Form, Objects, Media, and Profit


Dear Mark,

I don’t think that we need to do the realism thing, although you’ve never struck me as a person who was remotely afraid (to the contrary) of deep water. My invocation of realism was, allow me to say this as dismissively as possible, an example. Of, precisely, the challenge of thinking in inter-medial fashion. The only reason for us to care about realism would be if we thought its differences across media would tell us something about the changing inter-medial dynamics.

Some objects wear their mediation more lightly than others. But we cannot imagine that this variance resides anywhere except in the way that media have been institutionalized, can we? I take the (Bazinian?, not exclusively surely) point that there are properties of these objects that affect their mediation, but for our argument those properties must be significant largely for how they shape institutionalization and discipline.

You wrote,

I think our collaboration repeatedly demonstrates that my background in Film and Media Studies gives me something to say about about the problem of meditation that your background in English does not, and vice versa. This productive difference does have something to do with the fact that I’ve watched a lot of films and you’ve read a lot of novels. It ought to be possible to value this difference without perpetually reprising a love-hate relationship with these objects of study.

For other English types, it will be important that I’ve been reading 20th/21st C novels. Victorianists and 18th C scholars of the novel typically care more about mediation than contemporary fiction scholars and modernists do. In my experience the curiosity of the 18th C epistolary novel and Victorian seriality far more emphatically direct scholars to ask about relations among form, object, and media than even the experiments of modernism and postmodernism. Leave the novel for the lands of poetry and drama, you’ll find again this complex relation of form, object, media is rarely ignored. The novel, in short, is the problem, and the high profile of 20th C fiction in particular.

Which, given the still strong market for at least some novels, makes it odd that anyone could forget this point you reference from our work in progress:

This inter-medial encounter ought to remind us further that humanities objects are themselves moving targets produced and reproduced by nonacademic institutions.

Why is this not obvious?

Our account of how the humanities rose in status by retreating into the academy is surely part of the answer.

The fear of being useful is the affective remainder of the power plays associated with Leavis, Crowe, and Ransom, which legitimated criticism by retreating to the academy and, at the same time, complained that academics were not empowered to manage cultural reproduction.

Although I still like this formulation, I’ve been trying this out for a little while now on my colleagues, etc., and I don’t find that use is what galls them. Or so they say. What unsettles them is profit. I’ve been prodding you about this particular matter for a little while but you haven’t taken the bait. We like our objects to be worthless in exchange. Profitability when we refer to it makes a certain opaque point. Sometimes it testifies to significance, but rarely (ever?) analytic significance.

In our work in progress, we recognize the power of but are skeptical towards the Leavis / New Critical retreat into the academy and away from the market. We recognize the power of and tend to like the transdisciplinary efforts of mid-century anti-capitalists cum strange bedfellows Greenberg and Adorno/Horkheimer. I like having it both ways, and we do note that there’s no reason to be caught up in jazz-baiting or kitsch-hating when appreciating Greenberg/Adorno/Horkheimer efforts, as we put it, “to take in the whole picture of culture administration and explain how nominally opposed camps collude to maintain capitalism.” But it’s hard not to notice that Greenberg/Adorno/Horkheimer take different approaches than early century academics like Thrasher et al. who worked with and within the culture industries.

Film and new media scholars will doubtless feel closer to this problem of whether they should work with and within the culture industries than scholars of literature. Literature scholars should not feel so securely distanced from it, however. I think I told you about Amitav Ghosh’s presentation at the Novel conference in which he reminded a room full of academics that many writers write to make a living. There’s no escaping the filthy lucre. How are we to think about the way that humanities academics frame their relationship to it? The zealous engagement with Hollywood that we found so compelling in Grieveson, Wasson, Polan, and Decherney’s work on early film and film study can only appear as anathema today.


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