Bolter, Jay David & Grusin, Richard - Remediation: Understanding New Media

Notes - Garnet Hertz
Updated 22 April 2007

General Thoughts

"Remediation" is a text that is useful in its articulation of the concepts of immediacy and hypermediacy, the "twin logic of remediation." The concept of remediation itself is reminiscent of McLuhan: "'the "content' of any medium is always another medium. The content of writing is speech, just as the written word is the content of print, and print is the content of the telegraph." (Understanding Media, page 8, MIT 1994 edition).

Transparent immediacy is "new media" that thinks of itself as "interfaceless" (like VR) and immersive. On the other hand, hypermediacy is "opaque" and juxtaposed, and comes back into repeated contact with the interface. Both transparency/immediacy and opacity/hypermediacy attempt to get beyond representation and into the "real".

Bolter & Grusin see that over time transparent immediacy gives way to opaque hypermediacy. In other words, mediums are soon discovered to not be immersive and transparent, and the parallax between the real and the mediated starts to be explored and expanded, usually initially by artists. What was once thought of to be completely immersive and "real" eventually comes to be explored as an aesthetics of a particular media format.

Hypermediacy has a fascination with media and mediation. Examples, explained on page 34, include illuminated manuscripts, Rennaisance altarpieces, Baroque cabinets, Modernist collage, photomontage, wunderkammer, Dutch painting, and cathedrals.

It is worthwhile to note that Bolter & Grusin don't see immediacy and hypermediacy as static or chronological stages: on page 19 they state that media oscillate between immediacy/transparency and hypermediacy/opacity.

They view authenticity of experience as a key factor/goal in the development of new media.

As a critique of this text, the examples chosen are sometimes lacking - including the numerous examples from their down-the-hall colleague working in VR.

Bolter, Jay David and Richard Grusin. Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1998.


[viii] {remediation} It was in May 1996, in a meeting in his office with Sandra Beaudin that RG was reported to have coined the term remediation as a way to complicate the notion of "repurposing" that Beaudin was working with for her class project. But, as most origin stories go, it was not until well after the fact, when Beaudin reported the coinage to JB, who later reminded RG that he had coined the term, that the concept of "remediation" could be said to have emerged. Indeed, although the term remediation was coined in RG's office, neither of us really knew what it meant until we had worked out together the double logic of immediacy and hypermediacy.

[5] {remediation, change, media, mediation, new media, transition, dynamics} ...our culture's contradicting imperatives for immediacy and hypermediacy... a double logic of remediation. Our culture wants both to multiply its media and to erase all traces of mediation: ideally, it wants to erase its media in the very act of multiplying them.

[14-15] {new media, old media, change, media, transition, dynamics} We will argue that these new media [visual technologies: cg & www] are doing exactly what their predecessors have done: presenting themselves as refashioned and improved versions of other media. Digital visual media can best be understood through the ways in which they honor, rival, and revise linear-perspective painting, photography, film, television, and print. No medium today, and certainly no single media event, seems to do its cultural work in isolation from other social and economic forces. What is new about new media comes from the particular ways in which they refashion older media and the ways in which older media refashion themselves to answer the challenges of new media.

[19] {media, immediacy, authenticity, new media, hypermediacy, transition, dynamics, change} [media] oscillate between immediacy and hypermediacy, between transparency and opacity.

[19] {media, change, transition, dynamics, culture, cultural} New digital media are not external agents that come to disrupt an unsuspecting culture. They emerge from within cultural contexts, and they refashion other media, which are embedded in the same or similar contexts.

[21] {Foucault, genealogy, ?}

[21] {new media, transparency, opacity, reality, old media} What we wish to highlight from the past is what resonates with the twin preoccupations of contemporary media: the transparent presentation of the real and the enjoyment of the opacity of media themselves.

[24] {new media, virtual reality, VR, digital} Their view [Rheingold, Lanier, etc.] is that virtual reality (or digital technology in general) completes and overcomes the history of media.

[27] {programming, program, programmers, ?} Programmers seek to remove the traces of their presence in order to give the program the greatest possible autonomy. [I don't think this is an accurate generalization about programming practice.]

[27] {human agency being erased in photography and computer programming}

[28] {remediation, new media, old media, medium, change} In such cases [of photorealism] the computer is immitating not an external reality but rather another medium. (We argue later that this is all any new technology could do: define itself in relationship to earlier technologies of representation.)

[30-31] {immediacy, definition, remediation, change, new media, old media, McLuhan, Gunning, shock} Immediacy is our name for a family of beliefs and practices that express themselves differently at various times among various groups, and our quick survey cannot do justice to this variety. The common feature of all these forms is the belief in some necessary contact point between the medium and what it represents. For those who believe in the immediacy of photography, from Talbot to Bazin to Barthes, the contact point is the light that is reflected from the objects on to the film. This light establishes an immediate relationship between the photograph and the object. For theorists of linear-perspective painting and perhaps for some painters, the contact point is the mathematical relationship established between the supposed objects and their projection on the canvas. However, probably at no time or place has the logic of immediacy required that the viewer be completely fooled by the painting or photograph. Trompe l'oeil, which does completely fool the viewer for a moment, has always been an exceptional practice. The film theorist Tom Gunning (1995) has argued that what we are calling the logic of transparent immediacy worked in a subtle way for filmgoers of the earliest films. The audience members knew at one level that the film of a train was not really a train, and yet they marveled at the discrepancy between what they knew and what their eyes told them (114-133). On the other hand, the marveling could not have happened unless the logic of immediacy had had a hold on the viewers. There was a sense in which they believed in the reality of the image, and theorists since the Renaissance have underwritten that belief. This "naive" view of immediacy is the expression of a historical desire, and it is one necessary half of the double logic of remediation.

