Eric Kluitenberg on Tue, 3 Feb 2004 00:01:06 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> First Introduction to an Archaeology of Imaginary Media

An Archaeology of Imaginary Media

a first introduction.......


This short text was written as an introduction for the reader of the 
mini-festival "An Archaeology of Imaginary Media" at De Balie in 
Amsterdam, 5 - 8 February, 2004. The program consists of a series of 
lectures, an extensive film program, a theatrical performance 
developed by Peter Blegvad specifically for the program, and new work 
by 11 cartoonists and artist on the theme of imaginary media.

Full info at:


When the German catholic mystic Heinrich Suso published his widely 
read manuscript "Horologium Sapientiae" (Wisdom's Watch upon the 
Hours), most commonly dated to 1339, mechanical clocks had made their 
way in civic life throughout mayor cities in Europe. Late in the 
thirteenth century the mechanical clock had appeared in monasteries 
belonging to the Benedictine order and was used to mark the 7 
canonical hours of the day, and call for prayer. The clock spread to 
civic life and its function changed. By the time of Suso's writing, 
the clock had become a central medium structuring and ordering life 
and communication of the late medieval city dwellers.

Suso's thinking was very much informed by the juxtaposition of the 
erratic temporal nature of earthly human life, versus the divine 
order of eternal wisdom of the Christian God he revered. With the 
spread of the clock in religious and social life the entire world 
system of earthly life, the passing from day to night and from night 
to day, and the movements of the heavens, came to be seen as the 
visible signs of a divine clockwork that ruled and governed earthly 
existence. Suso structured his book in a series of imaginary 
dialogues between the eternal wisdom (his god) and himself, divided 
into 24 chapters following the 24 hours of the day (-the ability to 
register the 24 hours of the day was an important innovation brought 
about by the mechanical clock). It was the eternal wisdom  that 
instilled order in this heavenly clockwork, and the mechanical clock 
was the medium for ordinary man to bring his life into unison with 
this divine order.

The construction of Suso's imaginary medium is twofold: On the one 
hand he portrays the world-system as a clockwork as one giant 
communication medium set in motion and guided by the invisible hand 
of eternal wisdom, which thus "communicates" divine order to the 
human subject. The mechanical clock translates this divine order into 
perceptible form and becomes a medium for the lesser mortal to 
establish contact with the divine order, most notably by the call to 
prayer at regular intervals on the canonical hours -the original 
purpose of the mechanical clock.

In Suso's mystical vision, which became highly popular throughout 
Europe in 14th century, the clock is a connection machine, a medium 
to co-ordinate not only the affairs between humans, but also between 
the human and the divine. In the centuries following Heinrich Suso's 
mystical imaginations of the divine clockwork, the idea that 
technology amends the deficiencies of human conduct begot a rich 
history. As society became more secular the emphasis shifted awayfrom 
an orientation towards the divine, in the direction of the mediation 
of more strictly human affairs. However , a certain mystical 
inclination never left the realm of technological invention.

The most widely distributed and popular high-technologies of our own 
time are connection machines: digital networks -paradigmatically the 
internet-, mobile phones, and most recently wireless applications and 
G3 -the impending generation of wireless multimedia machines (inaptly 
called 'third generation mobile phones'). While it would be hard to 
deny the real-world application and significance of these 
technologies in contemporary social life, their introduction was 
accompanied with a set of presuppositions and ill-founded 
expectations that are hard to understand or describe as anything 
other than a contemporary form of techno-mysticism, or 

The mythological dimension of the recent emanations of 
techno-religion is not just embodied in the inflated economic 
expectations of the late 90s dotcom bubble and new economy boom, and 
in their aftermath the great telcom crash, when the excessive 
apprehensions about the next generation of mobile communications 
imploded even before they ever reached the marketplace. The truly 
mythological reveals itself primarily in the belief, ushered by 
countless serious and un-serious theorists, thinkers, futurists, 
utopian visionaries, market gurus and of course techno advocates that 
the introduction of a new communication technologies would by the 
very fact of their existence introduce a dramatic qualitative change 
and improvement of (inter-) human communication.

Not only would the obstacle of distance be transcended. Even more 
importantly, antiquated and backward prejudice connected to our 
embodied existence would finally dissipate in a new super-sphere of 
disembodied communication. Divisions of gender, race, geography, 
ethnicity, physical deformity and disability would finally be 
overcome in a most literal sense, as through a deus-ex-machina, in 
the disembodied realm of real-time electronically mediated 
communication. A truly impressive list.

The massive financial investments, first in dotcom servicing and 
networked economies, and subsequently in wireless communication and 
the incredible destruction of capital, financial, human, knowledge 
capital that followed when first the dotcom and next the telcom 
bubble burst, cannot simply be explained out of a combination of 
false market expectations, financial speculation and the human vice 
of greed.
The investment could never have achieved that scale without a more 
deeply rooted belief-structure that somehow underpinned these high 
hopes. Such a deeply rooted belief-structure must be called a 

Myth, Roland Barthes learns us, requires that the mythological object 
is first of all cleared from its original ('realistic') meaning. Once 
emptied the mythological object then becomes a projection surface for 
mythological ascriptions that often have very little, or indeed 
nothing, to do with the original meaning and significance of the 
object. The meanings ascribed to the object transcend its own 
existence, here and now, are often gathered from an extended 
historical past, and can be projected into the future. Yet, they are 
perceived as 'natural' qualities of the object, and thus they remain 

What was the believe structure that underpinned the contemporary 
mythology of the new communication technologies? And from which 
historical repository did it derive its seductive but highly 
illusionary imaginations?

The archaeology of imaginary media that we intend to undertake will 
investigate these mythologies of the contemporary from a variety of 
different viewpoints, and in many different forms. Our methodology is 
shaped by the tradition of an archaeology of the media, an approach 
that was originally characterised by Siegfried Zielinski as a way "to 
dig out secret paths in history, which might help us to find our way 
into the future." Erkki Huhtamo in his media-archaeological 
expeditions has emphasised the eternal return of the same patterns in 
media history and its imaginations. Also the recent delusions of the 
new communications revolutions seem deeply implicated by an 
ever-recurring mythical belief that machines can succeed where human 
communication falls short. What is it that drives man (men?) to 
believe time and again in the supra-human superiority of his own 

We will attempt to excavate the origins of this techno-mythological 
complex, and explore the remains of its utopian potential, in the 
hope of finding less hazardous roads into the future...

Eric Kluitenberg
De Balie, Amsterdam
February 2004



A web dossier has been complied on the website of De Balie which 
provides background reading on the conceptual toolbox offered by the 
media archaeological approach, through a selection of key-texts on 
the area, at:

The mini-festival "An Archaeology of Imaginary Media" at De Balie 
will result in a book (spring 2004) collecting the results of our 
explorations: texts of all lectures, as well as a number of invited 
essays, accompanied by a DVD that will contain interviews with the 
artists and speakers, images contributed by the distinguished 
cartoonists and visual artists who have contributed to the project, 
as well as other documentary materials on the project.

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