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)