Art & Science: Q&A with the journal continent.

At Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Oct 2015. (Photo by: Nina Jäger)
Co-editors of continent. at Haus der Kulturen der Welt, October 2015. (Photo: Nina Jäger)

Jamie Allen, Paul Boshears, Bernhard Garnicnig, and Nina Jäger are co-editors of continent., a “media agnostic” online journal. We discussed para-academic publishing, “digital objects,” and many other aspects of their three-year-long collaboration with Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW), Technosphere.

Bojana Ginn: Tell us about your publication.

Continent: continent. is a collective, open access, Creative Commons-licensed para-academic organization. We are creating a platform for people to express ideas in many forms: text, image, sound, video — anything publishable online. We publish materials that address a wide swath of the human experience and scholarship, from philosophical essays to poetry in translation, to artistic dossiers. We are especially interested in scholarly materials that engage the affordances provided by publishing online, and the offline cultures and events subtended by these networks and communities.

We are a kind of confederacy of like-minded, big-hearted people living in various parts of Europe and North America, and we work together, mostly on the Internet. continent. is our labor of love and it has been the hard-won product of mutual support and trust among a group of people who understand that the best of scholarship, art-making, and media is a product of this kind of love, support, and trust. Although some of us have institutional affiliations and academic backgrounds, continent. is itself unaffiliated with any particular institution. In addition to publishing the regular issues of the journal, we have been collaborating with the developer community to modify the Open Journal Systems platform, and have partnered with more traditional cultural and academic bodies on events and conferences.

Our aim is to model an alternate way of building a thought community, removed from the ubiquity of profit motive and the heartaches and headaches that have plagued scholarly industries and communities for the past 50 years, reaching fever pitch in the last 10. What would scholarship look like if it were performed in a spirit of generosity and warmth, conversation and friendship? We welcome you to find out with us.

BG: Currently, you are collaborating with Berlin’s Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW) on a 3 year long international project named Technosphere. How did the collaboration come about?

Co-editors of continent. at Haus der Kulturen der Welt, October2015. (Photo: Nina Jäger)
Co-editors of continent. at Haus der Kulturen der Welt, October 2015. (Photo: Nina Jäger)

Continent: There are several ways to answer that question … But, probably the most straightforward is to say that Jamie Allen (from continent.) and Bernard Dionysius Geoghagen (from HKW’s Technosphere team) had a conversation about the potentials of publishing in the way that we do — as a friendly collective, as a beyond-text initiative, and as a way of sidestepping the many, many inefficiencies and lags introduced by more traditional publishing outputs and channels. It was only a little later that we got the invitation from HKW to join the first event of the Technosphere Research Project in Berlin in October. This has been an invitation, essentially, to engage with their events, invited participants and research groupsthrough the excellent encounters the HKW has planned and put together. The collaboration is based on our shared values, especially around generosity and understanding the affective quality of discussions, lectures, and workshop. We are also all interested in experimental formats, ways of surmounting “tl;dr” (“too long; didn’t read”) problems for important discourses and topics, and the interface between “the academy” and its presumed “publics.”

We will publish a Technosphere, Now special issue of continent. just before the next Technosphere event occurs in April 2016. We’ll then be joining HKW in April for its next Campus event about the Technosphere and we’re excited to intervene in and trace the interactions taking place during these exciting seminars and work-groupings.

BG: How would you describe Technosphere?

Continent: The term “technosphere,” as we have been discussing it in the last year, is most directly related to the hypotheses advanced by the geologist and environmental engineer Peter K. Haff from Duke University.

In order to understand what Haff is suggesting, we should reflect on the various “-spheres” that describe the ways in which the planet evolves: the “atmosphere” describes the circulation of gases around our planet, the “lithosphere” describes the movement of the upper crust of the Earth’s surface, the “magnetosphere” describes the interactions of charged particles as they come into contact with a planet’s magnetic field, the “hydrosphere” describes the movement of water throughout the Earth’s surface — each of these -spheres interacts with the others and with the “biosphere,” the living systems of our vibrant Earth.

Haff has been suggesting that, in addition to these more familiar  -spheres, we ought to include a previously ignored element contributing to the evolution of the planet: the role played by those things often called technological. The “technosphere” describes the movement and mobilization of the planet’s potential energy reserves. Just as a concept like “the biosphere” can seem to be all-encompassing, so too the technosphere touches on just about any aspect of the planet.

BG: What are the dilemmas of this project?

Continent: The first dilemma is probably at the front of most readers’ minds: why bother with a new term if its dimensions and definition are amorphous and hazy? As one starts to form an answer to that question, it becomes more apparent that the technosphere isn’t just a new term for talking about the Internet, or nuclear power, or nanotechnology. Rather, the technosphere is referring to the entire spectrum of tool use, or even “earth-use”: from stone tools that enabled hominids to clear land — to the use of language to teach other hominids how to enhance those stone tools — to the use of fire, which is a second stomach that enables humans to eat a broader range of substances, and also a tool for clearing land. These technologies enabled early humans to genetically engineer existing animals, affording their domestication. Domesticated animals led then to the bioengineering of cheese and fermented grain. Here we begin to get a sense of scope. Of course, tool use is not solely a matter of hominid evolution; other primates use stone tools, cetaceans appear to have sophisticated languages, birds use sticks, and so on. This perhaps underlines the posited presence of a “technological layer” of earthly existence.

It would appear that this technological agency is fundamental to particular kinds of sustainable replication on this planet. We might speculate that the first instance of the technosphere at work was at the point when a first mitochondria entered a first eukaryotic cell. Rather than restricting our understanding of technology to tool use and the attendant problems of agency that come with that analysis, the technosphere puts energy extraction, exhaustion, and recycling at the forefront. The current imbalanced rapaciousness of that which comprises the technosphere appears to be threatening the more balanced “natural” functioning of the other -spheres. The atmosphere is polluted, the hydrosphere is contaminated, and the biosphere oscillates between under- and over-compensation.

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