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An Archaeological Approach to Locative Media

Alex Ingersoll

Locative media, as spatial interface technologies, mediate relationships between bodies and the built and natural environments as well as between the imagination and the real. Older devices that predate the term “locative media” have affected the relation between the subject and space in similar ways, and an archaeological analysis provides a broader context and language to deal with devices of mediation, from the astrolabe and the magnetic compass to the iPhone, and shifting struggles over the spatial imagination. Digging into the past serves to productively illuminate our present dreams and desires of networked layers of info-space. This contested terrain is partly an outcome of the intensifying abstractions brought on by capitalism but, in a way, has reverberated throughout our technological culture due to human struggles concerning our finitude in the face of (either idealized or dreaded) concepts of infinity and the sublime.

As a locative technology that is often just a branch cut from a tree, the divining rod has a deep and tortuous history tied to elemental, mythical, and spiritual forms of spatial orientation. Positioning this technology as an antecedent to contemporary forms of locative media calls attention to a range of neglected and alternative imaginations that are tied to these network devices. Furthermore, approaching this form of locative media through a lens of network archaeology highlights the recurring metaphysics that long haunt the desires and fears of mediating or interfacing the space beyond space. This practice of network orientation often melds technological and spiritual practices in order to make forms of sublime encounters intelligible. As part of the enduring “metaphysics of networks” at play with digital locative media,1 the practices of interpreting secondary spaces underscore the desires to interface between terrestrial and extraterrestrial spaces.

Divining (also referred to as dowsing, water witching, or Radiésthesia) is a form of divination that uses a forked stick, rod, or pendulum to locate underground water and involves a practice of foretelling the future through various natural or psychological techniques. Divining rod practitioners are typically referred to as dowsers, or one “who discovers springs.” Throughout the literature on divining, the underground spring typically represents an ultimate frontier as the “spring is the final limit of the subterranean journey accomplished by a drop of water.”2 For hundreds, maybe even thousands of years, divining rods have been used for a wide range of purposes:

They claimed also inspired power with which to cure all sorts of diseases, intuitive knowledge of lost or stolen goods, and ability to discover the hidden treasures of the earth, as well as the more convenient talent of transmuting ordinary substances into the precious metals. . . The instrument of their miraculous powers was a cleft stick, or rod, something of the form of an inverted Y. And when this talisman was firmly grasped in either hand by its two points, it was believed to indicate the proper course to be pursued, or point out some substances of medicinal utility, or fix the locality of some valuable mine – whichever of these the agent was pleased to wish.3

In addition to these varied uses, the divining rod has also been used “to find lost landmarks and reestablish property boundaries. . . to analyze personal character… to insure immunity against ill fortune when preserved as a fetish. . . to determine the direction of cardinal points” as well as to hunt ghosts and reveal traces of haunted figures caught between the visible and invisible.4 In fact, one of the more notorious uses was to use the rod “to detect criminals” by discerning the “‘matiere meurtriere,’ ‘murderous matter,’ given off by a murderer.”5 Harvey Howells writes that the act of dowsing is often wrapped in the “art of mysticism” and “that the power came from the gods. The very name ‘divining rod’ implies association with a supreme being or beings.”6 Indeed, the technique has often been considered to be linked to a “supernatural” power and even possibly influenced by “dealings with the Evil One.”7

The classic method is to employ a forked stick. When asked how this forked twig is able to actually locate and navigate, diviners have suggested that the twigs themselves are “thirsty for water,” while others argue that it serves as a medium between the body and electrical or magnetic networks of force flowing throughout the natural environment.8 Underwood claims that the divining rod offers a connection to an invisible “network on the surface of the earth” described as “earth force” which is “the ‘Great Arranger’: the balancing principle which keeps all nature in equilibrium.”9 Furthermore, he asserts that it is necessary for the operator to “have faith” in the operation as faith rewards the operator with “supernormal perceptive power – seeing as it were without eyes … perception at a distance.”10 Indeed, the “miracle of dowsing” is purported to allow the operator to see “what lies beyond space.”11

See What Lies Beyond Space

Alexander R. Galloway writes “that the interface is a medium that does not mediate… It describes itself as a door or a window or some other sort of threshold across which we must simply step to receive the bounty beyond. But a thing and its opposite are never joined by the interface in such a neat and tidy manner.”12 Locative media have offered a range of ways to connect to various networks beyond the interface itself. When a network is used for orientation and navigation, the mediation of the network has often resulted in recurring desires and anxieties of sensing what lies beyond empirical space. With this paper, I am interested in highlighting recurring logics that precede and recur alongside our contemporary locative media and augmented reality practices and affects.

