Monthly Archives: October 2015

McGehee Post 8: Colonialism* There, I Fixed It For You

eyerollAs I read through Jussi Parikka’s “Media Theory and New Materialism,” and his explanation and advocation of Fredrich A. Kittler’s theories on media, I found myself writing phrases such as “how convenient” and “ignores the being, cool” in the margins. When we discussed Pickering last week, I mentioned in class that one must have a certain position in the world to carry out these views of subjectivity in scholarship, views that advocate for the detachment of narrative and the self from technological materiality. For instance, there are many references in Parikka’s text, which fail to address ableist notions of the mentally ill and disabled. Even the likes of renowned feminist philosophers, such as Foucault and Judith Butler, use the disabled as a conduit of expression for their theoretical texts.

Parikka mentions on page 72 that the keyboard was “originally designed for the blind to assist in their writing” but the subjectivity of the blind is rendered unimportant. Before and after this on the same page, Parikka informs his reader in Kittler’s simultaneous experimentation on hallucination and “the way we go mad” “he does this to mental illness too” as if these varying levels of “disability” belong to the same family. Ironically, on page 76 when Parikka discuses the Xerox Labblind at MIT, he says the lab “opened up computing as a medium for lay human beings: not only for number-crunching, but for symbol and graphic object manipulation, and hence meant for eyes…and hands,” conveniently excluding the blind and other disabled who are no longer useful as objects of study. This point of view is steeped in Western perspective and renders the individual and the disability invisible. As Parikka says on page 74, “…experimental laboratory practices and other measures…made the human body a new object of investigation” (74).

In my humble opinion, Parikka fails to interrogate the male, Euro-centric canon Kittler draws upon; rather he uses it as a point of validation and connection to the humanities or the arts to reinforce their placement within the Lacanian link between science, technology, and the arts.

Aside from this, particular phrasings throughout Parikka’s text seem to be a direct criticism and silencing of Haraway’s “Situated Knowledges” and “A Cyborg Manifesto”:

“The Posthuman does not always have to be thought through the digital-media discourse of cyborgs and cyberspace, and we can go much further back in time than to computers in our analysis of digital culture” (Parikka, 79).

“In other words, not meaning, not representation, not any imaginary of media that is conditioned by the social, but the act of communication it its physical distributing and effective channeling of signals stands at the core of media, claims Kittler” (Parikka, 68-9).

(Also, military connection.)

Although he may merely be building off of Haraway’s texts in a somewhat constructive, albeit combative, way, his comments in this regard ultimately appear reductive, insensitive to marginalized groups of people, and remain thinly veiled with no tangible references to Haraway. While Parikka maintains that, “Ernst’s way of articulating a specifically media-archaeological version of ‘media materialism’ is then not a direct assault on narrative theories, but a strong insistence on rethinking what we mean by narrative” (82), I just can’t get behind him. Parikka conveniently places himself behind quotes and previous rhetoric almost exclusively by white, male scholars to articulate his stance and to avoid direct criticism, while Haraway fully puts herself on the line, perhaps highlighting exactly what is at stake for each theorist when it comes to advocating for or against the inclusion of narrative in new materialism and media theory. It feels impossible to separate Haraway from her words in these texts, perhaps an act of embodiment and refusal to be objectified, voiceless, or otherwise quantified for material consumption.

noKittler conveniently wants to remove subjectivity from this work to reinforce credibility in such scholarship, but, as we’ve established over several weeks now, the tool (computer) is not a neutral object. It is a tool controlled, built, and operated by human beings: “It takes one to build one” (80). As Parikka states, “Shannon’s model does not ask about the being for whom the message connotes or denotes meaning, but rather it ignores connotation and denotation altogether in order to clarify the internal mechanism of communication instead” (69). This is the linchpin to Parikka’s justification of Kittler’s materialism.

Parikka pulls from a hodgepodge of scholars to reinforce his credibility and/or to appear neutral throughout the text. While “cognitive capitalization” is brought to the surface and parceled through, the word “colonialism” never once rears its head in the text. Through Ernst, he states: “the object is no longer people, discourses and narrativization as a method of bringing the past alive, but the archive” (82). How convenient. Parikka does question technopower in several parts of the text (through other scholars), but ultimately attempts to present his support of Kittler as a straightforward history and cataloguing of a particular branch of media theory.

We talk about bio power, language, standardization, institutionalization, etc., bthefuckut Parikka never elaborates on the social theory behind these terms, nor does he ever specifically mention people of color, women, lgbtq, or the actual humans effected by this theoretical indoctrination and their subsequent erasure enacted through this text itself. Parikka seems resigned to briefly address these issues and move on rather than engage them in a substantial way, as though they’re a distraction from what he wants to get across to the reader. Again, the Western perspective renders the individual invisible, assuming we can all work from the same subjectivity through the anonymity the machine allegedily offers. We become disembodied through an assumed objectivity.

While Parikka offers some criticism of this (through other scholars), admitting the machine is fallible, he seems to advocate for Kittler’s emphasis on and analysis of the machine over human subjectivity, which is also presented as fallible. Yes, memory is fallible. Experience is not. Interacting with a machine meant to serve, a machine which is presented as objectively and gender neutral when we know better, has it’s own set of flaws. I can see how turning our attention to the interior of the machine (the machine’s narrative) is a useful route for understanding new material, but to leave human narrative out of the equation is a mistake, a mistake that has been enacted over and over again in “Anglo-American” and western cultures, which prioritize certain subjectivities over others.

