Why "post-"? The term "post-digital" partakes of a rhetoric of rupture, suggesting a break, a time after. But after what exactly? In an age when we need more engagement with history, not less, and when a profoundly ideological obsession with novelty and innovation is everywhere around us, does the very formulation of this term not mimic a logic we would do better to challenge? To not recognise the distinctions between "old" and "new" media is to wilfully blind oneself to the pernicious and accelerating logics of novelty and obsolescence that govern media technologies today – as well as the economic, ecological, and social costs that accompany them.
Perhaps aura is in the eye of the beholder. Aura is commonly understood as existing in an antithetical relationship to mechanical reproduction; as the oft-quoted phrase goes, that which withers in the age of mechanical reproduction is the aura of the work of art. Yet today the mechanically reproducible medium of photochemical film appears as eminently auratic, pushed into the domain of authenticity by the advent of electronic media. The material object of film has not changed – what has is its position within a broader media ecology and, consequently, the values and meanings we attach to it. Thus, the birth of filmic aura, brought into being by the midwife of our anxious gaze.
A desire for authenticity seems to emerge at moments marked by a seeming imposition of sameness. In the nineteenth century, amidst new processes for the mass production of images, things, and subjectivities, it became a moral value of great significance. Now, after many (deserved) assaults and critiques, it is back – in the vogue for the first-person, the thirst for the artisanal, the attachment to old media. Business writers Gilmore and Pine deem it a new consumer sensibility. What, then, could be its critical potential? Is the desire for the authentic a retrograde attachment to (false) origins? Or does its anachronism provide a necessary challenge to our present? Any answer would have to attend to particular instances, with plenty of room for ambivalence.
What is analogue about the medium often called "analogue film"? The idea that "analogue" designates continuousness, opposed to the discreteness of the digital, only works if one considers the single frame, the lone photogram. The moment one moves to a consideration of filmstrip itself, to the relationship between frames, continuousness becomes but an illusion created by the machine. If the digital is understood as a logic rather than as a particular technology, perhaps "analogue" film was already digital in its sampling of reality at 24 frames per second. Speaking of "photochemical film" instead would be more precise.
Does the digital refer to a particular set of technologies or is it a logic? For Seb Franklin, it is the latter. Franklin writes of "digitality without computers," describing an "ontological digitality separated from the machines and interfaces with which it has become synonymous." This digitality involves "a fundamental process of discretization that can be purely conceptual as much as it can enable particular technological processes." If the history of "digital art" began from here, how different would it look?
The archive overwhelms with its declaration of presence, its promise of endurance. "This is here and it will remain here," it tells us. But what of all that did not gain entry into its domain of protection? As Foucault reminds us, the archive is always a matter of law: "The archive is first the law of what can be said, the system which governs the appearance of statements as unique events." For Derrida, it is the place of the archons, a site of authority and commandment. Any encounter with any archive must begin from here, from a reckoning with the power of law to exclude and shape. We must look beyond the archive's declaration of presence to consider the absences it occasions.
The copy is typically thought to be characterised by a kind of secondariness: it comes after the original, degrading it. While the copy may come after the original in individual cases, at a conceptual level the relationship between the terms is reversed. It is only amidst proliferating copies that the notion of originality takes on value. In this regard, the copy comes first.
I was recently a juror for a prize for young art writers. Some 75% of the entries were written in the first person, often using it not only to relay the particularity of experience but to include specific details about the author's own life. Reflecting on making the film "Riddles of the Sphinx" in 1977, Laura Mulvey noted that she and Peter Wollen were not much interested in self-expression, influenced as they were by methodologies stemming from semiotics and poststructuralism. What are the motivating factors in the countermovement underway today? A declaration of situatedness, surely. But what else? Long after the supposed "death of the author," biography and intention are back.
The history of twentieth-century art could be re-written as a history of attempts to defeat any attachment to originality as a criterion of value – and as a history of the recuperation of such attempts into the very system they sought to oppose.
Reproduction is both promise and threat. It promises abundance, wide circulation, democracy, even; but it threatens to level hierarchies, reduce everything to sameness, liquidate authenticity.
So many refer to the immateriality of digital media, but this is only an illusion – one founded on a forgetting of all the minerals, all the energy, needed to support the fabrication and use of digital devices. The "cloud" is a nice metaphor, but its airy transience belies the tremendous energy use of data centres.