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New Media, Old Media. A History and Theory Reader

Edited by Wendy Hui Chun & Thomas Keenan

Wendy Hui Chun is Associate Professor of Modern Culture and Media at Brown University.  She is author of Control and Freedom: Power and Paranoia in the Age of Fiber Optics (MIT Press, 2005).  She has been a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study and a Henry Merritt Wriston Fellow at Brown.  She is currently working on a book on the relationship between race and software entitled Programmed Visions: Software, DNA, Race.

Thomas Keenan teaches media theory, literature, and human rights at Bard College, where he is Associate Professor of Comparative Literature and directs the Human Rights Project.  He is author of Fables of Responsibility (Stanford University Press, 1997), and editor of books on the museum and on the wartime journalism of Paul de Man.  He is writing another book called Live Feed: Crisis, Intervention, Media, about news media and contemporary conflicts.

Introduction
Did Somebody Say New Media?
Wendy Hui Kyong Chun

Although the term “new media” has been used since the 1960’s, it came into prominence with dotcom mania, cyberspace and interactive television in the mid-1990’s.  Taking the place of “multi-media” in the fields of business and art, this new term was not accommodating.  It portrayed other media as old or dead.  It was not simply digital media; it was not mass media.  However, the term “media” is linked to mass media: in the eighteenth century, paper was a medium of circulation; in the nineteenth century, electricity  was a medium; in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, media came to describe inexpensive newspapers and magazines and became a singular noun.  Chun asserts that the “new” should be difficult if not impossible to describe.  Furthermore, “describing something as ‘new’ seems a way to dispel surprise or to create it before an actual encounter”.(3)  The new contains repetition, it is fresh, further, additional, restored. 

This collection brings together scholars working in new media, media archaeology, film, television, cultural and literary studies to investigate new media and the political, cultural, economic, and epistemological forces necessary to its emergence.  Chun posits that this book connects forms of media analysis that have usually been separated in order to map the field of new media studies.

Archaeology of Multi-Media
Early Film History and Multi-Media
An Archaeology of Possible Futures?
Thomas Elsaesser 

Thomas Elsaesser wants to put the following question as its working hypothesis.  “Is film history vulnerable, because it has operated with notions of origins and teleology that even on their own terms are untenable in the light of what we know, for instance, about early cinema?”(13)

We Have to Draw a Line in the Silicone Sand

To some, such as the respected critic Jean Douchet, the electronic media do not belong to the history of cinema at all.  Others on the other side of the argument believe that all previous audio-visual media, and especially the cinema are but “poor cousins”.(14)

It’s Business as Usual

Still others believe that its business as usual.  The film industry has been delivering the same basic product for about ninety years.  George Lucas feels that it doesn’t change anything.  A sizable and respected group of film scholars would agree. 

As Usual, It’s Business

Digital storage and delivery has increased the production and circulation of images, but digitization has yet to transform the use of these images are put to.  No one has so far turned this availability into a new cultural commodity.  Elsaesser suggests that only consumer acceptance can impose a medium, not a technology, however superior or innovative it may be. 

Beyond the Post: Archaeology of a Media Revolution?

“If one therefore positions oneself , regarding the indexical nature of the photographic image, not in the past, but in the post, one tends to regard digitization less as a technical standard (important though it is, of course), but more like a zero-degree that allows one to reflect upon one’s understanding of both film history and cinema theory.”(16)  The author further asserts that digitization may for historians of the cinema be no more than the name of this place, which helps them displace themselves in relation to a number of habitual ways of thinking.  Elsaesser wants to sketch an archaeological agenda taken from Michel Foucault’s Archaeology of Knowledge, which states, “archaeology does not imply the search for a beginning, (…it) questions the already-said at the level of existence (…) and it describes discourses as practices.”(17)

Archaeology I: The Cinema Has No Origins

It is now generally accepted among film historians that the cinema has too many origins none of which adds up to a history.  We have been sensitized to a continuous, if submerged alternative history of cinema, which is now being recovered in the form of an archaeology of the present.  However, much of what we now consider as belonging to early film and thus to the history of cinema was not initially intended or suited to performance in a movie theater.  Yet the cinema borrowed from all of these genres and practices.  In the process, the mode of presentation and the audience had to be adjusted to fit into the movie theater and its program format.  This suggests that we nay be returning to early cinema practice. 

