theoretical and artistic methodology used to excavate current media through its past.
Written with a steampunk attitude, What is Media Archaeology? examines the theoretical challenges of studying digital culture and memory and opens up the sedimented layers of contemporary media culture. The author contextualizes media archaeology in relation to other key media studies debates including software studies, German media theory, imaginary media research, new materialism and digital humanities.
What is Media Archaeology? advances an innovative theoretical position while also presenting an engaging and accessible overview for students of media, film and cultural studies. It will be essential reading for anyone interested in the interdisciplinary ties between art, technology and media.
And the blurbs:
‘Jussi Parikka offers a lucid, concise, and highly readable account of a new and exciting field – media archaeology. He demonstrates that contemporary media forms are rooted to the past by multiple threads – untangling them helps us understand the media frenzy that currently surrounds us.’
Erkki Huhtamo, University of California Los Angeles
‘A fabulous map of media archaeology that, as its subject compels, produces its territory anew.’
Matthew Fuller, Goldsmiths
‘The most comprehensive coverage to date of this fascinating area of study. Parikka’s book offers an excellent overview of connections between the material and social aspects of media technology. He provides a thorough review of the diverse and sometimes contrasting theoretical foundations and provides a host of concrete examples of media-archaeological practice that serve to bridge the gap between heady theoretical trajectories and the concerns of practicing artists, users and other readers who take their technology seriously.’
Paul DeMarinis, Stanford University
 Table of Contents
Chapter 1
Introduction: Cartographies of the Old and the New
Chapter 2
Media Archaeology of the Senses: Audiovisual, Affective, Algorithmic
Chapter 3
Imaginary Media: Mapping Weird Objects
Chapter 4
Media Theory and New Materialism
Chapter 5
Mapping Noise and Accidents
Chapter 6
Archive Dynamics: Software Culture and Digital Heritage
Chapter 7
Practicing Media Archaeology: Creative Methodologies for Remediation
Conclusions: Media Archaeology in Digital Culture
Note: the book is hitting the bookstores now in the UK (May), and soon in North-America (June) and rest of the world.

April 21, 2012 1 comment
One of the luxuries of being academic is that you should contradict yourself – on purpose and on a regular basis. Actually, when refined to its best, this can be an art of argumentation (and arguing) as in the wonderful public self-critique by Søren Kierkegaard. Writing under many aliases, he was his own fiercest critic. This might not be a contradiction, but let’s say a minor defense of something I have critiqued before.
As for me, promoting “primacy of non-humans” and being enthusiastic about “new materialism”, I find myself with this odd feeling that I have felt the need to defend “texts” and “discourse” as I have recently started to (well, kinda). Usually rather more being interested in post-representational thought (Thrift 2007) and indeed new materialism (Braidotti, Massumi, Delanda, Grosz, Barad, and many others) it has been for me much more interesting to think what takes materially place, how and when, than what things mean, signify, represent. Besides the enthusiasm for representations that took a central place in cultural studies vocabulary since the 1980s, or even with the performative that happens inside discourse, I did enjoy the idea that bodies have a materiality that is irreducible to such dimensions.
Now this brand of recent aberration from signification goes often under the name of anti-correlationism, and critique of such a modern framework of thought, indeed, which grabbed even a lot of post-structuralism. Quentin Meillaissoux’s texts, and especially mediation of such ideas in speculative realism or object-oriented-ontology, is of course central, even if I would claim his arguments are not completely unique.
A lot of this discourse (!) is well captured at the beginning of The Speculative Turn: Continental Materialism and Realism:
[In] ‘The Speculative Turn’, one can detect the hints of something new. By contrast with the repetitive continental focus on texts, discourses, social practices, and human finitude, the new breed of thinkers is turning once more towards reality itself. While it is difficult to find explicit positions common to all the thinkers… all have certainly rejected the traditional focus on textual critique… all of them, in one way or another, have begun speculating once more about the nature of reality independently of thought and of humans more generally (Bryant, Srnicek and Harman 2011: 3).
I am not disagreeing, of course, as this path articulated by Delanda, and what I wrote about in 2006 (Parikka & Tiainen 2006) with similar arguments (more in the context of cultural studies though, than philosophy) is what I still find necessary as a way to specify what we mean by critique. (One should at this point nod towards Latour 2004 for instance).
What I am however interested in adding is to point to the longer disciplinary histories of alternative, material takes on textuality and discourse (or let’s say, variations of such post-structuralist themes) as well as the theme of cultural techniques. Besides various cultural histories of reading and related practices (my own background training was in cultural history), one finds lots of strong theoretical takes on such matters.
Indeed, to think of something close to my own turf, German media theory has been for a longer time, since 1980s, been successful in turning for instance Lacan, Foucault and Derrida into historically contextualised and materialised sets of theoretical affordances. Their post-structural notions, at times indeed very textually oriented (and yes, it did always rub me the wrong way) are de-territorialized so as to become more suitable to understand the variety of material modalities of expression. For Kittler, it was a matter of taking Foucault but showing there are other things in the world besides books and textual archives; the world of machines, circuits, and computers.
Indeed, take Markus Krajewski’s (2011: 34) recent memoir of Kittler’s class from early 1990s:
“Kittler, […]pointed out what was required to attend and complete the class successfully: the minimum precondition for this course was the ability to handle the Linux free c compiler ‘gcc’ with all flags and options on the command line. Silence in the room. For those who were willingto learn directly how to handle the beast he would briefly give an introduction to this art. He, then, went to the chalk board and – with verve – wrote one line:
gcc -ansi -pedantic -Wall -Wextra -Werror -o myprog file1.c file2.c –lm”
Much more than textual critique, Kittler’s methodology in teaching and research related to understanding the materialities of the computer on various levels – from software (he wrote in low-level Assembler himself) to hardware (having built his own synthesizer in the 1970s).
For such as Bernhard Siegert, a lot of the discourse of Foucault but also for instance Derrida is taken only as a starting point to analyses that take more interest in materialities such as paper, or bibliographic and typographic details – like the point/full stop (Punkt). His Passage des Digital is such a rich body of work that spans different notation systems, materialities, elements (not least water!!) into a historically continuously specified argument.
A lot of such approaches go under the name of cultural techniques – an approach to investigate textualities, but also other forms of knowledge and expression.
Histories of knowledge, science and media are understood not through texts as semiotics, but texts as part of complex spatial and temporal knowledge systems, cultural techniques completely material where things from the material characteristics of the inscription surface (what kind of paper used) to the wider spatial and temporal infrastructures matters. In Passage des Digitalen, this task comes out as:
1)   instead of semiotics, let’s focus on cultural techniques of reading, writing, signs and counting
2)   not ideal objects, signs are actually in the world as res extensa; symbols are always machinated
3)   Sign practices are specified to certain institutional spaces, of which for Siegert interest are the office, the ship, the atelier, the laboratory, the academia, etc. (this threefold definition loosely translated/paraphrased from Siegert 2003: 14)
In short, discourse is mobilized as material. Another simple, often quoted definition of cultural techniques goes like this:
“Cultural techniques—such as writing, reading, painting, counting, making music—are always older than the concepts that are generated from them. People wrote long before they conceptualized writing or alphabets; millennia passed before pictures and statues gave rise to the concept of the image; and still today, people sing or make music without knowing anything about tones or musical notation systems. Counting, too, is older than the notion of numbers. To be sure, most cultures counted or performed certain mathematical operations, but they did not necessarily derive from this a concept of number.” (Macho 2003: 179)
What this approach is useful for is indeed how far we can go with it. It does not make such strong claims of ontology as in some more recent philosophical debates, but tries methodologically to mobilize approaches that take into materiality. What this does is a more historically embedded understanding that we do things, and that things do us (?).
Besides the German heritage of materialist media theory, we can look at work that takes inspiration from science and technology studies as much as media studies. Jonathan Sterne is a perfect example here, of a mix of various traditions to highlight the complexity of such objects as Mp3 – part of cultural techniques non-reducible to the technological details, where however the latter afford specific bodily practices too. In other words, it’s not only about the human:
“Mp3 technology also has an interesting relationship with other bodily technologies of communication. The mp3 works automatically on the body. Mp3 listening might involve ‘practical knowledge’ (Bourdieu, 1990), where the body goes through routines that do not enter the conscious mind. Certainly, mp3 listening requires a whole set of bodily techniques, dispositions and attitudes. But the mp3 goes even further than this. The encoded mathematical table inside the mp3 that represents psychoacoustic response suggests less a ‘technique of the body’ as these authors would have it, than a concordance of signals among computers, electrical components and auditory nerves.” (Sterne 2006: 837)
Such objects as Mp3 are stretched across a variety of materialities, from bodily techniques to mathematics at the core of it as a technological artifact – a connection obviously to Meillassoux’s mathematical ontology. A weird object indeed (btw. Keep your eyes open to Sterne’s MP3 book coming out I believe soon).
Now it would be easy to counter that by saying that such approaches do not really tap into the reality of the objects – the non-human nature of objects outside the correlationist relation, and having an autonomy non-reducible to relations or practices.. Yet, this is where for me the notion of materiality is more useful than that of reality. As Grosz has pointed out, talk of realism – even non-human – is still tied to positions of epistemology, not ontology; she prefers to call herself a materialist even if soon using the term “real” to refer to dynamics of production: “I am much more interested in the dynamic force of the real itself and how the real enables representation and what of the real is captured by representation.” (Grosz in Kontturi & Tiainen 2007, 247) In any case, if we approach things through materiality, we might be closer to the dynamics of production of realities (sic), of relevance to issues historically significant from political, mediatic and economic points of view.   Indeed, such an approach maintains closer ties with the longer traditions of historical materialism (thanks to Alex Galloway for the heads up on this, and his insightful articulation in another context on similar issues), and flags the difference between realism and materialism – and perhaps is able to take further some of the limitations of earlier traditions.
Bryant, L., Srnicek, N., and Harman, G. (2011) The Speculative Turn: Continental Materialism and Realism, Melbourne: Re:Press.
Kontturi, Katve-Kaisa & Tiainen, Milla (2007) “Feminism, Art, Deleuze and Darwin: An Interview with Elizabeth Grosz” Nora—Nordic Journal of Women’s Studies, Vol. 15, No. 4, 246–256, November 2007.
Krajewski, Markus (2011) “On Kittler applied: A technical memoir of a specific configuration in the 1990s” Thesis Eleven 2011, 107: 33.
Latour, Bruno (2004) Why Has Critique Run Out of Steam? Critical Inquiry Volume: 30, Issue: 2: 225-248
Macho, Thomas (2003) “Zeit und Zahl: Kalender- und Zeitrechnung als Kulturtechniken,” in Bild-Schrift-Zahl, ed. Sybille Krämer and Horst Bredekamp (Munich: Wilhelm Fink Verlag, 2003), 179. (The passage translated by Geoffrey Winthrop-Young).
Parikka, Jussi & Tiainen, Milla (2006) “Kohti materiaalisen ja uuden kulttuurianalyysia, eli representaation hyödystä ja haitasta elämälle.” Kulttuurintutkimus 2/2006)
Siegert, Bernhard (2003) Passage des Digitalen. Zeichenpraktiken der neuzeitlichen Wissenschaften 1500-1900 (Berlin: Brinkmann & Bose)
Sterne, Jonathan (2006) “The MP3 as a Cultural Artefact” New Media & Society, Vol8(5):825–842.
Thrift, Nigel (2007) Post-Representational Theory (London and New York: Routledge)

Inside Digital Life-interview

February 28, 2012 Leave a comment
I was interviewed during my Barcelona visit by the nice people of CCCB.

Pushing the Limits of the Affective Workspace: Revolts, Absorption, and Ecologies of Waste

February 27, 2012 1 comment
University of East London
Centre for Cultural Studies Research
Pushing the Limits of the Affective Workspace: Revolts, Absorption, and Ecologies of Waste
A symposium with Jussi Parikka, Stevphen Shukaitis and Tony D. Sampson
Chair: Jeremy Gilbert, CCSR
Wednesday March 21st 2012
UEL Docklands Campus
Room EB.G.10
(ground floor, main building, turn left upon entering the main square after leaving Cyprus DLR
Cyprus DLR is literally situated at the campus)
Free, All welcome. No need to book. The boundaries of capitalist workspaces are continuously stretched to new limits. Work is pushed into the home, the obsolescent and the unconscious. Focusing on affective labour, new materialism and neuromarketing, this seminar looks initially beyond the media screens of the digital industries to the wasteful ecologies of obsolescent technology. It then explores resistance to contemporary capitalism extending to, for example, the refusal of caring labour. Last, it repositions the attentive subject of cognitive capitalism in a neurological space of absorbent and mostly unconscious consumption.
Media Matters as Ecology
Jussi Parikka, Winchester School of Art (University of Southampton).
This talk investigates “new materialism” through the context of media ecology – but ecology understood literally and through electronic waste, and the various temporalities and materialities of obsolescence. It argues, following Sean Cubitt’s and German media theory lead, for such a focus to technical media that accounts not only what’s on the screen, but what enables “media” as content to exist. German media theory has been successful to track this back to the engineering and scientific roots of modern entertainment media, but this talk focuses on electronic waste, and its relation to information technology work, but from a slightly alternative perspective. As such, the talk also touches discussions of “affective labour” as well as non-representational approaches to contemporary media culture.
Jussi Parikka is Reader in Media & Design at Winchester School of Art (University of Southampton). His books include Digital Contagions (2007), Insect Media (2010) and the forthcoming What is Media Archaeology? (2012). He has co-edited The Spam Book (with Tony D. Sampson, 2009) and Media Archaeology (with Erkki Huhtamo, 2011).
Learning from Affective Revolts: Social Reproduction & Political Subjectiviation
Stevphen Shukaitis, University of Essex / Autonomedia
Despite the importance that autonomist feminism has played in the development of autonomist politics and struggles it is commonly relegated to little more than a glorious footnotes of figures emerging out of operaisti thought (such as Antonio Negri and Paolo Virno). Organizing around gender, affective labor, and issues of reproduction posed numerous important questions to forms of class struggle that focused exclusively on the figure of the waged industrial worker. Revolts of housewives, students, the unwaged, and farm workers led to a rethinking of notions of labor, the boundaries of workplace, and effective strategies for class struggles: they enacted a critical transformation in the social imaginary of labor organizing and struggle. By drawing on the history and of these struggles (such as the various Wages for Housework Campaigns and current organizing such as Precarias a la Deriva) and ideas of those involved (such as Silvia Federici, Leopoldina Fortunati, Mariarosa Dallacosta, and Alisa Del Re) this paper will explore some lessons that can be learned from these a(e)ffective insurgency.  Taking seriously the questions posed by these struggles are extremely important because as Alisa Del Re argues, attempting to refuse and reduce forms of imposed labor and exploitation without addressing the realms of social reproduction and housework amounts to building a notion of utopia upon the continued exploitation of female labor. Furthermore the often cramped positions that organizing forms of affective labor and social reproduction (housewives, sex workers, etc) occupies becomes all the more important as these processes are further integrated into the composition of contemporary capitalism. How does one refuse caring labor? Strategies for organizing around affective labor, what Precarias a la Deriva have called a “very careful strike,” are important to learn from to find ways “not a high productivity of domestic labor but a higher subversiveness in the struggle.” (Dallacosta/James)
Stevphen Shukaitis is a lecturer at the University of Essex and a member of the Autonomedia editorial collective. He is the author of Imaginal Machines: Autonomy & Self-Organization in the Revolutions of Everyday Day (2009, Autonomedia) and editor (with Erika Biddle and David Graeber) of Constituent Imagination: Militant Investigations // Collective Theorization (AK Press, 2007). His research focuses on the emergence of collective imagination in social movements and the changing compositions of cultural and artistic labor.
Following the Glint in the Eye of the Consumer
Tony D. Sampson, University of East London
New developments in marketing techniques not only aim to sidestep the self-reporting of consumer experiences, but also look beyond the explicit cognitive realm of visual representation to exploit instead the implicit, unconscious affective systems of consumption. Like this, the neuromarketer measures the streams of affect the consumer somatically absorbs in the atmosphere. As the enthusiastic CEO of one US based neuromarketing company puts it, these techniques help the marketer to go beyond conscious consumer engagement with a product and actively seek out what unconsciously attracts them. “Absorption is the ideal,” he claims. This is because it “signifies that the consumer’s brain has not only registered your marketing message or your creative content, but that the other centers of the brain that are involved with emotions and memory have been activated as well.” Along these lines, persuasion and absorption seemingly involves priming the sensory experiences of consumption so as to achieve a number of design goals intended to influence purchase intent.
Tony D. Sampson is a London-based academic and writer. He lectures on new media at UEL where he also leads the new media degree programmes. He is the co-editor (with Jussi Parikka) of The Spam Book: On Viruses, Porn and Other Anomalies From the Dark Side of Digital Culture (Cresskill, Hampton Press, 2009) and the author of Virality: Contagion Theory in the Age of Networks (University of Minnesota Press) to be published later this year. His current research focuses on the latest applications of noncognitive psychology in studies of human computer interaction.

