Required Reading: Archaeologies of Media Art: Jussi Parikka in conversation with Garnet Hertz


Euphonia Speaking Machine

Media archaeology is an approach to media studies that has emerged over the last two decades. It borrows from Michel Foucault, Walter Benjamin, and Friedrich Kittler, but also diverges from all of these theorists to form a unique set of tools and practices. Media archaeology is not a school of thought or a specific technique, but is as an emerging attitude and cluster of tactics in contemporary media theory that is characterized by a desire to uncover and circulate repressed or neglected media approaches and technologies. Its handful of proponents -- including Siegfried Zielinski, Wolfgang Ernst, Thomas Elsaesser, and Erkki Huhtamo -- are primarily interested in mobilizing histories and devices that have been sidelined during the construction of totalizing histories of popular forms of communication, including the histories of film, television, and new media. The lost traces of media technologies are deemed important topics to be excavated and studied; "dead" media technologies and idiosyncratic developments reveal important themes, structures, and links in the history of communication that would normally be occluded by more obvious narratives. This includes tracing irregular developments and unconventional genealogies of present-day communication technologies, believing that the most interesting developments often happen in the neglected margins of histories or artifacts.

In 2007, Jussi Parikka published Digital Contagions: A Media Archaeology of Computer Viruses (Peter Lang Publishing, New York). In Digital Contagions, Parikka provides an insightful articulation of media archaeology as a research methodology, which he implements to construct a clear cultural history of computer viruses. Parikka inverts the assumption that computer viruses -- which are semi-autonomous and self-replicating pieces of computer code -- are contrary to contemporary digital culture, instead arguing that computer viruses define the social and material landscape of computer mediated communication. Although computer viruses are often considered as a disease and breakdown within the ecology of media, Parikka argues that these marginal computer programs provide key clues to the material and incorporeal conditions of the network age. They are not accidents of media culture, but increasingly the natural mode of digital media. In other words, the ontology of network culture is viral-like.

In this conversation with Garnet Hertz -- who graduated with a PhD in Visual Studies on the topic of media archaeology and media arts from University of California, Irvine -- Parikka discusses media archaeology as a methodology of academic research in media studies and the media arts. In the process of constructing a theoretical foundation for media archaeology, they discuss and explore the topics of interdisciplinarity, historiography, art, new media, and academia.