As the literature on new media in general and locative media in particular increasingly emphasizes the importance of physical space to digital information networks (and vice versa),13 much of this work has glossed over or ignored the historical complexities of the mediation of spatial orientation. In particular, this work has skirted around questions regarding how the human imagination was affected by earlier technologies of spatial orientation and navigation in terms of how space and the network has been conceived, perceived, and lived. A historical approach to locative media calls attention to marginalized or less stable histories of network affect that illuminate how contemporary techniques and experiences recover and recuperate older practices and forms of belief.

My approach is influenced by recent work by media archaeologists such as Erikki Huhtamo, whose “topia analysis” puts a focus on how various imaginations are developed, shared, and adapted by cultural agents throughout history. This perspective is not invested in uncovering “unchanging archetypes or proto-images existing beyond culture”; it operates from an assumption that the origins and appearances of various media imaginations are both created and conditioned by cultural forces.14 This is particularly important for media scholars such as Carolyn Marvin, who urges us to consider the fluid linkages among our technological “habits, beliefs, and procedures” and the way that media “give shape to the imaginative boundaries of modern communities.”15 In this case, situating the divining rod as an early example of digital locative media not only highlights the range of networks that are interfaced but helps us to understand the ways that networks are historically and culturally imagined and defined.

With this paper, I highlight the locative media fantasies that have long been associated with our desire or apprehension of the “real” and our negotiation between technological mediation and cultural imaginations of various network forms through an abbreviated archaeology of the divining rod. I begin with a brief outline of the assorted operations of the divining rod before discussing its historical connections to European miners, the church, and the general population. Because the device often was positioned as an instrument that might offer an opportunity to touch various networks beyond space, I conclude with a historical analysis of its function as a platform for embodied interactions with the electromagnetic network. As an interface with what proponents consider to be a “universal force” or an encounter with a sublime network, the divining rod expands the desire to reveal extra dimensions of space or the networked externalization of consciousness – a desire that some see realized via the mediation of the digital network.

Orientation Networks

References to divining are mostly absent from Greek and Roman manuscripts, though there were various indications of the use of a divine rod (Latin: virgula divina) as well as stories that emphasize powers associated with the staff of Hermes. In these stories, Hermes is consistently seen carrying a rod or wand, named Caduceus, entwined with two serpents, which were animals that were intended to guard mines from various forms of intrusion. The supernatural power of the serpents on Hermes’ rod supposedly influenced the protection afforded to the mines themselves. As a device that was popularly used by miners starting in the sixteenth century, Hermes’s rod was assumed to be a divining rod. Charles Francis Keary argues that these various historical foundations leads one to assume that “the divining-rod has inherited its qualities from the divining tree” leading to the ability of this wooden twig to pick up on energies stemming from an originary life source.16 The German folklorist, Franz Felix Adalbert Kuhn, went so far as to say that the shape of the forked rod itself was a universal feature that connected the object with an original divine fire or light.17

Using the divining rod as a more universal location device became popular until the 1701 Inquisition when a decree was issued against their use in the “moral world.” However, superstitious use of the divining rod never fully subsided as it began to be used as well as to hunt ghosts and reveal traces of haunted presences. One contemporary account is noted by Underwood: “One evening, Robert believed he located the exact position of the haunting entity in the kitchen with the help of his divining rods, and he put his rods on one side and boldly addressed the ‘ghost’.”18 The divining rod has a deep history of otherworldly mediation.

Potential relations with the occult go back as far as the first printed demonstration of the practice, which appeared in a foundational book on ores and mining, De Re Metallica, published in 1556 by the German founder of geology, Georgius Agricola. Within the work, Agricola describes how miners search for mineral veins using a technique that closely resembles water dowsing. Agricola notes that “the application of the inchanted or divining rod to metallick matters took its rise from magicians and the impure fountains of inchantment.”19 Agricola’s description of the practice of dowsing is linked to the fact that the mining districts of the Harz Mountains in Germany are often considered to be the birthplace of modern dowsing. From there, German miners were exported into England during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and brought the practice of the divining rod with them. This contributed to the first direct discussion of the divining rod in English in Robert Fludd’s Philosophia Moysaica in 1638. In this work, Fludd “revives the use of the rod as an illustration of the innate affinity between things vegetable and things mineral.”20 In other words, using the divining rod to interface with various ubiquitous networks, from networks of natural, magnetic, and electric materials to moral, bodily, spiritual, and metaphysical networks.

