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Dead medium: Media History as Contingency
From: tbyfield@panix.com (Ted Byfield)
Source(s): *The Panorama: History of a Mass Medium* by Stephan Oettermann, Zone Books, MIT Press, 1997 ISBN 0942299833

*Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century* by Jonathan Crary, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT, 1990, ISBN 0262031698 (HC)

Just a quick methodological note. This English translation of the Oettermann book was a *long* time in the making. Those interested in it may want to look at the book written by its "sponsoring editor" at Zone, Jonathan Crary, *Techniques of the Observer: On Vision and Modernity in the Nineteenth Century.*

Despite the theoretical-sounding title, the book is a model of clarity and economy. In it, Crary debunks the historical assumption that the recent history of presentational techniques == zoetropes, kinetiscopes, camerae obscurae, magic lanterns, moving pictures, etc. == conform to a "march of progress," in which each new invention contributes to an advance toward perfect verisimilitude in reproduction. Instead, Crary argues, these developments were based on very divergent assumptions and goals, with very different results.

He devotes attention to the specificity of each dead medium, and the way they've retrospectively been synthesized into a linear, progressive historical narrative. This might give "necronauts" useful examples, and a vocabulary for thinking about the ways in which "dead" innovations serve as unique explorations into possibility, while contributing to the overall advance we see.

Crary should have a new book out within the next year, and I have every reason to think it'll be as good as *Techniques of the Observer.*

Ted Byfield (tbyfield@panix.com)