Production - [Critical Media Concepts and Contexts]

on 28 November 2009 at about 15:29

"All that is solid melts into air" (Engels, F. & Marx, K., 1848. The Communist Manifesto) This lecture explored the notion of production, and found that every attempt to pin "production" down ended in the pursuit of something disappearing.

Evaporation du lac by FrancoisRoche
Evaporation du lac by FrancoisRoche on Flickr


The ideas presented can be summarised in any one of the following ways:

We occasionally looked at the practice of mapping in order to illustrate some of these ideas.

Production as creativity

March 19, 2006: Apple tree blossoms by Matt McGee
March 19, 2006: Apple tree blossoms by Matt McGee on Flickr

Shadow Play by Swamibu
Shadow Play by Swamibu on Flickr

We can think then of representation as a reproduction of the world - the image of the world as it appears in human consciousness. A map, too, is a representation of the world. Does conscious human thought "map" accurately onto the world? For that matter, do maps accurately represent the world (consider the reductionism inherent in portraying the multi-dimensional earth in the two dimensions of a piece of paper or a screen)? Representation is a mediated and interpreted image of what is given: a copy of the world, which may be subject to distortion through our imperfect human sensory apparatus. As Shakespeare intimates - we see through a glass, darkly.

The images we work and rework - such as poetry (from the same etymological root as poiesis) are not inventions of language, but the reimplementation and translation of language. Of course language mutates and evolves through use. The introduction of "newness" - variety, diversity, heterogeneity might be comparable to the evolution of new species: iterative mutation induced through erroneous copying. The "meme" is the cultural manifestation of the biological gene.

Creativity, then might not be about a godlike ability to conjure things into existence from nothing, but part of the work of constant change and transformation that human beings enter into. There is no production, there is only reproduction, and - thankfully - reproduction is given to error?

translation by Swiv
translation by Swiv on Flickr

Production as the material and immaterial means of production and reproduction

No471701 by . SantiMB .
No471701 by . SantiMB . on Flickr

Faculty of Chemical and Food Technology by gadl
Faculty of Chemical and Food Technology by gadl on Flickr

Imagine I create a web page with an interactive map. My act of production of this web-based product relies on a precariously constructed network of immaterial labour interacting with the material conditions which facilitate and shape it. I utilise APIs providing textually represented information to write codes implemented by browsers using interpreters based on formats produced by assemblages of people working commercially towards shareholder profit or in open source collectives for infinitely varied motives, using complex stacks of code layers whose material manifestations essentially consist of the configuration of magnetised atoms on slivers of semi-conductors, co-opted into the mediation and storage of binary digits.

labyrinthine circuit board lines by quapan
labyrinthine circuit board lines by quapan on Flickr

As of November 2009, the internet weighs 498, 438,559,990 kg (2009. Slashdot, How Heavy is the Internet?). How does one begin to untangle the complex web of interactions which go into the production of something which has only existed for a few decades and yet has grown mind-bogglingly large? And what perspectives might we take on the partner to our exponential growth in material production and reproduction? The partner of production is consumption: what ways can we hope to make sense of the consumption of resources that our production necessitates? How many more internets' worth of plastic and metal waste do we dump in landfills every year?

Calgary NW Landfill - 3 by D'Arcy Norman
Calgary NW Landfill - 3 by D'Arcy Norman on Flickr

The interactions between the many actors which constitute the material and immaterial nodes in the networks of production and reproduction which facilitate our work as makers of digital artefacts, writers of diegeses on paper, copiers of performances onto photographic film, are extraordinarily complex, and all mutually embedded in and amongst each other. To pull out nodes from the network is to inevitably foreground certain figures and to discount other grounds. Such disembeddings are reductive: they try to simplify and by doing so, exclude. Only with such caveats should we proceed.

Production as the narrative of human knowledge

Dividers [Project Blake]  by joeflintham
Dividers [Project Blake] by joeflintham on Flickr

Consider maps and their relation to human perception and space and place to illustrate this. Early maps do not show aerial views, but human level perspectives. Naturalistic attempts at spatial and geographical "accuracy" (i.e. attempting to create spatially representative images of coastlines, cities and roads: "geography" literally means the drawing of the earth) is a late invention: earlier maps showed boundaries as perfectly circular, rivers as straight, important buildings as circles, etc. It is too simple to say that these early maps are "less accurate": actually they were trying to achieve something other than the naturalistic representation that we seek in maps.

Centro storico by zZeta
Centro storico by zZeta on Flickr

Do maps get better as they get more naturalistically representative? Or, do they perhaps just serve different (rather than better) purposes? A contemporary geological map might be very useful to someone looking for minerals, but incomprehensible to most other people. Cook's mapping of the antipodes was as much a part of, and inseparable from, the practice of empire-building aided with ships and guns, as it was about charting navigable routes or creating disinterested representations of the natural world in order to have a more complete and objective understanding of it.

Some concluding remarks

streetview by dq.
streetview by dq. on Flickr

Google Streetview is close to showing us the 1:1 map of the world - an external environment centred around the roads and commercial centres which structure our lives. Have we disappeared into that frozen mediated world in which nothing occurs but exchange, capital, and commerce? Are there no more geographies to explore or maps to produce, and are we now only left to consume the endlessly reproduced products of a culture industry? Have we disappeared into the map, or can we use the map to create authentic experiences? Perhaps we can escape the tyranny of consumption by becoming producers of our own experiences, using the resources of the given world: like the flâneur - the stroller and seeker of visions - of Charles Baudelaire and Walter Benjamin?

BlakeWalkers by joeflintham
BlakeWalkers by joeflintham

DJ Spooky has likened DJs to contemporary "troubadours", and that the artistry of remixing "found" sounds and samples is part of a new digital folk culture. (Birringer, J. 2008. Performance, Technology and Science, New York: PAJ Publications). The direct comparison here is with oral cultures in which the same stories are used and retold, each telling generates new rhythms and themes, resonances and meanings. Traditional music lovers might long for "real" music - as though the sound produced by a bow on a cello is somehow more "authentic" than a sample of a sample of a sample. Where is originality, newness, creativity and authenticity?

Is the DJ a parasite on the creative work of artists nurtured by the culture industry? Or is industry capital a parasite on the productive work of the artist? Or are the works themselves, the audio ephemera, around which such praxis and commerce revolve: the memes - are these the real parasites?

Lecture archive

  • Media & The Body Readings
  • The Use of Theory
  • Play
  • Production - [Critical Media Concepts and Contexts]
  • Narratives: Endlessnesses and Existence
  • Narratives: Endings, Meaning and Morals
  • Narratives: Performers and Players
  • Narratives: Performers and Players
  • Narratives: Familiarity and Strangeness
  • Intro to Media and Participation 2008 - 2009
  • Narratives: Stories and Structures
  • Narratives: Opening and Introductions
  • The Writerly Text: Part 1
  • Media & Participation: Identity
  • Media & Participation: Truth
  • Media & Participation: Citizenship
  • Media & Participation: Culture
  • Ownership of Ideas: Part 2: The History of Copyright
  • Ownership of Ideas: Part 1: The Romantic Author
  • Bournemouth Soundseeing: collaborative authorship
  • Marx's Critique of Capital: 101
  • Key concepts: Ideologies ...a historical view
  • Narrative and Structuralism and the brothers Grimm
  • Intro to Digital Media at BU
  • Small Print

    Joe Flintham 2000 - 2015

    Long form: Menticulture

    Professional Services: Fathom Point