19 July 2011


In the course of Simon's NYT yarn this past weekend on the topic of "atemporality" in contempo pop, he mentions something that reminded me of something that I recently stumbled across, and which touches -- somewhat tangentially -- on a matter I was riffing on earlier. Simon mentions the matter of "dead media," a term that he attributes to Bruce Sterling, who originally proposed the compiling of a collaborative Dead Media Handbook back in the latter half of the 1990s.

Which probably explains this item I encountered a few months ago: the Dead Media Archive, a wiki created in conjunction with a class taught at NYU's Department of Media, Culture, and Communications.

Even with its list of criterial qualifiers, the archive sports an odd array of entries, with a broad and almost random sampling of topics falling under its thematic canopy. As such, it makes for interesting reading. Sure, 8-tracks and Smell-O-Vision and town criers are all there, as well as a number of other obvious entries. For instance, I was previously unfamiliar with roentgenizdat dubplates (or "bone records") of post-WWII Soviet vintage. Of the more literal hauntological persuasion, there's an article on EVP, which provides a some deep background information about the Spiritualist Movement, "spirit photography," research into paranormal phenomenon, before finally winding down with a citation of Slayer's Hell Awaits. There's a long article on "dirty media," where the author very pointedly refutes the idea of "immaterial labor" and lengthily discusses the ecological side-effects of e-waste. There's a truly odd (as in esoterically incongruous) art history piece on "absorption" in 18th-century painting a la Michael Fried's writings on the topic, one of underground missile silos as relics of the Cold War, as well as a theoretical post-mortem on the concept of "terra incognita."

There are no shortage of gadgets and such that turn up on the thing, from the Tamagotchi to the Nintendo Virtual Boy. Of course, this is straying on well-trodden turf since there are numerous sites elsewhere for such stuff -- for outdated computer systems, video games, and vintage recording technology or whatever, usually collected and compiled by enthusiasts. More rewarding, perhaps, are the dossiers that venture into more conceptual and theoretical terrain. And there's a listing for proposed dossiers, which includes such random and speculative entries as: barcodes, canon, depondent verbs [sic], elevator attendants, errata, myriorama, the photographic gun, the subjunctive mood, truth, and the 8-hour work day.

The archive appears to be a salvage job from the original Dead Media Project mailing list, supplemented by student entries. The field notes from the original project are extensive, but focus primarily of a literal application of Sterling's idea, never venturing off into more theoretical or conceptual arcs. Between the versions, its intriguing to think of where such a project could go if it had some editorial guidance and a strong and varied set of contributors.

* * * * * * * * *

Having just tapped out the above, another belated connection comes to mind. The author Ander Monson wrote one of my favorite books of recent years, Other Electricities. Based on Monson's own childhood years growing up in a samll town in the uppermost frozen reaches of Michigan's Upper Penisula, it's a very bleak yet beautiful book that harbors its share of ghosts (technological and otherwise). At any rate, the town where Monson grew up had previously built around copper mining, but when the price of copper declined so much that it wasn't worth the expense of extraction, the mining companies abandoned the place and the town reputedly became a dim shadow of its former self. Perhaps its for this reason that Monson carries a lifelong fascination with the discarded, the diminished, and the obsolete; since these are the things that have provided topics for a number of his essays and poems. Monson's prose poem/essay "Failure: Another Iteration" mentioned Sterling's Dead Media Project, as well as the online Museum of E-Failure (which seems to have, ironically enough, been offline for some years now). Then there's his essay "Solipsism," which more or less deals with the technological relic of the typewriter (as well as pointed toward his more recently obsession with the "unstable I" of the first-person narrative and the contempo boom in "memoir lit").

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