CCTP748: Week 10


Joshua Weaver

The main tenets of mediology lie "between an ideality and a materiality, a thought and a machine, a plan and a device." (Debray, Le Monde Diplomatique) Mediology not only lends credence to the interconnectedness of belief and institution, idea and consciousness, mediology accounts for technology's influence on these societal tenets that help constitute culture, as well as culture's influence on technology. Debray's mediology works to break down the philosophical binary that demarcates the socially implicated from the natural -- what's come about through humanity versus what's been here all along: "If man is the animal which has a history, then the nonbiological, artificial transmission of acquired features is another name for humane culture." (Debray, Le Monde Diplomatique) However, as minutely pointed out by Debray, the artificial is not always seen as so -- the "organic devices" (e.g., language and ritual) are as constructed as their technical equivalent: "The historicist illusion consists in attributing an 'origin' (Jesus, Marx, Buddha, Freud, etc.) to the later forms of belief." (Debray, Le Monde Diplomatique)

Inasmuch, Debray's mediology has a seemingly indelible connection to belief. Belief is essentially the oil that keeps the gears turning. Unlike mere communication, transmission necessitates an "organization of affect" (Papoulias 167) -- a thing, entity or group of entity both ostensibly accountable for and, conversely, reliant on the realm of transmission. Papoulias gives us Debray's example of "Angelology" - the mythical idea that angels work as the foremost liaison between person, people and the unattainable almighty. The brief explanation of "Angelology" ironically has an almost Shannon-Weaver construct, adhering to communicative linearity (e.g., humanity, angel, God, angel, humanity…). Debray's labels his "Angelology" a dying transmission, accusing our growing technological landscape of privileging "mimetic immediacy" rather than "symbolic mediation."

"Transmission then occupies a paradoxical space in Debray's mediology: it is at once an aspect of cultural life which alters according to the shifts in the technological prostheses through which cultural life is constituted, and the very mediation of a transcendent 'outside' that current communication technologies, in their investment in actuality, are striving to eclipse." (Papoulias 169)

…"a mediological revolution, stirring together concrete things and myths, crystalizes at the same time around an apparatus and a fetish." (31, Identity Card) (But it it really "new journalism"?)


To examine hermeneutically, one only need to look at the perpetual transmission of nationalism across various "medium", but especially television. Nationalism represents a belief system both institutionalized and transmitted. Its very survival depends on its incessant reiteration and citation -- constant transmission. The utility of national and societal institutions as intermediaries is also pivotal to nationalism's survival: "Powerful ideas need intermediaries." (Debray, Wired) Similar to religion, nationalism provides that illusion of "naturalness" that fortifies the constructed. The obscurity and banality with which nationalism is presented in today's hyperreal (hypermediated) realm creates goes beyond simulacra, appealing to an immediacy that poses as "unmediatedness". What's more, Debray highlights his "jogging effect" -- the idea that technology advancement does not necessarily cause paradigm-shifting, or equally predictable, consequentiality: "The technologies of transmission - writing systems, printing presses, and computers - do not necessarily drive change in a predictable direction." (Debray, Wired)

Thus, while in some instances, the techno-global transition of the world may help to elucidate the underlying "institutional embeddedness" of nationality as a mediated spectacle and as a historical construct, it may also help to bring it closer to a certain "mimetic immediacy", calling upon its appeal to naturalness even further. Similar to religion, nationalism's institutions are "transcendent" -- only through academic, technological and social inquiry to they come to light.

"People are not influenced by words alone. Messages transmit themselves as well by gestures, by figures and pictures, the whole panoply of the sign's 'archives.'" (P. 6, Identity Card) "It is no longer the homily from the pulpit but the narration of the news on screen and appear that presently provides for the translation of event into symbol and of peripeteia or mere incident into dramatic art." (25, I.C.)

