Mediamatic Magazine Vol. 7#3/4 Adilkno, Bilwet 1 Jan 1994

The Next Medium

Everything is medial

There is no original, unmediatized situation in which we can experience an 'authentic' human existence.


The Next Medium -

The real Other is different shit.

John Sasher

What is not directly audible, visible, or tangible is stored somewhere but is still inaccessible to knowbots. The idea that an extramedial remnant still exists is the engine of exclusive tourism (See Yemen the Different Way). The extramedial experience is what makes scanning a unique event– I took the first picture of the Yeti. From this angle the extramedial is seen as a zone to be conquered or as a neglected area that can be rediscovered at any time. The idea that an extramedial reality exists is itself an effect of the media, and the first amendment of the media empire.

Media do not just transmit information. They do more than just charge data with symbolic values and meanings. They add up to more than a collection of technical connections. Besides their productive and repressive powers the media have a moment of negation. If an extramedial realm exists, it is to be found within the media themselves, not outside them. It can be located at the intersection of two media, between the no-longer of the one medium and the not-yet of the other. In this black hole they reach the limit of the senses. Conditioning is temporarily lost, the power of the media falters and faulty connections are made which fall outside the domain of information.

Negation of the Medium

The content of a medium is the preceding medium, wrote Marshall McLuhan. An inevitable consequence of this rule is that one who strives for a deeper content always lands up at a previous medium. For writing this is the voice; for photography, painting and graphics; for film, photography and the theatre; for radio, the narrative and the concert. For the entire media package it is the opera in its 19th century Gesamtkunstwerk form. All possible combinations achieve profundity in the same way. Phrased in terms of the present medium, the writer concentrates on the enigma of style. The photographer concentrates on the technique of framing light and the relationship between light and dark surfaces. And the filmmaker experiments with the combination of stationary images and the darkness between them.

Expressiveness of content is always the result of a retro movement. It is necessary to engross oneself in the medium that one uses in order to hold onto one's own creative moment, to prevent oneself from being misled or misused by one's own instruments. Only complete control of one's medium leads to authenticity, in other words to the totally controlled downloading of the data flow in it. Authenticity is the self-willed use of a medium's resistances for the sake of ensuring the longevity of an expressive work. And words obey my call. (Yeats)

At the boundary between one medium and the next, according to McLuhan's rule, there is an instant when medium a loses its original content and becomes the content of medium b. At that moment a loses its immaterial functions and becomes a mere empty channel, transporting nothing. For a moment medium a is information-free, devoid of content, autonomous, concrete, and thus becomes conveyable material itself. In the transition to film, the unique photograph is prepared in a sequence and linked on a strip of celluloid. It loses its individual content and meaning: the isolation of a singular instant. Medium b manipulates the emptiness of a to create new contents.

One who negates one's own medium does so in order to make it so empty that a new medium must appear and provide a new and satisfactory context for the meaninglessness of the old. Negators do not seek profundity, they seek a way out: what the authenticists glorify, they have rejected. Their medium is no longer able to function, and the new medium has not yet arrived. They gamble on the unpredictable things that lie outside the borders of the old media program. They dare media to prove they do more than process information.

The Unimaginable

If you want to track the specific characteristics of a medium, you must look for the moment at which it lets go of its content. This happens when the medium has exhausted its program. At this moment of completion, content and medium converge and can be seized as raw material for the next round. What is the crowning moment at the medial level is a moment of panic and inspiration on the user's side. It is the arrival of the unimaginable; the media answer.

The experiments of what is called, after the fact, the avant garde, are never carried out with a specific goal in mind. You're always too late or too early; only fashion is always on time. Negation fanatically persists in a particular use of a medium in order to evoke something the existence of which is understood as unhappiness with the possibilities of the usual medium. You can paint like crazy, but so what? Until the experiments are finished the medium keeps pumping, churning, shooting, until it either comes out or doesn't. It is not an experience that comes forth from the mediaworker's subjectivity; it is a techno-effect, an object strategy, a gift from the other side – technological happiness.

