The Politics of Memory

"Today, curiously, a growing number of adepts share the attraction of the void and the extreme sensations it offers, through bungee jumping, sky surfing, BASE jumping, and so on, as though the accelerated perspective had already won out over the passive perspective of the perspectivists. Suicidal experiments on the inertia of a body pulled by its mass without the aid of any support other than air, in the relative wind of a dizzying displacement, with no other aim than that of experiencing the heaviness of the body" (Paul Virilio, Open Sky, p. 30)

Taupo Bungee

Almost 15 years ago to this very day, I strapped a rubber band around my ankles and plunged from a platform towards a river 150 feet below. It was my first and only bungee jump, and it occurred just at that moment in life when I was first traveling around the world and spreading my wings past the nurturing nest of home to see what lay beyond. Needless to say, it was an amazing, adrenaline-filled and empowering experience, one that many others have also had the fortune to experience in various forms.

Of course, when back on the ground and bursting with neuronal potential, I was certain to pay the requisite fee to get a copy of the videotape capturing, archiving and commemorating the experience. I was handed a copy of a VHS video and off I went.

Unfortunately, the bungee jump in question was located in New Zealand, while I am born, raised and currently located in Canada. The former encodes its analogue video signal using the PAL format, while the latter encodes using the NTSC format. At a particular threshold between the material and immaterial, the skin of film (pellicule) had created a barrier, a political border that contained the representation of my memory.

I didn't realize that such a thing as regional broadcast standards even existed until I returned home from my travels months later to find I couldn't retrieve those archived memories. I was stunned. Upset. One of the most exciting events I had ever experienced had disappeared for good.

Or at least had been temporarily locked behind a wall. Later, I learned that it was possible to have one's videotape converted from PAL to NTSC format, yet I never went ahead and paid the money to have it done. The video went into one box after another over the years, accumulating dust and linear time. It remains unwatched to this day.

The television encoding standards of PAL and NTSC thus created, intentionally or no, a striation of the globally-networked information space. And this principle of striation has most certainly been intentionally encoded into DVD and Blu-ray regional schemes, which are used to segment markets, discriminate on prices, or control release dates of digital content around the world — which we should take to understand that regimes of striation do not neatly coincide with one another, that in fact they overlap in ways that might function at cross-purposes to one another. We should further understand this as part of the defining character of Empire: grids of striation that may at times oppose one another, yet still function together as a meshwork to modulate flows of goods, people, information, capital.

VHS Tape

Yes, it would still be possible to border-cross the regime of striation that encodes my memory of bungee jumping by converting my videotape from PAL to NTSC (aside: is conversion qualitatively the same as translation, or do we need to distinguish between the two?). This cracking of the code, per se, constitutes the thrust of data piracy (or the refusal of intellectual property, depending on one's perspective) and the sharing of information across the network swarm.

But does this not simply play into the hybridity that is Empire, or at the very least only effect a temporary deterritorialization that is reterritorialized as a more brutal regime in the political economy of memory?

And this question remains in the context of those digital artifacts that we collectively wish to engage. What about when the swarm numbers one? What about in the case of my bungee jump video, in which I am the only person who wishes to remember?

Is the refusal of the archive a more powerful statement in this context? Is destroying the archive of one of the most visceral, adrenaline-filled experiences of my life more subversive than acts of piracy? Will it force me to focus more intently on being-in-the-moment the next time I take the plunge?


3 responses to The Politics of Memory

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  1. Gina Boram says:

    maybe of interest, maybe not. like is a link to a pdf, taken from the SMPTE website…(aka the "creators" of NTSC) SMPTE is a "standards" committee of sorts. The file itself makes no sense, its jargon–tech jargon on vid standards…but to me, its vastness has a draw of sorts, i like scrolling the pages down and up…..

  2. sportsBabel » comma, garçon says:

    [...] Or what if the whole thing was digital and the perfume was but a simulacrum fashioned from the archival bits of a hundred late-night B-movies and a thousand trite style magazines scattered across the subway [...]

  3. sportsBabel » instant karma's gonna get you says:

    [...] do we refuse the archive? Do we retain tactility? Do we encounter the inevitable confusion once the board becomes more [...]