There is an essay by Luckmann who differentiates between different forms of absence [Thomas Luckmann, Phänomenologische Überlegungen zu Ritual und Symbol, in: Florian Uhl u.a. (Hg.), Rituale (Düsseldorf 1999) 11-28].
Punchline: Sometimes, we have to use symbols for something absent which we cannot re-create as present as a matter of principle. If you give your loved one a rose (classic), that is because you cannot give your love in a physical sense.
This would lead to an argument for qualitatively different forms of absence.
Only partly academical, but some intriguing ideas can be found in Nordhofen, Corpora (2020).
I dislike his underlying ascent narrative from medium to medium. But there are some points raised about Christian mediality worth considering.
Yes, exactly. I think that is part of the learning process Paul intended for his communities.
I am also interested in how power plays out in these God-mediations - for example in South African catholic circles under COVID - male priests ‘right’ to administer the sacrament has been subverted by many women now ‘mediating’ new forms of eucharistic sacrament in ‘virtual’ ways. how can new media forms also disrupt the power of our current God-mediators
As well as to the question of clericalism in general: There is no clerical exclusivity to online services (except, presumably, to livestreamed masses).
From a traditional Catholic point of view, however, I would suggest that the term “Eucharistic” is generally reserved to the sacramental notion of a celebrated mass.
Catholic scholars have to go some way to expand that term, e.g. pointing out that in church history we find eucharistic prayers for the (candle) light in the evening, which are not sacramental in the current sense.
And, the debates focus on specific forms of technical structures. For example churches often use building structures, microphones, etc to mediate the “church service” and form a “coming together”. That is to say, digital may be one mediation, but it isn’t the only one and many technologies have been used prior.
Big debate among the UMC as well - https://www.umnews.org/en/news/both-green-light-red-light-for-online-communion-2
I recognize my comment above about “nailed down” was meant light heartedly. Here, I’m wondering how Hartenstein’s work (which I don’t know) relates to Christian theological claims when all his examples are from the Hebrew scriptures.
Pun intended? . . . .with the Christian notion use of the cross imagery.
Yes: Very much so. Making an image of someone, nailing this someone down to a specific image-medium, can be seen as an act of lovelessness (Frisch, Brecht) — and that is one way to narrate the story of the cross, i think.
This is a particular interesting concept and may have resonances with the questions Thomas Renkert raises in his paper related to the subaltern content moderation workers.
I believe Zizek makes a similar argument about materialism in “Sex and the Failed Absolute”.
I’d argue that it could unveil other effects of / causes for fascination: the quality of the paint, the craftsmanship of the canvas maker and so on. It could also permanently break the original fascination “hey, this is a print!”
At the start of CGI movies there was a debate whether a completely computer-animated movie was worthy of any awards - because: “where is the art in that?” Well, in terms of waste of resources, time, energy consumption (rendering farms) and so on, CGI is perhaps more “art” than most other movies.
If you want to go deeper here, from a technical point of view: there are numerous interesting problems on compilers and emulators.
I would be interested in hearing more as to why the “material dimension” is the “medium”, and not, say, the “practices” in themselves. Why are bread and whine more “medium”, mediating, than the practice of regularly meeting one another?
This is due to my understanding of practice (Recktwitz) as a “nexus of doings and sayings” (Schatzki) that always entails artefacts (here: medium), bodies and embodied knowledge.
This is a brillant question and reminds me of Paul’s - also related to material food - problem with the food sacrificed to idols (Götzenopfefleisch) in Corinth.
I would like to add with Foucault, that “body” is not the neutral, raw, or canvas-like category - a blank medium - we want it to be. Bodies are already the manifestations of social expectations, of norms, of convictions. Note that most bodies either too young, too old, too sick, too disabled, too incarcerated, too pregnant, too trans or queer, or too poorly clothed are often absent from the eucharistic “body of Christ”. Which is why I hesitate with charging the eucharist with strong notions of presence and representation.
Isn’t this the question? What does “coming together” mean?
Yep, like I noted above related to microphones and walls.
Nietzsche: “How the true world finally became a fable” 😅.
But on a more serious note: is augmented reality really this much in balance between the “real” and “virtual”? What happens if one aspect takes over?
Correct! But also - less spiritually, more practically - there is not a single congregation without members who are incarcerated, sick, frail, dying, with disabilities, pregnant or too busy with child care, too poor to afford “sunday clothes” or dentures, and so on. “The” community never actually “is fully present”.
Which is why I believe that the eucharist only gains its status as sacrament with the appointment of the Seven Deacons and their distribution of the leftovers from the meal among those who couldn’t attend.
Could it be that these are mostly and mainly proxy wars obfuscating the question of the “means of salvation” (Heilsmittel)? Is (spiritually infused) material presence salutologically more salient than memory?
I don’t know whether this (whishful?) thinking is more neo-platonic or reformed. What about the argument that YHWH needed to be de-localized and im-materialized in order to become God not only for the tribe of Judah but for the whole of Israel? I tend to put more trust in political strategy…
What about the temple? Or the Zion-Garizim debate? What about the torah (as a “multistable” medium: a medium-independent text, and a revered scroll used in the rituals of service)?
