Posted on 2017/11/01 by

The Lives of Boxes: Labels, Invoices, and Institutions in/on the ABRA Box

In his analysis of video games on display in museums, Raiford Guins highlights the usefulness of taking labels into account when he takes an interest in the Plaintiff’s Exhibit stickers/labels on the back of the original Brown Box prototype in the National Museum of American History, noting that the museum’s choice to hide the stickers from view conceals an important aspect of the device’s legacy: legal disputes in the game industry (72-73). When we ignore such labels, we ignore entire facets of history—perhaps even entire lives, if video games can have multiple lives and “afterlives” in museums, as Guins suggests (36).

Drawing inspiration from Guins, I want to examine how a shipping label and an invoice can help illuminate the lives of a particular box from the Residual Media Depot. (After all, if video games can have multiple lives, so can the boxes they come/are stored in.) I call it the ABRA box, for its white and blue ABRA packing tape, and as it originally contained items shipped from the ABRA Montreal electronics store to Darren Wershler for the RMD. This box has had at least two lives that we can identify (in addition to the untold lives it might have led before leaving the ABRA store): 1) as a means of transport for products shipped to Wershler, and 2) as a storage space for items in the collection. The box’s Purolator shipping label and attached ABRA invoice testify to those lives.

One side of the ABRA box with the invoice enclosed in an attached pocket (left); another side of the box, featuring the Purolator shipping label (right)

We can consider the label and invoice more recent versions of the kinds of nineteenth-century American “documents” that Lisa Gitelman discusses: understudied documents like tickets and menus that emerge from nineteenth-century commercial printing, “that were merely printed, not edited or published . . . [that didn’t] have readers or create readerships, nor did they have authors or entail authorial rights”; not “produced in the interests of cultural memory” but rather as “instruments of corporate speech proper to the conduct of business of every sort, as well as to the operations of institutions” (11-12). Similarly, the Purolator label and invoice lack conventional practices of editing, publishing, and creation of readerships or authors, in addition to being instruments of institutions and the transactions between them, in this case the electronics company and the university.

The invoice tells us that the objects originally sold to Wershler and shipped in the box were USB powered speakers, arcade joysticks and encoder parts, and a wireless entertainment keyboard. I’m not entirely sure what all those are, but I know what they aren’t (also confirmed by Wershler): the objects currently in the box (an Xbox 360 with accompanying controllers/cables/AC adapter). Not only did the box transform from transport vehicle to storage container, its contents changed as well. This is not the same box that was shipped to Wershler on May 5, 2017 (as the Purolator label states). It has a new life. (The repetition of Wershler’s and Concordia’s names here reveals an interesting anxiety about such identity-shifting. Not only do the “ship to” categories on both the invoice and Purolator label specify Wershler and Concordia, someone also wrote those names yet again in bigger letters in black marker on the box. This may be good shipping practice meant to ensure correct delivery, but it also points to the dangers that this transition presents to the box: the risk of being lost or misdirected, of ending up in the wrong new life.)   

The ABRA invoice (left); the shipping label up close (centre); “D. Wershler” written in marker on the box (right)

If one of the aims of the RMD is to interrogate the power dynamics of collecting and its objects—to examine “not just how technologies were used . . . but who determined how they were used, who used them, and who determined what the significance of that use was for various kinds of communities, and for culture at large” (Wershler, “What’s in a Name?”)—documents like shipping labels and invoices are especially important to consider for what they tell us not just about the lives of boxes and their contents but also about the institutional frameworks/relationships that shape those lives. As Gitelman states, “Documents are integral to the ways people think as well as to the social order that they inhabit” and “can never be disentangled from power” (5).

The ABRA box’s invoice and shipping label remind us that the ABRA speakers, joysticks, etc. didn’t end up in the RMD just because they’re useful for studying game history—it was also a matter of someone having $309.45 to spend and choosing to spend it on them, of someone being hired by Purolator, of someone filling in the fields on the shipment form according to the corporation’s rules. [1] All this to say that when we examine an item in a collection, we shouldn’t forget the box it came in, who packed it, who brought it, and the many lives it may have had and will go on to have.

[1] Gitelman presents an interesting analysis of “fillable” documents specifically in Chapter 1 of Paper Knowledge, which I don’t have space to engage with here, but which certainly merits attention in a more in-depth discussion of labels/invoices.

Works Cited

Gitelman, Lisa. Paper Knowledge: Toward a Media History of Documents. Duke University Press, 2014.

Guins, Raiford. “Museified.” Game After: A Cultural Study of Video Game Afterlife. MIT Press, 2014, pp. 31-73.

Wershler, Darren. Personal interview. 24 Oct. 2017.

– – -. “What’s in a Name?” Residual Media Depot, 21 July 2016, Accessed 31 Oct. 2017.

Posted on 2017/10/31 by

The Aquarius Home Computer and Raiford Guins

How do you work with and research something that is no longer used in the way that it was originally intended to be used? How do you reconcile the need to preserve video games and the need to interact with them through play? These are just some of the questions that Raiford Guins deals with in his “Museified” chapter. The answers to these questions are often quiet convincing and provide a hopeful alternative to video game researchers. Guins begins by challenging the definition of video games that relies on their being “powered up” (Guins 31). In the museum context, power is rarely surged through video games in the name of preservation, and so Guins shifts the focus from direct human interaction with the technology and instead focuses on what remains. Touch from the public often must be limited, or completely blocked due to the unfortunately rough handling of objects by the masses. Thus, when video games are no longer turned on and played with, we are left with “empty hulls” (35), and this chapter focuses on what can be gained from focusing on these remains.

Guins’ argument that much can be gained from examining these “empty hulls,” and that new questions can spring from them is quiet convincing. If I were to simply examine the Aquarius Home Computer System without touching it, or playing with it as it was intended, I could learn a lot about the machine and its cultural context. I could learn about the context in which it was released, how it had a difficult time competing with other machines on the market, and I could closely examine the box and realize that a lot may be said about the exclusion of young women from the art, as well as the exclusion of people of colour. These observations could potentially lead to larger research projects in the field of video games studies and they have all been formulated without touching the object.

When I began researching for this probe I was adamant that something would be lost if touch and play were completely removed from the observation and research of a video game. I had gained a lot of insight about myself, my research, and the Aquarius through working directly with it in its intended way. Then I began to research terms like museum, touch, the public, and quickly realized that the public is often lacking the touch anxiety and gentleness we have previously discussed in this course. In a CBC article, I read about a man who ignored the plentiful warnings about not touching the clocks in a museum and wished to set the pendulum of a clock swinging; he broke the priceless clock. In a Sydney Morning Herald article, I read about countless museum goers who touched, kissed, climbed on, and urinated on various museum objects. If the public does not respect the objects they are encountering, is it any wonder that museums are anti-touch? After this research, I could not begin to reconcile my feelings that using video game consoles as they were intended provided important information for a researcher with the fact that the public is perhaps too rough and maybe inconsiderate to be allowed to touch museum-worthy objects. Why do some people feel anxiety about opening boxes, or even just being in a room with “important” objects, and others feel that it is okay to touch ancient paintings and sculptures? If museum objects become community objects as Guins suggests, is it not then the duty of the museum to preserve the objects for everyone to be able to see them (53)? I have many questions about preservation and the human desire to keep things in perfect condition forever? What is the desire behind this act? These questions, however, may be for another probe.

(Taken from the Sydney Morning Herald)

I still do not know how to make sense of the relationship between touch and preservation. I have many questions about what constitutes museum-worthy, am I naïve to think that everyone will benefit from touching and playing with these objects, and are humans incapable of general respect for objects that do not only belong to them? What I have concluded is that the Residual Media Depot may be one solution to my questions. We are given a unique opportunity to touch and work directly with these objects, but there is a general understanding that we must be gentle with these objects. The opportunity to study the “empty hulls,” as well as to work with and touch the objects is given to students. This intersection is where new and exciting research can be had and celebrated.

