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Week Six—The World as Medium for the Transmission of Feeling

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THIS WEEK

We’re combining two things this week, as we’re more or less half way through the course (that went quickly I suspect!).

First, we’re thinking in more depth about the world as medium, and the becoming-environmental of power via media and communications. This is a way of reviewing the ideas of the first half of the course via a more in-depth exploration of how different kinds of media and thinking explore the issues involved.

Second, once you’ve done the preparation for the tutorials this week, you need to come with some approaches to how you would research in more depth the ideas and media elements in whatever you’ve chosen to engage with (this will be explained below). This will lead into the second half of the course, help with the second and third assignments, and enable you to review what you’ve learnt so far in the program (and elsewhere). In order to do this you will be reading a novel, or some short stories, some extended theory, or playing the game. You choose from the possibilities below. These are often different kinds of materials that are longer than usual. It means that lots of people will come with different preparations so you should be prepared to talk both about the materials you’ve chosen and how you would do further research with them.

LECTURE

The World as Medium

More and more of the world seems to be “mediated”. How can we think about the relation between world and media when the two seem almost to be merging? At the same time, what if the world itself has always been a medium? Or, to think this differently, what if mediation is no longer quite the right concept for what is going on?

There was a lot on the world as medium in the lectures for weeks one and two. There’s also a longer text in the extra resources below if you want to read more.

However, mostly what we want you to do in preparation is engage more intensively with a media work or two, as below. So no compulsory recorded lecture this week. However, there are optional lecture recordings provided elsewhere. These are on—

Introduction to the World as Medium, along with a Discussion of the Relations between Philosophy, Media and Communications, and Everyday Life

The World as Medium—Whitehead and Media and Communications in the 20th Century, Worms and World as Medium

Conclusions about the World and Medium and What is Means for Thinking and Working with Media and Communications more Generally

TUTORIALS

The idea this week is to engage with something in depth. Then to think it through in regard to the issues on the course. Then to come prepared to discuss this in small groups with people who probably won’t have engaged with the same thing you have.

The key questions for everyone: How are media and communications different in different situation? How are they different not just because they might do the same kind of thing differently, but perhaps because media and communications themselves become something quite different to what we might think media and communications to be in other situations? How do are concepts and cultural roles of media and communication changed by the situations in which they find themselves (and which they themselves might have helped create)? Whether these are different cultural situations or as the world changes over time?

Discussion of your and others’ choices of examples. How do the relations between media and world move through them? How would you reseach these examples? What would be the point of that research? Would critique be involved or are there other ways to approach research? How might you bring the discussions you’ve had so far on the course (and other courses, and outside university) to these examples?

You will need to have chosen to read/watch play at least one item or specified collection of items from within one of the the following five sections. Sometimes one choice involves more than one text (please note that your tutor will have made their own choice and might well not have read/played yours).

(1) (Podcasts) Choose one of the following podcasts and listen to at least five episodes. 1. Douglas Rushkoff’s Team Human 2. Ginger Campbells’ The Brain Science Podcast 3. Penmanship 4. This American Life 5. The Next System podcast 6. Voices of VR 7. Philosophy Now Podcast 8. Always Already critical theory podcast

(2) (Stories/film) Ted Chiang’s Stories of Your Life and Others (you need to read at least two of the stories—’Understand’ and ‘Story of Your Life’). You also need to see the Denis Villeneuve film from 2016, Arrival, which was based on ‘Story of Your Life’, although there are significant differences. You will need to have bought this book, probably electronically (from Amazon.com—it is not in the UNSW Bookshop). The film is available via iTunes or DVD. (An interesting comparison might be with the 1997 film Contact, which is one of the best films I know of the basics of communication—it’s worth even just watching the opening scenes although this is not required for this section). OR if you can find it, watch Wim Wenders’ Until the End of the World, from 1991 (you are warned that some think this film is a failure, but it’s one of my favourites and is very specifically about new media technologies and their effect on people).

(3) (Novels) Read at least one of the following (but note before you do that many of them include a fair bit of violence and often sexual activity). There are many to choose from. Some are about the transformation of the world by (usually at least in part communications) technologies. You can

