Digital Memory and the Archive

Digital Memory and the Archive

WOLFGANG ERNST
Edited and with an Introduction by Jussi Parikka
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 256
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.5749/j.ctt32bcwb
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Digital Memory and the Archive
    Book Description:

    In the popular imagination, archives are remote, largely obsolete institutions: either antiquated, inevitably dusty libraries or sinister repositories of personal secrets maintained by police states. Yet the archive is now a ubiquitous feature of digital life. Rather than being deleted, e-mails and other computer files are archived. Media software and cloud storage allow for the instantaneous cataloging and preservation of data, from music, photographs, and videos to personal information gathered by social media sites.

    In this digital landscape, the archival-oriented media theories of Wolfgang Ernst are particularly relevant.Digital Memory and the Archive, the first English-language collection of the German media theorist's work, brings together essays that present Ernst's controversial materialist approach to media theory and history. His insights are central to the emerging field of media archaeology, which uncovers the role of specific technologies and mechanisms, rather than content, in shaping contemporary culture and society.

    Ernst's interrelated ideas on the archive, machine time and microtemporality, and the new regimes of memory offer a new perspective on both current digital culture and the infrastructure of media historical knowledge. For Ernst, different forms of media systems-from library catalogs to sound recordings-have influenced the content and understanding of the archive and other institutions of memory. At the same time, digital archiving has become a contested site that is highly resistant to curation, thus complicating the creation and preservation of cultural memory and history.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8199-0
    Subjects: Art & Art History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[iv])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [v]-[vi])
  3. Archival Media Theory: An Introduction to Wolfgang Ernst’s Media Archaeology
    (pp. 1-22)
    Jussi Parikka

    Traditionally, archives have had an interesting aura despite the grayness of the concrete walls surrounding them. We tend to think of archives as slightly obsolete and abandoned places where usually the archivist or the caretaker is someone swallowed up in the dusty corridors of bureaucracy, information management, and organizational logic that makes the archive a system. What characterizes such systems is that they are not always understandable or accessible to an outsider. We do not often visit archives, but the archives still have a keen interest in us. The Stasi archives, opened after the fall of the Berlin Wall and...

  4. Media Archaeology as a Transatlantic Bridge
    (pp. 23-32)

    There have been ongoing rumors, legends, and critical remarks about a certain German (or even “Germanic”) technology-centric or technodeterministic, that is, machine- and code-centered, school of media studies.¹ If thetheoríaof media is epistemologically conceived in the sense of a Kantian a priori, technological knowledge indeed remains a precondition for the possibility of understanding media culture. Still, as Kjetil Jakobsen points out, the field of (new) media theory seems split between two very different approaches: “Media archaeologists, like Kittler, Wolfgang Ernst, or Alexander Galloway, describe the non-discursive practices of the techno-cultural archive. Media phenomenologists like Katherine Hayles, Tara McPherson,...

  5. Part I. The Media-Archaeological Method
    • [Part I. Introduction]
      (pp. 33-36)

      It is safe to say that there is noonemedia-archaeological method. Some place more emphasis on imaginary media, others on recurring discursive phenomena. The material underpinnings of how German media theory emerged as its own singular take on media history has been called “gay science” by Bernhard Siegert, referring to Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophy and with an emphasis that underlines its spirit of excavation—unorthodox, free in its curiosity, and almost at times anarchist—which was less interested in coming up with a grand theory of media than doing interesting things with media history.¹

      Ernst’s methodology shares a lot with...

    • 1 Let There Be Irony: Cultural History and Media Archaeology in Parallel Lines
      (pp. 37-54)

      Let me begin with a personal remark. When I first met Stephen Bann in the early 1980s during my research year in London, where I was exploring the formation of British collections of classical antiquities in my search for underlying cultural and historiographical theories, his studies on the visual and museological inventions of history in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century France and Britain provided an anchor for my theoretical aspirations because we shared a concern with the metahistorical and discourse analyses of Hayden White and Michel Foucault. At that time I missed an innovative aspect of Stephen Bann’s writings, one that I...

    • 2 Media Archaeography: Method and Machine versus the History and Narrative of Media
      (pp. 55-74)

      Media archaeology is generally associated with the rediscovery of cultural and technological layers of previous media—an approach that remains on the familiar side of historical discourse. Some authors take the termmedia archaeologyat face value, almost metaphorically, as referring to the “digging out” of forgotten machinic visions of the past, of alternative, for example, baroque media, of media that never materialized or that are simply forgotten today.

      The archaeological metaphor is difficult to resist and has sometimes led to a fatal misunderstanding of Michel Foucault’s notion of an archaeology of knowledge.¹ The media-archaeological method as proposed here is...

  6. Part II. Temporality and the Multimedial Archive
    • [Part II. Introduction]
      (pp. 75-80)

      As we saw in the previous part of the book, Ernst’s writings still retain traces of the earlier years of his long career, which he started as a classicist. He is able to draw on the knowledge and theories that come from the historical discipline that was comfortable talking about ruins and classics in the more traditional humanities sense. Only gradually did those ideas turn into media-theoretical considerations concerning memory and storage in media cultures. Hence his theories have a specific understanding of time tied both to an emphasis on dynamics and to the archive. This is emblematic through his...

    • 3 Underway to the Dual System: Classical Archives and Digital Memory
      (pp. 81-94)

      Converting old media art stock into digital backup formats is technically feasible but highly labor and cost intensive. Instead of archiving the entire stock en bloc, digitization on demand suggests itself as a model. Rather than being a purely read-only memory, new archives are successively generated according to current needs. The method involves using networked digital computers to link existing local digital archives online into intersections such as Europeana, a portal for the written and audiovisual cultural heritage of Europe. Europeana’s motto, “Search through the cultural collections of Europe, connect to other user pathways,”¹ indicates a certain transformation. Although in...

