Eric Kluitenberg on Sat, 2 Dec 2006 04:25:51 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Second Introduction to an Archaeology of Imaginary Media

dear nettimers,

Next Monday, December 4, 2006 we are staging an evening program  
devoted to the idea of imaginary media at De Balie in Amsterdam, at  
the occasion of the launch of the Book of Imaginary Media, which is a  
production of De Balie with NAi Publishers, Rotterdam.  Details about  
the book launch, including a lecture by Richard Barbrook and live  
performance by Peter Blegvad can be found here:

The event is also streamed live, via:

The book comes out of a mini-festival and series of lectures called  
"An Archaeology of Imaginary Media", organised in February 2004 in De  
Balie. We are very pleased with the fact that the book finally comes  
out, after a lengthy production process.
Details about the Book of Imaginary Media can be found at the NAi  
Publishers website:

What follows below is the introduction chapter I wrote for the book.  
Although the text contains a few specific references to materials  
found elsewhere in the book, I thought that the text is still generic  
enough to not be out of context here. I hope you will enjoy this  
second introduction into the elusive nature of imaginary media...

A web dossier has been compiled around the original project, and we  
are currently retransferring all recorded lectures there in better  
quality at the moment, so far the lectures of Siegfried Zielinski,  
Klaus Theweleit, Bruce Sterling and John Akomfrah have already been  
transferred  - the rest is available as 'old style' Real media files  
and will be changed in the coming week or so...



	B - Pardon, monsieur. What've you got behind that screen?
  	A - Imaginary Media, mademoiselle.
  	B - Cheeping like a nest of bats. May I see?
  	A - Then they wouldn't be imaginary.
	B - But I hear them...
  	A - So?
  	B - So how imaginary can they be if....
  	B - You're right, seeing is believing. Or maybe touching is.
       	     [Tries to reach behind folding screen, blocked by A.]
  	A - Sorry. No touching either.

  	Excerpt from: On Imaginary Media, by Peter Blegvad (2004)

Second Introduction to an Archaeology of Imaginary Media [1]

Like communities, all media are partly real and partly imagined. [2]  
Without either actual or imaginary characteristics, media cannot  
function. More than mere 'extensions of man', media - especially  
communications media - are endowed with a nearly sacred capacity for  
qualitative transformation of human relationships. Many of the  
limitations of everyday life, especially the trappings of  
interpersonal communication, are to be alleviated by technological  
apparatuses that promise seamless and immediate connection. However,  
as an adjunct to communication, like human relationships themselves,  
the machines are vulnerable and frail, inadequate, failing to achieve  
tasks set out for them by their makers and users.
	In the archaeology of imaginary media we have tried to 'excavate'  
mankind's dreams of the ultimate communication medium. These  
archaeological explorations focus on the imaginations of media that  
have been expressed in stories, drawings, prints, films, songs,  
advertisements, or quasi-philosophical imaginaries. It deals not so  
much with realized media as it does with potential or possible media:  
dreamed media, fantasized media; visions of how human communication  
can be reshaped by means of machines.
	When tracing the lineages of imaginary media, one of the recurrent  
ideas uncovered is that somehow these machines would be able to  
compensate for the inherent flaws and deficiencies of interpersonal  
communication. The devices then become compensatory machines. They  
become sites onto which various types of irrational desires are  
projected. It would seem rather obvious that the machines in  
themselves cannot live up to the promise that they would somehow, as  
if by magic (as a true 'deus ex machina'!), be able to resolve the  
age old problems of human communication and relationships. Through  
this pre-programmed failure, imaginary media also become machines of  
frustration. When considering the panorama of the failed hopes of  
machinic imagination, a feeling lingers that technology is all about  
desire, frustration, deficiency, and hope of salvation - terms that  
sound predominantly religious . . .