Works Cited

Bailey, John. “Do Not Touch: What happens when museum visitors ignore the signs.” The Sydney Morning Herald, The Sydney              Morning Herald, 24 Nov. 2016,

Guins, Raiford. “Museified.” Game After: A Cultural Study of Video Game Afterlife. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2014. 31-73.

“Man ignores museum ‘no touching’ policy, breaks one-of-a-Kind clock.” CBCnews, CBC/Radio Canada, 12 Oct. 2017,                                        breaks-one- of-a-kind-clock-1.3614930.

Posted on 2017/10/27 by

‘From the Desk of Mordecai Richler’; networks of authorship in the university collection

    David Ludwig and Cornelia Weber’s study of university collections is notable in its self-confessed narrow focus on the sciences. Their construction of the institutional collection is indubitably formed by its origin in this field and its transposition to the humanities, while casting its fair share of light on certain things, casts likewise long shadows over book-based disciplines by privileging non-literary objects and thus risks misrepresenting the material legacy of non-scientific disciplines at large while rendering it nearly impossible for literary collections to be considered such.

    Ludwig and Weber describe the university collection as comprising “three-dimensional or audio-visual objects at institutions of higher education,” however we are told that consequently this definition would exclude “libraries and university archives”(2). By virtue of this reasoning, much of the Richler rooms would be divested of its status as a collection, with only the miscellany of non-literary appurtenances such as cigars, photographs, trophies, chairs, etc., being ‘concrete’ enough to qualify.

    The library of books are completely elided from this notion of collection. Interestingly, though this feat of transposition results in a certain form of obfuscation – Ludwig and Weber’s concept of the university collection disavowing the materiality of the library – it simultaneously reveals a trajectory in thought around literary production which is borne out by mediatised representations of the Richler rooms that focalise on the miscellany of physical objects in preference to literary objects. Newspaper articles, photo essays, video tours, etc., all favour the account of these non-literary objects, and a fixation upon the trio of “the late novelist’s simple, rough pine desk, Smith Corona typewriter and the ashtray where his Montecristo cigars once smouldered,” is not uncommon (Bradshaw). The relationship between these objects is one of representational importance in which they create a mutually constitutive network arranged around the performance of an author. While the objects upon the desk are integral to this network, the desk as an organisational surface takes precedence in this account.

The spatial arrangement of objects around the desk in the Richler Rooms. Photo taken by Christinne Muschi.


    Both written and visual representations of the Richler rooms are dominated by the writer’s desk. As the most physically imposing object in the room and one which uniquely affords its own ordering surface already culturally crystallised with a certain kind of agency in literary production, the desk is the perfect instance of reification of the indexical relationship between symbolic and physical positionalities performed by the Richler rooms which collapses and erases the labour behind the arrangement of objects upon it, such that the placing of an object seems to issue from authorial intent rather than that of a research assistant. Just as the sundry effects of Richler have been placed upon the desk so too have the tangled ideas of 20th century literary labour to the extent that the desk is interpellated by a number of ideological works that its rough hewn surface conceals as rustic ‘simplicity’. More than the rows of books which encircle it, the desk draws one’s eye immediately – this canny presence further elabourated by its ubiquity in photographs of the room. A diorama performing literature, positioned centre-stage. Thinking of Jules Prown’s attempts to categorise objects, it stubbornly resists to sit still: art; adornment; applied art; device (3)?

    In being positioned within a collection diorama, the visual order of display wraps up the desk and obscures its openness for writing and research outside of a network of knowledge of Mordecai Richler. While it is also subject to ideological positioning in space, the desk itself is made to reproduce this framework, becoming a sort of spatial ordering principle in which “heterogeneous bits and pieces… that would like to make off on their own are juxtaposed into a patterned network which overcomes their resistance”(Law, 381). Entoiled by the network of the author, objects positioned on the table are inhered with a sense of historical legitimacy, they are in their right place so to speak, which disparages attempts at changing the configuration of the desk surface.

Everyting in its right place. Photo taken by Will Lew.


    Insofar as “‘knowledge’… may be seen as a product or an effect of network of heterogeneous materials,”’(Law, 381, emphasis original) the network of objects ordered by the desk produces a certain kind of knowledge grounded in the author which undermines the functions of a university collection through presenting a constantly modified arrangement of objects as being stable and petrified in time and intent – as though Richler had left it this way himself. Just as the rooms’ contents are inserted into a signifying network by virtue of their historical and nominal positioning under Richler, this not only performed upon the desk but also by it, extending this same authorial order to its own contents. The result is an artificially simplified object, whose plainness belies the processes of punctualisation in which it is complicit. The desk mobilises the ashtray, typewriter, etc. in its creation of Richler’s workspace, using their authority of position to bolster its own symbolic importance, while at the same time investing these objects with that power.

    The rooms, aided by the desk installation, seem to be caught in a moment of stasis – stalled still in their originary phase as a spectacle. Four years on from the inauguration of the rooms, they are at an impasse, both in a traditional sense as in that of Lauren Berlant’s, “a stretch of time in which one moves around with a sense that the world is at once intensely present and enigmatic, such that the activity of living demands both a wandering absorptive awareness and a hypervigilance that collects material that might help to clarify things…”(4). That is, as an assemblage which exists in the world that must continually seek to transform itself in the name of survival. And yet this survival and openness is restricted by the initial promise of the Richler diorama; the rooms though under constant modification and ordering remain delimited by their positioning under the signs of Richler, which narrows the scope of relationality afforded to the rooms as a teaching resource. It seems to me then that operating around the dramatic restaging of Richler’s workspace becomes imperative to the survival of the room as a university collection. The interest comes in using the auratically saturated diorama as a training ground of sorts for unpacking the sedimented layers of space-object relations and reinterpreting the room outside of its relation to Richler. As the rooms are open to the public only by request, the focus turns inward and use as a research and teaching resource remain their most salient characteristics.

Works Cited

Berlant, Lauren, Cruel Optimism, Durham; Duke University Press, 2011.

Bradshaw, James, “Mordecai Richler was here: Concordia reading room replicates writer’s office,” The Globe and Mail, 27 November 2013, consulted 20/10/2017:

Law, John, “Notes on the Theory of the Actor-Network: Ordering, Strategy and Heterogeneity,” Systems Practice, Vol. 5, No. 4, 1992, pp. 379-393.

Ludwig, David and Cornelia Weber, “A rediscovery of scientific collections as material heritage? The case of university collections in Germany,” Studies in History and the Philosophy of Science, Vol. 44, No. 4, 2013, pp. 652-659.

Prown, Jules David, “Mind in Matter: An Introduction to Material Culture Theory and Method,” Winterthur Portfolio, Vol. 17, No. 1, 1982, pp. 1-19.

Posted on 2017/10/24 by

The Function of Rubbish: The Richler Room Appraisal and the Structural Elements of Aura Production

Mark A. Meadow’s article, Relocation and Revaluation in university collections, or Rubbish Theory revisited deals with an objects potential to take on simultaneous shifting values and uses in a collections context. Specifically in regards to objects which move from the active field to the collection.

“Finally, having reached a point of obsolescence, microscopes and similar instruments are relegated to the status either of sentimental or institutional memory—the ones in the display cases—or as rubbish, albeit rubbish that is not discarded.” (Meadow 5)

In the case of microscopes, the shift from laboratory research to nostalgia object or teaching tool, results in a drastic decrease in that objects market value. (Meadow 6) In the case of the Richler Room we are engaging with objects which no longer act as a private, fluid resource for a living apparatus, but rather an appendage of an estate manifesting as a static (re)rendering of a nostalgic moment for semipublic academic consumption. Can we avoid relegating objects to the status of ‘rubbish that is not discarded’?

