Performing the Humanities @ 24 fps

Gary Hall

Gary Hall, Performing the Humanities @ 24 fps, parts I and II, 2015

In a 1980 interview with Le Monde, published as ‘The Masked Philosopher’, the French philosopher Michel Foucault insists on remaining anonymous. He does so, he says, out of his ‘nostalgia for a time when, being quite unknown, what I said had some chance of being heard… The effects of the book might land in unexpected places and form shapes that I had never thought of. A name makes reading too easy’. Foucault proceeds to propose a game: ‘that of the “year without a name”. For a year, books would be published without their authors’ names. The critics would have to cope with a mass of entirely anonymous books.’

In Performing the Humanities @ 24 fps, an interview conducted in May 2015 by the performance artist Stelarc, Gary Hall discusses some of the projects he is involved with that are exploring how media theorists can make their own work less easy to read, hoping that it might ‘land in unexpected places’. These performative projects, or ‘media gifts’, as he calls them – some of which are indeed published anonymously – include Culture Machine (and its sister project Photomediations Machine), Open Humanities Press, Media Gifts, the Liquid and Living Books series, and Pirate Philosophy.

A major influence on Hall’s thinking in this respect is Marshal McLuhan’s Gutenberg Galaxy, especially the idea that the development of the print book and the related requirement for closed-off spaces in which having time to read and study played a fundamental role in the emergence of modern subjectivity, along with the associated notions of the rational liberal individual, linear thought, critical reflection, and the distinction between public and private. But what if, with the development of social and mobile media, predictive computing, algorithmic surveillance and the cloud, we are now moving into a post-Gutenberg world?, asks Hall. To what extent can we understand this world, and our place within it, by continuing to act as if we are still living in the Gutenberg Galaxy of the traditional humanities, replete with its emphasis on the importance on the book, privacy, and the rational, liberal subject? For example, how can we understand and theorize photography and film in the era of open source content streaming apps such as Popcorn Time, and self-organized online libraries such as Library Genesis? What implications do these projects have for our inherited ideas of the ‘named’ proprietary author, individual and individualised humanist subject, fixed and finished object, copyright, etc.? Why do we still insist on writing commercially copyrighted, linearly organized, print-on-paper codex books and journal articles about them? Can the humanities be performed and enacted otherwise?

This interview was originally published on the website of the Alternate Anatomies Lab at Curtin University. We are grateful to the Lab and to Stelarc for permission to reuse it.

Gary Hall is a media theorist working at the intersection of philosophy, art and politics. He is Professor of Media and Performing Arts , and Director of the Centre for Disruptive Media, at Coventry University, UK. Hall is the author and editor of many books on new media culture. His new monograph, Pirate Philosophy: For a Digital Posthumanities, is forthcoming from the MIT Press in early 2016. A pioneer of open access in the humanities, Hall is also a co-founder of the critical theory journal Culture Machine and of the scholarly publishing house Open Humanities Press. His work has been translated into Chinese, French, Japanese, Turkish, Russian and Slovenian.

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