A Brief Glossary of Remediation

Remediation is the process whereby computer graphics, virtual reality, and the WWW define themselves by borrowing from and refashioning media such as painting, photography, television, and film. It is the anxiety of influence acted out in the poetics of technology:

    It is possible to claim that a new medium makes a good thing even better, but this seldom seems to suit the rhetoric of remediation and is certainly not the case for digital media. Each new medium is justified because it fills a lack or repairs a fault in its predecessor, because it fulfills the unkept promise of an older medium. (Typically, of course, users did not realize that the older medium had failed in its promise until the new one appeared.) The supposed virtue of virtual reality, of videoconferencing and interactive television, and of the World Wide Web is that each of these technologies repairs the inadequacy of the medium or media that it now supersedes. In each case that inadequacy is represented as a lack of immediacy, and this seems to be generally true in the history of remediation. Photography was supposedly more immediate than painting, film than photography, television than film, and now virtual reality fulfills the promise of immediacy and supposedly ends the progression. The rhetoric of remediation favors immediacy and transparency, even though as the medium matures it offers new opportunities for hypermediacy. (Bolter and Grusin 60)

Immediacy is the perfection, or erasure, of the gap between signifier and signified, such that a representation is perceived to be the thing itself. It is a consequence of what Kenneth Burke calls "naive verbal realism" whereby the symbol is simply perceived to be a window to the real. In Remediation, immediacy (or transparent immediacy) is defined as a "style of visual representation whose goal is to make the viewer forget the presence of the medium (canvas, photographic film, cinema, and so on) and believe that he is in the presence of the objects of representation" (Bolter and Grusin 272-73).

    In formal terms, the desire for immediacy is the desire to get beyond the medium to the objects of representation themselves. Different media may enact this desire in different ways. Although linear-perspective painting and film may keep the viewer distant from what he views, in virtual reality the viewer steps through Alberti's window and is placed among the objects of representation. Similarly, the desire for sexual immedediacy could aim for a voyeuristic examination of the objects of representation or a union with them. (Bolter and Grusin 83)

Hypermediacy is a "style of visual representation whose goal is to remind the viewer of the medium" (Bolter and Grusin 272). Hypermediacy plays upon the desire for immediacy and transparent immediacy, making us hyper-conscious of our act of seeing (or gazing). In Psycho, when we see an extreme close-up of Norman Bates's eye as he watches Marion Crane through the peephole, then find ourselves looking through it ourselves, Hitchcock foregrounds the act of seeing, implicating the viewer in the voyeurism that is at the root of Norman's (and our?) psychosis. Hitchcock's is an act of hypermediacy.

Hypermediacy is an expression of our fascination with the medium itself (or some would say anxiety over it). It is a self-referentiality of the visual and has become so pervasive that we see it as the theme of films like Last Action Hero (1993; Dir. John McTiernan), in which Jack Slater (Arnold Scharzenegger) plays both an action hero and Arnold Schwarzenegger himself and in which the film screen is permeable by characters on either "side." Computer games like Myst hypermediate themselves as expressions of the desire for the end of the book (in Myst, three characters, all evil in the end, are trapped as video images in a book).

Mediation is the representation of an object, a formative interface whereby the object of contemplation is structured and presented by some intervening medium (my definition). In this sense, it refers to the symbolic act itself and thus would include writing.

Bolter and Grusin note that it is a primary characteristic of modernism to direct attention to the process of mediation itself, as an experience of representation (54). Transparent immediacy becomes a reaction against the power and function of mediation. So, for instance,

    Transparent digital applications seek to get to the real by bravely denying the fact of mediation; digital hypermedia seek the real by multiplying mediation so as to create a feeling of fullness, a satiety of experience, which can be taken as reality. (Bolter and Grusin 53)

Works Cited