Let us for a moment call the field we work in “new media studies”. Immediately, questions arise. For a start, one of the wonderful things about the field we work in – as thinkers, as practitioners – is that its name is constantly contested. New media, digital media, multimedia, internet studies, computer media, inter-media, simply media, cyberculture, network culture – the renaming of the field is ongoing and never finally resolved. The problem of the name is not as trivial as is sometimes assumed. That none of these names seems adequate suggests that the field itself, perhaps by nature, is constantly shifting, encouraging a series of precise engagements perhaps but eluding homogeneity. At the same time, the problem of the name does suggest a defining feature of the “field” – this is transversality that becomes unavoidable when working with new media technologies.
Simply put a transversal is a line that cuts across other lines, perhaps across entire fields – bringing the fields together in a new way, recreating fields as something else.
A contributor to this issue of the Fibreculture Journal, Gary Genosko, takes this question of transversality into an understanding of the dynamics of institutions (in his exemplary work elsewhere on Félix Guattari – see Genosko, 2002). Here the concept of transversality suggests something like the unavoidable contagion of transference between analyst and analysand, only now at the level of the group. This leads to the reforming of institutions when new lines cross between older disciplines, older fields, older cultural practices. Although transversality is arguably a part of all fields, it is often something taken to be guarded against. However, I have suggested that, in tune with the object of study, that is media technologies that connect more and more aspects of the world to each other, transversality is the unavoidable discipline we must follow in new media studies – whatever we call it. This requires a particular kind of rigour, one that combines a range of specific disciplinary rigours with the ability to bring these into new harmonies. These usually feedback in turn to transform the disciplines involved. If anything “scares the horses”, institutionally speaking, about new media, it is perhaps this unavoidable transversality and the new rigours it requires.
Since what I began by calling new media studies does indeed still “scare the horses” sometimes, it might be useful to take up the horse metaphor briefly from the point of view of transversality. Genosko points precisely to Guattari’s metaphor regarding horses as an illustration of transversality – and what scares Guattari’s horses is in fact their inability to see each, the difficulty of forming new harmonies. ‘Guattari’s horses … illustrate’ what Guattari calls ‘the coefficient of transversality’ (Genosko in Guattari, 2000: 118). As Guattari writes -
Imagine a fenced field in which there are horses wearing adjustably blinkers, and let’s say that the “coefficient of transversality” will be precisely the adjustment of the blinkers. If the horses are completely blind, a certain kind of traumatic encounter will be produced. As soon as the blinkers are opened, one can imagine that the horses will move about in a more harmonious way. (Genosko in Guattari, 2000:118/Guattari, 1972: 79)
Genosko concludes that ‘Blinkers prevent transversal relations; they focus by severely circumscribing a visual field. The adjustment of them releases the existing, but blinkered, quantity of transversality’. Again, removing the blinkers, increasing the ‘coefficient of transversality’, requires a certain rigour. In our field this is perhaps simply a matter of appropriate responses to the way new media technologies keep removing the blinkers for us in the world at large.
It is exactly this rigour that this issue of the Fibreculture Journal celebrates. In doing so, it perhaps shows us that, despite the difficulty with names, thinking across the field of new media studies has matured, as unstable as this field might necessarily be. In this issue, the articles all operate via transversal lines that follow the use of new media technologies in areas such as dance (Manning), computer hacking and the law (Genosko), city planning (Hodge and Lally), aesthetics (Mules), celebrity (Black) and even the question of the technological fetish in everyday life (Arnold, Gibbs and Shepherd). They demonstrate the maturity of “new media studies”, precisely because they tell us in so much detail what the cultural processes discussed have actually become, as they play out in everyday life (and not perhaps as they play out in the rhetoric surrounding new media technologies, within and outside the academy). In articles by Erin Manning, Bob Hodge and Elaine Lally, Warwick Mules, and Daniel Black, the authors open up new issues concerning new media technologies, with a new depth and precision of analysis regarding the body and the very real virtual. This also becomes a question of what new media technologies – seen as transversally working with the human body, the virtuality of the world – might become in the future, and how we might thinking this becoming with a greater ‘coefficient of transversality’. The articles by Gary Genosko, Michael Arnold, Martin Gibbs and Chris Shepherd also help us to see in a less blinkered manner. Both provide well-researched correctives to academic and popular thinking about the lived realities of new media as taken up in culture.
The desire for less blinkered approaches to new media technologies is not just a rarefied fancy from the further reaches of theory. New media are now the mainstream (and as these articles demonstrate, they are becoming the mainstream not only in “media”, traditionally considered, but elsewhere as well – in dance (Manning), in city planning (Hodge and Lally), in questions of aesthetics (Mules), in the production of what Daniel Black calls the celebrity of the ‘virtual idol’, even at the junction of the law and cultural studies (Genosko). The mainstreaming of new media means, of course, that new media studies, as transdisciplinary, or simply unstable, as it still might be – is now well and truly established. It is arguably now the study par excellence – and the way new media have become a necessary consideration in so many other fields, from anthropology to medicine, is another aspect of new media’s unavoidable transversality.
