external image tyger-wm-blake.jpgI got familiar with mediology during the Introduction to Communication, Culture and Technology class last semester, when I did one of the mini-papers on the effects of different media on fan culture. Mediology fascinates me as a concept and I particularly like the concept of refiguring our conversation about communication into ideas of transmission, of a materialization of ideas that transport great periods of time instead of distances. I wouldn't go so far as to call it a "rhetorical hand grenade" the way we talk about McLulan and others, but Debray's ideas about how the evolution of media changes how we transmit the messages means a lot more and is a lot more useful than just stating "the medium is the message" and walking away. It doesn't dismiss the context or semantics of a message, for instance; in Debray's own words, "We transmit meanings so that the things we live, believe, and think do not perish with us (as opposed to me)" (Debray, 2000). There is something worth preserving in our little books, or movies, or Internet packets. The ideas of transmission also steer the conversation toward why certain monoliths of ideas have withstood the test of time, giving the study a more epic field Debray seems particularly enamored with how Christianity of all ideas survived for two thousand years while so many other religions fell, something I have an interest in learning more about.

I had a number of examples I thought about sharing, but I thought it might be interesting to use William Blake, one of the big names in literary canon. I'm interested in him because the materiality of his poems have changed so much over time, far more extensively than most people realize, and yet his poetry, his ideas, still have a hold over Western literature.Yet none of us will ever experience the poems of William Blake the way William Blake intended them to be communicated. We have approximations, but his particular tools have been lost.

Here's the basics on how William Blake communicated his poems (different from transmission, remember). Using relief etching, Blake created by hand elaborate single page carvings which he could then use to reproduce copies of his poetry and illustrations. It allowed him more independence than the predominant style of combining various cross-hatchings to get the proper texture. He also hand-painted the colors and hand stitched the books, resulting in a long, laborious publishing process with very few copies circulating at one time, all of them uniquely colored. The actual etchings he crafted did not survive, and original copies are scarce, expensive treasures. Let's refer to this stage as the logosphere - even though Blake printed his works, the difficulty and craftsmanship involved in making each copy means there's a uniquely personal edge to his prints, much like a manuscript once was.

So how did Blake's poems end up getting transmitted over time? The expense of reprinting his complex illustrations continues to affect the reception of his work to this day. Most of you probably read "The Tyger" like this:

Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

The words are divorced from the illustration, which affects our reading of the poem. In the illustration above, you can see the tiger isn't as physically imposing or scary as the words make him seem (in other copies the tiger can almost appear cutesy). This provides an interesting contradiction and changes the overall meaning of the poem.This is the graphosphere's version of the same message - stripped down and catering to a mass media culture that demands cheap, easy reproduction.

Recent technological advancements have changed the way we read Blake recently, but that doesn't mean that this transmission is the same or even close to how William Blake intended his poems to be read. The Blake Archive has scans of every surviving copy of Songs of Innocence and Experience, which means readers can instantly compare and contrast multiple copies of "The Tyger," seeing how he changed the art over time, what colors were most predominant in what copy, and what these changes might do to the meaning of the poem (the Tyger's face changes a lot over time, as does the coloring - in some versions he is draped in shadow, in some the light shines brightly on him, in one version he's practically rainbow-colored). However, despite these new tools the materiality of the poem has been lost - comparing each and every version of The Tyger removes it contextually from its placement in the book it originally came from, its size is easily manipulated via tools on the website, and graphical limitations noticeably pixelate the illustrations and text when you attempt to enhance the picture.

In the audiovisual sphere, we have Allen Ginsberg, who believes Blake's poems were intended to be sung and has a number of compositions proving this. He distributed his versions of the Blake poems in his lifetime using the latest in recording technology, which in turn have been mass distributed over the Internet after his death. I'd like to note I have no evidence Ginsberg picked this particular visual - it might be a conceit of the person who edited the video, placing what you are about to see into the post-post modern remix culture of today.

With all these mediological transformations, what has been transmitted? Each one of these versions represents a "materialization and exertion," meaning the ideas of William Blake have been recouped, repurposed, appropriated and preserved by many people over time who find his words to have value. These various mediations (Blake himself, those who collected his poetry, the editors of the Blake Archive, Ginsberg) have created many objects of art with their own media ecologies."The object transmitted does not preexist the process of its transmission." How we choose to read "The Tyger" today is not apolitical or unaffected by culture - somehow Blake's work survived when other poets disappeared in time, even if the singularity of his particular style has been manipulated or distorted by noise.

-Tracy Carlin

Debray’s Mediology, High Context and Low Context communication (Edward T Hall’s concepts) and Conflict Resolution

High Context/Low Context communication: High context used in situations where social relationships are important, take listener’s meaning for granted in restricted codes eg Japanese, Chinese, Arabic, Farsi etc and low context are ones where social relationships are not so important, fit the conversation to the listener in codes that are explicit eg German, English and Northern European languages. (taken from Paul Kimmel, “Culture and Conflict” Ch 22, p 460)

Debray’s main gist is that technology (which equals culture and is neither a product nor a prerequisite) only happens when institutionalized (or social) support promotes particular mediums of transmission in any given mediasphere. From a Conflict Resolution practitioner’s perspective, my mind definitely went to the political-economy paradigms within our media – which I will get to later - and the various socializations of conservative, liberal and public service media outlets. But it also searched within Debray’s work for mention of High Context languages/Cultures and Low Context languages/Cultures and how their constituents have always been posed by challenges in communication when it comes to Mediation, Negotiation, Conflict Transformation and pushing Social change in general.