Happiness is a definitive perception, the experience of that emotion, tuning in to a frequency only you can pick up, here and now. In 1922 Gottfried Benn looked back on the ecstatic time he had spent in occupied Brussels of 1916:// An extraordinary spring, three months completely without comparison. What was the cannonade on the Yser, without a day going by, life trembled in an atmosphere of silence and lostness; I lived on the edge where Dasein fails and the Ich begins. I often think back on those weeks, they were life, they will never return; all else was rupture.Those weeks will never return because they have stayed stored in the stories of the Rönne and the poem Caryatid //which Benn wrote during those months. His medium, writing, had him completely under control, and he, it. The output was absolute prose, sovereign poetry.

When the connection is made between his body and his medium, between a and b, between Ich and Dasein, across all rifts, Benn locates this experience on the brink between life and death. In this atmosphere of silence and lostness Benn has nothing to contribute and no defence: he is in the position of the photograph, a single image on a strip of celluloid. A part of the larger whole that effaces individual existence and makes it productive. The establishment of media connections, the moment of the absence of any media message, comes through in the sphere of experience as the link between Dasein and Ich. The media link gives him his own moment. For a time he balances on the border between humanity and media.

The Sovereign. Medium

Media start out by taking over previous media as content. On tv in the 1950s you could see plays lasting all evening (including intermission); in virtual reality the first things built were stark office interiors. But then someone discovers, or makes a medium discover, that something different can be done with the old material; it is the only way possible to hint at a mystery that was missing from all previous media. It adds a zone to the province of experience or makes one newly accessible. But as soon as the medium reveals its mystery, it leaves the transition from the previous medium behind it and becomes sovereign. When a medium is no longer anything but a medium and brings its unique moment into play, it no longer forces the data it is supposed to transport and it exerts no pressure on those who are tuned into it.

Benn wrote poems without faith, hope or love. In Benn's Brussels experience his medium brought something to life which did not exist as long as his medium was sovereign. In anthropological terms, something which was dead as long as the ritual was not performed in which the dead and the living are interchanged, the silence and the words on paper. The ritual of wandering and writing in Benn's three months completely without comparison kept his life livable and ensured he was more than a survivor. It offered the way out and the way back: it kept his world alive.

In 1949, Benn wrote in the introduction to his first work: In general I do not know what I am writing, what I plan to do, or how something arises in me, in the past or now; I know only when one work is finished. But the whole is never finished. The crown of creation, the swine, the human, writes my friend Oelze, dissuasive and doubtful; a decisive verse in this book. It is not only diabolical, but un-Goethian; it tastes of sulphur and Absinthe, but I return to it throughout my life in my work. To precisely what was he returning? After cutting up 2000 cadavers in medical school, the young Benn lost every bearable image of humanity. Things got completely quiet; six poems appeared on paper, the first poetry he wrote. Art appeared out of the emptiness after the body-as-dead-thing, after the total negation of the body as a medium for life, and the emptiness answered and became the voice of his poetry. The medium of poetry chose him.

The connection between the disappeared body and the text which appeared on paper was the media link that Benn had put into writing. Whether he wanted to or not, in order to write every new poem, Benn had to return to the gate of the morgue in which he had emptied the body forever in order to make poetry of it. To be able to write a handful of consoling lines Benn always had first to see the total deterioration and corruption of life behind that one dissecting-room door which was meant for him – which had chosen him. Everyone has such a door. This is your point of view. Benn cut the medium of the body to ribbons and landed up in the medium of poetry. Thus the body (his own and others') became the basis for his language.

The 'media' in their current form too are searching for the door to the next medium, to an outside, though they seem far removed from that point. Contemporary media still derive their content from something exterior to themselves; they want to be filled, to try out their whole program. The mass media are still at the stage in which they must destroy all the material they have sucked in to be able to function. Those who allow themselves to be placed in the picture or recorded 'die' in the process, lose their corporality, their presence in one place and become a collection of bits that can be transmitted everywhere at once. These vampire media have not yet found their special mystery outside material reality. Only when they have passed through the full dematerialization can they enter the immaterial. The media already make up a system in which humans are no longer necessary, except as fodder for the scanner. In the media network, humanity is more of an irritating obstacle, a jamming station, a noise generator, than a condition of its existence. If the media really want to feel the rush of their own functioning free of static, they will have to get rid of the humans. The power of the digital media is that they produce images, sound and text solely through mathematical formulas. They don't need an outside world to live off at all.