As for medium and technology, Debray makes a contentious distinction between communication and transmission in "Transmitting Culture": "Journalists communicate; professors transmit. (The difference is that between news and knowledge.)" (Debray 6) In light of this, one may ask: "If transmission is so ubiquitous to our belief system, is it driven by a certain agency or is it self-perpetuating and self-regulation?" Journalists may only convey news, but they do so within a multifarious construct -- one that not merely perpetuates the belief system that is national, but one that assumes its transcendent, ceaseless presence (e.g., delivering the news within said belief system). Also, think about the openness of the Internet reinforcing hegemonic beliefs, while making others retreat from the Internet due to the seeming incompatibility of belief and technology. (Are mediaspheres all-inviting or do they leave certain people in the dust during transition?) (e.g., Irvine's Mediology and/of the Internet)

"Mediation does not reduce to media. Shelving a more philosophically informed mediology in the media studies section would be as sagacious as considering the study of the unconscious a part of the sciences of the occult." (Debray 8) "I would rather concentrate on how explicit symbolic systems are perpetuated: on religions, ideologies, doctrines, and artistic productions." (Debray 9) While Debray explicitly disclaims that he doesn't focus on the perpetuating structures of state and nationhood, I find it too congruous to religion to simply avoid. Take the spectacle that is the American presidential election. Although a viewer's vote is far removed from the action they see on screen, they're brought front and center by the spectacle:

Siyang Wu

As we have learned in 506, technology is nonlinear, political and unground. This sense makes Debray’s theory fascinating. His position in the interval of technology, culture, and sociology enabled him to break down the wall between culture and technology. I am seduced the idea that “the mediologists are interested in the effects of the cultural structuring of a technical innovation, or, in the opposite direction, in the technical bases of a social or cultural development.” Multiple factors work together to bring about the multidimensional changes. We could never talk about a creation from only one perspective.

Debray’s theory, in my understanding, construct a cycle of change. As it described ,“Mediation studies adopts as a heuristic principle that it is in fact the changes in the material conditions the first condition the technical aspects of the transmission of ideas. As a consequence of the changes in the force of intellectual production. The institutional conditions changes in turn. Finally, as a result of the material and the institutional changes the texts are canonized and performatively transformed into the apparent causes of the intellectual and social change of which they are the consequence. ”(Régis Debray and Mediation Studies, or How Does an Idea Become a Material Force? Frédéric Vandenberghe)

Transmission is such a process that transmit important culture to the future generation. In the long time span, the less valuable knowledge and tradition would be forgotten.

One day in Paris, when Paul Poriet met Coco Chanel who was in a simple and black dress on the street, He asked Chanel “who are you weeping for?” ironically. Paul Poriet was good at decorating women with velvet, and his design was complex and colorful. To his surprise, Chanel answered, “For you”.

As a legend in fashion field, Chanel viewed herself as the first who lived in a new era. Chanel’s success was based on her ability to grasp the essence of the era. She released the women from the elaborate dress design at the war time. The World War l which was judged as the starting point of modern society, had changed the world greatly. Capital economy’s recovery, culture’s flourish and technology’s development after war rendered the 1920s exciting and madding. In this era of ego inflation, the deepen of feminism and the increase of female employment, make Chanel’s simple design popular among Paris. In the opposite direction, it was her style preventing superficial decoration, and praised and valued individual libration and personality development. The role female plays in society and in history is growing more and more important. Chanel’s work meet the desire of women’s free will and open mind, and she also promoted such trend of the time.

I always value fashion as the most sensitive medium to reflective culture and technology. Moreover, what preserved in the fashion industry is what represent that age and should be transmitted to future generation, such as Chanel’s famous Little Black Dress and perfume No.5.Transmission is not only the transportation of information in space, it also include passing down information to the future generation through time.

I love movie, I think it is one of the best representation of the mediology, the intervene of culture and technology. As a new form of medium, it was invented in last century. No one can deny that it was a great technological revolution, however, the generation and development of movie were not initially encouraged by grown technology. They were spurred by the needs of citizens and the working class. It provided people an inexpensive and pleasant way to spend their time.