It must be made clear at the outset of this book that the aim of this  
project is not to produce a one-sided critique of technologically  
inspired media imaginaries. The aim, rather, is to understand how the  
imaginary qualities of media affect their actual course of  
development. This understanding should make it possible to retain a  
certain utopian potential of communications media without stepping  
into the pitfalls of overly eager media imaginations, or the cynical  
political or economic agendas that may lie buried beneath the fertile  
soils of media-speculation.
	Central to the archaeology of imaginary media in the end are not the  
machines, but the human aspirations that more often than not are left  
unresolved by the machines they produce. Imaginary media are,  
however, more than a metaphor. They speak to and weave in and out of  
the lineages of actual media. Media imaginations may give rise (or  
birth) to actual media, even when their final realization falls short  
of initial expectations. Media that were once imaginary may at some  
point become true. Imaginary media may also be sources of  
inspiration, in which case their effects might very well be felt and  
made manifest outside of the field of media itself. They then become  
part of the realm of ideas, or more precisely that of myth. Imaginary  
media in their pure state are pataphysical constructs, belonging to  
the realm of imaginary solutions. They can, however, at times also be  
embodied objects to which all kinds of imaginary qualities are  
ascribed. In either case they are more than metaphors, more than mere  
transporters of signification.


In his study on the origin and spread of nationalism, Benedict  
Anderson develops a similar approach to the analysis of what  
constitutes the notion of a nation and he calls it 'an imagined  
political community'. Anderson explains: 'It is imagined because the  
members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their  
fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of  
each lives the image of their communion.' [3] Nations and communities  
are, however, never purely imaginary. The very fact that a group of  
people subscribes to a broadly similar definition of 'their'  
community that binds them together into any particular social  
grouping, already makes those communities in many ways 'real', or  
actual. It also requires no sophisticated philosophical argument to  
ascertain that nation states do actually exist. Anderson points out,  
however, that most communities (in fact almost any conceivable form  
of community) need an imaginary component to sustain them. His  
argument is laid out brilliantly simple when he writes that 'all  
communities larger than primordial villages of face-to-face contact  
(and perhaps even these) are imagined.' Indeed, the simple fact that  
in practically any existing community most of its members never see  
or meet all of each other accounts for the fact that they cannot but  
imagine a set of shared characteristics that binds them into the same  
group. He continues: 'Communities are to be distinguished, not by  
their falsity/genuineness, but by the style in which they are  
imagined.' In the absence of any direct possibility for empirical  
verification, the members of communities can only imagine the  
characteristics they share with other members of their community  
(that is the 'style' in which they imagine themselves as members of  
that community). It is these imagined characteristics that make them  
distinct from others who are not part of the same community, others  
who are thought not to share the same characteristics.
	Community identity is strengthened by communicating shared  
characteristics (the style of imagination) among the members of the  
community. Because every new medium introduces a new scale to human  
affairs, the purpose of evolving generations of media machines is to  
extend these definitions of identity to ever growing constituencies.  
More often than not, media and communities double each other's  
imaginaries; an imaginary communion is shared via mediating  
machineries that are believed to be able to transfer more than 'mere'  
information; feelings rather than signals; meaning rather than data;  
satisfaction rather than sounds, words, images; identity rather than  
codification of social life . . . As what is shared (the imagination  
of community) is equally imaginary as the mechanism employed for  
sharing it (imaginations of what media machines are able to share in  
the first place) the substance of the process is never put to the  
test. What then is transferred (mediated) in such processes of  
exchange, need not have anything to do with what is perceived to have  
been exchanged.


Imaginary media are a form of mythology. As with many of the other  
mythologies of everyday life, they do not appear self-evidently  
mythological on first sight, or even after a closer second reading.  
Roland Barthes disclosed much of the nature of such everyday myths  
many years ago. [4] In his analysis he understands myth as a second- 
order semiological system. Myths are signs whose original meaning has  
been erased and onto which new second order significations have been  
superimposed. The original meaning of the sign becomes a mere  
signifier for the new mythologized readings of the object at hand.  
The myths, however, go to lengths to present themselves as a natural  
image. In their new deliberately naturalized (but nonetheless  
distorted) status they deny their own constructedness and the  
alienated histories of the objects they absorb. It is therefore no  
surprise that in many daily situations imaginary media are rarely  
recognized as such. It follows that the dividing line between  
imaginary and actual media is often porous and ambiguous.
	Myths exist for a reason. The construction of a particular myth can  
be highly deliberate, and it usually is. Myths serve mainly political  
or ideological purposes. At times they can also serve economic  
agendas. The myths that turned the emergence of networked digital  
media in the 1990s into a branch of imaginary media were primarily  
created for financial gains. The rationale of the 1990s 'DotCom' and  
'New Economy' imaginary media mythologies was mostly unrelated to the  
technology itself. The myths of the new networked digital media were  
effectively used to inflate market expectations and stock prices of  
new media start-ups. The most accomplished market players pushed  
stock-market prices from IPO to peak levels in record time. Stocks  
were then sold off just before the unavoidable bust, delivering  
spectacular gains. The actual performativity of the companies and  
their products involved was simply irrelevant. For the speculation  
scheme to work, expectations needed to be built, and to achieve this  
it was most useful to let the media imagination run amok.

