Nr. 9/1 (2018)

Mediocene

The idea of the »Mediocene« advocated in the contributions of this issue serves as a complement and a corrective to the model of the »Anthropocene« that has been so remarkably developed and successful in recent years. The idea of the »Anthropocene« starts from geological stratigraphy and taxonomy and assumes that the impact of specifically human interventions in the global habitat has grown in scale. This then leads to a permanent alteration of the global habitat and, decisively, to a transformation of the geological shape of the planet to such a degree that it serves as justification for proclaiming a new geological epoch (succeeding the »Holocene«). Man-made phenomena like CO2 emissions (and attendant climate change), accumulating sedimentation, and the rapid extinction or large-scale migration of species, for example, have begun to leave permanent, geologically detectable traces and effects on the planet. As a complement and a corrective to these otherwise convincing observations and statements, the basic underlying assumption of the »Mediocene« concept is that these undeniable phenomena and, on a truly planetary scale, existential problems cannot be satisfyingly conceived of as long as they are ascribed—either exclusively or directly—to human agency, or to some other superactor like fossil fuels (»Oleocene«), plantational economies (»Plantatiocene «) or global capital (»Capitalocene«). The prevalent exclusive accounting of human agency (or any other equivalent potential super-agency, be it oil, money or the agrobusiness) has already been disputed in the debate about the Anthropocene. This one-sided viewpoint unwillingly continues and reinforces—willingly or not—the notion of human (or other) mastery, domination, and Western hegemony. It still seems to adhere to the idea of the need and the (more or less human) ability to control planetary processes, from nature to history, society, culture, and technology. Yet it is precisely the practices and politics of (mostly Western) human rule over all other forms of life that have produced the aforementioned problematic changes. These changes in themselves at the same time challenge the assumption of a primacy that is exclusively human.

In addition, and in a complementary way, the hypothesis of the »Mediocene« also calls for an appropriate understanding of media. Media can be identified as the blind spot in discussions of the »Anthropocene« where they figure at best as the compliant tools and subservient instruments of the supposed control and causation in human hands, extending the human contribution to planetary change. As we know, however, media can be understood precisely not as obedient tools controlled by human subjects or collectives. Rather, media have to be cast as sets of connecting elements that organize operative and cooperative practices, networking and co-evolution among a variety of agents, both human and non-human, including artifacts as well as natural objects and processes (if indeed this distinction remains at all possible). It is only through their mutual involvement in what we call media that these agents acquire some distributed agency, they even come into being only through their relationships of correlation and interconnection. Specifically, the mediality of the »Mediocene« forms the conceptual link between nature and culture, allowing for the investigation of phenomena like the relation of various forms of human existence to the functions of media processes, the anthropological intertwining of the human and the non-human, and the ontology of material media operating within physical and biological systems.

Inhalt

Editorial Lorenz Engell, Bernhard Siegert

The Technological Fact of Counterfactuals Jeffrey Kirkwood

Parallel Editing, Double Time: MAD MEN’s Time Machine Elisabeth Bronfen

Debate: Post-Truth Colin Lang, William E. Connolly

Darwin Among the Machines Samuel Butler

Commentary Niels Werber

From Anthropocene to Mediocene? On the Use and Abuse of Stratifying the Earth’s Crust by Mapping Time into Space Georg Toepfer

Medianatures Jussi Parikka

Entangled Trees and Arboreal Networks of Sensitive Environments Birgit Schneider

Abandoned Infrastructures. Technical Networks beyond Nature and Culture Gabriele Schabacher

Odyssey without Nostos, or, From Globe to Planet Hans-Christian von Herrmann

Toxic Money. Economic Globalization and its (Edible) Currencies Karin Harrasser

Abstracts

Lorenz Engell, Bernhard Siegert Editorial

The editorial of ZMK's current issue 9/1 (2018).

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Jeffrey Kirkwood The Technological Fact of Counterfactuals

Optical media were instrumental in transforming the conception of facts, objectivity, and the »real.« This paper considers their role in structuring understandings of counterfactuals and states that could not be real. By returning to Ernst Mach’s photographic ballistics experiments, writing on thought experiments (a term he coined), and his dispute with Max Planck about the nature of the Weltbild, the article shows that, despite his legacy as a positivist, Mach’s epistemology of mechanical images opened a legitimate space of indeterminacy, contingency, and counterfactuality

Elisabeth Bronfen Parallel Editing, Double Time: MAD MEN’s Time Machine

This article looks at the way Matthew Weiner deploys double vision in his historical re-imagination of the 1960s in Mad Men. At issue is both the way the past haunts the present on the diegetic level in the form of fl ashback sequences, as well as the way Weiner performs simultaneity by virtue of parallel editing, especially in the closing sequences of individual episodes. At issue also is the way stock footage of key historical events such as the moon landing is deployed so as to off er a further juxtaposition of present and past.