In the history of movie, at first it was utilized as a public promotion of a nation of a society. In literature and drama, entertainment and propaganda had been combined for a long time, but movie’s new function, made it lively and colorful and could disseminate information to more people. “Debray presents libraries as an excellent medium for transmission, Not only is a library a warehouse for memory incarnate, materialized within books, but it is also the matrix of a well-read community possessing its rituals.” (Jean Gagnon, “introduction to Mediology”) I think movie is even better, it store history, knowledge and information lively and colorful, and it also works as the exhibition of other medium. It is both of the creation and creator of technology and Mass culture. I think it is kind of mediological cycle, the origin is what arises at the end.

As it described by Debray, to my understanding what distinct human beings from animal is the different between transmission and communication. We not only exchange information, but try to preserve it, select the valuable ones and hand them down to the next generation. This process could not be realized without material base. Environment also put great influence on it.

Stephanie Stroud

Debray's description of cultural transmission was both enjoyable and thought provoking. With emphasis on visuals and descriptive language, Debray shines light upon a communication theory that exists without a hierarchy of mediums. Indeed, culture, religion and political ideas have been transmitted throughout time over an incredible variety of mediums - Mediums being active players in the ideas transmitted, but not the sum of the messages. I am immediately reminded of Queen Elizabeth I, widely known as the Virgin Queen. She captured the world's attention when she painted her face pale, donned a "halo" and performed a wedding ceremony at which she declared both her virginity and her marriage to the state of England. One should note that Elizabeth was neither a virgin nor was she ever a wife. Noting the people's adoration for the Virgin Mary, Elizabeth, seeking her people's faith and solidarity, transformed herself - physically and ideologically into a "holy virgin" and a "married woman". Her transformation into the Virgin Queen was arguably was the most formative move she could have made as a single female ruler in the 16th century.

As we are all aware, technology is not apolitical… or necessarily grand. Education and culture are irrevocably connected to mediums of transmission. Historically speaking, for example, the elite received a Christian education by reading the Bible in Latin, while commoners gazed upon elaborate sculptures and panels stained glass. Theoretically, the same "word of God" and/or "church" was transmitted. However, if anyone has visited a number of cathedrals, the contrast between artist tones of "doom and gloom", "glory to the almighty" and "Bible history 101" becomes starkly apparent.

Today's technologically advanced mediums are no more or less formative than hand scrawled Latin texts, elaborate sculptures and panels of stained glass, however, their implications for accessibility have significantly changed. To be honest, I am somewhat surprised by the overwhelming Internet dominance of North America and Europe, as depicted in the infographs in Irivine's document "Mediology and/of the Internet". What about tech savvy, industrious nations like Japan and China?? And if the Internet is only the Western World's sweetheart, what does mediology look like in Africa and Latin America today?

Ariel Leath

Though it is not much discussed as a technology, painting is a type of expression (or transmission) that has evolved throughout history, as it has been influenced by burgeoning technologies, social movements social pressures. The exact beginning of the use of oil paints is not easy to pinpoint, but its use in “plein air” painting is generally credited to the French Impressionists of the late 19th century. Because oil paints could (because of a novel technology, transportable paints in tubes) be moved from place to place, artists began to paint landscapes outside. What grew from this new locale was an entire style of art where the artists would try to minutely capture the sunlight by translating their impressions of the ever-changing landscape onto canvas via brush and paint. The visible brushstrokes and chunks of solid color created paintings that were less life-like but contained more elements of mood and emotion, which translated a sense of reality (to be on the side of the pro-Impressionists).

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Above is an incredibly brief but easily understood summary of plein air oil painting. What makes this type of painting important, what made it one of the major turning points in the history of painting, is its relation to the movements before and shortly after. The types of paintings that emerged when plein air became popular were rejected by the Academie (you’re either an artist or you’re not, and it only depended on acceptance by the Academie) which only spurred these young artists to further remove themselves from the guidelines set up by the institution. This type of rebellion transmitted through the artistic communities across Europe and the rest of the world.(See: The Secession, Vienna)