I’m inclined to agree with Haraway here when she says:

“The moral is simple: only partial perspective promises objective vision. All Western culture narratives about objectivity are allegories of the ideologies governing the relations of what we call mind and body, distance and responsibility. Feminist objectivity is about limited location and situated knowledge, not about transcendence and splitting of subject and object. It allows us to become answerable for what we learn how to see” (583).

*just a reminder that I am presenting this week*


Works Cited:

Parikaa, Jussi. “Media Theory and New Materialism.” What Is Media Archaeology? Cambridge: Polity Press, 2012. 63-89. Print.

Haraway, Donna. “Situated Knowledge: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective.” Feminist Studies, Vol. 14, No. 3. (Autumn, 1988), pp. 575-599. Print.

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Armstrong, Week 9: Haraway, Habermas & Benthall: Don’t Forget Us Guys, Lady–– Also, Some Doing for Me

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So I’ve been sitting with Haraway the past week and trying to grasp it more, but I was startled (though not really, and isn’t that just sad?) when I read a “polite” scathing critique of it by Sebastian Benthall. Benthall keeps reiterating that Haraway is a talented writer, which I’m sure her response would be a very dry, “Thanks.” It’s basically the equivalent of a throwaway “No offense, buuuuuut…” before saying some incredibly insensitive BS.

That’s exactly what he did.

Starting off by bringing in Jurgen Habermas, he is saying that Haraway is “mostly right” but not so right as Habermas.

“In 1981, Habermas published his Theory of Communicative Action in German. This work incorporates some of the feminist critiques of his earlier work on the formation of the bourgeois public sphere. Habermas reaches more or less the same conclusion as Haraway: there is no trancendent subject or god’s point of view to ground science; rather, science must be grounded in the interaction of perspectives through communicative action aimed at consensus.

Despite their similarities, there are some significant differences between these points of view. Importantly, Haraway’s feminist science has no white men in it. It’s not clear if it has any Asian, Indian, Black, or Latino men in it either, though she frequently mentions race as an important dimension of subjugation. It’s an appropriation and erasure of non-white masculinity. Does it include working class white men? Or men with disabilities of any kind? Apparently not. Since I’m a man and many of my scientist friends are men (of various races), I find this objectionable.”

Gotta love that italic feminist right? Haraway doesn’t include men… I don’t even… Oh, my sweet summer child.

This makes me think of Haraway’s passage on 580, “Science has been about a search for translation, convertibility, mobility of meanings, and universality–– which I call reductionism only when one language (guess whose?) must be enforced as the standard for all the translations and conversions.”

He even mentions Wikipedia definitions of bias, which Adeline Koh discusses in her “Introducing Digital Humanities Work to Undergraduates: An Overview.” In this, Koh talks about Wikipedia’s “verifiability, not truth” and the fact that the majority of its editors are white, around 30, middle-class, college educated, and English speakers.

Benthall is doing exactly what Haraway talks about in her essay: “romanticizing and/or appropriating the vision of the less powerful while claiming to see from their positions.”

This all culminates in his most misogynist claim, “So I have to conclude that teaching people Haraway as an epistemology is really bad for science, because it’s bad for diversity in science. That’s a little sad because obviously Haraway had the best of intentions and she is a really interesting writer. It’s also sad because a lot of STS people who base their work off of Haraway really think they are supporting diversity in science. I’ve argued: Nope. Maybe they should be reading Habermas instead.”

He literally is advocating to completely ignore Haraway and read this white man instead. Diversity my foot, Benthall.

OFF TOPIC DOING

I was also thinking this week, thanks to Adeline Koh, about incoorperating Digital Humanities into my own classroom. Next semester I’ll be teaching ENGL 2051 (introductory Fiction) and I want to do something other than have them make a traditional chapbook, not that there is anything wrong with that.

The course description, roughly, will be Mapping Your Histories through Flash and Short Stories.

So I’ve been thinking, and if anyone has any good resources then I would be so grateful, that I want them (for their final project) have an interactive map of their hometown, where they feel like they’ve grown the most, what Place means to them, etc. which will have a corresponding story attached. People, or themselves, from their hometown could add pictures of that place, music from local artists, that sort of thing.


Benthall, Sebastian. “Comments on Haraway: Situated Knowledge, Bias, and Code.” Digifesto. Web.

Haraway, Donna. “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective.” Feminist Studies, Vol. 14, No. 3 (Autumn, 1988). 575-599. Web.

Embracing “Situated Knowledges”: How to Do Feminist DH

Donna Haraway’s notion of situated knowledges as feminist objectivity seems to me a perfect defining concept for Digital Humanities as well as all academic fields. Twenty-seven years after the publication of her essay on situated knowledges, her observations, criticisms, and suggestions still hold weight. We still see “automated academic battlefields, where blips of light called players disintegrate (what a metaphor!) each other in order to stay in the knowledge and power game” (577). To illustrate this observation, I could point to Stephen Ramsay’s notion of DH as building, or the fact that many institutions don’t count non-paginated publications toward productivity, or the fact that scholars working in DH fields have been denied tenure. Clearly, we can see a policing of what “counts” as knowledge in our field. While I see the need for Haraway’s proposition in all disciplines, I think DH has more potential to make her plan a reality than some other fields might.

