- Mapping Intermediality in Performance
When I defended my dissertation in LinguaMOO in 1995, I was very aware that there was significant space between the room where I was physically inputting my responses to questions posed to me by my committee, who were physically present, and the virtual auditorium where I watched my thoughts become instantiated as posts (that each began with "Dene says") for the 50-plus members of the on-line audience. I was, likewise, acutely aware that the performance required for each room was different—different in a way that had nothing to do with the research findings I typed for my responses but, rather, how I put forward those findings in each. Somewhere in that space between here and there I had to make a significant shift in my personae in order to reach the audience in both rooms effectively. Yes, William Gibson had, close to 10 years before, provided the metaphorical notion of "jacking in" and described the experience of moving from the real-world "Sprawl" to the on-line "Matrix," and Sherry Turkle had already described the experience of The Second Self and had just told us what happens when we live Life on the Screen, but the theoretical language for making sense of the space and the performances that it mediates had not fully been realized in 1995.
Some years and a Second Life later, a cogent theory of what I had wondered about emerged: Intermediality. While Bay-Cheng et al.'s Mapping Intermediality in Performance is certainly not the first book to discuss intermediality directly—that honor may go to Intermediality: The Teachers' Handbook of Critical Media Literacy, published in 1999—it is [End Page 276] perhaps the best one for making sense of it theoretically, from a performance focus.
Mapping Intermediality is a collection of essays written by 30 international artists and scholars working in the areas of art history, theater, film studies, media art, music, literature and performance studies and so provides a broad yet detailed perspective on intermediality and performance, specifically in digital culture. Organized into five portals, or "gateways into the network which afford a range of situated perspectives," four nodes composing a "cluster of terms" and instances that offer "dialogic engagement" and a general fleshing out of ideas, the book itself reflects the act of mapping out space. Throughout the book the reader will find arrows pointing to "links" in the book's "system" (p. 9), a strategy of remediating hypertextuality in print form that makes good sense for a book about intermediality in digital culture.
Intermediality, the book suggests, is concerned with "co-relations . . . that result in a redefinition of the media that are influencing each other, which in turn leads to a fresh perception." It is, as Robin Nelson writes in the opening essay, "a bridge between mediums" (p. 14) and, so, constitutes a "both-and approach" to understanding information rather than an either-or perspective (p. 17). Citing the International Encyclopedia of Communication, Nelson points out three basic perspectives accepted for understanding intermediality:
First . . . [it] is the combination and adaptation of separate material vehicles of representation and reproduction, sometimes called multimedia. . . . Second, the term denotes communication through several sensory modalities at once. . . . Third, [it] concerns the interrelations between media as institutions in society, as addressed in technological and economic terms such as convergence and conglomeration .
Out of this broad understanding of object and experience emerge basic qualities associated with intermediality, such as interconnectedness, syncretism, interactivity and playfulness, and dislocation, to name a few that figure largely (pp. 19-21). One of the pervasive characteristics of digital culture is the way in which media work together in a system to accomplish "communicative strategies" (p. 15). In fact, the term intermediality suggests "the interconnectedness of modern media of communication [my emphasis]" . Video games that incorporate sound and image are but one example of the way in which elements of media objects connect with one another in order to present a unified...