For many practitioners of dowsing, the rod was a way to interact with the mysterious magnetic fields that flowed throughout the environment. In 1639, Gabriel Plattes illustrates how he trimmed a forked branch from a hazel tree one morning and then used the rod to help guide him up and down the side of a mountain. “Before Noone [Noon],” Plattes writes, “it guided mee to the Orifice of a lead mine.” According to him, this hazel rod was attracted to particular areas because it was “of Kin to the Load-stone, drawing Iron to it by a secret vertue, inbred by nature, and not by any coniuration as some have fondly imagined.”21

In the nineteenth century, Thomas De Quincey described how the phenomena of dowsing was quickly becoming a popular means of location finding. In his essay on Modern Superstitions, however, he casts doubt on the whole practice as he writes, “the experimental evidence of a real practical skill in these men, and the enlarged compass of speculation in these days, have led many enlightened people to a … suspension of judgement, on the reality of this somewhat mysterious art.”22 Nevertheless, De Quincey later notes that the instruments and their users are always in high demand because “nobody sinks wells without their advice.”23 Nicolas Jadelot, a Professor of Medicine in Nancy, France, oversaw one of these experiments and he noted that these dowsers successfully located underground water sources before a crowd of witnesses that included professional physicians and lawyers.

This examination, which extended over two months, was primarily conducted to verify the accounts of a famous dowser, Barthelmy Bleton. Experiments regarding the use of the divining rod became a public spectacle as nearly five hundred bystanders gathered at repeated events to watch him demonstrate the power of the divining rod. The communal spectacle became much more than an elaborate game of truth and treachery as Bleton often exhibited prolonged breakdowns and tremors. His performance of finding underground water was closer to an embodied glossolalia where his body succumbed to the power of the earth and opened itself up to the fields of energy that supposedly radiated from below. As one witness described it:

The presence of water made him experience a feeling of oppression in the region of the diaphragm. At the same time trembling and a general feeling of chill took possession of him. His legs staggered, the tensions of his wrists stiffened, causing convulsive movements. His pulse gradually failed. These convulsive spasms persisted, in varying degree, as long as he remained vertically over the subterranean stream, but suddenly disappeared directly he placed himself on one side of it. At least they became weaker, for they did not cease entirely until he had gone a distance from the water, and that distance, according to Bleton, represented the depth of the spring.24

Determining the validity of dowsing was one thing but attempting to explain the manic convulsions of Bleton was another. One witness, Dr. Pierre Thouvenel, hypothesized what he had witnessed. In 1783, he was commissioned by Louis XVI to report on the mineral and medicinal waters of France and he obtained permission to use the services of a dowser to find fresh mineral springs. In his report, Thouvenel speculated that Bleton had tapped into a source of “electric effluvia” that move from the earth’s subterranean streams and that caused his body to react the way that it did.25 Based on his observations of the strength and reactions of Bleton’s sensations, Thouvenel argued that the dowser was interacting with electrical currents that flowed from east to west. Thouvenel’s speculative discussion predates the modern analysis of electrical currents and the operation of earth currents was not fully analyzed until experiments made in 1849 by an English telegraph official named William Henry Barlow. Monitoring the electrical currents running through the telegraph lines, Barlow noted that there were moments of spontaneous interference by natural currents.26 Thouvenel’s consideration of the divining rod’s ability to reveal electrical currents inspired others to consider the curious art of dowsing. As a result, the device continued to make inroads into European culture and became entangled with the wide-ranging fascination with the “electrical sublime” associated with more well known technologies of the time.27

Mediating Fields of Electricity

For Vicomte Henry de France, the possibility that objects had inherent electrical properties that could be detected by a simple instrument was something of an obsession. Inspired by Michael Faraday’s postulation of electrical fields of force, de France sought a method to interact with these invisible electrical currents. By the early twentieth century, he developed a systematic theory of electrical orientation and force that he described as the “method of fields” and combined it with a wider theory of navigation and orientation. His perspective was influenced by Baron Pierre Bigot de Morogues who wrote extensively on chemistry and mineralogy in the nineteenth century. According to Bigot, all metals, mineral deposits, and subterranean waters are shrouded in electrical spheres and, due to an obscure mechanism, the divining rod actually feels the effect of colliding with and penetrating through these spheres. Therefore, when the divining rod moves, it indicates the presence of an electrical field and any objects that surround this field. Since “all bodies are surrounded by electric spheres,” Bigot argues that they then “exert an incessant reciprocal action on one another.”28 “The method of Fields goes back to the seventeenth century,” writes de France, and the “first objects of study should be those known to possess electric, magnetic or calorific properties, such as rubbed glass or ebonite, magnets, stoves, then a fissure in the ground water-bearing or otherwise, ore, plants, the human body, finally anything at all.”29 These electric properties, however, extend to every object which “is surrounded by a ‘field’ – that is to say, a space in which its influence is felt. Every field is characterised by its vertical and horizontal dimensions, as well as by its ‘direction’, as shown by a beam of radiation acting at an angle to the meridian which is peculiar to the object.”30