Archaeology II: Film in the Expanded Field, or “When is Cinema?”

The non-entertainment and non-art uses of the cinematic apparatus at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth century did not disappear with the institution of narrative cinema as the norm, or the emergence of the full-length feature film around 1907, they merely went underground.  “But this underground was in many instances contiguous to the above ground, and in several cases the very condition of possibility for the developments in the cinema’s entertainment uses…”(21)

Archaeology III: Discourses in Default: The Dog That Did Not Bark

The cinema was not only a latecomer,  but according to Elsaesser, a bit of a changeling.  There is even a sense that cinema was not wanted altogether.  The public of the time had been hoping for a two-way television.

Elsaesser suggests that perhaps it was the film historians who have been underground.  If this is so, they did not notice, perhaps because they did not want to notice how, for instance, “the military tail had been wagging the entertainment dog all along, or how the Orwellian nightmare of surveillance had probably also all along been the mask and mimicry of the performative pleasure of being seen, of being looked at, and of being looked after.”(23)

As a conclusion, Elsaesser indicates that it might be that the new digital media’s relation to cinema is neither a matter of opposition to classical cinema nor its emulation. 

Electricity Made Visible
Geoffrey Batchen

Lev Manovich asks, “if we construct an archaeology connecting new computer-based techniques of media creation with previous techniques of representation and simulation, where should we locate the essential historical breaks?”(27)  He chooses to use a theory and history of cinema as the key conceptual lens through which he will look at this question.

Batchen sees the task of his essay to be to address in more detail the genealogy of new media and to articulate the nuanced history that it deserves.  In doing so, he will extend Manovich’s narrative back about one hundred years in order to look at two artifacts that he finds important for new media: a photogenic drawing of a piece of lace sent by Henry Talbot to Charles Babbage in 1839 , and Samuel Morse’s first electric telegraph instrument, which was made in 1837.  Batchen’s examination of these two artifacts seeks to provide the foundations for another reading of the history of both “new media” and its logics.

Talbot is never quite sure whether the origins of photography are to be found in nature or in culture, so he comes ups with a phrase that contains elements of each: “the art of fixing a shadow.”(28)  Here, he recognizes that photography is actually about recording the absence or presence of light.  In other words, photography is a binary system – a piece of lace is transformed by photography into a sign of lace.  According to Batchen, photography involves an abstraction of visual data; it’s a fledgling form of information culture.

Batchen suggests that American painter Samuel Morse is perhaps the most intriguing experimenter with electric telegraphy.  In 1832, Morse conceived of a telegraphic system that would harness electricity to transmit messages along wires between any two points.  He said to friends, “if…the presence of electricity can be made visible…I see no reason why intelligence might not be instantaneously transmitted by electricity to any distance.”(36-37)  It wasn’t long before Morse’s telegraphic data network was being used to transfer photographic images.  In 1878, Alexander Graham Bell announced a new invention called the “photophone”.

Batchen argues that this interaction of photography, telegraphy  and computing demonstrates that these three representational systems were never separate or opposed to each other, but had a common trajectory.  This suggests that new media has a long history, “as old as modernity itself”(39)

Tones from out of Nowhere
Rudolf Pfenninger and the Archaeology of Synthetic Sound
Thomas Y. Levin

In 1931 the New York Times ran a headline that said, “Synthetic Speech Demonstrated in London: Engineer Creates Voice which Never Existed”(45)  E.A. Humphries explains, “In order to create a synthetic voice, I had to analyze the sounds I was required to reproduce one by one from the sound tracks of real voices.”(46)  However, this production of voice by graphic means was the product of a long-standing project whose most recent chapter had been the invention of the phonograph and gramophone.  In the end, the invention of synthetic sound depended on four distinct developments:
the initial experiments that correlated sound with graphic traces;
the invention of an acoustic writing that was not merely a graphic translation of sound but one that could also serve to reproduce it;
the accessibility of such acoustic inscription in a form that could be studied and manipulated as such; and finally;
the systematic analysis of these now manipulatable traces such that they could be used to produce any sound at will.