What started as a new form of an existing technology, the invention of a tube to transport oil paints, became a social and artistic movement that defined the 19th century. Reading about mediology reminded me of this movement because of how full the movement was – it enveloped the fields of culture, technology and communications without a moment’s hesitation.
“Transmitting means organizing; it thus stakes out territory. It consolidates a whole, draws borderlines, defends itself, and exiles others. The problem with territory is that it is always already there. From its preexistence arises the political effort necessary to dissolve the territorial ties of subjects who have come from elsewhere or from yesterday, before being reterritorialized differently, that is, given a new supraterritorial allegiance.” Pg 15, Transmitting Culture by Debray
This quote from Debray’s writing helps me understand the impact of the plein air movement. The beginning of something that seemed so pure and innocent sparked such a deliberately rebellious movement, all because the painters were trespassing, more or less. Though the style of painting was new, it came to be because of the technical history of the oil paint. Painting is no longer thought of as a style of media, but in the time before television and the internet, it was as much a form of transmission and communication as those have become. It polarized, excited, offended, and was as criticized as the Internet is today, only on a smaller scale and in a local setting. Debray, in his interview with Wired, speaks about the invention of printing in a similar way. Though the technology existed, it wasn’t until it was applied to a certain environment and in a particular fashion that the press was allowed to spur such an incredibly influential movement.
It is interesting to compare this to modern types of transmission. Twitter, for example. Though novel in its look and method, the idea of a quick statement that is available to the masses evolved from the previous social media institutions (Facebook, MySpace, etc). Mediology seems like the appropriate way to study these huge phenomenon, for they don’t stand much of a chance of being understood (the causes and effects, too) when boxed into the previous methods of study. The ability for technologies to build on themselves is not too complex, but when it comes to the surrounding story, another method for study had to be created.
“Technology builds not just from the combination of what exists already but from the constant capturing and harnessing of natural phenomena.” – Brian Arthur, The Nature of Technology

Suz S.

The idea of the transmission of messages over time instead of communication within space as Debray is concerned with, makes sense when he applies it to things like Christianity or Marxism, and it reminded me of our conversation last week on postmodernism, and how while it tries to break down our understanding of a linear “grand narrative” of time, even the leading thinkers in the field (Hassan) acknowledge that the future will help define this movement in time.

I think Debray would agree, and add that since the postmodernist movement is embedded in the “material delivery systems by which they are transmitted,” then the art world, the literary world, the critical theorists, museums and academics are the ones supporting what Debray calls the “mediosphere” that validate and situate the movement as a movement. They are the intermediaries that support the transmission of this idea—and in that way, I don’t see how someone down the line in some ambiguous future would be able to dis-embed themselves from within the institutions of transmission to assign a totally revelatory concept that will replace what we call “postmodernism,” because it’s always already there—the modes of communication and transmission are so sophisticated now that the record of history is self-aware with a strong desire to self-define. By naming the “thing,” we give it power and value, and through our institutions, we give it historicity.

I thought this clip was interesting in how dated it seems that news anchors (including Katie Couric) in 1994 didn’t know what the @ symbol meant and they couldn’t describe the internet. To think of a time before we “know” a medium that we’re immersed in seems strangely unsettling. But the television and news anchors are part of the institutions that will validate and shape our relationship with other media. “Indeed in order to bring off transmission across time, to perpetuate meaning, in my capacity as emitting Everyman I must both render messages material and convince others to form into a group. Only working on dual fronts to create what will be memorable by shaping those devoted to it can elaborate the milieu for transmission” (Debray, 10)

Erin Coleman

Debray’s proclaims in “What is Mediology?” that: “Our goal is to destroy the wall that separates technology, until now experienced in Western tradition as anticulture, and culture, experienced as antitechnology.” I must admit that this groundbreaking metatheory was utterly foreign to me until this course, but its objective is a worthy and interesting one. In fact, I found myself much more easily convinced of the relevance and utility of mediology than several of the other theories we have examined thus far. One of the first things that came into my mind (besides, of course, CCT itself) was the phenomenon of itunes’ podcasts, especially itunes university. Debray aptly warns against the confusion of the physical transfer of information and the transmission of knowledge in the modern era of the “videosphere.” Though clearly not a solution to this modern problem, itunes’ educational content offers an interesting alternative to the trend away from knowledge and towards ever-increasing information by combining the two in a new, socially and technologically relevant way. The driving force behind the development of itunes university and other educational podcasts is an attempt at enabling the transmission of culture and knowledge through technology, rather than the simple transfer of information: a very Debray-friendly goal. In fact, Apple itself, with its long history of killer apps and their transformative effect on our interaction with technology, would make an interesting case study for mediological analysis.

