HomePlanned Obsolescence: Texts, Theory, Technology

Planned Obsolescence: Texts, Theory, Technology

Obsolescence programmée : textes, théorie, technologie

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Published on Tuesday, May 17, 2016 by João Fernandes

Summary

This conference does not intend to focus on the economic, social or environmental aspects of planned obsolescence; these are widely discussed in the literature of these fields, which is already extensive and continually growing. Instead, we would like to explore its implications regarding artistic, literary and theoretical productions and continue the discussion started by Kathleen Fitzpatrick in her work on planned obsolescence in academic publishing. Our goal is to address planned obsolescence as an analytical tool to study artistic and literary works, the genres to which they belong and the theoretical discourses related to them. We would like to address the many facets of planned obsolescence: representational, formal, theoretical, mediational, technological, etc.

Announcement

Université de Liège (Belgium) - December 8th and 9th, 2016

Argument

Chips blocking printers after a certain number of copies, smartphones getting more and more fragile, batteries suddenly losing their autonomy, food assigned an arbitrary expiration date, and many more; the media regularly report on the artificial limitation of the lifespan of consumable goods. This mechanism, called “planned obsolescence,” dates back at least as far  as Bernard London’s 1932 pamphlet: “Ending the Depression through Planned Obsolescence.” Back then this was thought to have a positive impact on society: forcing people to replace their belongings more rapidly would increase sales and thereby stimulate the economy. Throughout the twentieth and particularly during the twenty-first century, planned obsolescence as a business strategy has gradually gained a negative connotation and become a symbol of overconsumption (Latouche 2012).

The conference “Planned Obsolescence: Text, Theory, Technology” does not intend to focus on the economic, social or environmental aspects of planned obsolescence; these are widely discussed in the literature of these fields, which is already extensive and continually growing (Swan 1972, Bulow 1986, Waldman 1993, Iizuka 2007, Fitzpatrick 2008). Instead, we would like to explore its implications regarding artistic, literary and theoretical productions and continue the discussion started by Kathleen Fitzpatrick in her work on planned obsolescence in academic publishing. Our goal is to address planned obsolescence as an analytical tool to study artistic and literary works, the genres to which they belong and the theoretical discourses related to them. We would like to address the many facets of planned obsolescence: representational, formal, theoretical, mediational, technological, etc.

Our first approach is that of planned obsolescence as a topic of literary and artistic works. Science fiction is full of narratives that re-affirm, question, alter or erase the “expiration date” of mankind (see Andrew Niccol’s 2011 movie “In Time”) and political and social systems (see Philip K. Dick’s 1995 “Solar Lottery”). Speculative fiction is intrinsically threatened by planned obsolescence: producing a narrative that imagines a possible future implies the risk of failure to envision our actual future. Most anticipating narratives are therefore doomed to be obsolete as soon as they get old enough to be proven wrong. However, planned obsolescence is not limited to science fiction. For instance, the feeling of belatedness expressed in late-nineteenth-century travel writing (Ali Behdad 1994) might be analysed as an instance of planned obsolescence: writers such as Flaubert or Kipling experienced the feeling of arriving too late to the Orient, a world that was already disappearing because tourism and colonialism, which had paradoxically brought them there in the first place, had already turned the exotic into the familiar. In addition, we welcome papers addressing the depiction of the limited lifespan of our planet (e.g. ecocriticism) and its inhabitants (e.g. posthumanism).

Some narratives may produce a discourse on planned obsolescence through their form. This is particularly obvious in animated digital literature, where the text changes during the reading, turning itself into a polymorphic, ephemeral work, such as Johannes Auer’s“Kill the Poem” (1993), a poem that dies under the gaze of its reader. Digital literature, in general, depending mainly on its hardware, is likely to be a victim of planned obsolescence, as N. Katherine Hayles has noted (2007). The hypertext “Afternoon, a Story” (1987) by Michael Joyce, with its links eventually dying, is a striking example of this phenomenon. Video games also illustrate the issues related to form (here, hardware) and planned obsolescence: the consoles and their corresponding games are doomed to become obsolete. Some of the older technologies can resurrect thanks to emulators on more recent technologies, but the gaming experience is forever altered.

Since we aim to test the potential for planned obsolescence to become an analytical tool and thereby go beyond the study of its representation, we wonder about the fruitfulness of turning planned obsolescence into a theoretical concept. Does every work of art, literature and criticism contain the seeds of its own destruction? Could the concept of planned obsolescence shed light on transitions within literary theory? Planned obsolescence could therefore turn out to provide an explanation to the obsession for theory that characterizes contemporary literary and cultural studies: as soon as a theory is out there its detractors announce its replacement, with the habit of adding to it the prefix “post” (post-structuralism, post-humanism, post-modernism and even post-post-modernism).

Finally, until recently the perspective of technological progress prevailed in media history. This implied a linear progression where new media superseded old media because they offered a better level of immediacy, “remediating” to the inadequacy of old media  (Bolter & Grusin 1999), thereby rendering them obsolete. Recent trends in media studies, such as media archeology, question this teleological view and emphasise a non-linear conception of media history (Zielinkski 2006, Parikka 2012). Henry Jenkins (2008) holds a similar view and argues that only delivery technologies become obsolete, while old media never die and coexist with new media.How do these new ways of understanding media history invite us to rethink the idea of planned obsolescence, a key concept for the technology industry since it is often regarded as a necessary condition for technological innovation (Fishman et al. 1993)? What does prevent planned obsolescence from being fulfilled? Since disciplines such as literature have not become obsolete in the age of digital technologies (Fitzpatrick 2006, Collins 2010), as was often claimed would happen in the past, what are their functions and status in this new media environment?   

