I want to offer some thoughts on Timothy Murray's new book Digital Baroque: New Media Art and Cinematic Folds (University of Minnesota Press 2008). Part of the books project is to explore what Murray dubs the "digital condition," which I would imagine many of us relate to (5). Deeply Deleuzean in its conceptual framework, the book turns to the concept of the fold developed in Deleuze's The Fold: Liebniz and the Baroque in order "to reflect on the historical and ideological complexity of the new apparatuses of digitized electronic arts in relation to their critical and ideological reconfiguration of historical methods, literary authorship and authority, artistic icons, cinematic memories, and most of all, new world communities" (9). In other words, no small task.
As I understand it, Murray's thesis emerges out of a similar thesis he has made about digital libraries. In this context, he argues that pre-modern paradigms, and specifically the dark cabinet of the Renaissance (i.e. the scholar in solitude, surrounded by shelves of manuscripts, dusty pages, and a candle-waxed skull as his illumination- I imagined Michel de Montaigne after reading a recent article in The New Yorker by Jane Kramer, or the image of Ian McKellan as Gandalf in the basement libraries of Minas Tirith in the Lord of the Rings movies), inform the common understanding of the relationship between the humanist and the academic libraries he works with. The shift to the digital archive has in short order pulled the rug out from beneath this model.
Similarly, Murray argues that New Media art practices are informed by pre-modern thought processes and artistic practices, specifically, the Baroque. In his own words, "new media screen arts consistently embody and display the tissue of baroque paradigms, from the dynamics of serial accumulation and the trauma of temporal folds to the cultural promise of what I will call digital incompossibility that makes quake the previously confident stature of single-centered subjectivity" (17). Whoa. I find it intriguing that Murray opens another avenue into thinking about de-centered or nomadic subjectivities via the Baroque, though I remain skeptical of whether this is an effect of historical influence, of the Baroque's lingering spectral presence, or whether it's merely a similar sensibility shared by different historical conditions.
He certainly makes his case, using a wide array of new media artists, from June Paik, Bill Viola, and Thierry Kuntzel to film-makers Jean-Luc Godard, Peter Greenaway, and Chris Marker. Thinking through the current debates over the merits and drawbacks of analog and digital (as sampled by his title, an analogical title in that both words, digital and baroque, produce an analogy: digital=baroque, or can be read as digital: digital/baroque, as two discrete states, either one, or the other) he suggests that digitality, rather than merely standing as a marker for the death of cinema (which it is), also holds promise as "a program of social and aesthetic intervention" (139). Though he claims in his introduction that he has no intention to romanticize the potentials of the digital, I can't help but sniff this romanticization out in many of his examples. He evades the "digital dialectic" using a Deleuzean move, avoiding a dialectical approach that would fix subjectivities into either/or categories by using the fold, an entre-deux, or something "between in the sense that a difference is being differentiated" (11). Is this insistence on the intrasubjective critical space, a processual space of flows rather than ontological states ("I move over time" rather than "I stand here in space"), problematic? It seems paradoxical to me that Murray would, at one moment, praise the potentials of digitality, which, as a condition seems completely averse to the space "between" because it is defined by separation, while at the same moment privilege that space-between, that entre-deux as a conceptual model. When you poke it, the conceptual framework seems to give, but perhaps this is precisely what Deleuze was after, and why his approach seems so useful.