1. read William Gibson’s The Peripheral, from 2014, which deals with communication through time or
2. his Neuromancer (from 1984, which is a founding text for “cyberspace”, “cyberpunk” and hacker culture). Or you could read
3. Annalee Newitz’s more recent Autonomous (2017), which echoes Gibson in a contemporary version of Cyberpunk. Or you could read
4. Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age. You might also read
5. Gibson’s Pattern Recognition, from 2003, which is about someone with an acute sensitivity to cultural trends (it’s a good read, but quite subtle).
6. China Miéville’s Embassytown from 2011, or
7. Octavia Butler’s Dawn from 1987 are both incredible on communication—often a key issue in science fiction of course. You could also read
8. Liu Cixin’s The Three-Body Problem, which is about alien contact (you could compare it if you wanted to, to the film Contact, from 1997). All of these are about communication across significant barriers, whether with aliens, or between different times. I can say that in the Gibson and Miéville at least it’s not easy to know what’s going on for the first 100 pages or so, although sci-fi people will know this is not always a bad thing. I will be reading
9. Nick Haraway’s Gnomon (2017), and you can too if you like.
10. A couple of years ago the whole course read M. T. Anderson’s 2002 young adult novel Feed, in which people have the internet and social media integrated directly into their brains. Some people really liked it, and some though it a bit too young. If that appeals to you, it covers a lot of interesting issues also found on the course.

(4) (Theory and Critical Theory) Probably fewer people will choose this but I find each year that there are some student for whom this kind of work can be really important. Choose one of the following, nd remember there is no test! Work thoroughly but don’t worry too much about whether you could be tested on what you’re reading. Try rather to see what you get out of it personally, considering that there is no test and you don’t have to get it completely right—

1. Read at least five chapters (it’s very long) of the edited book Immediations London: Open Humanities Press (2018—so this is recent theory, hot off the press) edited by Erin Manning, Anna Munster (from UNSW) and Bodil Marie Stavning Thomsen. It will be available from the Open Humanities Press Web Site before the end of March (I hope). Not only does it contain chapter by Andrew and Lone who are teaching on this course; it’s also about a very different approach to thinking media.

2. Read Peters, John Durham (2015) Marvelous Clouds: Towards a Philosophy of Elemental Media (if you’re interested in the philosophy of media, or animal communication). You will need to read at least the introduction and Chapters One and Two—this is an ebook you can access through the UNSW library .. probably the most interesting of these chapters is about cetacean [dolphins and whales] communication and what their communication might imply about ours. Some of the material from Week Two, on plant, animal and virus communication might also prove interesting here. The key question is what all this implies about media and communications. Do we have to rethink what these are, or how they work, at some basic level?

3. Read at least half of The Money Lab Reader 2. This is a another fairly high level text, but it involves very new ways of working with money and finance to change the way the world works. Money is of course a medium. Moveover, many of these new ways of working with it involve digital and networked media. You can download the book for free here.

4. New Feminisms, technology and world (higher level and this is quite radical critical theory. You will probably know if this is your kind of thing) — read:

—Amy Ireland’s ‘Black Circuit: Code for the Numbers to Come‘ e-flux March 2017):
—Laboria Cuboniks’ Xenofeminism: A Politics for Alienationavailable here,
—and on the different but related issues of representation and world, Denise Ferreira Da Silva’s ‘Toward a Black Feminist Poethics: The Question of BlacknessToward the End of the World’, The Black Scholar, 44 (2014): 81-97 (this is available electronically from the library)
—with an interesting take on reading, Valentina Desideria and Denise Ferreira Da Silva (2016) ‘
A conversation between Valentina Desideri and Denise Ferreira da Silva’, download from here

5. Read Nocturnal Fabulations: Ecology, Vitality and Opacity in the Cinema  (2017) by Érik Bordeleau, Toni Pape, Ronald Rose-Antoinette and Adam SzymanskiThis is available Open Access from the Open Humanities Press. This is on the Thai film director Apichatpong Weerasethaki. It would be worth watching one of the films. Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives via the Kanopy service to which the UNSW Library subscribes.

6. Read Harney, Stefano and Moten, Fred (2013) The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning and Back Study Minor Compositions (critical race theory and more besides). This is a book on an undercommons, beneath the commons, on universities, on education and study, on blackness, on infrastructure and on feeling. You can download it Open Access here.

(5)  (Games) (2014) Never Alone (Kisima Innitchuna), Upper One Games. This is a game that you will need to buy and play all the way through. It is available on many platforms. A lot of people have liked it in previous years, although the game play itself is not as exciting as the other aspects. Details at http://neveralonegame.com/. It might also be worth reading this: Elizabeth LaPensée (2017) ‘Video games encourage Indigenous cultural expression‘, The Conversation, March 22. LaPensée is a Professor and also game maker.

If there is some other game you would like to play ask your tutor, although 1. it will have to be for reasons associated with something to do with the course, and 2. you should justify your interest in terms other than “it’s a really good game” and 3. You should not have played it yet.

Extra Resources

* A copy of my own essay on the World as Medium is provided elsewhere. However, this is not required reading.