Addressing planned obsolescence as a concept to analyse artistic, literary and theoretical productions might seem bold, therefore we welcome papers that support as well as question, or even contradict, our hypotheses, since this territory of planned obsolescence as a cultural notion remains relatively unexplored. Incidentally, the topics mentioned above should be considered as inspiration and proposals may either focus on one of these or develop any other relevant topic.

Submission guidelines

Please send your abstract proposal (250–300 words, in English or in French) and a short biography

by June 15th, 2016

to planned.obsolescence.conf@gmail.com.

Organising committee

  • Michel Delville (Université de Liège)
  • Véronique Bragard (Université Catholique de Louvain)
  • Carole Guesse (Université de Liège)
  • Bruno Dupont (Univeristé de Liège)
  • Ella Mingazova (chercheuse indépendante)

Scientific committee

  • Jean-Michel Rabaté (Professeur ordinaire, University of Pennsylvania)
  • Michel Delville (Professeur ordinaire, Université de Liège)
  • Björn-Olav Dozo (Premier logisticien de recherche, Université de Liège)
  • Véronique Bragard (Chargé de cours, Université Catholique de Louvain)
  • Jan Baetens (Professeur ordinaire, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven)
  • Pieter Vermeulen (Chargé de cours, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven) 

References / Bibliographie

  • Anders, Gunther. L’obsolescence de l’homme. Paris: Ivrea, 2002 [1956].
  • Behdad, Ali. Belated Travelers: Orientalism in the Age of Colonial Dissolution. Durham: Duke University Press, 1994.
  • Benjamin, Walter, “Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit”, Web. <http://www.arteclab.uni-bremen.de/~robben/KunstwerkBenjamin.pdf>
  • Bootz, Philippe. « Les Basiques : La littérature numérique. » Leonardo/Olats, Dec. 2006. Web. http://www.olats.org/livresetudes/basiques/litteraturenumerique/basiquesLN.php.
  • Bolter, J. David, and Richard A. Grusin. Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge : MIT Press, 1999.
  • Collins, Jim. Bring on the Books for Everybody: How Literary Culture Became Popular Culture. Durham : Duke University Press, 2010.
  • Compagnon, Antoine. Le démon de la théorie. Paris: Seuil, 1998.
  • Fishman, Arthur et al. “Planned Obsolescence as an Engine of Technological Progress”. The Journal of Industrial Economics 41. 4 (Dec., 1993): pp. 361-370.
  • Fitzpatrick, Kathleen. The Anxiety of Obsolescence : The American Novel in the Age of Television. Nashville : Vanderbilt University Press, 2006.
  • Fitzpatrick, Kathleen. Planned Obsolescence : Publishing, Technology, and the Future of the Academy. New York : NYU Press, 2011.
  • Hayles, N. Katherine. Electronic literature: new horizons for the literary. University of Notre Dame Press, 2008.
  • Hayles, N. Katherine. “Electronic Literature: What is it?” The Electronic Literature Organization, v.1.0, 2007 (Jan), Web. <https://eliterature.org/pad/elp.html#sec4>
  • Jenkins, Henry. Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide. New York : NYU Press, 2008.
  • Latouche, Serge. Bon pour la casse: Les déraisons de l’obsolescence programmée. Paris : Les liens qui libèrent, 2012.
  • London, Bernard. “Ending the Depression through Planned Obsolescence.” 1932. Web. <https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/2/27/London_%281932%29_Ending_the_depression_through_planned_obsolescence.pdf> .
  • Parikka, Jussi : What is Media Archaeology? Cambridge / Malden : Polity Press, 2012.
  • Zielinkski, Siegfried: Deep Time of the Media : Toward an Archaeology of Hearing and Seeing by Technical Means, Cambridge / London : MIT Press, 2006.
  • Rabaté, Jean-Michel. The Future of Theory. John Wiley & Sons, 2008.
  • Rabaté, Jean-Michel. Crimes of the Future: Theory and Its Global Reproduction. Bloomsbury Publishing USA, 2014.
  • Viart, Dominique and Laurent Demanze (dir.) Fins de la littérature: Esthétiques et discours de la fin. Paris: Armand Colin, 2012.
  • Viart, Dominique and Laurent Demanze (dir.) Fins de la littérature: Historicité de la littérature contemporaine. Paris: Armand Colin, 2012.

Places

  • Université de Liège - Place du 20-Août, 7
    Liège, Belgium (4000)

Date(s)

  • Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Keywords

  • obsolescence, obsolescence programmée, théorie littéraire, littérature, science-fiction, théorie culturelle, cinema, mort, déchet, fin

Contact(s)

  • Carole Guesse
    courriel : planned [dot] obsolescence [dot] conf [at] gmail [dot] com

Information source

  • Carole Guesse
    courriel : planned [dot] obsolescence [dot] conf [at] gmail [dot] com

To cite this announcement

« Planned Obsolescence: Texts, Theory, Technology », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Tuesday, May 17, 2016, https://calenda.org/366591

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