I don’t know how many of you have seen the German film, Goodbye, Lenin! (Dir. Wolfgang Becker, 2003), but, let me be the first to tell you, it’s good-hearted and surprisingly enlightening. The film tells the story of one son’s love for his mother and of her love for East Germany (DDR). But when the protagonist’s mother falls into a coma and misses the fall of the Berlin Wall, her son fights to keep her believing that nothing has changed after she wakes up in a brand new and quickly westernizing Germany in order to protect her from suffering another heart attack.
While both hilarious and heartwarming, this film is also a clever conversation starter when it comes to issues of remediation (a desire “both to multiply [our] media and to erase all traces of mediation: ideally, [the desire] to erase…media in the very act of multiplying them”) (Bolter and Grusin 5). In other words, remediation is an attempt on part of filmmakers and other media-creators “to put the viewer in the same space as the objects viewed” without any sense of mediation (Bolter and Grusin 11). And Goodbye, Lenin! is a terrific case study for this concept as the protagonist is forced to utilize a wide array of media and products only available due to the westernization of Germany in order to craft a new reality for his mother wherein those media do not exist (thereby necessitating that those same media responsible for the construction of this new-old East Germany remain invisible even as they remain in play).
But isn’t this akin to what we as writers (both academic and nonacademic) seek to do in our writing as well? Don’t we work to use our medium — the written word — as a means of transporting readers into a world or space or argument so well crafted that all of the work and media behind it, all of the time, research, interviews, pavement pounding, and copyright-pay-through-the-nosing becomes invisible? Then, when these media come crashing into one another — when we perhaps include an illustration or a photograph or detailed explanation of research methods in order to better orient the reader within our work — don’t these also bring the reader out of the text to some extent, remind them of their role as an observer/interpreter? How can we reconcile all of these different available media so that they at once perfect the illusion whilst keeping our readers as up-to-date as possible?
And isn’t the goal of all of this work and research, of all of the developments in high definition television and 3D capability, meant to “disappear” in our readers/viewers’ viewing and leave them “in the presence of the thing represented” whether it’s an alien planet, mowing the lawn, or harpooning of a white whale (Bolter and Grusin 6)? Yet, today we see a massive crisscrossing and overlapping of countless media that pull us out of the moments those media strive to create whether it’s logos or script in a marquee at the bottom of our television screens or an advertisement appearing on our e-readers or an email notification popping up in the corner of our computer screens.
Of course, as Bolter and Grusin recognize, “No medium today, and certainly no single media event, seems to do its cultural work in isolation from other media, any more than it works in isolation from other social and economic forces” (15).
So how do you see remediation at play within your art/writing/media? What types of media intersect within your reading and writing experiences and how do they add to or subtract from those experiences? Is it preferable to begin creating ‘interactive novels’ (e-books with hyperlinks, videos, etc.) as compared to hard-copy books (with and without illustrations) or is there a happy medium?
Bolter, Jay David and Richard Grusin. Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1999.