Media Taxonomy

I feel conflicted over including any kind of taxonomy at all. I had begun the project with a degree of skepticism, and that only grew when considering the varieties of media which were (supposedly) divisible by quality, as if each held a trait peculiarly its own. For why denote commonalities if not to find uniqueness? And for each example, there were so many qualifying remarks, so many possible footnotes of peculiar instances in media. If only to take the media of music as an example, there exist high and low forms, and yet what constitutes a low form? Personally, the line might be drawn at country music, but who's to say that another's will not extend past opera, though rap and monastic chants concern themselves too with the mortal condition? There are perhaps too many questions of commonality to warrant a need for uniqueness: the footnotes to any taxonomy would expand and traverse the boundaries of the taxonomy itself.

Perhaps even less do I understand the peculiar function of any taxonomy. Is it as some have contended, a means of generating discourse, and if so, to what end? The chart seems to flow outwards in and endless specification, delineation, and dissemination of something not entirely comprehensible. It seems, at best, an empirical history—a museum piece—rather than a functional tool. Has society stepped so far beyond the bounds of post-modernist, post-structuralist thought that the discourse about a discourse is little more than a quaint footnote? Frankly, I reject that assumption entirely, and am thus brought to contend with any 'taxonomy' as such. Rather, the interrelation should serve as a tool of insight rather than an end of itself: this empiricism must have a rationale, a conceptualization that is amenable to critical insight. Media cannot merely float nebulously between individuals in an abject catalogue of facts, rather than a workable hypothesis of action through time. Media must itself have a message, a means of communication—a cause and effect whereby we understand that it is a medium. Only in this sense, only in that the catalogue tries to describe this cause and effect between human and object is anything truly produced. For without some logical basis, some kind of self-reflection, a medium (as a taxonomy must be) in reflection of media may be subject to the worst kind of absurdities.

In reference to my chart, I can only say that it is vague only by virtue of my consternation (I apologize ahead of time in not being able to put row names on all of the pages; I admit to being Excel inept.) I tried to examine the minutiae of a medium and was thus left with only the broadest possible concepts. My 'Low/High' and 'Individual/Group' distinctions arouse out of this minute examination. I take computer and human memory as an example. In the instance of creator, what exactly constitutes a creator in computation? There is the individual, to be sure, who decides that such and such a thing should remain in the computer's memory, but what algorithms, hardware manipulations, and storage mediums as constructed by numerous others constitute the individual or the group? What about the reductive qualities of memory? In the human mind, sometimes one may remember an entire scene vividly, with every taste and touch and smell as if it were presently real, and at other times, that memory has faded, so much that a fleeting thought may bring no more memory than a vague emotion. The memory has lost many qualities, like image or sound, and yet it retains some impression of events or circumstances. And yet computer memory is completely irreducible: remove a one or a zero, add a digit here or there, and the entire code of that memory is obliterated. There is no longer a memory, but just a jumble of ones and zeros—an incomprehensible binary soup. So my distinctions become vague, nebulous qualities based entirely upon the minutiae of exception of alteration from the norm. Theatre may be high or low art, common street performance or uncommon Ionesco, culturally relevant or in mortal jeopardy, sophisticatedly produced, or merely mime on a street corner. Too many exceptions make typifying any media experience extremely difficult, if not impossible.

Gabriel McArthur
Winter 2004