By some definitions, DH should be a community (here I point once again to Jean Bauer’s recent blogpost). Certainly, the fact that there is so much debate of the field and what it is and what counts as DH demonstrates its potential to be multifarious—at least, if the white, male, tenured professors would quit policing it. Haraway argues that, “Feminists have to insist on a better account of the world; it is not enough to show radical historical contingency and modes of construction for everything” (579). DH gives us new and diverse ways of doing humanities work. We don’t have to just have show what we know through stodgy academic writing; we can go beyond that.

I’m looking at Aphra Behn Online: Interactive Journal for Women in the Arts, 1640-1830 (ABO) as an example. While ABO is still a journal producing academic writing, it takes a more feminist approach than many journals. For one, it’s online and open-access, and—as their readership map demonstrates—this allows people from around the world to read the journal. Also, instead of focusing solely on critical historical readings of texts, ABO includes articles on teaching texts and on digital humanities work thereby offering a more “situated knowledges” of the profession. Even their peer-review policy for submissions highlights their goals: “Because ABO is committed to community and interaction, the review process is partially open […] Our goal for every essay under review is to make it a stronger work through multiple readings, constructive criticism and collaborative feedback.” There’s no single voice of authority here, but rather a collaboration of voices working together towards knowledge.

For me, the interactivity and community that ABO emphasizes represents just some of the possibilities available when we take a feminist approach to DH. Subsequently, I see it as our responsibility as feminists and humanists to make Haraway’s vision a reality for Digital Humanities.

Archibald Post 8: Kittler and posthumanism

In his chapter “Media Theory and New Materialism” Jussi Parikka undertakes an interrogation of German and Anglo-American media studies, and I was especially convinced by his readings of Friedrich Kittler’s work. Kittler falls under the broad (and sometimes incorrectly labelled) group of German media theorists who merge close material readings of technologies with critical theory. Kittler particularly draws on Lacan, Foucault, and McLuhan in his focus on media hardware. His approach privileges the processes of media storage and transmission over the social and representative, in a tightly interwoven framework of arts, science, and technology. Like many modern media theorists, he recognizes the increasing imagined immateriality of media in the recent period of digital innovation.

I’m particularly interested in Kittler’s reading of the posthuman: Parikka writes of Kittler’s theoretical model that

We do not speak language, but language speaks us, and we have to participate in such systems of language, which are not of our own making. But language in the age of technical media is not just natural language; it is the new technological and physical regimes introduced by media, such as the typewriter, and later computer software languages, which should methodologically be seen in a similar way – they impose new regimes of sensation and use to which we have to accommodate ourselves in order to be functioning subjects. We are secondary to such systems.  (70)

He then goes on to discuss the type of power that is now inscribed in such systems and therefore over our bodies. Here Kittler advances a world view by which humans are absorbed into information systems, who are “secondary to such systems.” The human psychologically and physiologically becomes a conceptual reflection of the media systems themselves; he is describing a type of machinic agency whereby the human is programmed into specific kinds of behaviors. He always refers to the human as the ‘so-called human being,’ which again makes me question where the posthuman begins if we read the posthuman as being unable to separate the human and machine. During our last class, I suggested that posthumanism could be evidenced all the way back to humanity’s first moment of bipedalism. Sure, this is a controversial and perhaps totally inaccurate claim, but it plays into the way that I see the technological and human as inherently intertwined: technology has always acted as a kind of social prosthesis, and the human thinks through and alongside media. Our class proposed that the advent of the digital has merely highlighted this reciprocal relationship in a heightened manner, and this is reflected by the new currency of fields such as game studies, platform studies, and software studies. Kittler himself demonstrates that the posthuman can be applied much earlier than digital media’s explosion by analyzing painting and the typewriter, and Parikka also discusses Bernhard Siegert’s analysis on the postal system as a media network that manifests the posthuman.

Kittler additionally publishes a line from Nietzsche—that “Our writing tools are also working on our thoughts”—which plays into my view of the posthuman (72). Media drives epistemic changes, as it impacts cognition and corporality—in this case the human body becomes an inscription surface for the act of writing. At the same time, it is human thought that has created this writing tool, and although the tool shapes human thought through its material affordances, we can still use the writing tool for a host of differentiated purposes. Therefore although we live in a seemingly cyborg society, technology can be regarded as having always driven our social organization, and our individual psyches and bodies.

As others have noted in their posts for this week, Kittler’s methodology seems too extreme in taking the human out of media studies, but Parikka doesn’t seem to endorse this; he acknowledges the hardware focus of new media theories “in addition to social contexts,” and at the conclusion of his chapter he recognizes that “a variety of media studies methodologies are now insisting that we should not only engage in textual analyses of media culture, but be prepared to tackle what goes on inside the machine as well” (65, 89). For Parikka, the ultimate question seems to boil down to “how to rethink familiar media technologies in new material constellations and in ways that lead to new modes of using, consuming and institutionalizing media,” a formation that readily applies to the nature of DH as a process or methodology (64).

