Friday, September 23, 2005

Taylor and Saarinen - Imagologies (1994)

In Imagologies, Mark Taylor and Esa Saarinen weave and warp through a series of new media (vintage 1994) fabrics. I call them fabrics because the book's designer, Marjaana Virta, does: "Mediatext: A collection of fabrics..." (jacket). And if we can call Imagologies a "book"--rich ironies here for all their project does to frazzle the paradigms of print--the visual designs and variations are as striking as any of the stuff we might otherwise classify as content. Perhaps as much as any paper-bound book could hope to, Imagologies pushes and sometimes exceeds the constraints of the bound page.

It's mentioned just once early on, but Taylor's explanation of imagology as a riff on mythology influenced my reading of the rest of the project.  When we begin to think about mapping mythologies, then, how would it change if we instead (or additionally) framed it as mapping imagologies?  How do each of these logics implicate space or spatial qualities?  How does each find a relationship to language?  How do they manifest, move about, spread?

As a project, Imagologies tips a couple of ways. One thread involves Taylor and Saarinen's collaboration over two years on a telecourse called "Imagologies," a course on media philosophy linking Saarinen's class in Finland with Taylor's class in Massachusetts. Their course formalized in the fall of 1992--quite possibly one of the earliest telecourses, coming at a time when many higher ed. institutions, like the one I was at for my undergraduate studies, were scrambling to build TV-studio-classrooms. Another thread is what I would describe as meta-pedagogical. I'm referring here to the documented interchanges only loosely related to the teaching of the course--emails back and forth about cultural and philosophical differences: traditional philosophy's tolerance for new media, the legitimacy of "American philosophy," and so on. And then there's a mess of threadlings--scraps and pieces that fill up the pages with media philosophy maxims and quips. These one- and two-liners are strewn throughout the project, giving Imagologies the feel of a new media almanac, something to be read casually and intermittently, referenced, and so on.

Rather than adopting the convention of continuous pagination, the book is chunked into twenty-five chapters, and each of them uses a reset-to-one page count. The sections: Communicative Practices, Simcult, Styles, Naivete, Media Philosophy, Ending the Academy, Pedagogies, Videovisions, Televangelism, Superficiality, Telewriting, Ad-diction, Interstanding, Netropolis, Electronomics, Telepolitics, Speed, Telerotics, Cyberwar, Virtuality, Body Snatching, Cyborgs, Shifting Subjects, Net Effect, Gaping.

While I have brief notes on each of them, I decided rather than sharing all of it, I'd just focus on five or six of the chapters, comment on my interest in them, firm them up with a shot of blogged-notes preservative.  These are the sections I think I'm most likely to return to later on.

Naivete:  Naivete refers to the stance or attitude of the imagologist..  Such a disposition, according to Taylor and Saarinen, "requires a Kierkegaardian leap of faith in the age of faithlessness" (Naivete 1).  Naivete means accepting the complicated imagetext moires, the ripple of multiple and varied surfaces. 

Media Philosophy: Basically, media philosophy disturbs traditional philosophies that have sought "rational...objective thought" (5). Philosophical language is no longer adequate for entertaining grandiose questions; philosophical ventures must now involve the "energetics of image" (6).

Superficiality: Superficiality qualifies the aleatory as having a redefined relationship to the "burden of meaning" (3) perpetuated by "expert cultures" in the age of the mediatrix.  There's more to it than this, of course, but the idea is that the aleatory need not cause anxiety and inhibition.  Taylor and Saarinen tell us that "naivete should not be confused with superficiality," and "the postmodern condition is inescapably superficial" (5).  This chapter also includes a short take on reading that I definitely want to return to (7).  Ex.: "Professional expert cultures legitimate their non-reading by defining essential reading in a limited textmass in narrowly circumscribed forums of publication" (7).

Telewriting: This works through some implications of the mediatrix for writing.  "Hypertext" is recurrent in this chapter's maxims, and I like the many openings here to writing technologies and telewriting activity.  "Telewriting is imagoscription," for example.  Telewriting gives us the prefix for distance which is, in turn, explained (only in part) by a traversal, a digitized tour, IO goes to Helsinki in .001 seconds.

Netropolis: Key terms from this chapter include circulation (2), spectacle (gone wild) (2), and nomadism (4).  It's a move toward a metaphor of the city for the way space and time have been transformed in the structures of the mediatrix.  Specifically, Taylor and Saarinen call this structuring "electrotecture" (4).  Nice one.  And they liken electrotects to imagologists, imagologists to media philosophers.

Even looser notes: A few terms: polylogue (Ending the Academy 1), conduction (Gaping 8), new structures of awareness (Speed 3), staging (Cyberwar 3), lens louse (Ad-Diction 8), telelogic (Interstanding 4), amplification (Communicative Practices 8), mediatrix (Communicative Practices 5).

A few figures: Hegel, Debord, Baudrillard (Simcult 1), Warhol (Styles 7), Kierkegaard (Naivete), Madonna (Media Philosophy 14), Petra Kelly (Media Philosophy 9), Jameson (Televangelism (7), Benjamin (Telewriting 1), Paul Virilio (Netropolis), Foucault (Virtuality 12).

