- We have left the media out of media theory. We need a rigorous return to the object in itself, an object-oriented media archaeology, out of which we can read new models of historical understanding. Media are the “real protagonists” of media culture (24); their nonhuman point of view pre-condition any later culture understanding.
- “time-critical media”:
- “the archive”
- Ernst’s definition of media: “the physical passage, or place, that mediated something codified and gets decodified at the other end” (19). This is an extremely narrow definition so that it can emphasize the channel.
- “media tempor(e)alities”: following Hayden White, media temporality constitutes (authors) reality itself (30).
- The Ernstian approach to time: “Media history is not a progress story—or a story of a decline of civilizations—but is continuously written anew and branded by discontinuities” (3); Ernst, Parikka notes, is not a member of the Kittler school, even as his work is undoubtedly influenced by Kittler’s theories.
- While most Anglo media studies in the 90’s and 00’s was turning toward “digital media, creative industries, and emergent media discourses” like social media, Ernst “takes a left turn” toward “time-critical” media: that “media had been forgotten from the ways in which we think through history” (5–6).
- There is no real thing as “German media theory,” just as there’s no real “French theory”: Ernst’s specific brand is “less about telling stories of even counterhistories . . . [but] more about how stories are recorded, in what kind of physical media, what kind of processes and durations” (7). This is an “archive of the apparatus” that does not stem from Latour’s focus on the object (like OOO), but rather a subsumed German countertradition of positivism. This fuels one of my major questions about the Anthropocene: how it reconfigures the media of recording and instrumentation.
- “In a similar vein, what Ernst calls obsessions of unmediated thinking so emblematic of that age (and one could add, still in current digital culture) are actually media effects of the emerging technical media of, for instance, photography” (8); I wonder if this bears today as well: what our obsessions are that are in fact media effects.
- So where are politics? How is this more than techno-fetishism? To begin, Ernst prizes calculation-ontologies of the technical over literary-representative-ontologies. (This is his most controversial idea: the cold machinic gaze.) Following Kittler, the machine is the first media archaeologist, recording “noise and physicality” outside human direction (9); critiques:
- A critique from “cool,” which runs the risk of mythologizing the machine outside humanity
- Gitelman: “Kittler assumed too much of technology as a self-sustaining anchor of history, w/o a history of its own” (11).
- In method, the “fundus,” i.e., the lab. The object-oriented focus of contemporary digital studies drives a collection desire: “What the many scholars share is an enthusiasm for the objects, and hence as collectors many are miniarchivists themselves, frequent visitors of flea markets, antiquariums, and old electronics shops” (12). Jussi, Darren, and Lori are working on the Lab Book on this tendency but I wonder what else is out there on this?
- Reverse engineering as a key method of doing media studies; hints of the political in “media competency” in this method: “a certain media education that, according to Ernst, should take as its tactical mission to teach not only that media are about mass media surfaces but also that all media are cultural entities that govern our everyday life” (14). How do we build media competency at vast planetary scale?
- One of Ernst’s key targets is time and its epistemology: we need to take seriously “machine time” in its “iterations, recursions, [and] short circuits” as models for thinking historical time as well (15); (Benjamin would seem a good place to inject politics back into this nonteleological and asynchronous time.)
- Following Chun’s idea of the “enduring ephemeral,” Ernst too argues that “memory is not so much a place of rest but part of a wider setting of calculating—working memory” (16); a “microtemporality.” Music becomes key to his understanding of time (rather than the Derridean writing): “The sonic and the rhythmic are thus seen as exemplary cases of how we understand algorithmic media, too: how instructions are executed, how the executive operationality of data takes precedence to interpretation or semantics, and so forth” (17).
- NOTE: Pay special attention to “cultural techniques” in Siegert, which Parikka notes are understudied in the Anglo tradition (21)—given his emphasis on them in the Concordia class this might also be a fruitful place to inject some new work. “Similar to the way that French poststructuralism has played a key role in the rediscovery of Heidegger in Germany since the 1970s, perhaps we need some German media theory to remind us of the longer traditions in, for instance, the United States and the United Kingdom, of cybernetic thought, material media theory, and the collaboration between art and science” (22).
- Does this formation still hold? “Still, as Kjetil Jakobsen points out, the field of (new) media theory seems split between two very differen approaches: ‘Media archaeologists, like Kittler, Wolfgang Ernst, or Alexander Galloway, describe the non-discursive practices of the techno-cultural archive. Media phenomenologists like Katherine Hayles, Tara McPherson, or Mark B. N. Hansen analyze how phenomena in various media appear to the human cognitive apparatus, that is, to the mind and senses” (23). So far the work on finance capital seems restricted to the latter; I wonder what Hayles’ work on finance would look like from a media archaeological perspective—if we really took serious the work of laying those sub-Arctic cables?
