Media Gifts is the website/blog of Gary Hall, a cultural and media theorist working on new media technologies, continental philosophy, art and politics. It provides details of his publications, talks and other activities, with a particular emphasis on work-in-progress.
Media gifts: the idea
My current research includes a series of performative media projects or ‘media gifts’ which use digital media to actualise or creatively perform critical and cultural theory. They are gifts in the sense they operate as part of what has come to be known as the academic gift economy whereby research is circulated for free rather than as intellectual property or market commodities that are bought and sold. They are performative in that they do not endeavour to provide a representation of the world so much as to act in the world or intra-act with it. In other words, they are instances of media and mediation that endevour to produce the effects they name or things of which they speak, and that are engaged primarily through their actualization, enactment and performance. They are a way to practice an affirmative media theory or media philosophy, where analysis and critique are not abandoned but perhaps take more creative, inventive forms.
Operating at the intersections of art, media and philosophy, the different gifts in the series each in their own way experiment with the potential new media technologies hold for making affective, singular, ethical and political interventions in the ‘here’ and ‘now’. They include:
• Culture Machine - an open access journal of critical and cultural theory.
• The open access archive CSeARCH (Cultural Studies e-Archive - now retired)
• Open Humanities Press - first open access publisher dedicated to critical and cultural theory.
• The Liquid Books series – a series, edited by Clare Birchall and myself, of digital ‘books’ users are able to remix, reformat, reversion, reuse, reinvent and republish.
Volume 1. New Cultural Studies: The Liquid Theory Reader, a ‘liquid book’ edited by myself and Clare Birchall (and others) as a follow-up to the 2006 woodware volume, New Cultural Studies: Adventures in Theory edited by Gary Hall and Clare Birchall
Volume 2. The Post-Corporate University, ‘curated’ by Davin Heckman
Volume 3. Technology and Cultural Form, openly written and edited by Joanna Zylinska and the students on the MA Digital Media at Goldsmiths, University of London. (Featured in Matthew Reisz, 'Title Fights', Times Higher Education, June 23, 2011.)
Volume 4. Wyrd to the Wiki: Lacunae Toward Wiki Ontologies, openly and collaboratively written by Shareriff (Trey Conner, University of South Florida) and mobius (Richard Doyle, Penn State University)
Volume 5. 'We're All Game Changers Now': Open Education - A Study in Disruption, only partially realised liquid book produced as part of a multi-part research project that also includes the 2014 volume from Rowman and Littlefield International, Open Education: A Study in Disruption. (An open access verion of the latter is available here.) Both books are co-authored by Coventry’s Open Media Group and Mute Publishing, this multi-part project being designed as a critical experiment with collaborative writing and concise, medium-length forms of shared attention.
Volume 6. Biomediaciones/Biomediations. Life as such doesn’t exist: it is always mediated by language, culture, technology and biology. It is these multiple mediations of life that form the theme of this liquid, living book, the sixth volume in the series, which has been collaboratively speed-edited in three hours at the Living Books workshop at the Festival of New Media Art and Video Transitio_MX 05 BIOMEDIATIONS (Biomediaciones) in Mexico City, September 2013.
Volume 7. After New Media: A Liquid Reader, a 'liquid reader' for the non-assessed, online and open access course 'After New Media' from Goldsmiths, University of London. Each section relates to a lecture on the After New Media course, with links highlighted in bold representing key reading. As with the After New Media course, the reader experiments with its own mediation as a form of pedagogy and seeks to intervene in and problematise the increasingly hegemonic, branded and top-down model of the MOOC (massive open online course).
Volume 8. Photomediations: An Open Reader, part of the online project Photomediations: An Open Book (see below), led by Joanna Zylinska. It contains academic, curatorial and mainstream open access essays on the dynamic relationship between photography and other media.
• Liquid Theory TV (with Clare Birchall and Pete Woodbridge) – a series of Internet TV programmes experimenting with new and different ways of acting as a ‘public intellectual’ in the current media environment by communicating academic research and ideas to a wider community both ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ the university:
• WikiNation – a project exploring new ways of organising institutions, cultures, communities and countries, ways that do not uncritically repeat the reductive adherence to democracy, hegemony and Western, bourgeois, liberal humanism that can be found in the institution of academic criticism more widely.
• The Open Scholarship Full Disclosure Initiative - as yet unrealised idea for an online directory detailing the sources of funding of all journal editors and publishers.
• Pirate Philosophy – a project investigating some of the implications of so-called internet piracy for the humanities, particularly the latter’s ideas of authorship, the book, the academic journal, scholarly writing and publishing, intellectual property, copyright law, fair use, content creation and cultural production. ‘Pirate Philosophy’ explores such ideas both philosophically and legally through the creation of an actual ‘pirate’ text using peer-to-peer BitTorrent networks.
• The Living Books About Life series - edited with Clare Birchall and Joanna Zylinska, published by Open Humanities Press. Initially funded by Jisc, and published by Open Humanities Press, this is a sustainable series of electronic open access books about life - with life understood both philosophically and biologically - which provides a bridge between the humanities and the sciences.