For de France, this is precisely how the divining rod is used as an orientation device. This mode of orientation is reconfigured by digital technologies, which promoters suggest now allow humans to become conscious of resonating “morphogenetic fields” made up of hidden informational patterns.31 Much like the divining rod allowed the diviner to sense a fundamental electrical “earth force” emerging from a “Great Arranger,”32 some cyber futurists suggest that digital technologies help to form the “global brain … [the] final stage of the development of ‘Gaia,’ the living being that is the Earth, for which humans serve as the neurons.”33

de France collaborated with Abbe Bouly, who in 1930 developed the concept of Radiesthésie. Together they founded L’Association de Amis de la Radiesthésie at around the same time. Radiesthésie literally means “sensation of radiation” or “radiation perception,” and de France and Bouly often expanded its meaning to include the detection of a range of other physical effects that often remain invisible to the senses. With the divining rod as their primary instrument, they sought to elevate the sensation of touch as a way to perceive these fields of force. As you move through space with your divining rod, you will feel the rod flip back and forth as it “will dip over positive, and rise over negative electricity.”34

At about the same time, Henri Mager became interested in the possible interaction between the divining rod and invisible electrical networks. He based his approach on a theory of the electrical circuitry of the body and the use of the device to connect that circuit with the earth. In his Water Diviners and Their Methods, Mager argues that the divining rod allows for the human body to form a closed loop that would support an electrical circuit. When the device reacts, it is not just flipping back and forth on its own, it is doing so because it is reacting to discharges brought on by electrical feedback via a divining interface made between networks in the external or natural world and the networks of bodily circuitry:

When the point of the rod encounters the flux of force which overlies subterranean water, or one of the planes of force which forms the immense field bordering the flux on both sides, a discharge passes through the head and one branch of the rod. The earth providing a path for a return current, the two branches of the rod, which form an angle, are traversed by currents opposite in direction, and, according to Ampère’s laws, repelling one another; the two branches which are bound to one another try to free themselves; they exert force; they visibly “work” … it moves through contact with the flux of force which overlies subterranean water in motion … its movement is due to the action of a field of force, to the action of radiant energy.35

When, however, held by a human being and brought into contact with fields of radiant energy, the rod only seems to move when the vibrations between the electrical sphere and the operator’s body are similar. Mager’s “law of likes” elaborates on Greek theories of sympathetic force: “If a body is brought into a vibratory field, having similar vibrations to itself no interference is caused to the vibratory manifestations. Inversely, if a body is placed in a field of different vibrations, the vibratory manifestations are paralysed.”36 Importantly, the divining rod does not seem to be selective as to which vibratory manifestations are encountered as divining rods “pick up all the manifestations of force in space,” including the increasing network of wireless signals spanning the globe.37 As a result of their efforts to interact with these manifestations, Mager suggests that dowsers should be considered to be “radio-telluriste, the interpreter of radio-tellurie.” This is because dowsers “embrace the whole of the phenomena which in 1914, we designated ‘Universal Activity.’ The terms radio-scopie or radio-logie could be applied to the study of these phenomena, since they are concerned with radioations, vibrations, waves, manifestations of force.”38

What is particularly interesting is how Mager’s method of dowsing greatly expands beyond an assumption of navigating universal fields of electricity or radiation. He conceives of the divining rod as a technology to interface or mediate with an epistemological network of fundamental truths. He describes this as a mode of “intuitive perception” that elaborates upon what Henry de France understood to be the movement towards a perfected mode of divining. de France calls this form of intuition “teleradiesthesia” and notes that it allows for the “immediate and complete cognition of any object or truth.”39 He identifies a split between practitioners of radiesthesia and teleradiesthesia but argues that “whilst preserving their independence and refraining from mutual criticism, should continue to be members of the same society.”40 This is important for Mager because he views the dowsing rod as way of uncovering a form of archetypical knowledge or “ancient impressions which have been lying in our storehouse of accumulated experience forming the collection of mental pictures, ideas and foundations of judgments.”41

