[This was part of the Gauntlet, so notes are more summaries.]
Mechanisms remains a magisterial book. It’s principally a collision of textual studies and computer forensics, but touches on so many of the concerns central to my work: the value of materiality, alternative methods of pursuing reading and analysis, pervasive and under-seen media objects, the challenges of working on objects that we can’t usually access, and on. “I conclude that new media cannot be studied apart from individual instances of inscription, object, and code as they propagate on, across, and through specific storage devices, operating systems, software environments, and network protocols; yet the forensic imagination of the book’s subtitle is also conceived as a deeply humanistic way of knowing, one that assigns value to time, history, and social or material circumstance—even trauma and wear—as part of our thinking about new media” (23). One of the challenges of working on media archaeology now in our present concerns with systems, logistics, and geophysical materiality (scales of materiality that exceed the object) is knitting these two perspectives together in methods that exceed the “boys with toys” slippage of much of platform studies—or the total theory of ANT or OOO. Mechanisms demonstrates that there is still value in reading closely singular objects as representations and refractions of broader systems and ways of knowing—and even though “media archaeology” doesn’t actually feature once in the book (it was written before Parikka’s time), it remains one of the most compelling explorations of the archaeological or genealogical method in scholarship.
Where can we expand it? As Matt said yesterday: nowadays when we go close to the metal, we have to account for where that metal comes from. I praise Mechanisms, certainly, but wonder again how to press its insights into systems into which we have no forensic access: what the deductive method of close material analysis does with influential systems truly locked away from us. Again, what does a speculative media materialism look like, methodologically and theoretically?
Another thing that I think is worth noting: how we can begin to project its analysis of the physical logics (forensic materiality) and symbolic logics (formal materiality) into the production of systems that emerge from and sustain the Anthropocene. Geopolitical order is not Matt’s concern, but I think it’s one of the more pressing questions to triangulate: how these textual and physical logics inhered in storage and transmission devices produce the sociocultural/political topography of our broken world.
- forensic and formal materiality
- forensic imagination