media studies new materialism

a media theory of the nature-culture of space-time

The familiar posthuman natureculture of Haraway and others suggests, in its most basic form, that there is a material history for all things, even the most seemingly fundamental dimensions of space and time. It strikes me as a weird idea to try to grasp. I suppose on the one hand there is the Big Bang theory, which (in my very limited understanding) would indicate that the qualities of space-time emerge in the split-seconds following the Big Bang. That’s obviously part of it.

The part I’m more interested is better understood in relation to Latour’s description of the pasteurization of France. Pasteur didn’t invent microbes or microbial disease. He did create a new set of relations among humans and microbes, one that became strengthened by institutional processes that lead to the pasteurization of milk we still see. It’s also comes from Latour’s second empiricism, which always helps me recognize that our thoughts (e.g., our representations of the world) are part of the world, each thought extending, changing the world, as much (though maybe no more) than the footfall of an ant, which is clearly material and also caught up in some mental activity.

What does that mean? Well, media alter our relations with space-time. This is obvious in any number of mundane ways. So let me make it weird again. Deleuze and Guattari’s techno-semiological stratum is characterized by its superlinear spatiotemporality. To that I’d add Wolfgang Ernst’s articulation of the epistemogenic momentum of digital technologies: a new calculative regime (or substratum?). The point is that the earliest symbolic behavior allows for the representation of pasts, futures, and elsewheres. Writing expands that capacity, as do all the pre-mechanical visual arts. In An Inquiry into Modes of Existence, Latour imagines the moment that the clay for pots because the clay of an imagined, anthropomorphic clay figurine: another kind of transport.

Mechanical media intensify this experience as thinkers from Nietzsche and Benjamin to McLuhan and Kittler attest: the staccato of the typewriter, the slices of film frames, etc. And we can look at the rise of digital media, the softwarization of media as Lev Manovich puts it, but we all know what he’s talking about there, a process growing since the 60s anyway. Across these media we slow down, speed up, splice, go backwards, revise, edit, etc. etc. We interact with a different space-time than is other wise available, a space-time that didn’t exist just as the pasteurization of France didn’t exist until it did. And so we can think in new ways and create new parts of the world.

The current moment intensifies the computational implications of digitizing/softwarizing media. We add in AI/machine learning and so much, much, much, much more data/media. From my post-Deleuzian perspective, it’s all about intensifications and changes in states. We find ourselves entering a new media-state, a new space-time, a new techno-semiological substrata. What does it mean? Well that’s the question, right?

But to offer some insight, computation isn’t just about smaller-faster space-times. Computation introduces a space-time that arises from a different kind of matter. Cosmological space time might be made of gravity. Quantum space time is made of something wholly different. Human civilizations make time from phases of the moon, seasons, and, later, observations of solar revolutions. Individually, humans have their own biology and circadian rhythms. Each has its own history and material (though they are connected, of course). Digital-computational space time is made of the pizeoelectric punctuation of quartz clocks, the algorithms of software, the material limits of hardware and networks, and always, the role of human interaction. There are a thousand answers, which is a good thing.

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