The Pleasures of Opaque Remediation

ImageRemediation, a term coined by Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin in their book of the same title (1999), refers to “the representation of one medium in another medium” (45). Theatrical practice informs television for example, which borrows performed staging conventions; but likewise theatre is remediated by this newer media, rethinking and reshaping its practices as well.

“Remediation as the inseparability of mediation and reality:..all mediations are themselves real. They are real as artifacts (but not as autonomous agents) in our mediated culture. Despite the fact that all media depend on other media in cycles of remediation, our culture still needs to acknowledge that all media remediate the real” (55-56).

Bolter and Grusin differentiate the relationship to the real when they identity two opposing strategies of remediation: transparent mediation (immediacy) and opaque mediation (hypermediacy). [I think opaque mediation is my own term]. In transparent mediation, the interface, that is, the texture and form of the newly applied medium, is virtually invisible. (It cannot be entirely invisible; we are always aware of mediation at some level) We are able to look through the mediating frame to engage with the content of the presentation. By denying mediation, the effect of this immediacy is a sense of direct access to the real. Hypermediacy by contrast actively draws our attention to the mediatization of our experience; often through multiplicity or juxtapositions of different kinds of media. A news broadcast with video, pictorial logo, fixed text captions, and news ticker crawling across the bottom third of the screen is a prime example of hypermediacy. An illustrated Medieval manuscript is another (Plate 2). In these examples, the act of remediation is brought to the fore and instead of looking through, we are encouraged to look at. Our experience of the frame is primary.

In terms of the relationship of remediation to reality, immediacy and hypermediacy offer different kinds of experiences. Where the interface is transparent, the “real” being offered to the audience is the thing itself (or at least the appearance or impression of contact with the thing itself). In the case of hypermediacy where the effects of remediation are opaque, the real thing that the audience is being offered is the experience of engaging with the mediation process. “The excess of media becomes an authentic experience, not in the sense that it corresponds to an external reality, but rather precisely because it does not feel compelled to refer to anything beyond itself” (53-54). Although the mediated content does at some level refer to the real, our experience of the real rests in the jouissance, if you will, of mediatization itself. We are finding the real in the frame more than in the picture.

It strikes me then, (although Bolter and Grusin are not talking about theatre or performance) that this is what metatheatre is about. By displacing theatrical conventions in support of mimetic representation and drawing our attention explicitly to those conventions, the effect of metatheatricality is the same. Theatrical performance is itself, of course, a kind of remediation, re-presenting life through performance. WorldA is transposed into worldB though an act of remediation.

Where this becomes relevant to thinking about Theatre of the Real is how it applies to my current project thinking about the verbatim piece Seeds (Annabel Soutar, Porte Parole). Verbatim performance has a particular investment in its presentation of the real. Seeds, in particular, both in its dramaturgy and in its scenography (directed by Chris Abraham, set and costume design Julie Fox, media design Elysha Poirier, lighting design Ana Cappelluto, sound design Richard Feren) presents a highly hypermediated environment. In doing so, it deflects our experience of the real away from the truth value of the living documents of verbatim and toward the ‘real’ of our experience of the processing and staging of those documents.

So far this is the theoretical lynch-pin of a paper I am developing to present at the upcoming CATR conference (CFHSS Congress 2014) at the end of the month at Brock University. The next step is to parse out how this audience experience informs Soutar’s understanding of the Schmeiser vs. Monsanto court case and the safety of GMO foods. (Genetic modification of DNA as remediation… wait for it.)



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