[iDC] Alan's questions about media theory/ies

Alan Sondheim sondheim at panix.com
Tue Jul 21 23:28:13 UTC 2009

Why axiomatically? Take for example radium decay? Where is the mediation? 
I agree with Simon that it sounds like dark matter; might one substitute 
power, or work, or energy here? For that matter the fecundity of space- 
time? If mediation sometimes communicates, then might there not be an 
infinite regress? It seems to me that perhaps mediation is a kind of hole 
in theory?

Somewhere Serres' The Parasite comes into play - what happens when 
channels with noise parasitically take on a life of their own. But take 
EPR for example, or Bell's theorem - it seems that it's precisely the 
_lack_ of mediation (as I understand it) that seems to confront theory 
with an other. ...

- Alan (hoping I'm clear and not clear over my head)

On Tue, 21 Jul 2009, Sean Cubitt wrote:

> As Jonathan said in response, these are great questions. Ten cents worth:
> Axiomatically, there is mediation. It comes before such accidental and
> contingent binaries as subjects and objects, space and time. It even
> precedes communication. Mediation is a name for the fundamental connection
> between (and within) everything. Sometimes it communicates, sometimes it
> just opens channels, sometimes it is pure poetry, and exchange of energies.
> The biggest question for any historical theory of media is: how come, in a
> universe where mediation is the law, there is such concentration, delay,
> detouring, and hoarding of  it?
> Wealth, for example, is a form of mediation. Goods and social obligations
> flow round in gift economies and in commodity economies, but in the latter
> (and quite possibly in the former) they do not flow constantly or evenly.
> Same thing is true of other flows like love, food, news, words, pictures.
> The long history requires the kind of macroscale thinking which Innis did in
> the Boas of Communication, but also the microscales of understanding, for
> example, the origins and structure of the raster display.
> So one answer is that theory is only as good as the data at its disposal (eg
> natural history before Darwin). In our case, the sheer lack of knowledge ‹
> and knowledge about our ignorance ­ concerning the human brain is a
> Œcondition of emergence¹. Most of our psychological surmises are consciously
> just that: hand-waving in the general direction of probable occurrences,
> with the cnstant risk that we might be barking up the wrong tree (is
> psychology somehting to do with the structured grey mush locked inside the
> bone box on the top of the neck? Or is it fundamentally social, born by
> media like language, sex, food ?). We may celebrate the coditions of
> emergence as well as critique them, but we ignore them at our peril.
> There are media theories (plural) because we do not agree on what media are.
> I propose that if a theory is a media theory, it should take as axiomatic
> that mediation is primary, and that everything else (sex, power,
> exploitation) are effects of mediation and its vicissitudes. If everything
> from architecture to sunshine mediates, we have the critical agenda mapped
> for us ­ issue sof reciprocation and mutuality, solidarity, dependence and
> contingency. Once that is set out, we disagree on other issues ­ modes of
> causality, interplay between media formations (see for example the
> meticulous histories of the arrival of recorded sound in the North American
> movie industry by Donald Crafton and others, where artistic creativity,
> industrial espionage, audience reluctance, economic disturbance, linguistic
> diversity and a a hundred other factors play on an ostensibly  simple
> innovation. And who would have chosen sub-atomic physics as the source of
> the biggest revolution in communications since the invention of electricity?
> Separate note: Jonathan mentions ³we have not left representation behind
> entirely, even though we have a new set of terms that would include affect,
> intensity, viscerality, visuality and others, that are available as tools to
> calculate, measure, think, feel and strategize with. This is where we work
> -- all of us, at least to some degree -- isn't that what the theories of
> cognitive capitalism point to? ³
> -- representation has migrated from narrative prose and illusionist imaging
> to far more meticulously arithmetical media: spreadsheets, databases and
> geographical information systems. Two consequences: A: the inner life of
> people has now complex yet manageable functions in society such as taste,
> actuarial likelihood of illness or crime ect etc; affect is of considerably
> less commercial and political value than before. Our societies are
> fundamentally behaviourist. B: precisely because they are no longer central
> arms of governance and ideology, narrative and ilusion are once again open
> to innovation and experiment, precisely in the fields where contemporary
> governmentality no longer operates such as the inner life and ­ vitally
> important for the production of a public counter to commercialisation ­ the
> half-forgotten sociology/psychology of the crowd. This is where Virno¹s
> Grammar of the Multitude is so interesting, and why Hardt + Negri are so
> intoxicating (if less persuasive). They speak to a ³We² formed by the
> exclusion of treasured human faculties from the commerce of contemporary
> life, inchoate, passionate, and therefore dangerous. In terms of
> consciousness, it is that nagging undertow of a sense that ³I² is somehow
> slightly unreal, a sense that arises from the restrictions our deep
> socialisation make son the capacity for whatever we might truly call action.
> If so, then the inner life becomes more and more like the unconscious, the
> excluded other of an increasingly expansive symbolic domain of rule,
> regulation, code, system, structure. To that extent, the inner life is
> likely to be more and more uncivil, perverse, violent, self-destructive and
> nihilist.
> Good grief. I think I am becoming a behaviourist.
> sean
>>> Is there a media theory, or media theories? Must a media theory be
>>> _responsive_ to anything in particular or at all? Does any theory _have_
>>> to be anything in particular? Must a theory be 'critical of its conditions
>>> of emergence'?
> Prof Sean Cubitt
> scubitt at unimelb.edu.au
> Director
> Media and Communications Program
> Faculty of Arts
> Room 127 John Medley East
> The University of Melbourne
> Parkville VIC 3010
> Australia
> Tel: + 61 3 8344 3667
> Fax:+ 61 3 8344 5494
> M: 0448 304 004
> Skype: seancubitt
> http://www.culture-communication.unimelb.edu.au/media-communications/
> http://www.digital-light.net.au/
> http://homepage.mac.com/waikatoscreen/
> http://seancubitt.blogspot.com/
> http://del.icio.us/seancubitt
> Editor-in-Chief Leonardo Book Series
> http://leonardo.info

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