Manual Religious Experience and New Materialism: Movement Matters

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It won't just disappear; both ends of this simple chain include labor and organic bodies, each of which are the registering surfaces for effects and affects of media. Media work in and through bodies, or, more widely, materials and things. Hence, we turn to a different focus concerning what Friedrich Kittler's material media theory flagged as Aufschreibesysteme , or "discourse networks," which refers to systems of inscription and a more genealogical account of the term that recalls the axis of Nietzsche-Kafka-Foucault to which Kittler belongs: social instructions are carved into the flesh by meticulous drilling, which is not only metaphorical but can act through the disciplinary power of media machines too.

Bodies are made docile and behave in certain patterns of gesture and memory. The term Aufschreibesysteme originates from a curious case from late nineteenth and early twentieth century -- that of Daniel Paul Schreber; a prestigious German high court judge who was eventually diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, and subsequently spent much of his time in treatment and in hospitals, becoming a widely discussed case study for Freud and many others. This was partly because of his book Memoirs of my Nervous Illness In it, Schreber talks of his body as an inscription surface for the celestial scribes who write down everything about him, which for Kittler becomes a way to understand the new effects of technical media.

But Kittler elaborates the idea further in relation to technology and argues that the focus on "bodies" itself remains insufficient when it comes down to the world of technical media. Indeed, such a stance is important in transporting the cultural theoretical vocabulary to take non-humans seriously; so far this move has been often in terms of technologies, scientific elements, or what pejoratively has been called a techno-determinist approach the media theoretical equivalent to "strangling cute puppies," as media theorist Geoffrey Winthrop-Young so aptly and with definite black humor calls it.

And yet perhaps we can extend that approach back to bodies -- only not the model of the body adopted from Schreber's story, which inspired Kittler to write about technical media. What if we replace Schreber with underpaid and mistreated workers' bodies at the hardware end of digital electronic media production as the model for inscription systems?

Sick, vulnerable, sacrificial bodies on the systematic production lines of products where the polished brand has its direct link to production processes and cheap labor. These bodies are epistemic objects as well, in the sense that they register the materiality of information technology production -- and discarding -- in lungs, brains, nervous systems, and more. They are indeed inscription surfaces for the "persistence of hardware," a conceptual turn also called for by Sean Cubitt, and here worked through a variety of material scales. One way to make sense of this is to look at it through a chart I have devised -- what I call a syndrome per metal or chemical chart.

So, instead of celestial scribes that influence through, as well as inscribe upon, Schreber's body, this chart shows how other sorts of materials are inscribed on bodies of IT hardware laborers who open up the devices for valuable materials, such as gold:. Lead : damages the central and peripheral nervous systems, blood systems, kidney and reproductive system.

Cadmium : accumulates, for instance, in the kidney. Mercury : affects the brain and kidneys, as the fetus in pregnant women. Barium : causes brain swelling, muscle weakness, and damage to the heart, liver, and spleen. Such a list could be continued, but the above is enough to make the point about the materiality of media technologies and their material entanglement with our brains and spleens.

It also points to the chemical, metal, and mineral materiality of both hardware and hard work , and ways in which we can map those genealogical traces through labor. This is not merely an issue that has recently popped up with digital media and the global processes of mining and distribution of labor to cheaper conditions. It escorts the birth of the modern media age. Richard Maxwell and Toby Miller point this out brilliantly -- well supported by the range of research and statistics they are able to mobilize, they discuss the physical effects that early print technologies had on the body and the environment.

Besides the toxic byproducts of the nineteenth-century innovation of processing of fiber for making paper -- the effects of which I witnessed when I lived on a river next to a paper mill in Finland --that directly contribute to massive water pollution and deforestation, [29] consider, for instance, ink. Quite a banal, grey factor when considering media studies topics that are more keen to talk about the semiotics of what the ink stands for, ink is, however, worth considering for its crucial material role in the emergence of print media As Maxwell and Miller write, "the ink was composed of lampblack, turpentine, and boiled linseed oil -- the first was harmful to the lungs and mucous membranes; the second to the nervous system, liver, and kidneys; and the third irritated the skin.

