movement (2)

Movement arose from the word “move” and subsequently has been utilized for denoting a musical movement (a major division of a music piece) and later in the political or social sense among other varying uses. [1] The social sense of “movement” alters aesthetics and so changes how media are used and seen, such as with the civil rights movement or within a specific medium like realism or romanticism. On the other hand, movement as change in place over time is a quality within aesthetics rather than influencing it, and is associated with media by the way it means, signifies, and is perceived. The root of movement, the verb “to move,” also developed another meaning, one of emotional impact. In such a case a work of art or even a newspaper article might be said to be “moving,” which implies its affective quality. “Move” was later incorporated in various colloquial expressions, taking on an imperative sense (i.e. move it) as well as use in phrases like “on the move.” The OED defines several definitions of movement pertinent to media: “A change of place or position; a progress, change, development, etc.” which includes the dance, bodily, and transportation connotations; that of the musical movement; and the “organization, coalition, or alliance of people working to advance a shared political, social, or artistic objective,” the aforementioned social sense.

Movement tends to be a self-referential and thus strangely elusive term, referring to having moved or as the act of moving. The word posits itself as a concrete noun to describe the action of change in place over time as a state of moving, a having moved from, or an ability to be moved. Definitions of related words and synonyms tend to emphasize two major connotations often integrated with each other. The first is a change in space and the second a change in aesthetics and politics. Both connotations have direct consequences upon media and mediation as they interfere with each other becoming inextricably tied to how media moves, how it is seen, and how its movements alter how it is seen.

A change in space is the more objective of the connotations and could be measured scientifically. In this sense movement is motion (a change in a position in space) due to velocity. Movement is not velocity though, but rather what happens as a result of velocity. The spatial connotation of movement relates to media because due to the nature of matter no two objects or embodied subjects can occupy the same space. This binds movement to media because without an intertwining of substance itself (such as with Milton’s angels in Paradise Lost) there can be no immediacy, and so media communicate between the gaps. [2] Even touch, as immediate a sense as possible, will fade as the body adjusts requiring another movement, a reaching toward or across to keep touching. Thus media necessarily involves a movement in space in order for mediation to take place at all.

Movement plays an integral part in mediation, and the more affective aesthetic/political connotation comes to relate to movement first through the spatial. “Motion” refers to a change of spatial position over time, but also shows the blending between the more objective movement through space with the more affective connotation. The derived term “emotion” etymologically refers to a moving out that originally is primarily spatial, but then gets associated with strong feelings. [3] The aesthetic/political connotation of movement is more affective than the purely spatial, but arises only through this attachment of affect to the it. As such both get invariably mixed even as they provide useful descriptions of the separate tendencies in definitions and practices of movement. Inevitably some media will not have an impact upon the recipient, but almost always media seeks an affective quality that influences aesthetic and political agendas. Even “objective” news broadcasts have an intentional affect by proposing a neutral or normative aesthetic, which is just as political as passionate propaganda.

The surprisingly heated debates through history over movement further clarify why both connotations (aesthetic/political and spatial) intermingle and influence each other within media. As far back as ancient times movement was the center of debate because mathematics challenged human perception. Zeno’s paradoxes of motion exemplify this, such as with the dichotomy paradox where an assumed infinite midpoints must be moved through to reach a destination or the arrow paradox where at any given time an arrow is at rest through infinite positions and therefore always motionless. [4] Aristotle later challenged these premises by arguing against the applicability of a line divided into pieces to a continuous one as well as the notion of dividing time into discrete presents. [5]

