08 May 2013

Artifactual Hardware

What I am advancing is a media-critical antiquarianism. There has always been a double bind in antiquarian data processing between distance and empathy, resulting from the gap between the physical presence and the discursive absence of the past. Antiquarians have tried to bridge this gap by touching and tasting the immediate, material object. For antiquarians, history is not just text but the materialist emancipation of the object from an exclusive subjection to textual analysis. Antiquarianism acknowledges the past as artifactual hardware, so to speak, upon which historical discourse operates like a form of software. In a digital culture of apparent, virtual, immaterial realities, a reminder of the insistence and resistance of material worlds is indispensable, and all the more so from a media-theoretical point of view. Far from being an imperfect approximation to historical discourse, the antiquarian attitude deserves to be treated on its own terms. The antiquarian's almost haptic taste for the moldy, decaying fragment (mummies, parchments, remnants of bodies and objects) is close to physical data processing: according to André Bazin, the real (le réel) of the photographic image resides with the corpse. If we redeploy the analytical tools developed by the so-called 'new historicism' in literary studies from textual analysis to material cultural studies, we find not merely archival data on history (the symbolic regime of the archive, the scriptural regime of sources for historians) but also -- as opposed to the textuality of (narrative) history -- the otherness (even resistance to interpretation) of the material fragment, the relic. 
// Wolfgang Ernst, in Digital Memory and the Archive, 43-44 (edited by Jussi Parikka)

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