Mediation-Oriented Ontology “Avant la Lettre”?

One of the reasons I have been interested in the development of object-oriented ontology over the past several years is that I have been working on and off since the late 1990s on what might be characterized as a media-oriented or mediation-oriented ontology.  As early as 1996, in the essay “Remediation,” which Jay David Bolter and I published in Configurations, we wrote that “Media function as objects within the world–within systems of linguistic, cultural, social, and economic exchange” (349).

Later in the same part of the essay we further elaborated the ontology of mediation: “As we know from a visit to any traditional museum, the space between viewer and canvas is controlled, institutionalized, and policed as a special, real kind of space, which people walk around or wait before entering. In our own time the colonization of museum space has been extended to the space between a photographer or videographer and the object of her mediating technology. When a tourist is taking a photograph or making a video, for example, we treat the line of sight between the camera and the object as if it were a real obstruction: we walk around it, bend under it, or wait until it is gone. We make these gestures not only out of politeness, but also to acknowledge the reality of the act of mediation that we are witnessing. In this case, the act of mediation functions in a system of pedestrian traffic circulation like a tree, a wire, or a traffic light (which is also an act of mediation whose reality we acknowledge). Mediations are real not only because the objects produced (photos, videos, films, paintings, CD-ROMS, etc.) circulate in the real world, but also because the act of mediation itself functions as a [Latourian] hybrid and is treated much like a physical object” (349-50). Some of the rhetorical qualifications in this passage (as in much of Remediation) derive from the compromises of co-authorship.  In the years following our publication of Remedition my own characterization of the reality of mediation has been and continues to be more direct.

A somewhat more direct characterization can be found in my 2001 lecture entitled “Screen Space, Collage, and the Remediation of Modernism.”  The piece is obviously dated, but its argument that the development of digital media screens echoes Clement Greenberg’s account of the development of modernism still seems to have some merit, especially in light of the ways in which our new media have left the picture plane of the computer screen and moved into the world–whether in mobile devices, the proliferation of public screens, and even the internet of things.

I’ve never published the piece, but in looking back over it recently it occurred to me that I might post it here in case it would be of interest to anyone.  Rather than attempt to update the talk to take account of recent developments in philosophy, media theory, or media themselves, I thought I would simply post it as a pdf here in its 2001 form.

Screen Space

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About rgrusin

I am an Academic Entrepreneur and Professor of English at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
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