Box 43

Author libraries and literary studies don’t entirely share the same priorities or customs as the sciences, therefore these categories of function and value operate differently. For example, many of the texts and objects in the library have most likely seen an increase in market value since the establishment of the library, potentially because of the importance placed on nostalgia in relation to the all-important role of the author-function within the discipline.

When we consider the collection in terms of function/value in the university context, we begin to understand the room in its current iteration: the desk, the typewriter, the shot glass, the etchings, and pithy political buttons, all heralding a bygone Montreal. What’s more these curated objects seem to cultivate a frozen moment in the history of literary production, a period when creative practice required tactile trappings. And so, the production of aura. Nostalgia, the correlation between the milieu and the author function. The illusion of access is so established, one feels uncertain if one is allowed to sit in the famous chair, as if they would be tampering with a portal.

The collection literally radiates from this point, effectively diffusing the simultaneous warmth and distance of atmosphere and prestige. Though our movement through the room feels prescribed to a degree, there are apparent loose ends or fractures, moments which indicate that the ideological work at play is in fact constructed, not homogenous or fixed.

“How does the system I am working within encourage me to value and classify objects? What forms of knowledge does the system privilege and what else should be said about this object?” (Krmpotich 116)

In her exploration of Collections Teaching Management, Cara Krmpotich highlights the importance of examining the objects, texts, and organizational aspects of the collection which resist the dominant narrative and exist as outliers or red herrings, sometimes generating their own implicit narratives. Our urge to (re)generate aura, narrative, or cultural meaning from a jumble of things speaks to the premise of the library-collection. But by this urge we may be neglecting important objects or patterns which may broaden our understanding of Richler, Montreal, the publishing industry, collections practices, our field in general, etc. We see this clearly if we begin to examine the contents of the filing cabinets.

The Mordecai Richler Library Evaluation is an 8 1/2” by 11” spiral bound document drawn up for insurance purposes. “Monetary values of the collection were a requirement during the acquisition process and were generated by an assessment made by an antiquarian book expert, namely, Adrian King-Edwards, the owner of The Word bookstore.” (Jason Camlot, email exchange) The appraisal is the only physical index present in the library, and at first glance it is a welcome guide. As a guide though, it is still inscribed with the ideological determinism present in the room’s layout. Its organizing principals, however, may help to illuminate aspects of the structuring framework which may otherwise be so naturalized as to escape our attention. In the margins of each spread sheet there are numbers delineating value. The values ascribed (or, additionally, the values which are missing from the report) inevitably effect our reading of the objects at hand. As a curator, student, or researcher it is clear what directions we are being ushered in, how we are supposed to make sense of these objects and subsequently how we should organize, handle, and conceive of them in relation to each other.

Most of the objects seen displayed in room 655 are catalogued in Box 43, so as one can see there are many ‘hard-hitting’ nostalgic pieces here—Richler’s passport, tobacco tin, etc.

Richer’s library in Magog was packed up by his family, and the subsequent organization of the boxes of non-book objects is meant to approximate this initial ordering. The spreadsheets, with their hodgepodge of high-value nostalgia and author-related material alongside apparently ‘lower’ milieu (such as maps, scraps or unused pads of paper, invocies, and newspaper clippings) seem to hint at implicit narratives, hidden in this juxtaposition which was dictated by the authentic origin point of the estate. The presence of maps which have been deemed financially meaningless seem to buoy up, contextualize, or bring to life the higher-value items, the typescripts for essays, the samples of handwriting.

It is easy to break down the role aura and nostalgia play here. For example, the “VAT 69 scotch whiskey glass with paper clips and pen from the desk of Mordecai Richler” is valued here at $50.00 CAD, whereas a quick eBay search will locate multiple identical glasses, priced from $4.99—$12.99 CAD.


The difference, we are meant to suppose, is made up by its proximity to Richler and its associations with the construction of him as a masculine, author-subject. The same exercise can be applied to countless objects in the collection. That we are dealing with the imprecise business of aura and estate is part and parcel of the author-library project.

Another aspect of the appraisals influence can be found in instances where value is seemingly pointedly not ascribed. The absences have their own generative potential. In the case of the maps in Box 43, we understand that we are meant to flip through them on our way to more important objects, and for most of these like instances it is easy to suspend belief and plug into the system of value at play. At other times it seems random, or the logic feels difficult to follow. Some bundles of miscallneous papers, envelopes, pads, and receipts are worth more than others. What meanings are naturalized by this system? How do the texts and objects fall in sequence and what effects does this produce?

Boxes 76 and 82 appraisal sheet


The appraisal consistently values instances where Richler’s physical handwriting appears, but his typescript is not afforded the same prestige unless clearly sanctioned as relevant. Material broken into eight categories concerning an unpublished book project on the “Marten Hartwell crash” is valued at 1,800.00 CAD (Box 76). Miscellaneous typescript on the other hand is consistently valued very low, if valued at all (see Box 43).

Some miscellaneous ‘low value’ objects

Objects like the torn page of a poem, the single line of typescript, the scads and scads of newspaper columns clipped and glued by hand, the errant bookmark which states in papyrus font: ‘I am master of the moments of my life,’ it has been decided that these do not contribute to the man, the myth, the legend, the estate of Mordecai Richler. But the affect these objects produce can act as an access point, for the beginning of an understanding of a fuller picture of whoever once worked inside this library.


Works Cited

Camlot, Dr. Jason. Email correspondence. 14 Oct. 2017.

Krmpotich, Cara. “Teaching Collections Management Anthropologically.” Museum Anthropology 38.2 (2015): 116.

Meadow, M. (2010). “Relocation and Revaluation in University Collections, or Rubbish Theory Revisited.” UMAC Journal, 3-10.

Posted on 2017/10/21 by

Since the beginning of this class, and more generally of my university career, I have been more interested in the studying of studying than the study content itself. I have spent more time thinking about why we are studying Milton and Shakespeare in Introduction to Literature than reading the works of the authors themselves. In class, I am often guilty of paying more attention to who is speaking, in what order, for how long, with what tone than listening to what is actually being said.

In this classroom, I have noticed a general state of anxiety worth investigating. Just last week, Penelope shared her anxiety about the boxes and few other students voiced a similar feeling. I myself felt anxious in this class at several occasions for various reasons. At the beginning, in September, when I started my master, I was anxious and questioning my place in university. After one year of absence, academic jargon sounded void and appeared performative. I wondered, if I have so many problems with the institution, why am I back here? Why am I doing this to myself?

As I am coming to term with my place in university again, I am more engaged with the material and the source of my anxiety has shifted. I am now anxious about the non-functionality of the books, the room, the collection and the institutional motives behind it.

In the frame of the university, the collection – rather than the books individually – is what matter. What to make of the books then? The books, mostly unannotated, and ordered differently than in Richler’s house, don’t say much about the man, the writer. I see the 20 copies of Barney’s Version and can’t help wondering why they can’t be distributed to the students who need to read it in the Quebec/Montreal Literature class. As a book collector myself, I must agree with Benjamin when he writes: “the true freedom of all books is somewhere on [the collector’s] shelves” (64). The books – out of their original context – appear encapsulated within the walls of the institution – dead. They are unlikely to be read from cover to cover; to be traded; annotated. In my collection, I know each individual book, where they are from, who recommended to me, how much I value the taste of the person who recommended the book to me, which significant passages are in which books, underlined in which color, with what comment next to it. I use them as support, as source of knowledge, when I talk, when I write. I use them comfort myself.

