[iDC] Architecture and Situated Technologies - September Overture

Gere, Charlie c.gere at lancaster.ac.uk
Thu Sep 7 12:28:44 EDT 2006

I wish, perhaps rather perversely, to put a different slant on the
notion of situated technologies, and locative media, by looking back
rather than forward.

First a couple of warnings. Some of this may appear somewhat religious,
but (to quote Derrida) I 'quite rightly pass for a atheist', so there is
no desire to proselytise, though I am married to a Catholic, which
informs some of the stuff below. 

Secondly this is stuff I have only just started to think about and hope
to have developed more by the time I get to NY in October

One of the most powerful examples of locative media I know is the
Eucharist. This is the Christian ritual that usually takes place on a
Sunday, and which repeats, in a highly stylised form, the passover feast
enjoyed by Christ and his disciples before his crucifixion. At its heart
is the dispensing of bread and wine, which for a Catholic at least,
actually become the flesh and blood of Jesus (AKA transubstantiation)
and for other demoninations symbolise his flesh and blood. (There is a
considerable amount to be said about the wide-ranging consequences of
that difference for many aspects of our Western culture, particularly in
terms of different conceptions of signification).

What is fascinating is the point at which Jesus describes the bread and
wine as his flesh and blood and urges the disciples to eat them in
remembrance of him occupies no more than three verses, about six lines
in the Gospel of St Matthew, and even less in the Gospel of St Luke. Yet
it occupies a central part in the sacraments of the Christian church.
What is interesting about the Eucharist is first that it is a very
powerful memnotechnique which allowed a singular, and at the time
obscure, event, to be continually repeated and preserved. 

Moreover it did so through an embodied repetition, which meant that each
church became a kind of analogue of the place of the original passover
feast. In a sense the early and medieval church was a kind of fractal
organisation in both time and space, so that every element repeated
every other and the church was understood literally as the body of
Christ. To understand this properly (which I don't quite yet) requires a
grasp of the analogical thinking that dominated the medieval period. But
in short I suggest that the Eucharist was a kind of locative media in
that it bound widely distributed bodies and communities in a network of
coherent meaning, without denying their specific embodiment. 

The Eucharist also had a determining effect on both the structure and
the architecture and urban development of medieval culture. The ritual
demanded a certain kind of space, a church or cathedral which in turn
needed to occupy a certain place in a community which in turn needed to
be arranged in appropriate relation to that building, and so on.
Likewise it also demanded an understanding of who could dispense
communion to whom, which in turn had important ramifications for the
church hierarchy as it developed after Constantine

This began to interest me firstly after witnessing my daughter's first
holy communion early this year, but also at about the same time, reading
some really interesting posts from people describing their embodied
state as they agonised about how to engage with the list which was a
really interesting reminder of how much location and embodiment is often
forgotten in on-line discourse and how we need to find ways to
foreground bodies, location, and community against the atomisation of
the self that seems to be a concomitant of digital culture. I am
certainly not suggesting we should all become catholic or even
religious. But I suspect that contemplating how a certain institution
was able to cohere and maintain a kind of integrity and community and
shared meaning over an extraordinary distance long before any kind of
modern media may have lessons for when we think about new media
networks, especially as they effect physical space

Charlie Gere 
Reader in New Media Research
Director of Research
Institute for Cultural Research 
Lancaster University Lancaster LA1 4YL UK
Tel: +44 (0) 1524 594446
E-mail: c.gere at lancaster.ac.uk

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