The Special Moment

The extramedial is that which, however complete the media are in their techniques of representation and however the users control their medium, can never be expressed, can never be understood within the performance of the media package in question. The media exclude the extramedial from the domain of knowledge, but at once makes it possible to experience – as that which is missing. And that is the special moment of a specific medium. You can only hear silence when the voice does not speak, but speech is only possible with silence. The extramedial is like a model of the atom: if you can make a three-dimensional representation of it, then you've failed to understand it, but it's the basis of all that exists.

The extramedial appears as the negation of the information in a medium. It is not the bit of data which has appeared in a certain situation in front of and behind the camera, not the thing depicted in the photograph, but its photogenic quality. Without photography, no one would have known that some faces, postures, and elements of the landscape, in a certain light and maybe from a certain angle, possess something which is invisible without the photograph: they are photogenetic. Yet this says nothing about what is depicted in the photo. Photo-genius is technological happiness. When the photographer glances over the contact sheet, it is this power which determines the final picture.

What was a representation (the photograph) metamorphoses into something which was never present in the thing represented (photo-genius). In film, the photogenic effect is known as the third meaning: what's left over after you've analysed away a filmic sequence's importance within the story and its symbolic interpretation. An alarm clock, the bun in someone's hair, a pair of slippers, sheets on a clothesline. The added value, the presence of dead, that silence. Evoked in the text of photography, language, film or video, in narrative forms or symbolic contents, but remaining outside either range, no matter how far it is stretched. And it is precisely because of this that it is stretched. The extramedial is the most uncritical category imaginable, and the most rigid.

Only from within another medium can the special moment of one medium be discovered, but what that special quality is can be expressed in neither of those. It exists only as a connection between two media, and what the photograph sees in the film is different from what the film sees in the photograph, but there is also another special moment when a photograph is viewed from within painting, writing, sound, or the tangibility of things. The content of a medium is the user of that medium. Communication does not exist. Two media touch, each registers what is perceptible from its own perspective, and they experience this as communality in the recognition of the other's medium-specific moment.

That is understanding: a sees in b what only a can see in b and b says nothing back, seeing in a what only b is capable of seeing in a. If there is any communality on this planet, then it is that which is fundamentally incommunicable, extra-informative, non-medial, recognizable only as the shift from one medium to another. This misunderstanding generates creativity as no other factor can. In transactions, we find each other, we build things. Just as a director can be called a nostalgic nationalist at home, and in another country a prominent artist who is taking the cinema to a new level, misunderstanding is the vehicle for cultural transmissions.

The Body

The extramedial is not a subjective, psychological reaction, but a physical experience caused by media. Take the third meaning in film. In black and white films the third meaning appears as an erotic effect. The hyperproportional enlargement of a face on the screen in close-up creates the effect of the face getting so close to you you're going to have to kiss it. Through a combination of acting and lighting the face is divested of all recognizable expression and thus achieves its physical power. Garbo and Dietrich did not need lascivious glances to inspire physical reactions in the audience. Colour close-ups have no such effect, but achieve the same by showing the full body. Madonna manipulates viewers' bodies, not with her face, but with full-length shots. With her it's breast and thigh movements that do it. Considered from within the media themselves, the extramedial is not the third meaning or the photogenic effect; it's the bodies of the users. Hence the camera's obsession with endlessly circling the body. Everything and everyone must be forced into the picture, completely, live if possible. For film bodies are extra-informative: the images, the informative, can touch the bodies, but they never penetrate further, which is why the audience never tires of seeing more films and keeps an industry in business. Media actively seek ways to realize their extramedial, which is the only possible form of corporality for them. But the click doesn't simply happen once enough bodies are in the picture. It happens only when Meaning iii comes into play. It is more than quantity or quality; it's a hook you get stuck on.