Media Archaeology

To investigate the complex mythologies of imaginary media we chose an  
'archaeological' approach. Firstly in reference to Michel Foucault's  
'Archaeology of Knowledge'. From the beginning the project also  
positioned itself in reference to an emerging field of study called  
'Media Archaeology'. For some ten years, media archaeology has been  
developing as an interesting branch of media theory and history. It  
has also become quite influential in critical thinking about new  
media technologies. Theorists involved in this new research area are  
not so much taking a traditional historical, nor a specifically  
thematic approach to writing the history and the development of  
media. Instead, they choose to document the lineages of the media  
machines themselves. Two famous protagonists of this new approach to  
media studies, Siegfried Zielinski and Erkki Huhtamo, each define  
their media archaeological approach in slightly different terms:

Erkki Huhtamo:
?I would like to make a few preliminary remarks about an approach I  
call 'media archaeology'. While I share with (other) historians an  
interest in synthetic multi-perspective cultural approach and  
historical discourse analysis, I see the aims of media archeology  
somewhat differently. I would like to propose it as a way of studying  
such recurring cyclical phenomena which (re)appear and disappear and  
reappear over and over again in media history and somehow seem to  
transcend specific historical contexts.? [5]

Siegfried Zielinski:
?I shall now launch a few probes into the strata of stories that we  
can conceive of as the history of the media in order to pick up  
signals from the butterfly effect, in a few localities at least,  
regarding both: the hardware and the software of the audio-visual. I  
name this approach media archaeology, which in a pragmatic  
perspective means to dig out secret paths in history, which might  
help us to find our way into the future . . .? [6]

The fascinating thing uncovered by Zielinski, Huhtamo, and others in  
their machinic excavations was that when you start to probe the  
multilayered strata of media machineries, what you find is the  
occurrence, disappearance, and recurrence of a series of media  
imaginaries that transcend not only their specific historical  
context, but also the technological construction and determination of  
the media machines. For our archaeology of imaginary media we asked  
these theorists, writers, artists, filmmakers to shift their focus  
entirely from the actual machines towards the visions, the  
imaginations of media.
	While Erkki Huhtamo's description of the 'media archaeological  
method' sounds almost descriptive, Siegfried Zielinski introduces a  
further aspiration in the final sentence of the quote above: 'to dig  
out secret paths in history, which might help us to find our way into  
the future.' During his lecture in De Balie he emphasized this  
element more strongly. Zielinski advocates seeing these  
archaeological explorations as part of a larger effort to retain a  
certain utopian potential for contemporary and future media cultures.  
Indeed, this point should be emphasized further at the outset of this  
book; imaginary media as a theoretical construct should not be read  
as a nihilistic denial of media culture. Quite the opposite. One of  
the important aims of the whole project has been to understand the  
recurrent imaginations around technological communication media and  
their fallibility, so as to be better poised to find less hazardous  
roads into the future; a future that will for any foreseeable length  
of time be littered with high-technological communication media.

A Paleontological Perspective . . .

