Marialaura et al
I apologise for enabling the list to be hijacked for something other than the actual theme this month, and to involve rather too much discussion of the Moot, but this may help bring these important elements together. This the text I sent beforehand to my fellow panellists for the Moot, in order to . The original title of the panel was to have been, simply, Curating the Digital, which is directly relevant to this month's theme of Curating on and through web-based platforms, and I think this paper is particularly relevant to that and might open up discussion of Reinhard's last mention of the 'disadvantages of a net-based presentation of art ...'
The Second Bomb: Destruction and Curation in the Digital Age
The thinker who, in my view at least, had the most interesting things to say about digital transformations in the arts humanities was Jacques Derrida. In 1980 Derrida published his book La Carte Postale, the first part of which, ‘Envois’, was in the form of a series of texts ostensibly on the back of picture postcards, sent by someone, maybe Derrida, to an unnamed correspondent, who seems at least to be a lover.
'. . . an entire epoch of so-called literature, if not all of it, cannot survive a certain technological regime of telecommunications (in this respect the political regime is secondary). Neither can philosophy, or psychoanalysis. Or love letters. . . . Refound here the American student with whom we had coffee last Saturday, the one who was looking for a thesis subject (comparative literature), I suggested to her something on the telephone in the literature of the 20th century (and beyond), starting with, for example, the telephone lady in Proust or the figure of the American operator, and then asking the question of the effects of the most advanced telematics [la télématique la plus avancée] on whatever would still remain of literature. I spoke to her about microprocessors and computer terminals, she seemed somewhat disgusted [avait l'air un peu dégoutée]. She told me that she still loved literature (me too, I answered her, mais si, mais si). Curious to know what she understood by this.'
J. Hillis Miller suggests that ‘one of Derrida’s main points in The Post Card is that it is a feature of the new regime of telecommunications to break down the inside/outside dichotomies that presided over the old print culture’. He goes on to propose that the ‘postcard stands as a proleptic anticipation of the publicity and openness of the new communications regimes’. This new regime involves ‘the breakdown of traditional boundaries between inside and outside brought about by new communication technologies... the new electronic space, the space of television, cinema, telephone, videos, fax, e-mail, hypertext, and the Internet, has profoundly altered the economies of the self, the home, the workplace, the university, and the nation-state’s politics.’ Hillis Miller claims that these ‘were traditionally ordered around the firm boundaries of an inside-outside dichotomy, whether those boundaries were the walls between the home’s privacy and all the world outside or the borders between the nation-state and its neighbours. The new technologies invade the home and the nation. They confound all these inside/outside divisions’.
This is also true of the archive, a term I use here in a more general than technical sense, to refer to the means by which the material traces of culture are preserved from generation to generation, and which are always governed by our absolute finitude. In his 1995 book Archive Fever, which is concerned with the Freudian legacy, Derrida suggests that the archive is a form of exteriorised supplement for our spontaneous, living, psychic memory. As such ‘the archive takes place at the place of originary and structural breakdown’ of ‘spontaneous, alive and internal experience’. As such the existence of the archive is also threatened by the death drive. There is ‘no archive without consignation in an external place, which assures the possibility of memorization, of repetition, of reproduction, or of reimpression’ and repetition compulsion is ‘indissociable from the death drive… [A]nd thus from destruction’. Which means that all that permits and conditions archivization also exposes it to and even menaces it with destruction, ‘introducing, a priori, forgetfulness… into the heart of the monument’.
In Archive Fever Derrida speculates to what degree psychoanalysis has been ‘determined by a state of the technology of communication and archivization’ and how it would have been determined had Freud and his contemporaries ‘had had access to MCI and AT&T telephonic credit cards, portable tape recorders, computers, printers, faxes, televisions, teleconferences and above all E-mail’. Appropriately for someone who published a book entitled La Carte Postale, e-mail is a privileged instance in these technical transformations, particularly in relation to the speed of its transmission. Derrida suggests that email ‘is on the way to transforming the entire public and private space of humanity, and first of all the limit between the private, the secret (private or public), and the public or the phenomenal’. He continues that ‘it is not only a technique, in the ordinary and limited sense of the term: at an unprecedented rhythm, in quasi-instantaneous fashion, this instrumental possibility of production, of printing, of conservation, and of destruction of the archive must inevitably be accompanied by juridical and thus political transformations’.
In 1984 Derrida made his contribution to the then emerging area of ‘nuclear criticism’. His paper, given at the conference called ‘Nuclear Criticism’ was entitled ‘No Apocalypse Not Now; Full Speed Ahead, Seven Missiles, Seven Missives’, which proclaimed among other things that nuclear war threatened the ‘remainderless destruction of the archive’, or in other words the totality of the material traces of human knowledge and cultural production. For Derrida literature is particularly threatened by this, as it refers only to itself, unlike for example science. Thus for Derrida firstly literature is always already bound up with the possibility of total destruction and therefore with the threat of nuclear war, even before it was technically possible. According to Derrida it is writers such as Kafka, Joyce, and Mallarme who engage with this best, rather than those dealing directly with such war.
The threat of nuclear war may have receded, for the moment at least, but the implications of the digital technologies which helped develop atomic and nuclear weaponry have not. As we archive more and more of our cultural production in digital form, we are threatened by the remainderless destruction of the archive without the necessity of nuclear war (though the electromagnetic pulse of a nuclear explosion would knock out electronic networks, possibly permanently). The complex system of digital networks is increasingly vulnerable to breakdown, and the concomitant loss of the archive. The digital cloud thus becomes a kind of atomic cloud, an image of potential destruction. This brings us in confrontation with the finitude, vulnerability and fragility of the archive, digital or otherwise. To lapse into Heideggerian, the cloud takes us away from the earth, that grounds and makes possible the world of human culture.
It is in this context that we must engage with curation in the digital age. An older meaning of the word ‘curation’ is healing or cure, and this cannot but invoke Derrida’s notion of the ‘pharmakon’, the Greek word that means both remedy and poison, and which governs Plato’s understanding of writing. The digital archive both enables the preservation of cultural artefacts, and threatens their remainderless destruction, and it is this that should govern our discussion of digital curation. The archive, whatever form it takes, is already structured by the possibility of its own destruction. From the Library of Alexandria to Nazi book burning what makes the preservation of human culture possible is also necessarily what makes its destruction possible. This possibility is exacerbated by our increasing reliance on the most vulnerable of technologies, those of digital networks. Einstein famously described the computer as the ‘information bomb’, the second of three bombs, following the atomic bomb, and preceding the demographic bomb, that would have incalculable consequences for humanity in the post-war era. So, my question for the panel, is what are the implications of the second bomb, and the becoming digital of the archive, and of this concomitant vulnerability.
Professor of Media Theory and History
Lancaster Institute for Contemporary Arts
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From: Curating digital art - www.crumbweb.org [mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Marialaura Ghidini
Sent: 22 November 2012 14:20
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: [NEW-MEDIA-CURATING] November Theme: Curating on and through web-based platforms
Thank you Reinhard for your detailed reflection on your experience of curating online. Many aspects resonate with my own curatorial practice and I am sure with that of the other invited respondents.
I cannot refrain from asking you - since you mentioned it - what do you think the disadvantages are?
P.S.: I don't want to hijack the flow of our group conversation so please keep your thoughts coming in in relation to the valid and positive points Reinhard has just raised.