Monday, 18 January 2010

Operative Media Archaeology: Wolfgang Ernst's Materialist Diagrammatics

I am thinking - and well hopefully soon doing - of an article to be written. It should focus mostly on the German media archaeologist Wolfgang Ernst who I find interesting a) as an alternative approach to the "what is media archaeology" question and b) a key contemporary German media theorist who has interesting links to Friedrich Kittler but is significantly taking such materialist media theory into new directions. Such new directions articulate media through the notion of the archive (and vice versa archive and cultural memory as well as historiography through the notion of technical media). Will also try to give some talks this Spring based on this topic.

A short abstract

Operative Media Archaeology: Wolfgang Ernst's Materialist Diagrammatics

Media archaeological ways of extending the lifetime of new media into what is often a bit loosely called “old media” has experienced a revival during the past years. In recent new media theory, a new context for a debate surrounding media archaeology seems to be emerging. Its partly a result from a reaction against the narrative as well as often cinematic emphases from which media archaeology emerged e.g. as part of new cinema histories, although to use a word such as “reaction” connotes a much more clear-cut distancing from “old” ways of media archaeology than what is happening. Is there an “old” way of doing media archaeology in contrast to some of the recent debates concerning for example “operative diagrammatics” of media archaeology as Wolfgang Ernst claims, or the new theoretical contexts from which e.g. Wendy Hui Kyong Chun’s and others’ inspiration for a revitalisation of histories of media stems from?

So far attached to such a heterogeneous bunch of theorists as Erkki Huhtamo, Siegfried Zielinski, Thomas Elsaesser and to a certain extent even Friedrich Kittler, the debates surrounding media archaeology as a method seem to be taking it forward not only as a subdiscipline of (media) history, but increasingly into what will be introduced below as materialist media diagrammatics. This talk will in this context map some recent trends in German media theory and tie them together with some more Anglo-American trends, such as software studies. I will address Wolfgang Ernst’s mode of media archaeology and his provocative accounts of how to rethink media archaeology represent both a fresh way of looking into the use and remediation of media history as a material monument instead of a historical narrative and a recent media theoretical wave from Germany that seem to not only replicate Kittler’s huge impact in the field of materialist media studies but continue that into novel directions. However, as will be argued towards the end, Ernst’s provocative take that hopes to distance German media theory in its hardware materiality resonates strongly with some of the recent new directions coming from US media studies, namely in software and platform studies. Such thinkers writers include Matthew G. Kirschenbaum, Noah Wardrip-Fruin as well as Nick Montfort & Ian Bogost.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Life Writer


Is media archaeological art only about media of the past resurrected? An increasing amount of answers state "no".

I saw this piece of artificial life art by Laurent Mignonneau and Christa Sommerer as part of the ATACD December 2009 Conference in Barcelona. Life Writer (2006) consists of an old typewriter on which a screen is attached; the screen is filled with these insectoid-arachnoid kind of "animals" that are governed algorithmic rules for movement and reproduction. The letters written are "eaten up" by the animals. As a piece, its amazingly beautiful, dramatic in its Burroughsian insect-typewriter technology. It is also a nice interface of the non-human worlds of algorithmic creatures and the input of the human user; although, already the typewriter can be seen as such a machine of translation of continuity into discreet material which in a Kittlerian fashion prepared us for the post-human. New media of algorithms eats up the input of the old media of typewriters. Everything becomes code, but everything becomes as much eaten up, consumed byt the algorithmic creatures. Its also about translations of the human actions into "fuel" for the algorithmic insects. A metaphorical transposition concerning the biopolitics of software cultures and immaterial labour?