Colin Lang, William E. Connolly Debate: Post-Truth

Recently, the eff ort to counter Fake News faced a counter attack: academic »postmodernism « and »social constructivism« it was said—because they say that facts are soaked in prior interpretations—are either purveyors of Fake News or set the cultural context in which it fl ourishes. They do so by undermining confi dence in inquiry governed by simple facts. That is erroneous, argues William E. Connolly, because postmodernism never said that facts or objectivity are ghostly, subjective or »fake«. However, that what was objective at one time may become less so at a later date through the combination of a paradigm shift in theory, new powers of perception, new tests with refi ned instruments, and changes in natural processes such as species evolution. But the emergence of new theories and tests does not reduce objectivity to subjective opinion. Facts are real. Objectivity is important. But as you move up the scale of complexity with respect to facts and objectivity, it becomes clear that what was objective at one time may become subjective at another. Not because of Fake News or postmodernism. But because the complex relationships between theory, evidence and conduct periodically open up new thresholds.

Colin Lang in turn rhetorically asks if »fake news« or »alternative facts« are a new carnival and Trump its dog and pony show? The idea of »fake news« and »alternative facts« as a carnival could not only help to see the constructedness of the media spectacle, but also provides a new perspective on Trump as an actor who is playing a particular role in this carnival, and that role is not one that any of us would describe as presidential. Many in the popular press have assumed it is just what it looks like, an infantilized narcissist, a parody of some Regan-era New York real estate tycoon straight out of a Bret Easton Ellis novel. The problem is that this description is all too obvious, and misses something fundamental about alternative facts, and the part that Trump is playing. A central assumption is, then, that the creation of alternative facts is one symptom of a more structural, paradigmatic shift in the persona of a president, one which has few correlates in the annals of political history. The closest analogy for his kind of performance is actually hinted at in the title of Trump’s greatest literary achievement: The Art of the Deal. Trump is playing the part of an artist, pilfering from the tactics of the avant-garde and putting them to very diff erent ends.

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Georg Toepfer From Anthropocene to Mediocene? On the Use and Abuse of Stratifying the Earth’s Crust by Mapping Time into Space

The ›mediocene‹ is diff erent from geological epochs insofar as it is not a story about physical deposits but about relational entanglement. The major change taking place in the mediocene is that the environment has become part of a singular managed global system. This innovation refers to a radical shift in the relationship between life and its environment: Media have coupled everything together to the point where there is no environment left, where the system is everywhere.

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Jussi Parikka Medianatures

The article outlines the concept of medianatures. The term is a neologism and in debt to Donna Haraway’s rather eloquent and important coinage that already functioned to mark the constant co-becomings of supposedly separated spheres of nature and culture. Medianatures is a further elaboration that elaborates the tie between the earth materialities that are mobilized for technological infrastructures, visual technologies, applications and devices, and the onto- epistemological stance that then feeds back into understanding those planetary scale earth materialities in the fi rst place: the techniques of vision, observation, calculation, and circulation that are part of the governance of the earth and its various localities.

Birgit Schneider Entangled Trees and Arboreal Networks of Sensitive Environments

The article discusses how current mediated conditions change nature perception from a media study perspective. The article is based on diff erent case studies such as the current sensation of atmospheric change through sensible media attached to trees which get published via Twitter, the meteorologist Amazonian Tall Tower Observatory and the use of gutta percha derived from tropical trees for the production of cables in the history of telegraphy. For analysing the examples, the perspective of »media as environments« is fl ipped to »environments as media«, because this focus doesn’t approach media from a networked and technological perspective primarily but makes productive the elemental character of basic »media« like air, earth and water.

Gabriele Schabacher Abandoned Infrastructures. Technical Networks beyond Nature and Culture

In the discussion of the Anthropocene, infrastructures play an eminent role as expression of man’s deep interference with nature. They mediate the planet by fundamentally shaping the relation between man and environments with long-lasting eff ects. While infrastructures are understood as stable formations, they need constant care to function properly. Against this background, the paper analyses abandoned infrastructures with respect to their precarious state between nature and culture, between life and death, fragility and stability.

Hans-Christian von Herrmann Odyssey without Nostos, or, From Globe to Planet

We are witnessing a return of cosmology in 20th and 21st century thinking. It is cosmology in the ancient greek sense of the word which addressed the entirety of what surrounds and carries us. Another term for this ongoing transformation is the ›planetary‹ which isn’t simply a synonym for the ›global‹. The planetary means a kind of boundless pervasion based on science and technology and transposing planet earth and human life from a culture-historical to a cosmic scale.

Karin Harrasser Toxic Money. Economic Globalization and its (Edible) Currencies

The article discusses the dynamics of currencies, of media of exchange in a perspective of longue durée. It explores the concept of ›toxic media‹ and of an ›ecology of practices‹ by tracing discussions on cacao as money and as consumable since the 15th century. Furthermore, historically specifi c versions of general purpose money, such as the Spanish Silver-Peso and the U.S. dollar are compared with to self-restricting currencies: currencies that are more tightly knit into the »web of life« ( Jason Moore), into local economies and ecologies and into cultural systems. The article determines toxic eff ects of generalized media of exchange in the Capitalocene and discusses the interplay of situated money-regimes with generalized, globalized media of exchange.