New Materialism and Non-Humanisation

New Ma­te­ri­al­ism and Non-​Hu­man­isa­tion, an In­ter­view with Jus­si Parik­ka by Michael Di­eter. Published in the Speculative Realities ebook.

Michael Di­eter (MD): Is there a ‘ma­te­ri­al­ist’, ‘re­al­ist’ or ‘non­hu­man’ turn in con­tem­po­rary thought? If so, how would you po­si­tion your work in re­la­tion to these trends and what is at stake with such terms?

Jus­si Parik­ka (JP): This is def­inite­ly the claim that has been strong­ly voiced from a range of dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions over the past few years. We have var­ious tes­ti­monies of such an em­pha­sis in the­ory dis­cus­sions, from con­fer­ences such as the re­cent one in Mil­wau­kee or­ga­nized by the The Cen­ter for 21st Cen­tu­ry Stud­ies (The Non­hu­man Turn, in May 2012) to pub­li­ca­tions, blog posts and books. New Ma­te­ri­al­ism is hav­ing its fourth con­fer­ence this year – first one in 2010 at An­glia Ruskin Uni­ver­si­ty in Cam­bridge, and now this year in Turku Fin­land. Ob­ject-​ori­ent­ed per­spec­tives are be­ing men­tioned in so many events and fo­rums con­tin­uous­ly.

In­deed, the non­hu­man has now re­ceived a voice – sev­er­al voic­es – that is ar­tic­ulat­ed across a range of plat­forms, and with dif­fer­ent fac­tions even to the ex­tent that there is some­thing Mon­ty Pythonesque about it. I am think­ing here of the film Life of Bri­an, and the con­fus­ing quar­rels be­tween Judean Peo­ple’s Front with the Peo­ple’s Front of Judea, and oth­er groups. In terms of the var­ious Fronts for ma­te­ri­al­ism, re­al­ism and non-​hu­mans, what they seem to agree on is that the pol­itics of the sym­bol­ic, rep­re­sen­ta­tion and sig­ni­fi­ca­tion have end­ed up in a dead-​end sit­ua­tion, be­ing able to talk of hu­mans and of na­ture/Ecol­ogy/non-​hu­mans on­ly as far as they are in­cor­po­rat­ed in­to the sym­bol­ic/pow­er struc­tures of hu­man in­ter­ests. In­deed, one can find this idea in ob­ject-​ori­ent­ed-​on­tol­ogy (OOO), lean­ing to­wards the philoso­phies of Quentin Meil­las­soux, the wider spec­ula­tive re­al­ism project, the new ma­te­ri­al­ist philoso­phies that wide­ly ar­tic­ulate in as di­verse ideas as Manuel De­lan­da’s, Rosi Braidot­ti’s and more. Philoso­phers such as Cather­ine Mal­abou have ar­tic­ulat­ed on­to­log­ical co­or­di­nates for ‘new ma­te­ri­al­ism’ too in re­la­tion to neu­ro­sciences as a chal­lenge to the­ory dis­course. Kared Barad has been in­stru­men­tal in re­lat­ing quan­tum the­ory to fem­inist ma­te­ri­al­ism, as well as pitch­ing an ex­cit­ing way of un­der­stand­ing the en­tan­gled ma­te­ri­al­ities in which we know the on­to­log­ical­ly non­hu­man. But one could al­so nod to­wards ear­ly cul­tur­al stud­ies dis­cus­sions be­tween Stu­art Hall and Lawrence Gross­berg – a dis­cus­sion that has not been con­sid­ered much in re­cent years de­spite the use­ful the­oret­ical ideas Gross­berg pro­mot­ed as ‘spa­tial ma­te­ri­al­ism’ (see Wi­ley 2005). Al­ready since the 1980s there have been such strong the­oret­ical po­si­tions that of­fered cri­tiques of epis­te­mo­log­ical and em­pir­ical bases of cul­tur­al and me­dia stud­ies. These have even hap­pened in­side those dis­ci­plines, a fact of­ten for­got­ten nowa­days. And crit­ical the­orists in gen­er­al have in­ves­ti­gat­ed messy ma­te­ri­al­ities and their im­pli­ca­tions for meth­ods, ac­tor-​net­works, hu­man-​an­imal-​re­la­tions. The same thing ap­plies to me­dia the­ory that was vo­cal­ly op­posed to, for in­stance, a hermeneu­ti­cal em­pha­sis on (hu­man) mean­ings. The last point re­lates, of course, to Ger­man me­dia the­ory and, for ex­am­ple, Friedrich Kit­tler, whose project since the 1980s at least was to drive out the ‘hu­man’ from hu­man­ities.

In oth­er words, we need to be able to his­tori­cize the re­cent en­thu­si­asm for ma­te­ri­al­ity in much stronger terms than we have done so far. It’s not all new and re­cent by any means, even if there might be some­thing new about how we ap­proach some of the top­ics now. I ap­pre­ci­ate Braidot­ti’s work and way of writ­ing in this sense. For in­stance, in her re­cent in­ter­view in the book on New Ma­te­ri­al­ism by Rick Dolphjin and Iris van der Tu­in she im­por­tant­ly re­minds the read­er that the post­struc­tural­ist gen­er­ation had their own dis­cus­sions of ma­te­ri­al­ity, and de­mands that we need to deal with the Marx­ist lega­cy, part­ly re­defin­ing it (the neo-​ma­te­ri­al­ism of Fou­cault) and part­ly try­ing to fig­ure out a way to ac­count for the ‘ma­te­ri­al­ity of the sign,’ like Barthes and La­can did. It was al­ready Braidot­ti, more­over, who ear­ly on made the im­por­tant point that a lot of the ear­ly de­bates around ma­te­ri­al­ity were em­bed­ded in a ‘the­oreti­co-​po­lit­ical con­sen­sus’ (to use her words) that made this ma­te­ri­al­ism of sig­ni­fy­ing prac­tices was ‘both a ne­ces­si­ty and a ba­nal­ity for some post­struc­tural­ists’ (Dol­phi­jn and van der Tu­in, 2012: 20). Two im­por­tant points then: we need to be able to in­ves­ti­gate the long his­to­ries of ma­te­ri­al­ity as a term, and al­so the long lega­cies of non­hu­man thought that def­inite­ly did not be­gin in the past cou­ple of years de­spite the trend.