But in all that, God is told be sharing in a story, the God of Abraham, the God who lead out of Egypt’s land, the God who promises. All the named media entangle presence and withdrawal in a way in which God remains free.
I’ve come to be very sceptical of the noun form here: “the depicted”. It implies that in a physical meeting you somehow get “the whole person”. I would argue against this that a zoom call with 5 people who all are in their pajamas, where everybody can see the mess on their desk, their pets and kids crying in the background, is a much more “holistic” (and wholesome?) image of a person than the image they re/present when meeting them in an office in business attire.
To make a different point: are love letters just manifestations of absence? Why would somebody long for a love letter from the person they see every day? We can go forward along the timeline of technological progress here: What is happening in romantic phone calls? Or why do people sext or send each other “nudes”?
My point is this: depending on medium and mediality, the concept of channels is important. Depending on the set of channels availabe, different forms of presence are being negotiated - and a medium gains its appeal from the absence of (all) other functions/channels.
The problem with zoom calls during a pandemic is, perhaps, not really that of absence/presence, but of us being fed a mono diet of channel combinations.
Goes along nicely to my take on Derrida, Butler/Sontag.
Yes, it does!!!
Lev Manovich makes a similar argument in his work on new media objects. I would love to talk more about the relative usefulness of conversion language in contrast to translation language.
Love this and totally agree here, but I still feel like we have an operative hierarchy working where the so called “physical” embodiment is the norm or goal or something like that. How can we disrupt this?
Is this danger a reference to a kind of alienation or a reference back to the image ban discussion?
Hmm. I wonder if translating embodiments might be a way to think of this mediatization/mediation rather than presencing a physical absence?
Here, we are imaging the philosophical notion of virtual?
What happens if we include in these bodies the “things” involved beyond human bodies?
We need to be careful here, no? The virtual is not immaterial in any sense. I wonder if your earlier points about the ways early Christians thought about the material words of scripture (spoken and written) might provide a kind of physical co-presence across vast times and spaces?
And are there encounters not enabled by technical means? In what cases are technical materialities not a part of this sacrament?
Thank you! This is a diaconal question: the wheelchair ramp in front of the church is a technical mean enabling encounter. The difference is that during the pandemic, the abled majority experienced their own need for assistance - and the loss of autonomy that comes with it.
It is interesting to me that technological notions of virtual often get framed in terms of vision/sight, see the often used continuum from Milgram and Kishino - https://www.researchgate.net/publication/231514051_A_Taxonomy_of_Mixed_Reality_Visual_Displays .
This discussion about the Eucharist reminds me that there is a constant tension here between materialities and perception/encounter.
This makes me wonder what the differences are between medium and interface?
medium, interface, and: mediator/proxy/representative/surrogate (the German “Stellvertreter” captures this better).
I am so curious about this notion of withdrawal. Is this withdrawal enacted as a combination of the design or affordances of the material medium and the dispositioned gaze of the “user?”
Also, is there a dynamic going on here regarding the tension between the parts and the whole? With the image being something like a constructed narrative of the whole?
Is it, though? One of the central points of most sacramentologies seems to be that there is in fact ONLY ONE original medium of salvation - namely Jesus Christ, and that what we consider sacraments only are insofar they participate in this original medium?
I want to hear more about the conncetion you (or Hoerisch) are making here between “conversion” between different media and a religious understanding of conversion. On the face of things, these don’t easily seem to map onto each other quite well (e.g. media conversion operates on the assumption that content can be translated more or less (!) without loss back and forth (!) between different media. Religious conversion comes with a once-and-for all narrative, an existential conversion moment, a change of life, and is loaded with salvific pathos). Maybe a connection can be drawn out that is more than a play on words, and it might be quite an exciting and generative one, but I am just not yet sure what it consists in
Surely, e.g., the intention is not to compare different media with different denominations, and any given content/subject can only participate in one of them at a time?
I am curious
Me too :)
You seem to switch here from a focus on the media/lity earlier, to media PRACTICES now. I want to hear more about that switch, and about what you mean by practices.
This links with your interest in describing media as efficacious - I am looking forward to discuss this point!
Do Orthodox (in the denominational sense, not in the policing sense) theologies have more resources on this point? Where the whole liturgy is not understood in terms of making God present among us, but as making us present in heaven before God, drawing us as participants into the eternal liturgy of the angels?
this is so interesting!
Is it intentional that you pluralized Augustine’s term here? Your next conclusion seems to rely on this plurality, but I am not sure I follow where it comes from in terms of its Augustinian origin
The plural is my reinterpretation - insofar I try to combine the understanding of the element with the media-theorical approach.
“re-mediation”: a particularly curious mode of representing absent presences which represent present absences?
Since we are discussing sacramentality, I am interested in the precise meaning of this “is”. Is it literal? Metaphorical? In what sense precisely?