    • 4 Archives in Transition: Dynamic Media Memories
      (pp. 95-101)

      A radical metamorphosis of the aesthetics of storage is taking place in the media-technical field, which demands models for dealing with a new kind of dynamic memory. For example, digital video recorders are designed for the temporally delayed replay of today’s television programs and for short-term storage, not for permanent archival storage. In German public broadcast services, the archives are called production archives(Produktionsarchive),with the emphasis on almost immediate reproduction and recycling rather than emphatic cultural long-time memory.

      This change in archival logic corresponds to a technical discontinuity: the physics of printed or mechanical storage media set against fluid...

    • 5 Between Real Time and Memory on Demand: Reflections on Television
      (pp. 102-112)

      Turbocharged media studies observes the effects of electronic mass media independently of the fixation on program content in traditional televisual analysis and deciphers these effects as functions of programming in the sense of computer science. Even before the Internet, Hans-Magnus Enzensberger wrote about the “zero-medium” television: “What is new about the new media is the fact that they are no longer dependent on programs.”¹ Therefore, take a programmatic look at the future perfect of television, that is, at TV as subject and object of cultural memory. For as soon as audiovisual transmissions remain accessible online in digital archives, they constitute...

    • 6 Discontinuities: Does the Archive Become Metaphorical in Multimedia Space?
      (pp. 113-140)

      In this chapter I address (multi)media archaeology in two parts: first, an epistemological reflection on the termmedia archaeology,and second, literal case studies. But, before I begin(arché),I want to reflect on the termarchaeology of multimedia.Having been trained as a historian, a classicist, and an archaeologist (in the disciplinary sense), I have always felt uneasy with the predominance of narrative as the unimedium of processing our knowledge of the past. Theoretically, works like Michel Foucault’sL’Archéologie du savoirand Hayden White’s seminalMetahistoryhelped me express this unease with the rhetoric of historical imagination.¹ It took...

  7. Part III. Microtemporal Media
    • [Part III. Introduction]
      (pp. 141-146)

      Throughout the book, Ernst has been addressing the question of how we think and deal with time. This question is quite obviously at the center of media archaeology. This applies to other writers, too, who have pushed our understanding of the temporality of media culture in new directions. Erkki Huhtamo’s idea of the cyclical time of topics that constantly return in cultural media discourses or Siegfried Zielinski’s deep time methodology are examples. For Wolfgang Ernst, time assumes a slightly different function in relation to technical media culture. Less the time of human actions or social phenomena, time is specifically internal...

    • 7 Telling versus Counting: A Media-Archaeological Point of View
      (pp. 147-157)

      Between the cultural practices of telling and counting, one finds both an affinity and a disjunction; narration and the numerical code can be seen as functions of alternating conditions of the media. The numerical order, the basis of digital technologies, has always already been performed as a cultural practice before becoming technically materialized. Rather than attempting a linear chronological trajectory, the changing historical relation between telling and counting can be described as reconfigurations affected by different media or even media theories.

      It was a decisive act of cultural engineering in the occident when an unknown adaptor of the Phoenician syllabic...

    • 8 Distory: One Hundred Years of Electron Tubes, Media-Archaeologically Interpreted, vis-à-vis One Hundred Years of Radio
      (pp. 158-171)

      Reginald Fessenden’s “radio broadcast” on Christmas Eve, December 24, 1906, may still echo in our ears, but regular entertainment radio (meaning radio in the mass-media sense) did not start even in the United States until November 1920. Not until then did radio in the classic sense begin, ending the media-archaeological epoch of radio, in which the primary message of the medium was not the structured, macrotemporal programming flow (the “flow” defined in cultural studies)¹ but rather the electromagnetic frequencies oscillating in the time-critical range literally as “sparks.”

      It is not the inherent time of electronic media but instead the old-fashioned...

    • 9 Toward a Media Archaeology of Sonic Articulations
      (pp. 172-183)

      A new kind of historical knowledge has emerged: the research into past sonospheres and ways of listening to past times. So far historiography has privileged the visible and readable archival records (withThe Gutenberg Galaxydominated by visual knowledge). But since Edison’s phonograph sound, noise and voices can be technically recorded and thus memorized, resulting self-expressively in extended possibilities of sonic heritage and inducing the question of whether soundscapes for the time before Edison can be reconstructed. But history as a cognitive notion of organizing past data will never be audible but only readable in complex textual argumentation; the historical...

    • 10 Experimenting with Media Temporality: Pythagoras, Hertz, Turing
      (pp. 184-192)

      All such mass media as the phonograph, kinematograph, radio, and electronic television were first developed for experimental research. Media are measuring devices, and as such they are scientific, analytical apparatuses. To put it roughly, any listening to music on records or to radio programs is essentially experimental, a kind of reverse experimentation. The well-known television tube was developed out of a measuring device, Ferdinand Braun’s electronic oscilloscope, just as the Edison phonograph was preceded by Léon Scott’s Phonautograph, created to register the frequencies of the human voice for analytic purposes. Tuning an analog radio is experimenting with radio waves and...

  8. APPENDIX. Archive Rumblings: An Interview with Wolfgang Ernst
    (pp. 193-204)
    Geert Lovink and Wolfgang Ernst
  9. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. 205-206)
    W. E. and J. P.
  10. NOTES
    (pp. 207-244)
  11. PUBLICATION HISTORY
    (pp. 245-246)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 247-265)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 266-270)