Interrogating the Limitations of the Written Word

Monday, January 20th, 2014 by lasu9006

Jussi Parikka’s What is Media Archaeology? made me feel better about my considerable collection of obsolete bric-a-brac and flea market-finds that clutters my apartment. Maybe I have been collecting  ephemera out of an interest in how the present and past complicate and reflect upon one another, and not out of a minor hoarding habit. Maybe.

Parikka’s conceptualization of media archaeology as a non-linear network of interactive pasts, presents, and potential pasts and presents, evoked a sense of spatial and temporal limitlessness and connectedness, which I found to be quite an incredible and inspiring concept. I thought the beginning and ending of Parikka’s book were the most effective parts, because, in my opinion, those parts maintained a streamlined focus on what media archaeology is, how it manifests itself in our contemporary society, and how it has manifested itself in the past. Some of the middle material, while informative, seemingly fell victim to what Parikka referred to as his desire to “have [his] cake and eat it too,” a desire to include a vast array of “the best ideas” from social-constructionist and German-media theory. The ideas were relevant, but I found myself wondering whether the theoretically-based, textualized form that this book takes is the most effective means for answering the very question that forms the title of Parikka’s book.

For example, when Parikka discusses the various artistic representations of media archaeology, I felt let down because I was not given easy access to experiencing those works of art for myself. I feel that the format of the written word, even with the inclusion of pictures, is too limiting for this subject matter, and that perhaps a more interactive and multimedia-friendly format would have been more appropriate. For me, a digital tour of a media archive, or a look at some detailed pictures or videos of artistic renditions of media archaeology, would have perhaps illuminated the concept of media archaeology just as well, or perhaps even better, than Parikka’s book, with its emphasis on theory, managed to do. But, at the same time, my reaction speaks to my bias against theoretical works, as I am the type of learner who benefits most from tangible examples and physical rootedness within contemporary life.

I am realizing that this blog post sounds rather negative and critical, but all in all I found Parikka’s book to be quite inspiring, and I think he has given me an entirely new way to view the world.

-Lauren Sullivan

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3 comments on “Interrogating the Limitations of the Written Word

  1. I particularly like your suggestion that this book would perhaps be better in a multimedia form, where the artwork/music/etc could be experienced alongside the written discussion of them. (It seems that would be the ultimate enacting of Parikka’s arguments.) A few pictures here and there were simply not enough. Perhaps the “practice” portion will be more clear in the MAL, but it certainly would’ve been nice to have theory and practice more evenly balanced in this introductory work.

  2. kylebickoff says:

    I believe your inclination to read a digital text, a hypertext, that might allow easier access for readers/users to experience the described artistic works indicates a certain tendency within our current approach to technology and the desires of our readership, specifically our generation’s readership. On the other hand, I find this work stands firmly on its own as a theoretical text and functions as a guidebook for reading media, rather than an anthology of the area. You are quite right that in the contemporary, such an anthology must be a hypertext. For now, I suspect, there is a happy medium somewhere.

    Moreover, I like that you relate to this through your own experience collecting obsolete technology/’zombie media.’ I myself find a similar joy in this process of collection. I see Parikka creating a theoretical framework that is not prescriptive, rather descriptive of ways in which we can reflect upon our own technology. The obsolescence we witness over time forces us to reconsider technology as we continually approach new such materials in this constant production of new technologies we witness daily.

  3. dparker90 says:

    Your post makes me think about the problem of trying to participate in the methodologies of media archeology described by Parikka while also being subject to our capitalism’s emphasis on production and consumption. Like you, I’d prefer to engage with media archeology outside of the confines of texts, and I think the kind of alternative media you describe would better suit my learning style. But when we’re subject to an academic job market built on the production and consumption of books and articles, what’s the alternative?

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