When Henry Jenkins, a leading media studies figure in the United States and the author of Convergence culture: When old and new media collide, was invited to give the keynote speech at the first International Society for Intermedial Studies (ISIS) conference in Cluj, Romania in October 2013, he initially expressed his surprise. This was not false humility, however, since he genuinely did not understand how his individual work or his joint work with his former colleagues in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Comparative Media Studies Program could be of interest to the 250 intermedial experts on hand at the conference who represented such an extremely wide range of disciplines as literature, art history, cinema, music, video, theatre, communications, linguistics, history, dance, philosophy, media and anthropology. On the other hand, two days later, Jenkins recovered from his surprise because he had discovered that the connections with the researchers on hand in comparative media studies, media archeology and intermediality seemed to be even closer than in a family because they shared so many interests, concepts and research areas that it was almost impossible to classify them into distinct heuristic categories.
This incident, which occurred, it must be realized, during the inaugural conference of the first major international academic organization devoted exclusively to intermediality, is significant because it reflects what has now become an obvious fact: intermedial research is much more widespread and diversified than is generally thought, but it often appears under different names due to the dictates of disciplinary tradition, institutional constraints or editorial strategies. Let me give you a few examples: When Jay David Bolter and Robert Grusin's landmark essay, Remediation – Understanding New Media was published by MIT Press in 2000, their concept of remediation became one of the cornerstones of intermedial dynamics even though the word "intermediality" did not appear in any of the 295 pages of the book that became an immediate classic (Bolter and Grusin 2000). In fact, the same could be said of most of the major essays that have periodically been published to mark the evolution of intermedial thought since it first emerged in the 1980s – and I will now cite four of these. First, Carolyn Marvin's When old technologies were new (1988), in which she showed how, although the use of electricity became generalized in the late 19th century, electric media emerged and developed by cannibalizing other cultural practices or series. Second, Philip Auslander's Liveness: Performance in a mediatized culture (1999) challenged the very idea that liveness and mediatisation are ontological opposites, which implicitly shook up previous understanding of the concepts of reality and representation. Third, Jonathan Sterne's The audible past (2003) not only revolutionized sound research, it also generally extended intermedial thinking to embrace the entire universe of sounds and demonstrated the full complexity of mediation phenomena. Fourth and most recently, Alexander R. Galloway's The interface effect (2012) returned to the cardinal, intermediality-related question of mediation and device. In this context, it is therefore worth reiterating that whereas the terms "intermediality" or "intermedial" do not appear at all in any of these landmark essays just cited, that is what they are all about.
Intermedial thinking is also alive and well among Francophone academics, as evidenced by extensive research such as André Gaudreault's on early cinema, Philippe Marion's on media, Jean-Luc Déotte's on the apparatus concept, Jacques Rancière's on the medium and, more recently, on the spectator, and Daniel Sibony's on the in-between. All this work has made a considerable contribution to the development of intermedial theory, without actually calling it by that name.
While intermedial thinking was thus evolving simultaneously in various countries in Europe and North America, it was 25 years ago in Germany where the word intermediality first became established with the meaning it has since acquired. This happened in the mid-1980s when a group of German researchers (including Jürgen Müller), most of whom were arts and media studies specialists, coined the word Intermedialität to differentiate themselves from traditional approaches in communications and media studies which viewed media as discrete, stable and observable entities.
At that period [the 1980s], the isolating tendencies of media theories and histories and the rather banal fact that no medium could be considered as a "monad" have motivated me and also some other scholars to direct our attention towards the intricate and complex processes of media interactions or media encounters. The notion of intermediality was based on the assumption that there are no (?) pure media and that media would integrate structures, procedures, principles, concepts, questions of other media, which have been developed in the history of Western media and would play with these elements. (Schröter 2012, 15)
It was clearly not by chance that intermedial studies emerged in the wake of the digital revolution because the flexibility, power and invasiveness of the new technologies (also called "new media" due to the lack of terminological precision prevailing at the time) accelerated and revealed processes that had not been noticed before because they had previously appeared so immutable. Moreover, this transformation of reality corresponded to a change in our ways of thinking, as strikingly pointed out by Éric Méchoulan, one of the first Francophone theoreticians of intermediality.
