[-empyre-] First Theme and Guests - the Thickness of the Screen

Pall Thayer palli at pallit.lhi.is
Thu Sep 3 11:18:43 EST 2009

I see where you're going but I still think there's a bit of re- 
inventing of terms going on here that makes your initial post quite  
problematic. Literature is not a medium. The medium of literature is  
print. Film is a medium but only if you're talking about the film that  
you wind up on spools. The wider class of "film" or "cinema" is a  
collection of various media. The screen is a medium but you can't pick  
out an "abstractable pattern of operation" because it only has one  
operation which is to produce colored dots and this is where these  
issues really begin to affect your argument. A single device is not  
necessarily a single medium. Take a film projector, for instance. If  
you attempt to "abstract patterns of operation" you're actually just  
picking out the various media that comprise the projector. The  
lightbulb is a medium, the film is a medium and the motor that pulls  
the film past the light is yet another medium. The way I see it, "the  
thickness of the screen" refers to the fact that its prominence in our  
experience of it tends to overshadow the various other media involved.  
In other words, because we have flashy baubles in front of our eyes  
and they're moving and changing so rapidly, we don't have time to  
think about the other media that's involved even though this other  
media might even further inform the work we're experiencing. Sometimes  
the artist will do something to highlight that which we would  
otherwise ignore. These don't necessarily involve unintentional  
errors. The opening of Bergman's "Persona" comes to mind with its  
intentional reminders of the media beyond the screen. He doesn't  
"abstract patterns of operation", he highlights various media. When we  
talk about abstracting media we mean, for instance, to disregard the  
fact that the patterns of colored dots on a television screen actually  
create a meaningful image or to disregard the fact that the lines and  
dots on a page in a book actually form meaningful symbols. Again, an  
example that comes to mind is The Cocteau Twins who's lyrics often  
only sounded like they might be words but were actually meaningless  
sounds. This worked to highlight the fact that the flexibility of the  
human voice can be a very powerful musical instrument regardless of  
whether it contains meaningful messages. The human voice becomes a  
different sort of medium than when it's delivering linguistically  
meaningful messages.

You'll have to excuse me but I don't agree with your term "media  
devices". It sounds like a confusion that confuses technological  
devices with media. Technological devices are not necessarily distinct  
media and media are not necessarily technological devices and I think  
this confusion effectively negates your suggestion that the "thickness  
of the screen" can only be experienced through malfunctions and errors.

Pall Thayer

On Sep 2, 2009, at 9:45 PM, José Carlos Silvestre wrote:

> On Wed, Sep 2, 2009 at 5:56 PM, Pall Thayer <palli at pallit.lhi.is>  
> wrote:
> This is an interesting introduction. It begs a lot of questions. To
> begin with, there's your distinct use of the terms "medium", on one
> hand, and "medium device" on the other. Your application of the terms
> would suggest that there exist media which are not devices. I would
> argue that every medium is a device.
> Oh, let me clarify this. By "medium" there I mean larger complexes  
> (such as "the medium of literature" or "the medium of film"), and by  
> "media devices" I mean specific technological objects (the  
> projector, the camera, the book)
> Next, I have to take issue with your definition of media as devices
> that "produce, store, transmit or provide access to content". Media is
> something in the middle that passes information on. In the case of
> art, we could say that media is used to transfer information from the
> mind of the creator to the that of the beholder. If we try to claim
> that media is capable of "producing" information then it's no longer
> in between things. We must then assume that the artist herself is a
> medium. If you really stretch things, such an argument could perhaps
> be made but that would seriously undermine the role of the artist as
> the initiator of her "message". Then we get into "god" territory.
> Well, whether you are painting, filming, or coding, you are using  
> tools to produce something; it was in this sense that I used the  
> word there, not as a replacement of human agency but as a co-agent  
> in the creative process (in which media devices are far from passive  
> tools). These devices are not in themselves transmitters - the "in- 
> between" sense of medium in Information Theory - but they are  
> usually grouped in these discussions under devices of media anyway.
> I prefer the materialistic perspective that substitutes "message"  
> for "abstractable pattern of operation," though, exactly for this  
> reason: "message" or "content" leads us too easily into dangerous  
> idealisms - the "god territory" in the end of the problem of origins  
> and so on...
> Finally, I would say that defining media as devices that store
> information ignores the primary function of media which is to transfer
> or transmit information. Something that only stores information
> without also delivering it can't be called media because it doesn't
> mediate. We could say that it "stores and transmits or transmits" but
> not that it "stores or transmits".
> Agreed; it can, however, be a media device in a larger complex of  
> devices. Information stored would have to be retrieved at some  
> point, though, anyway.
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