Tuesday, January 27, 2009


Part I

“Mediated Memories: Personal Cultural Memory as Object of Cultural Analysis” by José van Dijck explores the significance in personal collections of artifacts—or mediated memories—that construct personal identity and thus contribute to the larger cultural memory, or the collective.

Dijck’s voice is authoritative. She approaches her audience from a sound level of understanding and demonstrates her intellectual exploration of the many voices—past and present—that have contributed to her topic of exploration: mediated memories. Though, what makes Dijck effective in her approach to her audience is the equality she establishes with the reader. Her subject permits many different and paradoxical views on human nature. Dijck acknowledges a wide range of these voiced theories on the significance of personal mediated memories in the individual’s life, in turn breaking away from the pessimistic idea of personal human insignificance in relation to the collective and arguing that our “private shoeboxes” of mediated memories have just as much significance by themselves as the collective “shoebox.”

Mediated memories, that is, what we as individuals deem important and valuable enough to keep and by which we remember certain events, is a very personal subject and one that is universally relatable. Thus, Dijck has an opportunity—from the very argument/subject itself—to appeal to her audience on an emotional level. She does so not by becoming overly expressive in her praise for human individuality, but by offering a precise metaphor to which she returns often in her discourse: the “private shoebox” in which—and here is an appeal to history, to nostalgia—past generations stored keepsakes, physical sites of memory, family heirlooms. This image has the capacity to call upon a host of associations in the reader, in turn resonating with their own method of collecting and mediating memories.

Underlying the strong emotional metaphor are the concrete voices Dijck employs to support, illustrate and frame her claim that the personal is important by itself. These rational arguments, some of which she takes as true—some of which she contests and breaks away from—are never left unexplained. Dijck embeds the theories of other sociologists, philosophers and psychologists within the context of her claim, never allowing the audience to stray far from her own perspective. Foucault, Huyssen and Hoskins are just a sampling of the many authorities whose published ideas Dijck uses to solidify her theory.

Dijck’s major claim is that individual mediated memories are worthy of study, interesting and relevant by themselves. In order to arrive at this conclusion, she makes many minor, supporting claims to help the reader arrive at the same destination. Individual memories cannot be separated from cultural context and thus from the collective identity. The very method and content through which people create these memory objects depend upon the culture’s prevailing technologies and structures of communication. The individual, then, is at once personal and part of the collective—they demand each other’s existence for being in themselves. Personal memory is “a cultural phenomenon that encompasses both the activities and products of remembering” (261).

Mediated memories, in Dijck’s theory, help people to make sense of their surroundings and shape personal identity. People thus make sense of their lives and relationships based upon these memories. Beginning with a discussion of personal cultural memory, Dijck shows how mediated memories act as the physical representation of the individual intersecting with culture. She considers these objects as both cultural acts as well as products of that culture. For example, Dijck describes a parent recording their child’s first steps. Using either one or multiple forms of documentation—written word, photo, video, etc.—the parent defines this moment in time and space, constructing a memory through various media. However, the available technologies dictate the way this recording—and remembering—takes place. A photograph of the moment will have a different impact than a written narrative of the event, and media used together will produce another effect altogether. “The decision to record such events is already, to a large extent, stipulated by cultural conventions, prescribing which event are symbolic or ritual highlights and thus worth flagging” (263).

Dijck also uses general knowledge about memory from the psychological field. Humans constantly reinterpret past events—memories are not fixed and stagnant, rather they continue to change based on the present. “... The act of memory incorporates the creation of memory products as well as their continuous (re)interpretation. Only from that creative act emerges a continuum between past and present; time and memory shape each other” (264).

Part II

Dijck often uses sustentative warrants to locate her claim. By presenting other psychologists’ and sociologists’ theories first {after the initial statement of her claim in the introduction}, she explains the alternative theories in her own words and either concurs or departs from their ideas. For example, after examining the theories of Huyssen and Hoskins, Dijck departs from one of their central claims. “... The emphasis on individual memory representations as building blocks for, or particular versions of, collective memory ignores the always inherent creative tension between individuality and collectivity...” (270). By means of disassociation, Dijck is successful in articulating and further explaining her claim.

