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Richard A. Grusin, Premediation


“Our culture wants both to multiply its media and to erase all traces of mediation: ideally, it wants to erase its media in the very act of multiplying them.” —(Grusin, Remediation 5).

“Premediation describes the cultural desire to mediate the future before it happens.” —(Grusin, “Premediating Obama’s VP”)

Biography and Literary Career

American new-media scholar Richard Grusin was born in 1953. After receiving his Ph.D from the University of California-Berkeley, Grusin worked as a Professor of English at the College of William and Mary (1983-1986). He then lived in Atlanta for fifteen years as a Professor and Chair of the School of Literature, Communication, and Culture at the Georgia Institute of Technology (1986-2001). From 1999-2000 he was William S. Vaughn Visiting Fellow at the Robert Penn Warren Center for Humanities at Vanderbilt University.

Just two months before the events of 9/11, Grusin and his family (including wife, Ann) moved to Detroit, where Grusin accepted a position as Professor and Chair of the English Department at Wayne State University (2001-2008). In 2010, Grusin was named the Director of the Center for 21st Century Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.

Grusin is the author of four books:

Transcendentalist Hermeneutics: Institutional Authority and the Higher Criticism of the Bible (Duke, 1991), which concerns the influence of European (primarily German) theories of biblical interpretation on the New England Transcendentalists. Grusin asserts that this book is a revision of his doctoral dissertation from the University of California-Berkeley.

Remediation: Understanding New Media (MIT, 1999), co-authored with Jay David Bolter, which sketches out a genealogy of new media, beginning with the contradictory visual logics underlying contemporary digital media.

Culture, Technology, and the Creation of America’s National Parks (Cambridge, 2004), which focuses on the problematics of visual representation involved in the founding of America’s national parks.

Premediation: Affect and Mediality After 9/11 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), which argues that in an era of heightened securitization, socially networked US and global media work to pre-mediate collective affects of anticipation and connectivity, while also perpetuating low levels of apprehension or fear.

In a 2011 interview with Henry Jenkins, Grusin described himself as a scholar interested in new perspectives on media trends, explaining, “I see myself more as a cultural critic or media theorist than as a creator of new forms.”

Transmission History

Grusin moved to Detroit just two months before the events of 9/11, and calls Premediation “a product of [his] life at Wayne State University.” Initially tracing the ways in which remediation (a concept developed in his 1999 book co-authored with Jay David Bolter) was present after 9/11, Grusin discovered that two conceptual frameworks were critical to discovering the media’s influence on a post-9/11 world: affect and mediality.

After working closely with colleagues at Wayne State University to explore the frameworks of affectivity, Grusin first presented his concept of premediation at the Universities of Utrecht and Amsterdam in the Netherlands in March 2003. In October of that same year, Grusin lectured in Milan on “Premediation.” His host, Matteo Bittanti, translated Grusin’s article on premediation into Italian, and arranged for it to be published in an Italian film magazine called Duellanti in July 2004. Around the same time, “Premediation” was published in English in Criticism.

In 2005, Grusin presented an early version of his Abu Ghraib chapter (which would become “Chapter 3: Affect, Mediality, and Abu Ghraib”) as the keynote lecture at a symposium for Bergamo University in 2005. The lecture was then translated into Italian and published in Acoma, an Italian journal for American Studies, in 2006. In 2007, a more-developed version of the chapter appeared in Open: Cahier on Art and the Public Domain as “Publicity, Pornography, or Everyday Media Practice? On the Abu Ghraib Photographs.”

In 2010, Premediation: Affect and Mediality After 9/11 was published by Palgrave Macmillan, the global academic imprint of Macmillan Publishers Limited in Hampshire, England, and St. Martin’s Press in New York.

Though Premediation has been published, Grusin has not stopped writing about the concept, both formally and informally. In 2011, Grusin published “Premediation and the Virtual Occupation of Wall Street” in academic journal Theory and Event. More informally, between August 2008 and October 2012, Grusin kept a blog called Premediation: In Which I Attempt to Think Through the Concept of Premediation on the Fly. In his blog, Grusin continued to explore the ways in which premediation manifests in relation to important world events, including the 2012 election.

