Digital Memory and the Archive (Electronic Mediations)
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In the popular imagination, archives are remote, largely obsolete institutions: either antiquated, inevitably dusty libraries or sinister repositories of personal secrets maintained by police states. Yet the archive is now a ubiquitous feature of digital life. Rather than being deleted, e-mails and other computer files are archived. Media software and cloud storage allow for the instantaneous cataloging and preservation of data, from music, photographs, and videos to personal information gathered by social media sites.
In this digital landscape, the archival-oriented media theories of Wolfgang Ernst are particularly relevant. Digital Memory and the Archive, the first English-language collection of the German media theorist’s work, brings together essays that present Ernst’s controversial materialist approach to media theory and history. His insights are central to the emerging field of media archaeology, which uncovers the role of specific technologies and mechanisms, rather than content, in shaping contemporary culture and society.
Ernst’s interrelated ideas on the archive, machine time and microtemporality, and the new regimes of memory offer a new perspective on both current digital culture and the infrastructure of media historical knowledge. For Ernst, different forms of media systems—from library catalogs to sound recordings—have influenced the content and understanding of the archive and other institutions of memory. At the same time, digital archiving has become a contested site that is highly resistant to curation, thus complicating the creation and preservation of cultural memory and history.
Around 1900 a crisis of intuition in mathematics occurred: David Hilbert’s mathematics led to a nonreferential use of mathematical signs, simply operative and thus engineerable (the Turing machine of 1936). Since technologies changed from tools to machines, these techniques have comprised not only texts and images but numbers as well.33 Media archaeology, therefore, is close to mathematics. As Martin Kusch says of the use of the term series in Foucault’s Archaeology of Knowledge, the natural way
writers such as Lev Manovich and Wendy Hui Kyong Chun have tackled more closely the digital software culture.23 Ernst continues the Kittler lineage of media archaeology—even if Kittler distanced himself from “media archaeology” as a specific brand of media sciences.24 What the many scholars share is an enthusiasm for the objects, and hence as collectors many are miniarchivists themselves, frequent visitors of flea markets, antiquariums, and old electronics shops. This type of enthusiasm has
psychological tensions between characters, these computer games return us to the ancient forms of narrative where the plot is driven by the spatial movement of the main hero, traveling through distant lands.41 The coordinates of three-dimensional space become the medium of (ac)counting—beyond writing. Is this the return to an ancient Greek, topology-based notion of narrative diegesis, which effectively meant routing?42 Augmented reality plays with this practice when the user in real (urban)
(1886–1899), ed. James Strachey (London: Hogarth, 1966), 233–39. 5. Between Real Time and Memory on Demand 1. Hans-Magnus Enzensberger, Baukasten zu einer Theorie der Medien: Kritische Diskurse zur Pressefreiheit, ed. Peter Glotz (Munich: Fischer, 1997), 150 and 168. 2. Walter Benjamin, “Vorstufen zum Erzähler-Essay,” in Gesammelte Schriften, vol. 2, pt. 3 (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1991), 1282: “Man kann all diese Dinge als ewig ansehen (Erzählen z. B.), man kann sie aber auch als durchaus
zeitgenossischer Medienkultur, ed. Sabine Flach and Michael Grisko (Munich: KoPäd, 2000), 269. 29. Tetzner and Eckert, Fernsehen ohne Geheimnisse, 105. 30. Albert Abramson, “Video Recording: 1922 to 1959,” in Zielinski, Video, 38. 31. Knut Hickethier, “Fernsehen, Modernisierung und kultureller Wandel,” in Flach and Grisko, Fernsehperspektiven, 32. 32. Weber, “Television: Set and Screen,” 121. Italics in original. 33. Samuel Weber, interviewed by Cassi Plate in “Deux ex Media,” in Weber, Mass