In searching for articles on the impact of itunes u, I came across this interesting one from the New Scientist that articulates a particular case study showing that students who listened to a podcast of a lecture rather than attending the “real thing” actually scored, on average, better on the resulting exam. I’m a bit skeptical of drawing any conclusions based on this one example, but the very fact that the study took place is testament to the rising impact of new forms of technology on the realm of education and the transmission of knowledge. Also, the title "Itunes University better than the real thing" recalls our discussion of simulacra and the hyperreal of Baudrillard:

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Perhaps my favorite part of the readings were Debray’s mediasphere charts. Though obviously artificially simplistic in their attempt to classify several millenia of human social history into three distinct historical stages, the charts nonetheless provided a useful overview of both mediology and the broad-reaching cultural themes from the pre-modern to contemporary era. The row that particularly caught my eye was Debray’s classification of the sacrosanct in each mediasphere: from dogma in the logosphere, to knowledge in the graphosphere, to information in the videosphere. The observation is relatively mundane, and yet that simple distinction was the most memorable takeaway of this week’s readings for me. Finally, I couldn’t help but notice that Debray’s three-tiered system closely mirrors the stages of “embodied interaction”--electrical, symbolic, textual, and graphical--outlined by Paul Dourish in his work on HCI (yes, that was a reference to the readings from 506 week six, for those of you keeping track).

Lily Hughes
I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here.

You mean to tell me that there is a relationship between culture and technology? That technology is affected by it's cultural consumption and consumption affected by new invention? Never.

I find the 'theory' of mediology somewhat dull. It frustrates me the same way the structuralism does, in that there is a great epiphany and then a big unanswered, so what? If we can use mediology to understand politics, economics, society... great, do that. Don't hypothesise about the different techniques mediology can use to explain, well, everything, and then call it a day. If your theory is method, which I argue all theory is, give us some methodology! I guess that 's what we're meant to do in this post..

Anyway, despite my frustration with Debray's writing, I like the idea of mediology, it has a kind of populist underbelly somewhat akin to audience studies, which I think is good for the academy. It's also a progressive theory, in that it's concern is always in flux so it has the ability of continually revealing the unknown. I think, however, contrary to some of the other theories we have discussed in class, mediology cannot be used as a definition of existence, in other words, it is 'only' a theory--there is no philosophical element. For this reason, to have meaning mediology must be put into practice. So with that, I offer the example of one of my favourite vids, a pop culture tribute to the music of Regina Spektor. Utter brilliance. There are different levels crossing different mediums of mediology going on here (I don't know if that's the right phraseology, but you get what I mean), consider the relationship between youtube, cinema, television, music, rota scoping, vidding, feminism, and fan culture.

Brittany Coombs

The biggest thing I took from the readings this week was the difference between “communication” and “transmission” as identified by Debray. I found the distinction between these two terms very natural and intuitive. While communication is “warm and fuzzy,” a one-to-one interaction across space only, as the condition of present time is assumed, transmission connects what is to what could be or what could have been. Transmission happens across space and time, which makes it weightier as a medium for transmitting tradition and culture and ideas that move the masses. While communication aims to shorten the time spent interacting with an idea and deals in days, seconds and minutes, transmission aims to lengthen the time spent interacting with an idea, and thus deals in years – perhaps centuries, or millennia. I found it interesting how Debray says that, by default, humans communicate, not transmit. I noticed how politicians always say they want to "communicate" a message -- not "transmit" it, for example.

