With our look into materiality and infrastructure this week, I am having some difficulty coming to terms with the multi-faceted nature of technological material. Admittedly, I am glad that we are taking a break from the more pressing issues of neo-liberalism and capitalism (although Nakamura does well to once again think in those terms) and taking a turn into the specifics of media as material artifact.
Do Kirschenbaum’s forensic and formal investigations, and Sterne’s consideration of representation from a place of compression and finitude, raise the stakes for those of us living in the overdeveloped world (to borrow a term from Jagoda)? Like Manovich, to turn to the material, functional, symbolic and relational models of technology is to draw out definition of such technology as they exist in the world. It is no wonder that Kirschenbaum looks to Latour’s black boxes and actants when thinking of this entanglement, since it takes a whole host of materials and process to create the “illusion of immaterial behavior: identification without ambiguity, transmission without loss, repetition without originality” (11). This characterization, though steeped in some clearly extensive research, feels unsatisfying to me, for if the exact physical housing of a single line of information (or digitally actualized symbol) is itself arbitrary, and what’s at stake instead is its manifestation in the moment put forth by the “imposition of formal regimen”, then why should I treat one as fleeting while paying close attention to the other?
Sterne’s model for this interdependence is that of a co-constitution of the symbol and the infrastructure via utility and efficacy (lest we forget Steigler, tool and use emerge in conjunction). With such a tight intermingling of the two, should we instead spend our energies navigating the aesthetic (see Joe), social or political dimension of the contemporary condition? This week’s essays show us that it in media theory, one is never fully realized without the other.