The archaeology of the above-mentioned robotic speech also involves four stages:
the coming-into-writing of sound as mere graphic translation or transcription;
the functional development of that inscription as means to both trace and then rephenomenalize the inscribed sound;
the optical materialization of such sounding graphic traces that would render them available to artisanal interventions: and finally
the analytic method that would make possible a functional systematic vocabulary for generating actual sounds from simple graphematic marks.

Genealogics of Acoustic Inscription

Sound is made graphic, but in the process becomes mute.  However, Thomas Alva Edison’s invention in 1877 of the first fully functional acoustic read/write apparatus successfully pioneered a new mode of inscription that both recorded and re-produced sound, although now at the price of the virtual invisibility of the traces involved.  Edison’s position was that the gramophonic traces ought not be understood as writing.  The high court felt differently, and decided that these gramophonic inscriptions were writing and could thus be prosecuted.

From “Groove-Script” to “Opto-Acoustic Notation”

Levin stresses that implicit in the drive to read the gramophonic traces is the notion that, once decipherable, this code could also be employed for writing.  Ludwig Wittgenstein’s concern is not the character of the gramophone record’s inscriptions, but rather the technical capacity of that language to store and re-produce sound.  “(Rainer Maria) Rilke’s concern is with the ‘ur-sound’ that might arise from a gramophonic tracing of the cranial groove in a skull sitting on his table.”(55)  This thought raises the question of the gramophone’s capacity to render audible sounds that were never previously recorded.  Laszlo Moholy-Nagy proposes that one undertake a scientific examination of the tiny inscriptions in the grooves of the phonograph in order to learn what graphic forms correspond to which acoustic sounds.  He suggests that one could discover the general logic that governed the relation of the acoustic to the graphematic, master it, and then be able to produce marks that would be acoustic writing.  This “groove-script alphabet” as Moholy-Nagy called it, would potentially make the gramophone into an overall instrument “…which supersedes all instruments used so far”.(56)  This could allow composers to write sound directly, eliminating the performance of musicians.  In the 1920’s music critic Hans Heinz Stuckenschmidt took up this challenge, and there was a proliferation of works written for “musical machines”.  As Paul Hindemith predicted, the gramophone would never realize a proper groove-script alphabet, yet, contrary to his prognosis, something very similar was being worked out – the synchronized sound film.  Moholy-Nagy saw this as an opportunity to fulfill his vision, as he saw optical film-sound as  giving access to sound as trace.  In a published version of one of his lectures he states, “Sound-script makes possible acoustic phenomena which conjure up out of nothing audible music without the previous play of any musical instrument.  We are in a position today to be able to play written sounds, music written by hand, without involving an orchestra, by the use of the apparatus of the sound film.  And today, thanks to the excellent work of Rudolf Pfenninger, these ideas have been successfully applied to the medium of sound film.  In Pfenninger’s sound-script, the theoretical prerequisites and the practical processes achieved perfection.”(59)  Moholy-Nagy showed two films in conjunction with his lecture.  One was by Oskar Fischinger, and one by Rudolf Pfenninger.  However, Moholy-Nagy insisted on giving all of the credit of the development of a functional sound script (the invention of synthetic sound) to the much less known Pfenninger.

The Race That Wasn’t One:
Fischinger, Pfenninger, and the “Discovery of Synthetic Sound”

During the early 1930’s a number of people around the world were furiously and independently working on experiments in hand drawn, animated, ornamental, and/or synthetic sound.  Levin states, “Although generally fascinated by the technical achievement and its promise, most critics were perplexed and even annoyed by the new sounds: while some were entranced by what they felt was ‘very beautiful mechanical music, a sort of carousel music,’ others wrote of its ‘primitive and somewhat nasal timbre,’ how it gave an ‘impression of being mechanical, almost soul-less,’ and that it had a ‘snore-like quality and a monotone quality as well.’  As one reviewer put it, ‘the sound reminds one of stopped organ pipes, muted horns, harps, xylophones.  It sounds strangely unreal.’”(64-65)  Levin suggests that most journalists cast the Fischinger-Pfenninger juxtaposition in terms of basic impulse versus logical conclusion, decorative versus analytic.  They imply that it was not a matter of who was the first to discover synthetic sound, but rather it was simply a case of two related, but very different projects.

