Todd Cronan Lecture, "The Medium Has No Message: The (Non)Politics of Medium from Kandinsky to Benjamin"
Does the medium have a message? Is there a deep connection between media and subjectivity? Does the ubiquity of images that seemingly defines modernity constitute or transform our consciousness? Do the media that we use shape or even determine our politics? For a wide range of modernists and (for most) postmodernists the connection is assumed, a given. Looking at a foundational moment of media theory—the moment of Kandinsky’s first abstractions to Benjamin’s theory of mechanical reproduction—I show how a growing pessimism about human agency finds its resolution in a utopian optimism about technology’s effects (even or especially when that technology is the object of critique). I will show what is mistaken about correlating media and subjectivity. I will also suggest how this now canonized mistake can and should be replaced with something better.
Todd Cronan is Assistant Professor of art history at Emory University, where his research centers on twentieth-century art and art theory with particular emphasis on problems around expression, intention, affect, form and meaning. He is the author of Against Affective Formalism: Matisse, Bergson, Modernism (Univ. of Minnesota Press, 2013) and Matisse (Phaidon, 2014). His articles have appeared in the New German Critique, British Journal of the History of Philosophy, Design and Culture, Zetischrift fur Kunstgeschichte, qui parle and nonsite.org and he serves on the editorial board of nonsite.org. His current book project, Seeing Photographically, looks at photographic debates about the ontology of the medium and how those ideas shaped both photographic and painterly practice in the first half of the 20th c.