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  • Introduction:Comparative Media Studies in Latin America
  • Jerónimo Arellano

Contemporary scholarship across the humanities repeatedly underscores the need for an engagement with questions of transmediality, intermediality, and media convergence. Surveying this turn toward the borderlands between media forms, Lev Manovich traces back its origins to the emergence of new technologies and artistic forms in the second half of the twentieth century. For Manovich, the concept of the individuated medium—a concept that had held sway in discussions of art and literature for centuries—becomes obsolescent with the rise of artworks and platforms that transform the crossing of boundaries between different media into creative potentialities and conditions of possibility. The rise of media cross-overs in the visual arts of the 1960s (such as assemblage or video art) and the advent of digital technologies in the 1980s and ’90s, Manovich notes, set in motion a search for conceptual and topological alternatives to systems of classification that once divided “art into painting, works on paper, sculpture, film, video, and so on” (34).

While Manovich’s overview focuses primarily on visual media, related shifts in post-print literary culture lead to similar realignments. In this domain, the proliferation of hypertext, hypermedia narrative, and other forms of electronic literature sparks a rethinking of central concepts in literary studies that dovetails with the re-evaluation of the organizational topologies of art history or film studies. When extended to literary texts that are not only composed of pixels or presented on flickering screens but that also go on to incorporate into their very constitution computational processes specific to digital environments, notions of reading, writing, and textual materiality experience substantial [End Page 281] transformations. In turn, such a recasting prompts a reconsideration of the terms in which these long-held notions gained traction in the first place. From the vantage point of mediality, N. Katherine Hayles and Jessica Pressman suggest, traditional paradigms of national distinction that once organized the literary field (such as the idea of a national canon or tradition) “may be linked with the invention, dissemination, and adoption of media technologies” (x). Through this same perspective, furthermore, the conventions and guidelines traditionally used to differentiate between literary genres “can be reconceptualized so they are approached through the ways in which they presuppose and draw on different media functionalities” (x).

This change of perspective often finds its most direct interlocutor in contemporary culture—in art forms and creative practices developing under a climate of accelerated media convergence. Indeed, explorations of transmediality and intermediality often go hand-in-hand with historical arguments regarding the present and future of media change. Yet while the systematic theorization of media cross-overs arises from the need to understand objects and technologies that currently are or were until recently considered new, this vantage point has also been brought to bear on a broader range of historical periods. The work of film scholars developing the comparative media history of early cinema—a strand of scholarship that reconceives the emergence or “novelty phase” of this medium “as the culmination of various nineteenth-century representational efforts, and as a catalogue of unexpected possibilities for a yet-to-be-disciplined medium” (Uricchio 29)—is exemplary in this regard.1 Yet another demonstration of the transhistorical fertility of this line of thought surfaces in recent work that explores processes of remediation or intermediality in pre-modern contexts such as the mediascapes of medieval Europe.2

This dossier of essays—and the special session at the 2015 annual convention of the Modern Language Association (MLA) out of which it develops—takes these interdisciplinary developments and their transhistorical resonances as an inspiration and bearing (Arellano, Kreitz, and Reynolds). Comparative media studies, the approach invoked in the title of this dossier, is a framework adapted from recent scholarship that joins the term “comparative” to the term “media” in discussions of two different research paradigms. As mentioned above, [End Page 282] the notion of “comparative media” appears in studies that advance non-teleological approaches to emerging media and media shifts throughout history.3 The term “comparative media” also surfaces in recent explorations of the future of comparative literature. In his 2011 address to the American Comparative Literature Association (ACLA...


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pp. 281-291
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