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.

One thought on “McGehee Post 8: Colonialism* There, I Fixed It For You

  1. karissy says:

    Hi –

    I’m commenting from Concordia in Montreal, Quebec, as part of the coursework for Darren Wersheler’s “Mess & Method” course on digital humanities. We also read this Parikka essay earlier in the semester.

    I found myself struggling with similar issues as you do with this particular reading. While you astutely note the way in which ableism and other normalising narratives are present in the arguments presented (and in the ways in which they are presented), I’m thinking too about the way subjectivity is seen in this argument, as well as in other academic modes of knowledge dissemination. An interesting point to me was your flagging of methodological issues in the argument—of a dependence on primarily male, white, and canonical theorists for support, engaging in ableist language and/or washing over issues of disability, and an assumption that we can reach an equalised equability or subjectivity. These kinds of critiques are so interesting to me (and are what I try to engage with in my own work), because they point to methodological habits that affect the theory that we read. While I’m often tempted to go forward in seminars, presentations, or written work based off of my marginalia (similar to yours, mine is often filled with my thoughts on how the theorist is being exclusionary, biased, or otherwise unoriginal in their lack of intersectional scope), I do feel an uneasiness with doing so. Is this feeling linked to the ways in which subjectivity, experiences, and standpoint theory are currently viewed in academia? Is it linked to academic writing praxis that relies on the prized objective individual as an able-bodied, white, male, cis-gendered, and healthy body? I’m not unconvinced. I wonder what kind of theory we could read if the original starting point was one that imagined a different kind of body or mind as the theorist’s abstract case study. And how do we go forward with this uneasiness? As tempted as I am to rely on these (valid, vital, essential, scary!) critiques of capital T theorists, I wonder if that’s the most constructive praxis for me, and for my cohort. So, do we put these assumptions on the table, point out the instances of privilege, and sieve through the argument? We can take these pieces out and see how they look once we move past their biases. Or do we turn to our colleagues and write these kinds of inclusive and critical works ourselves? I’m certainly thinking about it all the time and trying to figure it out.

    Our class had the privilege of hearing Parikka speak this Fall in Montreal during a panel on Media Labs, and I thought his exploration was extremely interesting! The limited space of articles/essays and how much is left out of them always affects how I think about critiquing them or their intent– I always find that discussions leave so much more room for exploration and for responding to questions about inclusion.




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