Editor: Charles R. Acland
Publisher: Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2007
Review Published: November 2007
Even the most committed scholar rarely looks forward to taking on the review of an edited volume. It's too much work to sift through the variety of approaches and to synthesize them in a representative, but critical, essay. So, I send out massive respect to these two reviewers who took on this task, tackling not only a big book but one that assembles a diverse range of material. And most impressively, they succeed, offering smart and perceptive summaries and commentary, so much so that I can't but concur with the criticisms. Gilfillan and Scott just seem to get it.
Residual Media is indeed interested in the grittiness, graininess and physicality of culture, as Gilfillan puts it. The book wants to remind people that those formerly state-of-the-art things, and their associated practices, remain in our midst, reconfigured into second and third lives. Think of that love song to celluloid, Grindhouse (Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino, and various other directors, 2007), which offers a studied compilation of fonts, tunes, acting styles, promotional techniques, and lighting conventions from decades past (primarily the 70s and 80s). Moreover, it plays with an understanding of the material features of film itself, with faded stock, scratched and decaying footage, and missing reels. No matter that mainstream movie houses in Canada and the U.S. no longer change reels while a screening is in process, nor that the fading and scratched celluloid of this film is nothing more than another aesthetic allusion for the film's pastiche. Grindhouse builds upon a popular reservoir of ideas and memories of cultural, media, and industry practice. And it invites its audience to consider those "mistakes," "errors," and "faults" as part of the grittiness, graininess, "grindi-ness" of culture.
Residual Media also wants us to think about the materiality of our so-called virtual, data-rich, context. We are surrounded by the absurdities of the discourses of immateriality, which talk about our new media culture as though it is ethereal and outside of the constraints of location and the passing of time. But it is evident that all manifestations of the digital, after a few meager months of shiny pleasures and after that appealing new technology smell dissipates, start to exhibit those gritty and grainy characteristics of analog forms. I-Pods get smudged, keyboards get dusty, and laptop screens get scratched. Those digital forms, apparatuses, and skills do what all known entities do: they get old.
So, to respond to one of Scott's questions, my selection criteria for the authors and research included in this collection gave priority to those works interested in material culture. I did not want this to be a work on the poetics of aging culture. Residual Media compiles work that is theoretically advanced and that unpacks the dynamics of cultural change in specific circumstances and cases. In this way, again taking inspiration from Raymond Williams, the research displays some relationship to cultural materialism.
Having said that, I worked to include as diverse and eclectic a body of research I could find while still maintaining a conceptual core. In my view, Residual Media pushed the outer limits of that objective, intentionally so. As the reviewers point out, there are other things that one could add, and to be sure this is not a comprehensive volume. But I do believe that its eclecticism gives readers a good idea of the range of applications of the questions and concepts introduced as well as some spark of where one might go next. Note too that the central strategy of most chapters is to look backward, to other historical moments, in order to reveal the inevitability of the dynamics of cultural change, and in so doing encourage comparable treatment of additional contemporary situations.
This response may not be the closing editor's chapter that Scott invites! But my sincere hope is that the conversation prompted by Residual Media will continue. This supposed world of the "new" of ours requires serious engagement with the materials and sensibilities of the "old."
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