Media Archaeology: Approaches, Applications, and Implications

By Erkki Huhtamo; Jussi Parikka | Go to book overview

3
On the Archaeology of
Imaginary Media

Eric Kluitenberg

Imaginary media mediate impossible desires. As such they can be considered impossible machines. Because of their impossibility they appear to belong to the domain of pataphysics, the realm of imaginary solutions, or the study of unlogic. They would seem to be entirely fictional creations, objects that exist only as literary or folkloristic imaginaries. If this were so, then it would be most straightforward to deal with imaginary media as purely narrative devices. They would then in simplest terms be regarded as stories that convey what technological media are seen to be capable of. More often than not, the expectations contained in such imaginaries far exceed that what actual media machines are actually capable of doing. However, impossible desires are also ascribed to or projected onto actual media machines both by their designers and by the public. The transition between imaginary and actual media machines, in terms of their signification, can be almost seamless. Thus the imaginaries of imaginary media tend to weave in and out of the purely imagined and the actually realized media machineries. Because impossible desires can never be fully realized or satisfied, imaginary media exceed the domain of apparatuses (realized media machines) and their “histories.” They articulate a highly complex field of signification and determination that tends to blur the boundaries between technological imaginaries and actual technological development.

The archaeology of imaginary media is an attempt to shift attention somewhat away from a history of the apparatus and to focus on the imaginaries around technological media—communication media in particular—of both realized and unrealized media machines.1 The archaeology of imaginary media also suggests a shift away from the utilitarian and toward the phantasmatic in “excavating”

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