For me, the ques­tion of ma­te­ri­al­ity is re­lat­ed to that of the non­hu­man and this is a sig­nif­icant point of my the­oret­ical in­ter­ests. I am not sure if I am my­self com­fort­able with us­ing the term ‘re­al­ism’ even if I do agree with var­ious points its de­fend­ers make: there def­inite­ly is a world out there! How­ev­er, I work less as a philoso­pher than as a me­dia the­orist/an­alyst, where I want to in­ves­ti­gate the con­crete tem­po­ral and his­tor­ical ex­is­tence of non­hu­mans. This means a dou­ble ar­tic­ula­tion in terms of first­ly how do we es­tab­lish knowl­edge about non­hu­mans as sig­nif­icant – in oth­er words, what are the con­di­tions of ex­is­tence for our knowl­edge and the­ories of the non­hu­man – and sec­ond­ly, that the non­hu­man is not re­ducible to our knowl­edge of it. These two points are com­plete­ly re­lat­ed, and it does not take away any of the re­al­ity of the non­hu­man to in­ves­ti­gate the epis­te­mo­log­ical-​tech­no­log­ical forces which give it shape in re­la­tion to so­cial pro­cess­es. Ar­tic­ula­tions con­cern­ing an­imals, ecol­ogy, tech­nolo­gies, genes, virus­es, rocks, min­er­als, du­ra­tions of the earth, cos­mic phe­nom­ena and more have their his­tor­ical sta­tus as ob­jects with­in po­lit­ical and eco­nom­ic in­ter­ests, while re­main­ing ir­re­ducible to such con­fig­ura­tions. Fur­ther­more, what I am in­ter­est­ed in are the sci­en­tif­ic-​tech­no­log­ical for­ma­tions which them­selves are non­hu­man and yet give the hu­man co­or­di­nates for un­der­stand­ing the non­hu­man. Let me ex­plain a bit more: for in­stance, vi­su­al­isa­tions or soni­fi­ca­tions of let’s say mi­cro­scop­ic phe­nom­ena or eco­log­ical du­ra­tions are them­selves part and par­cel of such epis­te­molo­gies that could not take place with­out be­ing af­ford­ed by ad­vanced tech­nolo­gies, that work in such ways that are ir­re­ducible to hu­man phono­log­ical worlds. Ad­vanced tech­nolo­gies see and sense in very dif­fer­ent ways, just like our ‘nor­mal’ com­put­ers do al­ready. The knowl­edge of, for in­stance, such in­ten­sive­ly non­hu­man tem­po­ral­ities as cli­mate change – a tru­ly weird epis­te­mo­log­ical ‘ob­ject’ in­deed – is com­plete­ly re­liant on su­per­com­put­er and com­put­er-​based mod­elling, as schol­ars such as Wendy Chun (2011) have point­ed out.

In my writ­ings, I have tried to mo­bi­lize non­hu­man agen­cies, such as virus­es and in­sects, as ways to in­ves­ti­gate the ma­te­ri­al. How­ev­er, I have been keen to anal­yse such di­men­sions of epis­te­mol­ogy and on­tol­ogy his­tor­ical­ly; a me­dia ar­chae­ol­ogy of virus­es, as well as in­sects, for in­stance. In What is Me­dia Ar­chae­ol­ogy? (2012), I want­ed to ac­knowl­edge the ex­is­tence of var­ious ma­te­ri­al­ities in cur­rent the­ory de­bates. In­deed, what I am in­ter­est­ed in is the en­tan­gle­ment of po­lit­ical the­ories that speak of af­fects and non­hu­mans in re­la­tion to, for ex­am­ple, labour and ne­olib­er­al­ism, but where we should al­so ac­knowl­edge the ex­is­tence of eco­log­ical con­cerns as well. The big ques­tion is how could we cross­breed such tra­di­tions of po­lit­ical ma­te­ri­al­ism as a re­de­vel­oped post-​Fordist in­quiry, along­side the on­to­log­ical projects con­cerned with an­imals and na­ture. Some smart philoso­phers like Braidot­ti do this – by point­ing to the mas­sive ex­ploita­tion of an­imals in the same sen­tence as wom­en in cur­rent glob­al economies.

MD: In your own re­cent work, you have sig­naled a need to con­front ‘dirty mat­ter’ (pol­lu­tion, waste, eco­log­ical de­struc­tion) in a ges­ture to Spinozan ethics. What are some of the dif­fi­cul­ties in elab­orat­ing a pol­itics at the in­ter­sec­tion of me­dia, ma­te­ri­al­ism and ecol­ogy?

JP: I agree with a lot of re­cent the­orists of the non­hu­man, in­clud­ing the OOO-​group, that there is a cer­tain dead-​end feel­ing to the trump card of ‘pol­itics.’ I felt this same prob­lem dur­ing my PhD pe­ri­od (work­ing on soft­ware cul­ture, virus­es, tech­no­log­ical ac­ci­dents) when try­ing to ar­tic­ulate my own po­si­tion in re­la­tion to rep­re­sen­ta­tion­al cri­tique in cul­tur­al and me­dia stud­ies: how to com­mit to a pol­itics of gen­der, race, and oth­er con­sti­tu­tive in­equal­ities that struc­ture the so­cial, with­out us­ing these cat­egories as a trump card? I re­mem­ber this al­so from some of the com­ments I got ear­ly on re­gard­ing my work on the agen­cy of soft­ware: ‘So where is gen­der, where is race?’ These ques­tions were posed with­out fol­low­ing cul­tur­al stud­ies’ im­por­tant em­pha­sis on sit­uat­ed meth­ods – you can­not use them as pre-​set tem­plates or stamps of ‘Cri­tique,’ but you need to in­ves­ti­gate im­ma­nent­ly the ‘mat­ters of con­cern’ (to use La­tour’s con­cept) and pri­mar­ily ask what is the rel­evant ques­tion specif­ical­ly in re­la­tion to dif­fer­ent ma­te­ri­al­ities and so­cial pro­cess­es. This does not dis­miss at all ques­tions of gen­der, which I feel re­luc­tant to leave be­hind. I am adamant­ly a fem­inist the­orist in the wake of the ex­pand­ed ma­te­ri­al­ism of Eliz­abeth Grosz, Braidot­ti and, for in­stance, Barad, and ex­act­ly be­cause of that I feel the need to find an im­ma­nent re­la­tion to pol­itics. Their ap­proach­es are fan­tas­tic in that they con­stant­ly push ques­tions of gen­der, sex­ual­ity and in­equal­ity in­to such transver­sal con­nec­tions which links wom­en’s stud­ies to an­imal stud­ies, ecol­ogy, cap­ital­ism, and so on.

