Bolter – The Possibility of a Respectful Remediation?


In Writing Space, Bolter’s discussion of the use of ‘remediation’ is an ongoing theme. He applies it to many different situations from culture, graphic design to the printing process. However, upon closer examination of the ideas of ‘Remediation’ in his work, he defines it as a process of “refashioning space, a shift where the newer medium takes the place of an older one” (p.23). He further suggests that it is possible for “respectful remediation” even though throughout most of his work the examples he illustrates seem hostile of each other. With the ideas of “homage and rivalry” which are embedded in the idea of remediation, is it possible to have respectful remediation when these ideas are contradictory in nature? Upon closer look at several of Bolter’s examples, it launches a re-examination in Writing Space. Is it possible to see the “respectful” quality in most examples throughout history or is it simply a hostile relationship where the existence of one simply displaces the other without a possible of co-existence?

Case Studies

Bolter’s discussion of how print remediated medieval works and the process of illuminating texts is a case in question. The homage paid by print to the illustrations of blend and image is significant but the success of print demolished the existence of illuminated books. The accessibility, portability and the mass distribution potential of the printed word sent the time-consuming process of illustrating texts into the past. The illuminated book did not even have an opportunity at rivalry. The speed and affordability of the printed book made the illuminated book a luxury to produce and have. The remediation here is aggressive and the nature of the ‘refashioning’ has made the illuminated book present only in the rare book collections of today.

Although the printed book cannot remediate the same sense of culture and experience as the illuminated could with it’s physical features and characteristics, the advantages of the printed generated a new sense of individualized and private reading which was not possible before. The illuminated text brought the image and text together and “pictures have been decorative, explanatory and allegorical” (p.66) whereas as print widened this separation by generating a “space that is simple and clean” (p.67). In some ways print pays homage to the illuminated text but it cannot simulate its entire existence completely. Since the previous medium was completely replaced, can Bolter still apply ‘remediation’? Perhaps, upon a closer look the content or knowledge has been remediated but the physical form and experience has undoubtedly been replaced and transformed and went beyond the idea of being redone in a different manner. The method in which print has refashioned medieval worldview and ways of knowing undoubtedly made a change in the way people perceived their method of expression and worldview. The dynamics between print and medieval demonstrates how the advantages of one medium can overcome another simply because of the practical attitudes of society towards technology, the faster the better, the smaller the better and the cheaper the better.

The idea of how print reigned until recent developments in digital media is another valuable exploration of the dynamics between a new medium and its predecessor. Bolter discusses the refashioning from the desire of a printed encyclopedia to the creations of an electronic encyclopedia down to the popularity of the World Wide Web as a place that “housed” all our knowledge. This discussion demonstrates the different phases of remediation. From the beginnings of a traditional library as a culturally and religiously important space to the digital hybrids, once again the new medium is establishing it’s own role within our realities. As Bolter states, “the physical libraries continue to fulfill a variety of institutional and cultural purposes”, and this has encouraged and allowed the coexistence of the digital and the traditional space (p.93).

This relationship can be argued as being less hostile and more ‘respectful’ in terms of remediation. The digital library has not yet displaced the traditional and both exist in one space in the form of ‘hybrids’. As “they both pay homage to print and offer new electronic services”, both mediums are mutually dependent of each other. Perhaps the digital library seeks to replace the old medium but the rivalry is healthily present and the competition is still in progress. Unlike the Illuminated book and print, these hybrids of library space offer a place of ‘respectable remediation’. The value of the physical space cannot be completely replaced by the digital world and the physical space cannot be void of technological advances in data storage efficiency.


At the culmination of his book Writing Space, Bolter illustrates an example of “respectful remediation” with his own example of his book website. As he cleverly mentions “it does not seek to render the printed version unnecessary” (p.214) by having the availability of certain chapters online. He has emphasized “homage” on his website and eliminated “rivalry” hence the co-existence. The person of interest is himself and the authority of remediation lies within him. This is one of the key ideas within ‘respectful remediation’. Whether or not the person who is the authority is the same person of interest on both ends of the medium tug-of-war and benefiting can change the way the direction refashioning can take place. For the medieval era, it was different, hence the collapse of the illuminated book. For the library era, it is still remotely similar, hence the coexistence. For Bolter himself, it is exactly the same hence the success of ‘respectful remediation’.

These are all indicative of the realities of technology and the financial profits that are involved. The economy of remediation is something that cannot be underestimated. Asking the key question of who is profiting from the remediation can determine the longevity of a certain medium, and who has the knowledge of such technology can impact the penetration rate into our world today. By realizing how much technology is not politically or economically neutral, it can provide a valuable insight on the process of remediation and the tiny fraction of the possibility of the relationship being ‘respectful’ is worth entertaining.

Commentary 2

Works Cited

Bolter, J. (2009). Writing Space. New Jersey, Routledge.

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