Transmitting Culture: 7.


Hoofstuk 7 – Ways of Doing


Ways of Doing

The research programs implied by a mediological perspective can be divided into two branches. One side favours diachrony, asking by which networks of transmission and forms of organization a given cultural legacy was constituted. On the other side, with more importance given the synchronic cross-cut, the question is how the appearance of a new system or equipment modifies an institution, an established theory, or precodified practice.

In short, whether one surveys, so to speak, the meteor craters resulting from an unexpected object’s impact on a mental planet or reconstitutes the fluidities of magma behind forming eruptive rock, it is the shock of heterogeneous elements that will interest the observer.

Culture and technology move together and cannot do without one another: the two enemy sisters do not get along but must come to a working compromise.

Out of negative protestation there can arise a positive mutation (as every new object that is made intelligible transforms the frames of intelligence itself).

Three gestures in this direction fall unpremeditatedly into line: decentering, materializing, and dynamizing.


There is clear evidence, however, for a causal complex in which the popularity of journalism followed from the steel railway. Industrialized mass transport enlarged printed matter’s sphere of circulation; it determined the industrialization of the press (the daily newspaper costing one sou) and brought massive influxes of money onto the intellectual.

This shift in emphasis, from the better – to the lesser-known, can be called the mediological indexation of a phenomenon. It puts what appears marginal at the very center.

Faced with a doctrine that is already constituted and presents itself as an autonomous whole, attention must be directed from literal meaning-content to the frameworks that administer belief in that content.

What institution gave rise to the indoctrination and put it across? How was its doctrine propogated, inculcated, and reproduced? Which models of conformity did it follow?

This complex in its turn served to set down, store, and circulate traces in a manner characteristic of a given, historically determined mediasphere: the logosphere, or age of orality and its first inscriptions in writing; the graphosphere, or age of print; and the videosphere of recorded images and sound, digitized and pixellated sign-pictures, and unimedia.

Some estimates are that half the species that have ever lived have become extinct since the first appearance of life on earth. A good number of ideological species encounter a similar fate, at the hands of their surroundings’ selective pressures (technological Darwinism is pitiless).

Every culture is an adaptive response to surroundings (Jacques Ruffie), and even if the “one species, one niche” principle does not apply mechanically in these more subtle matters, the technological niche of the videosphere proved fatal to a cultural tradition tending to put the (invisible) future before and above the (perceptible) present.

Before our very eyes there has occurred a slow disintegration of that grand European mosaic of the graphosphere. They had garaunteed the social viability of a bookbound culture within an ecosystem that was invisible because shared (with the internal ventilation of its pertinent oppositions).

How much thought does the myopic give to his glasses, except after misplacing them? (Can the fish discover water?)

Is it not by de-ideologizing ideologies that one can understand their appearance as well as disappearance?

The intended decentering crosses things and people, grasping relations of force incorporated into produced works that can in turn modify those relations further.

For the birth of the Artist, as someone practising a liberal profession and not just an artisanal or mechanical art, was as little spontaneous and universal an occurrence, and as intricately orchestrated, as was the birth of the Intellectual to public and symbolic prominence in the nineteenth century.

looking at the lookers, rather than the varnished veneer of canvases themselves.

In sum, at everything that is deployed to display and solemnize works of art. A careful study of this well-handled distraction, this periphery of cultural validation, puts us on the trail to a quite simple truth, which is not demystification but restoration of an aesthetic wholeness: art and the faith we put into it are one and the same.


Civilization, insisted the historian Charles Seignobos, is roads, ports and quays. It has become so natural to speak of culture, while forgetting civilization, that our elaborate normative displays hide from view the basic levers of interaction and negotiation with things both inert and living.

Cultivated culture stands like a column covered with glorious signatures; technological culture is the poor relation, reduced to anonymous familiarities. With cultivated culture, the proper names last longer than the works; with technological culture, the inventors are effaced behind their inventions. Fire, the wheel, and steel were and remain signature-less, like the sewing machine.

Within the notion of artifex we persist in dissociating the (mechanical) artisan from the (liberal) artist. We tend to see only the painter in the figure of Leonardo, while he saw himself as an engineer.

As we pass from the book as text to the book as object, the history of the book could risk erasing that of literature.

Overvaluing the code and undervaluing the channel was yesterday’s semiocratic indulgence. Stopping before getting to the referent, the mediocrat might succumb to the opposite realist fallacy: overestimating the channel at the code’s expense.


One needs to produce a complex schematic outline of flows that joins such media to the corresponding places and spheres of activity that diffuse them: the court, salons, marketplaces, cafes, public gardens, booksellers, and libraries. Oral transmission and written communication are relayed through these crossings, the first amplifying the second. So, the sphere of ideas has happily been broadened, but the entirety of the process is still conceived in terms of communication: the force of ideas lies in how widely they are spread.

Out of this came the capital formation, richer and thus less known than “the medium is the message”, that “method engenders doctrine”.

The observation can be extended to sites of sociability, the linchpins of that area of activity between the private sphere and the domain of the state that is today called “public sphere”.

The intermediary functions of images evolve at the crossroads of our belief systems and our mechanical outfittings.

Scouting out products, controlling technical operations, identifying consumer goods – all at a distance and often directed by the pressure of saving time (which dictate the semiotic efficiency of such things as logos, designer labels, brand names, and videos) – all of this falls within the regime of the visual when the production of an image of the world no longer corresponds to a lived experience of this world.

Hoe vinniger alles beweeg, hoe vinniger moet ‘n kultuur geskep word (‘n skynkultuur) deur beelde wat ‘n sekere item identifiseer en nie meer die item self nie, wat weer dinge aanjaag. ‘n Kultuur van al hoe vinniger beweeg en nie meer kan byhou nie en nou nuwe tegnologie skep om te probeer om by te hou maar in effek die gaping net groter maak.

A Disciplinary Proviso

The educated wager is that by tugging on the thread of the how, a good portion of the why can also by unravelled.

Permit me for an instant to suspend my judgement, bracket your message and ends, your perfections and truths, your salvational values, so that I my consider simply your comings and goings, your vectors and vehicles, the living stuff that conferred on you living from and without which you would never have arrived here among us.

Against the Stream

Knowledge was reduced to plays of language; history to a sequence of grand narratives; philosophy to a hermeneutics; and our most humble practices all became languages or grammars. Human action itself was labelled “communicational”.


Dit was dan Hoofstuk 7 – Ways of Doing


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