In the beginning of his essay on Athanasius Kircher, Siegfried  
Zielinski points out that he shares a paleontological view of media  
development with Bruce Sterling. Two aspects of Zielinski's  
paleontological perspective are especially important. First that he  
recognizes no 'beginning', no 'final layer of bedrock', beyond which  
his media archaeological excavations cannot dig deeper. In every  
sedimentary layer of media history, further traces of antecedent  
deposits can be discovered. His approach furthermore suggests the  
refusal of any determinate or necessary course of future development  
of media. Secondly, Zielinski understands his media archaeological  
work as an 'anarchaeology' of the media. It serves to counter current  
tendencies at standardization and universalization of media  
technology and media culture to emphasize instead the wealth of  
varieties of bygone eras, from which the individual genealogies of  
media can be uncovered.
	Close in spirit to Zielinski's work is Bruce Sterling's 'Dead Media  
Project'. [7] In this project, Sterling collects failed media  
technologies. Dead media concern actual media that have somehow  
broken off their line of development, have been aborted, or left  
behind. Dead media constitute lineages of media technology that  
stopped developing at some point in time. They might have developed  
further if conditions had been more favourable for them. Sterling is  
thus sketching, inversely, potential or possible media histories that  
might have happened, or could still happen, but that have thus far  
been left unrealized.
	Dead media are not imaginary at all, they are actual, realized  
media, failed perhaps, or forgotten, but still de facto existent. [8]  
However, dead media imply imaginary media histories when the possible  
futures that these aborted media lineages might have brought about  
are considered. The imaginary media implied by dead media are the  
media machineries that could have emerged if the now dead medium  
would have been developed further, but never did. In that sense every  
dead medium suggests an imaginary space of possibility that, as yet,  
has not been actualized.
	Sometimes such possible but a priori aborted media futures are  
filled in retroactively by revisiting the potential of the broken  
lineages of media development. The Vinyl Video project of artist  
Gebhard Zengmüller is a hilarious example of such a revisited dead  
medium. In his case he developed a method to encode low resolution  
video signals into a vinyl record that can be played back with a  
converted home record player on a television screen. [9] What would  
it have meant if this technology would have been developed further?  
Would we have seen a new video-music genre emerge, something that  
incorporates elements of the dj/vj culture (which is already half  
vinyl after all)? And how would audio/video scratching techniques be  
transformed by this integration of music and image in a medium that  
proved such an expressive tool for the break-dance/scratch generation?
	Also, Zielinski himself has pointed to Sterling's Dead Media Project  
as a station in the trajectory of an anarchaeology of the media, for  
instance in his book Archäologie der Medien of 2002, which is  
currently being translated and will be published by MIT Press.

Field Research into the Archaeology of Interactivity and Stereoscomania
In 1995, I had the exceptional pleasure of engaging in one of the  
curious habits of the Finnish media scholar, theoretician and curator  
Erkki Huhtamo quoted earlier: A field research in antiquariat shops  
in the medieval old city of Tallinn, Estonia, in an attempt to  
uncover old media machines from the Soviet era. Huhtamo is a  
collector and excessive documenter. That afternoon in Tallinn,  
however, we were not very productive. We found some old gramophones  
and radios, but nothing truly surprising, no unidentified media  
machines . . .
	At the time, Huhtamo was deeply immersed in what he called the  
'Archaeology of Interactivity'. He collected an impressive series of  
advertisements, sketches, drawings and various forms of historical  
imaginations about man/machine interfaces and machinic communication  
devices, including hilariously bizarre prints of eighteenth- and  
nineteenth-century video-phones, and proto-virtual reality devices,  
as well as countless examples of pre-electronic man/machine  
interfaces - not to mention actual media machines of various kinds.
	In 1999, Huhtamo presented a snapshot of his collection in an  
impromptu talk at De Balie, and it struck me that so many of the  
images he presented seemed infused by recurrent and nearly identical  
'narratives' of how machines could support or replace human  
interaction. By seeing this eternal recurrence of the same ideas,  
most left unrealized by the actual results of media development, it  
seemed as if the narration of media technology had a more profound  
impact on the development of media history than the actual  
realization of the machines. This could at one level be considered as  
a form of cultural prefiguration, a proto-technology that exists  
strictly on a conceptual level, which then enables the emergence of a  
particular media technology and its application. However, as so many  
of these wonderful visions of technologically enabled interaction are  
left unrealized, despite the expenditure of great effort, [10] it may  
also be interpreted as a symbol of desperation (a form of  
'sublimation' if you care for such terms).
	In our project we challenged Huhtamo to think more deeply about this  
narration of media, almost at the expense of the actual machines. It  
has resulted in a wonderful new study into the complex of  
Stereoscomania and 'Peep Media'. Huhtamo traces manifestations of the  
culture of peeping from the past five hundred years. Discarding  
possible objections that the act of peeping should be considered pre-  
(or infra-) cultural, Huhtamo decidedly frames what he calls the  
'topos of peeping' as a culturally determined construct. He then goes  
on to question how and why peep media emerged, and how they developed  
over time from one context to another. The stereoscope in its various  
guises, often as a medium for 'adult entertainment', plays an  
important role in this trajectory. Huhtamo's study is by far the  
lengthiest in this book. As it is breaking significant new ground for  
the study of media culture we decided to include his study unabridged.