In terms of think­ing about pol­itics, I be­lieve a com­pa­ra­ble stance was voiced re­cent­ly by McKen­zie Wark. Be­yond a fan­ta­sy of pol­itics, there are is­sues that de­mand some sort of a re­sponse that can­not just be hid­den be­hind a vague term like ‘pol­itics.’ Wark re­minds us that such things as cap­ital­ism, ex­ploita­tion, op­pres­sion, in­equal­ity and cli­mate crises ex­ist, but that we need to be ready to ‘in­vent new prac­tices, draw­ing on past ex­pe­ri­ences, which might help, but with­out in­vok­ing the pro­tec­tive fan­ta­sy of pol­itics, which is no more re­al than God’ (2012).

For me, this re­lates to spe­cif­ic prac­tices that al­so elab­orate the ug­ly side of mat­ter. Ex­ploita­tion and ex­haus­tion are one – bod­ies are fi­nite, eas­ily worn out, de­pressed, and dy­nam­ics of mat­ter can be rather slow. I find Bi­fo’s notes on this as­pect of ne­olib­er­al cap­ital­ism im­por­tant. It is an eco­log­ical stance to­wards ma­te­ri­al­ism, where the ab­stract ma­te­ri­al­ism of glob­al cap­ital­ism – whether that of trade routes, ship­ping con­tain­ers or, for in­stance, fi­bre op­tic ca­bles, satel­lites and oth­er sig­nal-​based ma­te­ri­al­ities – has a re­la­tion to oth­er scales of ma­te­ri­al­ity, for ex­am­ple, that of the psy­cho-​phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal mod­ula­tion of moods: the use of an­ti-​de­pres­sants and oth­er chem­icals as an in­te­gral part of the man­age­ment of the net­work cul­ture sub­ject (Be­rar­di 2009).

And then, non­hu­man things can al­so be ‘bad.’ Tox­ic, pol­lut­ing and haz­ardous ma­te­ri­als are some­thing that need at­ten­tion as well – a dirty ma­te­ri­al­ism that res­onates with Jane Ben­nett’s ‘vi­brant mat­ter,’ but al­so kills things. By this I mean that the dy­nam­ic agen­cy of mat­ter, its re­fresh­ing agen­cy that in­spires the­orists, has al­so this re­al­ity to it that we need to be aware of. The ma­te­ri­al­ism of me­dia tech­nolo­gies in­cludes al­so – be­sides the non­hu­man fre­quen­cies, speeds and math­emat­ical com­plex­ity of, for in­stance, com­put­ers – chem­icals and haz­ardous ma­te­ri­als that leak in­to na­ture af­ter be­ing aban­doned. Un­der­paid work­ers are em­ployed in con­di­tions that are di­rect­ly haz­ardous to their health. Kit­tler (1990) pro­duced his the­ory of me­dia ma­te­ri­al­ism and the so-​called hu­man be­ing on the fig­ure of Dr Schre­ber, the ner­vous­ly ill high court judge who hal­lu­ci­nat­ed what for Kit­tler were the emerg­ing late 19th cen­tu­ry tech­ni­cal me­dia that in­scribe them­selves on our flesh and no­tate our most minute ac­tions and thoughts. This defin­ing body of mod­ern tech­ni­cal me­dia might now need to be re­placed with a dif­fer­ent sort of paradig­mat­ic body: that of the un­der­paid Chi­nese work­er or the dead me­dia sal­vager in Nige­ria, whose bod­ies are more vul­ner­able to the tox­ic mat­ter of me­dia. Their bod­ies very ma­te­ri­al­ly, in their or­gan­ic tis­sue, reg­is­ter what me­dia are made of: lead, cad­mi­um, cop­per, mer­cury, bar­ium, and so on. The non-​con­scious hal­lu­ci­na­tions of Schre­ber are re­placed in this sug­ges­tion with the non-​con­scious, non-​vol­un­tary bod­ily lay­ers of tis­sue on which ma­te­ri­al­ity is reg­is­tered.

MD: How has hu­man­ism been con­ceived by these new paradigms af­ter ‘the hu­man’? De­spite the con­stant em­pha­sis on things, ob­jects, mat­ter and the non­hu­man, for in­stance, it of­ten seems that many so-​called new ma­te­ri­al­ist the­ories re­solve in­to spe­cif­ic world­views.

JP: In­deed, the ques­tion is: how do we co­or­di­nate the ques­tion­ing of the hu­man and the non­hu­man in re­la­tion to our the­oret­ical in­ter­est in ma­te­ri­al­ity, re­al­ity, things and pro­cess­es. I ar­gue that one of the key is­sues we need to con­stant­ly re­mind our­selves of has to do with how the hu­man it­self is com­plete­ly non­hu­man. The hu­man is an ide­al­isa­tion, and the Hu­man­ities, for sure, has been one very ef­fec­tive ex­pres­sion as such. This non­hu­man of the hu­man(ities) re­lates to a very em­pir­ical ob­ser­va­tion re­gard­ing the amount of ‘things’ that the hu­man con­sists of as a very dirty, messy and weird­ly still func­tion­al thing: the bac­te­ria that sus­tain us; the ex­oskele­tons of tech­nol­ogy that Bernard Stiegler in his way talks about; the ex­ter­nal­isa­tion of our defin­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics, like mem­ory. As Kit­tler (1999) re­mind­ed us with his wit­ty lit­tle term: we should talk of the ‘so-​called hu­man be­ing.’ Or then, take Si­mon­don. As Muriel Combes ar­tic­ulates in the re­cent­ly trans­lat­ed book Gilbert Si­mon­don and the Phi­los­ophy of the Transin­di­vid­ual, per­haps Si­mon­don must be seen as ar­tic­ulat­ing a ‘‘hu­man­ism af­ter the death of man’ and with­out the hu­man to be built on the ru­ins of an­thro­pol­ogy’ (2012: 50). She con­tin­ues: ‘A hu­man­ism sub­sti­tut­ing the Kan­tian ques­tion ‘What is man?’ with the ques­tion ‘How much po­ten­tial does a hu­man have to go be­yond it­self?’ and al­so ‘What can a hu­man do in­so­far as she is not alone?’’ (50). Those are beau­ti­ful, im­por­tant ques­tions that al­so con­nect ex­act­ly to the in­ter­ests of our em­pir­ical in­quiries.