Richler’s current collection and my collection have little in common to the point where I became uncertain about what a collection was. I was uncertain about what becomes of a collection when the collector dies and is therefore completed. Baudrillard reminds us that “the collection is never initiated in order to be completed” (13). What does this accumulation of books represent now within the walls of the university? Is it still a collection? Why is the university deploying resources (faculty members, money, space…) to archive Richler’s ordinary books i.e. not rare? The Richler’s rooms make apparent Benjamin’s point that “the phenomenon of collecting loses its meaning as it loses its personal owner” (67). The room looks unfinished even though a considerable effort has been done to recreate Richler’s work environment – unsuccessfully. The clash between Richler’s massive wooden desk and the stack of the university’s cheap plastic chairs highlights the differences between the domestic and public spaces as production of knowledge. In contrast to Richler’s office space in Magog, the university appears like a hostile and uncomfortable place for learning where knowledge, like the contemporary plastic chairs, is massively and cheaply produced.

Cara Krmpotich’s article “Teaching Collections Management Anthropologically” alleviated my anxiety by illuminating a purpose to this room – I had not considered – as a teaching tool. The setting of this class has, so far, considerably fostered my reflection on the politics of archive and collection. Richler’s room, as an object of study “ introduces ethical and logistical dilemmas, […] raises self-awareness and reflectivity of the institution as a whole, the role of collection in particular, and the relations among the staff and stakeholders” (113). I am enlightened to have found a function to this room but I am still concerned about the cultural politics of it. We can criticize the power structures of the university from a feminist or postcolonialist perspective all we want but, in the end, it is the material we engage with that reflects the values of the university. First and foremost, the university insures the physical existence of a selection of books and also maintain their significance through time. While we were taught that an indicator of a chef-d’oeuvre is its resistance through time, we have overlooked the institutions that have helped maintained certain works alive – both materially and intellectually – and the motives behind it.

Works Cited

Baudrillard, Jean. “This Non-Functional System, or Subjective Discourve.The System of Objects. Trans. James Benedict. London / New York: Verson, 1992. 71-105

Benjamin, Walter. “Unpacking My Library.” Illuminations. Ed. Hannah Arendt. New York: Schocken Books, 1968. 59-67. 

Krmpotich, Cara. “Teaching Collections Management Anthropologically.” Museum Anthropology. 38. 2: 112-122.

Posted on 2017/10/20 by

No home row and loose keys or, when,“old media become the content of newer media”

I bout my McBoo Pro O 10.7.5 in 2012. I bout te computer tuent in rpic ein. I w in prorm t Concori tt wou tec me te principe, rue, n bic o te obe C6 uite, web ein n ome vertiin.

ere we re in te o 2017. I prepre to enter Concori Mter’ tuent o creative writin in eprtment o Eni, te etter rom my eybor ben to I. irt I w . Te etter .

Te etter . No .
Te etter . No .
Te etter . No .

ometime I cou pre te renc nue option on my eybor n I’ be be tocce one more ey.

Ti I meninu moment or me ince te eybor one o muc or me over te yer. It urvive pi o ppe uice. It epe me ein coupe webite, penty o poter n yer n to expre mye viuy n wit etter.

T te beinnin o my creer mter’ tuent, I in tt te etter re in wy. It’ iy romantic tin n I now te McBoo Pro ut cnnot continue. It cnnot upport me in wor or coe ie it ue to.

Te entire mie row o te eybor no oner wor. My ubn owe me two vieo on te McBoo eybor tt uet wy to ix tem wen broen. Te irt I wi try I to it te T ey ive time in row. Tt mit o te tric.

Te econ ve n inventory o te ne eybor n on ow to cen it. I wi try it we. Te computer crrie me trou o muc over te pt ive yer. It has wore r or me. I m sa to ee it flal aprt n ope tht one o tee operation w ep.

Wi me uc!

Old laptop + new laptop

The above text is a micro memoir on the life of the keyboard belonging to my 13” MacBook Pro from late 2011.The keys from the middle row of the keyboard began to fail in the summer of 2017. While the computer itself works, albeit slowly, something upon the computer’s logic board does not function and connect to generate a representation of language in my attempts to use the keyboard letters: a, s, d, f, g, h, j, k and l.

Put another way, the malfunction of the laptop keyboard is worthy of investigation from a media archaeological perspective. Looking to Wolfgang Ernst, the failed keyboard contains “frozen media knowledge,” that’s primed to be “unfrozen” and “liquefied.” As a media archaeologist, I will not literally melt down the failed keys. Instead, I’ll talk about the fractured keyboard parts together by blending the approaches from several media archaeological thinkers.

Two of the four categories Wanda Strauven developed, “The Old in the New: From Obsolescence to Remediation” and “Ruptures and Discontinuities: Foucault’s Legacy” resonate well in this scenario. Within “the Old in the New”, Strauven calls on McLuhan’s law of obsolescence where, “old media become the content of newer media and, thus, lose their initial novelty and effectiveness.” The gaping text I wrote which you just looked at bears no effectiveness and none of the initial novelty and excitement it would have had to me as when I first purchased the computer in early 2012.

While the malfunction is plausibly a simple and resolvable failure of the logic board, it brought inconvenience to communication in the context of my life – as student, writer, and designer and the economies attached to each post I hold. Still, I re-purpose the keyboard and laptop for a new relationship and a kind of new media.

Screen shot from YouTube video, “How to Fix Any MacBook Keyboard” by Save Apple Dollars website.

Why continue to work with a broken keyboard? Because when Strauven points to out that “the principle of remediation is often taken for granted in recent media historical research,” I want to think more deeply into this relationship we as computer-users have to the life-cycle of a computer (or any other similar device): from newness and novelty, to malfunction, repair, waste and renewal through purchase of a new device. Remediation is defined as “the action of remedying something, esp the reversal or stopping of damage to the environment.

You’ll see on the slide here a screenshot from a Youtube video by “Save Apple Dollars” called “How to fix any Macbook keyboard.” In a Foucauldian sense, I question the power relationship between laptop makers and marketers and literally seek remediation out of obsolescence. When Strauven talks about “Ruptures and Discontinuities: Foucault’s Legacy,” and Erikki Huhtamo, I believe this is an example of an approach that “emphasizes cyclical rather than chronological development, recurrence rather than unique innovation.” When it comes to laptops and other handheld devices, the “gaps and absences, silences and ruptures” of the materials we use in view of consumption and the environment resonates as much as John Cage’s silence.

The letter D on my keyboard became loose after I tried to repair it following instructions from the YouTube video “How to fix any MacBook keyboard.”

This resonates too, when Jussi Parrika asks how we can “rethink familiar media technologies in new material constellations and in ways that lead to new modes of using, consuming and institutionalizing media.” Despite the ingenuity and importance of my old MacBook Pro, it has been designed for “cradle to grave” rather than for “cradle to cradle” use, as design thinkers William McDonough & Michael Braungart argue in their book “Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the way we make things.”

Etch-A-Sketch engine drawing. Credit: Les Chatfield.

Etch-A-Sketch engine drawing. Credit: Les Chatfield. Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

As potential piece of my own archive of home e-waste and old, dead laptops, I look the MacBook Pro with some of the whimsy in the spirit of Walter Benjamin and his own library collection. Throughout the process of preparing this probe, I personified my old and my new laptop side by side. Told them to get along as they sat side by side on the table. Imposed the meaning of time in my own life on the laptops – out with the old, in with the new, as we say. In this instance, the whimsy can be carried only so far. To problematize the life cycle of the laptop following Friedrich Kittler’s hardware media theory has a place in this conversation. There’s a quality of the invisible with the popular marketing and consumption of computer hardware and software that stands to be liquified. In addition, the inscription of writing material can stand to be erased, shaken up, and re-worked.

Works Cited
Ernst, Wolfgang, and Jussi Parikka. Digital Memory and the Archive. 39 Vol. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2013. Electronic Mediations Web.

Strauven, Wanda. “Media Archaeology: Where Film History, Media Art and New Media (Can) Meet” in Preserving and exhibiting media art: challenges and perspectives. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2013. Web.

McDonough, William, and Michael Braungart. Cradle to Cradle :Remaking the Way we make Things. New York: North Point Press, 2002. Web.

