Abstract

Abstract:

This short article considers an etymological observation that the word medium takes on two seemingly distinct, or even paradoxical, new meanings in the middle of the nineteenth century: first, in 1850, the word medium is used to discuss mass media as a form of increasingly decentralized technological syndication capable of great influence and power; second, in 1851, the word medium is used to describe a person with psychic or clairvoyant capacities—a spiritual medium. Following Jill Galvan’s argument that modern concepts of media are closely tied to gender difference, I argue that the feminine trope of the spiritual medium is siphoned off from rationalist discourses of modern mass media to mitigate its dangerous potential. The result is both a cultural and academic understanding of the object of media studies that is incompatible with a project like women in theory for both structural and epistemological reasons. An early twentieth century novel, Harriet Hume, by Rebecca West, models anti-subjective, non-representational practices of media in the form of telepathy and allows us to approach this fissure. By following the lines of intersection between mass media and spiritual media, by imagining they are more similar than different, this article opens up new lines of inquiry for understanding the real and potential contribution of women to media theory emerging in the nineteenth century, the production of women as theoretical media constructs, and speculations on the theoretical and material emplacement of women in the academic practice of media theory today.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6539
Print ISSN
0300-7162
Pages
pp. 101-107
Launched on MUSE
2022-07-14
Open Access
No
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