Remediation  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

In the context of mediation (Marxist theory and media studies), theorists of new media examine how emerging kinds of media, such as websites, blogs, wiki pages, and digital video, both delimit the ways people can use them, and provide new avenues for the production of social relations and meanings. Picking up from McLuhan, media theorists Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin , in their 1999 book Remediation: Understanding New Media, sought to describe how media forms interact with one another through remediation and the way that this media practice invokes the interrelated processes of immediacy and hypermediacy. The validation of the concept of ‘remediation’; “the representation of one medium in another” (p. 45), is a principal aim of the book, in order to illustrate how remediation has been an integral practice to both new and old media forms that continually inform one another. Immediacy attempts to make viewers feel as if ‘really’ there, through hypermediated practices, which splice together (hybridizing as McLuhan would say) different kinds of media, such as the combination of “live-action footage with computer compositing and two- and three-dimensional computer graphics” (p. 6) in order to create the appearance of a seamless moving image. These interrealated processes highlight, what Bolter and Grusin term, the “double logic of remediation” (p. 5) that pursues the proliferation of media whilst trying to erase all traces of human and/or technological mediation.

Bolter and Grusin contend that the process of remediation emphasizes that all media is, on one level, a poststructutalist ‘play of signs’ (p. 19). The recognition of these varying signs of influence differ across a spectrum, from ‘transparent’ remediations that clearly represent the previous media form, to aggressive forms that seek to disguise the role of their hypermediated practices in the name of providing the highest sense of immediacy. Bolter and Grusin broadly identify forms of remediation, across a spectrum, in the following five categorisations:

Transparent: Previous mediums are “highlighted and represented in digital form without apparent irony or critique. Examples include CD-ROM (or DVD) picture galleries (digitized paintings or photographs) and collections of literary texts” (p. 45). This form of remediation seeks transparency, endeavoring to erase itself, “so that the viewer stands in the same relationship to the content as she would if she were confronting the original medium” (p. 49).

Translucent: The new media is still justified in terms of the old and seeks to remain faithful to the older medium's character. This form of remediation seeks “to emphasize the difference rather than erase it” (P. 46). In translucent remediation “the new medium does not want to efface itself entirely” (p. 46). For instance, in regards to the CD-ROM encyclopedia Encarta, Microsoft is attempting to convey to the consumer that, “she has purchased not simply an Encyclopedia, but an electronic, and therefore improved, Encyclopedia” (p. 46).

Hypermediated: This form of remediation attempts to “refashion the older medium or media entirely, while still marking the presence of the older media and therefore maintaining a sense of multiplicity or hypermediacy” (p. 46). This can be seen in the use of simultaneous window frames, which are able to run different programs representative of different media. Hypermediated remediation is akin to “a mosaic in which we are simultaneously aware of the individual pieces and their new, in-appropriate setting” (p. 47).

Aggressive: The new medium attempts to “absorb the older medium entirely, so that the discontinuities between the two are minimized” (p. 47). Bolter and Grusin speak to the computer games Myst and Doom, which remediate cinema so that “players become characters in a cinematic narrative” (p. 47). Video games allow for an (limited) ability to determine narrative within a subjective realization through the capacity to “decide where to look—where to direct their graphically realized points of view” (p. 47). In regard to film, Bolter and Grusin, in part, understand this form of aggressive remediation as “an attempt to hold off the threat that digital media might pose for the traditional, linear film” (p. 48). This form of aggressive remediation seeks a different form of transparency, through attempting making any electronic interventions invisible. This concealment of its relationship to earlier media, “promises the user an unmediated experience” (p. 48).

Refashioning within a single medium: This occurs “when a film borrows from an earlier film” (p. 49). This process of borrowing is a fundamental aspect of film, painting and literature, where the play within a play or the poem within a poem or novel is a very familiar strategy.” Bolter and Grusin assert that this kind of remediation has been thought of highly by the respective critics as, “it does not violate the presumed sanctity of the medium” (49).

Bolter and Grusin apply their consideration of remediation on to the ontology of all media:

all mediation is remediation. We are not claiming this as an a priori truth, but rather arguing that at this extended historical moment, all current media function as remediators and that remediation offers us a means of interpreting the work of earlier media as well. Our culture conceives of each medium or constellation of media as it responds to, redeploys, competes with, and reforms other media. In the first instance, we may think of something like a historical progression, of newer media remediating older ones and in particular of digital media remediating their predecessors. But ours is a genealogy of affiliations, not a linear history, and in this genealogy, older media can also remediate newer ones. (p. 55)

This means that all media, from literature to new digital media, is unable to make a radical break away from what has come before. Media continues to “function in a constant dialectic with earlier media” (p. 50) forms, where both old and new are able to impact on one another regardless of which came first. For example, “users of older media such as film and television can seek to appropriate and refashion digital graphics, just as digital graphics artists can refashion film and television” (p. 48). However these appropriations within digital technologies of immediacy have often sought to deny mediation. Bolter and Grusin elaborate on the double logic of this form of remediation as an integral function of contemporary immediacy in media. Although Bolter and Grusin acknowledge that not “all of our culture's claims of remediation are equally compelling or that we could necessarily identify all of the strategies through which digital media remediate and are remediated by their predecessors” (p. 55) they outline various ways in which “the double logic of remediation can function explicitly or implicitly” (p. 55) can be restated in the following ways:

1) Remediation as the mediation of mediation: “Each act of mediation depends on other acts of mediation. Media are continually commenting on, reproducing, and replacing each other, and this process is integral to media” (p. 55). [Media needs other media in order to function as media at all.]
2) Remediation as the inseparability of mediation and reality: Bolter and Grusin assert that, “although Baudrillard's notion of simulation and simulacra might suggest otherwise, all mediations are themselves real. They are real as artifacts (but not as autonomous agents) in our mediated culture. Despite the fact that all media depend on other media in cycles of remediation, our culture still needs to acknowledge that all media remediate the real. Just as there is no getting rid of mediation, there is no getting rid of thethe real.
3) Remediation as reform: The goal of remediation is to refashion or rehabilitate other media. Furthermore, because all mediations are both real and mediations of the real, remediation can also be understood as a process of reforming reality as well.” (pp. 55-6)

Additionally, Bolter and Grusin also discuss a psychological dimension of “the desire for immediacy and the fascination with hypermediacy” (p. 62) that considers how individuals are subjugated through their engagement with media forms. For instance, “when we watch a film or a television broadcast, we understand ourselves as the changing point of view of the camera” (p. 62). Bolter and Grusin stipulate that the media type predisposes the form of subjectivisation that takes places and that all mediated participations offer, “a different mediation of the subject, and our experience is the remediation of these differences” (p. 62). A subject’s existence is understood as “the ability to occupy points of view … [and] can enter into immediate relationships with the various media or media forms that surround her” (p. 63). Considerations of the ways the ‘self’ is involved in processes of mediation and remediation enable an examination of the effect of the desire for immediacy within media. Bolter and Grusin assert that, “instead of trying to be in the presence of the objects of representation, the subject now defines immediacy as being in the presence of media” (p. 62).

On the cutting edge of what many are calling the new media revolution of form and content, or in other words of the mediation of experience, Bolter and Grusin provide an important insight into the interdependency of media and its integral role in understanding how “the remediation of reality has been built into our technologies of representation” (p. 62).




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