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