Summary

  • Zielinski is interested in writing an anarchic media history, one that recovers punctuated, kairotic qualities to the stop and go anti-progression of technology.

Keywords

  • “variantology”: as Emerson defines it, “the discovery of ‘individual variations’ in the use or abuse of media”; the specific uncovered particles that drive against teleological history.
  • “anarchaeology”

Notes

1. Introduction

  • “Media are special cases within the history of civilization. They have contributed their share to the gigantic rubbish heaps that cover the face of our planet or to the mobile junk that zips through outer space” (2); In current (2002) media history, “one thing above all others is refined and expanded: the idea of inexorable, quasi-natural, technical progress” (2–3). Of course, we can complicate “natural” == “inexorable”.
  • Deep time: “It was only in the twentieth century that there was absolute certainty that the history of the Earth spans billions of years. Such numbers surpass our powers of imagination, just as it is almost impossible to imagine the existence of infinite parallel universes or the coexistence of different space-times” (4).
  • “The paradigm of technology as an organ was a crutch used in the development of mechanics; similarly, the organic becoming technology is now a poor prosthesis in the age of electronics and computation. Technology is not human; in a specific sense, it is deeply inhuman” (6).
  • The present work emerges out of two observed trends: 1) the tendency toward standardization and 2) the development of “cutting-edge media theory and praxis” working together (9–10); “We must also seek a reversal with respect to time, which—in an era characterized by high-speed technologies and their permeation of teaching, research, and design—has arguably become the most prized commodity of all. These excursions into the deep time of the media do not make any attempt to expand the present nor do they contain any plea for slowing the pace. The goal is to uncover dynamic moments in the media-archaeological record that abound and revel in heterogeneity and, in this way, to enter into a relationship of tension with various present-day moments, relativize them, and render them more decisive” (11).

2. Methodology

  • This chapter recounts collisions between the rational sciences and more strange, magical, or esoteric eighteenth century pursuits: bioluminescence, the interpretation of dreams’ following Glissant’s poetics of relations…
  • “Who owns time?” “At this historical juncture where time has been declared the most important resource for the economy, technology and art, we should not pay so much attention to how much or how little time we have. Rather we should take heed of who or what has power of disposal over our time and the time of others, and in what way” (28–29). The Clock of the Long Now then purports to be media-ecological but is really just “presumptuous,” the extension of the now forever into the future.
  • “All techniques for reproducing existing worlds and artificially creating new ones are, in a specific sense, time media” (31).

10. Conclusions

  • “Bills of exchange that fall due and must be paid, defense of antinomies versus universalization of the remaining heterologous remnants, and politics permeated by the poetry of hospitality: these are ways of describing the subterranean currents of energy that course through the deep time of the media” (257).
  • “This is precisely why the magical approach to technical media worlds holds such potential for new impulses and inspiration. Science, which seeks to establish general laws, cannot afford to concentrate obsessively and passionately on one area of observation any more than it can allow fluctuations and uncertainty in experimental proof. Such obsessive focus is essential, however, for the kind of experimental thought and practice that can afford to fail and is not afraid of including the possibility of failure in its calculations. The determined pursuit of a single idea and its investigation until all possibilities are exhausted will likely stir up unrest among firmly established structures and procedures” (258).
  • “One conclusion of this quest through the deep time of seeing and hearing using technical devices, with its additional focus on combining (ars combinatoria), is to advocate a two-fold shift of geographic attention: from the North to the South and from the West to the East”; establishing links to “peripheries” w/o moving them to the center or construing a center as such (261).
  • “The problem with imagining media worlds that intervene, of analyzing and developing them creatively, is not so much finding an appropriate framework but rather allowing them to develop with and within time” (270).
  • Much of Zielinski’s conclusion links up to work that calls for media archaeology as arts method or world-making method: “Media worlds that need electricity as energy are synonymous with artificially created, processed, and rhythmic time. The nomadic existence of contemporary alchemists working in the electronic arts has both logistical and economic grounds: they go to the places that offer well-equipped laboratories for their experiments and spaces of freedom where, for a time, they can install and present their unstable or ephemeral works” (272). Compare to Parikka’s interest in “circuit bending” media archaeology into an arts method.

Archive and Impact

  • Here’s the thing about Zielinski: I love all of his major theoretical propositions and I hate his methodology and analysis. A rousing call for an anarchaeology of discarded media and a true reckoning with deep time turns into a parallel universe listing of male inventors.
  • Important precursors to Zielinski’s deep time include the eighteenth century’s John Hutton, who also receives treatment in A Geology of Media and Stephen Jay Gould’s “punctuated equilibrium” (5).
  • Method: “I use certain conceptual premises from paleontology, which are illuminating for my own specific field of inquiry—the archaeology of the media—as orientations: the history of civilization does not follow a divine plan, nor do I accept that, under a layer of granite, there are no further strata of intriguing discoveries to be made” (7).
  • One issue w/ Zielinski’s method is how focused it still is on individual genius. How can we re-apply the anarchaeology of media toward a more Edgerton-style reading of use?
  • In its anarchic play of arts practices, the closing chapter resembles the network fetishists of the late 1990’s: the affective energy is still one of calamitous rioting possibility, even if the stories are very different.