Medium, Messenger, Transmission: An Approach to Media Philosophy
by Sybille Krämer
Amsterdam University Press, Amsterdam, NK, 2015
272 pp., Trade, $99.00
Reviewed by Ana Peraica, PhD
Medium, Messenger, Transmission falls in the area of the classic, German, media theory. The author deepens the cultural and media turn that has caught humanities in different stages of the XX century, posing the problem in a proper dualist manner. Namely, the author distinguishes among the postal and erotic principle of the medium in general. The postal is defined as a process of transmission over the spatio-temporal distance, while the erotic as a communication among different individuals, being itself necessary inter- subjective, reciprocal and based on understanding. Furthermore, while the postal communication is asymmetrical and unidirectional, the erotic one is symmetrical and bidirectional.
The same dualism marks a general field of the media theory as offered by Krämer. Disciplinary field is being framed by cultural studies (incorporating the concept of "medial turn") from one side and philosophy (with its "linguistic turn") from the other side. The main differences among approaches are based on answering the question if the medium is transitory (arriving "from the world") or instrumental (being "in the world"). This theme is defined in the central question: Does the medium disappear after the process of mediation has finished? In response, Krämer introduces the concept of the messenger, characterised by reversibility and ambivalence, appearing in two modes in regard to body: disembodiment and embodiment. Messenger "connects heterogeneous worlds and allows them to "flow" into one another". Furthermore, he is "not self-determined but rather 'heteronomous'" (...). He "embodies the figure of a third and thus enables the formation of sociality" and "is embedded in a continuum of materiality, operates in an intermediate space that represents an extension of the senses." He finally is a "self-neutralising entity" (Krämer, 2015: 84).
The author overviews different approaches and theories, preceding her definition of the messenger, among others focusing on Benjamin's metaphysical reading of translation and limits of language, Nancy's nearly existentialist philosophy of sharing and idea of homogeneity, or 'mediation without mediator', Serres' structuralist linguistic idea of transmission, Debray's cultural transmission, and Peters metaphysical stance. The most interesting part of the book is in definition of messenger in various disciplines; metaphysics (angels), biology (viruses), economy (money), linguistics (translation), psychology (psychotherapy) and victims studies (witnessing), serving to construct an open argument, finally tested in the closing chapter Maps, Charts, Cartography.
This interesting reading, with an incorporated overview of media theory is written for advanced readers. Namely, certain problems arriving from German philosophy (and language) being untranslatable or hardly translatable into English, along theories in which many authors, aside four ones mentioned are drawn into reference, as for example Heidegger or Hegel, demand previous knowledge of philosophy.