It occurred to me that the Library of Congress is a prime example of Debray’s meaning of the word “transmission.” Papoulias says that Debray thought McLuhan’s famous “medium is the message” saying was inefficient because it misses how technology needs a human, social dimension in order to succeed in transmitting culture, e.g., institutions, groups, hierarchies and rules. The Library of Congress is interested in storing culture now so it can be enjoyed later, and what it stores depends upon a very specific selection process. A cultural item – like a film, for instance – has to be at least 10 years old before it’s even considered for storage. Clearly, the Library is interested in speaking diachronically, or through time; there is physical material that is stored, and there is politics in the selection process. These are the three qualities of transmission – not communication – that Debray outlines.

external image tarantella.jpgOne film that was recently inducted for preservation by the Library is Tarantella, a 1940 experimental film that's only five minutes long. What about a film like this, that even the historian for the Library said he had never heard of, makes it worthy for transmission as a cultural object? What makes anything worthy of transmission?

Also consider the fact that Tupac's song "Dear Mama" was chosen for preservation by the Library in the summer of last year. When reflecting on the song, Tupac's mom said, "It is a song that spoke not just to me, but to every mother that has been in that situation, and there have been millions of us." This speaks to the human element, the sentimentality, that is almost necessary for culturally materials to be transmitted and not just communicated.

Qres Ephraim

The Medium and The Message

I’m most interested in issues of power and reformatting in mediology. Debray’s Transmission Culture notes, “a labor of transmission can be broken into its two corporatist components; its constituent body of member or service staff and its material embodiment. We see the complexity of a process that summons the mythological talents of the artisan and the legislator, the machine maker and the lawgiver.”(11) I can refer specifically, to Aaron MacGruder’s The Boondocks, first a syndicated comic strip and later a subversive 30 minute anime style television program on Adult Swim. The comic strip, which ran from 1999 to 2006, offered biting commentary and satirized the experience of African-American living in the United States. His material was often highly criticized, solidifying itself as a “black sheep” of comics by enduring a week-long hiatus, due to “highly controversial material.”

The television show has, according to Napoloean (as told by Vandenberghe), “open[ed] the black box of the medium and analyse[d] the inner workings that almost magically ‘transform opinions into bayonets’. The content in the Adult Swim show is far more subversive than the comic strip was ever allowed to be; the content is stronger and the arguments far more biting.

Zachary Allard

Debray has, “failed to stir much Anglo-American enthusiasm.” This is a shame considering the inter-disciplinary nature of his concept of mediology. According to Papoulias, “Debray launches mediology as a cross-disciplinary analysis of the material supports – techniques, networks and forms of organization – that have constituted the coordinates of our cultural present.” This is all a bit Marxist, of course, and at first glance does not seem to be generative of a terribly new vocabulary to deal with problems( in the parlance of Rorty). However, in his interview with Wired, Debray articulated a middle-ground position I find potentially useful. He said, “By reducing medium to a channel-eye view, McLuhan overemphasizes the technology behind cultural change at the expense of the usage that the messages and codes make of that technology. Semioticians do the opposite - they glorify the code at the expense of what it is really used for in a specific milieu.” There’s several important implications to unpack in the statement.

First of all, he separates himself from the technological determinism of Mcluhan--which could easily slip into his work looking into the physical technologies (and systems) that carry the messages that change the world. However, he also separates himself from the Semioticians who (he claims...perhaps somewhat speciously) are interested in the message alone. While his accusations of semioticians might not entirely be on point, this does place mediology in a fertile ground. On some level, it becomes perfect for CCT. He envisions it as the middle ground that pays attentions to the technology carrying a message, the world around it, and the message itself. These ideas have powerful implications. Perhaps then, mediology could allow us to look at technology not as one dominating the other but as porous, interacting and shaping and shifting the other in countless ways.

In reality, the idea of “technology” and “culture” as separate categories is a fallacious assumption. Technology permeates life and culture and life and culture permeate technology. In no way are they separate except in textbooks. They are certainly not separate in reality.
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An easy example would be the atomic bomb. It was created by the government in response to a social demand (war). However, when it was actualized it began to determine many social elements: policy, treaties, and even the arts. Mediology could be used to examine these aspects of technology and culture as the whole they are.