This week hundreds of film and media scholars will descend upon Chicago for the 2013 Annual Meeting of The Society for Cinema and Media Studies. This is my second year in attendance, and I'm especially looking forward to this year's conference. I've organized a panel on media archaeology, and I'll be giving my talk on feminist materialism, Roberta Williams' Mystery House, and an approach to materialist method I delinquently term "media gynaecology." I can't speak highly enough of the folks participating on the panel, and I think we're going to engage a valuable--and necessary--conversation on methodology within media archaeology. Below is the information on our talks, and the longer panel abstract.
Panel Title: New/Media/Archaeologies: Extensions and Interventions in Media Archaeology
Panel Number: F11
Chair: Laine Nooney | Stony Brook University
Rory Solomon | Parsons the New School for Design
“Software Stratigraphy: Media Archaeology of/as the Stack”
Shannon Mattern | The New School
“Echoes and Entanglements: A Sonic Archaeology of the City”
Laine Nooney | Stony Brook University
“Materialist Methods for Mystery House(s): A Feminist Media Archaeology of Early Video Games”
Jacob Gaboury | New York University
“An Archeology of Uncomputable Numbers: Queer Media History”
Over the past 20 years, media archaeology's emphasis on non-progressive media histories, dead and failed media, and media materialism has refreshed the theoretical domains of media studies. Scholarship in media archaeology has long been united by a methodological focus on the primacy of the technological medium itself, rather than its representational content. However, these methods, by outrightly rejecting questions of discursivity, subjectivity and political economy, produce their own academic difficulties. The anti-hermeneutic tradition of media archaeology has produced a body of scholarship that often leaves unaccounted the ghostly or immaterial components of media studies that do not leave technological registers in our material world.
This panel re-assesses the intersections of objects, subjectivities and environments that typically lie beyond media archaeology's reach, extending media archaeological methods across disciplinary boundaries. Rory Solomon offers a programmer-oriented view, complicating the notion of a purely non-discursive technical substrate using the software model of the “stack.” The “stack” illustrates that operative layers always exist above and below any substrate; methods are best imagined as “both/and” rather than “either/or.” Shannon Mattern productively confuses the distinction between media archaeology and archaeology “proper,” in an effort to address the very literal “digging” required to write a history of urban sound. Mattern insists media archaeology should learn from actual excavation, as material practices are all the more significant when one must unearth forms of mediation that themselves have no physical instantiation. Laine Nooney continues to focus on material context, arguing that media archaeology remains deeply gendered when scholars privilege objective analyses of media objects that forgo cultural and human materiality. Nooney intersects feminist materialism with media archaeology to highlight the largely “invisible” female affective and material labor at work in video game history. Jacob Gaboury locates a queerness in media archaeology demanding further attention to identity-based critiques. Gaboury suggests that media archaeology's attention to failed, glitched and re-occurring processes dovetails with queer theory's turn toward a politics of failure and anti-sociality, and reads computer history against its grain to offer a queer alternative to the telos of “successful” communication.
Some hipster-y Instagrams of adjunct-object feelings. I have no idea why there is a red plastic box of salt in the adjunct kitchen.
A post has been a long time coming. This summer has been over-packed with excitement, opportunities, and good times, but it has also remarkably distracted me from the actual writing of my dissertation. I spent a week going through the Ken and Roberta Williams Collection at the Strong Museum of Play and then spent a week at Princeton University at the 2nd annual Princeton-Weimar Summer School for Media Studies (where I met the amazing Hiilei Hobart, Jacob Gaboury, and Dylan Mulvin). I'm effortfully pulling together a panel for SCMS 2013 on interventions within media archaeology, and prepping a paper for SHOT in Copenhagen this October. I just got interviewed about Internet Memes by an independent journalist writing an article for PCWorld. I taught a section of CCS101: Intro to Cinema and Media Studies, and have had a blasty-blast with my students discussing everything from Foucault to modernity to semiotics to Peter Lunenfeld's The Secret War Between Downloading and Uploading. I used Tumblr in class for the first time, and it's been a great success--students are always throwing up links, clips, quotes and images that remind them of course content. Tumblr is proving an amazing archive for our course investigations. I also have a few projects that shall remain top secret until further verification (so the 3 of you who read this blog, stay posted).
But throughout the summer, I was having a horrible time actually working on my dissertation. First I'd committed to writing a methodological article on a feminist materialist critique of media archaeology--but every time I sat down to do the lit review or aim my sights at Wolfgang Ernst, I felt myself getting sucked into a black hole of philosophical vitalism (a Bermuda Triangle of Spinoza, Bergson and Deleuze). I felt like I couldn't write anything without having the entire weight of continental philosophy in my back pocket (which, not being a philosopher by training, was presenting a problem). I felt impotent to even know where I could start, as I stared down the barrel of a 300 page project that loomed ominously empty on the Word document before me.
However, this summer I also got recruited to join a Feminist Writing Group organized by the insightful Laura Portwood-Stacer, who I met at Now! Visual Culture. "Feminist Writing Group?" my friends scoffed. "Doesn't seem like your kinda thing." I tend to be a little too aloof and much too cantankerous for such dynamics. I'm often the student who would sit in seminar and doesn't make a peep, and loathes the eyes of strangers on my work. But I volunteered some work for the second session, thinking it would be good motivation to get my Copenhagen paper written--and as a straight up history, I figured it would be safe and not too over-exposing. However, when my one-week deadline emerged, I was still days behind on having something to show. I couldn't bail on the group, but also knew I couldn't send a 4-page lit review and retain any self-respect. I hit the panic button, and emailed out the only other reasonable paper I had relating to feminism, a Feminist New Materialist Critique of Media Archaeology that I'd presented at the New School that past spring and planned on presenting at SCMS in 2013.
I spent the week on edge. This was intense theoretical work, couched in brazen, sometimes arrogant writing. I'd never exposed this to any of my professors, or anyone who even really had a background in feminist critical materialism (i've pretty much taught myself). I also, perhaps predictably, thought the piece was damn near perfect, and hadn't anticipated revising it much for SCMS. I was in a cold terror about what others might say, and nervous that no one would have anything to say. When the day of the actual group arrived, the group was almost twice as large as the first meeting, and all new people, and mostly university faculty (a "real world" step up from my grad student status, however much I take myself seriously).
I gave a stuttery introduction and prepared for the worst--and instead, lo and behold, I got the best. Not ceaseless praise or neck-wringing admonishments, but critical attention trained at making this work better while still highlighting what I did well and where I could push further. I've only occasionally ever received such honed, invested, and engaged feedback from peers or profs. And amazingly, this active, brilliant group of lady-minds managed to help me shed the cloak that had been holding me back from writing for almost two months. Stop trying to dismantle someone else's work. You know what you're doing, so just move forward with your own ideas. Show us what you're really capable of. When I woke up this morning, I could stop thinking--"what if I did this? what if I argued that?" Suddenly I realized the first chapter of my dissertation had been sitting in my Dropbox all along, just mangled into a bunch of different pieces I'd been too hesitant to pull together. I woke up at 8, was at the library by 11, and had my own intervention written by 12. By the time I tapped out for happy hour at my favorite bar, I had 17 pages of a chapter--cobbled, slapped together, in terrible need of stitching, but a start, with a clear outline of what I'm doing and where this project is going.
The mental deep freeze is over. I'm going to write this bastard. And all it took was showing my work to a group of strangers invested in questions of knowledge production, sensitive to the struggles of a grad student, but not willing to let something half-wrought slide by: a lesson in feminist orientations and co-relationality if ever there was one.