Context Dependency in New Media Critique

See page 13 in The Language of New Media

In discussing why the word “Language” appears in the title of his book, rather than some other term like “Poetics,” Lev Manovich cites literary scholar Tzvetan Todorov. The citation implies that “Poetics” would have been undesirable because, according to Todorov, Poetics is “an approach… at once ‘abstract’ and ‘internal.’”

As The Language of New Media is philosophically grounded in the material and mechanistic qualities of new media objects as they exist on computers — as definite objects independent of subjective perceptions — the word “poetics” would in this sense be unsuitable.

Shortly after citing Todorov, Manovich proposes his analysis of new media in terms of the material properties of a computer. To a typical computer user, the material properties of a computer might seem most properly described as objective qualities of physical computing machines.

This description of practical computing is important to the overall argument in The Language of New Media. On page 52, for example, Manovich rejects a distinction between new and traditional media on the basis of whether they involve discrete or continuous modes of representing information; this rejection is grounded in a materialist approach to understanding “concrete computer technologies.”

At the same time, Manovich proposes an analysis of new media in terms of “information culture,” which he admits is his own coinage, and which he defines only by analogy to another concept, which he calls “visual culture.” Analogy involves abstraction, and a vaguely defined coinage has an internal meaning to he who coins the phrase which is not necessarily shared by others.

Contradictory assertions similar to this appear throughout the text, which in the context of poetry might be perfectly acceptable, but in the context of what purports to be a rigorous and systematic analysis, turn out to be quite problematic.


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