- Deep Time of the Media: Toward an Archeology of Hearing and Seeing by Technical Means
In the 1960s, Michel Foucault posed an "archeology" of ruptured and irregular temporal strata as an alternative to tracing progressive and increasingly complex rationality and abstraction in the history of thought. In Deep Time of the Media, Siegfried Zielinski proposes a similar venture for the history of media, broadly defined as "spaces of action for constructed attempts to connect what is separated" (p. 7), though here with an emphasis on "hearing and seeing by technical means." The tenor of the book is captured by Zielinski's preferred term for his approach as an "anarcheology," which "privileges a sense of [the] multifarious possibilities [of technical devices] over their realities," in addition to digressions, celebration of protagonists, and, where appropriate, criticism. Eight chapters then celebrate a veritable Kunstkammer of male media heroes and machines, many of whom will be familiar to historians of science and technology. Among these are Empedocles, author of what Zielinski suggests might serve as a theory of the "perfect interface"; Italian magicians Giambattista della Porta and Athanasius Kircher, for their multifarious techniques of cryptography, audiovisual magic, and combinatorial arts; romantic self-experimenters Johann Wilhelm Ritter and Jan Evangelista Purkyneˇ; Cesare Lombroso, obsessive [End Page 440] measurer of criminal deviance; and Aleksei Gastev, Bolshevik avant-garde poet of the machine age.
These anarcheological heroes gain credit, and presumably inclusion in the book, for being outsiders, "dreamers," and imaginative visionaries of new technical means of hearing and seeing, often misunderstood by their contemporaries. Zielinski's male celebrations contrast with more skeptical sociological and feminist interpretations of supposedly enlightened protagonists in many recent histories of technoscience. Such romantic historiography might be valuable for raising interest in historical figures unfamiliar among media scholars, but contra Zielinski's claim to be pushing historiographical boundaries, anarcheology here rather harks back to older histories of heroic inventors and technologists. Certainly his explorations of a variety of different times, ideas, and techniques offer a refreshing alternative to linear and "progressive" histories, but this is surely to occlude the fact that many historians of technology have long rejected such progressive narratives.
Similarly, Zielinski makes much of a "magical approach toward technology" that denies or overcomes sharp divisions of the scientific and poetic and multiplies unities, combinations, transfers, and connections, hence mediations, of different languages, senses, and worlds. His protagonists are presented as typifying such a magical approach, which Zielinski advocates for the future development of new media. He also proposes the magical approach as standing in contrast to an "emergent European rationality" and "pure science" arising in the seventeenth century, which created a division between mind and body, science and magic, temporarily overcome by the romantics of the early nineteenth century but continuing into the present. Magic is here defined by the author rather than being an actor's category and so seems historically inappropriate for some of the figures examined. Recent studies of magic's history (one thinks of William Eamon or Paula Findlen on della Porta and Kircher, for example) are not referred to. Historians of science may be perplexed on learning that they like to classify magical thinking as "primitive" compared to modern science (p. 258).
Deep Time of the Media's anarchic voyages are certainly fascinating, suggestive, and provocative. Concluding observations on the state of media arts and proposals for a cartography of media evoke important directions for future media praxis and history. Readings of, among other things, Kircher's location at the center of the Jesuits' global networks as a grand media enterprise, or of the Renaissance art of combinations as a predecessor to digital sequencing in music composition are exemplary of the innovative approach to technoscientific history that media studies offers. And Zielinski's enthusiasm for bringing historical figures and techniques into debates on media often portrayed as having little or no "deep" history is most welcome. At the same time, there is room for more historical sensitivity in such a study, and...