Review of Code + Clay, Data + Dirt: Five Thousand Years of Urban Media | Leonardo/ISAST

Review of Code + Clay, Data + Dirt: Five Thousand Years of Urban Media

Code + Clay, Data + Dirt: Five Thousand Years of Urban Media
by Shannon Mattern

University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, MN, 2017
280 pp., illus. 67 b/w. Trade, $108.00; paper, $27.00
ISBN: 978-1-5179-0243-8; ISBN: 978-1-5179-0244-5

Reviewed by
Ana Peraica
March 2018

The book with almost a code title Code + Clay, Data + Dirt focuses on two questions: how cities are mediated and how cities are the medium itself, thus expanding Friedrich Kittler's definition of the city as the medium (The City as the Medium, 1996). Contemporary, here in particular “global city,” is seen as a medium for the “datafication” (GIS, satellite, mapping, framing the “smart city” concept.

Datafication is a prerequisite of its mediation, made to meet the “postal system” criteria of the network city defined by Kittler in terms of concepts as the labyrinth, graph, map, intersection, capital, media, addressee, command. Still, while Kittler defines the ordinary city as framed by a uranium bomb and contemporary megapolis as initiated by a hydrogen bomb, the contemporary information city is defined by an information one. Shannon Mattern narrates the history of the global city in the frame of media archaeology.

Besides Kittler, Mattern also relies on Vilém Flusser's definition of the city as both topography and geography, a complex of architecture, cables, and network of people (Flusser, City as Wave). It precisely continues where Flusser has stopped, once defining the disappearance of the public into private in media space (such as in TV) and private into public (in various vehicles). Analysing how the city changed with introduction of each new and subsequent [now historic] media, Mattern defines four cities; a radio city (visible in radio relays, phone booth cabins, payphone cabins, telephone), a printed city (showing up in poster-columns, news-stands, bookshops, libraries), a clay city (visible also in various urban marks as epigraphy and graffiti), and a sound radio city (shown in radio's loudspeakers, mosque), each of which is elaborated in a separate chapter, showing up how each medium introduces a new spatial ontology. Concluding in the posthistoric terms, Mattern concludes that every city has simultaneously been “aural, graphic, textual, sonic, visual, and digital” (p. xxxviii)

The book provides in-depth theories of the urban media studies and media archaeology and furnishes lots of historical data and examples, among which are found many curiosities. Written in a light style and without an academic pretence, this highly readable book may be a good popular reading of media archaeology and urban studies.