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The Invention of Communication

Stefani Bardin on Armand Mattelart

“Communication: a term with a great number of meanings…” 1753 (intro). Starbucks/Search for Meaning Banal + Quotidian/Phenomenological + Far Reaching The invention of communication began , according to  Mattelart when apparatuses and mechanisms of communication enter both visions of human emancipation and strategies of power. He situated the invention of communication around the 17th and 18th centuries, when there was a rise of both the concept of travel and commerce and the concept of the perfectibility or in some cases the lack thereof  human societies (St. Simon, Comte [positivsm] T/M/S, Malthus, Adam Smith) as well as the taking into account of communication in the organization of territories.  The notion of communication that was born in those two centuries was a notion which referred mostly to the organization of road infrastructures, or networks of routes. There is a predominant reference (eg. http://muse.jhu.edu.gate.lib.buffalo.edu/journals/technology_and_culture/v040/40.3br_mattelart.html)  made regarding Mattelart’s study of the similarity between Silicon Valley and  the smooth transformation of Saint-Simonianism from a utopian Parisian  intellectual fashion of the 1820s and 1830s (preaching industrial  associationism, universal love that reaches beyond, not against, social  distinctions) into a certain ideological force--the force that, in the  name of creating a universal bond, propelled the visionaries of the  communication networks that became indispensable to the cultural hegemony and imperialistic geopolitics (offshoot of colonialsism) of capitalism. According to Mattelart every technology involved in "the multiple  circuits of exchange and circulation of goods, peoples, and messages" was a technology of communication (p. xiv). For example, the Saint-Simonian  conception of a communication technology, the "cult of the network" as  Mattelart calls it, was broad enough to include a network of railroads  and an advertising network, a network of journals and a network of banks,  a network of canals and a network of industrial fairs. While simultaneously embodying a profound notion of utopia. Mattelart finds that the contemporary rhetoric about a communication revolution was the ideology of the whole of historical capitalism. The scope of his study includes: "avenues of communication networks, of long distance  transmission, and the means of symbolic exchange, such as world fairs,  high culture, religion, language, and of course the media" (p. xiv.) Mattelart organizes his posits around four parts or chapters:  communication technology as enabling social flow (rational /enlightened state administration, market fluidity/liberal political  economy, evolutionary fluidity/Darwinian social theory), Utopian place  (Saint-Simonian network, world's fair, Fourierism [women]), Geopolitical space  (national and imperial, linguistic and cultural, religious and military),  and the measure of the individual (of a psychological and physiological social individual,  of a market consumer). Blah.  Blah.  Blah. Thrust or moment of relevence of his argument occurs in his epilogue: Page #302 : “Out of this question came a first generation of semantics… Benjamin: Page #111 proleptism (From The Arcades) [Mattleart – Temple of Industry Page #120] Paris, Capital of the 19th Century (Expose of 1939) World’s Fair – places of pilgrimage to worship the commodity fetish. Norbert Bolz & Willem van Reijen, Walter Benjamin, trans. Laimdota Mazzarins, New Jersey: Humanities Press, 1996, p. 57-58: "For Benjamin, World War I marked the end of the humanistic human  being, but also the possible beginning of humankind. In this connection  his anthropological materialism develops perspectives that exempt his work  as a whole from any humanistic argumentation. His volume of aphorisms, One-Way Street , ends with a scandalous thesis: antiquity's experience  of the cosmos as a state of intoxication, which was superseded by the visual orientation of the modern sciences, returns in distorted form as the bloody  frenzy of world war. Thus Benjamin views war as a distorted form of communication  with the cosmos. The only thing that could save us from the chaos of destruction  would be successful cosmic communication through the technical organization  of the body of mankind. Thus the aim is to discern a collective surgery  of the social body in the turbulent development of the new technologies.  The aesthetic fascination of war cannot be otherwise explained. "Masses  of people, gases, electrical forces were thrown into the open countryside,  high-frequency sounds pierced the landscape, new constellations rose in  the sky, air space and the depths of the ocean hummed with propellers....  During the last war's nights of destruction, the limbs of humankind were  shaken by a feeling that looked like the thrill of the epileptic. And the  revolts that followed it were the first attempt to bring the new body into  their power." (IV 147 f.) [Mattelart and body analogism] In a state of frenzy, the war unleashed technology in the collective  collapse, because technology has not become a human instrument and thus man's 'key to happiness' (III 250). To this frenzy of technology Benjamin's  anthropological materialism contrasts a technology of frenzy --"secular enlightenment" [or 'profane illumination' --ST]. The main difficulty  here is to attain a synthesis of frenzy and construction. For secular enlightenment  is meant to provide the experience of frenzy with an intelligible structure.  It could be expressed in the formula: secular enlightenment is to narcotic  intoxication as the dialectical image is to the mythical image. As in some  gnostic models of knowledge, dream and clarity are meant to coincide. Thus  understood, intoxication is an original phenomenon of experience. It is  always radical and extreme: radical in its "radicalization" of  the ego and its opening-up of experience to the masses, and extreme in  its stretching of individual experience. Now through new technology there is a numbing toward the spectacle.  Through expanded media (blogging/RSS/surfing the internet) a notion of disembodient begins to appear… http://www.abc.net.au/comms/lines/programs/prog01.htm Professor Armand Mattelart: The problem I believe is that the notion of communication has become polyphonic. It's difficult in media studies today, to escape a definition which gives too much importance to the media sphere. Michael Dwyer: What is it that we lose by taking this media-centric approach. Professor Armand Mattelart: Well what escapes us is the plurality of actors who intervene in processes of communication. The plurality of apparatuses and mechanisms and the very complexity of these processes. The problem is that the tensions which have marked the history of communicational thought are never reconciled: tensions between physical and immaterial networks, between biological and social approaches, between nature and culture, between micro and macro perspectives, between a village and the globe, between the actor and the system, the individual and society, freewill and social economic determinations. The field of research is marked then by dichotomy, whereas each of these terms should be analysed as related levels, not as dichotomies. This vision which stresses opposition and dichotomies leads to a loss of the sense of complexity of the phenomenon. Michael Dwyer: Instead Mattelart suggests that we pay attention to four intertwined histories of communication. Professor Armand Mattelart: I believe there are indeed four histories, which I have called as follows: the history of flows, the history of the social bond, the history of space, and the history of measure or more precisely, man as measure. The first represents the domestication of communication flows and society in movement. I try to understand how modern communication is bound up with the successive notions of freedom and emancipation, but also with ideas of development. The second history is of the creation of a universal bond. That is, how communication and communication apparatuses played a role in the creation of a universal bond. One of the first sources of this operation were the initial formulation about communications networks as a tool of global solidarity. The third history involves the dimension of space. It's clear that all of this took off above all, with the colonisation of the world by the west. The fourth history is the one which Michel Foucault would call the history of normalisation. It's the history of the emergence of the calculable individual. It should be further noted that the calculable individual was constructed through what we could call statistical reason. Today, in order to connect with the reality of the end of the 20th century, we have, for example the setting up of data banks with profiles of individuals in order to target them for marketing campaigns.

References/ Recommended Reading

The fourth history is the one which Michel Foucault would call the history of normalisation. It's the history of the emergence of the calculable individual.

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