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.
und Zeit, 17th ed. (Tubingen: Max Niemeyer, 1993), 385. “Die Wiederholung ist die ausdrückliche Überlieferung, das heißt der Rückgang in die Möglichkeiten des dagewesenen Daseins.” Italics in original. 5. See Martin Heidegger, Beiträge zur Philosophie (Vom Ereignis), 3rd ed., Gesamtausgabe III. Abt. Unveröffentliche Abhandlungen Vorträge—Gedachtes, Band 65 (Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann, 2003). 6. Hermann von Helmholtz declares at the climax of historicism in Germany: “Die Beziehung auf die
avant-garde, 25, 104, 118 avant la lettre, 37, 67, 71, 152 Babbage, Charles, 82, 200 Bachelard, Gaston, 7 Bain, Alexander, 39 Baird, John Logie, 66 Bann, Stephen, 35, 37, 38, 39, 42, 43, 44, 47–48, 49, 51, 54; close contact and, 50; design by, 40; on history/discontinuity, 45; media changes and, 41; Musée de Cluny and, 53; replication/representation and, 48; subjectivity and, 52 Bargrave, John, 46 Barthes, Roland, 6, 38, 47, 48, 64 Bartók, Béla, 174 Bazin, André, 43 Being and Time
Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, 127 U.S. Army Signal Corps, 108 Varèse, Edgard, 178 Vaughan, William, 136 Vermeer, 45 Vertov, Dziga, 10, 51, 67 Vico, Giambattista, 69, 177 video, 85, 87, 91, 120, 121; digital, 95, 108, 155 Video on Demand, 99 Vienna Phonogram Archive, 182 Viola, Bill, 31, 89–90 Virgil, 152, 153 Virilio, Paul, 67 Virtual Reality Modeling Language, 156 Vismann, Cornelia, 8, 20, 120 visual archiving, 132–37 visual stories, 173 vocal
medium of the past as opposed to hot historiography (according to McLuhan’s well-known distinction in Understanding Media).34 As long as the representation of color was not available to photography (until around 1900), the new medium largely remained on the side of the archival, text-based aesthetics of registering the past coldly, in contrast to painterly animation and historical imagination. In the present age, the possibilities of digital manipulation of electronic photography seem to be
the acoustic, the human auditory sense does not suffice. Let us therefore track the sonic trace with genuine tools of media studies. One way to conduct “acoustic archaeology” is to play a musical partition on historic instruments. But the real archaeologists in media archaeology are the media themselves—not mass media, but measuring media that are able to decipher physically real signals technoanalogically, representing them in graphic forms alternative to alphabetic writing, requiring moving