29 November 2015
Means and Ends: Digital Humanities and the Technopolitics of Critical Making in Media Studies
“Media in its various layers embodies memory: not only human memory, but also the memory of things, of objects, of chemicals and of circuits.”
– Hertz and Parikka (425)
I apologize in advance for any inadvertent overlap between our postings this week; admittedly, I haven’t had the chance to read all of yours prior to this. I do, however, echo Laurel’s point about our class readings and discussions coming full circle (or full circuit, as it were).
‘Thinking outside the [black] box’:
Hertz’s point about the remediation of technology amidst the capitalist, consumer-driven (and, to a large extent, marketing-driven) dependency on planned obsolescence is a sobering reminder of the ‘planned acquiescence’ of, to borrow from Deleuze, “societies of control.” Particularly when read in tandem with Dr. Emerson’s interview with Wolfgang Ernst. Yet, I found Hertz’s efforts to distinguish between “media archaeology” and “art methodology” somewhat abstruse (425). To wit: how, specifically, do the two practices/methodologies differ in relation to, what Hertz terms, “the political economy of information technology”? (425) (i.e. collecting and archiving vs. making and tinkering?). Is the criterion (for Hertz) the reappropriation of technological artifacts for uses other than their original intention? Furthermore, how significant is this distinction, given that whether a thing ‘stops’ working or is used for other purposes than originally designed, it is removed from its sociocultural context and thereby a potential site of political resistance to the trajectory toward “mainstream obsolescence”? (428: fig. 5).
Q: Despite all efforts to the contrary, yesterday’s avant-garde is today’s garde-arrière: do we still find ourselves somehow tethered to the ‘old’/ ‘new’ dichotomy?
Wolfgang Ernst’s concept of “media potentiality” is intriguing, however, I struggled to grasp his notion of the “retro-avant-garde” (perhaps I’m too hung up on Bürger’s definition of the term). Regardless, his notions of inertia and entropy are thought-provoking: namely, that media doesn’t die: instead, it simply becomes remediated such that, the materiality, or ‘shelf-life’ of media artifacts, naturally undergoes an ineluctable process of ‘ware’ and tear, so to speak. I am also curious as to how he would describe the organizational layout of the MAF (i.e. if not chronological, as in a museum, diachronic or synchronic?)
I admire Matt Ratto’s approach to “critical making” insofar as it attempts to make the shift from means and ends to means as ends: e.g. “the process of making is as important as the results” (254). Drawing on such heavy-hitting pedagogical theorists as Dewey, Vygotsky, and Piaget, Ratto privileges “constructionalism” over “constructivism,” and, I think, offers a convincing trial-and-error case study to distinguish between the two interrelated concepts (254). The ‘failure’ of his “bristlebot” experiment and the ‘success’ of his Flwr Pwr exercise suggest that we– as users, makers, and co-creators– become emotionally (i.e. affectively) invested in technological processes of design, manipulation, and creation. Ratto’s incisive correlation between “caring for” and “caring about” our evolving relationship with technology and Latour’s dichotomous “matters-of-fact”/ “matters-of-concern” resonates with my own (albeit nascent) perspectives on issues of technological preservation, reinvention, and sustainability (259). Yet, I wonder if Ratto offers a viable solution to the seemingly irreconcilable aporia between Snow’s “two cultures.” Far be it from me to admit, but perhaps it’s time to begin thinking beyond dialectics and, instead, work toward redefining the limitations that continually plague the humanities (digital and otherwise). In other words, I would like to know more about the role of critique in Ratto’s version of “critical making.”
In closing, for me, it seems that the goal of the digital humanities is (at least in part) to amend Pound’s Modernist mantra from “make it new” simply to: “make it.” Throughout the semester I’ve been noticing the convergences between “thing theory”/ O.O.O. and our class’s discussions of media, objects, and agency, and see substantial potential for future research and criticism devoted specifically to treating media/technological artifacts as ‘things’ (as opposed to ‘objects’). While Yeats may have been right when he claimed: “things fall apart,” however, according to Hertz, Ernst, and Ratto, this doesn’t necessarily entail their final demise. Instead, technology and media are ripe to be resurrected, reanimated, and/or resuscitated into new objects of (and for) reinvention, innovation, research, and critical inquiry.
Emerson, Lori. “Archives, Materiality and the ‘Agency of the Machine”: An Interview With Wolfgang Ernst.” Library of Congress. Web. 29 Nov 2015.
Hertz, Garnet and Jussi Parikka. “Zombie Media: Circuit Bending Media Archaeology into an Art Method.” Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012. Web. ProjectMuse. 29 Nov 2015.
Ratto, Matt. “Critical Making: Conceptual and Material Studies in Technology and Social Life.”
The Information Society: An International Journal, 27:4. London: Routledge, 2011. Web.
28 Nov 2015.
 “Postscript on Societies of Control.” October, 59 (Winter 1992). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. JSTOR. Web.
 Something akin to what Bill Brown refers to elsewhere as an object’s “misuse value”– (“The Secret Life of Things: Virginia Woolf and the Manner of Modernism.” Modernism/Modernity 6.2 (1999). Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins UP. ProjectMuse. Web.)
 “The Second Coming” The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats (1989)