Inventing Media

I am developing six chapters from my dissertation into a monograph titled Inventing Media. It intervenes in debates about media and culture by challenging established accounts that narrowly link media to human life, whether as human prostheses or as nonhuman infrastructures that eclipse human experience altogether. The book seeks to establish a space between these two extremes by conceptualizing the generic nature of technology as a creative process that includes conscious experience and cultural meaning as part of its intervention into the world. To this end, I examine a host of techno-aesthetic practices that showcase technical devices, recording media, human activity, and cultural significance all operating as technological processes.

Nick Rheinhart's pedal board
Nick Rheinhart's pedal board, photo via equipboard.com.

For example, the effects pedals connected between an electric guitar and amplifier function technologically because they intervene in the circuits linking electric signals and the musician’s bodily practice in order to modify the sonic phenomena and cultural tastes shaped by those supporting media. Far from being an external object that preconditions, records, or extends consciousness and culture—as most contemporary accounts of media would have it—technology invents new relations between all manner of media and the phenomena they support. Inventing Media will offer humanities scholars a way to interpret human-technology relations by emphasizing their technologically invented common grounds over and above the terms human, posthuman, prosthesis, and nonhuman. It replaces the opposition between consciousness and technical object with a positive theory of invention, the point of which is not only to “understand media” (as McLuhan put it) but, more fundamentally, to think through the expansive scope of technology’s capacity to synthesize infrastructure, culture, and subjectivity into novel configurations.

Play It Again

Beyond the monograph, I am conducting research into the multimedia aesthetics of diegetic loops, cyclical narrative, and recursive affect in contemporary fiction, with a focus on comparing computer games with other cultural forms. While this research carries forward my scholarship on technology, it focuses on aesthetics through a combined engagement with process philosophy and formalist art criticism. When games foreground their permutational properties through their narrative constructions and playable systems, they shape, and enable critical reflection on, analogous systems of stepwise satisfaction. This project, which will inform a range of courses and a second book, investigates a diversity of such repetitive forms: the surge of Groundhog Day-style narratives in cinema and television; themes of technological rebirth in science fiction; time travel narratives that compress synchronic and diachronic temporalities; and also such concepts as seriality and the absurd.