Exhumation as Artistic Methodology

February 7, 2012 Leave a comment
This is the short intro/intervention, from my second Transmediale 2012-talk on the Search for a Method-panel, organized by Timothy Druckrey, involving in addition to me Inke Arns, Siegfried Zielinski and Wolfgang Ernst. The images are from the Crystal World workshop, also Transmediale 2012.
In order to kick off the panel and discussions, we were asked to pick examples of current media artistic practices, and proceed from there.
My thoughts were soon obviously on some themes and problems that I had been occupied with. More or less, such have included speculative materialities, work often dealing with the various spectra of hearing and seeing, of light and sound, of electromagnetism; works that map the non-solid based materialities that are increasingly important in order to understand how bodies react, and are governed, managed, experienced, in urban and technological settings.
Hence, I might have wanted to address Will Schrimshaw’s Atmospheric Research and Subliminal Frequencies. To me, the project is a mapping of the subconscious affective, embodied states where architectural arrangements are as important as the informational ecology; it maps the events that happen below the threshold of consciousness, for instance through ambient light as a regulator of “hormone secretion, body temperature, sleep and alertness”.  As such, it is a practice based excavation into the physiological and technological constitution of experience, but also the possibilities of producing and governing experience; something related to my earlier talk on the “media archaeology of cognitive capitalism”.
Or then, another possibility would be to have looked at the various projects and the work of Critical Engineer, as expressed by Julian Oliver, in the manifesto co-written with Gordan Savičić and Danja Vasiliev. The notion of the artist-engineer might not be new, having a longer history in terms of media arts, but at the same time the manifesto and works capture something crucial about the methodology of such a practitioner, through an expanded understanding of what the machine is (across devices, bodies, agents, forces and networks, as the Manifesto lists) and how that expanded notion of the machine lends itself to a work of exposing; imbalance and deception become driving forces in a mapping of such relations, often in work that engages with wireless network technologies, rethinking visual and urban media, and more. The various projects at Weise7/Labor8 exhibition downstairs, at Transmediale 2012, are good examples.
Without being just software studies, such Critical Engineering engages with code, but in the manner how it regulates, governs, manages and in the right hands, distorts, perverts, misguides, cheats. This list that sounds a whole lot like from Matthew Fuller’s and Andy Goffey’s evil media theory.
So far, the two themes that emerge show the need to 1) account for such materialities that are not directly, necessarily humanly perceptible but completely real; and 2), the need to account for practices of perversion. Altering and corrupting as more interesting technical methods than just the smooth operationality often mistaken as the essence of technological practices.
Instead, I want to briefly to mention the work of Microresearch Lab/Martin Howse, Jonathan Kemp and Ryan Jordan, and especially the Recrystallization and Decrystallization workshops that took place in London and Berlin last year, and now during Transmediale The Crystal World Open laboratory.
The workshops used various methods to crack open and chemically process information technology in order to expose and address such constitutive processes what referred to as crystallisation. The term was partly adopted from J.G.Ballard, continuing an even earlier style of artistic practice of the Microresearch Lab, where software and hardware practices find a resonance with fiction, paranoid, speculative narratives of writers such as Thomas Pynchon (always dear to anyone interested in the 20th century articulations of power, science and engineering). As for crystallisation, with a nod towards Ballard indeed, the notion of the crystal becomes a conceptual lead in terms of a speculative materialism, described in these words:
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.
If computers and the minerals from which they are made are considered as equally crystalline, then their recrystallization is only possible through the introduction of vigorous and noisy positive feedback loops. “

In terms of media art histories, dead media and other theoretical and methodological approaches, the work of de- and recrystallization involved such techniques as “earth computing, mineral precipitation, high heat synthetic geology and inductive crystallography, DIY semi-conductor fabrication, water crystal cryptography, anthropocenic fossilizations, kirlian photography, hi-voltage fulgurite construction ”; Listing such, however, one however has to note quite soon that well, it is not exactly media archaeology as we used to think about it. Having said that, the notion of media archaeology in creative computing and related perspectives is taking us increasingly to such techniques as computer forensics, digital archaeology, and other modes of disgorging machines where art practices meet up with DIY and perhaps indeed critical engineering.
Speculative (media) archaeologies work crudely – but crude only in the sense of hacking open, disgorging, salvaging, melting, chemically processing in order to extract the minerals and such that on a material level compose our information technology. With an increasing political economic interest in the long networks of media production and discarded media, we have a better spatial understanding of the grim labour, electronic waste and other neo-colonialist emphasis of digital economy. The workshops tapped into this field directly as well, using such practices that mimicked human labour in extraction of valuable components and material from abandoned technology. What I want to propose is that such projects are emblematic of speculative media archaeologies and such artistic practices that combine a poetic-technological take on deep times, but ones that are such in a material sense too – not just written histories, but archaeologies of soil and history of the earth. Such speculative crypto histories of the earth refer to the concrete sedimentations of minerals and rocks, that act as re-sources for further development.

The Crystal World mineral cabinet
Where such methods fit in terms of media art vocabularies might remain unclear, but it is certain that they extend the practices often discussed in media art (histories) into a resonance with speculative materialism, new materialism, media archaeology but executed in highly original ways. We can talk of crystal materialities; materialities of minerals, information technology, and materialities of dangerous inhuman labour.
Indeed, to briefly elaborate on “exhumation” as a parallel concept to that more often mentioned of autopsy (also voiced by Tim Druckrey in his opening words) I will make a detour through Reza Negarestani. Cyclonopedia – a work of theory-fiction – speculates about the petropolitical deep layer, the living soil of Middle east, and we can point towards the work of Microresearch lab and these workshops as chemical and material deep layers that go two ways: not just the route of media archaeology interested in obsolescence, abandoned tech, and things old; but the other sort of descent too, to adopt Michel Foucault’s idea, perhaps implicitly part of some methodologies of media art histories and media archaeology. I am referring to a descent inside the machine, into the technical infrastructures, layers, city-like scapes of circuits and components. This kind of technical exposes a material, abstract level of connections, affordances and capacities. In such a methodology, the topology extends across materialities –from the fictional narrativisation to the hardware materiality and the long duration of mineral elements that entangle with that of human energy exploited for the excavation.
As a topological figure, and interested in this poetic and speculative materialism, allow me to end through a longer reference to Negarestani. What if such speculative media archaeologies and artistic methodologies are something that share methods with archaeologists but also with “cultists, worms and crawling entities”; not just a sublimated view of technological progress, but an interested in scars and half-lifes, of multiplication of surfaces, and creation of vermiculation; a new hole into solid, contained bodies of consumer technology.
“If archeologists, cultists, worms and crawling entities almost always undertake an act of exhumation (surfaces, tombs, cosmic corners, dreams, etc.), it is because exhumation is equal to ungrounding, incapacitating surfaces ability to operate according to topologies of the whole, or on a mereotopological level. In exhumation, the distribution of surfaces is thoroughly undermined and the movements associated with them are derailed; the edge no longer belongs to the periphery, anterior surfaces come after all other surfaces, layers of strata are displaced and perforated, peripheries and the last protecting  surfaces become the very conductors of invasion. Exhumation is defined as a collapse and trauma introduced to the solid part by vermiculate activities; it is the body of solidity replaced by the full body of trauma. As in disinterment — scarring the hot and cold surfaces of a grave — exhumation proliferates surfaces through each other. Exhumation transmutes architectures into excessive scarring processes, fibroses of tissues, membranes and surfaces of the solid body.”
This transmutation, and distribution of new surfaces is where such familiar notions of art and culture theory vocabulary as trauma are transported into material methodologies in order to excavate the stratification of such as part of mixed materials. The “novel crystal earth geologies” extend the work of material recovery and reuse into “psychophysical distortions and contingencies” in a gesture which elaborates an enthusiasm for multiple ecologies. Media art practices that are not merely to be fitted into media art histories and genres, but themselves create new openings to times and spaces of media objects, components, times.

Out of our heads, in our media

January 30, 2012 1 comment
I am off to Berlin Transmediale 2012-festival soon — excited as always. Giving there two talks; the latter one on Sunday on a panel organized by Tim Druckrey on methods for media art histories — I guess an unofficial media archaeology panel with Siegfried Zielinski, Wolfgang Ernst and Inke Arns!
And something different already on Friday; a performance with Julio D’Escrivan, mixing media theory and live coding… part of the Uncorporated Subversion-panel! Here is a short summary, but for the whole effect…be there on Friday. Should be worth the while, I promise…even though, in terms of the theme of “cognitive capitalism” that the paper touches a bit; I am not at all uncritical towards it, and agree it misses several key points. However, the notion is good, I would say, as a way to continue such investigations as Jonathan Crary has started into the ways in which cognition in a very wide sense, embrasing embodied, affective being, perception, sensation, is constantly articulated “out of our heads” (Alva Noë) — but in our media; a media ecology of production of perceptive, thinking, remembering subject. The collaborative form between me and D’Escrivan has itself been again a great way to work together. Last year we tried out similar things with Garnet Hertz (also with our Transmediale theory prize nominated paper on Zombie Media), and now through the performance.
This presentation can be best approached as an experiment in theory-code-collaboration, through live coding (D’Escrivan) and some speculative media theory (Parikka) concerning techniques of the cognitive. With some minor notes that reflect  live coding as a practice, the focus is more or less on the notion of cognitive capitalism. What the talk/performance presents are some tentative steps towards a media archaeology of cognitive capitalism. In other words, what are the supportive, sustaining and conditioning techniques that contribute to the cerebral? In this context, we propose to step away from a cognitive as understood as immaterial or as inner life, and towards a cognitive that is distributed, supported, relayed and modulated continuously in a complex information ecology. We are interested in investigating forms of collaboration between code and sonic arts, and media theory, and investigate collaboration as a form of (extra-)institutional practice in contemporary arts and education field.
Complicity with Anonymous Media
January 13, 2012 Leave a comment
Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow (1973) and its paranoid military-scientific worlds of technology, sexuality and hallucination became one inspirational figure for a whole wave of media theory. What could we do with Reza Negarestani’s Cyclonopedia (2008) then, which seems to include some similar stylistic elements, of transdisciplinary writing that wanders across rats and soil, petrol(ology) and archaeology to understand Middle-East? From Pynchon’s WWII Europe, to Negarestani’s Middle-East, politics of petrol.
The archaeological method of  Negarestani’s Cyclonopedia represents a theory-fiction alternative for media archaeology too. What if we employ the same hallucinatory, inspiring way of investigating the subterranean, the secret, the ground that is not defined by stability but dynamic flux of sediments alive, burrowed by rats, worms and archaeologists? We can call this investigation new materialist because it believes in agency of matter, and multiplicity of things both organic and non-organic. What does this multiplicity mean? It means a microworld that unravels when you zoom close: close enough, and the skin is not a unity, but porous folding, layered, and filled with bacteria. The soil is not stable, but a constantly slowly pulsating topology, with its own affordances, and indeed, again, bacteria and other forms of life. Same applies to everything, even metal, or as Deleuze and Guattari would say, especially to metal. In their metallurgical thinking, it is the body without organs, here better understood through the idea of what flows through everything – metallurgical cosmology. This is why they insist on the relatedness of machinic phylum and metal – and why they say that everything is a machine (not because it would be modelled on any already existing machine or technology!)
“Even the waters, the grasses and varieties of wood, the animals are populated by salts or mineral elements. Not everything is metal, but metal is everywhere.” (DG)
In Cyclonopedia, the character Parsani calls the approach to the subterranean “bacterial archaeology” – an archaeology that starts from the non-human agents and microscopic attraction points within matter. And the matter extends to politics, society, and power:
“Bacterial Archeology. It is imperative for Parsani, in his approach to the Middle East, to make clear that everything related to the Middle East emerges, moves, diffuses, escalates and engenders itself through and out of the holey Hezar’to (A Thousand Insides; the Persian word for labyrinth) and the Petrologies of Bacterial Archeology.’”
The earth moves, and hums.
The methodology is that of exhuming, which both archaeologists and rats share.
“If archeologists, cultists, worms and crawling entities almost always undertake an act of exhumation (surfaces, tombs, cosmic comers, dreams, etc.), it is because exhumation is equal to ungrounding, incapacitating surfaces ability to operate according to topologies of the whole, or on a mereotopological level. In exhumation, the distribution of surfaces is thoroughly undermined and the movements associated with them are derailed; the edge no longer belongs to the periphery, anterior surfaces come after all other surfaces, layers of strata are displaced and perforated, peripheries and the last protecting  surfaces become the very conductors of invasion. Exhumation is defined as a collapse and trauma introduced to the solid part by vermiculate activities; it is the body of solidity replaced by the full body of trauma. As in disinterment — scarring the hot and cold surfaces of a grave — exhumation proliferates surfaces through each other. Exhumation transmutes architectures into excessive scarring processes, fibroses of tissues, membranes and surfaces of the solid body.”
Just for speculative reasons, let’s use the same logic of thought to our technological excavations and use this as inspiration to think of the exhuming we do with media cultural topics – or machines themselves. One cannot help relating this to the epistemology and hallucinatory methods of Microresearch Lab, where the processes of soil and nature already technological are excavated in order to proliferate new surfaces – like the skin of the machine, that does not stop at the visible surface (interface/cover). It is topological, and folds in to a multiple surfaces, some inside, some abstract, some irrational.
In terms of animality, Cyclonopedia talks about rats as one agency of exhuming, parallel to archaeologists. How about then: Rats as archaeologists, or rats as media theorists? Such animals work less as metaphors than as vectors to think through the non-human force of analysis. To actually end up somewhere else than with more human focused vocabulary of cultural theory and methodology.
Furthermore, can we even extract ideas for archaeological politics – a politics for the military-industrial complex in the age of advanced science and technology?
“Parsani claims that ‘archeology, with it’s ingrained understanding of Hidden Writing, will dominate the politics of future and will be the military science of twenty-first century’.”

The Age of Selection

December 27, 2011 Leave a comment
Capitalism. Think of it as a military drill operation. In order for us to be consumers and subject to advertising, we need to be trained. We need to realize choice, we need to understand selection, and we need to be trained to realize that advertising…is only for our benefit. Right?

From Popular Science, 1932


December 23, 2011 5 comments
Based on this year´s blog statistics, a guaranteed way to drive up traffic is to either to write about Friedrich Kittler (after he is dead) or about Object Oriented Philosophy. The latter of these two, my previous posting gathered an awful lot of commentaries, including for me really useful feedback, so thanks to all for contributing. But it also reminded me that mentioning OOO/OOP is the guaranteed way to raise big emotions — reminding me why I never wanted to dip into those conversations. That does not mean that there is awful lot of good ideas there, but I just don´t want to get drawn into such heated discussions.
Here is Graham Harman´s  mention of the discussion, also calling for more “productive debate”. I was not able to leave a comment on his blog and continue that debate so wanted just to briefly flag a couple of points here.
Firstly, for me, my blog post was not meant to poke at anyone just to irritate. I was merely interested, after reading and following debates, in some of the core questions from my perspective. I did not realize they were unproductive, and feel slightly paranoid now how my texts can be suddenly turned as part of some bigger academic catfight to which I have no desire to be part of.
Secondly, I am not interested in general debates “object” vs. “process”. Neither answers what I am after, and that is to map the specificities of technical media culture. Hence, I cannot decide beforehand whether I am dealing with object, process or something else. I am too much of  a cultural historian, or a media archaeologist even, and interested in mapping/using the heterogeneous sources through which to understand technical media culture, from its technico-scientific roots to various imaginaries; political economy to political ecology; the ethico-aesthetico to aesthetico-technical. But that’s me. Others can and are (take for instance Bryant, Bogost or Paul Caplan) are doing really interesting things with OOP and media, even if I might differ on various points. I am interested in materiality, and also politics of matter(ing) – Braidotti, Grosz, Barad, Parisi, Terranova, post-fordist political theory – where questions about the real or new materialism are mobilized in so many differing, often also conflicting ways. But that’s another story.
Thirdly, in relation to Harman´s post — of course I would be saying critical things about OOP; saying critical things is just taking an interest in something. I think that is better than not saying anything critical. I have not wanted to say anything too publicly because I have felt and always added that I am not qualified to do that, and that I will leave OOP-discussions to others. So be it from now on as well, as the some of the repercussions and comments are getting too weird, already now. It’s not a very welcoming debate.
Fourthly, what I have probably said about Simondon is that he solves more problems for me than does OOP, and feels closer to the fields I am tackling with. For me, in a Kittlerian fashion, I want to articulate the double bind of philosophy and its relation to technical media — both historicized. I am a pragmatist in this way — perhaps sharing a bit of similar ground as Bogost mentioned in one of his comments to the post: interesting to see what we can do with different theories.
And btw. on top of my reading list, Bogost´s Alien Phenomenology, as soon a its out. And a couple of months after that, Braidotti´s The Posthuman. Oh the bliss of non-human world. And hats off to so many theorists of the non-human.