Where classical thinking generally saw isolated objects that it then related to each other, contemporary thinking insists on the fact that the objects are primarily intertwined relationships and movements that are so slowed down, they appear motionless. (Translated from Méchoulan 2003, 11)
The intermedial approach thus highlighted processes that extend well beyond the digital domain. For example, interartiality pioneers Walter Moser and Claus Clüver argue that the complex, ongoing relationships that have connected artistic practices since the Renaissance are strikingly cogent models of remediation, and theatre and aesthetics specialist Peter Boenisch goes further by showing how intermedial processes resulted from the creation of the alphabet (Boenisch 2006, 107). More recently, media archaeology has revealed such striking similarities between the development of electrical technologies and the development of electric media like cinema, radio, telephone, the recording disc and digital-based technologies that a central hypothesis has emerged: the same phenomena are at work a hundred years apart.
So are we trying to say that the "digital revolution" is an amplified and accelerated remake of the "electrical revolution," which itself should be considered as an explosively unexpected expression of "intermedial" processes that are at least hundreds and perhaps thousands of years old? Not quite. While there have certainly been more active and turbulent periods in the evolution of these processes, the processes themselves are ongoing, and it is in fact in this sense that we should understand the Derridian-esque title of another key intermedial essay: Lisa Gitelman's Always already new (Gitelman 2006). While this book criticizes the abusive and deceptive use of the term "new media," its particular value lies in its demonstration that a medium is never either totally new or irreversibly old.
That, in a nutshell, is a summary review of the issues and circumstance that led to the emergence of intermediality, a phenomenon, which Jürgen Müller modestly described at the outset as "a relevant avenue of research" (translated from Müller 2007, 96) but which now simultaneously refers to: (1) an object – inter-media relations; (2) a dynamic – the dynamic that transforms media, produces them (or not), and is transformed in the process, and; (3) an approach that takes the form of models based on both this object and this dynamic.
While the approach of the first researchers who defined and dominated intermedial studies from the late 1980s to the mid-2000s (regardless of whether they identified themselves as "intermedialists" or not), was based on two foundations – the presumably factual existence of things called "media" and the second more abstract but central concept of the in-between, the latest intermedial thinking now calls into question both these foundations that accompanied the emergence of intermedial thinking. At the same time, this questioning does not so much undermine intermedial thinking as it reflects its vigour and conscientiousness.
We can thus differentiate two historical periods in the still very young history of intermediality: the mediatic period when the existence of clearly identified media is not discussed, and the post-mediatic period conversely characterized by the questioning of such discrete entities. The transition from the former period to the latter occurred during the second half of the first decade of the 21st century.
While recognizing with Müller and Méchoulan that the media are intertwined relationships rather than objects, the first intermedialists did not challenge either Marshall McLuhan's (1964) heritage or communication theory in general – and it is this failure that is specifically criticized by Alexander Galloway, a leading figure in post-mediatic intermediality.
Recall the famous pronouncement from Friedrich Kittler that all technical media either store things, transmit things or process things.[…] At the risk of sounding too juvenile, I will observe that this definition of media is particularly mediacentric! (Galloway 2012, 13)
The primary significance of this allusion to technical media (Elleström 2010, 16) is that it underscores the first intermedialists' obsession with the material character of mediation processes as well as the tremendous importance they attribute to devices or apparatuses in their interpretation of media dynamics. So, let's just pause for a moment on Galloway's comment about "mediacentrism."
We first have to consider that, while nascent intermedial theory upsets our previous understanding of media phenomena, it is also based on the simple idea that media not only exist but also exist prior to the relations that transform them. Thanks to its focus on these relations, intermediality initially took the form of an in-between role – as both identified by Éric Méchoulan, one of the first Francophone intermedialists who included it within the same logical framework as the other "inters" (intertextuality, interdiscursivity and interdisciplinarity) (Méchoulan 2010, 35) and theorized by French philosopher Daniel Sibony in his Entre-deux, l'origine du partage (1991). For Sibony, the in-between is a transcendent extension of the post-structuralist theory of difference: "While our experience and ideas have so far been influenced by the concept of difference, the history and highly tumultuous events of our times force us to no longer make do with accepting difference as one of our bearings" (translated from Sibony 1991, 9). While Sibony feels that the idea of difference is necessarily true and correct, it is a limited concept of minimal relevance, and that is why it needs to be expanded to include the in-between as an "effective operator" that addresses the complexity of the phenomena at play in the in-between – phenomena that Sibony describes as "struggles," due to the fact that the in-between is a space of tension and division.
