[-empyre-] the pitfalls of trendy theory and popular art projects

Baruch Gottlieb bg at transmediale.de
Thu Feb 9 06:11:07 EST 2012

On Feb 8, 2012, at 11:01 AM, Gabriel Menotti wrote:

>> Media Archaeology is
>> thus really a fashion, something inordinately hyped to sell more books,
>> music, clothes, etc... […] Meanwhile,
>> Zielinski is always (if he still uses the label)  explicitly not a media
>> archaeologist but a Media (an)archaeologist, a practice which has been
>> increasingly one of biographing the anarchic margins of western thought and
>> knowledge.  [Baruch Gottlieb]
> To be diluted/ crystallized seems to be the gloomy fate of every
> theoretical framework that becomes originally successful and is then
> propagated and made trendy. Was Zielinski quick to jump off the boat
> of “anarcheology” before it felt prey to the same cycle?

I would have to ask Prof. Zielinski about his interest in the term 'archaeology' in general today. But one must be careful to leave the space for the multiple interpretations possible of the word.  Archaeology, is not necessary (and certainly not originally, c.1600) all about arkhon, but from archaeo- (ancient, primeval, etc.) so although there is the tease of anarchy in (an)archaeology, there is also, and this features prominently in his book "Deep Time of the Media" (which was published at the apogee of his use of the expression) , a challenge to chronology which posits the past firmly in the past. 

 To call anarchaeology a 'boat' would imply that he was expecting it to take him somewhere, and it would seem it has. And instead of setting up a ship-building enterprise, or even writing much travel literature about the voyage, he hopped on the next boat 'variantology' which transported him through 5 massive books of wonderful encounters.  

But it is true, an expression, like Object Oriented Philosophy can be used to help a thinker/writer/professor acquire the imprimatur of pertinence or authenticity.  It obviously helps people trying to capitalize on that particular cultural producer by defining market sector,enhancing the producer's attractiveness to the capitalist.   Everybody needs shortcuts to cut through the "écume des jours" and get at what they are looking for, labels, terms, and also prizes, imprimantur are instrumental in that regard. 

> Should we spend our lives running from the conceptual edifices we
> spend so much time to build, right before they are gentrified? Or
> should we do something to barricade them and prevent the occupation of
> the masses?

Conceptual architectures, like the physical constructions we encounter in the street are only apparently complete. Once the hoarding comes down and the people move in, come the heterogenous cultural processes which always follow construction, (due to the attrition of being-in-the-world, corruption, decay, etc. ) maintenance, repair, renovation.   But conceptual constructions of philosophers are not meant to be lived in, or used as places for business. To my mind, they are more theoretical or (to use a very fashionable world) speculative social constructions, which attempt to test the boundaries of analogo-architechtonic stability in a world composed of unfinished but persistent socio-physical relations. They cannot be occupied, at best they are landmarks.
> On the other hand, is there really anything wrong with the hype? When
> something becomes fashionable (e.g. Deleuze, incompatibility,
> practice-based PhDs), what is lost (if anything)?

I  see hype as a kind "Rausch" (ecstasy, intoxication) meant, like any drug, to afford everyone quick release from the troubling and troubled, murky and murked-up, but finally uncomplicated and unacceptable reality of politics.    Deleuzo-Guattarians, on the other hand (or on the same hand) flit out on 'lines of flight' tracing signatures of emancipation in escape. Hype attempts to draw 'lines of flight' into capitalizable 'movements'. But revolution is a circular movement, a mechanical cycle (or spiral) you either try living life on the edge where things change fast, or dwell on the axle, in either case the fundamental inquiry would be about the 'prime mover'.  And metaphysics is useless today unless it can concretize into a (hyped) product, at which point it also becomes politics.

> Baruch, I can’t help but think that this dilemma of popularity is
> similar to the one you faced with the iMine application. During the
> Transmediale seminar you raised the question of whether the viral
> dissemination of the project would be beneficial (or even necessary)
> to it. Could you bring to the list some of your considerations on
> that?

Yes, well, let me put it this way: it would be over-indulgent to write a long essay to elaborate this point here, but brevity would oversimplify and even, commodify (aren't we all trying to market ourselves as thinkers here on Empyre?) the theme.  I am in Borges' "On Exactitude in Science" dilemma here, but I have a way out, or a way in, as it may be. 

 iMine is Dismalware. It is not meant to be fun or offer any satisfying catharsis, the problem it portrays is by now familiar to most working (and here I mean academically and artistically (i.e. the so-called "critical practices")) with digital media, the problem of the labour conditions at a central material source of our digital technology, the mines. Every day a new article comes out about conditions along the electronics supply chain, the e-waste problem, etc. How can we face this while still inexorably being brought into an ever more intensively technologized environment?

Especially, in iMine the question is how can we can integrate the immense cruelty which is pervasively, inextricably, and permanently at the core of material production into our generation of digital utopianism. The answer, of course, is that we have never been less cruel as a race than we are today.  The problem of necessary human sacrifice has moved (as trendy philo M. Serres points out in  L'Incandescent)  from the volcano top and pyramid altars to the televised evening news, or twitter feed. 

The problem  seems complex, but it is simple.  We have always tolerated or even depended on human sacrifice in the interest of 'higher goals'.  Should iMine go viral, how much of this invitation to sober and methodical contemplation on such a theme will be accepted?  The situation on the ground  will not be improved through downloading an app. Only genuine personal implication and research will help to transform the one person who can be affected by it.  To this end, I have compiled and continue to update a list of related informational resources on the site, and keep a facebook group for users to discuss their experience of the project.  I stand by the project and engage others attracted by it to help unravel the reality of our industrial symbiosis. In the end, I have always seen art as something to bring people together to discuss something vital and fundamental. 

many other projects deal with aspects of the so-called conflict minerals problem, including one which has gone viral to some extent: "phone story".  The differences between iMine and phone story are mainly the level of irony and distance. Phone Story, always keeps a privileged distance from the atrocities, so they (the atrocities) remain a game. iMine does not provide so much space ironic or otherwise.  I could go on about iMine for pages, but rather, it would be better to continue in response to any of you who are interested in a particular aspect. 

> And at the same time, what would you do if iMine indeed became a
> popular media phenomenon?

"Cruelty Olympics"? "The Universal Declaration of Inhuman Rights"?   I have been approached by journalists who are interested in'artistic approaches' to the 'conflict minerals problem'  unfortunately I was not able to offer them the 'silver lining' story they were in the end looking to artists to provide. 



> Best!
> Menotti

Baruch Gottlieb ::: Digital Archive Project
in/compatible // transmediale 2012, 31 Jan - 5 Feb 2012 // transmediale.de

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