A medium is alive as long as it is being used for pornographic ends
In his Tue, 20 Dec 2011 15:51:41 +0100 post, Florian Cramer argues that McLuhan’s famous “the medium is the message” is less an effective model for radical media arts practice than a sad point of exhaustion. The creative thinking of the medium (any medium) is plainly exhausted when all it can do is nostalgically and solipsistically reflect on its own material conditions. With a deliberate sense of provocation, Cramer argues that a medium is only alive and only new when it is used for pornographic ends. Pornography is associated with the field of the message – with everything that extends beyond the deathly self-regard and self-absorption of the medial. But isn’t pornography necessarily at its basis also caught up with the thinking of mediation? Particularly if media/medium/mediation is thought more generally, less in terms of the conventional image of mechanical/electrical/electronic systems of representation and communication, than as middle, as milieu, as play of intercession and supplementation. Doesn’t pornography – and the thrill of the pornographic – hinge precisely upon the separation and exchange between image, skin, smell and sensation? Doesn’t it always figure as an alluring and disabling middle space that disturbs the immediacy of sex as such – that precedes, exceeds and proceeds from whatever it is that actual physical intimacy/coupling represents? And isn’t sex itself – assuming that it can somehow take shape apart from the pornographic – also a space of mediation? Isn’t it perhaps the archetypal media space? In what sense then does it represent a simple level of content? In what sense can it appear as clearly distinguishable – miraculously unmediated – message? In short, conceiving media in these broader terms, couldn’t pornography be interpreted, on the contrary, as the clearest demonstration of McLuhan’s argument? Isn’t pornography less about some simple, unmediated order of content than about an excessive medial play that is nonetheless also constitutive of sexuality?
I guess what I’m trying to suggest is that it is only when working with a restricted and conventional sense of both medium and message that Cramer’s critique of McLuhan gains any force. The genuine challenge, however, of McLuhan’s slogan is to think beyond these conceptions – to recognise media, for instance, where before we had only seen traffic lights. And this, of course, may also entail thinking beyond McLuhan’s notion of media as extensions of human capacity or as technological-ecological features, recognising instead more intricate and fundamental conditions of mediation.
I should stress, however, that my aim in extending the sense of media is less to establish some vast and vertiginous uber-discipline (very unlikely) than to pursue a thread of argument to its logical consequences, or, more aptly, to follow a rough pathway to wherever it leads. And of course this is hardly an aim that I can lay claim to myself. I could mention the work of many theorists, but I am thinking now particularly of the writings of Michel Serres. Serres is interesting in terms of the way he links a nuanced concern with the texture of mediation to a concern with the real and the material. In a manner that echoes the thinking of the Pre-Socratics, Serres conceives the material world as itself constituted by sets of dynamic mediations, rather than insisting that the medial is entirely reserved for the realm of human representation, communication, technological invention and finitude. In this manner, the distinction between medium and message, between intervening tool and substantive content, becomes meaningless. Mediation appears as an inescapable condition of all being.