Interfacing Multiple Worlds

Attempts to connect to these archetypical fields of force are also found in the practice of using divining rods to sense networked lines that extend beneath or around ancient monuments and megaliths. Analysis of these “ley lines,” inspired by the Chinese concept of feng shui, indicates the alignment of certain landforms with various built structures and was valued by ancient civilizations as a way to indicate symmetry between sacred places and invisible networks of power. Awareness of these networks similarly lead to a consciousness of fundamental truths. Leys connect ancient sites and holy places situated across the landscape in straight lines from one to several miles in length. These monuments and natural formations were aligned with the directionality of these fields of force because these spaces “were variously used for transmission … of spirit, for the spirits of the landscape, and, possibly for externalized human consciousness.”42 Dowsers argue that ley lines, understood as “conduits of spirit,”43 can be found, for example, in traditional Chinese “secret arrows” that conduct the vital force of life or Qi, or the traditions of Celtic fairy paths; Native American shrines, burial grounds, and votive offerings; as well as the Nazcan lines in Peru. British dowser Bill Lewis considers the use of the divining rod to be crucial to uncovering how “megaliths provide the interface between sinuous subterranean forces and straight overground energy; an interaction further affected by cosmic and possibly atmospheric influences.”44

Guy Underwood’s theory of “geodetic lines” suggests that these ley lines converge at blind springs where ancient holy sites, stone circles, and barrows are points of communication between water lines and terrestrial energy fields and the rod allows for the capacity to mediate with wider network interfaces. He claims that by using the divining rod, one is connecting with an “Earth Force,” which “manifests itself in lines of discontinuity, which I call geodetic lines, and which form a network on the surface of the Earth.”45 This force is indicative of the broader generative power of nature, which he describes as the “‘Great Arranger’ – that balancing principle which keeps all Nature in equilibrium” and bases this theory on the Platonic Demiurge who fashioned and shaped the material world and Anaxagoras’s concept of “Nous” with the Mind as the ultimate ordering force.46 Paul Devereaux and Ian Thomson note that by attempting to use the divining rod to locate these lines of force, one is closer “to a remote time when people’s lives were closely in step with elemental and spiritual realities, when the landscape, the heavens and the human mind were understood as one deeply interdependent whole,” or one extensive magical network.47

The desire of the dowser to interface with these ubiquitous networks points to the recurring attempts to mediate a sublime connection to the Absolute. The contemporary British dowser Grahame Gardner wonders, “could it be that we are dealing with phenomena at the very limits of human comprehension, a quantum world where language and conventional understanding fail us?”48 For Gardner, dowsers make a mistake if they only use the rod to achieve complete understanding of this universal force. He suggests that divining is best used to create and sustain networks of sacred spaces for therapeutic value. “To construct a sacred space,” he writes, “is to precisely position ourselves in Space and Time. We are creating a psychic bubble of space that is a microcosm of Universe.” The development of this psychic bubble is key to linking together with the interdependence of reality. “Thus, by marking out and orienting our space to the cardinal directions,” Gardner continues, “we create very real energetic anchors to Middle World (the Earth we walk on). By positioning the space on an earth energy power spot, we create links to Lower World, and by including astronomical alignments, such as a solstice sunrise, we can draw upon Upper World energy.” The creation and maintenance of these “energetic anchors” positions these sacred spaces not entirely within the material world but “between the worlds.”49 The desire to develop and access such a shared sacred space extends to digital locative media, which proponents suggest allow people to “step into a different world” via interfacing the digital network.50 Indeed, this sense of sacred potentiality extends to devices such as the iPad, which For Tish Shute, co-founder of the international business exposition named the “Augmented Reality Event,” can be used to grant us access to the “World 2.0.”51 The secondary spaces that are revealed via contemporary locative media are just as networked and information-rich as earlier conceptions of space and mediation.

