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  • Intermediality: An Introduction to the Arts of Transmission
  • Eric Méchoulan (bio)
    Translated by Angela Carr

Intermediality has become a fashionable concept: it appears whenever we speak about what we once referred to easily as the medium or media, of systems and apparatuses, mises en scène and structures. It is used frequently in a number of different traditions, whether European, American or Australian. In some cases it holds the potential to redefine the purpose of an art or a specific medium. Consider the example that cinema provides: “its medium-specific possibility seems to have been well and truly overrun by its tendency to intermediality, its fundamental impurity. That is where its true materiality-effect, today, is situated: in the palpable aura of a mise en scène that is always less than itself and more than itself, not only itself but also its contrary, ever vanishing and yet ever renewed across a thousand and one screens, platforms and dispositifs” (Martin). But it’s important not to reduce intermediality to a simple intersection of mediums or media: “intermediality […] refers to more than simply the sheer fact of a multimedia culture, or the mixing and copresence of many media forms within specific works” (Martin). In this way, theater, according to Kattenbelt, bears “a distinctive capacity to be a hypermedium which ‘stages’ other mediums” (37). Every art or media thus seems to find its means in other arts and media, unsettling the expected borders between them.

It is important to generalize these judicious reappropriations: there is no pure medium. The impurity of the medium, as rightly emphasized by Adrian Martin, concerns all mediums. To some extent, a “media” (if we understand this term to refer to a specific medium that has been institutionalized, hence the plural form) is a stabilization system for each medium. Thus, it is important to outline a brief history of the formation of the concept of intermediality so as to better estimate its field of possibilities and what it might offer in terms of new ways of apprehending artistic or day-to-day phenomena.

Intertextuality, interdiscourse, intermediality

First of all, intermediality implies the linking of diverse theories that are also modified by the same prefix. In this way, intertextuality seeks to retrieve the text from its presumed autonomy and to read in it the mise en œuvre of other, pre-existing texts, returning it to a series of statements [End Page 3] and measuring how it is indebted to earlier works. We understand “text” to mean any aesthetic production that constitutes a “tissue” of words, sounds, pigments, or images (long before intertextuality was brought into fashion by literary criticism in the 1960s and 1970s, Panofsky had developed iconological methods of interpretation, tracing iconic motifs and apparatuses from canvas to canvas). These investigations remain, however, in the homogeny of tradition, whether literary or pictorial. Yet, the order of words depends not only on the institutional sphere to which they belong but also the multiple discourses and representations that can be brought together, braided, or crossed: quotidian discourses, discourses of disciplines or fields of competency—indeed, more generally, discursive formations that connect the representable to historically-specific representations. Each work thus assumes the performance of diverse competencies that demonstrate “interdiscursivity.”

And intermediality? It introduces a field that is much larger or even more fundamental in which a work functions not only in accordance with its debts (more or less) recognized towards such other works and in the mobilization of discursive competencies (and if necessary, usurped), but equally, in the recourse to institutions that grant legitimacy, on the one hand, or to material supports that determine its efficacy on the other hand. In discourse, we do not find only simple neutralized language in the field of competency (that are specific regimes of authority), but also two modes of what would be called in French “support” (medium): above, socially recognized institutions, and below, technically-worked materials; even if assigning “height” to institutions and “lowliness” to material techniques already signals an ideological stance, similar judgment also depends on the social organization of thought. It remains, no less, that the legitimacy orchestrated by institutions and the efficacy induced by techniques and materials produces...


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