ReINTERview Transmediale 2012
Interview with Finnish Media Archaeologist Jussi Parikka
Transmediale Festival 2012 congregated scientists and artists from all over the world to exchange the latest in new media tactics and techniques. Our small interview series provides a review.
At the Festival Finnish Media Archaeologist Jussi Parikka held a remarkable lecture on Uncorporated Subversion with special interactive net art support from Jon Satrom, Michael Dieter and Julio d´Escriván. Parikka has published throughout Europe (including the Guardian), Asia and America. He is author of Digital Contagions: A Media Archaeology of Computer Viruses (2007) and Insect Media: An Archaeology of Animals and Technology (2010). His new book What is Media Archaeology? is about to be published.
Well, Pynchon is one of the great writers who does sort of “theory-fiction”; he is able to articulate the interconnections of technology with 20th century politics, engineering in relation to a whole dream world of fantasies, desires and more. Think of the paranoid worlds of Gravity’s Rainbow! His way of subtly investigating how science penetrates our everyday culture is itself like a media theoretical, a media archaeological trip. This is the reason why it was picked up by a range of media theorists already a while ago, not least the recently passed away Friedrich A. Kittler! Already Kittler was in a way reading Pynchon as an entry point to the modern world of technical media.
How can Transmediale influence change in society?
Such interdisciplinary festivals and conferences are in a good position to articulate what is happening on the interzones of art, science and technology. That triangle has been for a longer while in a key position not only in terms of modern innovations in culture. The media theorist Marshall McLuhan’s idea of artists as the pre-warning system concerning “what’s to come” in terms of the changing technological culture is already too well known; we need to avoid celebrating the notion of the artist as if automatically in some privileged position, especially when the whole notion of “creativity” has been hijacked by the depressing and far from inspiring “creative industry” discourse.
Having said that, this is where festivals such as Transmediale come in to the picture; Transmediale’s topics and this year’s theme for instance are excellent articulations of concerns that are much wider than just about media arts. Instead, the conference theme opens up to address politics of information culture, glitches, and indeed, not just the smooth fantasies of digital technologies we often find in marketing discourses but the “in/compatibility” that is a more accurate term when addressing contemporary culture; global economic meltdown hastened by the grim practices of financial capitalism, the ecocrisis and mass extinction of species and habitats; various political crises, and also inspiring possibilities from Arab spring to the Occupy-movements. Transmediale is easily one of the internationally leading events in this crucial field.
Is media archeology the latest means for a proper analysis of today´s complex and interwoven society?
For a range of theorists and artists it has risen as a very useful term indeed. It allows us to have a historical perspective to contemporary digital culture, but with a twist; media archaeology is happy to look at the dead ends and forgotten ideas, as well as speculations we find in media pasts. It wants to articulate a present that is continuously as if drawn towards the future, but through a route via the past; it is a good tool to challenge myths of progress, as well as develop ideas of how to engage in interdisciplinary practices on the borders of arts, humanities and engineering. In my forthcoming What is Media Archaeology?-book I try to argue the case for media archaeology as exemplary 21st centuries humanities discipline.
I am not sure if there is an answer to such a question. Technology is completely interwoven with human desires, perceptions, politics and ideas, even if it isn’t reducible to human intentions. Technology just does not always (ever?) do what we want it do. Technology is defined more accurately by a long history of failures and accidents than the myth of progress. If there never was a human that was not a technological, tool-using human – as a range of anthropological research has shown – then our futures cannot be thought outside that past. But what we need to increasingly think are the ecological consequences of our advanced media technologies; the hazardous materials, components, energy consumption, and so forth. It’s not a taking over in the science-fiction sense of Terminator or Matrix-films, but a slow deterioriation of life worlds not just because of the technology but the systematic production of obsolescence and demand for “new” in our current economic system.
Do you think that Deleuze/Guattari are the foremost thinkers of the 20th century?
I don’t want to pick just one (or even two!) thinker(s) to represent the 20th century, but let’s say that their solo and combined work is one of the most exciting that people have been reading the past decades; the way they are able to think history of philosophy in relation to a range of other fields (science and art), the refined notions of materiality, the inspiring non-fascist politics, the ways offered for new alternative institutions, etc.
For me, Deleuze and Guattari were always read in relation and in combination with such thinkers as Michel Foucault but also the so-called German media theory; Kittler and other thinkers who really were able to offer methodologies and ideas to approach technology and media archaeology in alternative fashion. It has offered another way to think of materiality.
Jussi Parikka is a Ph.D. in Cultural History (University of Turku). Up until May 2011 Parikka was Director of the Cultures of the Digital Econonomy (CoDE) research institute at Anglia Ruskin University. Currently he is Reader in Media & Design at University of Southampton´s Winchester School of Art and adjunct professor of digital culture theory at the University of Turku.