Alphaville: Journal of Film and Screen Media


Media Hysteresis: Persistence Through Change

Philippe Theophanidis and Ghislain Thibault


Abstract: For media scholars, locating the old in the new helps to debunk the inflation around the “newness” of contemporary media. Several approaches have been put to work in the exploration of these multiple temporalities within media: remediation, media revival, residual media, media archeology. In this article, we explore another temporal concept—hysteresis—as a way to think through the folding of time within and across media. The first part of the article presents a theoretical overview of the concept of hysteresis, from the field of experimental sciences in the late nineteenth century to Marx, Bourdieu, Baudrillard and others in the social sciences. In the second part, we introduce the concept of “media hysteresis” and illustrate it with two examples: the design of the keypad by Bell System’s push-button phones and the QWERTY keyboard. In the third and final part, we weave the concept of media hysteresis through a discussion of some of the major changes in cinema. More specifically, we examine how the aesthetic of the analogue persists in digital media and how media hysteresis can be useful to apprehend the celluloid revival. Our main argument throughout the article is the need for a theory of asynchronous simultaneity to analyse persistence and continuity across technological changes.

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