OOQ – Object-Oriented-Questions

December 21, 2011 53 comments
I can’t claim that I know too much about object oriented philosophy. It’s often more about my friends or colleagues talking about it, enthusiastically for or against. Indeed, I have been one of those who has at best followed some of the arguments but not really dipped too deeply into the debates – which from early on, formed around specific persons, specific arguments, and a specific way of interacting.
Hence, let me just be naïve for a second, and think aloud a couple of questions:
-       I wonder if there is a problem with the notion of object in the sense that it still implies paradoxically quite a correlationist, or lets say, human-centred view to the world; is not the talk of “object” something that summons an image of perceptible, clearly lined, even stable entity – something that to human eyes could be thought of as the normal mode of perception. We see objects in the world. Humans, benches, buses, cats, trashcans, gloves, computers, images, and so forth. But what would a cat, bench, bus, trashcan, or a computer “see”, or sense?
-       Related to this, what if the world is not an object? What if the non-humans it wants to rescue are not (always) something we could with good conscience call objects? I guess OOP wants to treat everything as an object – across scales, genres and epistemological prejudices – and hence bring a certain flatness to the world – to treat humans and non-humans on equal footing, a project which I am in complete agreement with – but does this not risk paradoxically stripping entities, the world of specificity? For instance, in mediatic contexts, what if we need to account for the non-object based realities of such media technological realities as electromagnetism – that hardly could intuitively be called an object. Would treating such entities as objects be actually just confusing, and lead to imagined concretenesses? This question is motivated by some recent arguments in media theory, insisting that we need more careful vocabularies of the non-object nature of media; for instance Wolfgang Ernst and his discourse concerning time-criticality; Mark B.N. Hansen and his recent ideas stemming from the direction of Whitehead, in connection to ubiquitous media.
-       Some people are enthusiastic because object oriented philosophy seems at last to offer a philosophical way of treating the non-human (animals, technology, etc.) on an equal footing to the human. Agencies are extended to a whole lot of entities. But such claims, whether intentionally or not, forget that there is a whole long history of such thought; the most often forgotten is the radical feminist materialism of figures such as Rosi Braidotti and Elizabeth Grosz; this goes nowadays often by the name of new materialism.
-       Just a thought: The real is not the same thing as matter. Matter is not always about objects.  In an interview, Grosz has briefly hinted that she is not that interested in the concept/category of the real, because that still concerns more closely epistemology. Instead, what concerns her is matter.
-       Is object oriented philosophy more akin to epistemology, an operationalization of the world into modular units through which we can question human superiority– instead of it being an ontology? If we want to pay more philosophical respect to the world of non-humans – chemicals, soil, minerals, atmospheric currents and such – should we not read more of scientific research that constantly is the one who talks of such worlds, and actually offers insights into different worlds of durations and stabilities from that of the human? Don’t get me wrong – I might be a naïve observer but not that naïve: of course I know that a lot of sciences are not able to be that self-reflexive, and constantly smuggle in a huge amount of conceptual and other material that makes their epistemology infected with the human/the social, and that science is not a neutral cold gaze that just registers the world. I guess I am just interested in the world – an empiricism, transcendental, radical.
These thoughts are indeed just self-reflections of an amateur while reading object-oriented philosophy, or listening people talk about it – I think I am just trying to figure out why people are so enthusiastic about it.

On Borrowed Time – Lazzarato and Debt

November 29, 2011 5 comments
Maurizio Lazzarato’s new book La fabrique de l’homme endetté is another fabulous, lucid and inspiring account from the Italian philosopher. The short book is, as the subtitle promises, an essay on the “neoliberal condition”, which in this case encompasses an analysis of debt. It could not be timelier. This is an obvious statement but the importance of debt from the macroeconomic level of public sector national crises in Europe and US to the microeconomic subjectivity of the individual agents cannot be overestimated. Indeed, what Lazzarato offers is a philosophico-historical analysis of the debt condition via Nietzsche, Marx, Deleuze & Guattari and Foucault.
Written in an accessible style, Lazzarato’s argument is easily summarized. What grounds the economic relation is not exchange as so often assumed in classical economic theories but the credit-debt relationship. This, in other words, is a relation of asymmetric power, which is the fundamental starting point for what is followed up by economic and political contexts (two tightly related fields, argues Lazzarato distinguishing himself from Badiou and Rancière’s argument concerning the autonomy of the political from the economic). Debt as a feature of neoliberalist policies affecting exactly the diminishment of the public sector gradually from the 1970s onwards is what Lazzarato insists as a better way to understand contemporary capitalism than talk of financial capitalism. With the creditor-debt relation he is able to talk of the subjectification process inside capitalism.
Lazzarato proceeds in a clear fashion, first taking aboard Nietzsche’s genealogy of morality and explication the debt relation as one of guilt. The relation of debt is one of morality and hence encompasses the social relation before establishing the economic. The precondition for debt is that you are able to make promises, project to the future, and establish a relation of future promises made now. This temporality is a significant feature in terms of how debt attaches to the morality, the embodied subject of capitalism that Lazzarato insists is not only cognitive. Indeed, in more than one passage he argues that the theses concerning cognitive capitalism are insufficient to understand the whole relation. The investment in the cognitive, and the cognitive as the motor of contemporary production is just one modality in a wider context. Indeed, later he goes on to elaborate what he calls a more “existentialist” mode of subjectivity at the centre of this neoliberal condition. Yet, this is not Sartrean existentialism, but one that comes from William James. The cognitive is only a small part of subjectivity that more fundamentally includes more intimate things – passions, impulsions, beliefs and desires. Hence, in this mix of Nietzsche-James one is looking at more non-cognitive forces that relate to a relation to future. This futurity is something that in various different ways has been suggested as a way to understand contemporary powers of security-capital, from pre-emption (Elmer and Opel), premediation (Grusin) and futur antérieur (Massumi).
For Lazzarato, this is an articulation of belief and the necessary incertitude as its atmospheric context, which is all embedded in the wider culture of risk that we find from the discourses of entrepreneurship to work in general. Hence, Nietzschean genealogy of bodily feelings (or lets call them affect, even if Lazzarato does not really talk of affects) is one that lends itself to understand what is the social enabling the capital relation.
When bringing in Marx to his analysis, Lazzarato refers to a much less known text, “Credit and Bank” (1844). This is what Lazzarato calls the Nietzschean Marx; one who sees the condition of debt entirely attached to the subjectivity of the poor, the one who is on borrowed time (hence, applies to the rent relation as well…). Here, to paraphrase Lazzarato (p.45), the credit does not characterize only labour, but the wider work that goes into the self – instead of just investing into physical or intellectual capacities, credit/debt is something that attaches to the morality (the future-orientedness) of the subjectivity, and hence is a question of ethics. To continue with Lazzarato’s explication of Marx, this relates to a total alienation as it touches not only a specific part of the worker’s time (that of work) but the whole ethics of being as someone who is promising, bearing risks, and assuming a future. What is captured is the future-prospect, or something that Lazzarato calls as the debt-relations’ asphyxiation of futures.
Throw in Deleuze and Guattari for good measure. Obviously, so much of Lazzarato’s analyses has been already implicitly about Deleuze-Guattarian emphases that he explicates in the book.  The “non-economic interpretation of economy” that DG’s emphasis of the production of the social brings in is again the point of asymmetry of power. As a certain anthropology of capital, it allows us to think, again, not exchange but debt/guilt/power as what enables the economy. The two monies of a) revenue/salary and b) capital need to be distinguished. The latter is what governs financial capitalism as a form of futurity (or pre-emption of futures) where the credit money is able to what kind of productions and products will actualize (and of course, one could add, it is not only about such but the constant deferral of the virtual money repackaged into new forms of debts – subprime).
To paraphrase Lazzarato (p.71), the approach he proposes is about the transversality of the debt/neoliberal condition. Employed, and unemployed, productive or unproductive, the state of debt runs through economic, political and social fields (ibid.). Picking up on Foucault’s points (and updating some others), Lazzarato reminds that the (neo)liberal condition is not about reduction of control and governing, as so often rhetorically claimed, but about emphasizing certain patterns of contradiction, accumulation of value and power, and minimizing the democratic possibilities of intervention (120).
For me, Lazzarato’s brilliant extended essay/book raises questions; for instance, how to elaborate the debt as embodied; Ie. what could be called, for the lack of a better word, “affective capitalism”, where the affect bit refers to the bodily and often non-cognitive states and excitations; of desires and impulsions; whether in the brain or in the gut. Could this be connected to the wider interest in brain sciences in the context of digital culture (interface design)? And the wider discourse of the brain – brain sciences in contemporary culture?
Could there be a mediatic way of continuing Lazzarato’s analyses, to connect the future-oriented subjectivity to analyses of the media technological condition of the human in contemporary neoliberalism?

Masterchef – or what you always wanted to know about desire

November 26, 2011 Leave a comment
Everything you always wanted to know about the psyche but were afraid to ask Gregg, Monica or Michel Roux jr.

In other words, what explains the popularity of Masterchef (Professionals) is of course that it is primarily about the multiple layers of the psyche catered on our home screens, and featuring that intimate event of joy when something goes in before later coming out. Food.
Think of Masterchef as the structure of the psyche. It comes in three. What you have is the drooling, child-like, enjoyment – jouissance! – of Gregg, whose whole body vibrates when brought in proximity of sugary desserts. His face is the face of enjoyment, unhidden. He cannot, because that is his part, as the id, the primal orientation to joy/food/excess.
Take Monica then. The professional, cool, rarely smiling, more likely a slightly contempt-filled face of judgment: who is good enough for Michel. She judges according to the expectations of the one who is absent. She does not eat much – if she does, it is only to evaluate, not to enjoy. She is empty, as she has to know what the Absent wants and act as the mouth of that. “This is not good enough for Michel”, is the cool, cruel judgment that lacks passion. (Yet, is she somewhere inside paranoid; what if she gets the judgment wrong?) She is impossible to please because she talks for someone else. She incorporates the function of the ego as a mediator.
Of course, Michel Roux jr. is not always absent – he does make himself visible at times. Still cool, but completely beyond the scale in comparison to others featured in the show, we are always almost double-guessing. What does he want? What does he really want? What else is that recurring ever-so-slightly missing bit but that lack that constitutes the unattainable? Hence, paranoia: the professionals who anyway have to work to please are here trying to mediate their actions in a situation of conflicting desires, ie the structures of the psyche, and finally the ever-so-slightly always missing bit what distinguishes the Absent one.
The Absent one does speak, of course: “So what is it that you want to show us?” The question of confession and subjectification. “Well, I want to be like you, Michel”. Of course, such a line never appears, would be blasphemy. Instead, what we hear time after time is “to see how far I can go.” And: “just to show what I can do”.
They are not there to enjoy the food (Gregg eats for all), but to enjoy the appreciation of the Ideal – Michel Roux Jr. (Mediated via Monica). Enjoyment comes via the Other.
So, of course, now the question is: which one do you identify with? The completely reckless hedonist Greg, or the cool evaluating and despising gaze of Monica – or the shaking, scared little competitors trying to mediate between the conflicting desires in their head externalized. As the absent one is, and remains, unattainable. And let’s not even talk about the Roux Sr.

(disclaimer: I am not and have never been a member of the Club Psychoanalytique and I read Žižek as a guilty pleasure, and never have claimed to offer accurate analyses. In other words, read this as tongue in cheek).

The Media That Therefore We Are – on Lenore Malen’s video installation

November 15, 2011 Leave a comment
I wrote this short catalogue text for Lenore Malen’s I am the Animal — also included stills (courtesy of and permission from Lenore Malen) from the exhibition:
The Media That Therefore We Are

It’s a matter of scales. If you are far enough away, and your perspective is mediated by a layer of concepts, abstractions, and an organizational eye, you might indeed see them as models of ideal society. It’s all order. Everyone does what they are supposed to. There is one Queen. No wonder the protofascist Maya the Bee was an ideal cartoon character for 1930s national-socialist Germany. One is tempted to see the idea of a strong leadership to which everyone submits as an example of sovereign power per se, even if, to be honest, the Queen does not choose to execute power — it happens much more intuitively, almost in a subconscious way. Of course, when it comes to bees, there is no such talk of subconscious; instinct used to be the word in the 19th century for this near mystical mode of organization. This is evident in, for instance, Maurice Maeterlinck’s The Life of the Bee (1901), which refers to “the spirit of the hive.”
But on another scale, it looks very different. Look closely enough and they become the aliens they are: their weird compound eyes composed of thousands of lenses, their six legs, non-human movement, jerky, non-mammal insides folded out. This has been the other story since the 19th century and the birth of modern entomology: insects as aliens, otherworldly non-humans, often seem almost to possess technology in their capacities to see, sense, and move differently. The insects are the Anti-McLuhan; technics does not start with the human but with the animal, the insect, and their superior powers of being-in the- world (the allusion to Heidegger is intentional).
Lenore Malen’s I Am The Animal intertwines the various histories, aesthetics, and idealizations of the bee community as well as the bee’s relations withbeekeepers. It’s all about relations, and establishing relations with our constitutive environments — including bees. Donna Haraway talks about companion species (specifically dogs, but other animals too) as formative of our being in the world; she discusses the ways in which those relations are formative of our becomings.
Our relation to insects is reflected in much more than the narrative aspect of Malen’s work. The immersive environment of the installation envelops the spectator in a milieu of becoming. The clips Malen uses are mini-thoughts, mini-brains, which are brought together with her digital software tools; the clips are memes that Malen excavates from online archives and audiovisual repositories, and composes into a three-channel envelope.
I Am The Animal poses the question: Can insects be our companion species? This is paradoxical in light of Derrida’s The Animal That Therefore I Am, to which Malen’s title refers. Derrida starts with the gaze of the animal — his cat, to be exact, lazily gazing at Derrida’s naked body. But catching the insect’s compound eyes is more difficult, if not impossible. For Malen, Derrida’s essay functions as a critique of subjectivity. Derrida continues to analyze how the cat does not feel its own nakedness, has no need of clothes, whereas we — as technical beings — surround our bodies, envelop ourselves in extensions, such as clothes. We are not only enveloped in cinema, media, and technology but in fundamental forms of shelter.
So do animals have technology? They might not plan buildings and produce external tools, but an alternative lineage claims that animals, insects and such, are completely technical. Henri Bergson was of such an opinion: even if humans are intelligent in the sense of being able to abstract, plan, and externalize their thoughts into tools, insects occupy technics in their bodies and embody intertwining with the world. The body itself is already technical. One could think of examples of insect architecture, of various stratagems of the body for defense or attack, of modes of movement, and of perception as media. If the body is media — as Ernst Kapp suggested in the 19th century and McLuhan later — then what kind of media does the insect suggest?
The three screens of I Am The Animal are rhythmic elements that deterritorialize our vision. A slowly progressing multiplication of viewpoints is the becoming-animal of perception that the installation delivers. The immersive space is also one of measured fragmentation into the compound vision of insects. Slow disorientation is one tactic of this mode of becoming; it points both to the world of insects and to the media in which we are immersed. The early avant-garde connection between the technical vision machine and the insect compound machine — in the words of Jean Epstein, “the thousand-faceted eyes of the insects” — creates a sense of space as split; perspective is multiplied into a variation. Malen’s I Am The Animal is about such forms of multiplicity.
The animal is incorporated into the machinated cultural assemblages of modernity; the disappearance of animals from urban cultures during the past couple hundred years is paralleled by the appearance of animals in various modern discourses from media to theory. We talk, see, incorporate animal energies. Akira Mizuta Lippit in Electric Animal (2000) writes how “the idioms and histories of numerous technological innovations from the steam engine to quantum mechanics bear the traces of an incorporated animality. James Watt and later Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Walt Disney, and Erwin Schrödinger, among other key figures in the industrial and aesthetic shifts of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, found uses for animal spirits in developing their respective machines, creating in the process fantastic hybrids.”

Animals as well as media are elements with which we become. Matthew Fuller in his essay “Art for Animals” (2008) identifies a two-fold danger in relation to art with/about nature: that we succumb to a social constructionism or that we embrace biological positivism. And yet, we need to be able to carve out the art/aesthetic in and through nature and animals in ways that involve the double movement back and forth between animality and humanity. Art for animals is one way, to quote Fuller: “Art for animals intends to address the ecology of capacities for perceptions, sensation, thought and reflexivity of animals.” What kind of perceptions and sensations are afforded us by media/ nature? And conversely, what worlds do we create in which animals and nature perceive, live, and think?