Parikka, Jussi. What is Media Archaeology?. Cambridge, UK; Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2012. Web.

Posted on 2017/10/19 by

The Future Collection: A Troubling

In the article “Teaching Collections Management Anthropologically” Cara Krmpotich describes the information technology and Coach House objects that she and her researcher Robyn Watt had assembled into a teaching collection. Krmpotich passingly remarks on it as resembling “what might be in a collection of the future: objects that will be historic decades from now”(114). The statement is made casually, but when examined it seems to hold a fair amount of weight, and to express a sentiment or a relationship. Note that this article was published in 2015. The objects that she is referring to are:

mostly outdated information technologies[…] VHS players, DVDs, USB keys, floppy disks, laptops, photographic negatives, desktop computers, video and audio recorders, radios, 8-track, digital scanners, cassette tapes, wax cylinders for phonographs, old Kodak cameras, laser printers, extension cords, and an overhead projector. (Krmpotich,114)

It immediately strikes me that this statement of futurity expresses a feeling of anachronism. The presence of this collection as a collection of technological/etc. objects of the near, but in some cases not that near, past evokes for the observer a particular sentiment, of their being outside of their proper time, a collection of the future whose objects, it seems implied, are obscured, which are novel in arrangement and the multi-source nature of their material pieces. As collector, Krmpotich feels dislocated from what she has arranged.

Darko Suvin, in Metamorphoses of Science Fiction, defines SF as “a literary genre whose necessary and sufficient conditions are the presence and interaction of estrangement and cognition, and whose main formal device is an imaginative framework alternative to the author’s empirical environment” (7-8). It seems that Krmpotich views her collection as almost science fictional, that it is (or at least should be) a part of a world yet to come, whose norms are not revealed, and as she attempts to wrangle with it feels distant from it.

Now in a way, this perception of the teaching collection as “of the future” is both accurate obscuring:  it will not in the future exist as it does now/did then when she wrote the article, or when she initially assembled the collection. Sure. This perception, this anachronism, estrangement, is perhaps also an affect of it’s cold machinic gaze, the work of media archaeography that the objects themselves embody(Ernst 67).  But at a very pratical level, the “futurity” of the collection may just be a matter of a void left by a non-present vocabulary. She touches on this later in the article:

Applying the standard to the collection of information technology objects brought home the limitations for more recent objects of classificatory structures and terminology largely based upon historic artifacts failed to adequately capture these mass-produced, assembled-in-multiple-countries objects. (Krmpotich 116)

This anachronism/estrangement that Krmpotich experiences are indirect recognitions, or the sentimental responses to an object or objects for which one has no vocabulary of classification or categorization, or at least an undeveloped one.

So then, what Krmpotich and her “future collection” point to is the difficulty of classifying something that is both from near (culturally) and elsewhere (as a mechanically produced commodity), for which the vocabulary or categorizations are still developing. She’s simultaneously seeing her objects as punctuated, and not. A weird liminal space is perhaps created by lacking vocabulary.

I think we can see and look into these difficulties of classification if we take Prown’s categores and take, for example, the GB BOY Colour. This is a cloned Game Boy Colour created by a Chinese company called kong feng.

Do we classify it by it’s chassis, a transparent purple matte plastic? Is the transparent case decorative, utilitarian? It’s case is a deviation from the “original” grey—is that decorative? Do we classify it by it’s custom SoC (System-on-a-Chip), and it’s containment of 66×3 games (that’s right: it contains the same 66 games, three times)? These include “classics” like Mario Bros. and Contra, but also include various Chinese games. The games are listed in English, but also have Chinese characters that appear as I scroll through them. What’s more, it’s also, generally, compatible with “normal” Gameboy Colour cartridges. Do we classify it by it’s mimicry, as a clone of the original Nintendo Gameboy? Could we take from Prown’s categories: is it a diversion, or a device? (Prown, 3) Is it a modified/cloned diversionary emulation device (with cartridge compatibility)? How do we deal with these sorts of devices that are deviations from an “authorized” or “authentic” original, not only as clones but as modified or improved (the GB Boy colour has a backlit screen noted for it’s being an improvement over the original; but we can see thanks to the transparent case that it’s IR sensor, functional in a Nintendo Gameboy Color, is completely non-existent in the GB Boy.) How do we categorize this object?

A derivative object could be both an adjective, and a noun. As an adjective it invokes both the imitation of another work, as well as value stemming from variability. As a noun, it invokes an arrangement based on another source.  These invocations need not be negative, need not be derogatory. Finally, a poetic relation to Krmpotich’s “future” collection: derivative futures, whose value is based upon the performativity of underlying entities (“Derivatives”).  The derivative (perhaps we would say derivative device?) is a future instance of the object it stems from, containing both the possibilities of the original and future assets added through modification, improvement, subtraction, variation, multi-sourcedness. This is perhaps an initial step towards a larger vocabulary.


Works Cited

“Derivatives.” U.S. Department of the Treasury.  Accessed 18 October 2017.

Ernst, Wolfgang. Digital Memory and the Archive. Edited by Jussi Parikka, U Of Minnesota P, 2012.

Krmpotich, Cara. “Teaching Collections Management Anthropologically.” Museum Anthropology 38.2 (2015): 112-22.

Prown, Jules David.  “Mind in Matter: An Introduction to Material Culture Theory and Method.” Winterthur Portfolio 17.1 (1982): 1-19.

Suvin, Darko.  Metamorphoses of Science Fiction. Yale University Press, 1979.

Posted on 2017/10/18 by

“World’s Greatest Dad”: The Ideological Work of the Richler Room Ephemera

In “Teaching Collections Management Anthropologically,” Cara Krmpotich details the iterative, multi-stage creation of a teaching collection for use by her Collections Management class at the University of Toronto. After briefly outlining the pedagogical importance of students’ embodied interactions with objects of material culture, Krmpotich discusses her initial challenge of not having a dedicated collection associated with her program when she began teaching at the University of Toronto. The subsection “Challenges, Part I” documents her first term teaching without a collection, instead using “objects brought in by students and random (though thoughtfully arranged) objects [she] could grab from home in order to try [their] hand[s] at cataloguing and identifying preventive conservation concerns and emerging challenges for the field” (113). While well intentioned, however, this makeshift, ad hoc collection does not work as Krmpotich hopes:

Still, the absence of a collection—of objects distinguished from “everyday life,” removed from general circulation—was a distinct challenge in my goal for students to embody collections management practices. When handling their own objects brought from home, students rarely changed their handling behavior. Objects obviously brought in for a lesson by the students or instructor, without recorded historic or artistic value, were not denaturalized enough … Within minutes, handling practices and collections behavior began to slide away from best practices toward everyday material culture interactions. (113, emphases added)

She continues, remarking that “[o]bjects brought from students’ homes also tended to have complete documentary information … in stark contrast to an ‘average’ museum record” (113) and, in addition, the “objects did not bear the traces or evidence of museum processes as fully accessioned museum objects do” (113). All of this leads Krmpotich to conclude, “[t]he brought-from-home objects failed to engender the necessary intellectual and bodily shifts from students useful for collections work and its subsequent theoretical deconstruction” (113). In the remainder of her article, Krmpotich is concerned both with creating a more suitable in-house teaching collection and with facilitating intra-university partnerships that allow for better collections management pedagogy.

In short, Krmpotich wants to denaturalize objects for pedagogical reasons, to “illuminate for students the rationale and methods of collections documentation and care” (114). Or, perhaps more fully stated, she wants to sufficiently denaturalize students’ objects in order to encourage pedagogically rich self-reflexivity regarding their subsequent naturalization within a museum collections context.

While this is certainly a pedagogically instructive exercise for Krmpotich and her students, the question remains open, however, as to how museums should handle this complex process of denaturalization and then (re?)naturalization within their (necessarily different) institutional contexts. This is of particular pertinence to museums that collect objects of material culture, specifically so-called “everyday” consumer commodities.