Connecting Kittler’s theoretical work to lab spaces,[1] CU Boulder’s Media Archaeology Lab (the MAL) seems the perfect space to explore such relationships between the human and machine (http://mediaarchaeologylab.com/). The MAL houses a host of dated inscription technologies, ranging from projectors and typewriters to personal computers and gaming consoles (and even a few ‘cutting edge’ devices such as its 3D printer). Unlike other media labs such as MIT’s “The Trope Tank” and Washington State University Vancouver’s “Electronic Literature Lab,” the MAL has open hours and doesn’t require any type of supervision or training to access and use its collective media, even allowing students to dismantle the hundreds of old technological parts and pieces to examine their material workings. During our class visit, we started to interrogate the implications of machinic agency on notions of space and embodiment. Furthermore, the MAL’s motto that “the past must be lived so that the present can be seen” directly alludes to the notions of the pre-digital and the imagined invisibility/immateriality that Kittler finds so important in his reading of postmodernism.

Works Cited:

Parikka, Jussi. “Media Theory and New Materialism.” What Is Media Archaeology? Cambridge: Polity Press, 2012. 63-89. Print.

[1] On the topic of lab spaces, I wanted to briefly note a great line from Parikaa where he writes (of Hugo Münsterberg’s work) that “Cinema is a laboratory of sorts for manipulations of states of mind and brain” (73). The same can certainly be said of writing as a laboratory of the mind, which supports our claim that DH should not be limited in scope to mere ‘doing,’ but include the ‘thinking’ of traditional humanities scholarship.

Schultheis Post 8: What Do You Mean “We”?

In his chapter “Media Theory and New Materialism,” Jussi Parikka surveys media-materialist approaches to media theory, focusing primarily on the work of Friedrich A. Kittler. A material discourse theorist, Kittler does not identify as a media archaeologist; however, as Parikka’s chapter explains, his work has been instrumental in the more recent development of new materialism, a wide-ranging study influenced by Bernard Siegert, Wolfgang Ernst, and Claus Pias. While it would be unfair to lump all new material theorist into one ontology, many share a similar research focus: textual analysis should happen alongside an analysis of a machine’s inner workings.

I can get behind part of Parikka’s description of “descent,” a term he borrows from Foucault’s genealogical method. “Power,” he explains, “[that] is now circulated through software to hardware is inseparable from the proprietary industries that produce the platforms on which our media for seeing and hearing are governed” (81). Starting the semester off with an article on tech-power disparity, we have been discussing similar issues in class ever since. However, I take issue with the foundation that Parikka (or maybe just Kittler) laid in describing the “new state for media analysis” (80). Marking this shift from printed texts to computer memory, he claims that “we no longer have direct access to writing” (80). While I don’t contest that this is certainly the case with mathematical machines (computers) today, I perceive a distinct privilege in being able to make this claim about the past. This “we” discussed here seems to have always had direct access to writing, a strange claim for a poststructuralist to make. And just as our readings of the last few weeks have argued that printed facts are complicated, socially constructed data, writing has always been pumped through various socially constructed machines—whether organic (ie. transcribers, translators, the human mind etc.) or mechanical. I would argue, then, that historically very few have had direct access to writing, but it wouldn’t take many of us long to realize what most of the “we” share: race and gender.

Jussi Parikka, “Media Theory and New Materialism” (2012)

Gilmer Post 8: Souls, Sirens, and Sound

The New Materialism approach, while useful in its ability to push against human-centric scholarship, excludes the human entirely. I’m on board with the momentary suspension of the human bias, but I struggle to see how “human culture does not lose but rather wins” by silencing human voices in our approaches to media archaeology (72). I’m reminded (and like Erin, I’ll warn everyone that I’m basically going to slip back into narrative) of a moment in AMC’s Breaking Bad: Walter White, famed chemist and aspiring meth-dealer, breaks down the chemical composition of the human body on a chalkboard:

Hydrogen – 63%
Oxygen – 26%
Carbon – 9%
Nitrogen – 1.25%
Calcium – .25%
Iron – .00004%
Sodium – .04%
Phosphorous – .19%
This brings the total to 99.888042%, leaving .111958% unaccounted for. When his partner suggests the missing element must be the “soul,” Walt laughs uproariously and insists, “There’s nothing but chemistry here.”

This, for me, illustrates the fundamental one-sidedness of Ernst’s paradigm. Both Parikka and Ernst utilize Homer’s Sirens as an example of human bias—technology assists us in resisting their charms. But this metaphor fails to account for the human element imbedded within our media technologies. Like Kittler, Ernst argues that “the act of communication in its physical distributing and effective channeling of signals stands at the core of media” (Parikka 69). I can agree with this summary, but I’m thinking back to Jockers’ “big data” project: any slight manipulation of code affected the project’s representation on a large-scale. Moreover, the machine’s ability to analyze data is wholly informed by human programming, human language, and in many cases, human error. How can we view such projects as purely data-oriented? How can we say this signal “channeling” is a one-way-street? I can’t help but feel that discussions of purity in the academe are dangerous at their core. Ernst’s desire to write out the human pollutant, i.e. Walter White’s soul, in favor of “pure data navigation” (68) is reminiscent of the search for the ideal or purely authoritative text (which I’m studying in Thora’s course): pointless and violent.