Dijck also appeals, as was discussed earlier, to the audience on an emotional level. “Countering the overwhelming emphasis on collective memory by institutions, I would like to restore attention to individual mediated memories as collections worthy of academic scrutiny” (275).

Part I

“Culture in the Age of Blogging” by Terry Teachout is at once commentary on the function of blogs in today’s culture, historical analysis of their inevitable popularity as a form of communication and explanation/personal narrative into the authors experience of creating not the first art blog, but “the first to be written by a critic already active in the mainstream media...”

Teachout’s main claim is that blogs signal a new shift in standard media, which implies America’s deep cultural fragmentation as brought about in the last century. Subsequently, she explores the realities, pros, cons and possibilities of blogs, creating a list of commonalities across the blogosphere. Finally, she questions the potential of blogs and the role they will play in the future, shaping and influencing the cultural and social landscape.

Teachout relies heavily on history to show how her argument has merit. Giving a brief synopsis of U.S. history over the last 100 years, she draws the reader’s attention to specific events as major moments pushing cultural fragmentation to its current place. She appeals to authority to support her claims—Henry James and Israel Zangwill—among others and cites the fissure between left-wing academics and neo-conservatives as a major moment of cultural rupture. Perhaps her strongest argument, though, lies in the way media itself is shifting from corporately controlled newspapers to privately aggregated news stories from a variety of sources. Technology allowed for this shift, which, argues Teachout, is indicative of a culturally fragmented nation where one media source no longer satisfies people’s diverse interests. The day of the information middleman is not yet over, but it is drawing to a close.”

Teachout uses association and disassociation throughout her argument. Interestingly, she revisits positions she once held and made public only to disassociate her current ideas from her former. “But I was mistaken. When it came to culture, liberal domination of the news media and the educational establishment failed to trigger an oppositional movement of similar intensity.” Alternatively, taking association a step further, Teachout not only agrees with claims by Richard Brookhiser and Rupert Murdoch, she assumes enough authority to add onto their ideas. “What Murdoch did not say, but could have said...”

In terms of ethos, she uses a conversational voice to address the reader. As if in a casual, friendly exchange, her tone is upbeat and unselfconscious. Her personal narrative as a relatively early blogger runs alongside her discussion of the larger cultural phenomenon that blogs have become. Thus, she welcomes the reader to at once appreciate her personal experience and the potential of the blogosphere as a medium. She knows what its like because she actually experienced it. 

Part II

Teachout motivates her readers—potential bloggers themselves—to actively participate and consume information on blogs by presenting an optimistic view of the medium’s future. “When the history of blogging is written a half-century from now, its chroniclers may yet record that the highest achievement of the Internet, a seemingly impersonal piece of postmodern technology, turned out to be its unprecedented ability to bring creatures of flesh and blood closer together.” By illustrating a new world in which communication functions on many levels, even closing the fissures blogging may bring about, Teachout motivates her audience to participate in sculpting the spaces necessary for such interaction.

For her argument to work, Teach out assumes certain values supercede others. Her claim rests upon the historical example of individuals esteeming their own preferences before the traditional mass media. Smaller more precise voices have just as much if not more quality than those on a payroll, she supposes is the widely held sentiment.

In comparison, the two examined articles broach the same subject: recorded memory. Dijck doesn’t explicitly limit her discussion to blogs—in fact, she never even brings blogs per say into the discussion—yet she describes multi-media methods of recording and sculpting one’s memories. Oftentimes her depiction of mediated memories is precisely what bloggers create on their websites. Teachout, then, fits into Dijck’s discussion about the intersection of the individual with the collective. Aggregating, recording and responding to artists’ representations of emotion or event as defined by their culture, Teachout creates her own mediated memory of the art world. She simultaneously carves out her personal place among the many competing voices and adds to the larger collective experience from where she draws her material. 

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