Events and Texts

Nick over at Memes of Production links to an essay (via Crooked Timber) entitled Critical Information Studies: A bibliographic manifesto (PDF document) by Siva Vaidhyanathan. It is a very well written paper. Vaidhyanathan writes:

Critical Information Studies investigates four dynamic fields of scholarly analysis and debate:

1) the abilities and liberties to use, revise, criticize, and manipulate cultural texts, images, ideas, and information;

2) the rights and abilities of users (or consumers or citizens) to alter the means and techniques through which cultural texts and information are rendered, displayed, and distributed;

3) the relationship among information control, property rights, technologies, and social norms; and

4) the cultural, political, social, and economic ramifications of global flows of culture and information.

CIS is not a subfield of Cultural Studies, nor of communication. It is a ‘transfield’ that both cuts across and gathers together scholars in many fields and disciplines.

A few people seemed to be turned off by what can be charitably called the ‘urgent tone’ of the piece. Normally I would locate this squarely in the self-aggrandizing scholarly-arm of the cultural industries, but I think Vaidhyanathan is actually saying something important and relevant.

My only problem with the paper is that it borrows those elements from Cultural Studies that are largely irrelevant to what I am trying to do! I am doing an event-based Cultural Studies, rather than one which is text based. The form/substance of many cultural expressions/contents are not ‘textual’. They require a ‘mechanics of the event’, rather than a ‘reading of the text’. I am currently writing up this section of my dissertation where I construct an ‘event’ for Cultural Studies drawing on Adorno, Debord, Foucault, Deleuze, Deleuze and Guattari, Massumi and others.

Another article in the same issue of Cultural Studies by Gilbert B. Rodman & Cheyanne Vanderdonckt’s “Music for nothing or, I want my MP3: The regulation and recirculation of affect” comes close to what I am talking about. The article highlights how music as well as legal threats affectively modulate a given situation. In the case of music, the example provided is of a dinner party whereby guests took turns downloading songs to effectuate the evening in a particular way. Similar, music companies pursue file sharers not through the courts but by using the atmosphere of fear produce through the threat of court action. Thus they modulate the affective terrain of IP and so on, which is in part Rodman & Vanderdonckt’s argument.

My problem is that ‘music’ (like literature, film, etc) is too easily defined as cultural. The affects of music are easy to understand as cultural as music itself is understood to be cultural. If we work from Raymond Williams definition of culture then there are many aspects of everyday life that are ‘cultural’ without properly being recognised as such. The obvious problem for me is to figure out how enthusiasm, technology and culture all intertwine.

In terms of Rodman & Vanderdonckt essay, the affects of discovering, locating and aquiring music and the cultural practices performed in this pursuit (pgs. 250-251, 255) are not the same affects produced by the music and act of listening itself. Using the problematic terminology of Grossberg, they describe these practices as forming “popular circuits of affective investment” (251) that exist in opposition to the multi-national music company strategies of distribution.

Listening to music and plugging into the various immaterial and material infrastructures that enable and produce a ‘scene’ are two separate dimensions of the singular event, which in this example is ‘finding and downloading music at a dinner party’. To elide the distinction between the different dimensions of this event is problematic because the music itself is largely irrelevant. The music enables a kind of becoming-together between the dinner party guests.

Part of my response to the problem posed by the event is to think about the affective dimension of technology and the cultural dimension of the technical. This is crucial for my work because the difference between working on a car, driving a car and watching someone else do something with the car or whatever involve different affective relations but all may be necessary parts of a singular event. Are these dimensions of the event ‘cultural’? I am assuming they are for the purposes of my dissertation!

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