'Heavy Encounter': The Third Body

Klaus Theweleit, the German writer, literary scholar and cultural  
theorist gave an enigmatic talk at the Imaginary Media event at De  
Balie. It would be fair to say that Theweleit stretched the field of  
analysis conceptually the farthest by suggesting an in-between in the  
mingling of our bodies with technology, through which this  
unidentified theoretical object 'Imaginary Media', of which he also  
had no precise idea what it meant, could possibly be constituted. In  
the talk Theweleit designated this in-between as a 'third body',  
something in-between our physical bodies and the extensions of our  
bodies we create. [11]
	At the outset of his talk, Theweleit referred to a sentence in the  
last book of Marshall McLuhan, co-authored by his brother Eric  
McLuhan, Laws of Media: The New Science. On the last page of the book  
they write: 'The goal of science and the arts, and of education for  
the next generation must be to decipher, not the genetic code, but  
the perceptual code.' [12]  Deciphering the perceptual code then is  
also the central object of any study of media, following the McLuhan  
brothers. Theweleit went on to assert that sound is the universal  
medium of perception. The first form of perception is hearing, the  
baby in the womb of its mother, as it grows, its first sensations of  
the outside world, are established through sound. Sound waves that  
are able to pass through human tissue. Later, sound becomes the  
primary medium through which mother and child retain contact in the  
first period after birth.
	Theweleit is inspired by accounts of the psychoanalyst Donald  
Winnicot, who describes a curious experience of one of his patients:  
The man felt that during one of the sessions he fell from the  
analyst's couch and rolled into the middle of the room, however  
without physically moving. The analyst and the client met through a  
medium, a third body, in the middle of the room. Theweleit proceeds  
to ask from this what actually is psycho-analysis?

  Theweleit: It is the meeting of the body of the analyst and the  
analyssant in a greased space, in order to become a new body, a third  
body. In this mediating space the patient finds or reinvents himself,  
constructs himself in a manner different from what he/she was before.  

Returning to the universal medium of sound, the third body appears in  
an unexpected place: in the recording of sound. There is strange  
discovery one can make when hearing old records after many years,  
Theweleit asserts. The records stored more than just the music. 'They  
give you something back that was not on them when you heard them  
first. They recorded your emotions as the records were playing; in an  
invisible in-between body. The body between the music and you: You  
meet the music, and the music meets you in a heavy encounter with the  
third body.'
	This encounter with the in-between third body in music is something  
that many musicians will relate to as well from their professional  
experience. One of the most articulate in this regard has been the  
guitarist Robert Fripp, who noticed in 1981 that something needed to  
be reversed in his understanding of playing music (his professional  
music career started with a first record release as early as 1968).  
In fact, what he came to understand as an essential principle of the  
practice of the musician was that it is not so much the musician who  
is playing the music, but instead, it is 'the music playing the  
musician'. In his notes on a Guitar Craft course in Argentina of  
1996, Fripp reiterates this principle:

  The apprentice musician plays music. When music plays the musician,  
the invisible side of the craft has presented itself. Then, the  
apprentice sees directly for themself what is actually and really  
involved. A performance of music becomes the act of music, in which  
process and content are inseparable. [14]

Here the interaction of the musician with the music is mediated by an  
invisible in-between, what Fripp calls 'the invisible side of the  
craft', which seems highly similar to Theweleit's concept of the  
third body.
	It is important not to understand this concept of the third body in  
a mystical sense, and this is certainly not how Theweleit delineated  
the concept in his talk. What is essential to the concept is that the  
specific experience, in our example of the emotions tied to a  
recording, the experience made when you first listened to the music,  
or when it first made a strong impression, is something that can only  
be recovered by listening to that particular recording again. The  
emotion, the recovered experience, is not visibly stored on the  
recording; it looks, feels, and handles the same as before. Neither  
is it a memory to be recalled at will by the listener. Without  
listening to the recording, the original experience remains  
inaccessible. But upon listening to the record, the emotions are  
suddenly readily available, they seem to exist only in this in- 
between, this third body that emerges out of the interaction of the  
listener and the record. Such experiences, Theweleit holds, are  
symptomatic for the intermingling of our body with technology. And it  
is probably here that the locus of imagination vis-à-vis our  
technological environments lies.