Through this abbreviated history, I have offered a number of accounts that indicate that the history of the divining rod is a history of contested terrain for ir/rational means of interfacing many different network forms. Writing in 1556, Agricola writes, “There are many great contentions between miners concerning the forked twig, for some say it is of the greatest use in discovering veins, and others deny it.”52 Divining is not now, neither has it ever been, accepted by mainstream science but its continuing popularity raises fascinating questions about the efforts to systematize the ability to interface different networks beyond particular spaces. Vogt and Hyman describe the practice as an “outcast” opposed by geologists, water engineers, and other scientists, though in their conclusion, the authors note “that water witching is a clearcut case of magical divination in our culture which persists because there are potent psychological and social reasons for it.”53 Despite the divisiveness regarding its use, the imaginations associated with the device continue. Technological attempts to mediate invisible electromagnetic fields of force, however, are today more often described in terms of information networks. At the present, digital networks allow “for an imitation of the now impossible, imaginary spheric security. Now networks … are meant to replace the celestial domes; telecommunication has to reenact the all-encompassing.”54

See What’s On the Other Side of Too Far

I am interested in positioning the divining rod within a deeper history of locative media as a way to productively illuminate our present dreams, desires, and anxieties of networked layers of info-space. Locative media, pioneered and championed by the movement in the early 2000’s, recast the fantasies of divining rod through attempts to exteriorize the mind and “to create new ‘pervasive imaginaries.’”55 This approach to the digital network has been adapted and extended by mobile communications firms such as AT&T, who in 2010, shifted their message away from a boast about dependable network connectivity towards a more metaphysical approach, asking customers to “Rethink Possible.” As part of this campaign, AT&T launched a series of videos that operate as a mantra for the reconfiguration of boundaries both seen and unseen, spiritualized connections, and a belief in the ability to connect to what is beyond space. So, for AT&T, locative media are the mobile interfaces that allow us to “Play the angel’s advocate,” to “convert the nonbelievers,” to “See What’s On the Other Side of Too Far,” to “Expand Your World” and in another advertisement, is reinforced by Willy Wonka, played by Gene Wilder, singing “Come with me, and you’ll be, in a world of pure imagination … If you want to view paradise, simply look around and view it.” In this particular ad, the camera pans to the roof of a skyscraper and focuses on a man in a suit who seems to have something in his lap. Interestingly, no device is shown but an illuminated aura begins to glow around his head and face, which makes one wonder if this is due to the light of the digital display or a divine light. In AT&T’s fantasy, the divining rod is re-imagined as the mobile phone where this ambiguous illumination emphasizes that this network technology should be understood as both a material and magical gadget much like the rod.

I suggest that we can usefully frame technologies such as the divining rod within a historical constellation of locative media that I want to describe as allegorical machines. In general terms, the function of allegory is a means of communicating concepts with symbols where the symbol in question links to a secondary layer of abstracted meaning. Angus Fletcher, in his book on allegory, writes, “Allegories are based on parallels between two levels … that correspond to each other, the one is supposed by the reader, the other literally presented” in the medium.56 Such a definition of the machination of the allegorical echoes Galloway’s definition of the interface as a threshold. In the case of allegorical fiction, the prose is usually filled with vivid and expressive textual description that supports an enchanted layer of secondary meaning that is beyond the text itself. Fletcher continues, “for the suggestiveness and intensity of ambiguous metaphorical language allegory substitutes a sort of figurative geometry. It enables the poet, as Francis Bacon observed, to ‘measure countries in the mind.’”57 This “figurative geometry” not only supposes a projection outward of meaning but moments of interdependent or networked correspondence much like the ways that a locative application on a computer can superimpose a particular digital network over the physical landscape or a dowser mediating a universal field of force or a sacred space.

I define allegorical machines as orientation technologies that mediate an imagined or informational otherspace in relation to the individual and material or empirical space. I find that using this term to characterize the deeper history of locative media can underscore both the locative devices themselves as well as their associated cultural imaginaries. Fletcher writes that “allegory employs ‘machinery,’ it is not an engineer’s type of machinery at all … it is a fantasized energy, like the fantasized power conferred on the shaman by his belief in daemons.”58 This is a useful frame to link the locative machines themselves with the wider functions of allegory and the mediation with the space or networks that are beyond oneself. Through an interplay of symbols, ritual, and communicative interaction, this act of creation has the ability to develop links between concrete forms and abstract ideas.

Considering digital locative media within a deeper history of allegorical machines, which includes the cultural and spatial imaginations associated with the divining rod, reveals a longstanding human desire and anxiety to make the unknown known, the transcendent immanent, the infinite finite, and the expansion of a magical or enchanted imagination intending to materialize the ideal. This materialization is part of an effort to conjure an ideal representation of self or world as we try to turn from the “wretchedness of our finitude” in order to grasp a small shred of an “authentic connection” with the Absolute.59 For users of the divining rod, this means using the forked twig to interface with unfathomable or universal networked forces. For users of digital locative media, this translates to the computer interface that mediates the seemingly infinite capabilities and capacities of the network or the cloud.

