Media theory

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Benjamin (1936) - The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

Benjamin used the word "aura" to refer to the sense of awe and reverence one presumably experienced in the presence of unique works of art. According to Benjamin, this aura inheres not in the object itself but rather in external attributes such as its known line of ownership, its restricted exhibition, its publicized authenticity, or its cultural value. Aura is thus indicative of art's traditional association with primitive, feudal, or bourgeois structures of power and its further association with magic and (religious or secular) ritual. With the advent of art's mechanical reproducibility, and the development of forms of art (such as film) in which there is no actual original, the experience of art could be freed from place and ritual and instead brought under the gaze and control of a mass audience, leading to a shattering of the aura. "For the first time in world history," Benjamin wrote, "mechanical reproduction emancipates the work of art from its parasitical dependence on ritual." "Instead of being based on ritual, [art] begins to be based on another practice – politics." For Benjamin, the politicization of art should be the goal of Communism; in contrast to Fascism which aestheticized politics for the purpose of social control. [3]

Innis (1950) - Empire and Communications

McLuhan (1964) - Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man

Luhmann (1975) - Systemtheorie, Evolutionstheorie und Kommunikationstheorie

Virilio (1977) - Speed and Politics

Flusser (1985) - Ins Universum der Technischen Bilder

Kittler (1986) - Grammophon Film Typewriter

Kittler's central project is to "prove to the human sciences [..] their technological-media a priori", or in his own words: "Driving the spirit out of the humanities", a title that he gave a work that he published in 1980. He sees an autonomy in technology and therefore disagrees with Marshall McLuhan's reading of the media as "extensions of man": "Media are not pseudopods for extending the human body. They follow the logic of escalation that leaves us and written history behind it. Consequently, he sees in writing literature, in writing programmes and in burning structures into silicon chips a complete continuum: "As we know and simply do not say, no human being writes anymore. [..] Today, human writing runs through inscriptions burnt into silicon by electronic lithography [..]. The last historic act of writing may thus have been in the late seventies when a team of Intel engineers [plotted] the hardware architecture of their first integrated microprocessor." [4]

de Kerckhove (1995) - The Skin of Culture

Zielinski (2005) - Deep Time of the Media

Beller (2006) - The Cinematic Mode of Production: Towards A Political Economy of the Society of the Spectacle

Beller: "Cinema and its succeeding (if still simultaneous) formations, particularly television, video, computers, and the internet, are deterritorialised factories in which spectators work, that is, in which we perform value-productive labor’." (Cinematic Mode of Production, p. 1)

Beller: "My current interests beyond The Cinematic Mode of Production and Acquiring Eyes have to do with thinking through media technologies themselves as imbricated in the histories of colonialism/imperialism/ empire as well as gender and racial formations. Technologies, frozen under what Allen Feldman has termed "platform fetishism" often are not legible as products of the lived social mediations that are the conditions of possibility of our "media." The practices and histories, which themselves constitute the appearance, uses and significance of various technologies, are then seemingly frozen into the apparatus and for most practical purposes rendered invisible. Thus the utilization of media quite often seems like a far more autonomous (and thus ahistorical) exercise (a user plus a value-neutral technology) than it actually is. How to make the playground pulse with the struggles that underpin, situate and overdetermine our very presence (virtual or otherwise) in this, our space-time-now.
I'm also interested in ye ole real subsumption of society by capital and the expropriation of the cognitive-linguistic capacities of the species (that would be us, I guess.) Two main aspects here: the role of visual and audiophonic media in the deliverance (in both senses) of this emergent discursive situation. Shouldn't we consider further that with the rise of photography and phonography language became one writable medium among others (and was thereby relativized and demoted). Shouldn't also, all of the discourse theory of the 20th century be rethought in this light? Psychoanalysis, Structuralism, Post-structuralism -- all artifact of new modalities of mediation. Second, the situation of writing now: not from the point of view of those of us who fill out forms all day long but from those (parts) of us who are looking to crack the code(s). This is where I am very interested in the work of so many of you on this list. I am looking forward to learning more about the extraoridnary things people are thinking and doing. For my part, I will try to direct my comments in a way that explores the implications for the kinds of writing and speaking we do, which is to say the politics of our own practice. Don't all our locals, petty or otherwise, bear the signature of the globopolis? What then might a geopolitical pedagogy of the oppressed look like?" [5]

Scholz: "Life is not all about labor in the traditional sense but what creates economic value is continuously changing and expanding. Beller describes this as the financialization of everyday life (our attention, imagination, creativity, and faith). This financialization applies as much to the mortgage as it does to the current economic shakedown, the dotcom crash, and to what happens when we log on. The value of new social media, speculative and 'real' (in terms of actual revenue) is created through advertising and the digital traces of our attention. Driven much more by the desire for praise than remuneration, people participate and this social participation has become the oil of the digital economy." [6]

Huhtamo - Archeology of Media Art

Media archaeology is an emerging critical approach Professor Huhtamo has pioneered (together with a few other scholars) since the early 1990's. It excavates forgotten, neglected and suppressed media-cultural phenomena, helping us to penetrate beyond canonized accounts about media culture. Huhtamo pays particular attention to the "life" of topoi, or clichéd elements that emerge over and over again in media history and provide "molds" for experiences. What may seem new often proves to be just new packaging of ideas repeated during hundreds and even thousands of years.

Cubitt (2009)


  1. Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, 1936, (full text)
  2. Harold Innis, Empire and Communications, 1950, (full book)
  3. Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, 1964, (full book)
  4. Niklas Luhmann, "Systemtheorie, Evolutionstheorie und Kommunikationstheorie", in: Soziologische Gids 22 3. pp.154–168, 1975
  5. Paul Virilio, Speed and Politics, 1977, (full book)
  6. Vilém Flusser, Ins Universum der Technischen Bilder, 1985, (review)
  7. Friedrich Kittler, Grammophon Film Typewriter, 1986, (google books)
  8. Derrick de Kerckhove, The Skin of Culture, 1995, (google books)
  9. Siegfried Zielinski, Deep Time of the Media, 2005, (google books)
  10. Jonathan Beller, The Cinematic Mode of Production: Towards A Political Economy of the Society of the Spectacle, 2006, (google books)
  11. Erkki Huhtamo, Archeology of Media Art, introduction
  12. Sean Cubitt, 2009, [1], [2]