Intermission from Blegvad's On Imaginary Media, 'Moodia':

  	'She - Anything drugs can do, imaginary media can do.
  	He - Imagine mood altering or mood enhancing media.
  	She - Imagine Moodia.
  	He - Moodia is silent, but it moves you like music. Wireless  
	of neural paths.
  	She - There are settings for awe, self-pity, anxiety, reverie,  
  	He - The effect is instant which gives it the advantage over music
	which requires duration for its effects to be felt.'

Politics of Imaginary Media

	'She - Most people use Moodia as an anti-depressant,
	but naturally the technology is abused, hopped-up, perverted.

	He - The military develops horrible mood weapons.
	Moodias are modified to provoke rebellion, rage, etc.'

As indicated earlier in this introduction, a variety of interests and  
agendas may hide behind the deliberate construction of media  
mythologies; or purposeful imaginary media. Although not part of the  
original programme, we decided to include a recent essay by Richard  
Barbrook in this book as it highlights yet another dimension of  
imaginary media: their function as political instruments. In the  
essay 'New York Prophecies', Barbrook revisits the New York World  
Fair of 1964, which he visited with his mother as a little boy. The  
fair and his visit happened at the height of the cold war and in the  
midst of a desperate struggle for supremacy by the two superpowers of  
that time, the United States and the Soviet Union.
	Barbrook investigates the convergence of three technological  
narratives, played out prominently and triumphantly in the New York  
World Fair of 1964, but obviously also elsewhere in society, to  
project an image of dominance onto the world. These narratives  
managed to capture the popular imagination at that time, and to some  
extent they still do. Barbrook focuses on three particularly  
interesting representatives: Free or nearly free electrical energy  
via nuclear technology; space travel by means of rocket propelled  
systems; and artificial intelligence by means of computing systems.  
He then locates these three technological meta-narratives in a cold  
war political context to show how the strategic interests that  
fuelled the development of these respective technologies were  
effectively kept out of sight by these meta-narratives, while they  
simultaneously served to boost public support for the enormous  
expenditures made on their behalf.
	The retranslation of the cold war technological mythologies into the  
hidden strategic agenda can roughly be summarised as follows: Free  
electricity by means of nuclear technology translates into the  
construction of plants to produce raw materials for atomic bombs;  
space travel by means of rocket propelled ships translates as the  
creation of ballistic missiles for the delivery of nuclear weapons;  
and the development of artificial intelligence translates as the  
construction of missile control and guidance systems, leading to semi- 
autonomous weapon systems. Most of these concerns are on-going areas  
of military research and development, also today.

Imaginary Media and the Cinematic Imagination

The contributions by John Akomfrah, Edwin Carels, Timothy Druckrey  
and Zoe Beloff share a cinematographic approach to the theme of  
imaginary media. For a long time cinema has obviously been a dominant  
medium to define the popular media imagination, and thus it provides  
us with a rich historical repository from which to examine the  
aesthetics of imaginary media.

John Akomfrah, a filmmaker based in London, is represented here  
through an 'imaginary conversation' on Afrofuturism and the  
Mothership narrative, based on the notes of his talk and subsequent  
discussion in De Balie, as well as the documentary film 'Last Angle  
of History', which he realized on the subject in 1995. Akomfrah  
traced in his research and in the film some of the artistic and  
political themes and trends that come together in the genre of  
Afrofuturism (which could be roughly summarized as 'black science  
fiction' and black futurist music). What is fascinating in his  
'archaeology' of Afrofuturism is that the approach and method  
Akomfrah followed when researching and putting together the film are  
more or less identical to similar studies carried out in the field of  
media archaeology and media arts proper. However, as he follows  
through the set of references and the artists he managed to uncover,  
he ends up in an entirely different territory.
	The 'black' focus of the investigation reveals a series of  
transformations that reflect the problematic history of black culture  
within Western society. Obviously, this history is implicated by the  
legacy of colonialism and the displacement of slave trade. This  
displacement almost necessarily makes the new nation for the black  
population in the west, an alien nation. Within the frame of black  
science fiction and black futurist music, but also within activist  
black culture, a series of fascinating attempts have been made to  
overcome the alienation of this 'alien nation' by means of a set of  
technological meta-narratives. The Mothership or Mother Wheel motive  
is clearly the most powerful of these. A black exodus into space here  
becomes a promise of a final possibility to overcome displacement and  
alienation through a new existence in outer space.