• Culture Machine Live - a series of podcasts edited by myself, Janneke Adema, Pete Woodbridge (now at Manchester School of Art), and Clare Birchall (King’s College, London). Includes talks with Richard Sennett, Johanna Drucker, N. Katherine Hayles, Chantal Mouffe, Geert Lovink, Alan Liu, Ted Striphas, and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, on a range of issues including the digital humanities, internet politics, the future of cultural studies, transparency, open access, cultural theory and philosophy.
• Photomediations: An Open Book - which redesigns a coffee-table book as an online experience to produce a creative resource that explores the dynamic relationship between photography and other media. The project is a collaboration between academics from Goldsmiths, University of London, and Coventry University (Joanna Zylinska, Kamila Kuc, Jonathan Shaw, Ross Varney and Michael Wamposzyc). It is part of Europeana Space, a project funded by the European Union's ICT Policy Support Programme under GA n° 621037. It is accompanied by a free downloadable pdf brochure, A Guide to Open and Hybrid Publishing (or how to create an image-based, open access book in 10 easy steps), written by myself, Kamila Kuc and Joanna Zylinska, which uses Photomediations: An Open Book as an illustration.
Media gifts: the open book
While these media gifts constitute relatively distinct projects in their own right, they can also be seen as forming an open, living, fluid network of texts, websites, archives, wikis, internet TV programmes, publications and institutions that takes multiple forms and appears on multiple platforms.
The open, distributed book I'm currently putting together as part of my work on these projects is just one knot or nodal point in this constantly changing network, one possible means of access to or engagement with it. This multi-medium, multi-locational, multiple identity book is designed to follow on from Digitize This Book!: The Politics of New Media, or Why We Need Open Access Now and itself has the provisional title of Media Gifts. One of the ways it is being made freely and openly available as it emerges and begins to take shape is via the open book page of this website.
The reason I'm positioning this emergent distributed book as one project in a constellation of other open access, open media and open education projects, is because doing so may help us to think differently about the idea of book itself. For example, on his Object-Oriented Philosophy blog, Graham Harman writes:
In not too many years we will have reached the point where literally anyone can publish a philosophy book in electronic form in a matter of minutes, even without the least trace of official academic credentials. I don’t bemoan this at all – the great era of 17th century philosophy was dominated by non-professors, and the same thing could easily happen again. As far as publishing is concerned, what it means is that all publishing is destined to become vanity publishing. (Alberto Toscano recently pointed this out to me.) You’ll just post a homemade book on line, and maybe people will download it and read it, and maybe you’ll pick up some influence.
Yet what's really interesting about recent developments in electronic publishing is not that, what with open access and the emergence of the likes of Scribd, Blurb and Issuu, publishing a book is something nearly everyone can do today in a matter of minutes. Nor is it that book publishing is, as a result, steadily becoming more like blogging or vanity publication, with certification provided as much by an author’s reputation or readership, or the number of times a text is downloaded, cited, referenced, linked to, blogged about, tagged, bookmarked, ranked or indexed - and thus, in effect, recommended by others in what amounts to a process of collaborative evaluation - as it is by conventional peer-review or the prestige of the press.
No, the really interesting and important thing about all this is the way it encourages us to see the book as something that’s not fixed and unified, with definite limits and clear material edges, but as liquid and living, constantly open to being annotated, updated, revised, supplemented and reimagined; with publication - whether in print-on-paper or digital form - no longer being conceived as an end point or fixed moment in time, but rather as a nodal point in an ongoing process or flow.
So much so that, as Ted Striphas suggests, perhaps soon we’ll no longer call such things books at all, e- or otherwise. On the other hand, perhaps ‘book’ is as good a name for such things as any, since I’d maintain books have always been like this to a certain extent. Books have always been liquid, living and distributed. Digital technology has simply helped to make us more aware of the fact, that’s all:
‘And today the book is already, as the present mode of scholarly production demonstrates, an outdated mediation between two different filing systems. For everything that matters is to be found in the card box of the researcher who wrote it, and the scholar studying it assimilates it into his own card index.... The typical work of modern scholarship is to be read like a catalogue. But when shall we write books like catalogues?’
(Walter Benjamin (1928), One Way Street, in Selected Writings, ed. Marcus Bullock, Howard Eiland, and Gary Smith, 4 vols (Cambridge: Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1996-2003) I: p.456, 457)
Media gifts: the open notebook
If this open, distributed, multi-medium book is one nodal point in this web of gifts it is just one such node. There are others, and they should be no less privileged than the book.
Some of the other gifts in the series have been detailed above. But they also include the open humanities notebook section of the Media Gifts website. This provides a space where some of the ongoing research for the Media Gifts volume can be published more or less as it emerges, in beta, pre-print and grey literature form, and so made openly available for free, very quickly and easily. Indeed, the media gifts open notebook provides a forum where ideas, theories and concepts relating to all of the various projects in this network can be outlined, developed, reflected upon and openly shared, discussed and experimented with still further.
Why call it a notebook rather than a blog? Partly in an attempt to elude the diary-like, 'Daily Me' associations of the term blog. Partly because the academic, essayistic nature of much of the material published here means this space is indeed perhaps easier to understand as a kind of open, electronic notebook.