I was ear­ly on a fan of the idea of La­tour’s that we have nev­er been hu­mans, which we should now in­ves­ti­gate in re­la­tion to our the­oret­ical dis­cours­es: who then ac­tu­al­ly was ‘for’ the pure­ly hu­man world, and can we so adamant­ly claim to be on­ly the­orists of the non­hu­man? How much of the cur­rent the­ory de­bates are tar­get­ed against straw (wo)men?

One of the im­por­tant things we need to be con­scious of is not to get stuck with in­ter­nal the­ory de­bates. The dis­cus­sion con­cern­ing re­al­ism, ma­te­ri­al­ism and the non­hu­man was sup­posed to be a way to get out of the stuffy aca­dem­ic sem­inar rooms – in the same man­ner that Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guat­tari want­ed to trans­port us away from the stuffy psy­cho­an­alyst ther­apy room and couch to the out­doors – and re­al­ly talk about things. We still need to ask our­selves how to avoid the­ory be­com­ing a brand­ing ex­er­cise that ex­press­es some­thing of the cur­rent uni­ver­si­ty cri­sis. How can the­ory be­come more self-​re­flec­tive of the po­si­tion in which it speaks of non­hu­mans? If hu­man­ism es­cort­ed the birth of the uni­ver­si­ty sys­tem in Ear­ly Mod­ern Eu­rope, is non­hu­man(ism) some­thing that is es­cort­ing our cur­rent changes in uni­ver­si­ty sys­tems world­wide? I am here over­play­ing its sig­nif­icance, and I am def­inite­ly not say­ing it is caus­ing this big change, but just that one has to be aware of some of the dis­cus­sions around the­ory as in­dex­ical, symp­tomat­ic of wider changes in terms of our po­lit­ical econ­omy of uni­ver­si­ties. Hav­ing said that, the true symp­tom of the change of the glob­al change re­lates to the man­age­ri­al­ism of uni­ver­si­ties. I am re­fer­ring not on­ly to the changes in in­ter­nal struc­tures and pro­ce­dures of uni­ver­si­ties – and ob­vi­ous­ly I am speak­ing most­ly from my ex­pe­ri­ences of the past five years in the UK – but al­so dis­ci­pline-​wise, the grow­ing cen­tral­ity of man­age­ment and busi­ness cours­es.

This broad­ly, we do need to con­sid­er non-​hu­man­isa­tion as an eco­nom­ic and man­age­ment strat­egy. Be­sides cel­ebrat­ing the the­oret­ical im­por­tance of the non­hu­man, I be­lieve we need to be quite ob­ser­vant of how peo­ple are pushed in­to men­tal and phys­ical ex­haus­tion as part of the man­age­ment of work, both in the so-​called cog­ni­tive cap­ital­ism of the de­vel­oped dig­ital econ­omy, as well as in the phys­ical pro­cess­es of labour ex­ploita­tion on which our life of­ten de­pends: out­sourced fac­to­ries in Chi­na and oth­er places of cheap labour with haz­ardous and de­mean­ing work­ing con­di­tions, ex­ploita­tion of var­ious kinds from sex­ual to just sheer ex­haus­tion. The non­hu­man is al­so a grim man­age­ment strat­egy, a method­ol­ogy of ex­ploita­tion. By this, I do not mean that non­hu­man the­ories con­tribute to this, or ne­glect this as­pect – just that on the agen­da of the non­hu­man there should be a lot of hu­mans too.

MD: Artis­tic prac­tice was al­ways cen­tral to new me­dia stud­ies; you have al­so ex­plored prac­ti­tion­er-​led as­pects of me­dia ar­chae­ol­ogy. As a the­orist, how do you en­gage with and con­cep­tu­al­ize artis­tic work? Does this in­volve, for in­stance, ques­tions of method?

JP: The sym­bi­ot­ic re­la­tion­ship of the new me­dia the­orist and artist is a bizarre one and oth­er peo­ple are bet­ter in track­ing the ge­neal­ogy of this spe­cif­ic con­stel­la­tion of knowl­edge. ‘You do great stuff, so I can write about them, and you can then do more stuff un­der the um­brel­la of crit­ical prac­tice that em­ploys my the­ories.’ But se­ri­ous­ly, artis­tic work is a good vec­tor for thought; and in re­la­tion to the non­hu­man and new ma­te­ri­al­ism, I find a lot of prac­ti­tion­ers more in­ter­est­ing ‘the­orists’ than the ones who write books. For me, the ques­tion of new ma­te­ri­al­ism has to do with sen­si­tiv­ity to­wards work­ing with/in mat­ter: bi­olog­ical me­dia, dirty hard­ware prac­tices such as Mi­crore­search Lab (Berlin/Lon­don), the Al­go­rhyth­mics project of Shin­taro Miyaza­ki, Weise 7-stu­dio and the Crit­ical En­gi­neer­ing-​bunch, dif­fer­ent sorts of art projects that deal with, for in­stance, the cli­mate, as well as what could be called psy­cho­geo­physics – a range of phe­nom­ena out­side hu­man tem­po­ral­ity. For me per­son­al­ly, some of the best projects I have worked with have been col­lab­ora­tive ideas with artists. I want to men­tion es­pe­cial­ly the work with Gar­net Hertz (2012) that pro­duced the Zom­bie Me­dia text, but which it­self was a shift in the way I un­der­stand de­sign and art prac­tice and their re­la­tion to ecol­ogy. It opened up a new agen­da in my head con­cern­ing me­dia ma­te­ri­al­ism that was then catal­ysed, of course, by such the­orists as Sean Cu­bitt, al­ready hav­ing worked on eco­me­dia-​re­lat­ed themes.

