Bolter, J. D., and R. Grusin. Remediation: Understanding New Media. The MIT Press, 2000. Print.
As the title states, this text seeks to help readers understand “new media” by highlighting what is and isn’t new about it by using the theory of remediation. Bolter and Grusin placed new digital media, specifically visual media, within the contexts of older media such as photography, painting, television, etc. to demonstrate how by definition each medium is understood in relation to another.
“Digital visual media can best be understood through the ways in which they honor, rival, and revise linear-perspective painting, photography, film, television, and print. No medium today, and certainly no single media event, seems to do its cultural work in isolation from other media, any more than it works in isolation from other social and economic forces. What is new about new media comes from the particular ways in which they refashion older media and the ways in which older media refashion themselves to answer the challenges of new media.” (15)
Their central argument was that more aggressive practices of remediation, the representation of one medium in another, is a defining characteristic of the new digital media (45): “Unlike our other examples of hypermediacy, this form of aggressive remediation does create an apparently seamless space. It conceals its relationship to earlier media in the name of transparency; it promises the user an unmediated experience, whose paradigm again is virtual reality” (56).
The text is divided into three major sections: theory, illustrations, and implications for remediation and new media on American culture’s definition of self. The authors argued that new media, and technologies in general, must be understood in terms of their connection to other media, culture, and our social identities.
“The World Wide Web is not merely a software protocol and text and data files. It is also the sum of the uses to which this protocol is now being put: for marketing and advertising, scholarship, personal expression, and so on. These uses are as much a part of the technology as the software itself For this reason, we can say that media technologies are agents in our culture without falling into the trap of technological determinism. New digital media are not external agents that come to disrupt an unsuspecting culture. They emerge from within cultural contexts, and they refashion other media, which are embedded in the same or similar contexts.” (19)
Their discussion of remediation opens up space for more nuanced discussions of human and technological agency in new media:
“Computer programs may ultimately be human products, in the sense that they embody algorithms devised by human programmers, but once the program is written and loaded, the machine can operate without human intervention” (27).
Remediation as a theoretical framework is helpful in understanding this phenomenon because we can see how, in attempts to achieve transparency and immediacy, programmers intentionally seek to remove the traces of their presence in order to give these programs the greatest possible autonomy (27).
The authors defined two major concepts in remediation, immediacy and hypermediacy, and explained how the two are simultaneously in tension with one another and interdependent. In short, the two can be understood through the “window/s” metaphor:
“Where immediacy suggests a unified visual space, contemporary hypermediacy offers a heterogeneous space, in which representation is conceived of not as a window on to the world, but rather as ‘windowed’ itself-with windows that open on to other representations or other media” (34).
Examples of hypermediacy in modern art include collages and photo-montages.
Hypermedia and transparent media are opposite manifestations of the same desire: “the desire to get past the limits of representation and to achieve the real.” Not “real” in a metaphysical sense, but “real” based on the viewers experience; “it is that which would evoke an immediate (and therefore authentic) emotional response” (53). This appeal to authenticity of experience is what brings the logics of immediacy and hypermediacy together (71).
The authors argued that this desire for immediacy is neither new nor neutral. One of the most compelling examples of this desire is the image of a draftsman drawing a picture of a nude woman from Albrect Durer, Unterweysung der Messung, Nurenberg, 1538. Bolter and Grusin suggested the image shows the desire for immediacy in viewing the female body with a clinical gaze “to analyze and control, if not possess, its female object” (79). They argued, “The woodcut suggests the possibility that technologies of transparent immediacy based on linear perspective, such as perspective painting, photography, and film, or computer graphics and virtual reality, may all be enacting the so-called male gaze, excluding women from full participation as subjects and maintaining them as objects” (79). At the same time, this example shows how media can be used to deny female desire and subjectivity, the book also offers numerous examples of human bodies are mediated as well as how immediacy and hypermediacy are employed to express new identities and subjectivities in new media.
Ultimately, Bolter and Grusin contended that because all media are understood in relation to other media, the only thing brand new about new media are the unique ways that we employ them in particular contexts now, and this will continue to be the case with any other new media: “The true novelty would be a new medium that did not refer for its meaning to other meaning at all. For our culture, such mediation without remediation seems to be impossible” (271).