Religion New Media Remediation (Bolter & Grusin)


Religion appears in Remediation: The Language of new Media by Bolter & Grusin at a number of junctures. I’m not sure how to assess its strange place in the language of new media, but here are the implicit and explicit mentions I found:

–There’s an overt reference to medieval cathedrals as a hyper-medium, and again, we could add to this the Hebrew and Christian scriptures as hyper-mediated phenomena (p.34).

–There’s also the recognition that digital arts open up the possibility of creating all kinds of “fantastic” content (desolate moons, strange skies, insets cruising weird canyons) (p.135). One could include here the parting of the Red Sea in Cecil B. DeMille’s Ten Commandments, the mystical nightscapes in the digital photography of Neil Folberg,or the fantastic image work in almost any Zoharic text, which would be ready-made for remediation in all kinds of digital art formats. The fantastic, the imaginary, the supernatural all lend themselves to the digital arts.

–Against Benjamin Bolter & Grusin insist that mediation does not destroy aura in a work of art. Instead, “it refashions that aura in another media form” (p.75). Now either Bolter & Grusin do not understand Benjamin, or Benjamin, from his relatively early historical vantage point, did not understand the possibilities of aura in the age of new media. I’m willing to bet against Benjamin here.

–The “theology of cyberspace” is “no longer the story of God’s relation to us or of our relation to nature, but of our relation to information technologies” (p.181). Like any kind of claim of this sort, this one can be taken with a grain of salt. But why not? Bolter & Grusin argue against cyber-enthusiasts who “seem to replay the logic of transcendence at the heart of Christianity…the dream of transcending the physical world [Bolter & Grusin don’t think this is possible], fully alive, at will, to dwell in some Beyond –to be empowered or enlightened there, alone or with others, ad to return” (p.182) (The quote here is from Michael Benedikt’s 1991 Cyberspace: First Steps, published by MIT Press. Regarding cyber-theologyu, Bolter & Grusin declare themselves agnostic {p.182}, but they see its rhetoric at work in the social and material environments of new media.)

–Bolter & Grusin identify the “spiritual self” identified by William James with what they call “the networked self,” which “actively makes affiliations and associations” as it works through various media (p.233).

At the very least, we can say safely that religion is a slippery “thing” that has a funny way of showing up in places where you don’t necessarily expect to find it. This is a basic insight of the secular theology of philosophical thinkers working under the influence of Paul Tillich such as the late Charles Winquist and Mark C. Taylor.

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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