I am in­ter­est­ed in rather ma­te­ri­al artis­tic method­olo­gies that through rough meth­ods take a stance in re­la­tion to, for in­stance, hard­ware. Sev­er­al me­dia ar­chae­olog­ical artists work like that. Paul De­mari­nis is to me just such an ex­per­imenter with the ma­te­ri­al af­for­dances of things. Erk­ki Huh­ta­mo once coined him as a ‘thinker­er,’ a mix of think­ing and tin­ker­ing. For me, the im­por­tant bit is the preser­va­tion of the tin­ker­ing spir­it that of­fers a more im­por­tant way to ap­proach dig­ital econ­omy than the ide­alised – and now in the UK hege­mon­ic – em­pha­sis on (pro­pri­etary) soft­ware at the core of the in­no­va­tion jar­gon that fills us through man­age­ment and busi­ness schools, but al­so is creep­ing in­side hu­man­ities and art schools too.

It is in a way dif­fi­cult to con­cep­tu­alise artis­tic work, and I am not sure if it al­ways needs it. This does not mean that these artis­tic meth­ods should be left just to do their stuff, with us re­spect­ing their au­tonomous na­ture. I think the sym­bio­sis is great, and is a sort of metabolism: an ex­change of ideas, in­flu­ences, di­rec­tions. It just works in a dif­fer­ent sort of ex­pres­sion than us do­ing it with words. Key aes­thet­ic ar­gu­ments, for in­stance, Jacques Ran­cière’s no­tions of polic­ing the sen­si­ble and the pol­itics of the aes­thet­ic as a pri­ma­ry al­lo­ca­tion of what is, are what are any­way al­ready mo­bi­lized in terms of aes­thet­ic prac­tice. I see var­ious soft­ware and hard­ware projects in­ves­ti­gat­ing the con­di­tions of the vi­su­al and more broad­ly, the sen­si­ble, but through very con­crete ways. For in­stance, how do net­work tech­nolo­gies gov­ern the af­fec­tive and sen­si­ble ori­en­ta­tions of hu­mans in ur­ban set­tings? Or what is the re­la­tion of the al­go­rith­mic to the hu­man sen­si­ble?

MD: Matthew Fuller has writ­ten on art for an­imals – a no­tion that you have ex­tend­ed in terms of in­sect life. How can art specif­ical­ly be de­fined in re­la­tion to new ma­te­ri­al­ism? How does this dif­fer from post-​Kan­tian aes­thet­ics or twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry me­dia the­ory?

JP: You are quite right to pro­pose that my ‘in­sect me­dia’ idea is ba­si­cal­ly an aesthico-​ma­te­ri­al­ist no­tion that ap­proach­es aes­thet­ics through em­bod­iment. Think of it as an aca­dem­ic, me­dia-​the­oret­ical con­tin­ua­tion of a pas­sage from Guil­laume Apol­li­naire’s Bes­tiary:

Look at this lousy crowd,

A thou­sand feet, a hun­dred eyes:

Ro­tifers and in­sects, mites

And mi­crobes – all more won­der­ful

Than the sev­en won­ders of the world

Or even Rose­monde’s palace!

(Apol­li­naire, 1911/1980: 22)

This in­volves a fas­ci­na­tion with such won­ders of al­ter­na­tive em­bod­iment, which does not sole­ly take such worlds of mi­crobes and mites as its ob­ject, but tries to think what it means to oc­cu­py such a po­si­tion for the­ory and me­dia ar­chae­ol­ogy. Fuller’s (2005) me­dia eco­log­ical per­spec­tive grounds a non­hu­man aes­thet­ic an­gle through which a cer­tain Deleuzian no­tion of ‘be­com­ing-​an­imal’ be­comes mo­bi­lized in art prac­tices. It achieves a strong sense of method­olog­ical val­ue. My in­sect me­dia-​ap­proach is pig­gy­back­ing on this (Parik­ka 2011). In­sect me­dia is a way to think of the non­hu­man-​cen­tred ways of sen­sa­tion. In­deed, it is aes­thet­ics rather less in the En­light­en­ment con­sid­er­ations of art, but has to do with modes of sen­sa­tion, per­cep­tion, mem­ory, em­bod­iment that are not fo­cused on the pri­or­ity of be­ings with two legs, two eyes, two ears. This does not mean com­ing up with art/de­sign prac­tices that would be com­plete­ly alien to the hu­man be­ing, but de­vel­op­ing a sen­si­tiv­ity to the ways in which sur­faces, sounds, vi­su­als pro­vide af­for­dances for our sen­sa­tion. Be­sides dis­cussing such im­por­tant fig­ures of post-​Kan­tian aes­thet­ics and me­dia the­ory as Jakob von Uexküll, I find Si­mon­don so help­ful for pro­vid­ing ideas for this way of think­ing: he gives us a vo­cab­ulary of in­di­vid­ua­tion, col­lec­tives and mi­lieus that are all in­ter­re­lat­ed and co-​con­sti­tut­ing. In oth­er words, Si­mon­don presents the force of the re­la­tion in such a way that al­ready begs the ques­tion of the me­di­at­ic – not on­ly be­cause of the seem­ing­ly di­rect con­nec­tion of re­la­tion-​medi­um, but be­cause of the me­di­at­ic, me­dia tech­nolo­gies as one such mi­lieu in which in­di­vid­ua­tion hap­pens. Of course, Stiegler has ad­di­tion­al­ly made im­por­tant ad­vances in re­la­tion to such ideas.

In any case, twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry me­dia the­ory has al­ready an in­ter­est­ing re­la­tion to the bi­olog­ical. It is not my in­ven­tion; it just has to be dis­cov­ered. Ge­of­frey-​Winthrop Young among oth­ers has been in­ter­est­ed in this as­pect. Such fig­ures as, for in­stance, von Uexküll are now be­ing rethought in re­la­tion to our wider me­dia the­ory and aes­thet­ic de­bates. Mat­teo Pasquinel­li does great work on a me­dia the­ory ge­neaol­ogy of biopol­itics, in­clud­ing dis­cus­sions of Ernst Haeck­el and Kurt Gold­stein, but al­so of non-​hu­man ‘thought’ of, for in­stance, yeast!