Announcing Medianatures and Living Books About Life

October 28, 2011 Leave a comment
It’s (a)live! Medianatures: The Materiality of Information Technology and Electronic Waste and the whole impressive series of 21 open access books about humanities-science-themes, commissioned by Gary Hall, Joanna Zylinska and Clare Birchall, published by Open Humanities Press and funded by JISC: Living Books About Life.
My edited book was inspired by Sean Cubitt’s (and others, see the Acknowledgements of the introduction) recent research into media and waste, and I owe full thanks to him. What I wanted to investigate was the question of how materiality can be thought through such “bad matter” of waste, and related to for instance energy (consumption). The introduction outlines my approach, and ties it together with some debates in new materialism (this side of the argument is more fully outlined in a short text of mine “New Materialism as Media Theory”, forthcoming very soon in Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies-journal).
The best introduction to the whole project is however found in this press release by Hall, Zylinska and Birchall:
Open Humanities Press publishes twenty-one open access Living Books About Life
The pioneering open access humanities publishing initiative, Open Humanities Press (OHP) (http://openhumanitiespress.org), is pleased to announce the release of 21 open access books in its series Living Books About Life (http://www.livingbooksaboutlife.org).
Funded by the Joint Information Systems Committee (JISC), and edited by Gary Hall, Joanna Zylinska and Clare Birchall, Living Books About Life is a series of curated, open access books about life — with life understood both philosophically and biologically — which provide a bridge between the humanities and the sciences. Produced by a globally-distributed network of writers and editors, the books in the series repackage existing open access science research by clustering it around selected topics whose unifying theme is life: e.g., air, agriculture, bioethics, cosmetic surgery, electronic waste, energy, neurology and pharmacology.
Peter Suber, Open Access Project Director, Public Knowledge, said: ‘This book series would not be possible without open access.  On the author side, it takes splendid advantage of the freedom to reuse and repurpose open-access research articles.  On the other side, it passes on that freedom to readers. In between, the editors made intelligent selections and wrote original introductions, enhancing each article by placing it in the new context of an ambitious, integrated understanding of life, drawing equally from the sciences and humanities’.
By creating twenty one ‘living books about life’ in just seven months, the series represents an exciting new model for publishing, in a sustainable, low-cost, low-tech manner, many more such books in the future. These books can be freely shared with other academic and non-academic institutions and individuals.
Nicholas Mirzoeff, Professor of Media, Culture and Communication at New York University, commented: ‘This remarkable series transforms the humble Reader into a living form, while breaking down the conceptual barrier between the humanities and the sciences in a time when scholars and activists of all kinds have taken the understanding of life to be central. Brilliant in its simplicity and concept, this series is a leap towards an exciting new future’.
One of the most important aspects of the Living Books About Life series is the impact it has had on the attitudes of the researchers taking part, changing their views on open access and raising awareness of issues around publishers’ licensing and copyright agreements. Many have become open access advocates themselves, keen to disseminate this model among their own scholarly and student communities. As Professor Erica Fudge of the University of Strathclyde and co-editor of the living book on Veterinary Science, put it, ‘I am now evangelical about making work publicly available, and am really encouraging colleagues to put things out there’.
These ‘books about life’ are themselves ‘living’, in the sense they are open to ongoing collaborative processes of writing, editing, updating, remixing and commenting by readers. As well as repackaging open access science research — together with interactive maps and audio-visual material — into a series of books, Living Books About Life is thus involved in rethinking ‘the book’ itself as a living, collaborative endeavour in the age of open science, open education, open data, iPad apps and e-book readers such as Kindle.
Tara McPherson, editor of VECTORS, Journal of Culture and Technology in a Dynamic Vernacular, said: ‘It is no hyperbole to say that this series will help us reimagine everything we think we know about academic publishing.  It points to a future that is interdisciplinary, open access, and expansive.’
Funded by JISC, Living Books About Life is a collaboration between Open Humanities Press and three academic institutions, Coventry University, Goldsmiths, University of London, and the University of Kent.

Open Humanities Press is a non-profit, international Open Access publishing collective specializing in critical and cultural theory. OHP was formed by academics to overcome the current crisis in scholarly publishing that threatens intellectual freedom and academic rigor worldwide. OHP journals are academically certified by OHP’s independent board of international scholars. All OHP publications are peer-reviewed, published under open access licenses, and freely and immediately available online at http://openhumanitiespress.org

Friedrich Kittler (1943-2011)

October 18, 2011 14 comments
Writing anything after hearing about the death of Friedrich Kittler (1943-2011) is not really easy, even if it surely will boost the academic publishing industry into a range of publications. Somewhere I read him characterized as the “Derrida of media theory” and where the writer (probably Winthrop-Young or Peters) added that of course, Kittler would like to be called “Foucault of media theory”. But then again,
I think he would have liked to be thought of as, well, I guess “Any-Band-Member-of-Pink-Floyd – of Media Theory”.
Quite emblematically, as happened with the translation and cultural import of French theory to English speaking academia, things got mixed. German media theory became a general term that mostly hide a lot of differences between writers. Same thing had happened with French Theory when it arrived in the US. In media theory, Kittler became however the leading figure, due to the two translations: in 1990, Aufschreibesystem got its English form as Discourse Networks, and in 1999 Gramophone Film Typewriter came out. Meanwhile, his essays started to pour into English language.  On computers, literature, psychoanalysis, music and sound, and optical media – the classes he gave in 1999, translated into English later as Optical Media (2010). He wrote a lot, and his amazing expertise from literature to physics and engineering produced something eclectic – a weird world of Pynchon and voltages, of Goethe and dead voices of phonographic recordings, a mix of sex, Rock’n’Roll and philosophy. Pink Floyd was as important to him as Foucault (see the wonderful little book by Winthrop-Young), and he never really believed in Cultural Studies.
We had the honour of hosting his last talk at Sophienstrasse, and probably his last public talk ever. The Medientheater was jam packed, primarily because of Kittler, talking at the last event of the Sophienstrasse 22 address. Even then he continued along the same line of thought: critique of the standardization of university worlds. He was an adamant defender of the old(er) ideas of university, before the subsuming of the education system to short-term market terms, the creative industries, the psychobabble that is unscientific and leads to a deterioration of intellectual goals. Despite being a fan of “Old Europe”, he was against the BA-MA structure reforms (the Bologna process) that offered standards for degrees across Europe. Similarly as he was offering meticulous analysis of the work of standards in computing, he did so in terms of education system, which, as we know, is just another program. It programs us, into suitable subjects – from Goethe-zeit, to the neoliberal programming of little entrepreneurs.
For such universities, Heidegger, Deleuze, Whitehead, Kittler might be seen at times too difficult, which means that we should push them more. The legacy of Kittler has been debated already during his lifetime, with Winthrop-Young in Kittler and the Media nicely remarking: “Is there a ‘Kittler School’? Yes, but it is not worth talking about. As in the case of Heidegger, clones can be dismissed, for those who choose to think and write like Kittler are condemned to forever repeat him.” Instead, continues Winthrop-Young, we need to be aware of the Kittler-effect and the impact he had to so many discussions. For me, personally, this happened through the combination of Kittler and Deleuze; reading groups in the late 1990s in Turku (largely because of a couple of people at the University: professor Jukka Sihvonen, and my friend, colleague Pasi Väliaho, along with our Deleuze-reading group together with Teemu Taira).  That provided another road already, one that Kittler never really took, and which lead to thinking technics and Deleuze-Guattarian philosophy in parallel lines. Kittler might have hated that, but that is the point; keeping his legacy alive means new ideas and combinations. What I would like to sustain from his fresh, radical, anarchist ideas are the eclectic method of crisscrossing ontological regimes across science and arts; his keen historical (some would say “archaeological”) focus even if not always correct in details; his materiality, and no-nonsense attitude to theories and analysis of for instance digital media. That is much more than most of the current writing can still offer. Of course, there is so much that I refuse to take aboard, but that should be part of any intellectual reading and adaptation.
People often remember his older writings – and the idea of discourse networks, then developed into media theory. Yet, the past years he was occupied with the Greeks and what remained mostly an unfinished project: Music and Mathematics. He never reached the final book of the series on Turing-zeit, unless somewhere in his study there is a manuscript waiting to be found. Fragments for sure.
The amount of inspiring ideas he was able to pack even to a one sentence – where you were not always sure what it even meant, but you got the affective power of it. One of my favourites was the quote from Pynchon with which he started his Gramophone Film Typewriter: “Tap my head and mike my brain, Stick that needle in my vein”.
In a way, Kittler wrote media theory with Heidegger, but also with Pynchon. Gravity’s Rainbow is one key to his early writings, when you realize the style, but also the ontology behind it. Subjectivities wired to technologies, and high physics being the language “behind” the everyday appearance and seeming randomness that is just an effect of the complexity of science and engineering. The V-2 is one reference point for modern technology in general. It has a special relation to human sensorium:
“As the pendulum was pushed off center by the acceleration of launch, current would flow—the more acceleration, the more flow. So the Rocket, on its own side of the flight, sensed acceleration first. Men, tracking it, sensed position or distance first. To get to distance from acceleration, the Rocket had to integrate twice—needed a moving coil, transformers, electrolytic cell, bridge of diodes, one tetrode (an extra grid to screen away capacitive coupling inside the tube), an elaborate dance of design precautions to get to what human eyes saw first of all—the distance along the flight path.”
In short, what Guattari summed up in short that “machines talk to machines before talking to humans”, for Kittler is an elaborate work of physics and engineering, even before we see what hit us. And hear it afterwards.
Pynchon, and Gravity’s Rainbow, tie of course to Kittler’s other passion where the rocket technology took us after the war. The moon, Pink Floyd‘s moon to be specific. One is almost expecting to hear Kittler’s rusty voice whispering at the end, after the crackling LP almost finishes…”There is no dark side of the moon really…as a matter of fact, it’s all dark.”

It’s All in the Technique

October 12, 2011 Leave a comment
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.

Don’t worry if its not mass media, it is at least a cultural technique.
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.

Rhythm & Event: The Aesthetico-Technical

October 6, 2011 1 comment
I am giving a talk here:
The London Graduate School, Kingston University, presents a one day symposium on Rhythm & Event, Saturday 29 October 2011, King’s Anatomy Theatre and Museum.

Can a concept of rhythm, understood as a vibrational, irregular, abstract-yet-real movement, lurking at the unknown dimensions of the event, bridge the gap between actual & virtual, analog & digital, spatial & temporal, as well as between theories & practices of sound? The purpose of this symposium is to elaborate a philosophy of rhythm as an appropriate mode of analysis of the event, and a method with which to account for the process of change and the production of novelty in contemporary environments.

Plenary speakers include, Matthew Fuller (Goldsmiths College) & Andrew Goffey (Middlesex University), Angus Carlyle (LCC, CRiSAP), and Jussi Parikka (Winchester School of Art/ University of Southampton). The event will conclude with an electronic audiovisual performance and wine reception.
For details and registration, please visit this link: tiny.cc/rhythm-lgs

And my talk at the event, at least an approximation of this summary:
The Aesthetico-Technical Rhythm
Despite the insistence on the objective materiality as a grounding for technical media culture, a key realization that framed also technical media was that of rhythm – or more widely vibrations, waves, rhythms, and patterns. From the 19th century discoveries concerning Hertzian waves and Fourier transformations, Helmholtz and Nikola Tesla to mid 20th century research into brains and brain waves mapped and modulated through EEG (W.Grey Walter and the British Cybernetics), and onto contemporary digital culture of algo-rhythms (Miyazaki 2011), this talk maps a short genealogy of rhythmic technical media. The talk focuses especially on the epistemological mapping of sound words by the Institute for Algorhythmics (Berlin), and argues for an aesthetic-technical connection to think through the sonification of non-sensuous digital worlds. Referring to Wendy Chun’s (2011) ideas concerning the invisibility-visibility pairing in digital culture, the talk addresses not code, but rhythm as the constituting element for technical media.

Operative Media Archaeology

September 22, 2011 Leave a comment
If interested in Friedrich Kittler, German media theory, and new approaches to archives, technical media and media archaeology – check out Wolfgang Ernst’s work. My article on his media archaeology is out now, in Theory, Culture & Society.
Having said that, Ernst is someone who is not – despite some misunderstandings in especially Anglo-American reception – a student of Kittler’s, and to make things even more complex, Kittler himself denounced being a media archaeologist. Despite such figures even in Germany as Bernhard Siegert referring to the 1980s and 1990s vibrant German media theory discussions as an age of media archaeology & Nietzschean Gay Science, Kittler himself recently took a bit distance from this particular term (even if, underlining how symphathetic he is to Ernst’s approach).
In any case, you can find the article here. I hope it to work as an introduction to Ernst’s work which is still not very well known in Anglo-American discussions. And more to come: next year or so, University of Minnesota Press is putting out a collection of Ernst writings (edited by me), which gives a deeper insight of why he might just be relevant not only as a “post-Kittler” theorist to spike up our theory discussions from that Berlin directions but also as someone who could bring an additional angle to thinking about archives and digital humanities.

Dirty Matter

August 26, 2011 Leave a comment
I was asked to write a short forum piece on “new materialism” for Communication and Critical/Cultural Studies-journal and I wrote a piece called “New Materialism as Media Theory: Dirty Matter and Medianatures”. It partly picks up on some of the themes I have been recently talking and writing about, influenced by such scholars as Sean Cubitt. It also articulated – albeit briefly – some points concerning German media theory as new materialism, even if going the quickly to a different direction concerning materiality. Here is a short taster of what’s to come.
The key points of the text were in short: 1) we need to understand how media technologies themselves already incorporate and suggest “new materialism” of non-solids, non-objects and this is part of technical modernity (the age of Hertzian vibrations); 2) we need also to understand bad matter – not just the new materialism that is empowering, but one that is depowering: the matter that is toxic, leaking from abandoned electronic media, attaching to internal organs, skins of low paid workers in developing countries. In this context, “medianatures” is the term I use to theoretically track the continuums from matter to media, and from media back to (waste) matter.
I believe that it is this continuum that is crucial in terms of a developed material understanding of media cultures. Hence, it’s a shame from a new materialist point of view that even such pioneering thinkers as Michel Serres miss this point concerning the weird materialities of contemporary technological culture – weird in the sense that they remain irreducible to either their “hard” contexts and pollution (CO2, toxic materials, minerals, and other component parts) or their “soft” bits – signs, meanings, attractions, desires. In Malfeasance. Appropriation Through Pollution? Trans. Anne-Marie Feenberg-Dibon (Stanford: Stanford University Press 2011),  these are the two levels Serres proposes as crucial from an environmental point of view but he ignores the continuum between the two. And yet, signs are transmitted as signals, through cables, in hardware, in a mesh of various components from heavy metals to PVC coatings.
Perhaps a good alternative perspective to Serres’ is found in how both Félix Guattari and Gilles Deleuze conceive of a-signification as a regime of signs beyond signification and meaning: Gary Genosko’s apt example (in: Félix Guattari. A Critical Introduction London: Pluto 2009, 95-99 ) is the case of magnetic stripes on for instance your bank card as a form of automatized and operationalized local power that is not about interpretation, but a different set of signal work. Elaborating signaletic material – electronic signals and software – through a reference to Deleuze’s film theory and a-signification by Bodil Marie Stavning Thomsen is also useful. As she elaborates – and this much we know from years of intensive reading of Deleuze in screen based analyses – Deleuze wanted to include much more than signification into the cinematic impact, and mapped a whole field of a-signifying matter in film: “sensory (visual and sound), kinetic, intensive, affective, rhythmic, tonal, and even verbal (oral and written).” (“The Haptic Interface. On Signal Transmissions and Events” in Interface Criticism. Aesthetics Beyond Buttons, edited by Christian Ulrik Andersen and Søren Bro Pold, Aarhus University Press 2011, 59) What she points out in terms of signal media is as important: after signs come signals, and the media of signals needs a similar move as Deleuze did with film: to carve out the a-signifying material components for digital media too.
Such a-signifying components are rarely content to stay on one level, despite a lot of theory often placing primacy to software, hardware, or some other level. Various levels feed into each other; this relates to what Guattari calls mixed semiotics, and we can here employ the idea of a medianature-continuum.  The a-signifying level of signs is embedded in the a-signifying materiality of processes and components.
In short, it’s continuums all the way down (and up again), soft to hard, hardware to signs. In software studies (see: David M. Berry, The Philosophy of Software. Code and Mediation in the Digital Age,  Palgrave Macmillan 2011, 95-96), the continuum from the symbol functions on higher levels of coding practices to voltage differences as a “lower hardware level” has been recognized: assembly language needs to be compiled, binary is what the computer “reads”, and yet such binaries take effect only through transistors; and if we really want to be hardcore, we just insist that in the end, it comes back to voltage differences (Kittler’s famous “There is no Software”-text and argument). Such is the methodology of “descent” that Foucault introduced as genealogy, but German media theory takes as a call to open up the machine physically and methodologically to its physics – and which leads into a range of artistic methodologies too, from computer forensics to data carvery. In other words, recognizing the way abstraction works in technical media from voltages and components to the more symbolic levels allows us to track back, as well, from the world of meanings and symbols – but also a-signification – to level of dirty matter.

