March 21, 2008
Anne Friedberg (USC)
Seminar on her book The Virtual Window (MIT, 2006)
Event report: The day after her public talk, Friedberg hosted a smaller seminar for graduate students and faculty, featuring an interactive presentation of The Virtual Window website that accompanies her latest book (http://thevirtualwindow.net/). Friedberg proposed the website as a response to what Walter Benjamin called the “archaic stillness of the book,” raising a number of timely issues about historiographic methods in an age of rapid technological and aesthetic innovation. The Virtual Window project traces cultural, material, and philosophical developments in representation from Alberti’s Renaissance window to Microsoft’s opaque and post-perspectival “window” of the computer screen. Friedberg described her method as a “rear-view mirror” approach that adopts a long historical view, defying the presentism characteristic of new media studies. The challenge for the online incarnation of the project was to translate this historiographic commitment from the familiar medium of the book to the relatively young and traditionally unscholarly medium of the website. Designing the website necessitated attention to a number of issues, including the interplay of sound, image, and text in the representation of complex concepts; the identity politics involved in the concept of “the spectator” at the core of The Virtual Window project; and the balance between the medium specificity of screen formats and the translatability of content to different formats. This last point invokes the real-world circulation and duration of screen technologies in relation to factors such as innovation, obsolescence, disposability, and e-waste.