This issue of the Fibreculture Journal celebrates both the instability and the maturity of that which we cannot quite call “new media studies”. If there are any unifying concerns here they might include a mature understanding, not only philosophical, but practical and indeed technical, of the virtual. In this vein, Hodge and Lally propose a reconsideration of city planning in the light of chaos theory, fuzzy logic and Heisenberg’s “uncertainty principle”. Their revolutionary approach is indeed one of a new kind of rigour in planning – one sensitive to ongoing change, the complexity and specificity of the levels of planning involved, and the relations between these levels of planning. All this is considered in the light of much more accurately mapped details of the everyday life of the population. This sensitive approach to real geographical and cultural processes is echoed in Manning’s approach to the use of technologies in professional dance. Here Manning writes of the necessity of rethinking the body itself as ‘technogenetic’, and of not sacrificing the dancing body to a more deterministic understanding of the dance’s relation to software demands for a clarity of gesture. Via an accessible and thorough account of Alfred North Whitehead’s understanding of perception and time, Manning is able to provide the philosophical tools for completely rethinking the relations between dance and technologies.
In their article on city planning, Hodge and Lally quote the following:
It is now realized, across scientific fields, that we are lacking the vocabulary to meaningfully talk about change as if change mattered – that is to treat change not as an epiphenomenon, as a mere curiosity or exception, but to acknowledge its centrality in the constitution of socio-economic life. (Tsoukas and Chia, 2002: 569)
The articles in this issue of the Fibreculture Journal can be seen to be building this vocabulary with which to rigorously address change. Manning’s understanding of the body as ‘technogenetic’ (Manning) is significant within this vocabulary. “Technogenetic” means both technical and generating changing at the same time. Here technics is considered not along the easy path, as that which is predetermined, or predetermines. Rather technics is considered precisely as that which, extracting actual events from their immersion in virtuality, is a technics of new forms of indetermination at the same time of determination, of a making different at the same time as a making possible. Reconsidering the body in relation to new media technologies is never going to be easy when technogenesis is taken into account. Yet this is what many of the articles in this issue achieve.
Here, in a detailed consideration of Yuki Terai, ‘the world’s most successful virtual idol’, Daniel Black considers ‘an historical moment in which structures of data have seemingly supplanted physical materiality’ and ‘the human body is coming to be seen as gathered into structures of information ownership and exchange.’ Warwick Mules enters into a dialog with another prominent thinker of the materiality of new media aesthetics (and Fibreculture Journal editor), Anna Munster (2006). Mules undertakes ‘an expansion of Munster’s approximate aesthetics into a general critique of embodied experience as technologically mediated presence.’ This leads Mules to what he calls a ‘contact aesthetics’, which ‘is both creative and experimental in the sense that it brings new things into life by undoing and reconfiguring the material of already constituted objects and formal arrangements.’ In tune with the theme of a rigourous transversality, the aim of this contact aesthetics is to ‘release singularity’. Arnold, Gibbs and Shepherd take body-technology relations into an entirely different direction. They consider not the functionality of information and communication technologies, but the affective relations created between these technologies and the humans who engage with them. In a thorough depiction of “Matthew”, a collector and hoarder of information and communication technologies, they show that it is not enough to think of our relations with new media technologies in terms of the new functions they provide. Rather, there is a kind of fetishism that makes us question basic assumptions about the everyday use of new media – the roles they play in everyday lives, and the new forms of economy they provide. Genosko’s article on “Mafiaboy”, a teenage hacker from Montréal who famous ‘ brought down several blue chip American Web sites’ in 2000, also deals with the everyday realities behind common misperceptions of cultural events involving new media. In a very thorough content analysis of the case, as played out in the media and the courts, Genosko thoroughly documents the way in which this apparently dramatic piece of hacking was in fact somewhat overdramatised, something perhaps surprisingly well understood by the perceptive judge presiding over the case, but not by several of the world’s major law enforcement agencies or media outlets. Here again, there are some very interesting transversal lines that have to be considered in order to understand who “Mafiaboy” really was, and what he really did.
If all these articles reconfigure thinking about the body and the everyday in relation to new media, this is perhaps because there is so much at stake when considering the results of the mainstreaming of new media technologies upon questions of embodiment. It is precisely here that the rigours of transversality need to be applied.
Once again, as editor I am very grateful for the generosity and hard work of the entire editorial team of the Fibreculture Journal – Esther Milne, Gillian Fuller, Ingrid Richardson, Ned Rossiter, Anna Munster and Lisa Gye. I particularly thank Lisa Gye for her continuing and impeccable work on the Fibreculture Journal site. I would also like to thank, on behalf of everyone working on the Fibreculture Journal, the Editorial Board and other experts in their fields for their work on refereeing articles as they came in. You know who you are – and we could not do it without your dedication and thorough feedback. Last but not least, I would like to thank the authors – they have all given a great deal of their time, and often the best of their thinking when it is perhaps difficult to remain committed to the kind of rigour and imagination we are pleased to have published here.
Andrew Murphie, University Of New South Wales, December 2006
Genosko, Gary. Félix Guattari: An Aberrant Introduction (London and New York: Continuum, 2002).
____. ‘The Life and Work of Félix Guattari: From Transversality to Ecosophy’ in Guattari, Félix The Three Ecologies trans. Ian Pindar and Paul Sutton, (London: Athlone, 2000).
Guattari, Félix. Psychoanalyse et transversalité; essais d’analyse institutionelle (Paris: Francoise Maspero, 1972).
Munster, Anna. materializing new media: embodiment in information aesthetics (Hanover and London: University of New England Press, 2006).
Tsoukas, Haridimos, and Robert Chia. ‘On Organizational Becoming: Rethinking Organizational Change’, Organization Science 13.5 (2002): 567-82.