- Media archaeology as a process of writing “discontinuity” rather than the “reconciling narratives of cultural history” (25); “A new generation on both shores of the Atlantic interlaces (to use a term from electronic imaging) both approaches, leading to a kind of relation between cultural and media epistemology that acknowledges both their nonhuman agencies (Bruno Latour) and their discursive dependencies” (26).
- What turns history into media archaeology is putting the medium in the driver’s seat, as it were, in its nonhuman perceptual apparatus—as does Sterne, Ernst contends (28).
- Parikka’s summary on “media archaeography”: “media are themselves a form of inscription, before the human interpreter enters the scene” (36). “Physical phenomena are the real objects of analysis” and we need methods that are “specific enough to understand” the “technicality” of the media; this entails having to tap into regimes of physics, engineering, and computation into our analytical work—an important bridge to the digital humanities (35–36).
- “The rise of technological media displaced the traditional visual rhetoric of representations of history by reconfiguring its reality effects—a process that became almost tangible in museums” (40); The crucial question for media archaeology, then, resides in whether, in this interplay between technology and culture, the new kind of historical imagination that emerged was an effect of new media or whether such media were invented because the epistemological setting of the age demanded them” (42).
- “In a digital culture of apparent, virtual, immaterial realities, a reminder of the insistence and resistance of material worlds is indispensable, and all the more so from a media-theoretical point of view” (43). The drop-in of “tasting” as part of the antiquarian practice reminds me of the toxic books that are getting some radio play over the past few weeks, which once again links me to the long lineage of media toxicities, from Marx through Steedman through Derrida through my work on 3D printing. Could be something interesting to hold onto for the diss… “The antiquarian’s almost haptic taste for the moldy, decaying fragment (mummies, parchments, remnants of bodies and objects) is close to physical data processing: according to André Bazin, the real (le réel) of the photographic image resides with the
- “Admittedly, the registers of the real, the symbolical order, and the imaginary (in Jacques Lacan’s sense) are never clearly distinct. Media archaeology concentrates on the nondiscursive elements in dealing with the past: not on speakers but rather on the agency of the machine” (45).
- Note: Consider rewriting your Nagatani essay between Barad and Ernst, given all this rich stuff on media archaeologies of photography.
- Centrality of time to the new media: “It is a central criterion of the new media that microtemporal moments are technologically decisive for their operations. Not only is time deferred and sublated in representation, but temporal synchronization becomes crucial for the technological process of image generation within the photographic apparatus” (50).
- Limits of the “archaeological” metaphor: Ernst instead figures media archaeology as “both a method and an aesthetics of practicing media criticism, a kind of epistemological reverse engineering, and an awareness of moments when media themselves, not exclusively humans anymore, become active ‘archaeologists’ of knowledge” (55). Machine PoV must liberate us from narrative structure. “How can we write media history when media systems create their Eigenzeit? Let us process the past media archaeologically rather than historiographically” (57).
- Technical artifacts have to work in order to be available to analysis; unlike the vase, the radio must process signals for it to disclose its interior subjectivity (57–58).
- “Media archaeology is more akin to the gaze of the optical scanner than to that of the anthropological observer. Going beyond Marshall McLuhan, the media in contemporary culture can no longer be simply ‘extensions of man’” (67).
- “Media archaeology discovers a kind of stratum—or matrix—in cultural sedimentation that is neither purely human nor purely technological, but literally in between (Latin medium, Greek metaxy): symbolic operations that can be performed by machines and that turn the human into a machine as well” (70); provocative reframe of the continuity b/t human and machine in the cybernetics.
- “Media ‘theory’ recognizes that the links in Western culture between the optical regime and epistemological insight (the visual metaphor of theorein) are being replaced by the numerical sublime, that is, mathematical calculation. . . . Media archaeology, therefore, is close to mathematics” (72).
- Parikka’s summary: “All computer-based, calculational media are temporal, and this forces us to rethink the spatial emphasis of older regimes of memory” and their attendant institutions (77); much of this section is on the archive: “does the archive become metaphorical in multimedia space?” (78) The answer to this question is crucially one of power.
- The problem of the digital archive is one of mathematical relation: “The primary operations of the archive are no longer the contents of its file but rather their logistical interlinking” (84).
- The microtemporality of data processing transforms the archive-as-thing: “Archives as the traditional bases for legal, cultural, and historical research of the past can, in turn, be temporalized and accelerated as streaming archives. The microtemporality of the data-processing operations (synchronization) is thus superimposed on the historical archive’s macrotime” (87)
- Compare to Chun here: “With supremacy of selection over storage, addressability over sorting, there is no memory in the emphatic sense anymore; archival terminology—or rather the archive itself—becomes literally metaphorical, a function of transfer processes” (98).