To illustrate the effects of the human bias, Ernst provides the following thought experiment: “imagine an early phonographic recording. Surely we acoustically hallucinate the scratching, the noise of the recording apparatus” (Ernst 69). The point he’s making is this: our ear is intrinsically biased before we even perceive sound due to our subjective preconception of said sound. Along these lines, he argues that sound recorded by a synthesizer represents liberty from the bias of the human ear. I wonder if anyone who’s ever seen a live concert would agree. I’m curious as to how this freedom from bias aligns with Ernst’s claim that “the event of the voice itself [comprises] the materiality of culture” (71). Does a recording function in the same way? (I’m thinking about Plato’s critique of writing as disembodiment—does Ernst’s prioritization of aural culture, i.e. the spoken word or ‘sound,’ strengthen Foucauldian hierarchies of descent?) This is a very relevant question for me, as I spent the last week or so recording various “sounds” of the MAL to recreate a functional soundscape. If that effort is meaningless, please—someone let me know before I spend another 3 hours doing it.

Since we’re focusing on media archaeology this week, I’d like to set up a quick thought experiment for our own beloved MAL. I attended the Media Archaeology Lab’s homecoming tour last week and just so happened to record the Edison phonograph as it was “scratching,” to use Ernst’s phrase. They call that fate, ladies and gentleman. So I thought it would be fun (or cheesy, you know, whichever) to complete Ernst’s challenge. I’d like everyone to take approximately 5-10 seconds to imagine this sound—how loud is it? How quickly is the mechanism rotating? Is the record skipping?

Now let’s listen to the actual recording: https://drive.google.com/a/colorado.edu/file/d/0By2U42xXNhWvbFVTX0xlTENFc0E/view?usp=sharing

What were the differences? What preconceptions were deflated?

At this point, I’m sure you’re all confused. I just proved Ernst’s point after hating on him for three paragraphs. But the element of human error is, once again, inarguably present. The simple fact is that I couldn’t get the phonograph working! I didn’t wind it up long enough, fast enough, or move the needle appropriately. It took the magical hands of Aaron Angello and another very sweet lab worker to get the thing running properly. The point I’m making is this: there is no sound freed from human influence. Listen to the recording again—note that it gets slower and slower. This was because Aaron’s hands were physically on the machine, changing its pace.

Whether Ernst’s posthumanism represents freedom or imprisonment, it simply isn’t possible to cleanly separate the human from the machine at this stage. Nor do I anticipate such a clean-cut separation in the future. Ernst’s characterization of “human performativity” and “technological algorithmical operations” positions them as “two different regimes clash[ing]” (59), but doesn’t this reify Snow’s ‘two cultures’ on some level? New Materialism, as formulated by Ernst and Kittler, fails to acknowledge the human’s mutual role in orchestrating and ‘programming’ the machinic realm.

Carlson Post 8: Searching for the ‘H’ in ‘DH’

This week I found myself feeling somewhat resistant to Wolfgang Ernst’s “Media Archaeography: Method and Machine Versus History and Narrative of Media.” While this might just be the humanist within me talking, I am still a bit uncomfortable with the idea of completely separate the technological from the human. Ernst is immediately critical of what he calls “media stories,” writing:

“The cultural inclination to give sense to data through narrative structure is not easy for human subjectivity to overcome. It takes machines to temporarily liberate us from such limitations. Technology, according to Martin Heidegger, is more than instrumental; it transcends the human.” (Ernst 56)

While it may simply be a matter of personal opinion, I find these “media stories” to be one of the most fascinating aspects of technology. When we went to the Media Archaeology Lab as a class a few weeks ago, I continually found myself pondering the narratives of the machines in the hands of their previous owners. What physical properties could Kirschenbaum find on the micro-level of each computer and what could we learn about its story? As technology becomes a more and more dominating aspect of the human experience, I think these “media stories” become more and more important.

Personal opinions aside, I have to wonder how this separation of the technological from the human fits into the definition of Digital Humanities (a definition that we have yet to nail down but that I continue to struggle with). If we want to remove the human, does Ernst’s theoretical framework still count as Digital Humanities? It seems to me that we might have to remove the H from DH in this instance.

Screen Shot 2015-10-25 at 7.28.18 PMErnst uses the example of the Milman Parry Collection of Oral Literature, writing that “Parry . . . went to Serbia and Montenegro to conduct a study in experimental philology, recording epic songs to discover how epics as long as Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey have been transmitted in culture without writing” (60). I found the collection online and was able to listen to a few recordings. Despite the fact that I was unable to understand what was being said and sung in the recordings, I still felt resistance to Ernst’s theory. Ernst writes that “the media-archaeological ear listens to radio in an extreme way: listening to the noise of the transmitting system itself” (68). Even when listening to recordings in a foreign language, I don’t find myself interested in the static created by the recording device. I listen to these recordings searching for information about the people of Serbia and Montenegro; I can’t shake my interest in the human here.


Works Cited

Ernst, Wolfgang. 2011. “Media Archaeography: Method and Machine Versus History and Narrative of Media.”

