Siegfried ZielinskiEdit

Deep Time of the Media: Toward and Archaeology of Hearing and Seeing by Technical Means [German: 2002; English: 2006]Edit

Like his previous work Audiovisions, Zielinski here endeavors to to expand upon a media and telematics history that presents only "the idea of inexorable, quasi-natural, technical progress. It is related to other basic assumptions, such as the history of political hegemony developing from the strictly hierarchial to strictly democratic organization of systems, the rationale of economic expediency, the absolute necessity for simple technical artifacts to develop into complex technological systems, or the continual perfecting of the illusionizing potential of media" (3). Zielinski's opposition to this trajectory is to "find something new in the old" rather than seeking the old in the new to verify a march toward progress.

Zielinski lifts inspiration from 18th century natural scientists who, rather than viewing the world as a progressive line, operated instead as a cycle of erosition and reconstitution, leaving all things layered by "deep time" (a phrase Zielinski borrows from John McPhee (1980). Zielinksi urges us to abandone the notion of "continuous progress from lower to higher, from simple to complex" and all the images, icons and metaphors attendant on this construction--ladders, tree structures, etc. Deep time, then, embodies a "quantitative dimension as well as a qualitiative one that addresses the density of differences and their distributions" (4). Media, for Zielinksi are "spaces of action for constructed attempts to connect what is separated" and may be best study through a variantology of the media that restores the diversity of possiblity that has been shrouded by genealogical histories(7).

If Zielinski can be said to have a goal, it might be understood as restoring variation and heterogeneity to media (particularly through media arts practices) so as to combat uniformity and expose the possibilities of media in our lives and thought: "My quest in research the deep time of media constellations is not a contemplative retrospective nor an invitation to cultural pessimists to indulge in nostalgia. On the contrary, we shall encounter past situations where things and situation were still in a state of flux, where the options for development in various directions were still wide open, where the future was conceivable as holding multifarious possibilities of technical and cultural solutions for constructing media worlds" (10). By travelling along the lines of thinkers such as della Porta, Kepler, Kircher,and others, Zielinski seeks to retrieve the magic, quite literally, of media possibility.

Zielinski's second chapters offers intriguing methodological possibilities. He opens with writing on glowing organisms, "things that emit their own light" which perform a "phenomenal economy of squaderous expenditure" (14). This squanderous expenditure presents an alternative politic to the "compulsion to accumulate", allegorical to the sun's expulsion of energy (here Zielinski borrows the comparison from Bataille).

If Zielinski might be said to ruminate on the practice of history, a curious moment happens here:

"The idea is enticing: to see the activity of tracking as something that defies all systematic order. However, trails are not simple phenomena. They are impregnations of events and movements, and even prehistoric hunger-gatherers needed to learn much in order to decode, read, and classify the signs. The same applies to an even greater degree when we consider history, with its evolved and constructed civilizations, and particularly the history of media. What can be found there, analogous to spores, broken twigs, feces, or lost fur and feathers, was produced entirely by cultural and technical means. By seeking, collecting and sorting, the archaeologist attaches meanings; and these meanings may be entirely different from the ones the object had originally. The paradox that arises when engaged in this work is that one is dependent upon the instruments of cultural techniques for ordering and classifying, while, at the same time, one's goal is to respect diversity and specialness. The only resolution of this dilemma is to reject the notion that this work is ground-breaking: to renounce power, which one could easily grasp, is much more difficult than to attain a position where it is possible to wield it" (26-7).

These claims resonate boldly with desires made evident in the conclusion, that the strongest way to gaurentee power-free spaces in media worlds is to adopt an economy of friendship( for the media that Zielinski studies were oftened intended for keeping touch) (269). But here is something curious [aside from the fact that this idea belongs to someone else, only suggested in a footnote]--to consider history, he need to learn much to decode and classify its signs. But in seeking the meaning-bearing remnant/signs, the archaeologist steps in--what happened to the historian? Why as she been replaced by the dusty shoes of the archaeologist? And why is the terminology of the archaeologist not understood as an "instrument of cultural techniques"? Who agreed that the goal is to respect diversity, and how does this renounce power except by presuming that history (rather than archaeology) is a field that cannot renounce power?

Zielinski continues to suggest that the method of media archaeology involves refusing a leader and not standardizing its object (27). History must "reserve the option to gallop off at a tangent, to be wildly enthusiastic, and, at the same time, to criticize what must be criticized" (27). However, at the same time Zielinski insists that his work is written "in the spirit of praise and commendation, not of critique" (34). He is unperturbed at claims of romance, but sees romance as part of a large social reality (34). Zielinski desires to define media as loosely as possible (we see this in his case studies); media surrounds us in every direction, it is what we travel through in life and "all we can do is make certain cuts across it to gain operational access" (33). He refers to his work as a collection of curiosities (34), which involve "finds from the rich history of seeing, hearing, and combining using technical means: things in which something sparks or glitters--their bioluminescense--and also points beyond the meaning or function of their immediate context or origin" (34).

Zielinski's concept of regarding media in relation to time has specific consequences in the archaeological/anarchaeological approach: 1. Zielinski looks at "historical windows" in which "possible directions for development were tried out and paradigm shifts took place" which both further desired homogenizing cultural strictures and relegate alternatives to the margins. 2. a "heightened alterness to ideas, concepts, and events that can potentially enrich our notions for developing the time arts" (32).