[-empyre-] July on empyre: Screens

Kriss Ravetto kravetto at ed.ac.uk
Fri Jul 6 01:33:49 EST 2012

Dear Brian, thanks for the comments:


It seems initially to be framed in a modernist way: it's about the screen as such, the medium hunted back to its essential characteristics. When one considers the bewildering quantity of referents for the word screen, that sounds like a good way to start! But the question is how to get something concrete, beyond the nice wrap-up of film and video theory.

 I am not really sure  about what you mean by "concrete" (especially given the six issues you wish to address)?  And I am curious as to why you are so dismissive of modernism?  I have no investments in modernism, but I am curious.  

Some of the issues raised by early 20th century theories of the moving image, whether we consider them modernist or not, are still present in contemporary screen theories.  This is not to say that everything has remained the same.  I attempted (I gather, poorly) to respond to Cavell's positing of the screen as a distancing effect and to address Simon's prompt about how our contemporary interactions are mediated through screen's.  I do think that the level of exposure (the amount of time we are on screen and being screened) has changed our relationship to the screen.  Our language, gestures, and daily routines have adapted to, as well as generated, new forms of screening. 

But I would be reticent to claim that the screen is "the most proteiform medium of our time" because I don't know how we distinguish 'our time'.   

I also really am interested in how this excessive screening (of 'real time', of the past, or the immediate past) has affected our ability to periodize.  When does "contemporary" start?  With instant replay? With an event? With technology? An assemblage of technologies....ideas..non-ideas? What are the criteria we use to make such distinctions? Even if we can claim the screen as something specific to our current cultural / social/ political experience does this mean that the we don't need to discuss the screen as an object/site of mediation, exchange or enframing? I am not sure this is what you are suggesting — somewhere between the multiple triangles and quest for precision, I got lost.

Early film theorists did not limit the screen to just the frame, or the surface:  they were already interested in some of the points you bring up below (the relation of the screen to consciousness, establishing a perception as a means of controlling or enframing, the notion of shock and sensorium, the screen as medium of communication).   But these connections — of screen to skin, screen to consciousness or unconscious desire — came with theoretical problems, ones that I tried to acknowledge, so as to not repeat in a naive way.   

Maybe we would need to place the screen at the center of a larger discourse on self-consciousness, the sensorium, representation, communication, interaction, and programming. A discourse on contemporary social relations, in short.  

Wow, a tall order for "short," I would be very happy to see how one can do this in a 'precise' way! 


Hi Ian, 

 Thanks for saying this, Brian. I had similar questions but you summarized well. What is it we are talking about when we talk about screens?

It is for this reason, I don't think we can consider classical thinker's obsolete, we can throw out the cathode-ray, but we have not overcome questions of materiality, realism, affect or spectatorship.  

Is there such a thing as "the screen"? What do we gain when we look at specific kinds of screens and understand screens separately

Not really sure what your point its here other than the fact that this technology has become obsolete, and there isn't much new about that (think film or typewriter), and I am sure there is a difference if you watch TV on your I phone, but you will still be able to watch reruns from 1950s TV on your I phone.  Okay the experience is different (film people are still upset about watching film on DVD or on youtube, but I am not so sure we want to revisit fetishizing the medium).  There are screens, they might be just a wall or a face or body parts or your computer screen, they are impermanent, mobile, they can be a piece of paper. Aren't we still talking about a relation? 

All best,
Just to throw one example out that I was just discussing with someone yesterday: the cathode-ray tube is nearing the end of new production. Innumerable CRTs will still exist for some time, but they will be impossible or very costly to produce new. The CRT may seem undesirable and outmoded, but it also has very specific properties that make its picture appear in a particular fashion—a manner that invisibly imbued several media, most obviously television, video games, and video art, for fifty years. Matters of preservation and experience of these works, from Electronic Superhighway to Dallas to Pac-Man, are bound up with the life and death of the CRT.

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