Perhaps the struggles that take place in the in-between are relatively rich movements whereby an identity attempts to stick itself back together again and integrate with itself (in the belief that it is integrating with others), and operate like a Harlequin's costume in the circus of the world […] However, the epitome of the power and strength of the in-between is not the way it sticks an identity back together, but rather its enormous profusion as a seminal figure that presumes or implies something other than the same thing over and over again in a static in-between. (Translated from Sibony 1991, 15)
During its initial period, intermedial thinking focused on the many iterations of the in-between without questioning either its logic or components. In fact, the morphology of the term intermediality contains this idea of the in-between twice because the "inter-" prefix in the word is effectually duplicated by the radical "medium" in the main part of the word. However, as Jacques Rancière reminds us, the Latin word "medium" means both "middle" in the sense of "centre" and "milieu" in the sense of a confined space between other spaces (e.g. living milieu and work milieu) (Rancière 2008b). Rancière also highlighted the relationship of anteriority – the "previous relationships" that this principle of "in-between" establishes. In other words, for there to be a "between," there already needs to be two entities that the observer places in a relationship of space, time and logic – in short, a framework or system within which this "between" plays its "in-between" role.
Since this idea of anteriority clearly refers back to Sibony's (1991, 14-15) "original figure" concept, it was not by chance that the first major modeling of intermedial phenomena specifically focused on the origin of media – in other words, on the issue of their origins. Based on Marshall McLuhan's (1964) famous dictum that "the content of any medium is always another medium," the remediation mechanism highlighted by Bolter and Grusin plays a central role in the intermedial logic of the mediatic period since individual media derive from this mechanism – "a medium [is] what remediates" (Bolter and Grusin 2000, 65).
[It] appropriates the techniques, forms and social significance of other media and attempts to rival or refashion them in the name of the real. A medium in our culture can never operate in isolation, because it must enter into relationships of respect and rivalry with other media. (Bolter and Grusin 2000, 65)
Bolter and Grusin thus confirmed the critical posture adopted by Müller and the first German intermedialists concerning the monadic conception of media. However, the ongoing interactions between media, in fact, render their borders/boundaries so porous that this raises, at least in principle, the question of the integrity and identity as discrete entities. "A new medium is never an addition to an old one, nor does it leave the old one in peace. It never ceases to oppress the older media until it finds new shapes and positions for them" (McLuhan 1964, 158). This takes us back to Lisa Gitelman's (2006) "always already new" catchphrase. Although an initial breach had thus been made in the general theory of the media, the reference that Bolter and Grusin make to "reality" indicates that their conception of media ultimately remains quite classical, given that their model postulates that a medium operates between reality and its representation – between transmitter and receiver, and that intermediality operates between such media. Bolter and Grusin are definitely apostles of the in-between concept of media.
Thus while it can be understood in this perspective that Bolster and Grusin (2000) articulated their complex mechanisms of transparency/opacity and immediacy/hypermediacy, it should also be understood that, once removed from the in-between order or placed in a context without an in-between, these remediating logic mechanisms become useless and even almost inoperative.
Furthermore, it was not by chance that the first fundamental criticisms of the remediating model appeared in theatrical studies, which in the late 20th century and the early years of the 21st called into question the concepts of both "presence" and "representation." However, in this paper, I will not go into detail on the ontological shift from theatricality to performativity – from representational to presentational, nor on the dispute over live and mediatized that peaked with the famous "Phelan-Auslander Debate," nor on the changed status of the spectator, which, according to Jacques Rancière (2008a), was due to the transition from representational to experiential. We acknowledge that all these questions, which motivated the theoreticians of the time, very much concerned the nodal principle of the in-between in one way or another and explain the very delayed penetration of the intermedial approach into a practice that should, on the contrary due to its composite nature, have welcomed it. At the same time, although the associated concepts of transparency and immediacy also developed by Bolter and Grusin (2000) very much relate to the in-between, the concept of hypermediacy belong to another kind of intermedial logic – and that is why theatre specialists found it so interesting.
"In digital technology, as often in the earlier history of Western representation, hypermediacy expresses itself as multiplicity" state Bolter and Grusin (2000, 33), thus characterizing this aspect of hypermedial logic:
[C]ontemporary 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. The logic of hypermediacy multiplies the signs of mediation and in this way tries to reproduce the rich sensorium of human experience (Bolter and Grusin 2000, 34).
From this idea of hypermediacy, theatre and media specialist Chiel Kattenbelt then derived the more general concept of hypermediality to characterize theatrical practice and distinguish it from other artistic and mediatic practices.
[F]ilm, television and digital video are technology-based media that can record and play back everything that is visible and audible, within their specific ranges of sensitivity, but they cannot incorporate other media without transforming them under the conditions of the specificity of their own mediality. At the very most, media can remediate (Bolter and Grusin 1999) other media, which implies in the end a refashioning. Clearly, theatre is not a medium in the way that film, television and digital video are media. However, although theatre cannot record in the same way as the other media, just as it can incorporate the other arts, so it can incorporate all media into its performance space. It is in this capacity that I regard theatre as a hypermedium (Kattenbelt 2006, 37).