The Physicist of Media Theory – Friedrich Kittler’s Optical Media

August 4, 2011 2 comments
Oops. I should have done this a long time ago, but better late than never. Anyhow, it took several years anyway before it came out in English – Friedrich Kittler’s Optical Media (Polity Press 2010, orig. 2002) – so a little delay in writing about the translation does not hurt.
It would be tempting to emphasize the radical alterity of the “Kittler-effect” (as named by Winthrop-Young) in relation to the more standardized and domestic Anglo-American discourses in media and cultural studies. Even the word “studies” is an abomination for Kittler, who is of the German tradition where “sciences” is still the word for humanities too. For Kittler, this is to be taken to its hard core: sciences stand at the centre of arts and humanities in the age of technical media, and a failure to take this into account would be like a bratwurst without sauerkraut. Nice, but not really the real thing.
This is one of the crucial points that a “German perspective” to media studies has promoted: media are not only the mass media of television, newspapers and such, but a technical constellation that at its core is based on scientific principles of coding, channeling and decoding of signals. When Kittler says the lectures (Optical Media is based on a lecture series he gave at Humboldt University, Sophienstrasse, Berlin, in 1999) are an investigation into man-made images, we should remember his earlier predisposition and tendency to talk of the “so-called-man. Kittler is after all a sort of a Foucault of the technical age (as also John Durham Peters in the foreword notes, instead of the usual label of Kittler as the Derrida of the digital age). Man is a temporary solution, a crossroad in the complex practices and epistemologies of knowledge that might (has?) proved to be not so useful anymore when media can communicated to each other without human intervention. Ask your plugged-in Ethernet cable, it knows the amount of data that goes through it without you pushing even a single key (as Wendy Chun reminds us in her Control and Freedom).
Kittler’s hostility towards any human-centred history of invention is well summed up for instance in this quote:
“And when Liesegang edited his Contributions to the Problem of Electrical Television in 1899, thus naming the medium, the principle had already been converted into a basic circuit. Television was and is not a desire of so-called humans, but rather it is largely a civilian byproduct of military electronics. That much should be clear.” (208)
That much should be clear, right? And Kittler is a techno-determinist, right? Well, as Winthrop-Young has in his wonderful little intro Kittler and the Media articulated, this judgment seems to be worse than claiming that someone enjoys strangling cute puppies, and hence needs no more than the accusation – whereas exactly this point needs elaboration. I am not promising to do that in this review, but just a quick point. One thing that we need to remember is that for Kittler, media are about science and engineering, and some of the confusions relate to how people are trying to read and apply him out of those contexts. Calling someone techno-determinist when he has continuously underlined that this is what he does – investigates the engineering aspects of media – is, well, redundant. Naturally this does not solve the whole question, but at least points to something we need to keep in our minds when reading Kittler.
His media theory is not about the media as interpreted, consumed and produced by creative industries, digital humanists, or such, but about the long genealogies of science, engineering and the qualities of matter that allow the event of media to take place. Media is displaced from McLuhanite considerations to “where it is most at home: the field of physics in general and telecommunications in particular.” Kittler is the physicist of media theory.
Optical Media is in that sense reader-friendly (if Kittler ever is) that it takes as its clear methodological point of departure Shannon’s communication theory. Slightly anachronistically Kittler transposes this as a model to understand media history. How coding, channeling and decoding takes places in material channels that are surrounded by noise.
Kittler’s Optical Media has several problematic statements, exaggerations and mistakes too – some of which the translator Anthony Enns has picked up on and made corrective notes. In other ways too, the translation is excellent, and presents us with a  Kittler that is smooth to read. Translating Kittler is not easy, and much gets lost in translation but Enns is excellently equipped to present us media theory that is vibrant and readable.
It will be interesting to see how Kittler’s impact will be continued. Despite the rhetorical distanciation from US and UK that one encounters in this Sophienstrasse brand of media theory – which is wary of the Bologna Process of education standardisation in Europe threatening academic freedom, of Anglo-American monetarized neoliberal discourses of knowledge, and the general forgetting of old Europe and its philosophical traditions – recent years of English speaking media studies picked up at least indirectly from material media theory. Such ways of making sense of technical media are visible in software studies, platform studies, digital forensics à  la Matthew Kirschenbaum and other recent, exciting theory debates. Kittler is being read. We don’t need a Kittler-jugend as Winthrop-Young has pointed out, but Kittler-effect is hard to escape; the big question is how to take that forward to as innovative directions as Kittler produced.
What is interesting is that the lack of German language in Anglo-American circles has produced a situation where most scholars are reliant on translations (I am glad to see Polity Press putting out Kittler-related literature). Hence, a lot have also missed the “turn” Kittler has taken during the past 10 years from war to love. The writer of post-humna media theory talks about love, sex and Antique Greece in his magnum opus project that could be summed as the attempt to place Jimi Hendrix (Electric Ladyland, And the Gods Made Love) in the age of Homer. The other Homer than a representation analysis of Simpsons’ Homer.
1) Disclosure statement: My own new book is also contracted with Polity Press – Media Archaeology and Digital Culture (2012)
2) Friedrich Kittler’s last talk at the Sophienstrasse 22 address, Berlin. The Institutes are moving premises during summer 2011.

Atrocity Media

July 30, 2011 3 comments
Reading J.G.Ballard’s The Atrocity Exhibition (1970) as media theory in a similar manner in which Thomas Pynchon was such an influence to German media theory, and William Burroughs to cyber theory; with Ballard, the exhibition of the mediatic convergence of the inner and outer landscapes in the becoming flesh and spinal of our built environment, and the fabricated artefacts becoming the catalyzer for so much of what we considered “internal” – psychosis, perversions, and other feelings that constitute the everyday. Ballard is wonderful as an archaeologist of the architectures of fragmented bodies that he investigates through a science-media link, both tools of analysis: partial objects, intense focai of desire, parts in massive patterns of data. J.G.Ballard does big data. He establishes the link from media to science as the future source of sexual perversions, and at the centre of the collection of texts lies a world of research based on experiments and statistics. Optimum wound profiles, scientifically measured statistics of the body in arousal, leg positions.
Data – “Why I want to Fuck Ronald Reagan”:
Experimental Test Situation of “Reagan in a series of simulated auto-crashes”: one form of optimization again, this time as therapy:
“Subjects were required to construct the optimum auto-disaster victim by placing a replica of Reagan’s head on the retouched  photographs of crash fatalities. In 82 percent of cases massive rear-end collisions were selected with a preference for expressed faecal matter and rectal haemorrhages. Further tests were conducted to the define the optimum model-year. These indicate that a three-year model lapse with child victims provide the maximum audience excitation (confirmed by manufacturer’s studies of the optimum auto-disaster.)”
With Ballard, the crash is of course one way of providing material for the imagination of new sexual perversions – part of social change. His way of mapping the psycho-sexual drives of perversions/desires as part of the political landscape is ingenious, and is as powerful as a Deleuze-Guattarian schizoanalytic mapping. Such mappings do not look for the signifying anchor point, but the productive processuality of where psychosis might stand – as a relay across various regimes of reality.
As a link between power and sexual fantasies, more experiments and data from Ballard:
 “Incidence of orgasms in fantasies of sexual intercourse with Ronald Reagan. Patients were provided with assembly kit photographs of sexual partners during intercourse. In each case Reagan’s face was superimposed upon the original partner. Vaginal intercourse,with ‘Reagan’ proved uniformly disappointing, producing orgasm in 2 percent of subjects. Axillary, buccal, navel, aural and orbital modes produced proximal erections. The preferred mode of entry overwhelmingly proved to be the rectal. After a preliminary course in anatomy it was found that caecum and transverse colon also provided excellent sites for excitation. In an extreme 12 percept of cases, the simulated anus of post-colostamy surgery generated spontaneous orgasm in 98 percent of penetrations. Multiple-track cine-films were constructed of ‘Reagan’ in intercourse during (a) campaign speeches, (b) rear-end auto-collisions with one and three-year-old model changes, (c) with rear-exhaust assemblies, (d) with Vietnamese child-atrocity victims.”
The perverse worlds Ballard paints from Jayne Mansfield and Marilyn Monroe to J.F.K and Reagan are mediated by the media technological worlds of cinematic expression. The cinema-landscape-desire –folding is itself a cartography of 20th century in a fashion that is insightful in its link to science and military.
The outside-inside linking as a methodology to investigate such cartographies of power and desire are now however faced with the question that Ballard already flirts with. How about this inside/outside in the age of post-phenomenological bodies, were desires circulate as part of architectures of computing, data, and chip architectures? A lot of the recent theoretical waves, such as thinking through affect (I am reminded especially of Shaviro’s Post-cinematic Affect) point towards such directions, but what if we insist on even more media-specific methodologies? Where do we go to map architectures of the non-visible, code and hardware, electromagnetic fields and signal processing? The Weber-Fechner law as a guide in our mapping of the changes in mediatic sensory intensities.
For more on Ballard in the context of media theory, read Matteo Pasquinelli’s Animal Spirits.

Viral Capitalism – redux

July 12, 2011 1 comment
Capitalism is sticky – it is able to attach to such a variety of objects, things, practices, and new fields that it almost seems to be productive in itself. Reading some interesting texts recently, I thought to pick up the concept of “viral capitalism” that I discussed in an earlier piece in 2005 and in Digital Contagions as an attempt to understand how it worked in relation to security politics of software in digital culture. Hence, it played the dual role of referring to virus cultures and anti-virus discourse, as well as pointing to a wider logic outside software of capitalism as that sticky, viral-like mode of spreading – not however just objects that are contagious, but environments, or milieus in which infection becomes possible. In such affective environments, capitalism as a sticky machine is able to operate. As part of the logic of security, then, it relates to how in milieus of (in)security , you are able to modulate affects, actions, practices and discourses so that you can get value even from risks, accidents and insecurity.
As such, one could say that an idea of viral capitalism relates to;
- the attraction power to which capitalism bases so much of its marketing power; this is the power of the affect to draw us in, to create worlds in which we feel natural to live in (capitalist worlds as leibnizian, as analyzed by Lazzarato). This is the aesthetic power of affect/attraction.
- Pass-on-power where social relations are in their already mimetic (Tarde) and infectious nature as if ready for appropriation into for instance marketing; (stay tuned for something we have written together with Tony Sampson – see his piece on Contagion Theory).
- The power of capitalism to turn even adversary practices as part of itself, directly or indirectly.
As a figure of network politics, viral capitalism functions in the aesthetico-technical regime.
An excerpt from Digital Contagions:
In a way, it seems as if capitalism invents such accidents and risks to keep itself busy. This idea that “if it’s not broken, break it” provides, then, an interesting way to approach the functioning of so-called information capitalism. Dangers and risks produce excellent needs and products in the consumer market, which aims to provide tools for controlling the uncertainties and anxieties of everyday life. The previous themes can be synthesized under the notion of viral capitalism, which stems from an idea of capitalism as capable of continuous modulation and heterogenesis. […]
The power of capitalism resides in its capability to appropriate the outside as a part of itself. In a sense, capitalism incorporates the ability to subsume heterogenesis as part of its production machinery, and heterogeneity is turned as part of the capital itself. In its functioning, capitalism is a continuing abstract machine of the new, inventing itself all the time, refusing to tie itself to any transcendent point (even though the actual workings of capital do constantly stop at some intervals of profit-oriented points, such as companies, corporations, and monopolies).
Of course, similar trends occurred in the cultural history of diseases long before viruses. As Nancy Tomes notes in her history of germs in America, the fear of microbes was, from the 1880s onward, turned into a lucrative business, with special goods and services designed for hygiene. This meant, for example, “safeguards against the dangers of sewer gas and polluted water, such as special toilet attachments and household water filters”, and on to antiseptic floor coverings and wall paint as well as sanitary dish drainers and fly traps. Hence, commodity interests were very active long before the media ecology of capitalist network culture.
Massumi argues that in information age capitalism, it is the circulation of things that counts, replacing their mere production as the key energetic principle of surplus value. This amounts to a change also in the commodity’s status where it becomes a self-organizing and living entity—a form of self-reproductive object. “The commodity has become a form of capital with its own motor of exchange (fashion, style, ‘self-improvement’) and cycle of realization (image accumulation/ image shedding (…)). Its value is now defined more by the desire it arouses than by the amount of labor that goes into it.”The commodity works as a virus— and the virus as part of the commodity circuit.
Luciana Parisi has made important remarks concerning the basis of information capitalism and the problems with Hardt and Negri. According to Parisi, the Empire becomes too easily a transcendent apparatus of power opposed to the creative virtualities of the multitude, which leads to a dualism of death and life, organic and inorganic. Instead, she proposes an endosymbiotic conception of capitalism, where it “exposes a machinic composition of molecular bodies involving continual and differential degrees of variation between bodies that capture and bodies that are captured.” Hence, she proposes an ongoing nonlinear symbiosis instead of a dualism. Capitalism, despite functioning as an apparatus of capture, does not proceed in a rigid manner of linear capture but proliferates differences in its wake. As Massumi writes, the rationality of neoliberalism works through a type of pragmatics, not perhaps so much through grounding principles or normative laws. Its cultivation of the metastable systems of markets and affects resides in its focus not on truth but on how the future (the unknown) can be managed on the basis of the data of the past (statistics). What matters is how to keep things running.


With tongue in cheek, I call it object-oriented-madness. Collections of lists, notes, polaroids: of objects, newspapers, series after series, accompanied with measuring devices of various sorts (time measurement, geiger counter, and so forth). Even empty places, room corners, merit wide explanations and commentaries.
Horst Ademeit’s Secret Universe is like a diary of madness, illustrating some of the classical symptoms found often in medical case studies – and of continous interest to media theorists: they are not only personal/social symptoms, but socio-mediatic symptoms, as with Dr Schreber, or for instance Victor Tausk’s study of “influencing machine” concerning delusional schizophrenia – as well as broadcasting media (see Jeffrey Sconce’s article in Media Archaeology).
On the Hamburger Bahnhof-website the project is described as follows:

“This artist has devoted more than 20 years of his life to the photographic documentation of what he   called “cold rays” and other invisible radiation that he thought harmed him and his environment. In the complex reference systems developed by Ademeit, certain motifs play a constant role: electricity meters, peepholes, building sites, electric cables, collections of bulky trash or bikes. Ademit began to cast the flood of images he produced in a concrete form in October 1990: he arranged measuring instruments and a compass on a newspaper and photographed them with a Polaroid camera. Over the course of 14  years, he made 6006 numbered Polaroids.”
Watching the hundreds, perhaps thousands of polaroids, meticulously commented one thinks of archival lists, notes, and notation systems themselves as tightly coupled with measurement systems. It’s curious how so many of the pictures were focused on electricity systems, part of wider electricity networks of course. But also indeed trash, miscellaneous objects in a manner that reminded me of some of the object-oriented ontology and vibrant matter theorists interest in hoarding and the life of objects. Jane Bennett talks of hoarding and “thing-power”, Paul Caplan has aptly talked of similar themes in relation to data and object-oriented philosophy approaches. What I want to point towards more widely is how the metaphysical idea of agency

of things, and matter is inherent so well in mental disorders, which themselves can be seen as wider mediatic phenomena (well, also part of capitalist consumer society). As such, there is an inherent link between this technical media-capitalist context, and object-oriented approaches, if understood more widely. This brings specificity to the context in which the wider interest in thingsirreducible to discourses and human practices emerges. It is parallel to the observational power of the paranoid schizophrenic, who believes in thing-power — or that things have agency, connected to wider networks. Such paranoia is  an observation of power, and of things empowered. Furthermore, watching the series of meticulous organisation (labeled, serialized also by numbering) of for instance newspapers to show the repetitious elements in layout etc. one cannot but think of the digital humanities projects concerning serialisation…could we find a geneaology even for that in the madness of painstaking serialisation?

