Sound Technology and the American Cinema: Perception, Representation, Modernity

By James Lastra; John Belton | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
PERFORMANCE, INSCRIPTION, DIEGESIS
The Technological Transformation of Representational Causality

Despite the proliferation of commentary on the century's newest devices for making pictures and recording sounds, the emergence of new representational technologies was, of course, not simply a matter of public discussion and debate. To concentrate on what was said about devices at the expense of the devices themselves risks minimizing the materiality of these forms while it simultaneously risks overemphasizing (to the point of idealism) the role of discourse. However, neither discourse nor device is as neatly definable as these warnings might suggest.

As I do elsewhere, here I assume the importance of proximate verbal discourses to an adequate understanding of the technical media, in part, simply because they provide some of the few available traces of otherwise ephemeral phenomena like practices of representation and reception. But beyond questions of empirical verifiability lies another more important concern, one that goes to the heart of my entire project. Our understandings of technology and of technological representation need to be revised radically. On the one hand, we need to recognize that in spite of their apparent material intransigence, representational devices, however familiar, are neither static nor self-defining. Put more forcefully, we need to take seriously the notion that, for example, a camera in one cultural/practical/representational context is not the “same” technology as the identical device in another, and that these differences are not trivial. Even sophisticated arguments like Jean-Louis Baudry's and Jean-Louis Comolli's about the aesthetic or social ideologies

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