Simon J. Knell illustrates this point adroitly in “Museums, Reality, and the Material World,” using as an example Brian J. McVeigh’s work on Hello Kitty branded commodities and the sociology of consumption:

Take, for example, a simple purse with a Hello Kitty motif. Typical museum practice would perceive this as a late twentieth-century costume accessory which might be collected systemically recording individual and moment but never really thinking beyond that local context. For an adolescent girl, however, buying such a purse might also permit her to enter into a circle of friends. It also places her in a worldwide community of owners who share a relationship with this motif, and it also places her in a relationship to an older generation who are now courted by fashion houses using the motif to evoke nostalgia. If Hello Kitty becomes associated with a distinctive social group, then in a reflexive way it becomes representative of that group, and as a commodity it is surely then far more complex than the object a museum professional might perceive.


Marketing now not only sells such things [as the purse] but attempts to sell them by gaining sociological understanding of its audience. So what does a museum collect if it collects the purse? Just to collect it as an example of ‘today’ is to get drawn into an unacknowledged illusion. The owner of the purse is in fact part of global business, her tastes captured and reflected. Consumption here represents a sophisticated symbiosis between identity and big business … Thus, the association between the thing and its owner is not as museums tend to read it. (18, emphases added)

What Knell is emphasizing here is the multiplicity of meanings that a material (commodity) object can have in its pre-museally-(re)naturalized state, and the profound challenges that face museum professionals to, firstly, become aware of those meanings, and, secondly, once aware, to consider how or in what ways those meanings can be captured as the object is (re)naturalized in its new museum collections context.

For Knell, this is also, inevitably, related to questions of loss in museum collections:

As a captured fragment of context, we understand [an object’s] imperfections but counter these with a belief that in capturing the thing we also hold something of untapped and unrecognized potential. In other words, we have collected less than was there, but we have also collected more than we know! However, almost immediately we begin to lose what we have acquired as the object becomes naturalised within its new museum context: “A naturalized object has lost its anthropological strangeness. It is in that narrow sense desituated – members have forgotten the local nature of the object’s meaning or the actions that go into maintaining and recreating its meaning” (Bowker and Star 299). The losses we are willing to accept in our ‘museumisation’ of things are quite remarkable … to believe we can collect and keep without loss is to suffer an illusion, even if we don’t kill and stuff the object or put it in a museum. (25, emphasis added)

These meaning losses – degradations and subsequent re-(/over?)-inscriptions of meaning[1] – should be of great interest to us in our course, thinking self-reflexively, as we are, about research collections – both their establishment and maintenance – and working, as we are, with objects of consumer culture like video game consoles, their peripherals, and, as book history specialists would remind us, trade bound books.

Interestingly, however, it is perhaps the smallest objects in the Richler Room that can prove to be the richest to contemplate in the terms above sketched. Placed crucially on the writer’s desk, these seemingly insignificant “knick-knacks” do their own kind of naturalized/ing ideological work, constructing a bureau-like verisimilitude that subconsciously subjectifies and predetermines the role of the viewer. While, like Knell’s example of the Hello Kitty purse, we may not be entirely aware of these objects’ exhaustive meanings as commodities[2] circulating as naturalized in consumer culture, their liminal positioning – and, significantly, the cumulative/collaborative(/conspiratorial?) work that they do together as composite – in the Richler Room allows them to be both museally artifactual, but also “alive” in the (prescribed) present of the subjectified viewer (“Look at this messy, living, working desk – just like yours!”).

One object that exemplifies ephemera’s liminal positioning in the Richler Room is a simple see-through, blue-lettered “World’s Greatest Dad” plaque (hereafter referred to as WGD plaque). The WGD plaque is, itself, part of a collection of items that arrived (as donated) in a wooden document inbox. In turn, the items in this wooden document inbox comprise part of a larger lot of items bearing the label/categorization “Box #43,” which reflects the serial process that Richler’s possessions underwent in their transfer to storage, and, finally, to Concordia University.

Here is how the plaque appears in the collection’s appraisal documentation (done by The Word’s Adrian King Edwards in August 2014, following the collection’s initial inventory at Peerless Clothing in June/July 2013), as part of the contents of the wooden document inbox: “Wooden Document In Box [sic] with miscellaneous desk realia including: 2 metal letter openers in leather holders, stapler[,] cigars in ziplock bags, eraser, clips, World’s Greatest Dad plaque, Davidoff tobacco box, wolf [sic] Krakowski CD, film negatives, matchbook covers, etc. [further cataloguing required].”

The wooden document inbox containing “World’s Greatest Dad” plaque as part of “Box 43” appraised by Adrian King Edwards.

I also had Research Assistant Sean Gallagher help me find (and, importantly, not find) the WGD plaque in various Excel spreadsheets associated with the Richler donation.

“Box 43 and Box 157” spreadsheet showing wooden document inbox contents description identical to appraisal document.

Gallagher showed me the spreadsheet, “Box 43 and Box 157”(creation date: 26 August 2016) on the collection Dropbox that duplicates The Word’s appraisal description verbatim. Due to this, the WGD plaque is present as part of the wooden document inbox’s contents. However, in a spreadsheet entitled “Box 43” (creation date: 4 August 2017), this is the description of this same “Document Inbox with miscellaneous desk realia” under its specific “Scope and content note”: “Desk realia includes: Wolf Krokowski ‘Transmigrations’ CD, 2 metal letter openers in leather holders, Acco stapler, Montecristo and Partagas cigar each in ziplock bag, paper and binder clips, Davidoff tobacco box, film negatives and matchbooks.” While more detailed than King Edwards’ appraisal in some ways – note Krokowski’s CD title, stapler brand, and the cigar brands – the WGD plaque conspicuously disappears from this description.

“Box 43” spreadsheet showing “Scope and Content Note” for wooden document inbox lacking mention of “World’s Greatest Dad” plaque.

This is the way that Gallagher was able to account for these discrepancies in our correspondence on 17 October 2017:

I would say that the first inventory [at Peerless Clothing in June/July 2013] is what the appraisals [done by The Word’s Adrian King Edwards in August 2014] were made off of, while the current box inventory [“Box 43”] is trying its best to reflect what’s actually in the boxes 4 years later. Best guess about the plaque is that it was forgotten in the 2017 box inventory [“Box 43”] because it had become a permanent desk fixture and the “Box 43 and Box 157” file has been reopened in an attempt to return missing items to their rightful boxes. (emphasis added)

What is curious about the WGD plaque’s simultaneous presence and absence in the space’s very working documents is that it reifies the room’s own ambiguous, noncommittal approach to the (re)naturalization of its consumer commodity objects as museally artifactual, expressing, as Dr. Camlot summarized in my correspondence with him, the reality that “there has been no official decision about what items from the collection to showcase on the desk, up to now.” In the same way that the WGD plaque is both present and not to the room’s documents, the same can be said of its ideological work being both present – subjectifying the room’s viewer – while being elided as insignificant, “everyday,” knick-knack ephemera. In contrast to Krmpotich’s objects, sufficiently denaturalized and subsequently self-reflexively (re)naturalized within the (pedagogical) museum context, Richler’s knick-knacks blur these categories in an intellectually productive way perhaps analogous to how the Richler Room itself mediates between categories. Is it, as Concordia’s website states, the Mordecai Richler Reading Room? Or is it, as the domain of the recently launched catalogue attests, the Richler Library? These different terms bring with them ideological baggage – along with attendant approaches to collection access and preservation – and their simultaneous usage reminds us of this particular collection’s inherent ambiguity.

[1] Most literally through the process of cataloguing, as Krmpotich touches on when discussing teaching students content management system software, and encouraging them to question its categorical logic (116-7).

[2] Indeed, one of the lurking questions in Knell is what it would even mean to know these meanings exhaustively, or if that would be possible for even the most attuned/knowledgeable museum professional.