As forms of digital locative media become more widespread, they are becoming the standard means for mapping the network over physical objects and space. In fact, many proponents envision a future where all digital information has a material counterpart. As Gordon and de Souza e Silva suggest, “unlocated information will cease to be the norm” as physical materiality and location will operate as a “near universal search string for the world’s data.”60 This sense of universality accompanies a second sense that informational fields are always just beyond reach. Older forms of locative media such as the divining rod foreshadow, for instance, Google’s attempts to position itself as a networked storehouse of absolute knowledge61 and its Google Glass technology as a way to augment or combine the virtual and the real. This attempt to uncover this universal network and grasp the Absolute is what I characterize as the recurring desire or anxiety to mediate the sublime through locative media.

Kenneth Burke argued that the sublime encompasses the raw, unstable, horrific, demented, chaotic, wild, and formless, the uncalled for and the unannounced, and, fundamentally, the ineffable and unreproducible. The sublime exhibits a power of infinite magnitude that he associated with the abyss that was ominous, wondrous, and raucous.62 Kant considered the sublime, in a way that echoes the use of the divining rod, as “a vibration … a quickly alternating attraction toward, and repulsion from, the same object.”63 And through this movement comes a sense of release by very nearly reaching the limit of the infinitude as “the imagination … feels itself unbounded by this removal of limitations; and thus that very abstraction is a presentation of the Infinite which … expands the soul.”64

As technologies that mediate the unknown or infinite networks of space, allegorical machines are devices that have long been associated with the imaginative power of the sublime. These are media or intermediaries that are intended to unveil occulted networks and are a means for contact with the immeasurable or unfathomable. The recurring desire or fear to “see what lies beyond space” points to a much deeper history of the unease of our finitude and a recurring desire to interact with some great beyond or frontier. The use of allegorical machines is not unlike Tzvetan Todorov’s consideration of our interaction with the fantastic event in literature: as a hesitation or interruption between the real and the imaginary balanced between the uncanny and the marvelous.65 As an interruption, allegorical machines interface the networked excess of space that is beyond oneself, which moves between form and formlessness, balance and chaos, known and unknown. This is an otherspace that is brought to bear with our relation to physical, material space. In a way, this is similar to Kant’s consideration of the hesitation or apprehension of the horrifying ocean that generates an “intuition” of the sublime. These are devices that have long been a part of the human interaction with mobile spatial interfaces as well as imaginations that have been enmeshed with affective states of wonder, mystery, or meaningful enchantment with our world (or the worlds beyond). They involve a wider speculative project that is practiced by humans on a daily basis for which media archaeology is uniquely equipped to uncover and explore.

  1. Alexander R. Galloway and Eugene Thacker, The Exploit: A Theory of Networks (Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2007), 118. 

  2. Henri Mager, Water Diviners and Their Methods, trans. A.H. Bell (London: G. Bell and Sons LTD., 1931), 13. 

  3. Richard Lloyd Anderson, “The Mature Joseph Smith and Treasure,” BYU Studies 24 (1984), 492-94. 

  4. Arthur J. Ellis, The Divining Rod: A History of Water Witching (United States Geological Survey, Water-Supply Paper 416, 1917), 8. 

  5. William Barrett, The Divining Rod: An Experimental and Psychological Investigation (London: Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1926), 31. 

  6. Harvey Howells, Dowsing for Everyone: Adventures and Instruction in the Art of Modern Dowsing (Brattleboro, Vermont: The Stephen Greene Press, 1979), 11. 

  7. R.W. Raymond, The Divining Rod (American Institute of Mining Engineers, vol 11, 1883), 419. 

  8. Henry de France, The Elements of Dowsing, trans. A.H. Bell (London: G. Bell, 1936). 

  9. Peter Underwood, The Complete Book of Dowsing and Divining (London: Rider & Company, 1980), 61-62. 

  10. Underwood, Complete Book of Dowsing, 57. 

  11. Howells, Dowsing for Everyone, 13. 

  12. Alexander R. Galloway, The Interface Effect (Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2012), 53. 

  13. See William J. Mitchell, City of Bits (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1995); Stephen Graham and Simon Marvin, Splintering Urbanism: Networked Infrastructures, Technological Mobilities and the Urban Condition (London: Routledge, 2001); Marc Tuters and Kazys Varnelis, “Beyond Locative Media: Giving Shape to the Internet of Things,” Leonardo 39, no. 4 (2006): 357-363; Adriana de Souza e Silva and Daniel M. Sutko, Digital Cityscapes: Merging Digital and Urban Playspaces (New York: Peter Lang, 2009); Jason Farman, Mobile Interface Theory: Embodied Space and Locative Media (New York: Routledge, 2012). 

