New Media, Aura, & Religion (Lev Manovich)

[Avi Rosen, cathedral #1″, New Media, digital bricolage, 2005]

I’ve been reading Lev Manovich’s The Language of New Media, about which I’ll have more to say when I  finish the book. In the meantime, I wanted to share this little bit as it touches directly on the relation between new media technologies and religion.

Indeed if our civilization as any equivalent to medieval cathedrals, it is special effects Hollywoood films. They are truly epic both in their scale and attention to detail. Assembled by thousands of highly skilled craftsmen over the course ofd years, each such movie is the ultimate display of collective crafstmenship that we have today. But if medieval masters left after themselves material wonders of stone and glass inspired by religious faith, today our craftsmen have only pixel sets to be projected on movie theater screens por played on computer monitors. They are immaterial cathedrals made of light; and appropriately, they often still have religious referents, both in the stories…and in the grandeur and trasnscendence of their virtual sets (p.201)

I’m never sure what to make about comments like this. For scholars of modern religion, they are like shark chum. What interests me most about the comment here is that it’s completely gratuitious. There’s no reason for Manovich to have played around with the metaphor. It has no part to play in the book’s larger argument. There it is, sitting in the text, tongue and cheek and semi-serious. I’m pretty sure that a Hollywood blockbuster is not like a medieval cathedral, but then again, maybe he’s onto something, and maybe the cathedral argument is part of a larger argument about new media and the possibility of preserving the aura of a distant object from the aggression of electronic touch. On this, see his mis-reading of Benjamin on pp.171-5. 

In looking for an image to attach to this post, I stumbled upon Avi Rosen’s website. I’m going to poke around there to see what there’s to see. In the meantime, for anyone interested in questions relating to cinema, religion, and transcendence from a Deleuzian philosophical perspective, I’d highly recommend Imaging Religion in Film: The Politics of Nostalgia, by Gail Hamner, my colleague and friend at SU.

About zjb

Zachary Braiterman is Professor of Religion in the Department of Religion at Syracuse University. His specialization is modern Jewish thought and philosophical aesthetics.
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