Works Cited

Camlot, Dr. Jason. Email correspondence. 17 Oct. 2017.

Gallagher, Sean. Email correspondence. 17 Oct. 2017.

Knell, Simon J. “Museums, Reality, and the Material World.” Museums in the Material World. Ed. Simon J. Knell. New York: Routledge, 2007. 1-28.

Krmpotich, Cara. “Teaching Collections Management Anthropologically.” Museum Anthropology 38.2 (2015): 112-22.

Posted on 2017/10/17 by

Game Boy: Bridging Cultures (North America & Mexico) or Game Portability and Enjoyment in the Times of Nostalgia

For the following presentation, I have employed the method that proposes Jules David Prown in Mind in Matter, beginning with a short description of the object in question; then moving to the deduction stage to finalize with speculation.

(Show a picture of the Classic GB + Original Packaging (1989) from “History of Consoles”)

Before your eyes, you have a grey brick labelled as Nintendo Game Boy. Beginning with the upper side, you can see the power switch. On the front panel, there is a liquid crystal screen (LCD) coloured in green olive. On top of it, a grey frame is protecting it. On the left-hand side of the frame, there is also a lightbulb and a sign that reads “BATTERY.” On the left-hand side, there is the external power supply jack, and the contrast dial for the screen; whereas, on the right-hand side, there is the volume dial, along with the extension connector and cover used for two-player games. Proceeding with the rear view of the Game Boy, the upper side shows an aperture; whereas the lower side shows the battery cover area. All in all, Nintendo Game Boy is made up of plastic, metal, rubber and glass.

But what’s so special about the GB, you may ask? Well, the Game Boy reminds me of the “Tetris Brick Game.”

(Show a picture of the “Brick Game” from Chubby Tree)

Around the year 1990, owning and playing with a brick game was quite popular in Mexico, due to the release of the Game Boy only the year before. To a certain extent, the TBG was a substitute to those who could not afford a GB or were addicted to playing Tetris. When I was younger I had one GB just like the one in the picture. It was heavy to carry around (for it ran with four AA’s,) and too big to hold it with one hand. The first game I played with it was “Tiny Toon Adventures 2: Montana’s Movie Madness.” The stereo sound was okay, but not great considering that most T.V. sets featured an involving surrounding sound during that time. The graphics were not that great either; they were not in color, compared to arcade games I used to play with. I also had trouble playing at certain types of light and when it was dark, too. Still, it was my first Game Boy, so I appreciated it for its portability and its capability to make me dive into other imaginary worlds when I was bored. Now, stepping back in time, the Game Boy sold in 1989 is more than an object or a commodity for personal entertainment as it was for Canada or the U.S.A.; the GB is also an event, one of many forces of globalization, individualization, and technology advancement. It is an active appropriation of values for developing countries. I would argue that, on the one hand, the event named Game Boy, for Mexico represents the beginning of a process known as cultural hybridization in young boys and adolescents; ;whereas, the arrival of the GB, in the U.S.A., on the other hand, sets the tone for the eventual establishment of technological gadget culture.

Chris Barker defines the term cultural hybridization as a process by which cultures around the world embrace a variety of traits coming from another culture, while still holding their own traditional culture (298.)

Play Game Boy Commercial on Youtube (30 seconds)

Arcade games, the Atari and the NES had provided until 1989 Mexican teenagers with ways of interacting with other forms of entertainment. In 1989, arcade games were already popular in Mexico City. They were introduced in the early 80s. Convenient stores would rent arcade games to increase the sales of their products. Arcade games were varied, you could play games, like Mortal Combat, Street Fighter II, Snow-Bros and Super Mario, for only a few cents. Teenagers would gather outside these convenient stores to play with either neighbors, friends or complete strangers. Also, having a GB is a direct encounter with the North American entertainment and outlook through the ownership of this object. When Mexican teenagers adopt the GB, as their “object”, its continuous use adds the GB to the Mexican culture. Thus, the active key verbs are: encounter, adopt, use, and reinvent (yourself.)

Now, contextualizing the GB in the North American Market, I would suggest herein that the handheld console (1) becomes a commodity; (2) reinforces the idea of a thriving technological era; what is more, the T.V. commercial expresses and represents self-identify as a project (or imaginary fantasy) by processes of fantasy and self-invention, processes of “seeing oneself as” this or that. Visual imagery displays the processes of subjectivity and identity – phantasmic wish fulfillment (e.g. the boy mimicking the robot’s behavior and movements to become like the robot.) There exists a sense of decision, a way to incorporate fantasy into reality in a way that modifies reality (Bracher 123.)  All in all, one of the myriad interpretations there is contemplates that the GB, as a cultural object, is key of transition, training and socializing for young American men for its technological capabilities and the message the T.V. commercial deliver to their audience. Still, my interpretation is only one possible way of approaching the GB.

Concluding question/thought:

So, what do male teenagers living in Quebec, somewhere in the U.S.A. and Mexico City share in common besides puberty, considering that they do not share the same ethnicity? They share a common popular culture.

Works Cited

Barker, Chris. Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice. Los Angeles: SAGE, 2012. Print.

Bracher, Mark “On the Psychological and Social Functions of Language: Lacan’s Theory of the Four Discourses,” Lacanian Theory of Discourse: Subject, Structure and Society, ed. Bracher (New York: NYUP, 1994) 107-28.

History of Consoles: Nintendo Game Boy (1989)

NINTENDO Corporation “GameBoy + Tetris T.V. Commercial [1989]” Online video clip. Youtube. Youtube, 13 August 2009. Web. 6 October 2017.

Posted on 2017/10/12 by

“Our writing tools are also working on our thoughts”: On Kittler, Nietzsche, and Richler’s Facit TP1

Wanda Strauven, in “Media Archaeology: Where Film History, Media Art, and New Media (Can) Meet,” stresses media archaeology’s debt to Foucault’s own archaeological work: “One could say that media archaeology starts where Foucault’s analyses end” (68). However, immediately following this remark, she cites Kittler’s incisive critique of Foucauldian archaeological methodology, an insight that proves central to Kittler’s analysis in Discourse Networks: 1800/1900 and that he states directly in Gramophone, Film, Typewriter’s introduction before proceeding with his analysis of the titular technologies. Here are his comments on Foucault’s methodology, putting Strauven’s italicized excerpt in a bit more of its context:

And Foucault, the last historian or the first archaeologist, merely had to look things up. The suspicion that all power emanates from and returns to archives could be brilliantly confirmed … A tautology of history, or its calvary. For the libraries in which the archeologist found so much rich material collected and catalogued papers that had been extremely diverse in terms of addressee, distribution technique, degree of secrecy, and writing technique—Foucault’s archive as the entropy of a post office. Even writing itself, before it ends up in libraries, is a communication medium, the technology of which the archeologist simply forgot. It is for this reason that all his analyses end immediately before that point in time at which other media penetrated the library’s stacks. (5, emphasis added)

This characteristic phrase of “Kittlerese” – slightly maddening in its deliberately provocative understatement – ran through my head as I encountered Richler’s typewriters (and, crucially, their placement) in the Richler Room.

For Kittler, the typewriter – along with the gramophone and film – forms part of the Edisonian media world of his later Discourse Network 1900 where, as Winthrop-Young describes, “new analog recording and storage technologies … challenged the alpha status of scriptographic production and typographic reproduction techniques of the Gutenberg Galaxy” (58). Some of these technologies (like the gramophone) even allowed us to differentiate data streams and record physical effects of the Real (meant to be read here, for Kitter, in a Lacanian sense), and, therefore, we were able to bypass, in Kittler’s terms, the “bottleneck of the signifier” (4) that was indicative of the former “monopoly of writing” (4) as the sole technology for processing and storing these data streams.

