Zielinski: geographies, biographies, archaeologies

Siegfried Zielinski’s exploration of “hearing and seeing” through an archaeology of scopic and sonic apparatuses (2006) includes the sort of engravings and diagrams of gadgets and devices that pepper Crary and Jay’s work. Here too the apparatuses for investigating seeing and hearing open up questions of subjectivity and biopower that Zielinski argues resonate in contemporary media.

Zielinski (or at least his publisher) explicitly refers to “archaeology” in the subtitle to Deep Time of the Media. Quoting Rudi Visker’s exploration of “anarcahéologie”  as a method that evades the potential of identifying a “standardized object of an original experience” (Visker 1991: 309), Zielinski sees ‘media archaeology’ as a history that “privileges a sense of […] multifarious possibilities” (2006: 27). Here the “neglected constellations” as Timothy Druckery calls it in his Foreword (Zielinski 2006: x) (echoing Crary’s term (2001: 5)), are not illustrations for a ‘history of ideas’ or a ‘cataloguing’ even archiving or creation of the sort of  taxonomies Foucault highlights (1989). The scopic and sonic apparatuses are the material instantiations of media practices and events, effects and affects – in Zielinski’s case conceptions and lived experiences of time. They are the traces of explorations and expeditions undertaken by scientists and artists.

As with Crary and Jay, these devices and apparatuses are intimately tied to people. Even when they are addressed in their material as well as their metaphoric positions, the story of the apparatus is woven into the story of the artist/scientist. This is not to say that Zielinski, let alone Crary and Jay are engaged in some humanist, whig history of progress and the great and the good. Far from it. They are all at pains to locate their ‘inventors’ in cultural, political and economic ‘contexts’ and assemblages. The point is merely to suggest that the technology and the human are enfolded in a way that perhaps foregrounds the way the human object is located in the media assemblage at the expense of how other objects work.

This can be seen in Zielinski’s final chapter where he draws “cartographies”, maps of how seeing and hearing assemblages have connected across the globe and time. Through a series of figures he literally maps out his story. Here geographies are overlaid with biographies. The object-actants on the network map are names: Empedocles, Eisenstein, Lombroso and Bruce Sterling as labels on territories: Messina, Riga, Turin and Texas. The diagrams’ lines link the “people and places”. These lines are deliberately not arrows, not even double-headed arrows. They are more like synaptic connections. Trails and traces of influence, congruence and even coincidence. It is within and across these network connections that the scopic and sonic regimes, and their attendant governmental relations, emerge. But the technological object, the apparatus withdraws from view. For all three the technological object is a way into that wider assemblage rather than the object of investigation itself. There is a certain depth to their ontologies.

  • Crary, J., 2001, Suspensions Of Perception : Attention, Spectacle, And Modern Culture, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass..
  • Foucault, M., 1989, The Order Of Things: An Archaeology Of The Human Sciences, Routledge, London; New York.
  • Visker, R., 1991, Foucaults Anführungszeichen einer Gegenwissenschaft, in F Ewald & B Waldenfels (eds), Spiele der Warheit, Michel Foucaults Denken, Suhrkamp, Frankfurt am Main, p. 298f.
  • Zielinski, S., 2006, Deep Time Of The Media: Toward An Archaeology Of Hearing And Seeing By Technical Means, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass..