Remediation in Benjamin Calls for 21st Century Arcades Project
Bolter and Grusin (Remediation) see new media remediating old until the new media becomes established as a media and media-specific affordances become available. Benjamin sees remediation in new materials. When iron, for instance, was introduced in sculpture it took on forms from wood. Benjamin sees this as a failure to see the new in the old and evidence that these introductions of the new aren’t part of the emancipation from capitalism.
This way of understanding is going two ways:
- towards a sense that what are declared as new and emancipatory (iron and glass, the automobile, Twitter, blogging … ) are not new; they are too mucinformed by the capitalist superstructure that still controls false consciousness; and
- in the other direction, that these new media could be seen as emancipatory if that false consciousness is thrown off.
In contemporary terms, innovation is not going to disrupt the capitalist imaginary which forces an understanding of innovation within its limited and limiting framework. Disruption as it appears at TedTalks, in incubators, in administrative talk is not disruptive of the status quo. Disruption becomes one of the myths we use to imagine what might become but cannot become until the capitalist imaginary itself is disrupted.
Here’s Buck-Morss on Benjamin:
[T]he restorative impulse [is] more evident … in the forms taken by the new technologies themselves, which imitated precisely the old forms they were destined to overcome ….
Under the archaic masks of classical myth … and traditional nature …, the inherent potential of the “new nature”—machines, iron shaped by new processes, technologies and industrial materials of every sort— remained unrecognized, unconscious. At the same time, these masks express the desire to “return” to a mythic time when human beings were reconciled with the natural world.
… According to Benjamin, if the “not-yet” of the new nature is expressed in archaic symbols rather than in new forms commensurate with it, then this condition of modem consciousness has its parallel in the inadequacies of development in the economic base. He is most explicit in a passage from the Passagen-Werk exposé. It begins with a quotation from Jules Michelet: “Every’ epoch dreams the one that follows it.” Benjamin comments:
To the form of the new means of production which in the beginning is still dominated by the old one (Marx), there correspond in the collective consciousness images in which the new is intermingled with the old. These images are wish images, and in them the collective attempts to transcend as well as to illumine the in completed ness of the social order of production. There also emerges in these wish images a positive striving to set themselves off from the outdated— that means, however, the most recent past. These tendencies turn the image fantasy, that maintains its impulse from the new, back to the ur-past. In the dream in which every epoch sees in images the epoch that follows, the latter appears wedded to elements of ur-history, that is, of a classless society. Its experiences, which have their storage place in the unconscious of the collective, produce, in their interpenetration with the new, the utopia that has left its trace behind in a thousand configurations of life from permanent buildings to ephemeral fashions.27
The real possibility of a classless society in the “epoch to follow” the present one, revitalizes past images as expressions of the ancient wish for social utopia in dream form. But a dream image is not yet a dialectical image, and desire is not yet knowledge…. Benjamin was reluctant to rest revolutionary hope directly on imagination’s capacity to anticipate the not-yet-existing. Even as wish image, utopian imagination needed to be interpreted through the material objects in which it found expression, for (as Bloch knew) it was upon the transforming mediation of matter that the hope of utopia ultimately depended: technology’s capacity to create the not-yet-known.
Technology, not yet “emancipated,” is held back by conventional imagination that sees the new only as a continuation of the old which has just now become obsolete. 115-6
In The Arcades Project, from Buck-Morss, Dialectics of Seeing, p 111-115.
The implications for social media and new media: We’re not there yet. Social media is still remediating the ideologies of mass communication; they are still informing and forming the rhetoric of the new, and are insidious in the techniques of persuasion.
But it can be turned. The phenomena of the digital – the internet, the web, social media, digital phones – can be used as dialectic images of critique in the way Benjamin uses the arcades, flaneurs, prositutes and gambling, iron and steel construction, and fashion to investigate early 20th century Europe.
An Arcades Project of the 21st century is being written.
Our arcade is the internet, already past it, not yet crumbling but visible as antediluvian, symptomatic, populated by trolls, a place for gambling and fashion, architected by packet switching, UX, housing texting, selfies, sur- and suivellance … Our themes are the same as Benjamin’s: false consciousness, repetition, delay, porn … and a few new ones: simulacra, psychogeography, networks, image, mobility, identity, quantification. The Internet as Arcades. The Internet as a space for psychogeographical projects