In light of this new differentiation, clearly writing’s hegemony is subverted, but it is also more explicitly technologized through the invention of the typewriter in 1865 (in European accounts) or 1868 (in American accounts). In contrast to physical effects of the Real as registered by the gramophone, writing as explicitly technologized reveals itself to have always been Symbolic (again, very much in Lacanian terms). As Winthrop-Young and Wutz state, “[t]hought of around 1800 as a mysterious medium encoding prelinguistic truth, writing in the Age of Edison began to be understood as only one of several media possessed of an irreducible facticity” (xxv). They continue, “[i]n Mallarmé’s succinct phrase, ‘one does not make poetry with ideas, but with words,’ bare signifiers that inverted the logic of print as a vehicle of linguistic communication, and instead emphasized ‘textuality as such, turning words from means to ends-in-themselves’ (xxv-i). This recognition of writing as highly symbolic is prompted by it being further technologized, as the writer is also then confronted by the arbitrary materiality of signifiers: “Only the typewriter provides writing as a selection from the finite and arranged stock of its keyboard. It literally embodies what Lacan illustrated using the antiquated letter box. In contrast to the flow of handwriting, we now have discrete elements separated by spaces. Thus, the symbolic has the status of block letters” (Kittler 16).

Friedrich Nietzsche’s typewriter, a Malling-Hansen Writing ball, model 1878. Photo taken by Dieter Eberwein. Copyright: The Goethe and Schiller Archive, Weimar, Germany.

All of this frames the specific attention Kittler pays to Nietzsche in Gramophone, Film, Typewriter’s last section, specifically his analysis of the philosopher’s curious statement, in a letter from 1882, that “[o]ur writing tools are also working on our thoughts” (qtd in Kittler 200). For Kittler, extrapolating out from Nietzsche’s material, media-technological conditions writing on his Malling-Hansen Writing Ball, the philosopher’s metaphysical understanding of “inscription, which has degenerated into a poststructuralist catch-all metaphor, has validity only within the framework of the history of the typewriter. It designates the turning point at which communications technologies can no longer be related back to humans. Instead, the former have formed the latter” (211, emphasis added). Or, put slightly differently, “[w]riting in Nietzsche is no longer a natural extension of humans who bring forth their voice, soul, individuality through their handwriting. On the contrary: … humans change their position—they turn from the agency of writing to become an inscription surface” (210).

For me, there is a very productive dissonance that arises when I compare Kittler’s account of the typewriter – specifically, the (arguable?) technological determinism we find in his media-technological analysis of Nietzsche writing on his Malling-Hansen – with the way that the typewriter has come to signify in contemporary culture. Essentially, I would like to ask: what has happened to the profoundly agonistic account of typewriter writing that we find in Kittler?

Now elided as a site of contested human-technology interface, often instead it seems we choose to see the typewriter as an idealized site of writerly agency, even as a site of clarity, focus, or order, free from the invasive interruptions of our digital device interfaces. The typewriter’s aesthetic signifiers have become conflated with #typewriterpoetry and #typewriterpoems, hashtags that proliferate across social media, simultaneously disseminating the content of poetry – both newly written and quotes by others – but also material fetishism of a “supplanted” technology and for its posited authenticity.

Richler’s Facit TP1 typewriter with a file folder of his official letterhead.

Another of Richler’s typewriters in the room, an Underwood Standard No. 3, looming behind the writer’s desk atop a shelf.

I even experienced the seductive, orderly allure of the typewriter affectively as, under time constraints, I chose to “flee” the unknown, somewhat overwhelming world of consoles, their interfaces, and other components – to me, foreign objects and their myriad variants – at the Residual Media Depot, back to the cognitive order and intuitiveness of print culture at the Richler Room. As I entered the main room, I was calmed by the Author’s Desk and Typewriter, the site of agency and literary production. This was the room’s clearly signaled focus, but also, not insignificantly, the centre of the world that I was trained to recognize and think with and through.[1]

“The source of bestsellers,” as featured in Concordia University’s publication Mordecai Richler Reading Room: Concordia Honours a Literary Icon.

Concordia’s own branding/marketing for – and the resulting media coverage of – the Richler Room only further emphasize the Author’s Desk and Typewriter as its focus. The publication “Mordecai Richler Reading Room: Concordia Honours a Literary Icon,” dating from the room’s opening in November 2013, features Richler’s Facit TP1 (serial number: P233693) prominently in several photos, including a close-up of it on page 4 with the caption “The source of bestsellers” and two others (page 3 and page 9) of intimate family members and friends inspecting this “source” reverently. Pictures 3 and 12 in Christine Muschi’s photo essay for The Globe and Mail could, effectively, be #typewriter Instagram or Pinterest posts. Ann-Marie MacDonald’s “Dispatch 1: The Writer Settles In” begins with a still of typewriter keys and the sound of key clicks before it shows MacDonald examining Richler’s assorted possessions – including his chair, desk, and typewriter – stating, somewhat overwhelmed by this “legacy matrix” (1:32-3) of a room, “I don’t think I’m ready to sit there yet” (0:31-2).

“Florence and Jacob Richler inspect Mordecai’s typewriter,” as featured in Concordia University’s publication Mordecai Richler Reading Room: Concordia Honours a Literary Icon.

Kittler famously argues, in “There Is No Software,” “we do not write anymore” (147) on our computer word processing software. He continues, “after … lightning’s metamorphosis into electricity, manmade writing passes instead through microscopically written inscriptions, which, in contrast to all historical writing tools, are able to read and write by themselves” (147). Though Kittler’s take on user interfaces and the attendant obfuscation(s) of software is, admittedly, highly polemical, as Winthrop-Young identifies (75), could there be something in our current typewriter fetishism that has developed in response to our estrangement from being able to observe our “writing” – in this case, not just an estrangement from the longhand script technology of Kittler’s earlier Discourse Network 1800, but even from that of Discourse Network 1900’s typewriter? Now that, as Kittler says, “[w]e simply do not know what our writing does” (148, emphasis added), is this highly aestheticized typewriter fetishism our attempt to reclaim that verb through a (romanticized? sentimentalized?) focus on the visible material machinations and processes of “writing”?

Can a typewriter – and it “working on our thoughts” – simultaneously be, for Kittler writing on Nietzsche, illustrative of the start of “the transvaluation of all values” (200) in terms of humans’ relation to their technology, and, for us, somewhat like the aspirational Instagram writer’s equivalent of #liveauthentic (#writeauthentic?)? Do we have to choose?

[1] To the extent that literary criticism is ever explicit about its own methodology(/ies), as we have addressed already in class.

Works Cited

Concordia University. “Dispatch 1: The Writer Settles In.” YouTube, uploaded by Concordia University, 4 Nov. 2015, Accessed 11 Oct. 2017.

Concordia University. Mordecai Richler Reading Room: Concordia Honours a Literary Icon. Concordia University, 2013, Accessed 11 Oct. 2017.

Kittler, Friedrich. Gramophone, Film, Typewriter. Trans. Geoffrey Winthrop-Young and Michael Wutz. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999.

Kittler, Friedrich. “There Is No Software.” Literature, Media, Information Systems. Ed. John Johnston. Amsterdam: Overseas Publishers Association, 1997. 147-55.

Muschi, Christine. “In pictures: Concordia University’s Mordecai Richler Reading Room.” The Globe and Mail, 27 Nov. 2013. Accessed 11 Oct. 2017

Strauven, Wanda. “Media Archaeology: Where Film History, Media Art, and New Media (Can) Meet.” Preserving and Exhibiting Media Art: Challenges and Perspectives. Eds. Julia Noordegraaf, et al. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2013.

Winthrop-Young, Geoffrey. Kittler and the Media. Cambridge: Polity Press, 2011.

Winthrop-Young, Geoffrey and Michael Wutz. “Translators’ Introduction.” In Friedrich Kittler. Gramophone, Film, Typewriter. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999. xi-xxxviii.

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