For most of the nineteenth century, turpentine extraction and distillation in the southern United States depended on slave labor; after the Civil War, forced labor became the norm. This mapping of an alternative "Schreber" can be carried over to more technical media, like the telegraph, too. The effects of media's materiality as chemistry and as toxicity are evident in considering what was necessary to sustain such seemingly immaterial communication. Indeed, just as with our digital communications, which have been consistently branded with a breath of lightness in marketing discourses and even theoretical writings since the s, illusions of telegraphic immateriality are inscribed directly on the bodies of workers.

Telegraphic communication was naturally based in electricity and, more specifically, the oft-neglected in media histories innovation of the battery. Again, to quote Maxwell and Miller, early batteries were prime examples of "chemical energy storage" consisting of sulfuric and nitric acid: "Liquid battery acid helped produce the chemical reaction that generated the electricity, and as the components zinc, copper, and other materials, including mercury dissolved, toxic gases nitric oxide in the case of the early Grove cell used in US telegraphy were produced. This side of materiality, this persistence that lingers across scales from minerals and chemical elements to the lungs and organic tissue, and from the emergence of mass-produced modern media cultures to the current advanced worlds of IT, cannot be reduced to genealogies of media that would trace it to the impacts of war and science.


This is partly how some currents of German media theory have approached materiality: the brilliant studies of the likes of Kittler, and, more recently, Claus Pias and Wolfgang Ernst, have shown how we need a meticulous understanding of science and technology to understand technical media. However, modern media is about chemistry too -- it is about components such as zinc and lead, and about systematic health hazards that are directly connected to production mechanisms and conditions of labor.

This idea acknowledges that there are various materialities at work, from practices of labor to production chains and onto the chemicals and components that comprise the technology: these are semio-technological arrangements. Indeed, speaking of "new materialism" -- a term recently suggested to counter the overemphasis on meaning, representation, and signification -- reminds that we are facing a variety of materialisms. We are able to tap into such materiality with Marxist tools as well. Marx was very aware of the relation between the soil advances in agriculture and capital.

Indeed, we too should be aware of the relation of the bios to capital, which extends to what Jason W. Moore has called "peak appropriation," described as "the long history of enclosure and exhaustion of coal seams, oil fields, aquifers, and peasantries across the space and time of historical capitalism.

In this light, the chief problem is not 'peak everything' but peak appropriation. Capital's problem today is not depletion in the abstract but the contracting opportunities to appropriate nature cheaply with less and less labor. It is this connection between labor and the biosphere that we should also be aware of. Labor consists of work and of working "the biosphere where the time-scale may be 1 million years"; [34] processes of photosynthesis, fossil fuels as well as the now-increasing centrality of rare-earth minerals as memories of geological durations but mined as an essential part of advanced technological information culture -- all these are part and parcel of the entanglement of materiality of work and the long-term duration of the materiality of the earth.

For sure, such perspectives are usually only revealed in the critical breaking down of the normal processes of production that twentieth-century philosophers -- from Heidegger to Gilles Deleuze to Bruno Latour -- continuously referred to: only once things fail, then you start to see their complexity.

In our case, that failure is the depletion of resources, from fossil fuels oil as the obvious case, as and the discourse of peak oil to the already mentioned rare earth minerals. To this list let us add clean water, air, and soil. As for their complexity, after things run out, you start to miss them. Hence, in such a perspective, despite the grand apocalyptic tones above, even the insignificant counts.

Instead of just chemicals, and minerals, remember dust. It covers a lot of the globe deserts as well as a lot of our obsolescent media, but also participates in processes of production of electronic high tech. It's about the breathlessness: "Breathless from the strained vigilance, breathless from the oppressiveness of the stuffy night-air" writes Hermann Broch in The Death of Virgil. It is in this sense important to consider mining itself as a constituting the world of industrialization as well as computer hardware. The miner's hat lamp is a medium of vision that allows for the murky underground to expose itself in narrow spaces.

The dust itself has its own history, one that is also a human history, as recounted in by Georgius Agricola in De Re Metallica , his careful explanation of the specific skills of mining -- which entail much more than just labor. Indeed, the cultural techniques of mining as recounted by Agricola have to do with the ability to read and understand rock "veins, stringers and seams" and to demonstrate that necessary familiarity with "varied species of earths, juices, gems, stones, marbles, rocks, metals and compounds. This skill is already captured by Agricola, who mentions "assaying substances and of preparing them for smelting; and here again there are many altogether diverse methods.