Media cannot create material bodies; at best they can boost body awareness. Media produce only subsequent media, and carry the secret of their approach around with them. The secret of still photography is movement, the secret of the movies is the omnipresence of television, the secret of tv is autonomously generated digital images and the autarchic standstill of biological and chemical drugs. Seen from the body, all images are external. The body got by without celluloid and silver screens, but the visual media couldn't do without the bodies. This is changing only with the arrival of computer graphics and psychedelia.

The old media didn't reveal the existence of any universal world mystery, quite the contrary: they showed that every empty space contains its own mystery, its own extramedial, the mystery that can only be detected through that specific medium – as language discovered silence. In every use of media the connection is what's important. Make it new (Ezra Pound) means making an old medium contemporary by linking it to a new one, as Pound did in his Cantos. Il faut être absolument moderne (Rimbaud) means exactly the opposite: leave behind the old media and be absorbed into the new. All media that have existed up till now could be put into language. Even cyberspace made its debut in book form (William Gibson's Neuromancer). Language absorbed as many older media as television, and flourished, while photography and film had a tougher time. For the time being, the language program remains universal, or anyway at least as wide-ranging as that of digital data.


On August 10, 1941, Klaus Mann sits in New York. A hot summer, everyone's left the city. He has to stay and work on the fifth issue of Decision, the magazine he's started for American and exile literature. Heat. Not a sea breeze in sight. He opens his journal. The last entry dates from the 29th of July. Hitler's army had then just invaded the Soviet Union:// How nice, this Hitler. He made a mistake, a decisive one. This is the beginning of the end. The friends and family he always hangs around with, the interesting contacts and encounters, they've departed for cooler places. August tenth. Einsamer nie als im August (Never as lonely as in August) ... In the space beneath the lines about the invasion in Russia Mann notes down a vague memory, an almost clichéd quote. Just a sentence. And he begins to remember the name of its source – there //– and then he writes down two couplets by Benn that have stayed with him:

Einsamer nie als im August

Erfüllungsstunde –, im Gelände

die roten und die goldenen Brände,

Doch wo ist deiner Gärten Lust?

Wo alles sich durch Glück beweist

und tauscht den Blick und tauscht die Ringe

im Weingeruch, im Rausch der Dinge,

dienst du dem Gegenglück, dem Geist.

Counter-happiness. Something had changed in Klaus Mann. Me and that fascinating life of mine. Nothing but success. And nothing achieved. One columnist among many. Everything came too easily. Always listening to others in order to learn something. Always intoxicated by things and exchanging glances and what came after. But the doctor over there... Is Decisioncounterhappiness? Is it enough that I can no longer stand to go on for the sake of happiness? Why am I not in the service, like Tomski (his friend)? Calls every weekend from training camp: marching, shooting, angry sergeants! And me so lazy. He envies me that. Is this freedom?

Klaus Mann thereupon encodes the metamorphosis he is undergoing as follows: Decision is not enough, writing articles is not enough, I want to write something bigger, something great: a book! He has always lived in a literary sphere, and now it produces a literary encoding of that which is beginning to flow in him. And the atmosphere of friendship he has always lived in produces the sentence: '' that I will have some news for Tomski when the person-to-person call comes from Savannah. 'Imagine! The first chapter is practically finished...''' After writing this sentence Mann abruptly stands up and walks outside.

Gottfried Benn wrote the verse on September the 4th, 1936, in Hannover, almost as an affirmation of what Klaus Mann had written him in 1934 about his partiality to the Nazis:// If some high-ranking minds do not know where they belong, over there they know precisely who does not belong with them – the geist *. Benn sent the poem that September 4th on a postcard to his friend Oelze. First publication in the 1936 Ausgewählte Gedichte. Klaus Mann reviewed it in 1937. On that occasion he said: Is it not self-evident that he (Benn) is lately disappointing himself, isolating himself, finding himself disillusioned, that he has manoeuvred himself into an impossible and awkward, even grotesque position? Because the Nazis do not want him – have an unmistakable instinct against all his qualities? Because he can no longer find an audience in Germany – the few readers he ever had have been deported or silenced? Now he is a surly army doctor in Hannover, which can hardly be an enviable situation.// But, Mann then added: that no longer matters; Benn is a bypassed station.