The Belgian writer, critic and curator Edwin Carels has been  
developing a close examination of the pre-history of cinema and early  
forms of animation machines (such as the fantascope and the  
fantasmascope), where he discovers a remarkable recurrence of the  
iconography of death and resurrection. These pre-cinematic techniques  
are closely aligned with a deep popular fascination with spiritist  
and occult themes. The new techniques of the moving image become ways  
of bringing to life the diseased and the otherworldly. They managed  
to captivate the popular imagination through theatrical public  
displays and dramatic entertainment shows. The idea of resurrection  
and the undead is in fact already contained in the etymological root  
'animatio', which signifies 'to bring to life' or 'to instil with life'.

Filmmaker Zoe Beloff builds further on this theme by exploring the  
(often queer) aesthetics of spiritist media and ectoplasmic  
emanations as they were recorded on photographic records at the end  
of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century. Beloff is  
fascinated by the women who were acting as medium for these  
emanations of the otherworldly or the 'afterlife'; the departed. In  
her films she consciously wants to bring these inspiring and  
disturbing women back to life and manifest their presence once again.  
Beloff makes films, but also more complex installation works.  
Probably her favourite medium is stereoscopic film and projection,  
which detaches her images from the flat surface of the screen and  
transfers them into the physical space of the viewer. It is another  
attempt to bring the domain of the imaginary and the quasi- 
documentary fictions of her cinematic works one step closer to the  
actual existence of the observer here and now.

Timothy Druckrey, finally, completes our journey into the realm of  
imaginary media by examining the works of a number of media artists  
who build in different ways upon a cinematic tradition. They realize  
within their work new definitions of previously unknown media and  
mediatic forms that are brought into existence there. Emblematic for  
this is the work of the artist Julien Maire. He constructs intricate  
media machineries (micro-mechanic animation machines contained within  
customized glass slides). He employs them in public showings that  
seem to reinvigorate the traditions of the occult pre-cinematic  
moving image shows that Edwin Carels refers to in his essay.  
According to Druckrey the 'proto-cinematic micro-machines' that Maire  
is using 'both evoke and outdistance the illusions of the  
phantasmagoric projectionists of the pre-cinema.'
	Druckrey discerns an interplay between illusion and a certain  
visibility of the technological interface, intensified in particular  
in Maire's work by his direct interventions in the performance of his  
work, which oscillates between the staged illusions of the  
cinematographic imaginary and the self-awareness of the viewer when  
these illusions are consciously broken. The fascinating ingenuity of  
this work highlights the complex relationships between the  
imagination and the actual realization of the media imaginary. It  
seems a befitting ending note for now, for our preliminary forays  
into the domain of imaginary media, of which, obviously, we all still  
have no truly clear idea of what it is about, or as Theweleit mused  
in his presentation, 'what may be in it . . .'.

Let's see . . .

Eric Kluitenberg
Amsterdam, July 2005


[1]  The first introduction was written for the Imaginary Media  
Reader (February, 2004) and can be found on-line at: 
[2] The word 'media' means many things, here we refer primarily to  
communications media.
[3] Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the  
Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London and New York: Verso, 1991), 6.
[4] Roland Barthes, Mythologies (Paris: Éditions du Seuil, 1957).
[5] Erkki Huhtamo, 'From Kaleidoscomaniac to Cybernerd - Towards an  
Archeology of the Media', in: Timothy Druckrey, Electronic Culture -  
Technology and Visual Representation (New York: Aperture, 1996),  
[6] Siegfried Zielinski, Media Archaeology, originally published by C- 
theory, November 1996 -
[8] In German we might call them 'Real Existierende Medien'.
[9] See also the Vinyl Video website:
[10] Immersive Virtual Reality might be considered such a recurrent,  
yet unrealized mediatic desire.
[11] For reasons entirely beyond control of either Theweleit himself  
or the editors, it was impossible to include his contribution in the  
book, which is why a summary of his argument is provided here.
[12] Marshall and Eric McLuhan, Laws of Media: The New Science  
(Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1988).
[13] Paraphrasing from the talk: Theweleit's presentation can be  
found on-line in full length as a streaming video document in the  
dossier Media Archaeology on the De Balie website: 
[14] Course Notes, Guitar Craft Course November 1, 1996, San Jose  
Seminary, Gandara, Argentina, released by R. Fripp on the list serve  
Elephant Talk, February 11, 1997.

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