Thoughts on Parikka and my methodology

This is going to be my first post of an explicitly theoretical or philosophical nature. I don’t think I’m going to be saying anything particularly original here; I’m just thinking out loud and figuring stuff out that other people have already discovered.

Jussi Parikka’s book What Is Media Archaeology? was fascinating but also made me sort of uncomfortable, and after reading some other brief works by Parikka, I think I understand why. (See for example “New Materialisms and Media Theory.”) Basically, I find that Parikka’s work tends to be highly philosophical and abstract, lacking in specific examples, whereas my work tends to be more interested in the concrete details of specific media objects. And I find this to be a significant difference between Parikka’s version of “new materialism” and the “materiality” approach represented by Hayles, Drucker, Kirschenbaum, McGann, Gitelman, and Harpold.

For example, it’s been a while since I read Mechanisms, but my recollection is that Kirschenbaum begins with a representative case study, Mystery House, and then draws conclusions from that about how to approach media artifacts forensically. Parikka makes general theoretical pronouncements and then provides laundry lists of specific examples to which these theoretical principles might be applied, without developing these examples in detail. In a way, Parikka seems no more interested in actual media artifacts than Jane Bennett, who isn’t talking about media at all.

I find this approach difficult to use in my own work because, first, I don’t have a high capacity for abstraction. I find it easier to work with specific, concrete examples than with general principles. Second, I think that if you’re going to talk about things and objects, then it makes more sense to start from actual things and actual objects.

One thing that’s going on here is that all the six authors I listed above, besides possibly Gitelman, come from a background of literary criticism. All of them are primarily literary scholars, and this means they’re interested in the concrete details of specific texts. This also means that they’re interested in how readers interpret and respond to texts. So this is another major difference with respect to Parikka’s approach, which seems explicitly antihumanist or at least interested in the nonhuman. The authors I’ve listed are more interested in the cognitive and affective things that media artifacts do to readers. I find that this is closer to my own approach. I also think that affect theory could fit very well with this critical approach a missing piece here — I’ve only just started reading the Affect Theory Reader, but it seems to me that affect theory is all about the physical and embodied ways in which people interact with the world.

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