Part III of Remediation--in my mind the most interesting and telling section of the book--examines "the reflexive relationship between user and medium by examining some consequences of the remediating power of digital media for our culture's definition of the self" (229). I say telling because identity and identification are defined in terms of the implicit relationship between the self (the mediated self) and the medium. Virtual reality, for example, is an assertion of the world's presence to the self, a process of individuation. In a MUD, users mediate the self as a textual and visual being, giving voice and materiality to another or complementary self, the sum of these identities presumably enabling a more authentic self. So goes the logic. The purpose of remediation is conceived as a process of self-reformation or reclamation. The agency of desire in Remediation is digital technology, and it is not rhetorical. We do not meet in MUDs, for example, to persuade, entertain, cajole, manipulate, influence, teach, or move others.
But there is another purpose of remediation that transcends, or at least functions coordinately with the assertion of self. From a rhetorical perspective, the self is constructed, imagined, out of the desire for identification with the Other, a desire for what Burke calls consubstantiality. For instance, one could just as easily argue, as Janet Murray does in Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace (1997), that the agency of desire in cyberspace is human drama and, I would add, thoroughly rhetorical, . People do not construct a networked self (e.g., via email and chat) simply to assert or reinvent the self. That may be a consequence, but the act functions rhetorically also as an act of identification and even more directly, an attempt to communicate in some fashion. It is true that economic forces work to perpetuate the view of technologies of remediation as ends in themselves, thus ensuring their dissemination and replication. However, media also serve the rhetorical purpose of enabling identification and communication. What seems to get lost in Remediation is any sense that media may be defined in terms other than agency, as more than technological processes removed from the drama of symbolic action and thus human interaction.
Bolter and Grusin do not eliminate the possibility that media function rhetorically, but the energy with which they unpack media as agency suggests that they have attempted to counter Marshall McLuhan's enthusiasm for the purely rhetorical function of media ("the medium is the massage") with an equally enthusiastic and structuralist conception of media. Taken to that extreme, all media become self-devouring, discursive practices under the anthem of "technology for technology's sake." Bolter and Grusin do not necessarily endorse such practices as much as they catalog them.