Transmediaphilia and the Pleasures of the Personal Digital Archive

Stenson, Edmund

Collins began his talk by arguing that case studies of transmediaphilia have yet to explore broader theoretical implications. Beyond the enumeration of the ways in which fans engage with transmedia content and in the process build worlds, what exactly are they exploring? Furthermore, what effects are digital devices such as cellphones, smart-tablets and kindles having on the way fans maintain and construct worlds?

If cinephilia, as Susan Sontag describes it, was born from the “conviction that cinema was an art form unlike any other” and in the process a particularly cerebral, auteurist approach was maintained, then transmediaphilia is characterized by a certain elasticity, both in the range of media that produce and disseminate fictional worlds and the kinds of fans it implies. The cinephile participated in symptomatic readings of auteur texts, in which reconstructing the dream-world of the auteur constituted a form of world-building, whereas the transmediaphile does not necessarily privilege a particular device or mode of narrative representation over another. Rather, world-building is a constantly regenerative process experienced over multiple platforms.

The concept of cinephilic world building – characterized, then, by a very particular fanbase and a hermetic attachment to texts – and transmediaphilic world building was bridged by a brief discussion of films concerned with cinephilia, in particular, Pulp Fiction and The Dreamers. If, in the former, Tarantino filled fictional spaces with nods, winks and nudges to his favourite cinema, television and music, then, Collins argued, we might see portable devices today as facilitating a similar – but crucially more immediate - kind of transmedial network. Simultaneity – both qualitative and quantitative – has replaced singularity, as playlisting on digital devices transforms world-building into self-fashioning.

Playlists then – a sort of transmedial database – allow the individual to use Digital devices and portable playback to build and manoeuvre through worlds. We are users, listeners, players and creators at the same time, and it is in this transmedial play, Collins suggested, that the ultimate story agency and decentralized authorship can be realized. Our archives become immediately accessible forms of personal expression -- instantly narrativizable. These are conduits of personal taste, as we take on a curatorial mode of self-expression. Here, I felt that there was insufficient discussion of the limits of what we might term "narractivity": what is lost when we ascribe ultimate authorial agency to an endlessly proliferating and yet monolithic mass of electronic media? ML Ryan brought this up in her question: might we need to distinguish between technophilia and worldphilia? Do the two always co-exist, or can they be mutually exclusive?

Further, in a closing remark, Collins argued that recent cynical assessments of ebook readers – in which the latter is argued to be responsible for the reshaping of the user’s engagement with literary works – were overly simplistic and unproductive. Though I agree that to claim that an Amazon Kindle only ruins the reading experience is facile, I think that Collins’ talk would have benefited from a closer inspection of how, exactly, devices like smartphones and kindles affect our experience of transmedial texts. How does the weight, the shape of these black boxes contribute to a particular form of engagement with the object? What might the objects and facilitators of transmedial networking do to our experience of world-building?

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