Ger­mans have been ahead of the curve in some ways with their metic­ulous re­search in­to the 19th cen­tu­ry post-​Kan­tian wave of aes­thet­ics – but through very phys­io­log­ical­ly ground­ed ap­proach­es. Ex­per­imen­tal psy­chol­ogy and phys­iol­ogy al­ready ear­ly on of­fered ma­te­ri­al, em­pir­ical ways of un­der­stand­ing hu­mans and oth­er an­imals - lab­ora­to­ry-​based mea­sure­ments of what ex­act­ly hap­pens when we sense the world. Even if we might deem this re­duc­tion­ist as an aes­thet­ic the­ory, we need to un­der­stand what it brings to a me­di­at­ic un­der­stand­ing of the world. At times, this means that me­dia the­ory must find a com­mon tune with sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy stud­ies, and through such part­ner­ships of method­olog­ical and the­oret­ical in­quiry, of­fer un­der­stand­ings of aes­thet­ics in new his­tor­ical, me­di­at­ic ways. Hen­ning Schmidgen’s book on Her­mann von Helmholtz Die Helmholtz-​Kur­ven: Auf der Spur der ver­lore­nen Zeit (2010) is a great ex­am­ple of such an an­gle.

MD: De­bates on spec­ula­tive re­al­ism, ob­ject-​ori­en­tat­ed-​on­tol­ogy (OOO) and new ma­te­ri­al­ism have a no­table pres­ence on so­cial me­dia plat­forms, blogs and open ac­cess jour­nals. In your ex­pe­ri­ence, what pos­si­bil­ities and po­ten­tial is­sues con­cern­ing the pro­duc­tion of knowl­edge ex­ist here, es­pe­cial­ly for the fig­ure of the in­tel­lec­tu­al?

JP: Such trends are a good recog­ni­tion of the fact that the­ory does not hap­pen on­ly in­side uni­ver­si­ties and class­rooms. It needs to be ar­tic­ulat­ed on plat­forms and fo­rums that are them­selves forc­ing us to think of how and where we write as the­orists. For sure, open ac­cess jour­nals are in­stru­men­tal in try­ing to keep the­oret­ical and aca­dem­ic re­search alive, but that is not enough. The big­ger ques­tion has to do with the wider recog­ni­tion sys­tem and po­lit­ical econ­omy of uni­ver­si­ties and pub­lish­ing. This as­pect is at times ne­glect­ed in the en­thu­si­asm for open pub­lish­ing. For sure, it is great that new jour­nals that are open to wider publics are pop­ping up. But this does not nec­es­sar­ily have much ef­fect on academia as a work­ing en­vi­ron­ment and one place for cul­tur­al tech­niques of the­ory. In the UK, one of the biggest bot­tle­necks is the Re­search Eval­ua­tion Frame­work (REF), which has a ten­den­cy to val­orize more es­tab­lished pub­lish­ers and jour­nals. This is how REF sub­mis­sions work: by be­ing con­ser­va­tive in their na­ture, and pro­mot­ing the cer­tain, al­ready set po­lit­ical econ­omy of pub­lish­ing that is geared to­wards the big Amer­ican uni­ver­si­ty press­es and then the jour­nal pub­lish­ers that are mak­ing quite the prof­it from their sta­tus. Launch­ing a new open ac­cess jour­nal is not an au­to­mat­ic so­lu­tion. If you are an ear­ly ca­reer aca­dem­ic – or even es­tab­lished re­searcher for that mat­ter – you are not en­cour­aged to pub­lish in such venues. This is not on­ly the case of REF, but of var­ious oth­er na­tion­al aca­dem­ic pub­lish­ing recog­ni­tion sys­tems, in­clud­ing Fin­land and, for in­stance, Turkey. Such frame­works are fun­da­men­tal­ly a polic­ing (again in Ran­cière’s terms) of the aca­dem­ic world: an al­lo­ca­tion of po­si­tions of pow­er, a man­age­ment per­spec­tive to knowl­edge, as well as a cre­ation of a cer­tain com­mon­ness as a hori­zon for mea­sure­ment of academia so that it can be in­deed al­lo­cat­ed and mon­etised.

For sure, it is not the fault of the­ory that this hap­pens, but whether we still have found the right strate­gies and tools to deal with this po­lit­ical econ­omy of academia in the ne­olib­er­al age is an­oth­er ques­tion. So­cial me­dia is a great plat­form for the ar­tic­ula­tion of shared prob­lems, re­sources and lines of thought. And yet, it al­so con­sol­idates cer­tain be­havioural pat­terns that have a res­onance with the change in the sta­tus of high­er ed­uca­tion in­sti­tu­tions. As for the fig­ure of the in­tel­lec­tu­al, or let’s use a less grand term ‘aca­dem­ic,’ I think one in­ter­est­ing and not al­ways un­prob­lem­at­ic de­vel­op­ment is the de­mand for self-​brand­ing. This is not the fault of blogs, but so­cial me­dia does play its part in this. At the same time as uni­ver­si­ties are in­creas­ing­ly adapt­ing the role of a cor­po­ra­tion for which part of its busi­ness mod­el has to do with a pub­lic­ity sta­tus, aca­demics are en­cour­aged to in­crease their vis­ibil­ity to the out­side world. Noth­ing wrong with that, but it does al­so feed to­wards a cer­tain brand cul­ture where so­cial me­dia plat­forms are al­so plat­forms of per­for­mance – al­so for crit­ical the­ory. The re­al life of a queer the­orist feeds the street-​cred of his or her the­ory, and the wit­ty tweets of a crit­ical the­orist are nice ex­ten­sions of the just re­cent­ly pub­lished book. The mod­el of TED-​talks, which fright­en­ing­ly are so of­ten mis­per­ceived as the ide­alised core of academia, are ex­em­plary of this dream sub­ject of cur­rent new academia: more pub­lic-​fac­ing, more per­for­ma­tive, more en­ter­tain­ing, bet­ter jokes and con­tent di­gestible in short for­mats. Down to the ges­tures, the style, the me­di­atised na­ture of TED-​talks, the cul­ture of PR and con­sul­tan­cy is pen­etrat­ing ex­pec­ta­tions con­cern­ing the aca­dem­ic too. Even stu­dents are guid­ed to ex­pect that. Fun­nier lec­tur­ers do get bet­ter feed­back scor­ing, which the man­age­ment loves to see.

