the ARTistry of ARThistory occasionally done ARTfully

Remediation and Recontentualization

Posted by gninja on April 22, 2007

The rather tongue twisting and neologizing (I think that one’s a neologism, too) title of this post refers to my current interest in the ways in which new media re-present old content, and how old media re-present new content. So, for remediation, I’m thinking of the theories put forward by Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin in their book on the concept. (Yes, yes, I realize it’s a bit outdated by now and some of the illustrations look downright archaic, but it nevertheless articulates some insightful thoughts about new media.)

As I mentioned in the previous post, I’m most concerned with a manuscript of John Gower’s Confessio Amantis, one which contains his 33,000-line poem accompanied by a full cycle of manuscripts and illumination. This manuscript is unusually elaborate for its secular, poetic content. What’s most interesting, I think, is that the layout of this manuscript and its cycle of images are heavily influenced by–if not wholly emulative of– manuscripts containing liturgical or scholastic content.

As an example:


This folio in particular appropriates the layout of scientific manuscripts, whose design was specific to their content and would not have been used for other kinds of texts. Not surprisingly, then, it’s only in Book VII of the Confessio Amantis where this layout is adopted– Book VII is devoted to scientific matters and Aristotelian theories. However, it’s not just the use of a layout specific to content that interests me but also the many ways in which this manuscript deploys design techniques and uses imagery from a wide array of sources in order to shape the reader-viewer’s understanding of the narratives contained therein.

It depends upon convention and innovation in a way that suggests to me the term “recontentualize”– a term I think I may have invented though accept that someone may have already done the pompous deed for me. Rather than using new media to re-present old forms or narratives, this manuscript (and many other secular manuscripts of the fifteenth century) use pre-existing media and imagery to manipulate understandings of new texts. It is more than just, to paraphrase Brigitte Buettner, producing objects of cognition rather than objects of recognition. Rather, it is a process of using objects of recognition to shape our understanding of objects of cognition.

In my next post I’ll discuss how I’m trying to articulate the visual and textual language of secular medieval manuscript communication, and how that language has something to offer us as reader-viewer-users of new media.

As a teaser: I’ll ask whether Edward Tufte was right in referring to Powerpoint as evil. And if so, can we redeem it?

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