For there is one method for gold and silver, another for copper, another for quicksilver, another for iron, another for lead, and even tin and bismuth are treated differently from lead. But De Re Metallica does flag the other side of mining, too.

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Indeed, the book reads like a distant warning of that connection between wealth and its price, of ill-health and sacrifice. It is a sort of psychogeophysics:. Where water in shafts is abundant and very cold, it frequently injures the limbs, for cold is harmful to the sinews. To meet this, miners should make themselves sufficiently high boots of rawhide, which protect their legs from the cold water; the man who does not follow this advice will suffer much ill-health, especially when he reaches old age.

If the dust has corrosive qualities, it eats away the lungs, and implants consumption in the body; hence in the mines of the Carpathian Mountains women are found who have married seven husbands, all of whom this terrible consumption has carried off to a premature death. At Altenberg in Meissen there is found in the mines black pompholyx , which eats wounds and ulcers to the bone; this also corrodes iron, for which reason the keys of their sheds are made of wood. Further, there is a certain kind of cadmia which eats away the feet of the workmen when they have become wet, and similarly their hands, and injures their lungs and eyes.

Therefore, for their digging they should make for themselves not only boots of rawhide, but gloves long enough to reach to the elbow, and they should fasten loose veils over their faces; the dust will then neither be drawn through these into their windpipes and lungs, nor will it fly into their eyes. Not dissimilarly, among the Romans the makers of vermilion took precautions against breathing its fatal dust.

Coal dust is not the only type of dust relevant to this discussion. In terms of mining, silicon dust has been identified as another significant danger to miners. In addition, as Maxwell and Miller elaborate, the other essential material in the early years of cellulose nitrate film was cotton. Cotton too, with its dusty media material trail, registered in the old media workers' bodies another health hazard, this one named byssinosis : brown lung syndrome.

Dust covers our abandoned electronic devices, which are supposed to become obsolete even before they have to -- the persistence of planned obsolescence. But dust is also supposed to be kept out, or at least managed, especially in relation to our devices; the detailed and laboratory conditioned fabrication processes of computer technology demand a specific dust-freeness.

As Jennifer Gabrys writes, "electronics are rendered functionless if they are contaminated with even a speck of dust during manufacture. There is something that feels so obsolete about coal and other dust. Mines are a central part of this picture of cognitive capitalism and IT too, as Harwood reminds us, even if they are displaced to locations such as India and China.

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Such centrality of metals and minerals was true already of the earlier media age, with its need for silver and copper, for instance. As for the "new" media? Even "clean" digital media comes with a residue dust: coal-fired computing that supports the existence of such glossy products. But aluminum dust is one of the excess "products" from the manufacture of computerized technology, such as from the process of polishing iPad cases. These minuscule dust particles carry with them a double danger; they are highly inflammable, and, more importantly, they can cause a variety of lung diseases to the workers.

Health risks are just one of the markers of cost-saving practices at the production end of digital culture, but dust can, in this sense, act as a good trajectory to understand the significance of the nearly imperceptible non-human element. Expendability is a key word here: both human workers and hardware become expendable. The prices of hardware devices, such as tablets, are plummeting. As Jay Goldberg noted when he visited Hua Qiang Road North in Shenzhen, the epicenter of global electronics consumption of products produced nearby, hardware production is so cheap that it is changing business models as the platforms become secondary, cheap, and discardable.

The only way to make money with hardware is to sell something else and get consumers to pay for the whole device and experience" , [43] we have to face what this means from the ecological perspective that takes into account the raw materials of production and discardment.

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This process is registered on two "surfaces" deemed expendable and disposable too: human labor and the environment, which both bear the chemical effects of hardware. We can discuss this expendability in terms of the complex political economy of animals too, which, as Rosi Braidotti notes, are another disposable element alongside cheap workers and nature. Animals and nature constitute the "zooproletariat" -- without a soul, they are suitable for the machinelike work that demands endurance of repetition.

They supply raw material from their bodies:. This political economy of full-scale exploitation continues, as animals provide living material for scientific experiments, biotechnological agriculture, the cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries, and other sectors of the economy. In advanced capitalism, animals are disposable bodies traded in a global market of posthuman exploitation. Illicit traffic in animals constitutes the third-largest illegal trade in the world today, after drugs and arms but ahead of women.