MD: Speak­ing of these per­for­mance mea­sures and these new con­texts of knowl­edge and con­cept work, af­ter ex­plor­ing com­put­er virus­es, in­sect me­dia and me­dia ar­chae­ol­ogy in gen­er­al, your lat­est work is con­cerned with cog­ni­tive cap­ital­ism and Bern­hard Siegert’s con­cept of cul­tur­al tech­niques. Can you elab­orate on these con­cerns and what specif­ical­ly drives this new line of in­quiry?

JP: I have made an in­for­mal promise to my­self that I would not use the term ‘me­dia ar­chae­ol­ogy’ any­more – at least not in any of my fu­ture books’ ti­tles! I have writ­ten about virus­es (Parik­ka, 2007), in­sects and on­ly re­cent­ly of the the­ory and method­ol­ogy of me­dia ar­chae­ol­ogy, but no­ticed that I have used the term a lot. I am cur­rent­ly work­ing with Ge­off Winthrop-​Young and Il­in­ca Iuras­cu on a spe­cial is­sue (forth­com­ing 2013) on cul­tur­al tech­niques – a con­tin­ua­tion of Ger­man me­dia the­ory that pro­duces a dif­fer­ent twist to that of Kit­tler’s. In short, cul­tur­al tech­niques are, to use Thomas Ma­cho’s so of­ten quot­ed pas­sage, what pre­cede our key cul­tur­al con­cepts (2003). Sym­bol­ic prac­tices such as writ­ing, read­ing and math­emat­ics (count­ing), but al­so em­bod­ied ones such as paint­ing and mu­sic. The idea is not mere­ly a re­vamp­ing of Mar­cel Mauss’ an­thro­po­log­ical con­cept of body tech­niques, but con­tin­ues it to em­pha­sise how im­por­tant a role me­dia plays in the ground­ing of ‘cul­ture.’ Hence, like Bern­hard Siegert re­minds his read­ers, the no­tion of medi­um re­lates to tech­niques of the body but more wide­ly to ‘on­to­log­ical and aes­thet­ic op­er­ations that pro­cess dis­tinc­tions’ (2011: 14).

We have re­al­ly sig­nif­icant re­search to ex­ca­vate from the Ger­man tra­di­tion – so much of it yet to be trans­lat­ed,-- which I am sure will have sig­nif­icant ef­fect on the in­ter­na­tion­al dis­cus­sions. I can­not wait for the day when for in­stance Siegert’s Pas­sage des Dig­ital­en (2003) is pub­lished in En­glish – a huge book about the sign prac­tices of dig­ital cul­ture, but from with­in ‘pre-​dig­ital’ con­texts. It in­cludes such great lines of con­nec­tion, from prac­tices of map­mak­ing, colo­nial­ism and book­keep­ing, to the emer­gence of mod­ern log­ic and elec­tro-​me­chan­ical cul­ture.

So at the mo­ment I am in­ter­est­ed to see if a cross­breed­ing of some of the me­dia-​cen­tred method­olo­gies from the Ger­man per­spec­tive with Ital­ian post-​Fordist po­lit­ical the­ory could pro­duce some­thing ex­cit­ing. This is a crude gen­er­al­isa­tion, but one could say that where­as Ger­man me­dia stud­ies has not re­al­ly been that in­ter­est­ed in ques­tions of cap­ital­ism and labour, Ital­ian and re­lat­ed po­lit­ical the­ory has not al­ways been able to ground its un­der­stand­ing of prac­tices of labour and ex­ploita­tion in suf­fi­cient me­dia-​speci­fici­ty. Hence, no­tions such as cog­ni­tive cap­ital­ism could be his­tori­cised and read in more de­tailed me­dia cul­tur­al terms to un­der­stand how me­dia tech­niques in­deed mo­bi­lize on­to­log­ical and aes­thet­ic op­er­ations so im­por­tant to what we, a bit broad­ly nowa­days, call ‘cog­ni­tive cap­ital­ism,’ Take, for in­stance, Yann Mouli­er Boutang’s re­cent­ly trans­lat­ed book Cog­ni­tive Cap­ital­ism (2012): could one mo­bi­lize that to­wards a re­al­ly ma­te­ri­al me­dia the­ory di­rec­tion? Or, for that mat­ter Bi­fo, or Laz­zara­to, all of who do write about me­dia cul­ture, but in a slight­ly more gen­er­al man­ner than the Ger­man me­dia schol­ar-​style in­sists on. And to take in­to ac­count the tech­no-​math­emat­ic op­er­ations, and in­deed soft­ware and hard­ware, that con­tribute to sus­tain­ing such a phan­tasm of cog­ni­tive, cere­bral cap­ital­ism. Let’s see if this work comes out as a big­ger project con­cern­ing the cul­tur­al tech­niques of cog­ni­tive and af­fec­tive cap­ital­ism. If it does, I am sure to be more in­ter­est­ed in the less brainy sides in cog­ni­tive cap­ital­ism, which means a fo­cus on top­ics of ex­haus­tion, rep­eti­tion, hard work and stu­pid­ity.

Fur­ther­more, about the cross­breed­ing of tra­di­tions: they are all hy­brids any­way. Ger­man me­dia the­ory was nev­er just ‘Ger­man.’ It was filled with in­spi­ra­tion, in­sights and par­al­lel lines that res­onat­ed with a more glob­al con­text: Cana­di­an me­dia stud­ies, French phi­los­ophy, the Greeks, and more. Wolf­gang Ernst has been in­ter­ests in Rus­sian tra­di­tions of com­put­ing and cy­ber­net­ics. Siegfried Zielin­ski has been a fore­run­ner in re­al­ly ex­pand­ing our me­dia art his­to­ry ex­ca­va­tions to non-​Eu­ro­pean di­rec­tions - the South-​Amer­ican, Arab and, for in­stance, Chi­nese his­to­ries where me­dia, art and sci­ences over­lap.


Works Cit­ed

Guil­laume Apol­li­naire, The Bes­tiary, or Pro­ces­sion of Or­pheus, trans. Pepe Karmel, Boston: David R. Go­dine, 1980.