It is therefore necessary to take the term hypermedium to refer literally to an inclusive medium – the "medium of the media" or "home to all" – "the centre and meeting-place where the respective art forms of theatre, opera and dance meet, interact and integrate with the media of cinema, television, video and the new technologies" (Kattenbelt 2006, 24). This inclusive character is reflected in the special treatment theatre gives to the technologies, other media objects and other media that enter into its creative or representational processes.
The concept of theatrical hypermediality, which goes well beyond that of hypermediacy as propounded by Bolter and Grusin (2000), seems to be particularly appealing insofar as it not only does not raise the question of representation but also, bearing in mind the "window" metaphor evoked above, the concept of hypermediality does not make it necessary to choose between looking at and looking through. Even better, it even accommodates both actions simultaneously, which perfectly suits contemporary theatrical practices! This is because hypermediality covers the new theatrical "event" approach based on the performativity of all concerned (actors, artists and spectators), the concomitant primacy of the experiential over the representational in sharing the sensory, and, as Jacques Rancière (2008a) suggests, the new theories of reception (focused on affect and emotion such as the "feeling theory") (Hurley 2011).
Thus, although the main impact of the concept of hypermediality on intermedial thinking in the mediatic era has been to reveal new models of interaction between the media, Kattenbelt (2006), in his exploration of the "non-remediating" systems of intermediatic relations, did not radically overturn the mediatic doctrine since his approach was still based on the existence and integrity of media as such.
In the same year – 2006 – during which Kattenbelt (2006) developed the concept of hypermediality, Henry Jenkins (2006) attacked one of the cornerstone ideas of media genealogy that underpin the very concept of remediation: mediatic convergence. Although this idea of convergence was not new, and an initial well-known expression of it had been noticed in Wagner's Gesamtkunstwerk, it truly and durably became established when electric media were gradually being adopted during the first third of the 20th century. The arrival of talking movies is one of the most famous and most memorable illustrations of this convergence since they magnificently incarnated convergence "on behalf of what is real" (Bolter and Grusin 2000, 65). In fact, talking movies marked the reunification of sound and image reproduction technologies, which had been developed separately until then. This convergence, which would lead to "transparency" in the sense meant by Bolter and Grusin, is the logical product of technological "progress" since, according to Darwinian logic, technology should, after transitioning through a succession of successes and failures, inevitably culminate in the creation of an absolute medium – a "supermedium" capable of performing every mediation imaginable.
Sooner or later, [notes Jenkins] the argument goes, all media content is going to flow through a single black box into our living rooms (or, in the mobile scenario, through black boxes we carry around with us everywhere we go). (Jenkins 2008, 14)
Unlike Kattenbelt's (2006) inclusive hypermedium, the supermedium, born from convergence, would be integrative. The industry's successive slogans – "fidelity," "high fidelity," "stereophony," "high-definition," "3D," and so on – would, if true, mark the successive steps towards a certain triumph. At the same time, there have been a few skeptics. For instance, as early as 2003, Jonathan Sterne (2003) had already expressed a few doubts: fidelity and high fidelity, ok, but true to what? Henry Jenkins (2006) was even more radical. For him, the industry's claims, which were echoed by media theoreticians starting with Marshall McLuhan (1964) himself, are illusory because they are based on the idea of a mediatic teleology which is very questionable and because they do not take into account the users, their needs, their habits, and their expectations. One of Jenkins' great merits is that he reminded us of the central role of the user, and more generally, of the environment – the sociomedialities - from which media emerge and in which they act as they evolve. In what proved to be a devastating criticism of technocentric discourse, Jenkins transformed the traditional concept of convergence – spontaneously understood as "technological" convergence – into a global concept: "cultural convergence."
Part of what makes the black box concept a fallacy is that it reduces media change to technological change and strips aside the cultural levels we are considering […]. (Jenkins 2008, 15)
Jenkins' arguments focus less on the successes and inadequacies of technology as on the impact it has on user behaviour. Far from representing a progression towards an inevitable outcome, convergence is a constantly renewable process – "Keep this in mind: convergence refers to a process, not an endpoint" (Jenkins 2008, 16). And if the agency role of the user is taken into account, "cultural convergence" clearly creates the opposite of technological convergence, i.e. divergence. While the entertainment hardware industry cherishes the dream of an absolute medium – the Black Box -, consumers, for their part, have other aspirations. They do not want a "one-size-fits-all" relationship to media content. "Consumers want the media they want, where they want it, when they want it, and in the format they want" (Jenkins 2006).
