Responding to Mitchell and Hansen’s Introduction

In their discussion of “media” and “media studies,” Mitchell and Hansen, perhaps in harmony with the “triangulation” approach of the text and its organization, attempt to avoid singular (or even binary) understandings of what is “media,” what “media studies” might include, and what me might do in performing “media studies.” Therefore, in distilling what they might mean by one of these terms, there seems to be significant cross-over into how we might understand the other(s). Similar to one understanding of media, we might view this in the same way that the authors view critical analysis of Schwarzenegger’s election as Governor of California in 2003 or the relationship of the printing press and the French Revolution: “rather than propose a language of cause and effect, we propose a language of necessary (but not sufficient) conditions, a vocabulary of catalytic effects and conflicted situations rather than determining forces” (xvi). This triangulation is also evident in their collective destabilization of Kittler’s concept of media as causal (in the sentence “Media determine our situation” [emphasis added]) and their focus on the middle/mediative interpretation of McLuhan’s media as the “extension of man” as being both prosthesis and amputation.

I first, then, turn to “media studies”–not necessarily because that is where I must begin, as this triangulation approach would seem to reject that notion, but it serves as one entrance into the ecology of the term. To Mitchell and Hansen, media studies is a multivalent effort. They take great pains to be inclusive in what is media studies, providing a list of objects of study and approaches that span disciplines and interdisciplines (vii-viii). After this lengthy enumeration, they concluded with “we are, it seems, all practitioners of media studies, whether we recogonize it or not” (viii). As meaningless as this statement might be in terms of concretely defining the term, it does seem in line with my interest in media studies (disciplinarily a creative writer who is interested in games and multimodality, and sometimes writes about books, films, television, said games, and combinations of those artifacts), as well as the varied interests of my fellow classmates.

This transdiscplinary makeup of media studies is again reflected in the authors’s structuring of the text: aesthetics, society, and technology–categories which might easily be seen as non-exclusive, porous, and overlapping. Can we/should we talk about technology without an understanding of its relationship to society and/or aesthetics?

One way the authors are particularly effective in discussing the multi-/inter-/trans-disciplinary and non-causal/-binary approach to media studies is through the notion of “understanding from the perspective of media” [emphasis original] (xi). While this bit of translation of perspective might be problematized by the imposition of ideology, identity, or anything else on media, it therefore also calls into question those very same notions: media are not sterile containers, but exist in a complex system of exchanges of ethics, ideas, power, genders, and exist non passively, but with perspectives that can shape and be shaped. In this light, I find the authors notion of mediarology, a simulatory metaphor, based on meteorology, for an approach to understanding the “dynamic interactive… pressure systems and storm fronts that crisscross the man-made world of symbols we have created” (xiv).

What, then, can we understand about “media” from their definitions of “media studies”?

The interrogation of the noun as singular and plural singular follows the “mediative” approach of between cause and effect, between prosthesis and amputation. This middle ground, wherein media can be considered as discrete or as part of a continuum of other media, reflects the complexity of the “mediarlogical” system described above. Media can be both, dynamic; media is/are both effected and affected, effective and affective. Media are objects, too, though, as we see from approaches such as media archaeology. They are mediative, in that they occupy middle ground and serve as exchange points.

Finally, media, for Mitchell and Hansen, seem to be both phenomenological and ontological. They write, “media form the infrastructural basis, the quasi-transcendental condition, for experience and understanding” and that “media broker the giving of space and time within which concrete experience becomes possible” (xvii). We experience and understand ourselves and the world through the media we create and experience and consume and value, at least when thinking of media studies through a humanistic lens.

1 thought on “Responding to Mitchell and Hansen’s Introduction

  1. anne

    Thanks for the thought you’ve put into this writing, Jay. I can see how carefully you’ve structured this writing, and how you are addressing the biggest questions Mitchell and Hansen raise.

    There’s lots to which I could respond here, but what most intrigues me is how you notice that, for Mitchell and Hansen, media are both, at the same time, phenomenological and ontological. I have my own ideas about what that might imply, but I’d sure like to see you develop that idea more.


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