Laura U. Marks: How Electrons Remember, 1999

In this essay I will argue that electronic images are the index, if not of an original object, then at least of a physical process. Without sounding too anthropomorphic, I want to suggest that electrons remember. There are two problems to be addressed. First, what is the material basis of electronic imaging? Second, is this material basis significantly different for analog and digital electronic imaging? I invite the reader to assume a subatomic empathy as we look at the life of the electrons in electronic imaging.

Electrons exemplify what Manuel De Landa calls nonorganic life. De Landa argues that supposedly inert matter, from crystals to the rocks and sand in a river bed, exhibits self-organizing behavior and even acquires experience, which entitle it to be considered nonorganic life. In effect, De Landa is arguing not that rocks are like humans so much as that humans are like rocks. Yet the reverse is implicit: he effectively rearticulates life as something that is not the sole property of organic creatures. The same nonorganic life exists at the level of subatomic particles. The memory that I attribute to electrons does not have to do with will or self-consciousness, but with an emergent self-organizing principle. Like De Landa, physicist David Bohm argued that the distinction between organic life and nonorganic matter is arbitrary. He gives the example of a tree: it grows from a seed, whose DNA molecule organizes matter into a tree; but Bohm says it doesn’t make sense to say, for example, a CO2 molecule is inorganic until it becomes part of the tree, then it’s organic. Bohm’s example underscores an argument that all elements are part of a (nonorganically) living whole. For the electron, the living whole in which it partakes is the wave forms that unify all matter.

Marks, Laura U. “How Electrons Remember” Millennium Film Journal No. 34 (1999): 66–80.