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Nils Olsson

Programme Coordinator

Department of Literature, History of Ideas, and
Visiting address
Renströmsgatan 6
41255 Göteborg
Room number
Postal address
Box 200
40530 Göteborg

About Nils Olsson

Consider some of the basic operations of engaging in digital culture: data transfers (Send, Forward, Attach, Receive, Fetch); document managing (Open, Save, Export, Import); content processing (Cut, Copy, Paste, Mark, Flag). These are all basic editorial operations (they require something to act on or work with) – and are as such also reading operations (or reading modes). The terminology we have today for these operations are digital conceptions of fundamental maneuvers of engaging with media artefacts, modes of procedure today made visible by the digital practices of new media.

These operations entail – just as the editorial perspective – a conflation of reading and writing. They blur, or at least renegotiates, the distinction between reading and writing in a concrete hands-on sense. They describe a situation of production that comprise both – where reading has a destination outside of the reader, and writing is a manner of assimilating what is already written.

And perhaps this level the (playing) field. Perhaps it doesn’t.

It redistributes the means of production (and facilitates a necessary counteraction of the “engineering of obedient emotions and attitudes”), by making ‘anyone’ an editor by means of the digital reading and writing operations. However, one should not mistake ‘anyone’ for ‘everyone’. I say ‘anyone’, because this is of course a question of power, freedom, and means on a concrete and basic level. The political implications here are obvious. Consider for instance the importance and function of the smartphone and social media for people in the most precarious of situations on and around the borders of Europe.

Just like Benjamin asserts that the author must become producer, he or she must become editor, by in an analogous manner making use of current and emerging technologies. Which today might precisely entail a descent into that cognitively polluted habitat,[1] that semi-public digital sphere where anti-democracy and fascism thrives in their most vulgar forms. Siegfried Kracauer’s dictum that “art must make do with what is left” in the face of disenchantment and rationalization, here becomes a general cultural and political imperative to make use of what is at hand.[2]

Those places where the discursive leveling down of public dialogue takes the form of a cadavre exquis, an uninterrupted accumulation of utterances published on pseudo-democratic platforms for personal broadcasting – those are actually the places where the editorial function unfortunately seems most absent. It doesn’t have to be that way, of course not, but even editorial practices appear to stand before a necessary refunctioning of the means of production that one might have come to take for granted. Admittedly, this is an idea that is historically tail-heavy – that the promise of editorial practices amounts to a benign reluctance to take for granted current differentiations between competences and mediums. Perhaps this very thought is far too dependent of the very conditions it wants to make visible and thereby transcend. But nevertheless, the editor operates on the precise point where general, specific, technical, ideological, historical and aesthetic conditions for cultural production converge, which is the only point from which it is practically possible to also transform these conditions. If the editor is the one who works through, cultivates and belabors what is available, makes what exists into something more, then the editor is the one who in his or her insistence on the world also creates it, further.

[1] Elena Lamberti, ”Maleware Digitelling: Fakenews, or Mythmaking 2.0?”, key note lecture, ”Thinking trhough the digital in Literature. Representations + Poetics + Sites + Publications”, Linköping, Sweden, 29/11–1/12 2017.

[3] Siegfried Kracauer, “The Mass Ornament” (1927), transl. Thomas Y. Levin, in The Mass Ornament. Weimar Essays (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1995), 79. Cf. also “Introduction”, in Koepnick & McGlothlin ed., in After the Digital Divide. German Aesthetic Theory in the Age of New Media (Rochester, New York: Camden House, 2009), 8–9.