Thomas Sutherland completed his PhD this year in the Media and Communications program at The University of Melbourne, Australia. Entitled ‘The syntax of difference: Gilles Deleuze, media theory, and the problem of representation’, his thesis used principles drawn from the so-called ‘non-philosophy’ of François Laruelle in order to examine and dispute the possibilities for a truly non-representational theory of media, considering the ways in which philosophical concepts are themselves mediated by the strictures of ‘theory’ as a congealed body of knowledges and norms. His research interests lie primarily in the interstices of media theory and continental philosophy, thinking the space in which these disciplines intersect and diverge. He has taught extensively as a lecturer and tutor at The University of Melbourne and Swinburne University of Technology, is the forthcoming of the co-author of The Philosophy of Media (Routledge, 2016, with Robert Hassan), and has been published in journals including Theory, Culture & Society, Time & Society, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, Parrhesia, Third Text, Explorations in Media Ecology, and ctrl-z: New Media Philosophy.
Although in recent years the once-seemingly irreconcilable gap between philosophy and media studies has been somewhat sutured, there has been relatively little consideration given to the ways in which innovations in computing might bring into dispute the sureties of metaphysical argumentation. My intention in this research project is therefore to understand the ways in which this metaphysical operation of condensation has been altered, or even superseded, within an episteme of ubiquitous computation. More specifically, I wish to consider this operation as the process of conversion from a continuous signal to a discrete signal, and as such, as having found its technical formalization in the so-called Nyquist-Shannon sampling theorem – which establishes mathematically the sufficient condition for a sequence of discrete samples to accurately capture and reconstruct a continuous signal (usually, but not always, time-dependent), forming the basis of all pulse-code modulation – allowing for a statistically accurate condensation of analog data into the symbolically-encoded data flows of digital media.
I wish to investigate the possibility that the operative ontologies engendered by this sampling theorem, and its incalculable contribution to our contemporary media environment, have largely supplanted the traditional function of metaphysics – which is, at its core, an attempt to make sense of the world, to find stability (being qua being) within the interminable chaos of existence. For it would seem that even the most subtle and supple of metaphysical manoeuvres are found wanting in comparison to the technics of digital computation, capable of not only the conversion of the continuous into the discrete (without, at least in theory, the lossiness that philosophers at least as far back as Zeno of Elea have presumed inevitable) but also the rationalization of this discrete, symbolic data through forms of statistical processing (e.g. the various modes of signal processing derived from Fourier analysis) that avoid recourse to any simple presence/absence dichotomy. My goal is not so much to denounce metaphysics, but to comprehend its persistent historical failures (especially its apparently congenital inability to successfully think the real) from the perspective of an episteme that would seem increasingly post- or even anti-metaphysical in tenor, and in doing so, to enquire also into the role that metaphysics should play today within academic and para-academic discourse.
Robert Hassan and Thomas Sutherland (forthcoming 2016) The Philosophy of Media. London and New York: Routledge
Thomas Sutherland and Elliot Patsoura (2015) ‘Human-in-the-last-instance? The concept of “man” between Foucault and Laruelle’, Parrhesia. 24: 285-311.
Thomas Sutherland (2014) ‘The entelechies of media: Formal and material causality in media ecology’, Explorations in Media Ecology. 13 (3-4): 253-268.
Thomas Sutherland (2014) ‘“The monument to a crisis”: Nietzsche and the industrialization of creativity’, Third Text. 28 (6): 545-554.
Thomas Sutherland (2014) ‘Intensive mobilities: figurations of the nomad in contemporary theory’, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space. 32 (5): 935-950.
Thomas Sutherland (2014) ‘Getting nowhere fast: A teleological conception of socio-technical acceleration’, Time & Society. 23 (1): 49-68.
Thomas Sutherland (2013) ‘Liquid networks and the metaphysics of flux: Ontologies of flow in an age of speed and mobility’, Theory, Culture & Society. 30 (5): 3-23.