Abstract- Idiosyncratic Archaeologies: Realigning Media History

There’s little argument that the history of ‘media art’ is not limited to the mere deployment of specific implementations. To formulate media histories as a mere evolution of an apparatus linked with progressive notions of technical sophistication avoids the oddly ‘punctuated equilibrium’—and social complexity —that forms much of the ‘evolution’ of communicative systems that break-free from the limited teleologies and telephobias of modernity and find expressive functions unimagined by the engineers of systems integration. To think of a history of media art without rooting it, as Friedrich Kittler would say, in the ‘discourse networks’ of prior periods, would be to mistake the present as a logical outcome, it would be to miss the ruptures and constitute a severe underestimation of disorder. Yet, the erratic history of the media arts, waiting for comprehensive treatment, cannot avoid some accounting of its legitimate lineage.
Rather than a mapping of events, the history of media calls for the investigation of the scenes in which development might or might fail to emerge, in which determinism is undermined by probability, or in which possibility outdistances expectation. Because ‘the media’ have been largely conceptualized within technical imperatives (characterized by simplistic categorizations like ‘digital,’ ‘virtual,’ ‘net’) and particularly as an aspect of modernity (as conventionally conceived), or, more recently, post-modernism (with its ubiquitous interest in information) it galvanizes some misconceptions concerning its echoing effects across social borders untethered to any specific medium (or its performance). “It is impossible,” as Regis Debray writes, “to make technological history enact the role of philosophical history and to presuppose that ‘technology governs the world; as ‘reason governs the world.’… The causal time between a technology and a culture is neither automatic nor unilateral.”
What is most necessary for the field of ‘media archaeology’ is to both distinguish it as a nascent discipline and to set some boundaries in order to avoid its subjectivization. Archaeology, as Foucault writes, ”is not a return to the innermost secret of the origin,” rather it “describes discourses as practices specified in the element of the archive.” Without evolving coherences that are either reductive nor dogmatic, ‘media archaeology’ faces numerous issues: to evolve histories of technologies, apparatuses, effects, images, iconographies, etc, within a larger scheme of reintegration in order to expand a largely ignored aspect of traditional history.
This presentation will take aim at setting some guidelines and distinguish between traditional historiography, and the exceptional demands of a critical archaeology.