11 May 2009

imaginary media / the legacy of professor robert jack

In the “Second Introduction to an Archaeology of Imaginary Media,” Eric Kluitenberg writes that one of the tasks of the discipline of media archaeology is to scour the historical archive – “stories, drawings, prints, films, songs, advertisements or quasi-philosophical imaginaries” – for the utopian dreams of potential or possible media forms that might “compensate for the inherent flaws and deficiencies of interpersonal communication."

Siegfried Zielinski, one of the first scholars to use the term "media archaeology," breaks down the category of imaginary media into three groups of phenomena in his essay in the same text, "Modelling Media for Ignatius Loyola":

untimely media: media realized in technical and media practice either long before or after their invention

conceptual media: media sketched, modeled or drafted but not actually built

impossible media: media which cannot actually be built but nevertheless express ideas which impact the factual world of media

Slavoj Zizek’s book on the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze, Organs Without Bodies, argues not only that the emergence of the New is Deleuze’s central concern, but that for Deleuze, the New only emerges through repetition. In other words, the creation of something truly new always involves a kind of repetition. What is being repeated, though, “is not the way the past ‘effectively was’ but the virtuality inherent to the past and betrayed by its past actualization”. In other words, imaginary media present us with a series of possibilities for actions in the present precisely because they never fully appeared in the past.

By way of positioning the political project of media archaeology, Zielinski writes:

"[T]he main purpose of this archaeological work is to counter current tendencies towards standardization and universalization in the interest of a uniform global market with the rich variety of variants offered by bygone eras. If archaeology is the principal method for this special form of historical research, then variantology is the tactic (in the Foucauldian sense) by which individual genealogies are to be unravelled from its wealth of varieties."


visiting the University of Otago's physics department with Nigel Bunn the other day (he was picking up a trolleyful of oscillators which, no longer used in the classroom, were going to be thrown away), we were shown around the labyrinthine environs of the teaching facilities by Paul Yates. the chance find of Robert Jack's transmitter sitting in a cupboard - the actual machine used in the first NZ broadcast, c.1921 (an exceptional imaginary moment in the history of our communications media), was predicated, after a wonderful, rambling tour of all sorts of nooks and crannies of obsolete technologies and teaching aids, by the statement, "oh, you might be interested in this"

... well, yes. I was.

an excerpt from Robert Jack's original broadcast can be heard here

the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography entry on Prof Jack can be found here

a timeline for New Zealand communications history can be read here

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