[-empyre-] screens

Ian Bogost ian.bogost at lcc.gatech.edu
Sun Jul 8 09:00:45 EST 2012


Thanks for your reply.

On Jul 7, 2012, at 6:12 PM, Kriss Ravetto wrote:

> I am happy to talk specificity, but curious as to why it is limited to just the medium, why doesn't the automobile, the architecture or Rob's baguette matter?    Where does the medium start and end, just with the thing itself, its materiality, which can somehow be distinguished from its environment or its assemblage (the people that mine carbon, silicon, the cargo ships that transport raw material, the waste, etc.) the decision to invest in certain technologies over others….?

Normally I'd invoke OOO to respond, but that didn't go very well last time. Maybe I'll just say that the automobile and the sandwich are of great interest to me, as much as the computer and the CRT. But everything is not everything else. In any case, I'm not sure what you mean by "why is it limited to just the medium," so maybe you can clarify that.

> McLuhan's cool does not offer a very interesting message about what is active — fill in the blanks, connect the dots....  But here, you too are pointing to what is screened, on screen (transmitted as a form of reception and interaction), not just the fabric or glass on the surface. Plus, wouldn't you say this is a massive generalization about TV?  This notion of "cool" active viewing was not even new, though the medium of TV might have been — here lies the real problem of the cool which we can say is already a form of remediation in couple ways.  

I brought up McLuhan as an object lesson. Obviously he was "wrong" about TV in the long-run. But he was right about TV circa 1964. TV circa 1964 is different from TV circa 2012. Thus, it's not a generalization about TV for McLuhan in context, speaking about TV circa 1964 in 1964. Taking his conclusions as a given for all periods, that would surely be a generalization. Or differently put, taking "TV" to be a clear and stable and unchanging category that can be talked about all at once, that too would be a massive generalization. Thus my concern with media history and media specificity.

> I don't think it is fair to accuse media studies of not being specific, you can find plenty such thinking (yes with certain German media theorists, but also ,you  might want to look at Sean's work, Christine also mentioned Ann Freidberg.  There is always loved and hated, Lacan in his famous essay on Television who urged us not to take "the little screen for granted" but to consider the "medium of transmission" as also a structuring of address that does and does not take place on screen, transmission suggests transport which is neither here nor there.

Sean's work is an excellent example, I agree completely. Friedberg, much as I respect and enjoy her work, is doing something different, certainly in Window Shopping, but even in The Virtual Window. If you compare the latter to Kittler's Optical Media, you can see the difference quite clearly, with respect to the level of material specificity mustered in the service of metaphor for Friedberg, and for construction for Kittler. I'm being a little unfair here (Friedberg knows her history well), so take this with a grain of salt. In any case, my purpose is not to stamp different thinkers as good or bad… I'm responding mostly to the conversation here, which has made its interests clear.

>> I worry about media and cultural studies broader tendency (I'm speaking very generally rather than in response to this thread) to melt all materials down into tropes, figures, and cultural flows, rather than to let a thousand flowers bloom in our analyses. 
> I am also confused about what seems to be a contradiction here: on the one hand you are asking for specificity (which I would assume means less variables, more medium specific) but then you turn to Mao's metaphor, "let a thousand flowers bloom."  If you are happy to live and let grow, why not affect theory, agency, deleuzian fluids, flows, screen as a potential mirror, screen as possible skin, haptic, interactive etc? Not all of these forms of analysis need to be totalizing, generalizing or reductive.

I should have expected this response, I guess. I hear it a lot. Here's the thing: the abstract and symbolic type of analysis is so primary, so overwhelmingly dominant, that I don't think it needs any encouragement to bloom. Just look at the conversation were having now. Hey, what about the microprocessors, the ICs, what about the CRT, the electron beam, and so forth? Well, yes, ok, is the reply, but now you're just excluding affect, agency, etc. Hardly. I'm advocating for the stuff that theory seems content to overmine into murky abstraction, or to invoke only sufficiently to get back to the "real project" of high-level abstraction.


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