- “The choice between storage versus transfer, once so useful for the analysis of cultural communication (since Harold Innis wrote Empire and Communications in 1950) becomes obsolescent. It turns out that storage is nothing but a limit value of transfer. Seen from a media-archaeological perspective, transfer and storage are two sides of one coin: storage is a transfer across a temporal distance. The traditional separation between transmission media and storage media becomes obsolete” (100).
- “From this perspective, the most expressive television image of war is the interruption of transmission, the sudden halt of all images: the empty screen immediately documents the explosion of a bomb, for instance, in Belgrade’s state-owned TV station, and becomes an allegory of death, which itself is not visible. In the age of technology, the image of the real comes into its own. At this point it is the intervention of media archaeology to resist any and all allegorizing, semantic readings” (106).
- Parikka’s summary: “Time is specifically internal to the workings of technical media” (143); “Whereas history is a discourse governed by a symbolic and meaning-making logic, media archaeology is seen as the temporal processing closer to nonsemantic technical machine logic” (143). This section is also imperative for thinking about media as measuring instruments that “have exposed the various time regimes of life” (144).
- “The media-archeological view virtually lurks, waiting for such moments of uncertainty in order to formulate them as opportunities for venturing other means of perception, for blazing other memory trails, as an alternative to the media-historical viewpoint.” (Ernst and Parikka 2013:166)
- “The medium only appears to conform to the logic of historical epochal concepts; in actuality, it undermines this logic and sets a different temporal economy” (Ernst and Parikka 2013:166)
- “The electrotechnical transformation of speech into signals, of signals into waves, into recording and radiation, has impressed the collective consciousness with the fact that linguistic meaning in the media always turns into sound, sound into signal, signal into noise; even the voices of leaders and dictators were thus, in the words of Paul DeMarinis, “nothing more than a wave in the air.”” (Ernst and Parikka 2013:169); Compare w/ Peters on airy media (note on p.169)
- “it was not the beginning of radio as a mass medium but rather the endpoint of inquiry into a question of applied media theory—Aristotelian media theory—the question of what happens in between (to metaxy)” (Ernst and Parikka 2013:171)
- “the laboratory as media theater” (Ernst and Parikka 2013:172); “Media-archaeologically, medium means primarily measurement. Already before 1906, namely in 1898, Ferdinand Braun discovered the cathode-ray tube as a measuring instrument for time-dependent electrical quantities by way of depicting electrical signals on a fluorescent screen, the media-archeological archetype of the television picture tube” (Ernst and Parikka 2013:172); So there is a there there w/r/t measurement, even if I don’t want to go full history of science—I wonder if Siegert’s cultural techniques provide a more fruitful way of theorizing this… (note on p.172); “All such mass media as the phonograph, kinematograph, radio, and electronic television were first developed for experimental research. Media are measuring devices, and as such they are scientific, analytical apparatuses. To put it roughly, any listening to music on records or to radio programs is essentially experimental, a kind of reverse experimentation” (Ernst and Parikka 2013:191)
- “It proves impossible to write an organized or even chronological history of the development of the tube, because the tube has no linear discursive history but instead, especially in the beginning, followed more of a zigzag course of experimental groping in the dark. For technological archeology, the defect is the true index of the real. The tube is thus a dispositive, compared to which its concrete realizations and differentiations (radio, television, computer) are more representative of deviations.” (Ernst and Parikka 2013:172)
- “True media archaeology starts here: the phonograph as media artifact preserves not only the memory of cultural semantics but past technicalknowledge as well, a kind of frozen media knowledge embodied in engineering and waiting to be revealed by media-archaeological consciousness.” (Ernst and Parikka 2013:189); So much heat and cold.
Archive and Impact
- Kittler opened up the space for robust theorizing of media technologies but Foucault gave Ernst the groundwork for linking together media, history, and archives; along with an earlier gen. of German theorists who worked from Lacan and Derrida, Ernst “circut bends” (to use Parikka’s phrase) French theory into German media theory: “In this terrain of intellectual debates, Ernst was able to pick up a similar idea: to upgrade philosophy into media theory and extend the idea of the discontinuity of media history into media archaeology” (4–5).
- I wonder how successful American media archaeology has been at rectifying the “cool” tendency? It seems that the cool gaze is unethical now in an increasingly hot planet. Heat irrupts in the methods of play, which some other media theorists use (Jagoda) and others exhaust (Galloway).
- Note: one of the problems for media archaeology / archaeography in the Anthropocene is that we can no longer assume that machine subjectivity is “objective” in the way Ernst seems to want it to be—if indeed it ever was, which it wasn’t.
- One of Ernst’s most provocative questions for the study of English is how we do the work of reading that is so central to our methods: what are we reading, how are we reading it?
- There’s a surprising amount of McLuhan in this!