Feb 12 2008

Memory Trade

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Memory Trade: A Prehistory of Cyberculture

Darren Tofts, Chair of Media and Communications at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, and Murray McKeich, award-winning digital artist.

A work of archeology, Memory Trade scrapes away the surfaces of the contemporary world to detect the sedimentary traces of the past: a past that inflects the present with the echoes of ancient, unresolved philosophical questions about the relationships between humans and technology, creativity and artifice, reality and representations of reality.

The notion of ‘culture’ is changing at the speed of information itself. Computer technology is creating a new kind of public, a cyberculture with all its utopian and apocalyptic possibilities. But is it that new?

Popular debate generally ignores cyberculture’s historical context. The official history begins in the nineteenth century and tracks the evolution of telecommunications, the egalitarian dream of the global village, and the emergence of the military-industrial complex. However, this omits the deeper, prehistory of technological transformations of culture that are everywhere felt but nowhere seen in the telematic landscape of the late twentieth century. Cyberculture is an extension, rather than innovation, of human engagement with communication and information technologies.

A work of archeology, Memory Trade scrapes away the surfaces of the contemporary world to detect the sedimentary traces of the past: a past that inflects the present with the echoes of ancient, unresolved philosophical questions about the relationships between humans and technology, creativity and artifice, reality and representations of reality. Memory Trade is an exploration, in text and image, of the unconscious of cyberculture, its silent, secret prehistory. From Plato’s Cave to Borges’ literary labyrinths, Freud’s Mystic Writing-Pad, and Joyce’s reinvention of language in Finnegans Wake, Memory Trade is a reflection of contemporary culture.

August, 1998 / 132 pp / Paper / 90-5704-18-12 / T 24 black and white illustrations

Reviews and comments

McKenzie Wark, RealTime
Darren Tofts and Murray McKeich have made a valuable contribution to an emergent field. The irony, of course, is that rather than recycle outdated ideas in fancy computer hypertext, they have come up with an original way of thinking and writing the world in the familiar form of the book.

Adrian Martin, Screening the Past
Memory Trade is a book all about taking normal, familiar concepts and then making them strange, showing how uncanny, weird and fundamentally mysterious they all are. A surprising and serious book…McKeich’s superb digital images need as many close inspections as Joyce’s Finnegans Wake needs close re-readings.

Gregory L. Ulmer
Memory Trade is a fine overview of a diverse body of scholarship relevant to contemporary social and technological conditions. Original and insightful.
Megan Heyward, UTS Review
Memory Trade is an impeccably researched and stimulating book…Murray McKeich’s diabolically beautiful digital images reveal a clear resonance between writer and artist. The machine is firmly embedded within classical flesh in McKeich’s dark montages, echoing, but with more menace, Tofts’ arguments.

Carolyn Guertin, Resource Centre for Cyberculture Studies
You should make room on your bookshelf next to Marshall McLuhan and Walter J. Ong because - love it or hate it - you will want to own a copy of Darren Tofts and Murray McKeich’s Memory Trade: A Prehistory of Cyberculture. Any text that gives birth to so many possible areas of future investigation is a rare read and one that invites us to return again and again.

Donald Theall, Postmodern Culture
Memory Trade is a major contribution to the current debate. This is an elaborate, complex and compact book which is as remarkable for its splendid satiric posthuman illustrations and its high quality production as for the intellectual and perceptual richness and the intensity of its writing.

David Cox, Leonardo
Part coffee table book, part academic analysis, Memory Trade blurs some boundaries with impressive results. There is a kind of palpable glee at work in the book as Tofts embraces his ideas with the playful relish of an idea-hacker who has stumbled onto a cache of good info, breathlessly linking theorist to theorist, idea to idea.

Mike Leggett, Fine Art Forum
Recorded knowledge is extensively explored by Tofts through the Rosetta Stone of contemporary culture, James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. References and quotes become like memes, reforming the original text into a patchwork less concerned with a “line of argument” and more engaged with the horizon of the possible. McKeich’s images echo the aliens’ fighting machine in the neo-Gothic Alien movies, the contorted dolls of Hans Bellmer, the graphic inventiveness of Svenberg and the acuity of photographer artist Frederick Sommer’s minutia. There is a sense of knowing here that amplifies the erudition of the text to produce an effect that counters the pundits and spin-merchants of the multimedia superhighway.

Lawrence James Irish Studies Review
Except for a small number of Joyce scholars working in the field of hypertext and genetic criticism, technology theorists by-and-large focus on Joyce only when seeking useful literary analogies to cyberspace. The value of Tofts’ contribution can be measured against this trend: Memory Trade not only argues for a technological understanding of Joyce’s writing, but for an understanding of technology in terms of a Joycean poetics.

Christine van Boheemen-Sauf, James Joyce Literary Supplement
I think Memory Trade attempts to open a new chapter in Joyce scholarship. Tofts’ work may be helpful in acquiring a new readership for Joyce. Moreover, I found his perspective on Joyce important and interesting, as well as thought-provoking with regard to the ethics of cultural studies.

Arie Altena, Mediamatic
Tofts manages to set out in twenty pages why Finnegans Wake - the first literary text in which TV plays an important role - is the central text for the digital age.

Linda Marie Walker, Meanjin
Memory Trade is a rich contribution to the field of cyber-research, both in terms of its intellectual presence and imaginative presentation.

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