Date of Degree
PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)
John Durham Peters
This dissertation surveys effaced bodies and the complications and victories left in their wake. While the recent `material turn' in media studies has produced valuable insight into the history of media artifacts and forms (as well as their contemporary progeny), the centrality of writing practices and inscription technologies in such scholarship has generated a rather ironic critical blind spot as regards the corresponding phenomenon of erasure. As inscription and erasure are co-constitutive forces that can only exist through ongoing encounters with one another, it is necessary--if we are to understand mechanical writing in all of its intricacy--to also keep in mind the parallel act of erasure and what has been lost or effaced as a result of the modern drive to write and record the world in so many ways. As such, this project considers three moments of erasure--or, scenes of deletion--between the periods of 1850 and 1950 in which the body serves as the site or object of effacement. In addition to carving out a secret route through which to explore the body's intersection with media technology (and the increasing mutability that has befallen it as a result of this association), this project also throws light on practices and technologies of erasure that have, themselves, become subject to deletion from the evolving historical record.
The first case study considers the neglected pre-history of Photoshop by elaborating the retouching practices that grew up alongside the camera during the nineteenth century. It argues that such practices worked to erect a visible difference between the portrait of the criminal and that of his genteel counterpart, thereby helping to secure the class privilege of the latter at a time when the `democratic' representational style of the camera threatened to undo it. The second study explores the feminine `container' technology of military camouflage from its origins in World War I as a means of concealing the body of the soldier to its re-invention in the twenty-first century as a strategy for covering over the ongoing danger of war and impotence of hi-technology in postmodern scrimmages against non-state actors. This chapter ultimately builds upon Friedrich Kittler's argument that war is the mother of all media by suggesting that the dialectical tension between camouflage and the optical devices designed to thwart it is the mother of all war. The final case study turns to the breezier technology of the television laugh track and its erasure of the live studio audience from both the production process and the television text. It argues that while the laugh track's erasure of the audience left an irreducible trace that manifested itself in the repetition of the laughter dotting the text, the new formal devices that have come to replace the machine's original functions deftly efface their logic in a way that makes them unrecognizable as the offspring of the maligned technology.
Copyright 2011 Gina Nicole Giotta