Humm your code, “dah-dit-dah-dit”

Media amateurism has been an integral part of modern culture way before social media kicked in with its own DIY spirit. The electronic hobbyists and tinkerers of 1970s were themselves too preceded by so many earlier forms of learning communication and building circuits. Code-based culture does not then begin with software as we know it – from the emergence of computing and the much later emergence of computer languages as separate entities that relate to the mythologies of coders, hackers and controlling the hardware through the magical language of code (for a wonderful recent excavation into ontologies of software, see Wendy Chun’s Programmed Visions).
“Thousands of Radio Amateurs find it easy to Learn Code”, read a main title in Popular Science (March 1932), describing the process of getting a radio amateur license and the earlier technological discourse concerning machine-knowledge. Radio amateurism and wireless DIY of the earlier decades of 20th century represents itself perhaps one of the most important media archaeological reference points when thinking about contemporary technological DIY culture, and one can find interesting ideas from that discourse.  The way knowledge about machines, code and the professionalism is standardized and practice is itself fascinating – DIY as a crash course into key scientific discoveries of modernity, practically applied. Electrical functions needed to be internalized into a hands-on skill, as the article describes: “You must first master the elementary principles of electricity as given in the simpler textbooks on the subject. Then you must apply the principles of magnetism and electromagnetic action plus an understanding of the radio vacuum tube to mastering simple radio transmitting and receiving circuits. […] You don’t have to know all the ins and outs of complicated radio broadcast transmitting circuits, nor do you require a detailed knowledge of elaborate receiving circuits such as the heterodyne.” (72)
This class of amateurs was however someone who was part of a nationally regulated standardization process flagging the importance of this system of transmission – this regulation had to do with technical knowledge, ethics and legalities as well as speed of communication, or skills more widely: The amateur operation license test was the way to become an operator – the mythical figure still living in such discourses as The Matrix-film(s), the one in charge of the communication field – what message goes where, interpreting of code, sending of things, packets, people to addresses.
But it was grey, this area of knowledge – or at least reading through the regulations. Take paragraph 9 of the Radio Division Regulations for Operators: “Amateur Class. Applications for this class of license must pass a code test in transmission and reception at a speed of at least 10 words per minute, in Continental Morse Code (5 characters to the word). An applicant must pass an examination which will develop knowledge of the adjustment and operation of the apparatus which he desires to use and of the international regulations and acts of Congress in so far as they relate to interference with other radio communications and impose duties on all classes of operators.” Speed – speeding up of communication as part of modernity – was something that was still tied to the skills of the operators, and slowed down by the human needing to be trained.
Code, as indicated in the passage, meant of course Morse Code. Dit-dit-dit-dah. A tip given in Popular Science relates to a sensory approach to code as not only abstract pattern but something that relates to your ears and mouths: “In memorizing the code, try to think of the letters as different sounds rather than as so many dots or dashes. Think of the letter C, for example, as “dah-dit-dah-dit” and as dash followed by dot, followed by dash, followed by dot.” (73) Carnal knowledge?  Code in the flesh sounds much too poetic, but at least we could say, code in your mouth, ringing in your ears, feedback to your fingers tapping. Code, signal processing, transmission share so much with cultures of music, rhythmics, sound and voice.

A Manifesto for Digital Spectrology

June 19, 2011 1 comment
Digital Spectrology is that dirty work of a cultural theorist who wants to understand how power works in the age of circuitry. Power circulates not only in human spaces of cities, organic bodies or just plain things and objects. Increasingly, our archaeologies of the contemporary need to turn inside the machine, in order to illuminate what is the condition of existence of how we think, see, hear, remember and hallucinate in the age of software. This includes things discarded, abandoned, obsolete as much as the obscure object of desire still worthy of daylight. As such, digital archaeology deals with spectres too; but these ghosts are not only

From the Microresearch Lab project pages "Detection workshop"
hallucinations of afterlife reached through the media of mediums, or telegraphics, signals from Mars, the screen as a window to the otherwordly; but in the electromagnetic sphere, dynamics of software, ubiquitous computing, clouds so transparent we are mistaken to think of them as soft. Media Archaeology shares a temporality of the dead and zombies with Hauntology. Dead media is never actually dead. So what is the method of a media archaeologist of technological ghosts? She opens up the hood, looks inside, figures out what are the processual technics of our politics and aesthetics: The Aesthetico-Technical.
- inspired by the work of MicroResearchlab – Berlin/London, the short text was written for Julian Konczak/Telenesia.

Do Some Evil

June 14, 2011 2 comments
It’s the opposite to “do no evil”, a call to think through the dirty materiality of media. Trick, deceive, bypass, exploit, short-circuit, and stay inattentive.
Hence, it is not only about “evil objects” as I perhaps myself have focused on (in Digital Contagions, and in other places), even if such objects can be vectors for and emblematic of stratagems of evil media. Evil media studies focuses on strategies that are mobilized as practices of theories. These strategies reach across institutions, and hence it is no wonder that Geert Lovink recently flags this as one approach through which to energize media studies.
Or more formally – Evil Media Studies “is a manner of working with a set of informal practices and bodies of knowledge, characterized as stratagems, which pervade contemporary networked media and which straddle the distinction between the work of theory and of practice”, write Andrew Goffey and Matthew Fuller in the chapter by the same name in The Spam Book.
For me, the attraction in Goffey and Fuller’s call is that it is material – material that is dynamic, non-representational, machinating and filled with energies that flow across software, social and aesthetic.
  1. Bypass Representation
  2. Exploit Anachronisms
  3. Stimulate Malignancy
  4. Machine the Commonplace
  5. Make the Accidental the Essential
  6. Recurse Stratagems
  7. The Rapture of Capture
  8. Sophisticating Machinery
  9. What is Good for Natural Language is Good for Formal Language
  10. Know your Data
  11. Liberate Determinism
  12. Inattention Economy
  13. Brains Beyond Language
  14. Keep Your Stratagem Secret As Long as Possible
  15. Take Care of the Symbols, The Sense Will Follow
  16. The Creativity of Matter
(the list from “Evil Media Studies” by Goffey and Fuller, in The Spam Book: On Porn, Viruses and Other Anomalous Objects From the Dark Side of Digital Culture, eds. Parikka & Sampson, Hampton Press 2009).

MediaSoup: Trond Lundemo talk in Berlin – 15/6

June 12, 2011 1 comment
The MediaSoup-talks continue with Trond Lundemo: next Wednesday the Stockholm based professor of Film is talking about Motion Pattern Recognition. All welcome!
MEDIA SOUP is an open colloquium of the Institute for Media Theories at Humboldt University Berlin, hosted by Paul Feigelfeld.
The talk starts at 6:15 p.m. and is followed by a Q&A and discussion.
Moderated by Paul Feigelfeld and Jussi Parikka.
Medientheater. Institut für Medienwissenschaft, Humboldt Universität Berlin, Sophienstraße 22A, 10178 Berlin
Trond Lundemo
The (Un-)Attainable Gesture: Two Modes of Motion Pattern Recognition
The analysis of movement is the key agent in the development of cinema. The inscription of the gesture is a central concern for chronophotography (Marey, Charcot, Gilbreth), psychotechnics (Munsterberg) and in the new modes of perception sought by the various film movements of the 1920s (Vertov). Cinematic analysis gives access to the ‘optical unconscious’ (Benjamin, Epstein), through the means of the close-up, slow motion, repetion and frozen movement. How do these modes of inscription relate to the analysis of movement in the digital domain? In the biometrics of digital video surveillance, the analysis of the gesture remains a key problem for automated pattern recognition. Motion capture may prove to be a decisive breakthrough in this analysis, as it separates the motion pattern from the photographic representation. This presentation aims to explore some (bio-)political implications of these shifts in modes of inscribing and analysing the gesture.
Trond Lundemo, Associate Professor at the Department of Cinema Studies at Stockholm University. He has been a visiting Professor and visiting scholar at the Seijo University of Tokyo on a number of occasions. He is co-directing the Stockholm University Graduate School of Aesthetics and the co-editor of the book series “Film Theory in Media History” at Amsterdam University Press. He is also affiliated with the research project ”Time, Memory and Representation” at Södertörns University College, Sweden, and “The Archive in Motion” research project at Oslo University. His research and publications engage in questions of technology, aesthetics and intermediality as well as the theory of the archive.

Ding to Process – Object (and Non-Object) Oriented Media Studies

June 6, 2011 2 comments
(Originally a removal from the manuscript of Media Archaeology and Digital Culture, this short post reworked and posted here:)
With Bruno Latour at the forefront, several theorists in the humanities and social sciences have been pointing out that how through both scientific practices, political decision making, and media technological assemblages, non-humans play a crucial part in constituting the social. In fields such as speculative realism as well as “new materialism” there is an intensive engagement with how to renew our vocabularies of the material with philosophical, cultural and media studies tools.
Latour (2005) outlines this intertwining of matter and things as part of the body politic by the conceptual move from “object-oriented-software” to “object-oriented-democracy.” In fact, the usually non-technological, non-object body politic of modernity that we find from Hobbes onwards is actually filled with such stuff which is the assembly point of concerns, networks and themes political. Such “composite bodies” in foundational meditations of politics such as Hobbes’ are for Latour (2005: 6) actually
thick with things: clothes, a huge sword, immense castles, large cultivated fields, crowns, ships, cities, and an immensely complex technology of gathering, meeting, cohabiting, enlarging, reducing and focusing. In addition to the throng of little people, summed up in the crowned head of the Leviathan, there are objects everywhere.
Whereas Latour’s thoughts have been a crucial node in the recent debates concerning “object-oriented-philosophy” as well (see e.g. Harman 2009: 151-228), we are also able to extend such ideas to a neologism as “object-oriented-media studies.”
What would that mean? Perhaps in a Latourian spirit we could start paying more attention to how objects, or processes that are technologically defined, enable new forms of sociability and action, as well as politics and aesthetics, and for that, we need to understand much more about the circuits, switches, relays, cables, protocols, various levels of software, screen technologies, and electromagnetic fields which are the at times neglected “media” in the middle of our media relations. Such are the “phantoms” (cf. Latour 2005: 28, 31) that constitute, ontologies and conditions for knowledge of technical modernity, but also the way politics and the public is constituted in the liminal zone of objects, things and constructions of the social. Hence, similarly as we for Latour need to include our objects in our politics – and move from Realpolitik to Dingpolitik – perhaps we need more object and technology focused media studies?
And yes, objects do not need to be objects only. Increasingly, this is the way in which we need to rethink materiality – post-objects, post-object vocabularies, and more for instance in terms of processes, or for instance events (I am here thinking of the temporality of the calculational machine called computer, it’s cycles, halts and interrupts).
Media archaeology has been one rich curiosity cabinet collection, but how do we approach the non-object worlds of waves and streams, flows and cycles, oscillations and vibrations? Instead of things, it’s these materialities that we should turn to – both in terms of new materialist epistemology, aesthetics, as well as the political task of understanding the aesthetico-technicalities of cognitive capitalism.
Harman, Graham (2009) Prince of Networks. Bruno Latour and Metaphysics (Melbourne: re.press).
Latour, Bruno (2005) “From Realpolitik to Dingpolitik or How to Make Things Public, in Making Things Public – Atmospheres of Democracy, edited by Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press), 4-31”
ps. check out the recent-ish Mark Hansen talk, relates to process-oriented-media studies.

MediaNatures-talk in Berlin (June 8)

I am giving a talk in Berlin as part of the MediaSoup-colloquium convened by Paul Feigelfeld (Institut für Medienwissenschaft at Humboldt University where I am a visiting research fellow for this Spring and Summer). On June 8, 6 pm (starts 6.15) I will be talking on MediaNatures, abstract below.
Place: Medientheater. Institut für Medienwissenschaft, Humboldt Universität Berlin, Sophienstraße 22A, 10178 Berlin.
This talk riffs off from Donna Haraway’s influential concept of naturecultures which established one framework to think about the topological continuity from nature to culture. As such, it was an important spark for the discourse on “new materialism” in cultural studies, a form of rethinking materiality in new ways outside a Marxist or a representational framework. Naturecultures – also resonating with a range of positions such as Latour’s – is a way to think through the multiple materialities we encounter in terms of contemporary technological society.
The talk extends naturecultures into a more medium-specific direction with the concept of medianatures. By discussing media materialism and its relation to “new materialist” debates as well as “medium-specificity”, the talk addresses ways to think through the technical and scientific specificity of contemporary media – beyond meaning, representation and the human body, the fact that technical media engage in such processes, speeds, and phenomena that escape the phenomenological human register per se.
Yet,  the talk points towards a different kind of reading of media materiality than often found in accounts for instance in media theory. We can question the notion of specificity and argue that there are various specificities from which we can draw upon. While German media theory (acknowledging that the term is in itself not very apt) has been insisting on drawing on materialities that can be directly connected to the important scientific contexts of technical media, we can think through a milieu theory of media: how media establish but also draw on nature, animals and other non-human intensities, forces and potentialities. Instead of thinking nature here in terms of the metaphorics it has offered for a long time for media cultural phenomena, and avoiding proposing any form of purity of nature, I want to look at the continuums of not only naturecultures, but medianatures that is slightly different from the emphasis of media cultures as the “new” environment for us human beings. Instead we approach medianatures as affordances, as intensities, as regimes of affects and relations and as processes of mediatic nature that offer a non-human view to new materialist media theory. Hence, we end up talking about minerals, waste and nature.

Signals, not signs

Most of my text-slaughter (i.e. cutting down the word count of my new book ms Media Archaeology and Digital Culture, and posting some blurbs online) happens here, but wanted to add this note, extracted from a chapter on”archives, in this blog space. It deals, very briefly, with some aspects of Wolfgang Ernst’s media theory:
Signals instead of signs, physics instead of semiotics – such a turn is at the core of how Wolfgang Ernst wants to define media theory. How do you do that methodologically? Theoretical work, analysis of diagrams, epistemologies, scientific frameworks for technical media are completemented in the case of Ernst by the existence of the media archaeological fundus – a certain kind of an archive of media archive – but an operational one. This is what he describes as based on the idea of epistemological “toy” – epistemisches Spielzeug (where the “Zeug” includes a Heideggerian connotation). Whereas I deal with Ernst, the fundus and their contexts in more detail in a range of forthcoming publications (in Theory, Culture &Society, in a book on Digital Humanities edited by David Berry and in my introduction to the forthcoming volume of Wolfgang Ernst writings from University of Minnesota Press) here is a short blurb into the direction of signs:
One of the aims of the fundus is to show that our perceptions are dependent on the signal processing capacities of our devices. This is evident with the example of online streaming, especially with a slightly slower internet connection that halts at times to load the content. But you can find this reliance on the signal as a time based process in earlier mass media as well. Perceptions become a function of the signal processes and the signal-to-noise ratio that is governed by complex diagrams usually more familiar to engineers and mathematicians whether we are talking about the statistics inherent in transmission, or the specific colour worlds this has related to:
“However, the broadcast of any football game illustrates the signal-to-noise ratio between plays on the field and amorphous shots of the spectators in the stadium only statistically. The archeology of media searches the depths of hardware for the laws of what can become a program. Has not the character of television shows after the introduction of color sets been determined decisively—indeed down to the clothes of the hosts—by the new standard and what it can do in terms of color and motion? Even today, the color blue has a mediatic veto in chroma key resolution; the same goes for the blue screen, and for manipulations of resolution and color filters. […] For media archeology, the only message of television is this signal: no semantics.” (Ernst: “Between Real Time and Memory on Demand: Reflections on/of Television” The South Atlantic Quarterly 101:3, Summer 2002: 627-628)
In such perspective, media artists such as Nam June Paik have been at the forefront of illuminating these technical aspects of transmission of signals by investigating the noise and non-meaning inherent in the medium. In one way, this is a reforumation of a McLuhan idea of medium as the message – the materiality of the mediation as the importance, but here turned into a more concrete physical detail: we would not see or hear anything were it not for the work of signals to transport, to transmit such phenomenological details to us.

