Thoughts on “Remediation”

In Remediation: Understanding New Media, Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin explore the concepts of remediation, immediacy, and hypermediacy. Their approach is genealogical (in the Foucauldian sense) and thus focuses not on origins, but on affiliations or resonances. Indeed, the authors’ case for what they term the “double logic” of remediation seems to borrow from Foucault’s deeply paradoxical argument in The History of Sexuality.

Just as Foucault seeks to reverse the “repressive hypothesis” of modern industrial societies in the 17th century by maintaining that age in fact saw a “multiplication of discourses” concerning sex, Bolter and Grusin exhaustively explore the “double logic” of remediation in which our culture “wants to erase its media in the very act of multiplying them” (Bolter and Grusin 5). The authors label this desire for erasure the “logic of immediacy,” which “dictates that the medium itself should disappear and leave us in the presence of the thing represented” (6). Yet, according to Bolter and Grusin, remediation consists of the dialectic between this sort of immediacy and hypermediacy in which the viewer is explicitly aware of the medium.

Remediation, as a defining characteristic of new media, compels us to reconsider our idea of new media as entirely “new.” On the contrary, new media—whether computer games, television, or the Internet—always refashion prior forms of media. Following the poststructuralist argument that each sign is dependent every other sign for its meaning, remediation is “dependent on another, indeed many other, acts of mediation” (56).

One possible flaw in this otherwise straightforward logic of remediation is the fact that Bolter and Grusin never satisfactorily address the disconnect between the poststructuralist denial of the “real” and a new medium’s claim to be “better in some way at achieving the real or the authentic” (66). This omission is at least partially explained by the authors’ consistent insistence on the fact that new media and technologies simply “conform to and carry out our cultural preferences” (218). Therefore, “to condemn new media is to condemn contemporary culture itself” (78). The authors likewise dismiss as “old fashioned” Bauldrillard’s claim that “television is a cultural device for covering up the absence of the real,” noting how such a claim is based on a Renaissance logic of transparency, whereas for our contemporary culture “the logic of hypermediacy is at least as compelling” (194).

It seems useless to disagree with or deny the fact that remediation, complete with its oscillations between immediacy and hypermediacy, is the dominant logic of contemporary culture. Yet I still found myself wanting more from Bolter and Grusin in the way of analysis and critique, an impulse they staunchly resisted throughout their text. T.S. Eliot wasn’t shy about saying the disjointed and difficult style of his poetry reflected the difficulty of modern society. Indeed, the palpable barrenness and disorientation of “The Waste Land” works to give an authentic representation of postwar society. In Eliot’s time, as in ours, the medium most certainly is the message. It is my hope that in the progression of this seminar on The Politics of Information, I will, among other things, have a better chance to explore more of the implications of our increasingly remediated society.

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