Jones: Material Readings of Technology

“Archaeology, as opposed to history, refers to what is actually there”(57), Wolfgang Ernst

In trying to reconstruct my understanding of the type of epistemological approach to media archaeology that Ernst was trying to advocate, I wonder what really was the “cold” reading that Ernst explores? To me, it appears that Ernst was interested in a very material reading, digging down into the purposes, substance, or intents of the machine. Yet Ernst’s reading seems to obscure the cultural or the human in from the devices and their accoutrements, privileging a calculated and objective “fairness” that does not incorporate how technology and humans are intertwined culturally and politically.

While reading, it seemed to me that Ernst was separating the cultural from the material. For Ernst, “media archaeology adds to the study of culture in an apparently paradoxical way by directing attention (perception, analysis) to noncultural dimensions of the technological regime” (61). When Ernst reads technological output, coils, or the smaller pieces of devices and machines, is he trying to elevate technology from human biases? Is there such an escape for technology? Both Latour and Pickering have attempted to in some way show how technology and culture are intertwined, with Pickering showing the two as entangled in co-evolution. Yet for Ernst, it appears that objectivity can exist within technology without a “narrative”, and that  “experience when cut off from epic tradition, could not be communicated in a narrative way anymore” (61). If we think of technology as the product of material cultural collaborations and productions, I’m wondering if perhaps another type of narrative reveals itself?

For example, during one class we discussed how precious metals are extracted for phones, tablets, computers and this has led to conflict, struggles, and violence in areas of the world[1]. Yet if we view this through a non-cultural analysis and see only spare parts, the abuse may disappear. I wonder if perhaps Ernst may have alluded  to this narrative, but I did not find as much evidence to support a cultural reading of material aspects of technology. Instead when discussing a recording device, Ernst mentions that the machine allowed “for an analysis of the acoustic event” that could be dispassionate (61). I question whether this two-fold production (human and machine) can ever truly escape a narrative of their co-evolution? While technology companies today may try to obscure or hide these narratives, I wonder if like Kirschenbaum’s Mechanics¸ these narratives can be reclaimed to show how both agencies are working towards and against one another? Ernst may suggest that “What cannot be explained by such analysis is the cultural-meaning of these microevents, because such voice analysis is unspecific and indifferent to “meaning” treating any random noise with the same technological fairness” (63-64), however, we return to the question of, “is a tool ever neutral”? Isn’t technological “fairness” really just the parameters set by the creators? Can parameters or functions be equitable? Perhaps they can be applied equally across a group, but even creating charts is not simply a neutral analysis. How is the information being pulled or extracted? What groups are filtered out or purposely excluded to create or inform specific hypotheses or operations? Even in Jocker’s computing work we see the coding of sentiment, and to me, quantifying emotional valences hardly seem neutral or indifferent.

Even in a media lab like the MAL, it doesn’t seem like experience is torn from technology. When playing with games or trying to use the devices, the human element is collaborating with the machine in exciting or frustrating ways. Or does media-archaeology simply account for the material “options and limitations” by exposing “culture to noncultural insights”(63)? This may imply that technology transcends the cultural, in order to inquire into or extract cultural operations. This transcendence is seen in Ernst’s reading of a recording device that “pays equal attention to all kinds of sounds without ever being affected by their emotional value” (63). Is Ernst conflating the lack of distinction with perfect objectivity and emotional detachment? Is this a function of technology devoutly to be wished? I would argue that lacking distinction does not mean that machines lacks bias. How is a tool being employed? What is the setting and again, what are the excluding parameters?

A tool is often the material output of cultural biases, and attempting to infuse a machine with “fairness” may hide or mask procedural biases in order to maintain “objectivity”. In the terms of Parikka’s work, “Things mater in terms of their politics and how they participate in the constitution of our world” (65). In this sense, I think that it’s unnecessary to use only a “’cold’” reading. Removing historiography could potentially remove invisible and minority voices from the machine. Media Laboratories should be critical of the technological in regards to its infrastructure. This would be similar to a reading like Parikka’s review of Kittler’s work, a work that is more than “substance-based”, where “Technology does not just determine arts, science does not just determine technology, and art is not only creation and contemplation of beauty. They all work in a co-determining network of historical relations where the aesthetics is also tightly interwoven with science and technology” (Parikka 69). This requires material readings of how the infrastructure was harvested, gleaned, or taken out of the material world and the many political or cultural implications that arrive with the coils, metals, or devices that Ernst is reading.

Bibliography

Ernst, Wolfgang. 2011. “Media Archaeography: Method and Machine Versus History and Narrative Media.”

Gettleman, Jeffrey. 2013. National Geographic: The Price of Precious. October. Accessed October 25, 2015. http://www.cfr.org/congo-democratic-republic-of/national-geographic-price-precious/p31562.

Parikaa, Jussi. Media Theory and New Materialism. 2012.