[33-34] {hypermediacy, definition, remediation, muliplicity} As a counterbalance hypermediacy is more complicated and various. In digital technology, as often in the earlier history of Western representation, hypermediacy expresses itself as multiplicity. If the logic of immediacy leads one either to erase or to render automatic the act of representation, the logic of hypermediacy acknowledges multiple acts of representation and makes them visible. Where immediacy suggests a unified visual space, contemporary hypermediacy offers a heterogeneous space, in which representation is conceived of not as a window on to the world, but rather as "windowed" itself—with windows that open on to other representations or other media. The logic of hypermediacy multiplies the signs of mediation and in this way tries to reproduce the rich sensorium of human experience.

[34] {immediacy, representation, modernism, remediation, hypermediacy} The logic of immediacy has perhaps been dominant in Western representation, at least from the Renaissance until the coming of modernism, while hypermediacy has often had to content itself with a secondary, if nonetheless important, status. Sometimes hypermediacy has adopted a playful or subversive attitude, both acknowledging and undercutting the desire for immediacy. At other times, the two logics have coexisted, even when the prevailing readings of art history have made it hard to appreciate their coexistence. At the end of the twentieth century, we are in a position to understand hypermediacy as immediacy's opposite number, an alter ego that has never been suppressed fully or for long periods of time.

[34] {hypermediacy, immediacy, media} In every manifestation, hypermediacy makes us aware of the medium or media and (in sometimes subtle and sometimes obvious ways) reminds us of our desire for immediacy.

[34] {hypermediacy, illuminated manuscripts, Rennaisance altarpieces, Baroque cabinets, Modernist collage, photomontage, wunderkammer, Dutch painting, cathedrals}

[37] {Crary, Crary 1990, diorama, phenakistoscope, stereoscope, dead media}

[41] {hypermediacy} In all its various forms, the logic of hypermediacy expresses the tension between regarding a visual space as mediated and as a "real" space that lies beyond mediation. Lanham (1993) calls this the tension between look at and looking through, and he sees it as a feature of twentieth-century art in general and now digital representation in particular.

[45] {remediation, media, change, transition} ...we call the representation of one medium in another remediation.

[45] {remediation, media, change, transition, predecessor, digital} [W]e call the representation of one medium in another remediation, and we will argue that remediation is a defining characteristic of the new digital media. What might seem at first to be an esoteric practice is so widespread that we can identify a spectrum of different ways in which digital media remediate their predecessors, a spectrum depending on the degree of perceived competition or rivalry between the new media and the old. (45)

[45] {repurposing, remediation, differing degrees of aggressiveness in remediation, change, mimicry, refashioning, expanding, absorbing, transparency} [They should have used the anthropological concept of skeuomorph here, perhaps.]

[54] {media, change, new media, old media, standards} Although transparent technologies try to improve on media by erasing them, they are still compelled to define themselves by the standards of the media they are trying to erase.

[55] {media, mediation, remediation, reform, reality} It would seem, then, that all mediation is remediation... No medium, it seems, can now function independently and establish its own separate and purified space of cultural meaning. [remediation as the mediation of mediation, remediation as the inseparability of mediation and reality, remediation as reform]

[60] {remediation, reform, repair, remederi, heal, lack} Each new medium is justified because it fills a lack or repairs a fault. [Latin "remederi": to heal or to restore to health.]

[65] {media, medium, definition, remediation} What is a medium? We offer this simple definition: a medium is that which remediates. It is that which appropriates the techniques, forms, and social significance of other media and attempts to rival or refashion them in the name of the real. A medium in our culture can never operate in isolation, because it must enter into relationships of respect and rivalry with other media.

[70] {epistemology, psychology, psychological, authentic, real}

[71] {authentic, authenticity, immediacy, hypermediacy} The appeal to authenticity of experience is what brings the logics of immediacy and hypermediacy together.

[71] {hypermediacy, immediacy, experience} The appeal of hypermediacy of experience is what brings the logics of immediacy and hypermediacy together.

[71] {immediacy, media, social, social group} What seems immediate to one group is highly mediated to another.

[73] {remediation, transparency, hypermediated, social, social construction, technical} What counts as transparent or as hypermediated depends on social construction, but the social construction of immediacy is not arbitrary or obvious to technical details... The social dimension of immediacy and hypermediacy is as important as their formal and technical dimensions... It is not helpful to seek to reduce any aspect of media to any other...

[73] {Benjamin, Benjamin 1937, Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproducibility}

[76] {technological determinism, technology, determinism, social, social change, capitalism, 20th century} Whenever it is made, the charge is now considered fatal: nothing good can come of technological determinism, because the claim that technology causes social change is regarded as justification for the excesses of technologically driven capitalism in the late twentieth century.

[76] {McLuhan, Williams, sense ratios, critique, social, social contexts, human nature} For Williams, McLuhan had isolated and abstracted media from their social contexts, as if media could work directly on some abstract definition of human nature. Williams (1975) objected that in McLuhan's work, "as in the whole formalist tradition, the media were never really seen as practices. All specific practice was subsumed by and arbitrarily assigned psychic function, and this had the effect of dissolving not only specific but general intentions... All media operations are in effect dissocialised; they are simply physical events in an abstracted sensorium, and are distinguishable only by their variable sense-ratios" (127).

[77] {technological determinism} [Bolter & Grusin attempt to avoid technological determinism by exploring communication technology as hybrids of materiality and socio-economics.]


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