From these desires stems the current multiplication of media platforms or what Jenkins calls "delivering technologies." After the breach inflicted on the remediating model by Kattenbelt (2006), we are now witnessing in this case a breach in the very concept of the medium, whose central element for the first intermedialists – the device or apparatus – will be detached from the medium and even made independent of it and subject to the vicissitudes of circumstances. "[H]istory teaches us that old media never die – and they don't even necessarily fade away. What dies are simply the tools we use to access media content – the 8-Track, the Beta tape" (Jenkins 2008, 13). "Recorded sound," Jenkins adds, "is the medium. CDs, MP3 files, and 8-track cassettes are delivery technologies" (Jenkins 2008, 13).
Over and above this major epistemic rupture, what we need to realize is the shift in focus from the device towards the user. The "Black Box Fallacy" argument offers a new vision, based on a new global participatory culture – what Rancière calls the "experiential" or what Érika Fischer-Lichte calls the "performative thrust" – the very same vision whereby in theatrical studies the spectator is considered as a co-creator of the event rather than a passive observer-receiver.
This convergence-divergence dynamic also explains the growing importance of another form of intermedial relations: transmediality. In the third chapter of his book devoted to The Matrix phenomenon, Jenkins (2008) shows how the entertainment industry, while continuing to celebrate the impending arrival of the absolute medium, reacted to the logic of divergence by creating "transmedial" media content – in other words media content that can be adapted to the various media technologies available in the marketplace, which, in the case of The Matrix, consisted of three feature films, a 90-minute TV series, animated films, video games, many comic strips and so on.
The iterations of transmediality are infinite in number – ranging from the simple distribution of presumably uniform content via various "delivering technologies" to the creation of a fragmented collective intelligence, part of which would be supported by one or other of the technologies involved. All very important issues indeed. Following on from Jenkins (2006), Mark J. P. Wolf analyzed the effects and profound significance of transmediality in his essay Building imaginary worlds: The theory and history of subcreation :
Transmediality implies a kind of independence of its object: the more media windows we experience a world through, the less reliant that world is on the peculiarities of any one medium for its existence. Thus, transmediality also suggests the potential for the continuance of a world in multiple instances and registers; and the more we see and hear of a transmedial world, the greater is the illusion of ontological weight that it has, and experiencing the world becomes more like the mediated experience of the Primary World. (Wolf 2012, 247)
Jenkins (2006), did not (any more than Kattenbelt) fundamentally call into question the existence of media but rather challenged the differentiation made between media and "delivering technologies" – something that was also suggested by Lars Elleström with his distinctions between technical medium, basic medium and qualified medium essentially destroying the very concept of a medium, whereas the concept of transmediality challenges the position – and necessity – of reality in mediation.
Bolter and Grusin's (2000) essay laid the foundations of what Jens Schröter (2012) calls "transformational intermediality." Rapidly confronted with the limitations of this remediating model, Kattenbelt (2006) developed the concept of hypermediality, while Jenkins went even further by criticizing this model's ideological foundations (technological convergence and the concept of progress) and showing, on the contrary, that the trend was actually towards technological divergence as reflected in the pronounced effect of the multiplication of transmediality phenomena that call into question, over and above the very existence of the media, the role reality plays in mediation.
However, far from reflecting a slow erosion of intermedial thinking, these challenges, on the contrary, reflect its progress by marking out its laborious emancipation from the inadequate models and theories that initially produced it. Intermediality is not the offspring of intertextuality – it is not another way of saying interdisciplinarity; rather, as an approach, it constitutes a real paradigmatic and epistemic break.
It is important to remember that the issue is not the opposition between reality and representation (as in Kattenbelt 2006) or between producers and users (as in Jenkins) or between the transmedial world and the "Primary World" (as in Wolf 2012) or between live and mediatized (as in Auslander 1999). This is because the progressive elimination of the system of binary opposites ended up eliminating the in-between or, at least, the "two" prior entities that supposedly circumscribe this "between" and from which they originate. The between remains – and there is only that, and intermediality deals only with it.
In such a context, it becomes clear that the concept of the medium, even when it is stretched, split or porous, is not only no longer operative, it is also no longer useful. This powerful conclusion, which lies at the heart of André Gaudreault and Philippe Marion's (2013) latest book La Fin du cinéma? Un média en crise à l'ère du numérique, also lies at the heart of Alexander R. Galloway's (2012) The interface effect. Like these two essays, post-mediatic intermediality as an approach focuses on mediating phenomena and also studies their iterations as well as the circumstances and factors that produce them. In the final analysis, post-mediatic intermediality focuses on a nexus of mediating circumstances and factors that we can call "mediating conjunctures."
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