Notes

[1] http://www.cfr.org/congo-democratic-republic-of/national-geographic-price-precious/p31562

Cousins Post 8: Archeologies of Power and Media Archaeology as “Countervisuality”

Quick preface to my post: I have a feeling that I’m about to fall into the trap of “telling media stories” that Ernst pushes against in “Media Archaeography” (56). I may indeed slip away from new materialism and materialism in general in thinking about how these can act as potential counters to something more abstract – “architectures of power” (Parikka 82). Partly in conversation with our discussion last week, in both of the media archaeology readings this week I was drawn to the idea of technology (or perhaps only our own narrative of technology) as a materialized and more importantly, naturalized power that has an unseen influence. We’ve talked about material agency, and but it hadn’t occurred to me before these readings that if we discuss material agency, the agency of technology or of media, we do have to take into account the power dynamics that agency implies, and the fact that often times (especially in contemporary times), the power dynamics that exist within technology or tech-based practices are invisible. This invisibility of agency and power cobined influence of Foucault on media archaeology made me think of another Foucault-influenced theory of power that (here’s where I might slip into media stories) is based in visual culture – Nicholas Mirzoeff’s concepts of “visuality” and “countervisuality”.

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In his book The Right to Look: A Counterhistory of Visuality, Mirzoeff takes Thomas Carlye’s concept of visuality as “the visualization of history” (2) and reframes it as that which “sutures authority to power and renders this association natural” (6). Put another way, visuality is that aestheticization of power which makes it seem natural and, in contemporary times, invisible. Mirzoeff sees current technology as placing us in a post-panoptic moment in which power, as visuality, is unseen but still authorized and reified by narrative. I wonder if there are similar aestheticizations of power inherent in media specifically (not just media as tools for social power systems) – the idea that technology has not only a part in the architectures of cultural power but also its own power dynamics created by it own agency, and that placing media in a streamlined narrative often naturalizes power as “development” and makes paths of media history seem inevitable in the same way “fact” was posited as “out there”. If there is a “mainstream media history”, then, following Mirzoeff, there is also a media visuality, or a given narrative of media that hides seemingly natural systems of power. I’m wondering if media archaeology as a field, by focusing on the material (or in Ernst’s case, the calculating as opposed to narrative memory) might act as a form of “countervisuality” to that “visuality” – for Mirzoeff, countervisuality is a “claim for a different form of visualizing” (29), the “right to look” at the realities and counter histories that are ignored in creating a narrative that naturalizes power. I’m wondering what sort of power is naturalized by a mainstream media history, and if media archaeology could be one way to explore counter histories and claim a “right to look” through new materialism that might make that naturalization more visible. In this way, perhaps, media archaeology would be a sort of uncovering of the inherent but invisible power structures embedded in our media and the way we use those media. As Parikka says in Media Theory and New Materialism, “Emphasizing hardware matters in the midst of the increasing invisibility of consumer objects in digital culture is an important political task for media-archaeological research” (64). Though Kittler chooses to differentiate himself from Ernst, they both acknowledge the importance of a “non-linear media history” – non-linear, a “history outside narratives” (67). According to Parikka, Kittler also forwards the claim that “we do not speak language, but language speaks us, and we have to participate in such systems of language, which are not of our own making” (70). Parikka goes on to say:

     “…language in the age of technical media is not just natural language: it is the new technological and physical regimes introduced by media…they impose new regimes of sensation and use to which we have to accommodate ourselves in order to be functioning subjects. We are secondary to such systems. Besides agency, this has to do with power. Power is no longer circulated and reproduced solely through spatial places and institutions – such as the clinic or the prison, as Foucault analyzed – or practices of language, but takes place in the switches and relays, software and hardware, protocols and circuits of which our technical media systems are made” (70, emphasis mine). 

 

This is the post-panoptic power dynamic of which Mirzoeff speaks (though he does not take into account the agency of tech / media itself), and it seems especially entangled with media archaeology (at least Kittler) when discussing recent theories of “cognitive capitalism”, the “new regimes of capitalism in which our ways of thinking, communicating and socializing have become key motors for value creation, and hence under new forms of control” (Parikka 73). As Parikka states, “if Michel Foucault’s work afforded…extension of archaeological and genealogical methods into media contexts [as we see with Ernst] his writings on biopower and biopolitics have been extended into an analysis of politics of the contemporary media sphere” (73). Mirzoeff’s use of Foucault’s biopower led to a more human centered visuality, “psychotechnics” as a “crucial form of power” seems to take the agency of media more fully into account. If “media archaeology at its best establishes…a problematization and rethinking of such fundamental questions as what even counts as media” (79) it seems like it is denaturalizing the power systems inherent to media – counter visualizing the way that “machines themselves structure our everyday experiences” (79) by focusing on the material, the medium-specificity in order to analyze the “modalities of materiality in which we are embedded in cultures of abstraction” (87, emphasis mine). Parikka states that this “turn to materiality can be seen to correct the perceived immateriality brought by digital culture, and by what postmodern theories flagged as the abstraction and immaterialization of cultural reality” (84). Media archaeology, as “more than an interest in lost ideas” (86) and through its focus on the machine itself as agent, seems apt of making the invisible visible. Ernst’s rethinking of the archive is also a rethinking of “the place where statements and visibilities are controlled” (Parikka 87) – in other words, places of power. Though we’ve seen this orientation toward the material (with Kirschenbaum and others, as Parikka notes), the power dynamics weren’t something I considered until this week. Visuality was just a helpful way for me to understand it, since the naturalization or invisibility of power, the dematerialization of its origins, seems particularly applicable to technology / media. The way that “Media archaeology adds to the study of culture in an apparently paradoxical way by directing attention…to non-cultural dimensions of the technological regime” (Ernst 61) seems analogous to Mirzoeff’s concepts of countervisuality as a way of understanding those invisible power dynamics. Thinking of media archaeology through this counter visual framework also gives me a bunch of questions:

Are narrative, discourse, and memory / history inherently embroiled in power asymmetries?

