Media as Historical Subject

As someone interested in media history, I wanted to focus on the historical methodology Lisa Gitelman presents in the introduction of Always Already New. I do think the objections/questions I raise are primarily limited to the theorization of her method and do not necessarily apply to chapters that follow the introduction- or at least I have not done the work to the make that application here. However, I do think Gitelman presents her method as a corrective to extant approaches to media history and so I wanted to consider what could be lost if this approach were universalized within media histories.


2 thoughts on “Media as Historical Subject

  1. I’m wondering if maybe she should have used the phrased “historical object” instead of “historical subject”? In particular, I’m thinking of different sorts of media as different types of hyperobjects (see Tim Morton’s blog: Thinking of media as historical hyperobject(s) might retain the dimension of simultaneous multiplicity + singularity that you bring up.

  2. The trouble I see with the subject/object identifiers here is that they empty media of its character as a form rather than just a product. That is to say, we may be able to speak of a singular film as an object, but that doesn’t speak more widely to the method or the form that is film, which seems to be Gitelman’s issue with the term (and why she carefully defines media as both the technology and its protocols and affordances). Are media objects through which subjects produce other objects? Are they the cooperation of subjects with other subjects to produce objects? Both and more? She seems to argue this last option, positioning herself between determinism and anti-determinism.

    I like the concept of hyperobjects, though I haven’t read the book and can’t comment too closely. The process of determining what a hyperobject is seems a touch odd though, using criteria like “Hyperobjects occupy high dimensional phase spaces that are unavailable to direct human perception.” It’s unclear to me if the author would thus consider media forms to be hyperobjects themselves or not, and what the advantage of identifying them as such is. (But this may just be ignorance from not having read.)

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