Platform Politics-conference: Opening Words

May 15, 2011 2 comments
We organized a very successful Platform Politics-conference in Cambridge, May 11-13, where our speakers included such exciting scholars and writers as Michel Bauwens, Michael Goddard, Tiziana Terranova, Nick Couldry, Nick Dyer-Witheford, Felix Stalder, and Tim Jordan. And a lot more (check out the link for names and abstracts too).
These are my short opening words to the event:
Platform Politics takes place as part of the Arts and Humanities Research Council founded networking project on Network Politics. We pitched it to the AHRC with the suggestion that it takes one to know one: to understand emerging forms of social action and politics on networks and in network society, one has to develop networks, to crowdsource ideas from leading scholars, activists, artists; to map and to bring through various channels such partipants together in order to identity themes and directions which need more focus. Hence, we have arrived at the third and final event of the project – now on Platform Politics, following the first event in Cambridge on Methodologies of Network Politics research, and last year in Toronto at the Infoscape research lab with help from Greg Elmer, Ganaele Langlois and Alessandra Renzi we discussed object oriented  and affect approaches to network politics.
We wanted to keep the notion of platform quite broad in order to solicit a more open range of papers. Hence, from software platforms such as Twitter and Facebook to robotics, from theoretical insights that draw from post-Fordist theories of politics and labour to object oriented philosophy, and much more, we have a privileged position to think through the platform (often seen as technological, as in platform studies) as a platform for our investigations (hence, also as a conceptual affordance). This does not mean to say that platform studies as represented in the Bogost and Montfort led series is techno-determinist, and solely focuses on such – quite the contrary, it tries to find a specific relation between technology and aesthetics. Yet, it is good to emphasize the mobilization of the concept as part of various transitions, and translations: platforms in technological (and again there various levels from apps to clouds, online platforms to technological hardware structures), conceptual, economic and of course political sense (expect at least a couple of references to Lenin in this conference).
So if Bogost and Montfort make sense of platform studies through this kind of layering:

Bogost and Montfort: Platform Studies
I would add that the notion of platform politics is able to articulate various levels together, and bring smoothness and movement to the interaction of the layers. In other words, in addition to the specific level of “platforms” we can think of the platform itself as distributed on a variety of layers as assemblages (in the manner Manuel Delanda uses the term?). A good example of this – something we were unable to pursue because of the problem of finding the slot for it! – was the idea of organizing a circuit bending/hardware hacking workshop (with Seb Franklin). The idea was to follow Garnet Hertz’s lead, and the way he has organized such workshops both to kids as well as to media theorists — and to use hands-on tinkering, opening up technology such as battery-operated toys, as a way to think through hardware platforms, how design solutions incorporate politics, how they afford conceptual approaches, and act as one node across a variety of other platforms. (An example of such is articulated in the forthcoming “Zombie Media: Circuit Bending Media Archaeology into an Art Method”-text, by myself and Hertz, in Leonardo-journal where we tie the question of such design politics of hardware to media archaeology, art methods and the political economy of network culture).
Platforms reveal to be ontogenetic – i.e. creative forms of interaction, not just stable backgrounds for a continuation of the social. They organize social action in a double bind where social action organizes them. Platforms rearticulate the social. For instance software platforms constitute a catalyzer for specific social forms, and as such incorporate in themselves a multitude of social, political, economic forces. It is a question of production – and of what kinds of social relations are being produced, a good example being the Telecommunist project and the Thimbl open source distributed microblogging service that incorporates a different sociability than proprietorial web 2.0 business and software models. And yet, this sociability is grounded on the level of the potentials of networks, the P2P instead of Web 2.0, distributed instead of the centralized client-server-model.
At the beginning of the project, we started with the question of “”what is network politics?“” and requested initial position papers from some key writers in the field – today of those we have Tiziana Terranova and Greg Elmer attending. Other theorists included Alex Galloway, Eugene Thacker, Katrien Jacobs and Geert Lovink.
The idea was to organize this as a form of request for comments – the RFC format, familiar from internet design culture, of questioning, lining up comments and positions, which however did not pan out as extensively as we wanted (this has to do with other organizationally interesting themes concerning spam management in participatory platforms, and so forth). However, what we got from the position papers were some initial leads. Furthermore,  we started with some assumptions where to start tracking network politics:
-       politics of new network clusters, services, platforms – Twitter, Facebook, as well as mapping alternative forms of  software-based ways of organizing traditional political parties as well as new formations, NGOs, and temporally very different groupings/phenomena – whether the suddenly emerging and as suddenly disappearing “like” protests for instance on Facebook, or the more long-term effects of Wikileaks– leak not only in the meaning of leaking secret information, but leaking across media platforms, and reaching a long term sustainability through “old” media trying to come grips with such online activities.
-       biopolitics of network culture, or in other words, the various practices which form internet cultures – hence a step outside of the technological focus, to look at what practices define network politics, and as such the links between work and free time, of play and labour, the circulation of affects, sociability, and so forth. Cognitive capitalism but as much affective capitalism. Yesterday (referring to the pre-conference event with Michel Bauwens and Michael Goddard) we got a bit into talking about investments of affect, desire and such topics.
-       we were interested too in the metaquestion: what form would investigating network politics have to take? Outside the normal practice of humanities, writing and meeting up in conferences, what are the specific pedagogic and research tools/platforms that are actively changing the politics of education and research inside/outside academia. What are the research/creation platforms that are able to articulate this, so that we are not only stuck with “master’s tools”?
-       And in a way, as a more unspecified but as important was the question of politics of the imperceptible: what kinds of forms of politics there are out there that are not even recognized as politics? From artistic practices to the grey work of engineers, new arenas of expertise, skill and again, social action contribute to the way in which politics is fleeing from traditional institutions.
The project has been able to map various positions to such questions, and raise new ones – which has been the purpose of this all: to produce more leads for further work. The same thing applies to this conference, and we are hoping to come out with excellent contributions, that do not fall within such original ideas.  During the project’s unfolding, “network politics” became a wider popular media phenomenon too, where old media started to focus on what is was able to brand as “twitter-revolutions, or facebook-revolutions” – and yet this only emphasized the need to complexify the notions, and the histories of such events and platforms, as has been done on various email lists, and various other debate forums already. I am sure we can continue on that, and produce some really exciting discussions – and as always in our events, we really hope that a lot of the emphasis is on discussions in the sessions, as well as outside them.

Unnatural (Media) Ecologies

April 23, 2011 Leave a comment
After a long wait, it’s out like nature itself! The Fibreculture-journal Media Ecology-special issue, titled “Unnatural Ecologies”, and edited by me and Michael Goddard.
The idea for a journal issue was picked up and continued from a panel organized for the MeCCSA conference in Bradford (2009) where I spoke with Matt Fuller and Michael Goddard on the media ecological approach in media and cultural studies. With Michael, we picked up on the idea of rethinking media ecology “after Matt Fuller’s work”, i.e. how we can transport the concept and practices into new directions that differ from those of the more classical media ecology work by (post-)McLuhan scholars. Hence, we ended up thinking more about Guattari’s three ecologies, Simondon, political and art practices, as well as nature itself as media. One of the leading ideas that Michael emphasized was how to think media ecology as a practice itself – how to understand it as a set of theories in practice.
Hope you enjoy the issue!
(My own text addresses “ecomedia”, nature as a communication framework [Harwood-Wright-Yokokoji and Mediashed art project] and extending that towards imaginary media as a reimagining how far back in time and as practices we can extend “media”.)

Ghostly reincarnations: an interview with Katy Price

April 18, 2011 Leave a comment
This one-question mini-interview with Dr Katy Price (Anglia Ruskin University) is a follow-up on the interview I did with Aleks Kolkowski. Katy has collaborated with Kolkowski on the old sound machine remediations, and has herself done various projects on sound and word art – as well as being a researcher interested in the interchanges between science and literature. I find her take on materialities, appropriation of science and tech, and experimental, playful and inventive take on these themes fascinating. I asked Katy to elaborate a bit how she sees working with obsolete technologies, and how does her word art intertwine with media archaeological themes and Kolkowski’s work with old recording tech:
Katy, you have recently collaborated with Aleks Kolkowski on a project that involves working with old media, appropriating old recording technologies such as Edison wax cylinder discs for creative practice, creative writing. Already before you have been interested in your word art (see for instance here)  in working with sound, and creative music technologies, but what specifically makes working with these kinds of “obsolete” technologies interesting? Could you elaborate a bit on your artistic methodologies and interest in these themes (old media, co-curation with audiences as the project now with Science Museum, etc)?
Dr Katy Price: Thanks for asking about this Jussi. For me it is all about the relationship between our use of the latest consumer items and our making through history. A heightened awareness of this relationship – and ways to share this as entertainment.
The past informs how we use and think about our bodies and their companions or additions or substitutes. One way to experience this is through reading about the past and receiving inspiration from historians. Somebody like Paul Fussell points out that memory of the First World War – mud, wire, slaughter and filling in surreal forms – shapes everyone’s identities, even if we weren’t born yet. Or Paul Théberge traces how we assumed the identity and practices of consumers: not just of music but consumers in the act of music-making. All the way from the pianola to MIDI and sampling.
Those are both stories that begin around the start of the twentieth century and there is a great appeal for me in this period because you can almost see, taste, hear the past and the future washing up against each other on the street and in people’s homes: bowler hats and horse-drawn carriages collide with illuminated advertising, cinema, ‘noiseless’ typewriters. I think we would laugh so hard if we suddenly found ourselves on Piccadilly in 1925. And instantly want one of everything. People had a lot of hopes and vision – you could dream about inventing anything, from a new type of escalator to a new society. At the same time there was a lot holding people back – no such thing as maternity leave; lots of brothers, fathers, lovers, left behind in the mud in France or falling apart at home. Under those circumstances, dreaming about the future is both necessary and tough, even impossible. I think we could do with knowing how to be a bit like that now.
The audience for academic books is quite restricted and also the mode of experiencing messages from / about the past is limited to reading the book and perhaps making images in your mind or writing some notes. I found a different angle from the experience of musical artefacts on display and in performance. At the Science Museum in London there is a brilliant case in the Making the Modern World gallery. It is a jumble of items (actually organised by inspiration from a curious thinker called Patrick Geddes) and in one corner you have a Stroh violin next to an ammoniaphone – for use by opera singers and the clergy, to improve their voice before performance with a gust of ammonia – phew! Nearby there is a prosthetic arm. Because the case isn’t directly telling me how to relate these items or how to think of their place in history, I feel almost the privilege of having come across them in a curiosity shop.
But you can’t play with the items in the museum case, or see them in use.
Aleks Kolkowski has collected and restored the only working Stroh quartet: two violins, viola and cello. Instead of wooden bodies they have a metal horn (enormous on the cello). Completely mechanical: no electricity! The horn is attached to a diaphragm which picks up the sound – you play it with the bow as normal, but it sounds almost reedy, and much louder in the direction of the horn. It was used until the 1920s to make the strings audible on early gramophone recordings, before microphones. The group Apartment House played a concert on the Strohs in Cambridge a few years ago, including a piece by Aleks which incorporated two cylinder phonographs. They were all attached together with plastic tubes, which struck me as a mechanical parody of electronic connectivity. It got me thinking about how artefacts in performance can give the audience a chance to think about today’s technology in our lives by seeing an amusing or strange performance with obsolete items.
The next thing I saw was a concerto for Pianola and iPhone composed by Julio d’Escriván, which he performed with Rex Lawson. Rex is a great showman and he is happy to show the audience how the pianola works. Julio is interested in how audiences perceive the minimal gestures of laptop musicans, and he works with the iPhone in ways that make us aware of our own need for a correlation between gesture and output sound. The combination made me think that performances like this can invite us to see the new gadgets as artefacts for a moment.
I am now working a little bit with the Science Museum on how to use creative writing as part of the process of co-curation / co-creation. This means that audience groups are invited to select objects and tell stories about or through them, for display in an exhibition. So far we spent 2 days with a group of young people. Aleks showed them his phonographs and gramophones, and talked about these mechanical objects. I got them to write monologues and poems. For example: what the gramophone said to the ipod and the other way round. Then we recorded these works onto wax cylinders and gramophone discs. They were captivated by the items from Aleks’ collection: the look and feel, the sound of themselves coming back in this ghostly form. They found the mechanical process mysterious and intriguing – which it is. How can sound be captured and played back without electricity?They learned a bit about the history of sound recording and we had a lot of fun. Their writing was amazing and I think there is a lot more we could do with speaking through these artefacts: unlike other forms of object writing, you have the opportunity for double voicing when it is recorded and played back using this item.
Aleks is building up a phonograph archive of wax cylinder recordings of contemporary artists and musicians. I won’t say too much about this for now but prepare to be amazed when it is launched… I have heard some of the cylinders and the effects are stunning. They will be digitised and online soon. For the archive I wrote a poem in two voices: Thomas Edison and Charles Cros, who had the idea for the phonograph at the same time but Edison got it on the market first. We recorded one voice on the cylinder and the other one over the top, so that they weave in and out of each other. When Aleks told me about Cros, his interest in language and plans for communication with extra-terrestrials, I recognised him as one of those hopeful impossible figures of his time. He clearly deserved to be reincarnated on a wax cylinder, interfering with Edison’s confidence.

“Sonic Alchemy”: an interview with Aleks Kolkowski

April 11, 2011 1 comment
“Sonic Alchemy” – an interview with Aleks Kolkowski on his media archaeologically tuned sonic art methods

London-based musician and composer Aleksander Kolkowski occupies  himself   with the sound of the obsolete. This means working both with  techniques and technologies of sound recording from past times, as well as investigating the nature of sound cultures through creative clashes between the old and the new. He has a long and extensive career as musician and  performer, and has recently in his performances engaged with such technologies as Stroh instruments, wind-up Gramophones, shellac discs and wax-cylinder Phonographs. Aleksander Kolkowski also ran workshops at the Science Museum as part of the Museum’s Oramics-project.

The interview (March 2011) w as conducted to elaborate Kolkowski’s artistic methods and interests, especially in relation to “media archaeology” as a creative form of crossbreeding and producing hybrids from old and new media innovations and artistic experiments. Juss i Parikka was affiliated with the Science Museum early this year as a short term research fellow, working on his new book on media archaeological theory and methods.

Jussi Parikka: Aleks, a big thank you for having the time to this interview. I am fascinated in how your work is very much embedded in old media – an inventive engagement with old recording technologies from wax-cylinders to gramophones and with instruments such as the Stroh violin. Why engage with old media? Can you tell a bit more about your “artistic methodology”?

Aleksander Kolkowski: Thank you for asking. I’m reminded of a quote by David Tudor, the New York avant-garde musician and John Cage’s muse, who in response to being asked about the then late ’80s electronic music scene said ” if you look at the background of the analog technology, there are marvellous things from two centuries ago that are worthy of being investigated.” For creative musicians, old recording technologies and related instruments are rich veins from which to draw from, but this has as much to do with current artistic practices and handling of modern technology as it has to do with an interest in the past.
In today’s culture, computers, turntables, electronic devises and smartphones can all be considered as ‘instruments’ for music-making, that’s to say they are being played with or manipulated, rather than passively emitting or processing sounds. Additionally, the noises produced by altered or malfunctioning media, be it hacked electronics, feedback, scratched records or skipping CDs, have been used as material by artists for sometime now. It’s in this same spirit of actively engaging and interfering with media technology and re-purposing it, rather than merely consuming it, that we can re-examine the media technology from the distant past and use it creatively.  I’ll add that this has nothing to do with nostalgia, but with a belief that we can use these bygone technologies to offer an alternative perspective in our digital media-fixated society – to listen to the present through the pioneering audio technologies from well over a hundred years ago.
While there is a delight in playing with old machines and instruments, bringing them ‘back to life’ and engaging with the past through a mixture of research and practical experience, there is a feeling that this somehow challenges the very notion of their obsolescence. It has something to do with a reaction to consumerism and to the disposable nature of current media technology, its intangibility and limited shelf-life.
I began this work twelve years ago and I suppose it started as a personal response to the techno-fetishism that was prevalent in much of the experimental music-making at the time. Instead of electronic interfaces, I performed with wind-up gramophones, phonographs, and a mechanically amplified violin in unusual ways to make what sounded like contemporary electronic music, but using no electricity whatsoever. Since then I’ve been incorporating modern digital as well vintage analogue electronics in my work. Software programs have become important tools in my recent compositions and installation work where the historic and the modern are combined.
In a way, you work as a creative researcher, a historian, or an archaeologist, then?

Research played a part from the very beginning, investigating the origins of the Stroh violin is what really got me started on this journey. So histories to do with sound recording and its reproduction and early recordings became integrated in the fabric of the work I’ve produced at every level, from the concept stage, as narratives to provide structure right to the actual content itself, be it treating the first ever recordings of music as the basis for acoustic and electronic explorations or using the first morse code telegraph message to create rhythmic structures in a composition.
These creatively inspired explorations have actually led, in recent years, to more conventional, academic research (at Brunel University) into little known forms of mechanical amplification and an involvement with artefacts from museum collections in the UK and abroad.
You do not only tinker with old technologies but perform music with them live as well. How do people react to your work and instruments?
The reaction of audiences has had quite an important effect on my work. I found that people would marvel not only at the sight of these splendid old instruments and machines, but where captivated by the sound in interesting ways. Playing back a newly recorded wax cylinder on a phonograph to a modern audience is taken by many as a kind of sonic alchemy, and it requires a very different kind of listening than what we’ve all become used to. Rather than hearing a virtual copy, it’s closer to a memory of something. So it seemed possible to work with the relationship of sound and temporality by ‘ageing’ sounds using old technology, to be transported back in time, then forward to the present through the sound recording media of the past.
Do you think there is currently a wider artistic and sonic interest in going back to the pre-electronic age?
Probably not to the same extent as in literature, film or fashion, that’s to say the Steam Punk movement which has more to do with fantasy and science fiction. There are musicians releasing limited edition cylinder records, artists building machines, and composers utilising the pianola, but I’d mention the sound art of Paul DeMarinis to do with ‘orphaned technologies’ from the pre- and early electronic era as being the most significant example I can think of in this field. He is a true scientist of sound who has delved into seemingly obscure forms of communications technology and created some highly interesting and accessible works.
Certainly a lot has been published over the past few years concerning 19th century science, histories and theories of technology and communication, especially with regard to sound and the history of recording, which must be indicative of something, so yes, there is a wider interest, but then artists have always foraged the past. What’s special at this point in time, is the speed and severity at which digital media is replacing the analogue and which is conversely breathing new life into all forms older physical media, be it film, chemical photography, the cassette tape and even the wax cylinder.
I saw you recently (February 2011) do a workshop with the Science Museum together with Katy Price (Anglia Ruskin University). The workshop was part of a Science Museum Youth and Public Engagement to support their Oramics (Daphne Oram) project. Could you tell a bit more about this and the workshop where you recorded short pieces of creative fiction written by the students onto Edison cylinders and other old media?
In this case it was to show that the origins of Daphne Oram’s sound painting can be traced back to 19th century advances in capturing, visualising and reproducing sound through the phonoautograph and subsequently the phonograph and gramophone. We were also treating groove-based sound recording as a form of inscription, as sound-writing. It seemed fitting that the creative writing resulting from Katy’s sessions around the Oramics Machine and related artefacts in the Science Museum collection should be rendered onto physical storage media in this way. They could then be played back on the same cylinder phonographs and gramophones the participants had written about and even become objects that furnish an exhibition.
The fundamentals and science of sound recording are vividly demonstrated through mechanical devices, through objects you can touch and sound inscriptions you can see and hear played back via styli, vibrating diaphragms and horns. As well as showing how our forefathers experienced recorded music, it also offers us a different kind of listening experience as I’ve mentioned before. It helps us to examine our relationship to recorded sound, the antiquated sound-engraving processes add distance to the newly recorded voices, allowing us to reflect more profoundly on what we hear.

