Saturday, 19 September 2009

Convolute N: The Arcades Project & Method

James Kennell and I have started to post about Convolute N of The Arcades Project on our project blog. This Convolute is concerned with Benjamin's methodology and epistemology and is thus a central concern for us. We hope to post some more on it over the next little while.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Texts as 'surfaces'

In media studies we use the literary and cultural studies term 'text' to refer to the objects we study (e.g. TV shows, dvds, games, dress and its codes, fashion, adverts, photographs, websites and the internet, films, music, radio, newspapers & magazines, etc) because we approach them through 'reading' and because they possess the same 'woven' structure ('texture'?) of human construction as written texts (i.e. novels).  The problem arises from the metaphorical depth we ascribe to these objects.  We can talk of how something is 'embedded' in the text or 'projects' from it as though it was a fully three dimensional object with lumps and bumps.  This is of course not the case in reality (almost none of the 'texts' we study can be considered to have much in the way of actual physical depth to them) but this seeming paradox is easily removed when we remember that we are using these terms and ideas metaphorically.  The language of media studies (and of cultural and literary studies in general) is highly metaphorical and we need to get to grips with this often very loosely structured use of language.
The 'surface' metaphor is a useful place to start.  All texts have a physical surface (on which they are printed, projected or displayed or from which they are read or decoded; i.e. the difference between a page or screen and the media of a DVD) but that is not what we are concerned with here (although the shiny surfaces of modern media are interesting and have attracted attention) rather we need to deal with the metaphorical sense in which texts (another metaphor after all) are 'surfaces'.
Firstly, this metaphor reminds us that there is nothing behind the text.  The text is brought into existence by social forces and practices and through certain technologies but these are not its foundations or history.  Rather the text is an expression of these social forces and objects and they surround the text as a scaffold rather than buttress it from behind or found it from below.  Second, the metaphor is used to remind us that there are many intersections and points of contact between these surfaces - as there is between the surfaces of bubbles in a foam. Thirdly, the surface metaphor showes us that our relationship with the text as its audience is not really with the text but rather with the social forces and pattern of connexions that it represents and/or stands for.  Finally the idea of texts as surfaces indicates the representational nature of these objects.   All texts are built  up from and in a sense only consist of representations and by conceptualising texts as surfaces we bring paintings, photographs, screens and mirrors to mind when we analyse them.

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