Reception History

Critical Reception:

Marieke De Goede, in her 2008 article “Beyond Risk: Premediation and the Post-9/11 Security Imagination,” not only gives Grusin credit for coining the term ‘premediation,’ but for acknowledging its political significance as a tool for preemption. In other words, De Goede recognizes Grusin’s theory of premediation as a way to inform political action—particularly in a post-9/11 world constantly concerned with national security.

Because Remediation has become core reading for those studying media-based disciplines, critical reviews of Premediation must first dissect its relationship to its predecessor. Both Rob Coley and Jussi Parikka open their reviews of Premediation with concern that the book may simply re-hash the theories presented in Remediation—and pleasant surprise that their concerns prove false. Grusin, on the other hand, embraces the idea that Premediation is an extension of his previous studies and writings on remediation, though presents Premediation as both a continuation and a counterpart to Remediation.

Complaints about Grusin’s previous book, Remediation—that his theories might be well-grounded in psychoanalyst Felix Guattari’s success but lacking in their own specificity and critical force—are not perpetuated with the publication of Premediation. Both Grusin and his reviewers point out that although Premediation revisits central concepts of Remediation, it is to analyze the ways in which these concepts are deployed in a post-9/11 reality.

Reviewer Rob Coley points to Grusin’s shift in methodological approach as central to Premediation’s more-successful critical reception, aligning Grusin’s new tactics with Nigel Thrift’s ‘non-representational theory.’ Unlike Remediation’s focus on a dichotomy between old and new media—what media is—Coley praises Premediation for addressing what media does. By mapping out multiple potential possibilities for the future, Coley observes, Grusin’s theory of premediation helps examine the interplay of power between mediated events while encouraging a future that is not enclosed by media opinion.

Like Coley, Jussi Parikka distinguishes Premediation as a positive shift in methodological approach away from Grusin’s previous work, though she does call Premediation a “complementary project” to Remediation. The difference, for Parikka, lies within Premediation’s mapping of current interests in social media and digital relationships between people and issues, rather than Remediation’s largely film-based focus.

Both Coley and Parikka address the specific examples of 9/11 texts that Grusin uses as case studies within Premediation (Don DeLillo’s The Falling Man and Art Spiegelman’s In the Shadow of No Towers), but with differing conclusions. While Coley appreciates the specificity of such case studies as juxtaposed with the less-tangible theoretical framework of Grusin’s previous work in Remediation, Parikka wonders if spending such a large number of pages on non-digital examples is the best way to communicate the way digital and social media perpetuates Grusin’s theory of Premediation.

Popular Reception:

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Amazon readers have not yet posted any customer reviews regarding Premediation. The Editorial Review section of Amazon’s page for the book reveals that Choice recommends Premediation, saying, “Grusin offers an intriguing original theory of media behavior..."

Of the ten Goodreads users who marked the book ‘to-read’ or ‘read,’ one reader ranked it 4/5 stars, and two users gave it 5/5 stars.

Interviews with Grusin:

Just prior to Premediation’s publication in 2010, Geoff Cox interviewed Grusin for anti-thesis.net regarding what to anticipate from the work. Grusin defines the key term (premediation) and speaks briefly about the initial response to his concept:

"I first presented the idea of premediation in the Netherlands in 2003, just before the US invaded Iraq. My argument was that the incessant pre- mediation of the Iraq war in print, televisual, and networked news media, which had been under way for more than a year, produced in the global media public a sense of the war’s inevitability, so that when the war began people would feel as if it had already been happening and resistance would be muted. The response I received to this argument was overwhelmingly affirmative, especially from those academics and students fresh from the worldwide protests of 15 February 2003."