Recorded Sound in the Age of Its Synthetic Simulatability

It was – at least in theory - only a matter of time until it would no longer be possible to distinguish acoustically a sound generated synthetically from a sound produced conventionally.  Although it was unlikely that the synthetic would replace the orchestra in the near future, what was decidedly possible was minimal interventions into the fabric of extant recordings.  This led to the fixing of off-pitch notes, late entries, disturbing overtones, etc.  A technological doubt had been introduced to the recorded performance.

Coda: The Afterlife of Synthetic Film Sound

The Nazi’s deemed Pfenninger’s films soul-less and degenerate, and work in this domain came to a halt.  Elsewhere, however, hand-drawn sound quickly became an international sensation, although for a brief period of time.  Norman McLaren would become arguably the world’s most well-known and prolific proponent of synthetic sound.

Archives
Memex Revisited
Vannevar Bush

Here the author is making a call for a need for a long envisioned invention.  He states, “A revolution must be wrought in the ways in which we make, store, and consult the record of accomplishment.”(85)  Compact storage of material and swift selective access to it are the two basic elements of the problem.  In 1945 Bush wrote an essay voicing his concerns in this area called “As We May Think”.  In the essay he proposed a machine for personal use than the enormous computers used at the time.  His concern was with the ineptitude in getting at records caused by the systems of indexing, for human minds work by association.  It is the author’s hope that we can learn from our own mental processes; maybe even improve on it. 

Bush calls his invention-to-be a memex.  “A memex is a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility.  It consists of a desk.  Presumably it can be operated from a distance, but it is primarily a piece of furniture at which an individual works.”(86)  The memex has provision for not only consulting records by indexing, but also associative indexing.  Any item may be caused at will to select another in a process of tying items together to form trails.  This is the essential feature of the memex.

Bush admits that while this is still a dream, it is one that is now attainable.  It will take initiative, ingenuity, patience, and engineering skill.  The author is determined that although it may not be completed soon, it will be done.   If there is a roadblock in the path of the memex, it lies in the problem of moderately rapid access to really large memory storage.  The heart of this problem is selection.

Out of File, Out of Mind
Cornelia Vismann 

“The imperative of administrations to record every action as an execution on paper causes all kinds of problems.  A person, after all, can be held responsible for something  on file, something which, according to who is doing the looking, in retrospect should not have been recorded at all.”(97)  Vismann asserts that if one does not want an action in the real to become significant, it should certainly not be recorded.  Consequently, only harmless data will make its way into the files.

The dogma of complete documentation and the tendency towards more and more detailed reports led to the well-known proliferation of files.  However, there exists no order, rule, or instruction for the destruction of files.  “Whether shredded by machine or by hand, the elimination of files is dirty work.  In contrast to digitalized data storage, paper files cannot be eliminated by clean delete orders.”(101)  According to current law, most of the administrative regulations on how to handle and keep files have to be made applicable to digitalized data via analogies.

Dis/continuities
Does the Archive Become Metaphorical in Multi-Media Space?
Wolfgang Ernst

In this paper, Ernst addresses multi media archaeology in two parts: first, an epistemological reflection on the term media archaeology and second, literal case studies.

Part I: An Epistemological Reflection on the Term “Media Archaeology”
Pre-Histories of the Computer?

”Media archaeology is not only about re-discovering the losers in media history for a kind of Benjaminian messianic redemption.  Media archaeology is driven by something like a certain German obsession with approaching media in terms of their logical structure (informatics) on the one and their hardware (physics) on the other”.(106)

Multi-Media?
Multi-media describes the way or method of production, the forms of its transport, not its object or content.  According to Ernst, a close reading of the computer as medium, reveals that there is no multi-media in virtual space, only one medium, which basically calculates images, words, and sounds indifferently.  “The Term multi-media is a delusion.”(108)

Fahrenheit 451

In Francois Truffaut’s film Fahrenheit 451, the object is the burning of its mediatic predecessor, the book.

Another key element defining multi-media is the use of radio bi-directionally.

The fundamental difference between a print-based archive and multi-media storage is interaction.

