Richard Grusin’s with Jay David Bolter co-authored Remediation has itself become core reading in various curricula in media stu
Premediation: Affect and Mediality After 9/11
by Richard Grusin
Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, UK, 2010
208 pp. Trade, £60.00; paper, £19.99
ISBN: 978-0-230-24251-7; 978-0-230-24252-4.
Reviewed by Jussi Parikka
Anglia Ruskin University and CoDE-institute
Richard Grusin’s co-authored (with Jay David Bolter) Remediation has become core reading in media studies and cognate disciplines curricula, and with a new book out called Premediation there is a temptation to read this a mere updating of the remediation-thesis introduced some 10 years earlier. Remediation came out at a good moment in the midst of an interest in drawing theoretical concepts and methodology from old media and new media in parallel lines and added to that theoretical context its own input. Understanding new media from computer games to the WWW through the very McLuhanesque theoretical idea of remediation was further elaborated in the book through the double logic of mediation in new media cultures. It was not solely an idea that new media circulates old media (even if even articulating that had strong repercussions in understanding the prolonged life time of old media, with resonances to such work as Erkki Huhtamo’s on the recurring topoi of media culture), but an elaboration of the constant tension between discursive immediacy and hypermediacy as aesthetic strategies. In the words of that earlier book, “Our culture wants both to multiply its media and to erase all traces of mediation: ideally, it wants to erase its media in the very act of multiplying them” (5).
Actually, Grusin himself is keen to establish continuities between Remediation and Premediation. He describes this new research concept and the book as a continuation or a counterpart to the earlier one, a new form of a media logic that is especially visible after 9/11, which is for Grusin the key turning point. However, I would argue that these books are quite different in their take and style, and that Premediation is not only a complementary project to the earlier one; the clear-cut “adaptability” to use such a word that of course does not entirely catch the full breadth of Remediation is in Premediation emphasized towards more refined conceptual arsenal that articulates premediation more clearly as non-representational, material and affect-based logic of media.
Grusin outlines his new interest in such media logic that tries to come to grips with futurity as the new horizon for politics of media cultures. Indeed, smoothly written and mapping his interests as part of the wider development of post 9/11 culture, he articulates the shift from the more screen based emphasis of Remediation to his current interests in social networking, and software-based cultural production. A key concept is now “affect” which both resonates with some recent years of trends in cultural theory even branded as the “affective turn,” but which for Grusin acts as a way to understand the embodied nature of our behaviour in network environments – behaviour that is fully embedded in politics of anticipation, that he sees as a new version, or perhaps as a replacement of what such writers as Walter Benjamin and Siegfried Kracauer articulated as the emblematic distraction inherent in cinematic modernity.
Premediation is defined in the book in various but converging ways that all seem to contextualize it as a regime of security, temporality, and processes of mediation after 9/11. Hence, as Grusin admits, it is primarily a book about America, even if post-9/11 culture has had its global after wakes. Premediation is about such futures that are already present – the idea, or feeling that “the future has already been pre-mediated before it turns into the present (or the past),” hence a kind of a remediation of the future in order to “maintain a low level of fear in the present and to prevent a recurrence of the kind of tremendous media shock that the United States and much of the networked world experienced on 9/11” (4).
Premediation works through the idea of media as objects, and “mediation itself as an object” (5) through which to investigate the mobilization of bodies in this security regime. Hence, Premediation takes much of its theoretical background from Foucault and especially the idea of governmentality –– how to govern people and things, where the emphasis in Premediation is heavily on things as well in terms of how Grusin wants to steer clear of too human-focused perspectives. Whereas Grusin would have benefited from a more in-depth engagement of Foucault’s texts on security as a post-disciplinary logic of governing, he does however present a mostly convincing case in terms of how we should rethink media as a material translation, a mediation process that escapes representational frameworks. Indeed, the book is not only about Foucault, but draws heavily from Latour as well, and Deleuze when Grusin is arguing that premediation is not only a creation of possible futures in a videogame logic of algorithmic possibilities (if this choice is made, then this and that happens). Instead, premediation works through the virtual as understood the Bergsonian Deleuze, i.e. a governing of the future present as a multiplicity that is brought about. Grusin writes:
“While premediation often takes the form (as in the run-up to the Iraq War) of the proliferation of specific possibilities, or particular scenarios, the generation of these specific possibilities entails the remediation of potentialities or virtualities out of which future actions, decisions, or events might (or might not) emerge.” (59)
This theoretical move is to be welcomed as it adds complexity to the logic of premediation but would have merited from more discussion as there is a constant danger of pulling the radically open-ended ontogenetical concept of virtuality into the regime of possibility and rationalization of the future. In any case, his discussion has a clear context in contemporary cultural theory with Brian Massumi’s interest in futurity and security, and Greg Ulmer and Andy Opel’s project and little book on Preempting Dissent.
For a short book that tries to emphasize the importance of software cultures and social media, there is relatively a lot of emphasis in terms of page count on such case studies as Don Delillo’s The Falling Man-novel (2007) and especially Art Spiegelman’s In the Shadow of No Towers-graphic novel series. Grusin does, however, also engage with such social media phenomena as Abu Ghraib photos in their medial logic. What could have been perhaps further elaborated would have been the logic of anticipation and its relation to distraction. Grusin’s reading might have actually benefited from a further historical insight offered by Jonathan Crary, whose reading of the concepts of distraction/attention as part of the creation of modern media culture would have offered a further complexity to the suggested newness of anticipation as part of social media cultures – in short, for Crary even the cinematic modernity is not only one of distraction but a continuous drilling for a temporal, fluctuating and attention-demanding physiological state of being which in itself is closely related to “anticipation”. As always, any good book is a starting point for further thoughts and elaborations, and Grusin’s intervention into the politics of affect and security is an extremely important one.