As a Sociologist and a person close to leaders (ie Debray and Francois Mitterrand), Debray had to have been aware of the landscape of “High Context” and “Low Context” cultural communication and how Western hegemony and the dominance of the English Language in business and internet communication are pushing the world into Low Context cultural paradigms. While Logosphere, Graphosphere and Videosphere actually coexist rather than reflect stages or a progression in development, replicating communications in Low Context forms (through medium like the internet and social media platforms, for instance) forces modern Western culture onto others, in a sort of low-context media hegemony. Each society defines its uniqueness through various combinations of Debray’s three spheres to create its own Mediological realities. But since no media is “New Media” and is actually the same media reflected through new modes of transmission, it is fascinating to see what transmission modes are recursively used by various societies and institutions to transmit their unique cultural realities (or lack thereof) to their masses.

What is interesting to watch unfold in societies from a CR perspective is the political economy of Mediology today, in which citizen journalists and individuals now challenge the traditionally dominant forms of communication. On the outset, the question to ask would seem to be: How does the immediacy of Social Media (eg the Arab Spring) alter the power structure of institutionalized leadership in some cultures? When actually, according to Debray, the question is: what institutional forces encourage Social media to shape culture in various societies? Indeed while it is understood that Transmission IS NOT Communication, the current political economy is as described by Debray in Transmitting Cultures “…our current use of digital and audiovisual technologies favours the compression of transmission into communications and makes a virtue out of instantaneity and information saturation” (Papoulias, p169). As Debray would assert, technology means nothing without social support, therefore it is our political economies that determine the preeminence of Low Context transmission tools to compress information and thus form our social realities. And it is the cultures that emerge from these political economies that have to communicate with each other in Conflict situations but in a medium that is agreeable to all yet challenging to reconcile.

In the example below, Khrushchev is speaking to the capitalist world from the communist perspective that Communism will outlive Capitalism as an ideology and uses the words "We will bury you" . This was seen as a highly belligerent statement, a threat, and used by the US to mobilise anti-communist sentiment and fear, as Barry Goldwater's campain ad shows.In the communications context intended by Khrushchev (not to belittle the aggression inherent in Soviet ideology at the time), it was to signify ideological supremacy yet to an onlooker and for Americans, the language and the waving of the hand are all symbols and signs used to create a social reality in support of war.

~ Sarah

Ideology & The Anatomy of the Stereotype

The stereotype is the perfect example of how mediology can be used to uncover the ideological foundations in race relations and identity politics.

Here is a slice of historical and intertextual context that may give very simplistic understanding of how the stereotypical ideology of the “suspicious black male” has found its way into our collective consciousness. And into our news today.

Idea <----------> Intermediary**
Manifest Destiny <----------> Western Empires
Non-whites as subpar <----------> Colonial Expansion
Africans for slave labor <----------> Colonial Gov’ts.
Abolishing Slavery <----------> US Govt
Blacks as 2nd Class Citizens<---------->Jim Crow Laws
>>>>>>>Fast forward<<<<<
Black men as drug-dealers <---------->DEA’s War on Drugs
Black men as criminals<---------->Your local daily news

I outlined this model, however crudely, to demonstrate that these ideas were so widely accepted and easily internalized because they were disseminated from “reputable” and “trusted” intermediaries and sources (government bodies, laws, institutions and media networks).

Whatever vague understanding we collectively share of the black male as threating has been inculcated into our communal psyche. However it got there, it has been buttressed by the institutional channels that continuously reinforce it all they way down to our local news describing some caricature of a suspicious black male. It is easy to believe because it is a trope that we are quite familiar with. We may each have our own imagined versions of this common boogieman. Despite the hegemonic intentions of those that have originated and perpetuated such ideologies, one output is certain – fear. Fear of the other, but mostly fear of the unknown.

I think what intrigues me most about mediology as a tool for debunking the false heuristics of the stereotype and other ideology. It is especially important more so today when information is so visual and easily consumed. We are deciding cases by the “look of things”, a debatable skill that will no doubt draw upon a very murky ideological foundation.

Culture is a transmission of information and acquired features through time, says Debray. We read and understand these transmissions in an always already in place and learned framework of interconnected cultural codes. But what happens when a certain transmission is lost? What happens when this transmission is later found, yet its set of institutionalized ways to understand it have shifted with changing technologies? When the “mileu” is altered, our “mediation” is as well, rearranging the transmissions final message. This is seen much clearer when the transmissions change is not gradual, but instead abrupt.

Take, for example, the story of the “Keep Calm and Carry On” poster. Originally intended to keep the masses moving forward calmly, they were conceived of and existed in a world without the technologies of the internet, television, or mass media. Thus, their anticipated effect of transmission was mediated by a set of connected meanings and instutionalized factors which aid it to be understood. A poster placed on a wall, a form of media, was endowed power and meaning by the institutions at the time.

Fast forward to current times when such mileu has been completely altered. Posters, as a vessel of transmission, no longer hold the same place they did in the hierarchies of technology and culture. “The means of transmission, or the mediating vehicles of a symbolic system, have a double nature: the technical devices (surfaces of inscription of signs, procedures of coding, apparatuses of diffusion) are added to the organic devices (institutions, languages, ritual),” says Debray. “The transmission must be constructed by an operation of intellectual analysis.” These organic devices have changed, and thus now the intended serious message of war-time placation and slight propaganda no longer works. Instead, given both the changes in technology and the hindsight nature of history (the perceived irony of such propaganda is now noticed more), the poster, in its new context or mileu, has new meaning. Also, given the new technologies in place, the popularity of this transmission is given new strength and can be disseminated to more people than ever originally thought of or intended.

-Christian Storm