In an interview with Henry Jenkins in 2011, Grusin discusses the relationship between his work on remediation and Jenkins’ work on transmediation (though only vaguely touches on premediation in the last section of the three-part interview):

"In my new book I situate the double logic of remediation both, as you plausibly suggest earlier, in relation to the invention of new stand-alone multimedia storage devices like the cd-rom, as well as in relation to the 1990s desire for immediacy represented most fully in technical fantasies of virtual reality which grew largely out of the cyberculture and cyberpunk imaginary of the 1980s…In the first decades of the 21st century, the emergence of social media has, I argue, shifted the ways in which immediacy and hypermediacy manifest themselves–and thus alter the double logic of remediation. In fact where in the 1990s the immediacy of the real was defined in opposition to the multiplicity of mediation, in the 21st century hypermediation is the mark of the real, as epitomized most dramatically in the Fox series 24, which depicted real-time not in terms of the erasure of mediation but in terms of its multiplication. In our current moment of mobile, socially networked media, immediacy is manifested as mobility, connectivity, and flow, the easy, almost seamless, interaction among our countless personal and collective media sites–FB, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, Tumblr, and countless others."

In a 2013 interview with Elizabeth Saaed Correa for Brazilian journal MATRIZEs, Grusin explains that it is critical for readers of Premediation to have a working understanding of remediation as a theory:

"First, it is crucial to distinguish remediation from premediation. Although both logics of mediation are at play in the 21st century, they operate differently and with different concepts…Remediation, the refashioning or re-mediation, of one medium by another, operated in two contradictory ways, seeking on the one hand to erase all signs of mediation in providing an immediate encounter with the real and on the other hand to multiply or call attention to remediation in what Jay Bolter and I referred to as hypermediacy. Remediation differs from mediatization, which refers to the technical and social transformation of contemporary culture, politics, economy, etc., into a media culture. Remediation on the other hand refers to the logics of mediation that are enabled by and that enable mediatization…Premediation is one of the predominant ways in which remediation manifests itself in the 21st century. Premediation does not displace remediation but deploys it in different aesthetic, sociotechnical, or political formations. The double logic of remediation still obtains, but its conflicting media logics are formally different. Unlike remediation, which seeks a kind of perceptual or affective immediacy, premediation works to produce an affectivity of anticipation by remediating future events or occurrences which may or may not ever happen. (2-3)"

Work Consulted

Bolter, Jay D, Richard Grusin, and Ronald Day. "Book Reviews - Remediation: Understanding New Media." Journal of the American Society for Information Science. 50.8 (1999): 730. Print.

Coley, Rob. "Book Review: Premediation: Affect and Mediality After 9/11." Journal of Visual Culture. 10.3 (2011): 412-415. Print.

Clark, Geoff. “Premediation: Interview with Richard Grusin.” anti-thesis. 2010. Web. 14 February 2014.

Correa, Elizabeth Saaed. “From remediation to premediation: or how the affective immediacy of late 90’s digital society evolves to an continuous affectivity anticipation of future in the 21th century.” MATRIZEs. 7.2 (2013): 1-12. Web.

De Goede, M. "Beyond Risk: Premediation and the Post-9/11 Security Imagination." Security Dialogue. 39 (2008): 2-3. Print.

Grusin, Richard A. “About.” Richard Grusin. Web. 5 February 2014.

Grusin, Richard A. "Premediation." Criticism. 46.1 (2004): 17-39. Print.

Grusin, Richard A. Premediation: In Which I Attempt to Think Through the Concept of Premediation on the Fly. Web. 6 February 2014.

Grusin, Richard A. “Preface and Acknowledgements.” Premediation: Affect and Mediality After 9/11. England: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010. ix-xii. Print.

Grusin, Richard A. "Premediation and the Virtual Occupation of Wall Street." Theory & Event. 14.4 (2011). Print.

Kilbourn, Russell. “Pattern Pre-Recognition.” Reviews in Cultural Theory. 2.2 (2011). Web.

Jenkins, Henry and Richard A. Grusin. “A Remediated, Premediated, and Transmediated Conversation with Richard Grusin.” Confessions of an Aca-Fan. Web. 24 February 2014.

Parikka, Jussi. "[review Of] Premediation: Affect and Mediality After 9/11." Leonardo. 44.3 (2011): 270-271. Print.