Grey Room

The Media Arcane

Timon Beyes, Claus Pias


“U,” the protagonist of Tom McCarthy’s most recent novel, Satin Island, is ananthropologist with a Ph.D. dissertation on club culture. Plucked “from the dying branches of academia,” he now works for “the Company,” a London-based consultancy. McCarthy here stages a kind of organizational theology in which the invisible hand of automated data generation and circulation is presented as destiny beyond human comprehension. So-called big data is “given” and “unconditional,” “endless” and “inexhaustible,” a “grace-conferring” gift. Perceived as a reassuring data sublime, it is fundamentally secret, of unfathomable intelligence, and perhaps unknowable. It becomes a vision of the contemporary arcane: a media-technologically induced mysterium of secret information whose circulation is connected to the infrastructures of server farms, satellite dishes, and computer hardware.