An anomalous look at anomalous objects

Jussi Parikka and Tony D. Sampson’s account of “anomalous objects”{%Parikka 2009a} provides a similar bringing together of the three themes. Here the digital objects under investigation are addressed through their relations, as process more than essence and as harbouring a potential that media archaeology serves to trace.

Parikka and Sampson use the term ‘topology’ to “address the complex assemblages of network society, which are not restricted to technological determinism, or the effects technology has on society, but encompass the complex foldings of technological components with other aspects of social and cultural reality”{%Parikka 2009a@5}. Here ‘components’ – the weird digital objects the authors and their collaborators explore – are approached via relations, enfoldings, actant-networks. ‘Assemblage’ and ‘topology’ signify not a background field of relations or context so much as as an active relationality with which objects are inevitably and inescapably entwined.

As an example, when Parikka says that he: “primarily addresses noise in the context of telecommunications, networks, and digital culture”{%Parikka 2011@258}, context is not some passive background or even determining space. Rather his noise objects (the sort of glitches that Steve Goodman explores{Goodman 2009} as well as real technological noise objects such as the telegraph and imaginary objects such as the volcanograph⁠1) cannot be understood outside their relations with sonic (and scopic) culture, shifts in capitalism and technosocial dynamics. These relations are not where our focus should solely be. We need to look at, for and through objects. But those objects cannot be historically or theoretically approached outside those relations. Media archaeology’s mission to build a “nonsignifying take on media history”{Parikka 2011@257} demands that objects are more than representations. It demands a respect for objects but objects-in-relations. In contrast, an object-oriented media archaeology would demand an account of those objects that did not depend on relations. Here a telegraph or an imaginary ‘volcanograph’, an audio glitch or a protocol have an existence and power beyond those relations. As I will discuss, this opens up productive ways of addressing the weird, anomalous character of protocol.

Similarly Parikka and Sampson draw those components in terms of process. “We are not seeking out the (predefined) essence of the anomaly (whether expressed in terms of a representational category or intrinsic technical mechanism), but instead a process in a larger web of connections, singularities, and transformations”{%Parikka 2009a@6}. The component-object is best seen as a process. In terms of specific digital objects, for Parikka the ‘imaginary’ around the Morris worm, the metaphors and discourses in play were processuarl – invasion, vandalism, disease {Parikka 2009b@113} but the object itself was also processural. Its position within the assemblage (as well as the systems it ‘attacked’ or related to) was as process. It ran. It replicated. It acted. Its power lay in its working.

Finally the anomalous object must be seen as harbouring a potentiality that is actualised in particular historical moments, holding something in reserve as an assemblage or regime appears. Media archaeology’s mapping of truth-power or discourse networks or scopic regimes explores that becoming. It is here where a philosophy of relations, process and potential meets history and practice. As far as actual objects go Parikka approaches viruses as “philosophical and artistic machines that create new perceptions and concepts”{Parikka 2009b@122}. He discusses viruses in play in the Biennale in Venice as well as within IBM. The potential viruses harbour is not just for ‘good’ or ‘ill’, for ‘anarchy’ or ‘art’ but more fundamentally an inevitable potential to become, to be realised in different assemblages and regimes. The fact that a virus harbours a potential to create, recreate and reposition foldings in the technosocial assemblage means it generates new commercial, security and social practices and moral panics. Parikka’s media archaeology does more than historicise the object, it historicises the relations, becomings and potential through which that object must be seen.

This account of the object also has practical implications. In their work on ‘zombie media’ and ‘circuit bending’, Parikka and Garnet Hertz explore the creation of the “punctualized object”. They say: “Punctualization refers to a concept in Actor-Network Theory to describe when components are brought together into a single complex system that can be used as a single object. We refer to the disassembly of these single objects as “depunctualization” – which shows a circuit of dependencies that ties the owner to the corporation that manufactured the device”{Hertz 2010@6}. It is the position of components as elements in circuits of dependencies, active relationality and potential that opens up a space for what Galloway and Thacker term ‘exploit’ and Wolfgang Ernst explores as ‘monumental’ history{Ernst 2005@589}.

Their media archaeological practice-research exploring and exploiting vibrant material undead digital objects requires that those object-component-actants are considered as at least in part defined through relations and process. It is only then that their potential for discipline can be understood and their potential for reconfiguration, exploit or depunctualization can be released. “For the arts, as a methodological rule of thumb, objects are never inert, but consist of various temporalities, relations and potentials that have been brought together, but can be broken apart again”{Hertz 2010@8}.

An object-oriented perspective works towards the same understanding and practice but remains committed to addressing objects outside of their relations and in terms of their complete presence. In this account the virus or spam, the undead technology (or even protocol) require and deserve a philosophical framing as present, complete and multipolar objects. This is not just for some theoretical coherency (I will come on to make that argument), but also for practical purposes. As I will discuss, a willingness to entertain as well as create work with objects as inevitably in relations but not defined by them; as fully present, multidimensional but still definite; and as holding nothing back rather than waiting to become or become actualised, allows me to engage in and learn from forms of object-oriented photographic practice. Without that perspective I could not have opened up the real-sensual and fusion-fission dynamics of the object, and their governmental implications or built my scopic apparatuses, imagined and imaged my photographs.

1 There is an interesting parallel with Harman’s willingness to account for imaginary as well as ‘real’ objects.

  • Ernst, W., 2005, Let There Be Irony: Cultural History and Media Archaeology in Parallel Lines, Art History, 28(5), pp. 582-603.
  • Goodman, S. 2009, Contagious Noise: From Digital Glitches to Audio Viruses, in J Parikka & TD Sampson (eds), The Spam Book: On Viruses, Porn, And Other Anomalies From The Dark Side Of Digital Culture, Hampton Press, Cresskill, N.J., pp. 125-40.
  • Hertz, G. & Parikka, J., 2010, Zombie Media: Circuit Bending Media Archaeology Into An Art Method, ZOMBIE MEDIA:CIRCUIT BENDING MEDIA ARCHAEOLOGY INTO AN ART METHOD. Vilèm Flusser Theory Award 2010, .
  • Parikka 2009, Archives of Software: Malicious Code and the Aesthesis of Media Accidents , in Parikka & Sampson (eds), The Spam Book: On Viruses, Porn, And Other Anomalies From The Dark Side Of Digital Culture, Hampton Press, Cresskill, N.J., pp. 105-23.
  • Parikka, J. 2011, Mapping Noise: Techniques and Tactics of Irregularities, Interception, and Disturbance, in E Huhtamo & J Parikka (eds), Media Archaeology: Approaches, Applications, And Implications, University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles, pp. 256-77.
  • Parikka, J. & Sampson, T.D. (eds.), 2009, The Spam Book : On Viruses, Porn, And Other Anomalies From The Dark Side Of Digital Culture, Hampton Press, Cresskill, N.J..

2 replies on “An anomalous look at anomalous objects”

  1. Thanks for the post Paul and giving so much space to some of the writings of mine on anomalous objects. Good comments and nice way of framing the differences. Just a quick comment, that in my forthcoming book, I take a Serres approach to objects/time, which even more so emphasizes them as non-present: there is nothing much present about the time of objects, but they are constituted of multiple temporalites (he writes about the multiple times packed in a car, with the wheel dating back…a long way back…some of the physics of past hundred of years…electronics…and only perhaps the marketing discourse of “new” makes it contemporary, in a way). I take that to describe some of the temporalities that media archaeology can excavate.

Comments are closed.