The Relation between Print and Multi-Media

The usual vantage point from which we talk about the archive is still the notion of the print-based archive according to Ernst.  The media-archaeological task then, Ernst proposes, is to re-think archival terminology in order to embrace a multi-media concept of the archive.  The difference between all old media like the book and the computer lies in the simple evidence that books cannot be re-programmed once printed.

The Silence of the Archive

According to Ernst, the invention of printing distances the reader from the text, beholder from the image, creating a kind of “silence of the archive”(111) through the silent reading situation.  “The printing press silenced the voice.”(111)  The computer, however, is no longer silent.  Audio-visual perception supplements the traditional “reading” of texts.

Part II: Case Studies in Media-Archaeology:
The Virtual Reactivation of a Lost Sound Storage Medium:
Hornbostel’s Phonogramm-Archive

The notion of the archive is in transition, moving towards the audio-visual.  “(Multi-) Media archaeology seeks to reconstruct phantasms of memorizing sound in a pre-technical age and point out the discontinuities which arose with the invasion of audiovisual records into traditional archives, libraries and museums in the twentieth century.  It culminates in a plea for rethinking the options of retrieval under new media conditions – transcending the notion of archive itself.”(113)

Retrograd – Excavating an Archive of Medical Films

Ernst asserts that an archive is a rule-governed, administratively programmed operation of inclusions and exclusions that can be reformulated cybernetically, or even digitally.  Also, media archaeology, unlike media history deals with absence.  Furthermore, the archaeology of multi-media no longer takes place in ground archives, but rather in virtual space.  “Media-archaeology deals with gaps and confronts absences.”(115)

Between Reading and Scanning

Ernst suggests that the computer no longer reads texts, but scans them, thus perceiving writing as an image, or a cluster of signals.  Signal processing replaces pure reading.  The computer reduces signals to the smallest possible alphabet.

Visual Archiving: Sorting and Storing Images

With the transfer of images into digital storage, non-verbal methods of classification are gradually gaining importance, asserts Ernst.  “In digital space, when not only every film, but every still in every film, or even more – every pixel in every frame – can be discretely addressed, titles no longer subject images to words, but alphanumerical numbers refer to alphanumerical numbers.”(117)  Giovanni Morelli developed a program that matches, sorts, and classifies pictures exclusively on their visual characteristics.

Archival Phantasms (the Internet)

“This is a plea for archiving the term archive itself for the description of multi-media storage processes.  Digital archaeology, though, is not a case for future generations, but has to be performed in the present already.  In the age of digitalizability, that is, the option of storing all kinds of information, a paradoxical phenomenon appears: Cyberspace has no memory.”(119)  Ernst goes on to say that the internet is no archive indeed, but a collection.  He says, the function of archives exceeds by far mere storage and conservation of data.  Instead of collecting passively, archives actively define what is archivable, he surmises.

Breaking Down
Godard’s Histories
Richard Dienst

In his current work, Jean-Luc Godard tries to redefine the power of the image of our historical moment, to make images that would enable remembrance and imagination, considers Dienst.  Here, he addresses Godard’s most massive work – the Histoire(s) du cinema (Histories or Stories of cinema).  Upon its completion in 1998, the Historoire(s) comprised a work in eight parts, delivered in three different media: video, printed book, and audio CD.  According to Dienst, the material makes one startling point:  The history of cinema can be told everywhere but in cinema.  Yet, he asserts, the history of cinema is the only history that needs to be told, as the cinema has been the only one capable of telling the story of its time.  “But it failed, and that is the real story.

Dienst proposes, images are what remain to be seen.  Further, he asserts that Godard’s work is a rescue mission: he wants to save images from the breakdown of cinema and the closure of its era.  He insists that in principle, every kind of image ought to be saved.

Power-Code

The chapters in Power-Code take on Knowledge-power, analyzing the rise of code and its relationship to the circulation knowledge and empowerment.  Wolfgang Hagen in “the Style of Sources: Remarks on the Theory and History of Programming Language,” emphasizes the importance of unarchivable and unforeseen programming languages to the transformation of the computer into a computer machine.

Science as Open Source Process
Friedrich Kittler
Translated by Peter Krapp

Kittler worries that academic freedom will stand or fall with the freedom of source code.  He asserts that it is crucial that the knowledge generated and passed on by universities must be able to circulate without the protection of patents and copyrights.  He goes on to say that after Gutenberg invented the printing press, most of the knowledge produced in the university fell to the system of books and publishing houses.  The universities ceased to write books and merely stored the books printed by others.  Here, Kittler is interested in the revolution in knowledge this caused in terms of open source and free software – as a precise model of what is going on these days.  “The headhunters of Microsoft lurk around Stanford and at other doors of computer science departments, catch new programming serfs with new algorithms and squeeze them for five years, until the algorithms become proprietary and the coders, with their stock options, are dismissed into early retirement.”(178)  Kittler goes on to assert that once something is burned into a chip, it belongs to the firm who invested millions into the design and billions into their mass fabrication.  No university can compete with that.

In “Cold War Networks or Kaiserstr. 2, Neubabelsberg,” Kittler continues to examine the institutional structures necessary for the emergence of software and cold war information networks.  He argues that hardware is allied with secrecy, the military, and control.

The question of control is debated in the next five chapters, specifically in the relationship between programming and agency, surfing and using.  In “Generation Flash”, Lev Manovich posits that programming in the early 2000’s moved a new generation of artists away from the old and tired act of postmodern citation towards a romanticism and a new modernist aesthetic of clean lines and “transparent causality.” 

In “Protocol vs. Institutionalization”, Alexander Galloway examines the control structures necessary for the so-called open circulation of knowledge, from theoretically open organizations comprising members of a relatively homogenous social class of techno-elites to TCP/IP, the protocol driving the internet.  He argues that the net is founded on control, not freedom.  In “Reload: Liveness, Mobility, and the Web”, Tara McPherson emphasizes the web as a technology of experience, rather than simply an effect of software.  Julian Dibbell, in “Viruses Are Good for You”, returns us to the question of code, but through alien code: viruses whose presence brings fear to the hearts of users who believe they control their machines.  He argues that viruses act as both a virus-maker’s signature and as a self-replicating program that denies authorship. 

In “The Imaginary of the Artificial: Automata, Models, Machinics  - On Promiscuous Modeling as Precondition for Poststructuralist Ontology,” Anders Michelson makes the argument that although the computer is based on the “image of man,” it leads elsewhere.  The machinic is now creative.  It constitutes what he calls the imaginary of the artificial, “an inexplicit and poorly understood impetus for the creative articulation of the artificial.”(234)

The “Network Events” section further pursues knowledge power, but here it looks more broadly at global information flows.  Transmission and “knowledge is power”, it stresses are not limited to computer buses or high-speed data networks.  Concentrating on catastrophic media events and on the ways in which the media create a “we” and a “they”, this section examines the possibilities and limitations of global mass media.  Further, it focuses on the communities or audiences created by global media, as well as on popular and critical assumptions about the nature of technology and technological power.

“Theorizing ‘New’ Media”, the last section continues to pursue knowledge-power, here by investigating new media’s impact on scholarly knowledge.  Every author in this section either offers new theories or terms in light of new media, or argues against their necessity.  These chapters map out the disciplinary challenges posed by new media to disciplines from Asian American Studies to literary studies; from queer to architectural theory.  Lisa Nakamura introduces the term “cybertypes” to describe the ways in which race and ethnicity proliferated in mainstream new media during the late 1990’s.  Nicholas Mirzoeff in “Network Subjects: or, The Ghost is the Message”, asserts that new media changes visual subjects’ relationship to their media.  Mirzoeff argues that the medium itself has become the object and subject of desire.  Ken Hillis addresses identity and desire from the Enlightenment to the present, through VR and queer web cams.  The next two chapters offer historical analyses that question the newness of new media.  Mark Wigley in “Network Fever” argues that we are at the end, rather than the beginning of network logic.

Conclusion

This provocative collection of essays offers a great range of analysis of new and old media.  Its combination of theoretical and historical approaches is refreshing.  The juxtaposition of authors from various disciplines creates a rich resource for its audience. 

As an avid collector of vinyl records, and an appreciator of synthetic music, I was particularly drawn to Thomas Y. Levin’s essay “’Tones from out of Nowhere’: Rudolph Pfenninger and the Archaeology of Synthetic Sound”.  The ingenuity of these early pioneers proved endlessly fascinating, and perhaps exemplified the true exploratory spirit of what “new media” can be. 





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