  14. Erkki Huhtamo, “Dismantling the Fairy Engine: Media Archaeology as Topos Study,” in Media Archaeology: Approaches, Applications, and Implications, ed. Erkki Huhtamo and Jussi Parikka (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2011), 34. 

  15. Carolyn Marvin, When Old Technologies Were New: Thinking About Electric Communication in the Late Nineteenth Century (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988), 4. 

  16. Charles Francis Keary, Outlines of Primitive Belief Among the Indo-European Races (London: Longsmans, Green and Co., 1882), 62. 

  17. Barrett, Divining Rod, 1. 

  18. Underwood, Complete Book of Dowsing, 187. 

  19. Barrett, Divining Rod, 2. 

  20. Barrett, Divining Rod, 11. 

  21. Gabriel Plattes, A Discovery of Subterraneall Treasure (London: Institution of Mining and Metallurgy, 1980), 11-13. 

  22. Barrett, Divining Rod, 22. 

  23. Barrett, Divining Rod, 23. 

  24. Mager, Water Diviners, 31-32. 

  25. Mager, Water Diviners, 1. 

  26. W.H. Barlow, “On the Spontaneous Electrical Currents Observed in the Wires of the Electric Telegraph,” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London 139 (1849): 61-72. 

  27. James W. Carey and John J. Quirk, “The Mythos of the Electronic Revolution,” in Communication as Culture: Essays on Media and Society, ed. James W. Carey (New York: Routledge, 1988). 

  28. Mager, Water Diviners, 134. 

  29. de France, Elements of Dowsing, 14. 

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  31. Douglas Rushkoff, Cyberia: Life in the Trenches of Hyperspace (San Francisco: Harper, 1994), x. 

  32. Underwood, Complete Book of Dowsing, 61-62. 

  33. Rushkoff, Cyberia, x. 

  34. de France, Elements of Dowsing, 11. 

  35. Mager, Water Diviners, 8. 

  36. Mager, Water Diviners, 207. 

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  38. Mager, Water Diviners, 102. 

  39. de France, Elements of Dowsing, 75. 

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  42. Nigel Pennick and Paul Devereux, Lines on the Landscape: Leys and Other Linear Enigmas (London: Robert Hale, 1989), 258. 

  43. Pennick and Devereux, Lines, 255. 

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  45. Guy Underwood, The Pattern of the Past (London: Abacus, 1973), 18. 

  46. Underwood, Pattern, 20. 

  47. Devereux and Thomson, Ley Hunter’s, 9. 

  48. Grahame Gardner, “Power Dowsing,” Western Geomancy, last modified April 2009, 

  49. Grahame Gardner, “Creating Sacred Space,” Western Geomancy, last modified December 2003, 

  50. Maarten Lens-FitzGerald, “Tablets are great to play Immersive Augmented Reality,” Layar Blog, last modified September 2, 2010, 

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  52. Georgius Agricola, De Re Metallica, trans. Herbert Hoover and Lou Henry Hoover (New York: Dover Publications, 1950), 38. 

  53. Evon Z. Vogt and Evan Hyman, Water Witching U.S.A. (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1959), 192. 

  54. Peter Sloterdijk, Bubbles: Spheres I (Los Angeles: Semiotext(e), 2011), 25. 

  55. Minna Tarkka, “Labours of Location: Acting in the Pervasive Media Space,” Diffusion (2005), 5, accessed June 28, 2013, 

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  57. Fletcher, Allegory, 180. 

  58. Fletcher, Allegory, 57-58. 

  59. John Durham Peters, Speaking into the Air: A History of the Idea of Communication (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1999), 271. 

  60. Eric Gordon and Adriana de Souza e Silva, Net Locality: Why Location Matters in a Networked World (Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011), 20. 

  61. Ken Hillis, Michael Petit, and Kylie Jarrett, Google and the Culture of Search (New York: Routledge, 2013). 

  62. Kenneth Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful, ed. Adam Phillips (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990). 

  63. Immanuel Kant, The Critique of Judgement, trans. J.H. Bernard (London: Macmillan, 1914), 97. 

  64. Kant, Critique, 115. 

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