Before moving on from a consideration of the expendability of organic things, I gesture towards speculative realism a term that covers a variety of rather different philosophical arguments interested in non-human reality and materiality in order to elaborate the materiality of dust. The speculative realist writer Reza Negarestani writes in his novel Cyclonopedia :.

Each particle of dust carries with it a unique vision of matter, movement, collectivity, interaction, affect, differentiation, composition and infinite darkness -- a crystallized data-base or a plot ready to combine and react, to be narrated on and through something. There is no line of narration more concrete than a stream of dust particles.

Such narratives are less linguistic and symbolic chains -- the dust itself carries an affective force that is material and assembles collectivities around it. Dust does not stay outside us but is a narrative that enters us: dust has access in every breath inhaled, and it entangles with our tissue. Indeed, such a material agent of transformation as dust -- whether smart or just irritating to the lung -- is itself a reminder that there is an excess to the symbolic narratives.

One way to understand this is to consider smart dust: the military innovation that is able to gather data on environmental conditions and process as well as transmit that data in peer networked manner: "Smart-dust particles are designed to float through the air as innocuously as dandelion seeds, gathering and transmitting data in real time. If smart dust is the marker of the creative informational city -- in that it joins together creative brains and the city itself thus the city becomes brainy, communicative [47] -- then we also need to remember the dumb dust that entangles itself with information and creativity: it is partly the residue of information technology smartness, yet we still need to be aware of its qualities as creative, effective matter to follow Negarestani's philosophical idea.

So-called new materialism has great philosophical potential to assist in analyzing dust's materiality across scales. It is also a potentially vibrant methodology in that it helps track what non-human particles carry when they constitute parts of wider phenomena. The dust particle from a polished iPad is an excess of the admittedly beautiful fetishistic surface; the dust particle is what registers the globalized wage labor relation on the soft organic tissue of the Chinese worker.

Of course -- to paraphrase Ned Rossiter -- perhaps dust is simply a good indication of the "fantastic power of the commodity-form to abstract itself from the experience of labor and life.

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We need to attend to the material soul, made of lungs and breath -- and the shortness and time-management of breath. The soul is not just an immaterial, quasi-mystical entity of immaterial inhaling and exhaling; it is constantly produced across the body -- this is what Foucault argues. Indeed, it is produced as emblematic of incorporeal materialism, and, as such, of what can attach to lungs, too. The soul is at work, and the work leaves its stain on the lung.

In short, I am trying to work through some themes that are clearly part of the agenda of media materialism by showing them as passages that gesture towards a politically significant materialism too. My media studies-biased proposition goes something like this: new materialism is not only about intensities of bodies and their capacities -- such as voice or dance, movement and relationality, fleshiness, ontological monism and alternative epistemologies of generative matter -- and active meaning-making of objects themselves non-reducible to linguistic signification.

I do not wish to dismiss any of such perspectives; I rather want to point out the specificity and agency in mediatic matter, too. New materialism is already present in the way technical media transmits and processes "culture," and it engages in its own version of the continuum of natureculture to use Donna Haraway's term or, in this case, medianatures. Besides dust, media history is one long story of experimenting with different materials -- from glass plates to chemicals, from selenium to coltan, from dilute sulphuric acid to shellac silk and gutta-percha -- and with processes such as crystallization, ionization, and so forth.

The transistor-based information technology culture would not be thinkable without the various meticulous insights into the material characteristics and differences between germanium and silicon -- or the energetic regimes, whether they involve the consideration of current clouds as in server farms or media's historically constant attempts to manage power consumption.

For instance, the junction transistor's innovation was how it could be completely functional with radically less power -- it operated at "a tenth of a volt, drawing a current of only 10 millionths of an ampere," [50] and provided a much more energy cost-effective way of amplification than the transistors that already existed around Now we are facing the dilemma of the economies and geopolitical energy of cloud computing -- far from being fluffy and immaterial, the cloud is embedded in massive energy regimes.