New materialism still feels new

Silhouettes of the iconic Haraway and Braidotti
Seeing two such iconic scholars as Donna Haraway and Rosi Braidotti on stage at the same time is always a treat.  This was in the context of New Materialism: Naturecultures, a wonderful continuation of last year’s New Materialisms and Digital Culture, and continuing the vibrant discussions surrounding how to think the material as dynamic and alive – and diffractively leaking across disciplinary  borders of knowledge, assembling into new theory war machines, intensive encounters, and problematics that themselves offer milieus for fresh thought. Organized by Iris van der Tuin and Rick Dolphjin, the conference featured speakers such as Haraway, Vicky Kirby, Adrian Mackenzie, Milla Tiainen and Melanie Sehgal – as well as yours truly. It’s clear that Haraway was the main feature, starting the whole day with her energetic talk “Playing Cat’s Cradle with Companion Species: Naturecultures-in-the-making.” It drew on the figure of the string – and the Cat’s Cradle game – which visualizes, embodies and is a tool-to-think-with knots knotting, ties engantgling, and relations in-the-making. In other words, companion species and the importance of the “with”.  At the same time, all presentations worked towards interesting directions in aesthetics and science of mattering dynamics. My own emphasis was on “medianatures” as a version of “naturecultures” topological continuum.
Again the conference succeeded in moving across science, technology and philosophy, and the importance of material feminisms was present (not only because the event was organized in Utrecht, easily one of the leading gender studies centres of the world). As such, as van der Tuin nicely elaborated in her opening words – new materialisms are transversal at their heart. Next year’s event is organized in Linnköping (with Cecilia Åsberg), and is themed “Genealogies of Matter”. The name already promises even more transversal connections,  cartographies of though-movements and forging discussion across different ways of engaging with matter, the real, and things/processes non-human too.
For instance, it would be interesting to articulate something about the relations between the mode of questioning in speculative realism and object-oriented-philosophy and new materialism. With such figures as Shaviro, Delanda and for instance Whitehead (and as always, Deleuze) quoted frequently on “both sides”, it is actually slightly surprising no further discussion has emerged. New materialisms is very strongly affiliated with feminist discussions which is one of its strengths and points towards a different set of politics that engage not solely with ontology – but with labour, sexuality and a range of cultural practices. Of course, its not that OOP is solely about ontology, but its clear that the direction of discussions has been taking it to a different set of questions than new materialism that has a very strong relation to other disciplines outside philosophy too – cultural and gender studies, Science and Technology, as well as media theory, I would add.
Meanwhile, while returning from the Netherlands to Berlin, this advert on Schiphol airport reminded me of what we need to address: the cultures of mobility, at the core of circulations of neoliberal regimes of governing too, articulated together with the seeming lightness of cloud computing, which however is at the core of the new materialities of digital culture – which far from immaterial are embedded in very heavy materialities as their sustaining “background forces”…
Cloud computing takes trust - and energy

Living Mediations: Hastac Forum on art, science, technology

March 31, 2011 1 comment
The people organizing HASTAC forums kindly invited me to participate in their new topic “Living Mediations: Biology, Technology and Art“. It touches not only on “biomedia” but more widely in the co-expansion of the biological and the technological/mediatic that we are witnessing as part of regimes of cognitive/affective capitalism (as I would see it). This is where the various meanings of the notion of “medium” come to play, and are investigated – media as technologies, but also as milieus, and interactions of the living. It is through this individuation that any medium/milieu itself is born – not as pre-existing background, but as the vibrant and changing milieu in which we too take place – and take displace. Such milieus are material, and some have used the notion of affect to understand this material, even visceral nature of mediatic milieus of contemporary culture. Affect – as we know from a variety of writers from Massumi to Shaviro – is itself a notion through which to understand the constitution of the pre-individual as shared, circulating, dynamic and I would say mediatic. As such, it expands much beyond bodies, as its a concept to understand their interrelations, and thus also the dynamic change of relations between bodies. For me, the intriguing bit is how such notions both help to think relations and changes in relations between bodies, but also as concepts travel (slightly in the manner of Mieke Bal’s traveling concepts) between regimes of knowledge production: media, scientific apparatuses and knowledge, labour, etc.
Insect Media fits into this double articulation that the forum proposes – but so does Digital Contagions I would say in the manner it looks at the constitutive mediation not only of computer viruses as a specific phenomena, but how virality itself is at the core of mediation (and is itself, mediatic). Contagious, just like affect is.
Read the entries, and participate in discussions here!

Hail the introjective, additive critic

March 28, 2011 Leave a comment
I am reading Elizabeth Wilson’s most recent book Affect and Artificial Intelligence (2010), and as before with her writings, really enjoying the fresh, interesting and quirky take on the intertwining of the human/cultural with the material (earlier more about physiology, as with her Psychosomatic-book, now with technologies of AI). I will be writing a short review of the book for Leonardo, so more there; now, I just wanted to point towards her good way of tackling the lack of critique about critique — or how we cultural and media studies scholars so easily embrace our stock-in-trade tools for tackling cultural reality (the axis of evils in relation to gender, race, capitalism, and so forth), and engage what could be a paranoid/projective mode of analysis. Wilson is far from a naive critic of such critique, and not so much dismissing such – neither am I despite my interest in finding alternatives – and connects to some more recent rethinkings of how should we engage with our sources and readings. How to rethink critique?
Revealing is her epigraph, from Bruno Latour: “What would critique do if it could be associated with more, not with less, with multiplication, not subtraction“. Such a figure of the analyst and critic is one that resembles an “assembler” (as in another passage where she quotes Latour, on page xi of Wilson’s book), and that in a manner resembling DeleuzeGuattari tries to embrace the naive experimentor over the already educated and cognizant critique who is able to unveil forces of ideology in cultural reality. Like the additive mode of the experimenter of DeleuzeGuattari who adds, asks for more connections, instead of hermeneutic-critic subtraction (reduction of cultural realities to underlying effect, meaning, structure, plot, ideology, oppression, etc), this mode of critique is keen to add more insights, more ideas, more fresh paths, and more alternatives where to continue – critically. It uses its sources to go forward, not just read back. Luckily, we are seeing more and more of this kind of work that I have often referred to as “post-representational” – something that is not interested only in representation analysis but seeks to go forward with the sources. (Good examples of such work that has always been inspirational to me include Rosi Braidotti and for instance Karen Barad — material feminists!).
Through such methodological choices, Wilson is able to bring fresh readings. The early AI research and figures as Turing are cast in new, interesting, passionate light – where Turing is not only a tragic victim but an intellectually and emotionally bursting, giggling figure – and where the seemingly cold, and rationalized modes of artificial intelligence research are actually filled with passions, desires and introjections. Indeed, to quote her on this point :
“While the figure of the paranoiac will appear now and again in later chapters, this book is interested in turning critical analysis of the artificial sciences away from projective, paranoid readings. The tendency to read artificial agents as screens for projection (projection of masculine, late-capitalist, or heterosexual anxieties, for example) will be displaced in favor of reading for the introjective bonds that have been established between us and artificial worlds. Affect and Artificial Intelligence is interested in the large-hearted, easily inflamed attachments that Ferenczi attributed not only to neurotics but to anyone capable of object love.” (28)
I admire Wilson’s style to weave her theoretical points from inside the empirical case studies, and in this case for instance, to bring ideas regarding readings of psychoanalysis (Sandor Ferenczi’s ideas about introjection from 1909) to how we do cultural theory.
(Note: an earlier, brief discussion about critique after my Coventry talk of Jan 25, 2011 can be found here.)

OOO, OOP and OOMT (?)

March 26, 2011 3 comments
Levi Bryant at Larval Subjects gives a good heads up on the link between Object-Oriented-Philosophy and John Johnston’s fabulous The Allure of Machinic Life – and that way hints of the still quite implicit links between such modes of philosophizing and contemporary media theory. For me, Johnston’s work became familiar through his editorial work with Kittler’s writings, and as such, The Allure is for me a work that is branded by that way of thinking the material media culture. Kittler and others for instance in “German media theory” rarely talk about objects – but of networks, inscription systems, materials of communication – but I can see where some of the arguments might resonate. In terms of links between the various theory scenes, some people such as Paul Caplan at The Internationale are picking up related themes, combining media archaeology with OOP/OOO (never sure which one to call it), and discussing the logic of technical media objects (in this case, the JPEG protocol) through Harman and others.
For me, the so-called material media theory lends itself to “new materialism”, and the material assemblages, networks, dynamic embodiments and intensive becomings investigated there. Whereas the relations between new materialisms and the speculative realism as well as object oriented philosophy are still to be investigated I guess, so are the possibilities that media theory offers too.
Related to such discussions, I learned from somewhere that Speculations – Journal of Speculative Realism is reviewing my Insect Media in its issue no 2, which also scares me – while of course finding it intriguing how it is going to be received on that side. I share a lot of the same references from Deleuze to Delanda to Latour, but never explicitly link up to any of the speculative realist discussions, nor object oriented philosophy.
(My short review of Johnston’s The Allure-book is found here.)
Oh and the title of the post? Clarification of terms:
OOO= Object Oriented Ontology
OOP = Object Oriented Philosophy
OOMT= Object Oriented Media Theory

New Materialism: Naturecultures in Utrecht

March 21, 2011 2 comments
I will be giving two talks in Utrecht in April (6-7) – one based on Insect Media and more specifically on Roger Caillois (read as a media theorist of embodiment, psychastenic spatiality, mimicry), and the other one as part of the New Materialisms: Naturecultures-event. It follows up some of the themes of our last year’s symposium that we organized in Cambridge with Milla Tiainen – and now again with a wonderful line of speakers, including Donna Haraway.
My talk will touch on how to think the materialism of media in its specificity – and how to expand from German media theoretical materialism of for instance Friedrich Kittler’s work to medianatures. So I will probably will end up touching some of the media ecological themes I have been writing about recently. Below a short blurb about the event, and below that, my abstract for the event.

One of the conceptual innovations stirred by debates in contemporary cultural theory that want to rewrite the linguistic turn concerns ‘naturecultures’. This concept is created by Donna Haraway in The Companion Species Manifesto (2003) in order to write the necessary entanglement of the natural and the cultural, the bodily and the mind, the material and the semiotic, et cetera. ‘Naturecultures’ offers us an important route to rewrite these modernist oppositions in such a way that rather than representing parts of the world, a transcription with the world is being proposed. Concepts thus do not capture or mirror what is ‘out there’, but are fully immersed in a constantly changing reality. ‘Naturecultures’ rewrites not only femininity but in the end all subversive material practices as an ethical break through of for instance phallologocentrism. Karen Barad would call this ‘ethico-onto-epistemological’.
This conference uses ‘naturecultures’ as a point of departure. We intend to study conceptual innovation in contemporary cultural theory from seemingly different ‘disciplinary’ and ‘paradigmatic’ angles in order to demonstrate how similar movements in thought are at work in the emerging paradigms of new materialism, post-humanism, agential realism, and in fields ranging from philosophy to the humanities and to the natural sciences.
The first ‘New Materialism’ conference took place in June 2010 at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, the UK. Organized by Dr. Jussi Parikka and Dr. Milla Tiainen, several scholars came together to discuss new materialism and digital cultures. This second conference is an initiative of the Center for the Humanities, the Graduate Gender Programme, and the Department of Media and Culture Studies, all located at the Faculty of Humanities of Utrecht University. It is funded by these three partners, as well as by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research, the Center for the Study of Digital Games and Play (Utrecht University), and the Posthumanities Hub (Tema Genus, Linköping University).
And my abstract:
Media Milieus, or Why Does Nature Do It Better?

In terms of material media analysis, the German media theoretical directions at least since Friedrich A. Kittler’s influential writings have introduced an important agenda to think the specificity of media. In what could be termed the Kittler-effect in media theory (in Winthrop-Young’s words), the materially meticulous readings of technical media have forced a whole generation of new media studies to think through the technical and scientific specificity of contemporary media – beyond meaning, representation and the human body, the fact that technical media engage in such processes, speeds, and phenomena that escape the phenomenological human register per se. Media often hear more, see more and memorize much more than us humans.
Yet, I want to point towards a different kind of reading of media materiality, one that touches on the symposium theme Naturecultures more directly. We can question the notion of specificity and argue that there are various specificities to which we could tap into. While German media theory has been insisting on drawing on materialities that can be directly connected to the important scientific contexts of technical media, we can insist on what could be called a milieu theory of media: how media establish but also draw on nature, animals and other non-human intensities, forces and potentialities. Instead of thinking nature here in terms of the metaphorics it has offered for a long time for media cultural phenomena, and avoiding proposing any form of purity of nature, I want to look at the continuums of not only naturecultures, but medianatures that is slightly different from the emphasis of media cultures as the “new” environment for us human beings. Instead we approach medianatures as affordances, as intensities, as regimes of affects and relations and as processes of mediatic nature that offer a non-human view to new materialist media theory.

Metastable biomedia bodies: Paul Vanouse’s Fingerprints

March 19, 2011 Leave a comment

The Suspect Inversion Center (SIC)
It is a beautifully created little exhibition; a dark room, three projects, all like spotlights into aspects where the biological is becoming media – and as such, part of the epistemic frameworks. These forms of mediated knowing are then of course themselves access points to a plethora of  techniques of power, proof and aesthetics. Yet, as has been demonstrated the recent years in various bioart and biomedia-theoretical works, the biological just not is – but is created.
Hence, Paul Vanouse’s Fingerprints, curated by Jens Hauser, is one of such works that is able to extend the notion of “media” to processes deep inside the body, and yet abstract enough to encompass global transactions, economies, regimes of knowing. Exhibited at the Schering Stiftung, Berlin, three pieces (The Suspect Inversion Center, Relative Velocity Inscription Device, and Latent Figure Protocol) are on show. What Vanouse is able to show is the inherent instability, or perhaps metastability if we want to use concepts from Gilbert Simondon, of these constellations of production of “truth”. What kinds of truths? Truths about race, about culpability, about how DNA samples do not just stick to the body, or that the relation is fragile, sustained, maintained exactly by the techniques supposed to “find” them. This is basic stuff that Science and Technology Studies has given us: apparatuses, techniques and frameworks create, never just discover. The truths found are as much in the apparatus as in the body – and hence, more accurately in the various couplings of technologies, biological bodies, and the mentioned abstract frameworks.
It’s mediated, to amusing extents: From the mini-laboratories of Suspect Inversion Center that is an on-going performance aimed to demonstrate the manipulability of DNA samples and images (which involves a “becoming OJ Simpson” of Mr Vanouse’s DNA) to the game-like Relative Velocity Inscription Device where the DNA of four family members are staged to compete against each other in a race form (the pace of their DNA samples moving through the gel electrophoresis that is instrumental part of DNA imaging technologies).

The Relative Velocity Inscription Device (RVID) - the biological body processes turned into a "game" for involuntary processes
Visible, invisible – or sustaining and stabilizing something that is dynamic in its radical temporality (such as the DNA in our bodies) as imaged is one of the most crucial questions for the interconnection of power/media (to modulate Foucault’s “power/knowledge-pairing). Such media and visual cultures are yet grounded in the wet fleshyness of the body, a further connection or demonstration of the idea of even biological bodies as media – and essential to mediated cultures. In this context, such pieces are to me much interesting than thinking them in terms of their genre of “bioart” – in the way they force us think nature-cultures, body-technologies, transversal links.

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