Critical Inquiry Critical Inquiry

Prudence Gibson reviews Jussi Parikka’s A Geology of Media

Jussi Parikka. A Geology of Media. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2015. 206 pp.

Reviewed by Prudence Gibson

7 January 2016

In A Geology of Media, Jussi Parikka continues his innovative conflation of media production with the changed concepts of nature. He proposes that media is not limited to its technological features nor its commercial application but that it can also be considered as an atomic composition of metals. He digs through the muddy layers of science, culture, technology, and art to establish the trespasses against the natural world. Although Parikka is not an art critic, he refers to video, sound, and performance art to illustrate these geophilosophical concepts. The book focuses on nonorganic earthiness: the layers of a necrogenic earth, where disused phones and abandoned computers now add to the archaeological story of our planet. This is an exploration of the layers of geological earth, made artificial since industrialization, and of how nature-culture has developed during the Anthropocenic epoch. Parikka’s media materialism does not just refer to machines but to abandoned, obsolete media. This is a major contribution to Anthropocene media/art discourse, but it does not extend to suggested models for future ways of living in the world, nor does it offer ways that geomedia can help find solutions to related critical climate change issues.

Like many powerful texts, the book starts from a position of protest. In this case, it begins with a peaceful environmental rally in Turkey in 2013 before considering the changes to deep time and alterations to the earth’s crust. It is not possible to track a radical course through art and media materialism without incorporating ecopolitics. This political engagement is evident in Parikka’s concept of the Anthrobscene, which follows humanity’s impure and purposeful ignorance of the planet’s finitude. There is still work for Parikka to do, perhaps as an extension of this latest monograph, in creating debate and contingent forecasting for how these politically engaged eco-geo concepts could function as a catalyst for an ethical future. How, for instance, can the author’s radical investigation result in new legislation or related action? Do art and literature, discussed throughout the book, have enough political agency within western culture to precipitate change? It would be interesting to know what Parikka thinks of how the material earth can be comprehended, outside or beyond our artistic and literary representations of it.

Parikka cites the geocritical thought of Douglas Kahn to emphasize the links between sound art and the earth and joins his criticism of the problems of the study of geology—as a self-perpetuating monstrosity within the mining industry. It is from within a series of complex and absorbing modalities that Parikka creates his radical nonorganic media materiality. Parikka’s most absorbing critical gesture is that depth becomes time. Deep time is an established geological concept of time as deep layers of earth. Thought is tied to archaeological strata. Parikka establishes an “underground artificial infinity” which becomes a means of gaining purchase over the unwieldy problems of how our media consumption has affected the environment. Stories from deep time, through media art and in science cultures, tell us who we are, what we have done, and what lies in wait. Parikka’s book is an introduction to that speculative materialist story.