Fran­co ‘Bi­fo’ Be­rar­di, The Soul At Work: From Alien­ation to Au­ton­omy, trans. Francesca Cadel and Giusep­pina Mec­chia, 2009.

Wendy Hui Ky­ong Chun, ‘Cri­sis, Cri­sis, Cri­sis, or Sovereign­ty and Net­works’, The­ory, Cul­ture & So­ci­ety 28.6 (2011): 91-112.

Muriel Combes, Gilbert Si­mon­don and the Phi­los­ophy of the Transin­di­vid­ual, trans. Thomas LaMarre, Cam­bridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012.

Rick Dol­phi­jn and Iris van der Tu­in, New Ma­te­ri­al­ism: In­ter­views and Car­togra­phies, Open Hu­man­ities Press, 2012; http://open­hu­man­​ma­te­ri­al­ism.html

Matthew Fuller, Me­dia Ecolo­gies: Ma­te­ri­al­ist En­er­gies in Art and Tech­no­cul­ture, Cam­bridge, MA: MIT Press, 2005.

Friedrich A. Kit­tler, Dis­course Net­works, 1800/1900, trans. Michael Met­teer with Chris Cul­lens, Stan­ford: Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1990.

—. Gramo­phone, Film, Type­writ­er, trans. Ge­of­frey Winthrop-​Young and Michael Wutz, Stan­ford: Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty Press, 1999.

Thomas Ma­cho, ‘Zeit und Zahl: Kalen­der- und Zeitrech­nung als Kul­turtech­niken,’ in Sybille Krämer and Horst Bre­dekamp (eds) Bild-​Schrift-​Zahl, Mu­nich: Wil­helm Fink Ver­lag, 2003, pp. 179–192.

Yann Mouli­er-​Boutang, Cog­ni­tive Cap­ital­ism, Cam­bridge: Poli­ty, 2012.

Jus­si Parik­ka, Dig­ital Con­ta­gions: A Me­dia Ar­chae­ol­ogy of Com­put­er Virus­es, New York: Pe­ter Lang, 2007.

—. In­sect Me­dia: An Ar­chae­ol­ogy of An­imals and Tech­nol­ogy, Min­neapo­lis: Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta Press, 2010.

—. What is Me­dia Ar­chae­ol­ogy?, Cam­bridge: Poli­ty, 2012.

Jus­si Parik­ka and Gar­net Hertz, ‘Zom­bie Me­dia: Cir­cuit Bend­ing Me­dia Ar­chae­ol­ogy in­to an Art Method’, Leonar­do 45.5 (2012): 424-430.

Hen­ning Schmidgen, Die Helmholtz Kur­ven: Auf der Spur der ver­lore­nen Zeit, Berlin: Merve Ver­lag, 2010.

Bern­hard Siegert, Pas­sage des Dig­ital­en, Berlin: Brinkmann und Bose, 2003.

—. ‘The Map Is The Ter­ri­to­ry’, Rad­ical Phi­los­ophy 169 (2011): 13-16.

McKen­zie Wark, ‘Pre­oc­cu­py­ing’, The Oc­cu­pied Times (2012),


Stephen Crofts Wi­ley, ‘Spa­tial Ma­te­ri­al­ism’, Cul­tur­al Stud­ies 19.1 (2005): 63-99.


Jus­si Parik­ka is a me­dia the­orist, writ­er and Read­er in Me­dia & De­sign at Winch­ester School of Art (Uni­ver­si­ty of Southamp­ton). Parik­ka has a PhD in Cul­tur­al His­to­ry from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Turku, Fin­land and in ad­di­tion, he is Ad­junct Pro­fes­sor (‘do­cent’) of Dig­ital Cul­ture The­ory at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Turku, Fin­land. In ad­di­tion, he is a Se­nior Fel­low at the Winch­ester Cen­tre for Glob­al Fu­tures in Art De­sign &Me­dia.

Parik­ka’s books in­clude Ko­neop­pi, (2004, in Finnish) and Dig­ital Con­ta­gions: A Me­dia Ar­chae­ol­ogy of Com­put­er Virus­es is pub­lished by Pe­ter Lang, New York, Dig­ital For­ma­tions-​se­ries (2007). The re­cent­ly pub­lished In­sect Me­dia: An Ar­chae­ol­ogy of An­imals and Tech­nol­ogy (2010) fo­cus­es on the me­dia the­oret­ical and his­tor­ical in­ter­con­nec­tions of bi­ol­ogy and tech­nol­ogy and was pub­lished in the Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta Press Posthu­man­ities-​se­ries. The co-​edit­ed col­lec­tion The Spam Book: On Virus­es, Porn, and Oth­er Anoma­lies from the Dark Side of Dig­ital Cul­ture is pub­lished by Hamp­ton Press, and Me­dia Ar­chae­ol­ogy: Ap­proach­es, Ap­pli­ca­tions, Im­pli­ca­tions came out with Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­ifor­nia Press (June 2011). In ad­di­tion, the edit­ed col­lec­tion Me­di­ana­tures: The Ma­te­ri­al­ity of In­for­ma­tion Tech­nol­ogy and Elec­tron­ic Waste is out in the new Liv­ing Books About Life-​project (Open Hu­man­ities Press). His new book, What is Me­dia Ar­chae­ol­ogy? (Poli­ty), is just out.

His ar­ti­cles have been pub­lished e.g. in The­ory, Cul­ture & So­ci­ety, CThe­ory, Leonar­do, Me­dia His­to­ry, Par­al­lax, Post­mod­ern Cul­ture, Game Stud­ies and Fi­brecul­ture, as well as in sev­er­al Finnish jour­nals and books. In ad­di­tion to En­glish and Finnish, his texts have been pub­lished in Por­tuguese, Pol­ish, and In­done­sian. Cur­rent­ly Parik­ka is in­ter­est­ed in the con­cept of the aes­theti­co-​tech­ni­cal as well as ma­te­ri­al­ity of e-​waste.

Michael Di­eter is a lec­tur­er at Uni­ver­si­ty of Am­ster­dam in new me­dia and as­so­ciate re­searcher at Le­uphana Uni­ver­si­ty of Lüneb­urg. His work is con­cerned with me­dia the­ory, aes­thet­ic phi­los­ophy and ma­te­ri­al­ism.

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