Until the poem surfaced in him years later, an articulation of the hardly enviable situation of an army doctor who knows that his few readers have been silenced. And there is a shift in Klaus Mann. An assurance. That poet, and all my interesting acquaintances here, forget them – only the work itself counts. The big work. Mind your own business and let others do theirs.

When Mann gets back to his rooms, he continues to write in his journal, whiskey and soda at his side:// But what sort of book? This is a serious moment. I know it is a serious moment. Seriousness is something I feel deeply. I want to write a serious book, a sincere book. Can a novel be totally serious, totally sincere? Perhaps. But I do not want to write one, not now, not at this moment. I am weary of all the literary clichés and tricks. I am weary of all the masks, all the tricks of simulation. Is it art itself that I am weary of? I don't want to play anymore. I want to confess. The serious moment – that is the moment of confession.//

And he decides to write a book in English:// The Turning Point, later translated by Mann himself as Der Wendepunkt //and supplemented by the wartime journal entries. Mann is undergoing a period of metamorphosis, of the completion of an oeuvre: a completion which consists of the negative version of his own existence, including his books, not considered as something he has lived and written, but as material meant for treatment on a higher level, the level of autobiography. And in this new space he no longer need be brilliant, finally. The strictest criterion.

The you-must-Change-your-Life Experience

But what does the absolute poem do to Mann, what does an old medium do when it becomes the content of the next? Rilke explained this in one of his absolute poems, 40 years before Mann experienced it. In his verse Rilke described a sovereign medium: a perfect statue from antiquity, completed by the disappearance of the head, arms, legs and sex. There was only a torso: closed in on itself, without so much as a glance outside. Hermetic. Rilke's description of this medium was itself closed, everything fit with everything else; his total control of language led to total authenticity of expression. But when he had finished his perfect description, he bluntly followed it with this sentence: You must change your life (Archaic torso of Apollo). An exit is offered all at once. The you-must-change-your-life experience of seeing/reading/listening to sovereign media – that was what Klaus Mann experienced. He noticed it and attached consequences to it.

Of course, this sentence of Rilke's is ambiguous. There are infinite ways to interpret its meaning. Does it mean: change your life so you can create sovereign art yourself – as Rilke did – leave your wife and child, go wandering? Or is it: change your life so that you, your life, becomes sovereign? Or maybe it means: statue, change and become flesh. But for those who are touched by this magic of something absolute this hermeneutic is only a part of the game. I don't want to play anymore (Mann). Change your life, in this moment of completion there exists an opening, now! – which beams the sovereign medium through. The change has already begun. You are another now.

Later the astonished discovery follows: I can no longer imagine life without that poem, without that day, without that shape that appeared in the doorway and suddenly made me realize what I was bungling. The fact that the absolute takes no notice of what's happening outside affirms the person who observes this about his own life; this is the change. Out of that longing which exists always and in everyone to be elsewhere, to be delivered of yourself, you move into the security of being here, at this single point in space and time, in this ego, in this Dasein. Only he who is completely at one with himself is capable of the metamorphosis which leads him out of himself and changes him. This is completion. Hermetics is the production of discontinuity, a space appears outside Ich nd// Dasein:// Metamorphosis begins. Something, from somewhere else, from outside, appears in the present. It. The unspeakable. An atmosphere of silence and lostness. Technological happiness. Sovereign media. A line read. An beam of light. But it was an insanely clear day. A silhouette before a window. I thought: is it you?

Human consciousness shifts from medium to medium and becomes conscious of its mediality at moments of transition. Where one medium ends and the other begins, for an instant there is no medium. The unencodable presents itself, the channelless, the silence of the godhead, l'inhumain. Space, spaces of possibility. Unearthly silences. This extramedial is negativity. Negation is the unencodable flowing through a medium and then letting it collapse. Only he who destroys his medium manages to express what demands expression: that which has no expression exists outside the media. Sovereign media therefore combine the medial with the media's destructive urge and demand perfection from every medium. For perfection is the best destruction. And then the next medium reveals itself.

translation laura martz

This article is based on the book Het Buitenmediale van Arjen Mulder Uitgeverij Perdu, Amsterdam 1991.