A few quotations:
"In simcult, the responsible writer must be an imagologist. Since image has displaced print as the primary medium for discourse, the public use of reason can no longer be limited to print culture. To be effective, writing must become imagoscription that is available to everyone" (Communicative Practices 4).
"The only responsible intellectual is one who is wired" (Communicative Practices 13).
"The play of simulacrum creates a lite culture" (Simcult 6).
"Imagology insists that the word is never simply a word but is also an image" (Styles 3).
"The imagologist suffers from the mania for signifying" (Styles 9).
"The imagologist does not seek truth but entertains enigmas. Though in opposite ways, the academy and mass culture worship the altar of clarity and simplicity, which the imagologist shatters. Institutions of triviledge abhor enigmas that ought to be cultivated" (Ending the Academy 3).
"Did not teaching change with the invention of writin? Did not teaching change with the creation of print? Must not teaching change with the arrival of the mediatrix?" (Pedagogies 3).
"It remains unclear whether the contribution of a media philosopher is anything other than an outburst of laughter" (Ad-diction 8).
"Telelogic subverts the institutions of triviledge established by expert culture. Analysis divides to conquer. Its 'victory', however, is pyrrhic, for its touch turns everything into a corpse. Telelogic is an electric shock treatment whose jolt revives thought by creating live wires" (Interstanding 4).
"Scientific truth always comes too late" (Naivete 2).
"A laughable project: not to analyze but to explode language in an effort to create tentative syntheses of that-which-cannot-be-synthesized" (Naivete 5).

Bookmark and Share Posted by at September 23, 2005 10:00 PM to Reading Notes

I'm going to check out Imagologies--it seems to articulate some things that I've been thinking about though I am far less articulate than you or they.
Along those lines, I'm trying to find an online cluster-making (webbing, mind-mapping, whatever!)program for my writing class. The best I've been able to find have been created for businesses and tend to be like flow charts. Do you know of any other sites that I could try?

Posted by: joanna at September 24, 2005 10:40 AM

CMap Tools (available here) is the best I've found for that kind of thing. They just released a new version with which all of the processes are much quicker (a few things were slow-to-open with the previous version). Not only is Cmap Tools free and cross-platform, it's also really easy to use and yet it lends itself to fairly complex arrangements. I like that it's easy to layer the clusters and nodes over a jpeg background or even use jpegs as the backgrounds of the individual nodes themselves. I haven't tried any of the collaborative stuff, but I think you can put a cmap on a server and allow multiple users to access it, make changes and so on.

Imagologies was a good match with the independent study I'm doing right now. The book is interesting for several reasons, including the way it reflects the early 1990s as a moment in computers and writing. Doesn't seem like long ago, but reading it led me consider how accelerated some of this stuff has been.

Posted by: Derek at September 24, 2005 11:00 AM

Thanks for the link. "Accelerated" pretty much describes my take on things these days. I've been going to the links on your blog and constantly being reminded of how far the field has come, beyond word processing or reading linear text in a linear fashion on a screen. Lately, I've been thinking about how all of this relates to my developmental reading students, who have a textbook full of linear tools for reading. I don't want to throw the book out, but I am working on inventing more digital activities in the classroom to teach them a digital reading vocabulary and process.

Posted by: joanna at September 24, 2005 11:50 AM

CMaps it is! it looks like my students could catch on without too much trouble. Next question (asked in a gentler tone than conveyed by words, methinks): i want to create an online timeline of comp/rhet/tech etc. theorists that I can use to give myself some context. DO you know of any easy-to-use program, like CMaps only linear, that would be of use? Thanks again.

Posted by: joanna at September 24, 2005 1:11 PM

I can't think of anything that's a good match with what more linear kinds of maps, Joanna. CMap has some interesting alignment tools, though, so I could imagine using it to create something like a horizontal chain of comp/rhet/tech events or moments. Of course, it might also work to use a blogging system but rather than setting the date stamps for the time of the entry, use them to apply a chronology to the item. The various archives then (Sept. 1995, let's say) would call up everything associated with that time-frame from the database. Something that's easy to sort, too, such as a spreadsheet, could work this way, but I haven't done much with posting sortable spreadsheets online.

Figures that I'd have a great big "don't know" to offer in response to the note you left, which is significant because it also happens to be my 1,000th comment. So that's something, anyway. Hope the balloons and confetti make my wishy washy answer more bearable.

Posted by: Derek at September 24, 2005 1:47 PM

Which would make this 1001? Didn't want your comments languishing on a big round number like that...

I don't have anything to add, except to suggest a search on "timeline software"--I've got to think that there are graphing programs out there that would do the trick (I'd probably try out OmniGraffle, which is a Mac app)...


Posted by: collin at September 24, 2005 3:04 PM

Yours was 1,002, and now this is 1,003. Fault me for all of the counting confusion (although Sudoku addiction is equally to blame). At this rate, 2,000 in no time. Which is to ask...1,004 where are you?

Posted by: Derek at September 24, 2005 4:19 PM