Is a material or mathematical orientation a (the only?) way to counter that asymmetry?

Does a “calculating memory” have less ties to power than “narrative memory”?

Do the Humanities, which seem to me to be made of the building blocks of narrative, discourse, and memory. Ernst himself states that “Academic discourse in the humanities, we have to admit, is still primarily based not he narrative transfer of knowledge” (71). Are the humanities capable of countering naturalizations of power inherent in narrative through such material / mathematical foci?

Are humans in general capable of escaping narrative? Do we want to / need to? 

Can media archaeology act as one possible disruption to the narrative that aestheticizes invisible power? (that one is a mouthful). 

Mirzoeff, Nicholas. The Right to Look: A Counterhistory of Visuality. Durham, NC: Duke

UP, 2011. Print.

Armstrong, Week 9: The God Trick and Knowledge

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“Feminists don’t need a doctrine of objectivity that promises transcendence, a story that loses track of its mediations just where someone might be held responsible for something, and unlimited instrumental power. We don’t want a theory of innocent powers to represent the world, where language and bodies both fall into the bliss of organic symbiosis. We also don’t want to theorize the world, much less act within it, in terms of Global Systems, but we do need an earthwide network of connections, including the ability partially to translate knowledges among very different–– and power-differentiated-communities. We need the power of modern critical theories of how meanings and bodies get made, not in order to deny meanings and bodies, but in order to build meanings and bodies that have a chance for life. (579-80).

Reading the Haraway reading this week I was interested in her ideas of situated knowledge and her arguments against objectivism, as they are currently understood. In the article, if I’m understanding it correctly (and let’s be real, I highly doubt I am), Haraway seems to be saying that objectivity, as understood that it is possible to separate the self from the object, isn’t possible. She’s also saying that subjective knowledge–– to an extent–– is the answer to this.

The god trick then is this belief in objectivity as a “view of infinite vision” (582). Haraway calls Feminist objectivity “quite simply situated knowledges” (581). This seems to mean that the self, experience, etc. cannot be taken away, and informs objectivity. It forces some responsibility to what we are claiming.

I don’t know enough about objectivity to discuss it in length, but I think what Haraway is trying to say here is that it absolutely is not possible, or responsible, to have some kind disembodied knowledge. It is always embodied, it just takes from a select group. In one of her footnotes, she mentions that “objectivity is about crafting comparative knowledge: How may a community name things to be stable and to be like each other” resulting from the culture (597).

So, this makes my brain hurt (and I’m not sure if it’s in a good way yet) but if I’m understanding the article then I am on board. I do wonder what kind of feminism she is addressing here though, her intended audience. Once again, this is stemming from my own lack, not necessarily the article’s. This is something I look forward to discussing, I’m sure y’all have some insight that might bring this all together.


Haraway, Donna. “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective.” Feminist Studies, Vol. 14, No. 3 (Autumn, 1988). 575-599. Web.

Brainstorming DH: Reproducing Material Agency for Human Experience

Andrew Pickering’s discussion of the differences and connections between human agency and non-human material agency has me thinking less about machines and more about the Brontës. (This is what happens when a Victorianist takes a DH class). Bear with me.

Anyone who’s read a Brontë novel is probably familiar with the importance of landscape and ecological environment in their writing. For instance, Catherine and Heathcliff spend all their time on the windy moors, and Jane first meets Rochester out on the road when his horse slips on some ice. What if machines could reproduce the material agency described in these novels—which is undoubtedly associated with scenes of high emotion for the characters and arguably impacts their human agency—in some sort of exhibit? I’m imagining a museum space set up with various interactive installations. In one corner, you climb a makeshift hill. At the top, a wall of screens depicts a moving image of the moors in north England while hidden fans recreate the windiness of that environment. On a pedestal, there is a book or a screen from which you can read relevant passages from Emily’s novel, poems, and letters.

I think it’s fair to say that this doesn’t seem like a very digital project; but if DH includes machine-produced work in a lab, could it also include a machine-produced experience in a museum? Doesn’t this project depend on machine-technology to recreate a human experience that would offer perspective on famous literary figures? I’m thinking of this imagined exhibit as something similar to the incredible DH project What Jane Saw produced by Prof. Janine Barchas at the University of Texas at Austin, which digitally recreates the Sir Joshua Reynolds Retrospective Exhibit at the British Institution that Jane Austen visited on May 24, 1813. The main difference is that my Bronte exhibit takes up physical space, but it still utilizes machine-technology to reproduce an experience.

I’ve gotten way off topic from the reading. Essentially, I’m providing all of this fodder to ask whether Pickering’s discussion of science and how humans and machines make science gives us a broader realm for what constitutes as digital humanities.