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  • The TV-Box:Reconsidering a Lost Television Set, Santa Claus and the Ants1
  • Johanne Villeneuve (bio)
    Translated by Will Bishop

Parameters and Intermediality

For several years now, early cinema historians have developed certain notions that can help us define, in a much broader context, the axes of research in intermedial studies. Even though I’ll be giving it a slightly different importance, the notion I will be borrowing from these historians here is that of the “parameter.” Work by André Gaudreault and Philippe Marion on the emergence of the cinematographic medium relies on the idea that the medium appears as the result of a choice made by the historian (or some other author of periodization). To write the history of any given medium and separate it into periods, one must also select the components “that gathered together as a way of giving ‘birth’ to that medium at a given moment” (Gaudreault and Marion, “Pour une nouvelle” 230; all translations mine). Gaudreault and Marion designate these components with the concept of the “cultural series,” though they often use the term “parameter” to refine its meaning. Thus, according to them, every medium is, at the moment of its birth, a “cluster of convergences,” a system of federated and provisionally stabilized “mobile parameters” that point toward apparatuses and media:

If we choose the parameter “light projection,” we do not get the same division among media configurations we would if the privileged parameter concerned were, let’s say, the axis “vues animées” [moving pictures]. Emile Reynaud’s optical theater, for example, could not be considered as an integral part of the “film” medium though it responds to the parameters and manner of dividing the two configurations of “light projection” and “vues animées.”

(“Cinéma” 25–26)

The parameter of “light projection” thus evokes aspects related to projection and light in the emergence of cinema as a medium and its announced end. The configuration proposed by Gaudreault and Marion can be related to the very old representations of the magic lantern, shadow theaters and later the phantasmagoria of Richardson, who projected the image of ghosts onto smokescreens or fabrics. Addressing the film medium on the basis of this parameter would therefore mean agreeing upon an axis of historical and epistemological pertinence (Mueller, “Vers l’intermédialité”) capable [End Page 73] of drawing out the differential singularity, in other words, of trying to grasp its “mediativity” through one particular thread over another, as a function of the projecting apparatus rather than as a function of the idea of movement, for example, or of animation. By “mediativity,” the two historians mean that which “concerns and gathers together all the parameters that define the expressive and communicational potential developed by the medium” (Gaudreault and Marion, “Cinéma” 25). It is therefore never perfectly designed, nor is it quite the medium itself.

It seems to me that this notion of a “parameter” can help us think not only of the identity of a medium (or its differential character), but also its potential, or rather that potentiality that one medium or another could have at a given moment of its history and that has atrophied with time: expressive and communicational affinities that may have, for a certain amount of time, been extremely important in the social, cultural, or institutional recognition of the medium, but that have weakened, though not without leaving a trace.

Yet from the point of view of the spectator, and not the historian, do these parameters not correspond to more or less recognizable arrangements of materialities, media, techniques, and gestures? In the undefined milieu where media are born and evolve? And that milieu is recalled to us from time to time in its uncertain dimension of fantasy, corresponding as much to childhood reveries as to the fears and desires of media omnipotence. The fervor for media inventiveness thus crosses paths with the memory of broken promises. And one must look at this memory to understand what, at a given moment of their histories, photography, cinema, and television, were able to give figure.

Santa Claus in the Fireplace

Generally speaking, it would be tempting to articulate television within the parameter of the “light-producing domestic...


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pp. 73-97
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