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  • Processual Media Theory
  • Ned Rossiter (bio)

Sense-perception happens without our awareness: whatever we become conscious of is a perception that has already been processed.

—Nietzsche, 1885 (1)


“Process as such,” writes Michel Serres, “remains to be conceived...” (96). Furthermore, if we take Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari at their word (something they warn us not to do!), then all concepts are connected to problems. 1 The relationship between concepts and their problems constitutes a situation. For the purpose of this essay, the formation of intelligibility is a system consisting of concepts, problems, and situations. Process is something ongoing in nature, an emergent quality whose expression is shaped by the contingencies and field of forces of any particular situation. In this respect, process can never be conceived in itself. Given this immediate predicament, this essay investigates the possibility of at once conceiving a processual theory for media studies whilst locating the emergent concept of process alongside a series of problems. Or rather, the concept of process emerges through [End Page 104] the encounter with a series of problems, which in turn can be understood as situations of possibility or “a continuum of variation” (Massumi 1992, 38–39). The central problems addressed in this essay include those of aesthetics, new media empirics, time, and movement. Of course this series of problems, this continuum of variation, in no way outlines the totality of the field of new media studies. 2 That would be absurd, or just plain stupid. These problems emerge as instances of encounter, as framing devices, in thinking the concept of process.

The term aesthetics (aesthesis) is used in this essay to speak of the organisation and management of sensation and perception. My interest is in the way sensory affect and an aesthetic regime, as distinct from representation (mimesis), can be discussed in relation to new communications media. The aesthetic dimension of new media resides in the processes—the ways of doing, the recombination of relations, the figural dismantling of action—that constitute the abstraction of the social. Herein lies the unconscious code of new media empirics. That’s to say, new media empirics can become something other than what it predominantly is at the current conjuncture. It is the potential for a superempirics of new media that this essay seeks to translate through the concept of process. A super- or renewed empiricism is coextensive with the processual as a diagramming of different layers and registers of relations and regimes of value that constitute the possibility of the event where “affect [is] expressed as pure potentiality” (Deleuze 1986, 109). Following Brian Massumi, a Deleuzian superempiricism comprises a mode of encounter that articulates the field of forces, the sensing of sensation, which traverses the movement between that which has emerged as an object, code, or meaning and their conditions of possibility. 3 It is by paying attention to these very local instances, which are of course bound up and tangled with larger structural forces, that the political and ethical work of a renewed empiricism might proceed.

A processual aesthetics of media culture enables things not usually associated with each other to be brought together into a system of relations. The combination of art, commerce, and the routine practice of stock market day trading constitutes such a system, as I will go on to discuss. A processual media theory describes situations as they are constituted within and across spatio-temporal networks of relations, of which the communications medium is but one part, or actor. As with any approach, processual media theory itself is implicated in the systems of relations it describes; as such, it too operates in a reflexive mode that contributes to change within the system. Aesthetic [End Page 105] production is defined by transformative iterations, rather than supposedly discrete objects in commodity form. Processual aesthetics is related to the notion of the sublime, which is “witness to indeterminacy.” 4 The media sublime unravels the security presupposed by the political economy of empirical research on new media.

Political economy has a tendency to treat the media as a set of objects and, accordingly, objectivises media technologies or media content as “products,” such as advertisements. Political economy and functionalist sociology...