http://homepage.univie.ac.at/jana.herwig/PDF/Herwig_Jana_4chan_Archive_Repertoire_2011.pdf Manuscript, awaiting final approval from editors: Herwig, Jana, "The Archive as the Repertoire. Mediated and Embodied Practice on Imageboard 4chan.org", in: Günther Friesinger/Thomas Ballhausen (eds.): Mind and Matter. Paraflows 10 Symposium, conference proceedings, to appear in print in 2011. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org Jana Herwig The Archive as the Repertoire Mediated and Embodied Practice on Imageboard 4chan.org Bio: Jana Herwig is currently a researcher and PhD candidate at the Dept. of Theatre, Film and Media Studies, University of Vienna, Austria. She has worked in the online industry in various roles since web 1.0 days – as a web developer, community and project manager, individual and corporate blogger, researcher and instructor – taught German in South Africa, English in Austria and returned to academia and media studies in 2008. At present, she blogs mainly in German at digiom.wordpress.com, where she can also be contacted. 1 – It’s a Dance, Not a Website In the years 2008 to 2010, imageboard website 4chan.org achieved considerable notoriety both within the wider web community and by mainstream media. Three main incidents and their mediatisation contributed to this relative rise to fame of an otherwise modest seeming website and its unassuming owner, Christopher Poole a.k.a moot, who founded the board in 2003 when was 15, seeking to create an English language alternative to Japanese imageboards. 4chan first drew the attention of corporate news media in early 2008, when video material of Hollywood actor Tom Cruise, enthusiastically praising the merits of pseudoreligious organization Scientology, was leaked on the Internet, followed by attempts of the organization to suppress the material, citing copyright infringement. This was the prelude to ‚Project Chanology’, also known as the ‚War on Scientology’, an ad hoc activist cause organized on the web, involving both attacks on Scientology infrastructures as well as demonstrations outside of Scientology centres. The collective behind the cause referred to itself as „Anonymous“, a name derived from the default user name on 4chan.org, where registering and thus laying an exclusive claim on a nick name is impossible. When appearing in public, members of „Anonymous“ wore Guy Fawkes masks in the style popularized by V for Vendetta, the graphic novel and film. The second incident: In 2009, moot was voted top finalist in the TIME 100 Internet poll, earning him the title of the world’s most influential person. „Moot denies knowing about any concerted plan by his followers to influence the poll, though TIME.com’s technical team did detect and extinguish several attempts to hack the vote.“1 This estimation provided by TIME staff would emerge as wishful thinking: The initials of moot and the next 20 finalists’ first names spelled the phrase M-A-R-B-L-E-C-AK-E A-L-S-O T-H-E G-A-M-E – marblecake reportedly being the name of the IRC channel used to organize the scientology protests, and „the game“ referring to an inside joke of Internet culture, where thinking or reading about the game inevitably meant losing the game. Rather than having extinguished hacking attempts, the vote had been the result of a precision hack.2 The third boost in public recognition came with the appearance of Christopher Poole as an invited speaker at the TED 2010 conference, discussing „The case for anonymity online“,3 which centred on 4chan.org’s policy of neither requiring a user registration nor keeping records of posted data. With the exemption of web server and banned user logs,4 all messages and images published on 4chan.org are deleted routinely. There is no 4chan archive, at least not on 4chan.org itself. Instead, users keep copies of images and screenshots of conversations they deem worth preserving on their computers; if the occasion arises, they might use these personal, sediment-like archives to weave some of their contents back into the forum discussion or to contribute to the documentation of highlights to websites such as the wikibased EncyclopediaDramatica.com (see also: section 5). Christopher Poole has accredited 4chan’s reputation as a „meme factory“ – a place where Internet memes, i.e. viral jokes in form of text or image, are likely to originate – to this lack of retention and resulting reliance upon user interaction. As he stated in a talk given at the 2009 Paraflows symposium: 5 The way kind of threads work on 4chan is that if you post something and it’s crap, it’s washed away. The site has no memory and it’s just washed away by all of these new posts. And if it’s a genuinely good idea or something that people identify with then either somebody will save it and repost it and that’s how we get memes. The ‚meme factory’ approach thus takes a quasi-evolutionary stance: only the best (funniest, weirdest, boldest) ideas survive. It is true that meme theory – as proposed by Richard Dawkins and furthered by Susan Blackmore – has won new popularity with the emergence of Internet memes such as Rickrolling and Lolcats,6 yet its analytical gain is mostly limited to the observation that something is being passed on. While disciplines such as linguistics and semiotics have developed a rich vocabulary for classifying elements that carry and convey meaning – e.g. seme as the smallest unit of meaning in words, phoneme as the smallest unit of sound, more complex semiotic systems such as Christian Metz’ „grande syntagmatique“7 for classifying sequences in film –, meme theory subsumes virtually all things and phenomena under the concept of the meme: „tunes, ideas, catch-phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of buildings arches“ (Dawkins),8 left-hand traffic, right-hand traffic, or a predilection for „Currywurst“ (Blackmore).9 Still, the revival of meme theory is little surprising if one considers that the digital domain has brought forth the ‚killer app’ of all cultural techniques for passing things on: copy-and-paste. But even copy-and-paste is not a virus that propagates without the action and intervention of human beings: With the following discussion, I am going to reach out for the human, embodied factor in human-computer interaction, a factor which, curiously, is often neglected in debates of the cultural consequences of emerging technologies. Does our body indeed become obsolete if we engage online, or less relevant than the information that is being exchanged? Instead of thinking of forums such as 4chan.org as a competition of bodiless ideas, I propose to think of it as a dance: as something that requires the communion and participation of humans, their simultaneous engagement with each other and with the cultural meaning of the artefacts they exchange, rhythmically and periodically, both making use of and collaborating with the digital technology at hand. Such a dance, inevitably, must transgress the borders between mind and matter, media and body, information and perception, which the dominant discourse has so meticulously established.