A question for Niebisch

Monday, March 17th, 2014 by sdileonardi

Would it be fair to press Arndt Niebisch to differentiate between parasitic subversion and the general laws of intertextuality and borrowing that have governed art and story telling since the beginning of the spoken word? My concern is that he paints the accomplishments of the early avant-garde with a fairly broad brush. That is, in the ecological rhetoric that Niebisch adopts, doesn’t all representation find a host in the spatio-temporal context in which it resides? A burgeoning generation of artists generally galvanize through its attempts to resist previous conventions by augmenting and building upon accepted practice. I’m not sure if this can be characterized as “abuse” or “parasitic,” particularly since subversion is not always an aesthetic movement’s modus operandi. However, it seems to me that Niebisch’s use of the parasite is simply a new metaphor to describe the age-old phenomenon of artistic experimentation by pushing the boundaries of one’s current form. One might say, however, that his argument is unique in its adherence to communication technologies. In the spirit of Kittler, Niebisch is aware of how networks of media systems produce hegemonies, which he extends to draw attention to the ways in which the avant-garde attaches to these hegemonies in order to distort and manipulate them. My hesitation, however, also takes a page from Kittler, who dilates the scope of media studies to include all systems of communication, including the postal service and the pony express. To that end, oral and vernacular traditions, folklore and mythologies, all inherently contain the makings of a communication system and thus a media form. And therefore, the very formation of the modern novel (whenever we want to argue that took place) represents the distortion and manipulation of such oral traditions. The novel could neither develop without these past forms nor could it ever fully replace them, but it could borrow, extend, alter, and in some sense, “abuse” the preexisting conditions surrounding it. I don’t discount Niebisch’s entire argument, and I’m sure several folks in class will commend him for returning agency to the artist by challenging Kittler’s media-determinism, but I do believe it would be worth our while to clarify the limits of his scope and the necessary implications of what he calls parasitic media manipulation. 

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