Film’s beginnings rely particularly on movement as well as upon these paradoxes. By using immobile stills of photography, it presents motion by means similar to the discrete positions of a moving arrow thus granting a means for presenting real time movement in a medium. Quickly referred to as a moving picture, film relied on capturing many stills upon the film of a camera, and they could then be projected from reel onto a screen. During the beginning of attempts at capturing motion upon film, Eadweard Muybridge exposed the human eye’s misperception of movement by capturing a horse in motion to evince that it never has all hooves off the ground at one time as was often assumed. [6] For Henri Bergson movement is ultimately within an internalized sense of time and subordinated to such duration. [7] He criticized Zeno and Kant as mistaking change and movement for the unchanging and the static. Furthermore to avoid the paradoxes he suggests that the “change and duration in… original mobility” must be grasped. [8] He criticized cinema stating he could never see anything but flickering images creating an illusory movement of the image. Deleuze, on the other hand who borrows from Bergson heavily, in his Cinema 1 and 2 books suggests a more intricate link between movement and time, which he presents throughout his progression from “movement-image” to a post-war “time-image” not subordinated to movement. [9]

Similarly pressing upon the discrete and continuous problems of movement, Brian Massumi asserts in “The Superiority of the Analog” a more complete understanding of how digital and analog relate. [10] These terms are intricately connected to the presentation of media, and the digital is frequently attributed too much weight according to Massumi since analog actually envelops it. Digital is a method of storing information, but upon reading from a screen even the seemingly paramount digital nature of the computer dissolves in the process. For Massumi the reception of media is always analog because the senses receive in analog, so an MP3 while stored digitally is actually analog when played back. The potential change through the transfer is not discussed however.

Besides the digital analog divide Massumi points out that it is only after a movement is completed can its trajectory be traced, and this reconciles modern science with his theory of movement. Movement is complicated and its applicability must be continually reinterpreted much like Newtonian physics that only works up until the quantum level. At this level interference patterns emerge and movement relies on probability; at any given time a position can be known but not the trajectory. In Massumi, movement similarly mediates in a backwards formation between the body and the possibility of its change avoiding a determinism and allowing for bodies in transition. Thus explaining a changing body without understanding movement as the mediating process misinterprets body and its change. In this way movement itself is a medium irrevocable from an embodied daily experience.

As a practical medium for communication movement relies on a particular form, raw movement would be like human phonetics without language, an inflection that might imply a vague state (i.e. fear, stress, or tenderness) without more particular significance. A form (like sign language, hand signals, or choreographed dance) frames movements in a way that makes them legible. Similarly, body language has systematized less formal types of movement. Here the gestural facet of movement’s definition works alongside societal practice, and it brings incoherent displacements of space and time movement creates into a legible system of meaning.

Movement is ubiquitous throughout any application or practice surrounding media. Movement’s close relationship to the body expectantly indicates as much. In Understanding Media, McLuhan’s seminal work, a historical progression develops through a variety of media that demonstrates the impulse to move information (typically faster and further). [11] Movement permeates media: from oral transmission to written word moved across roads, then in print with wheels, then electrical movement across seas by telegraph, to movies, radio, television, and airplanes, and into the electrical neural network the Internet best represents. Innovations within media center upon the accelerated movement of information and goods across time, and the change in how such movement occurs can differentiate one medium from another. For instance the printing press revolutionized the written word by increasing the speed of reproduction, and this led to an increased movement of information across space in less time. Likewise the telegraph spanned transatlantic space in a fraction of the time. While the telephone moved no faster than telegraph, it was its ability to move a different content (the medium of speech) across this span that made it unique. New media can also be differentiated from other media by the its vastly heterogeneous content of moved information and how it is moved (by code). It has even been claimed that new media differs from cinema in that it creates a continuous moving line instead of frames, but the subsequent necessity of pixelization is cited to refute this. [12] Even painting can be distinguished from other static arts like sculpture in reference to the perceiver’s movement around a sculpture, while the flatness of painting disables this possibility. Thus the difference in the way media move frequently provides a foundation for addressing their specificities.

Movement provides a point of contingency among the technological, societal, and aesthetic triad, a triad that interrogates the cultural and historical relevance of media. When written word overtook oral transmission the movement of information and people was restructured. The presence of a person was no longer necessary to transmit information except in transporting the written material. Instead of the person in the know, the text moves becoming a center of knowledge as a new aesthetic dynamic arises to account for the movement of text that ink and papyrus technology enable; society then gets restructured in response to repercussions of the technology and its practice. Such a change in media can topple empires; a change movement can inspire or which can revolutionize it.

Joseph Boes
Winter 2007