- Intermediality: Axis of Relevance
Over the past twenty years, the concept of intermediality has emerged as a strategic response that has sought to bypass some of the ills that have plagued the university as an institution.1 Indeed, defined as the study of “nodes of relations, of relationship movements slow enough to seem immobile” (Méchoulan), intermediality as an approach has helped fight against the hyper-specialization of research in the humanities. By conceiving of relationships (as opposed to media forms also under investigation) as paramount, it has made it possible to view as counterintuitive the fragmented approach to the real and its representations. Thereby, the social and cultural environment has been relocated to the center of analyses pertaining to literature, film, theater, the visual arts, and digital productions. In such cases, intermediality is a tool that is placed in the service of a comparativist and multidisciplinary approach to research (Mueller). As a concept, then, it is not thought of as the property of specific objects, but as a shift in perspective on the part of scholars.2
To the definition of the concept as a strategic response, we might add an aspect that is just as relevant, namely that of intermediality as an epistemological challenge. When it is deployed to pay special attention to technique and the materiality of forms in their relation to one another, intermediality constitutes a way of sidestepping intertextual or interdiscursive issues.3 The growing importance of the concept of intermediality takes the shape of a historiographical displacement that covers the entirety of the twentieth century. Within this trend, attention that was bestowed upon formats and other mediatic environments has come to be replaced, gradually, with a focus that rests on texts and, subsequently, on the relations between texts.4 Thus, equal amounts of attention are given to the content of analyzed artifacts—the production of meaning—and to the way in which this content acquires its form through its encounter with a specific format—the production of presence (Gumbrecht).
As an epistemological challenge and a strategic response, the success of the concept of intermediality can be accounted for, in equal measure, through favorable socio-cultural and technological conditions. Due to its contemporaneity with the development of the Web and the rise of social networks, intermediality has indeed benefited and contributed to the emergence of an environment that is conductive to a reflection on new technologies (Nouvelles Technologies de l’Information et de la Communication, to borrow an expression from the French communication sciences). Beyond [End Page 139] this aspect, which is in part cyclical, the attractiveness of the concept lies in its intrinsically polysemous nature. The lack of consensus surrounding a definition of the term “medium” has been less an impediment than it has allowed for both complementary and distinct appropriations of the term to take hold. This article aims to put these different meanings into dialogue with their consequences on the definition of intermediality. Indeed, a form of naturalization of the significance of “media,” dependent upon its inscription within a given disciplinary field (semiology, literature, visual studies, communication sciences), is often observed. Going against this trend, I believe in the heuristic value of a polymorphic sense of the concept, which does not, however, exclude more pointed questionings from being formulated at a later stage. The challenge here is to demonstrate the benefits of an awareness of the existence of these complementary approaches to the completion of a fully reflexive intermedial study. This requires, first and foremost, that the definition of the term “media” itself be revisited. First, the term is sometimes used as a synonym for cultural productions or artworks. This type of approach is especially widespread amongst semiologists, art historians, and specialists of visual and literary studies. Within this framework, the transition from “intertextuality” to “intermediality” results, most commonly, from a desire to allot more space to the notion of technique. Second, it sometimes happens that a medium corresponds to a cultural series that has acquired a certain degree of autonomy vis-à-vis another, pre-existing medium. This is especially true in the fields of media archeology, the communication sciences, and cultural history. Third...