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Title: Return of operativity: Prolegomena to a grand narrative of media in deep time
Authors: Wamberg, Jacob
Keywords: operativity of media
deep time
grand narratives
Issue Date: 18-Oct-2017
Abstract: When in recent decades extended temporal scales have entered media history, including MediaArtHistories, this has mostly implied the subversion of temporal coherence and evolutionary logic (cp. Huhtamo’s, Ernst’s and others’ “media archeology”, Zielinsky’s “deep time”, or Parikka’s “geology of media”). Informed by the emerging disciplines of Big History, New Materialism and biosemiotics, this paper will however rehabilitate certain continuity aspects of media history, introducing a grand narrative that should not displace aberrant paths but rather enter a productive dialectics with them. The main idea is that media are constructed in close analogy with, indeed as prosthetic facilitations of, shifting notions of human perception (sensorium and mind) and perception’s outer and inner articulation in semiosis. The emergence of the notion of the autonomous human subject since the Axial age (Jaspers) in the first millennium BCE, notably Classical Antiquity, thus implied a deepening hiatus between human perception and the world of action that also was seen in the conception of media. Whereas media before the Axial Age were conceived of as thoroughly enmeshed in action – words, images, music and rituals physically intra-acting with events and things (the practice we now call magic) – with Platonism, Jewish-Christian monotheism, and especially post-medieval nominalism, a pervasive skepticism arose as to the physical operativity of media. What media could directly move was no longer things, bodies and events, but perception (feelings and thoughts) that only then could move into action via the human body. However, with the emergence of automated new media since the mid-nineteenth century (photography, telegraph, acoustic media, telephone, television, etc., all to be later assembled in computerized media), we must note a re-conceptualization of media as being operative and enmeshed in intra-action.
Description: Biography: Jacob Wamberg is Professor of Art History at Aarhus University (DK). He works on a (post)evolutionistic theory of the visual arts, especially in relation to post-natural ecologies, including technology. Chairing the research project “Posthuman Aesthetics” (2014-17), his present focus is posthuman aspects of avant-garde art. His publications include Landscape as World Picture: Tracing Cultural Evolution in Images ([2005] 2009), The Posthuman Condition: Ethics, Aesthetics and Politics of Biotechnological Challenges (2012, ed. with Kasper Lippert-Rasmussen and Mads Rosendahl Thomsen), and Art, Technology and Nature: Renaissance to Postmodernity (2015, ed. with Camilla Skovbjerg Paldam).
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