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The Enzensberger-Baudrillard Mass Media Debate Reexamined: Temporal Models and the Dialectic - Fiasco Press: Journal of Swarm Scholarship

The Enzensberger-Baudrillard Mass Media Debate Reexamined: Temporal Models and the Dialectic - Fiasco Press: Journal of Swarm Scholarship

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Published by FiascoPress
Fiasco Press is a journal of swarm scholarship - the literary product of non-linear self-organization.
Fiasco Press is a journal of swarm scholarship - the literary product of non-linear self-organization.

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Published by: FiascoPress on Oct 10, 2011
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Fiasco Presswww.fiascopress.orgJournal of Swarm Scholarship
The Enzensberger-Baudrillard Mass Media DebateReexamined: Temporal Models and the Dialectic
Jack Kredell
1. Hans Magnus Enzensberger’s “Constituents of a Theory of the Media”, originally publishedin 1970 in the New Left Review, is an ambitious and urgent attempt to patch existing Marxistmedia theory with a Leninist social strategy of the new media. Enzensberger describes theemergent category of mass media as a “consciousness industry”, one that “…infiltrates into allother sectors of production, takes over more and more directional and control functions, anddetermines the standard of the prevailing technology” (Enzensberger 261). Collectively thevarious technological and cultural manifestations of new media constitute a new andinterconnected “universal system”.The essay’s voice is that of the traditional vanguard intellectual urging socialist strategy torecognize the emergence of electronic new media as the prevailing locus of contradiction withinthe system of post-industrial monopoly capitalism. Prophetically, Enzensberger exhorts the“open secret” of the emancipatory capacity of new media, “which has been waiting, suppressedor crippled, for its moment to come…” to be recognized for its inherent power to mobilize. Incontrast to bygone forms of social mobilization such as the protest march which, for the radicalleft at the time, bore the stigma of the rank and file Stalinist parade, the new organizational paradigm will make men “as free as dancers, as aware as football players, surprising asguerrillas” (Enzensberger 261).This notion that the mobilizing potential of electronic media will usher us into a more
Fiasco Presswww.fiascopress.orgJournal of Swarm Scholarship2favorable spatial, kinetic and temporal orientation to political life is preordained by a progressiveview of history. Gracing the present moment with a greater freedom of movement than ever  before, mass media becomes the socio-cultural kindling that ignites the present moment’sontological disposition to revolution. What is really being said, however, is that new mediaoffers a new and improved version of mobilization, one that it is not constrained by the planned,linear determinations of marching and parading. Thus, the ‘newness’ of new media is the degreeto which it enables us to transcend the image of the past as the failure to mobilize. Regardless of the structural influence of Ezensberger’s progressive critical paradigm, there is somethinginnately magical, almost subversive even, about electronic media’s ability to make us “as free asdancers” even prior to its strategic, emancipatory use.But how exactly does this freedom configure itself? With the resolute air of a positivist,Enzensberger asserts that the revolutionary potential of electronic media is concretized in anegalitarian structure which permits a new relationship between the means and the forces of  production: “For the first time in history, the media are making possible mass participation in asocial and socialized productive process, the practical means of which are in the hands of themasses themselves” (Enzensberger 262). Here an unlikely comparison can be drawn betweenEnzenberger and McLuhan based on the idea of technological immanence. In Enzensberger,what might be called the ‘massness’ of the mass media, the totalizing degree of its enclosure of receivers and transmitters, superficially resembles Marshall McLuhan’s notion technologicalimmanence, the audio-tactile ether in which the famous “global village” subsists. In actuality thetwo couldn’t be more antithetical: Enznensberger’s mass media is a hyper-egalitarian structureviewed within the framework of socialist discourse, one that enables greater individual
Fiasco Presswww.fiascopress.orgJournal of Swarm Scholarship3 participation and freedom of movement; by contrast, McLuhan writes about a spatio-temporalimmanence that permits interconnectivity and interdependence as opposed to independence (or individuals for that matter).2. McLuhan, as befitting his unlucky fate in American academia, will play only cameo roles inthe work of the two theorists discussed. In Enzensberger, he appears, briefly, as a kind of intellectual extremist of the apolitical avant-garde whose work immodestly exhibits a lack conceptual stringency and historical responsibility. This is somewhat unusual, given thatEnzensberger’s essay is mostly pardonable of avant-garde delinquency due to its prematurefuturity; it is literally trying to express itself in terms which have not yet been invented. ThoughDadaism “teemed with barbarisms”, it possessed an historical and prognostic value that for Enzensberger was non-intrinsic to work itself, since it was “...attempting to achieve those effectswhich the public today seeks in film with the means of painting” (Enzensberger 275). For McLuhan’s vangaurdism, however, there is only hostility and outright rejection.The conflict between Enzensberger’s responsible socialist left and representatives of the‘apolitical’ such as McLuhan is really a territorial dispute over the theoretical colonization of thenew productive forces. “Innocents” writes Enzensbrger, “have put themselves in the forefront of the new productive forces on the basis of mere institutions with which communism-to itsdetriment-has not wished to concern itself” (Enzensberger 271). This is another way of sayingthat “innocents” of the apolitical avant-garde have often made greater strides than orthodoxMarxists in the radicalization of new media because of their willingness to embrace and exposethemselves to the new productive forces of the time. The popularity of the “charlatan” McLuhan

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