I follow Paul’s undertsnading of being the Body of Christ. As far as I understood, this is not a mtephorical being, but an eschatological being performed literally in the life of christians. I would therefore suggest this kind of “eschatological being” - but if this really answers your question in the categories of sacramental theology/ontology?
And the reality of the Lord’s supper is marked by a plethora of different absences! Cf. Renkert 2020 (unpublished)
I would love to read this, Thomas!
Very helpful distinction.
The denominational heuristic can tell us much more that it is indeed more complex a matter than absence/presence or even their dialectic. Romans, Lutherans and Calvinistis maintain the real presence of Christ in the eucharist - but WHAT real presence means, what the real thing is that becomes present, how it affects materiality, how permanent its effects are, how it is related to the matter that re-presents it, are conceptualized differently between them.
I am interested in this qualification. So far, you seem to have focussed on absence and presence in mediality, but what role does the question of EFFICACY play for the perception of either?
Thanks for this point. I also like it, especially because most discussion on the sacraments don’t think from this angle of the “recipient” and whether and how the mediation is efficacious. But it is a main point in media theory. I see a large interest on this point in the debates on digital communion in Germany at the moment: Whether and how digital forms of workship and/or communion are “efficacious” raises the interesting questions, what “effects” one looks for.
For me, this relates to your question above regarding the ability of imaging god in different media.
so are some media more (or at least, some less) able to image the absent God?
You referred to a certain denominational distinction (“unlutheran” image ban) earlier, might these observations here also be worth spelling out in terms of denominational debates about God’s omnipresence vs. lack thereof?
Here it seems we might be able to talk about a particular media's affordance for proximity (approach or encounter with an irreducible distance or separateness)?
“withdrawal”: a specific, intentional mode of absence? absenting? being-present-as-absent?
What about the human being created in the image of God? About Christ as the image of God? How should these be mediated (pun intended) with the ban of images?
How is the semantic connection of “representing”/”presenting”'/constituting “presence” at play here??
I’d be curious to connect the discussion of the absence/presence “dialectic” with Clifford’s work on deep fakes, too. Because arguably, “deep fakes” also make something present that is absent, but absent in a very different way than the “remoteness” of the zoom feed filmed off an actual person in front of their screen, for example.
glitches and freezes?
Why not? What are the concrete differences?
If the difference is merely an affective one: I believe that standing in front of a statue or watching a video of the first moon landing cannot be affectively distinguished from each other.
I’d be really curious to read this sentence through theological assessments of media/lity. I.e., does this apply to Christ as well? To sacraments? -> that would be one hell of a move to discredit all life-of-Jesus movements, for example
I am very curious about this dialectic, and also a bit skeptical whether a dialectic will be enough or more deconstruction of the binary is needed (Shocking, I know). Beyond absence and presence, and a dialectical relationship between the two, aren’t there very different kinds of presence and very different kinds of absence, and complications that preclude always drawing an easy line between them? Cf. Creamer/Hemenway 2021 ;)
I would love to think about the deconstructing forces more - maybe related to thinking about different ways and forms of proximity and their “formation”
that’s ok, there is salvation beyond lutheranism! ;)
Is this a kind of sacramentality of media, then?
Actually, I am not quite sure at the moment. I stress this point in my thoughts in part 3, but the longer I think about it, the more I question the traditional understanding of sacramentality I work with. So this is acutually a open question for me - regarding my understanding of sacramentality as well as my understanding of mediality…
With Michael and Debbie, I find the identification of the “person” with “shared physical/temporal presence” deeply misleading
We are still meeting in person, we are just not in close physical proximity
So, does this basically suggest that the materiality of the medium affords the embodied image (perception) construction in the viewer/user? Or am i being too binary here?
Definitely not too binary: i’d be interested to discuss your concept of “afford” more before i agree. “Afford” sounds a little one-way in my ear, as in your example: the chair affords sitting. I would want to stress interrelatedness, also when it comes to medium, body and images. Meaning: If “sitting” also affords the chair, i would use “afford” here to. The image affords the medium, and the body affords the image as the image forms the body. With interrelatedness in “practices” i mean, practically spoken: no chair without sitting, but also: no sitting without chairs. Does that make sense?
I love that you will be exploring the relationship between presence and withdrawal! Seems these two always come hand in hand, yes?
What about this binary, present/absent? You nicely call this a dialectic below with respect to the Eucharist. Does dialectic offer us something more dynamic than the typical binary? Perhaps proximity of interface :).
yes! Also, maybe the “bridging” has more to do with establishing “co-presence” rather than merely presence. Both parties (or however many parties are involved) are and were indeed present before being technologically mediated, what “media-technology” does may just be to establish “synchronicity” (if, as Michael and Debbie so helpfully ask, that is indeed the best category) or co-presence. (Notice also how temporalities are being shaped in the process)
I also wonder if technology as a bridge is unique to digital connectivity between people? Are there “technologies” even media at work when we are in room together? E.g. language, cultural norms, a etc.
Are there important distinctions between media, technology, and media-technology that matter (ha!) for our discussion of digital bridges?