And materials are not only found, they are generated as well; the Large Hadron Collider experiments are potentially composing new types of matter such as " color-glass condensate. Minerals are exemplary of this media history and theory of matter. The already mentioned Coltan is found in the capacitors and resistors used in both the entertainment sector and the military technology industry.

Germanium, obtained from zinc ore processing, is needed for fiber optics. Gallium is used for LED lights as well as in a range of technological applications. The next time you swipe your screen with your index finger, remember that it also "touches" indium, necessary for touch screens. The media mineral list is long and is part of a longer production chain, which means that even if a given mineral is not necessarily "rare," it is bottlenecked by geopolitics of supply. We can also talk about the geopolitical and geophysical-political implications of metal. A range of politically influential regimes, such as the European Union, have limited resources, whereas China currently controls the majority of production.

Indeed, Deng Xiaoping voiced this claim in with straightforward Communist Party self-confidence: "There is oil in the Middle East; there are rare earths in China. Of course, this fact has not been ignored by other globally dominating powers, such as the United States.

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As Harwood articulates in relation to the activity of matter: materials have their own ability to "recursively unfold possibilities, transforming the flesh, the social, political and economic. Essentially what a material makes possible and what it shuts down when it's ripped from the earth and it's context and contaminates human ecologies. Harwood, while articulating the Coal Fired Computers project, makes a point relevant to the above contexts of materiality, minerals and media matter politics:. The materials also come into existence as a force when the political, geographical and economic situations are right for them to do so.

Aluminium "needs" Italian Fascism to "need" a national metal, it "needs" Italy to lack coal, iron and have bauxite instead. Coal for a long time in the UK was dug from deep cast mines and the shafts required pumping out which creates the steam engine which in turn requires more coal and more labor. Tantalum "requires" political unrest in the Congo, kids playing Sony games.

And, we can add, it is as if the electronic culture "needs" the increasingly growing e-waste mountains with their garbage collectors who are after the valuable materials inside the machines. This afterlife of the machinic presents one further "materiality" in our investigative tracking of the non-human dimensions of media culture. Hence, focusing on the materiality of components and waste of electronic media suggests the extremely long and uneven networks of spatial distribution -- and also labor distribution -- of media cultures.

It oddly emphasizes the broadening of the markets on a global scale. In some disturbing accounts, such as one by the media rating company Nielsen, the fact that "more Africans have access to mobile phones than to clean drinking water" [56] is seen as a rather unproblematic statistic that cries out loud for the importance of business opportunities in the technologically revolutionizing African continent.

Religious Experience And New Materialism Movement Matters

Sometimes dust also equals lack of water. Imagine materiality and new materialism as a multifarious complexity: it entangles the perspective of minerals that are sedimented for millions of years before being mined by cheap labor in African countries for use in information technology factories. After the short use-period that an iPhone is destined for, the device becomes a part of the materiality of e-waste, leaking environmental hazards into nature through river-dumping or incineration. In the latter, the burning produces toxic vapors that attach to the nervous systems of underpaid laborers in China, India, and Ghana.

Manuel Delanda wrote of the thousand years of non-linear history as a proposition to engage with the long durations of rocks, minerals, biomatter, and language. We need to think like new materialist- archaeologists, excavating how the sedimented participates in the contemporary biopolitical sphere. This is a media archaeology of minerals, of chemicals, of soil as the resource for the active mobilization of those things constitutive of contemporary media consumer cultures; in short, it is about energy, and the energetic regime that not only seems to have succeeded the industrial regime of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, but the postindustrial regime: abandoned paper factories in Finland, after their production has moved to cheaper locations, are being re-used as server farms partly because of their proximity to water, which acts as a cooling mechanism -- renewable energy.

The digital is a regime of energies: human energy and the energy needed for technological machines. To conclude, it is in this context of the materiality of labor and dust that we need to talk not only of the soul at work, but of the lungs at work. This essay serves as a reminder of the alternative materialities of technical media culture that tie together issues of political importance with the murky sides of hardware.

Bifo's reference to the "cognitariat" -- the class of cognitive, creative, information technology supported smart labor -- as the "semiotic labor flow" includes a wider materiality than any loose reference to a virtual class. For him, the cognitariat involves "the body, sexuality, mortal physicality, the unconscious. This includes both the mental labor that is increasingly invested in high tech communicative work processes that consume mental energies and the lung violated by dust.