Immediacy Hypermediacy Remediation (Bolter & Grusin)

As to be expected, Remediation: Understanding New Media is predicated upon the theory that nothing is prior to mediation, while making the further claim, against new media enthusisasts like Vilem Flusser, that the denial of mediation actually constitutes a denial of the body in western concepts of the self. Bolter & Grusin argue consistently against new media enthusiasts, insisting over and over that there are, in fact, physical limits, even in cyberspace, and also against technological determinists, according to whom technolgies determine everything. What to me is most interesting is how, in their view, the relation between old media and new media is not oppositional or supecessionist, the old always giving way to the new. Instead, new media build upon and “remediate” old media, which in turn remediate new media. For anyone ever interested in using the term “hypermedia,” “hypermediated,” etc., this is as good as place as anywhere to go.

Bolter  & Grusin identify two drives in western culture surrounding mediation:

The first is the “desire” for immediacy, in which the interface or medium fade into an experiential background. This should sound familiar to scholars of religion, particularly of mysticism. In western art, we see what Norman Bryson identifies as the attempt in the Renaissance to look through the surface of the canvas as if through a window, or in contemporary art, where the canvas begins to disaapear. (Bryson is cited here by Bolter & Grusin). We see this a lot also in the film theory of Bazin and Cavell. It is “the notion that a medium could erase itself and leave the viewer in the presence of the objects represented, so that [one] could know the objects directly” (p.70). I suppose that this desire to achieve “transparency” finds itself expressed in Lacanian psychoanalysis, and in the hostility to the screen in avant gardist art theory and art practice.

The second drive is the “hypermediacy,” which refers to the multiplication of media on a single surface. These would include the combinbation of text and image in old art, medieval cathedrals, baroque cabinets, paintings by Vermeer, the modernism theorized by Clement Greenberg, with its attention to the surface of the canvas, and in the contemporary computer screen in which multiple windows open out on a single screen. Hypermediacy is described as “opacity –the fact that knowledge of the world comes to us through media. The viewer acknowledges that she is in the presence of a medium and learns through acts of mediation or indeed learns about mediation itself…[I]t is the insistence that the expericen of the medium itself an experience of the real” (pp.70-1).

“Remediation” would be the borrowing and repurposing of old media in new media and of new media in reformatted versions of old media. This is not an oppositional relation, the one between old media and new media, nor is it a transitional mode, but rather a permanent feature of the new media environment. Electonica are not set in opposition to painting, photography, or printing. The computer is a way to repurpose older formats. In other words, remediation is “the representation of one medium in another” (p.45; pp.44-50).

This is a theory of human subjectivity, in which “the remediated self” stands at the center. Identity and experience are understood as the remediation of the multiple differences and perspectives that define the human subject. “Our mediated selves” are “reformed versions of earlier mediated selves.” On one hand, “we experience ourselves as “immersed in an apparently seamless visual environment,” in which we enjoy “the freedom to alter our selves by altering our point of view and to empathize with others by occupying their point of view.” On the other hand, “the logic of hypermediacy…suggests a definition of self whose key quality is not so much ‘being immersed’ as ‘being interrelated or connected’” (p.232).

[Like Manovich’s The Language of New Media,  Bolter & Grusin’s Remediation came highly recommended to me by a new media savvy SU student. (Manovich also mentions them). I’m going to stay with them for a bit longer, and I imagine I’ll come back to them again. I’m learning a lot from new media theory. A little more Latour, though, and I think I’ll be getting out of this science-tech-newmedia loop for awhile.]

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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