Tom Wilkinson (Independent Scholar/Architectural Review), ‘The Intermedial Zone as Site of Radical Knowledge Production’
Walter Benjamin developed his concept of the dialectical image in response to Sigfried Giedion’s Bauen in Frankreich (1929), a history of nineteenth-century architecture that crosses photography, text and film. Intermedial practices such as this – which took place beyond the bounds of disciplinary propriety but also between the technological media, thereby (potentially) evading dominant technical and institutional codes – facilitated the development of radical new epistemologies. The notion of intermediality may seem to belong to the recent past but in fact its transgressive power was already identified in 1913 by art historian Paul Zucker, who called this zone the Zwischenland der Kunst. Following Zucker I will focus on what I call the Zwischenland der Kunstgeschichte, art history’s no-man’s-land – an intermedial workshop for new historiographic tools. More recently, Miriam Hansen alluded to the possibilities inherent in such strategies. ‘To the convergence of film and photography in contemporary capitalist media culture … [Kracauer] opposes an alternative configuration of intermedial relations in which the unstable specificity of one medium works to cite and interrogate the other.’ I wish to flesh this idea out and also critically assess it, by considering the actual results of such strategies. To begin with, this zone is not a smooth space. Instead there is a constant tension between remediation and what Andreas Huyssen has recently called, in a 2015 discussion of Kracauer’s texts, the ‘obstinacy’ of media. He takes this term from Negt and Kluge’s 1981 text Geschichte und Eigensinn, a felicitous but not unproblematic borrowing. I will conclude by observing that motivating the obstinacy of media is key to productive use of the zone, making reference to the work of a contemporary of Benjamin’s, the architectural historian Wilhelm Pinder. Pinder’s architectural photobooks occupied the junction of film, photography and text in a significantly different way to that explored by Benjamin and Giedion, with a radically conservative agenda.
Tom Wilkinson studied Art History at the Courtauld Institute and at University College London, where he received a PhD in 2016. His dissertation is titled ‘Transmedial Cathedrals: Architectural History in and Between New Media in Germany, 1900-1945’. He is History Editor of the Architectural Review and is the author of Bricks and Mortals: Ten Great Buildings and the People They Made (Bloomsbury, 2014).