Dr. Eric S. Jenkins has developed the concept of modes as a useful tool for understanding the intersection between media production and consumption or authorship and reception. A selection from his dissertation,
Jenkins, Eric S. "Consumer Dreams: Animation and the Translation of America." Dissertation, University of Georgia, 2009, follows:

If The Medium is the Message, the Message is The Mode
“Just as the entire mode of existence of human collectives changes over long historical periods, so too does their mode of perception.” –Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of its Technological Reproducibility.”1
[[#_edn1|[i]]]




Translation reveals, renews, and transforms modes. Modes are the “origin” of rhetorical constitution. The translation of the mode of animistic mimesis into language becomes, in the middle of the 20th century, a model rhetorical situation expressed in the Disney version of the American dream and its constellation of metaphors. What, then, is a mode? And how are modes distinguished from media?
First, let us address the question of media. When McLuhan declared the medium is the message, some critics were hesitant because the term message typically denotes a meaningful content. Message implies a meaning-centric focus that assumes the significance of media stems from its signifieds. McLuhan’s axiom was actually designed to counter such a view, and a constitutive media theory denies this meaning-centric focus, as we witnessed in the last chapter. Media theory maintains that the effects of television, radio, cinema, and other media take place regardless of the content of the messages disseminated by those media. The term “message,” however, can still create confusion because the significance of media does not stem from its message contents, as Postman contends above. Likewise, such confusion is why Weber insists that Benjamin would reject McLuhan’s axiom. Weber, who sees in Benjamin a distinctly Derridean theory of media, believes the axiom confounds medium and message.2[[#_edn2|[ii]]] The significance of media results not from their actual, present meanings but rather from the virtual, relational possibilities of meaning-making, the modes that media enable. For Benjamin:
The medium is never simply actual, never simply real or present, much less ‘the message’ that it seems to convey. Rather, it consists in the suspension of all messaging and in the virtuality that ensues. Such virtuality makes its force felt as an intervention: the media is what comes between, stretching apart everything that would be present to itself.3[[#_edn3|[iii]]]

Although the warning to avoid a meaning-centric focus remains valuable, when McLuhan is read closely his conclusions stand in close proximity to those of Postman, Weber and Benjamin.4[[#_edn4|[iv]]] McLuhan is not saying that media cause meanings but that media create changes in the ways humans relate and communicate, changes whose significance matters far more than any sum of meanings they may or may not contain. His axiom is intended as a criticism of the meaning-centric, instrumental media-effects scholarship dominant at the time of his writing. He reappropriates the term “message” from this scholarly heritage to give it a radically different implication. Therefore, when I place the term “message” deliberately in quotation marks it designates McLuhan’s sense—not a meaningful content but a socio-cultural imprinting that cannot be denied, even if it never enters into conscious thought. The media are the “message,” but not in the sense of content deciphered by the audience. The “message” is the way mediation alters cultural perceptions and ways of communicating, especially the perceptions and forms of space and time. The message is not something either consciously or unconsciously perceived but, like the trace, a non-present, nonconscious economy which opens the possibility of perception. Media, then, work by structuring the cultural habitus rather than by imparting information into the audience’s consciousness. As Benjamin contends, humans adapt to changes in the sensorium not by the optical means of contemplation but by the tactile means of habit.5[[#_edn5|[v]]] Media work through the repeated establishment of habit much more than conscious interpretation.
Rather than messages as presumed carriers of meaning subject to conscious interpretation, a refined understanding of McLuhan’s axiom points towards “messages” as changes in the human sensorium and habitus. “For the message of any medium or technology is the change of scale or pace or pattern that it introduces into human affairs.”6[[#_edn6|[vi]]] These changes are conditioned by history, organized by the empirical alterations in media and mediation. The “message” of media is how they alter the modes of perception of a certain historical period, as Benjamin argues in the prelude. In short, if the medium is the message, the message is the mode.
Distinguishing media and modes accounts for the interaction and mutual affection of media and therefore avoids the reduction of origin to a technological substance. Although media contribute to the shape of modes, limiting their possibilities, they do not determine them. For instance, without writing, the form of elongated, abstract reasoning necessary for physics is impossible, but writing does not guarantee physics. Cultures existed for centuries, and continue to thrive, with writing yet without physics. Only a scientific mode of writing, a specific set of perspectives and metaphors, leads to physics. This lack of determinism can be seen historically with the emergence of film which sparked attempts by painters, writers, and architects to translate the cinematic mode into their medium. Stephen Kern, for instance, points to the literature of James Joyce and the art of surrealism and cubism as representative examples of the attempt to translate the cinematic mode.7[[#_edn7|[vii]]]
The cinematic mode discussed in Chapter Five, like all modes, is contingent and historical. The American culture of the early to mid 20th century perceived cinema in a particular way, based on a translation of modes from photography and literature. Photography was largely perceived at the time as a transparent portrayal of material reality; therefore, cinema was widely described as the extension of photography to motion. Cinema was perceived as the capture of material reality (often called live-action). Yet cinema captures this material reality to create an imaginary narrative, through a translation of narrative devices and stories from literature. Thus the cinematic mode of the time entailed the perceiving of material reality as an imaginary narrative. As Lev Manovich says, “Cinema is the art of the index; it is an attempt to make art out of a footprint.”8[[#_edn8|[viii]]] This mode was historical and contingent, most manifest in the Golden Age of Hollywood and through what Christian Metz calls the “supergenre” of cinema—the fictional, narrative-based live-action film.9[[#_edn9|[ix]]] The cinematic apparatus, however, is not limited to this supergenre or this mode of signifying. As Manovich argues, for instance, the spread of digital cinema has fundamentally transformed cinema, away from the perception of material reality based in photography and towards the perception of an imaginary life, closer to animation and based in the graphic arts.10[[#_edn10|[x]]] Perhaps certain technologies—like oil painting—make the translation of the cinematic mode more difficult whereas others—like a movie camera—readily enable them. The film apparatus makes possible the cinematic mode but does not determine that any particular iteration will emerge. Media technology set limits on the possible translations of modes, but do not guarantee the emergence of specific modes, which depend on a culturally and historically specific process of translation. Modes should be seen as the origin of these translations, the original cultural material that is subsequently translated and transformed. Media are not determining but instead enabling and disabling of modes.
This conceptualization of media as enabling and disabling possibilities draws upon what Weber calls Benjamin’s –abilities.11[[#_edn11|[xi]]] Examples of –abilities from Benjamin include citability, communicability, impartability, knowability, recognizability, legibility, and, in his most famous “The Work of Art” essay, reproducibility.12[[#_edn12|[xii]]] Translatability is another example that plays a significant role for media theory. (In this dissertation, transferability represents the –ability enabled by the mode of animistic mimesis). –Abilities are starkly different from an ability possessed by a subject, such as a speaker’s ability to translate their choices into meaningful discourse. An –ability is defined by the dash, the gap, the absence marking the economy of a relationship. As with iterability, –abilities describe a structural necessity – a potentiality or virtuality – rather than an empirical, existent substance. Iterability, for instance, is the structurally necessary possibility of repetition, of new iterations, not the iterations themselves. The –ability remains whether the discourse is ever repeated, just as the possibility of particular forms of mediation remain whether people actually engage them (for instance, the possibility for montage was enabled by the film camera long before it emerged historically).
Media create a relational economy that makes certain –abilities into a virtual possibility, virtual in the sense that its existence does not require actualization. Instead, the virtuality of media creates the possibilities of certain actualizations, the potentiality of various perceptual and discursive constitutions that remains whether ever actualized. Media “cannot be measured by the possibility of self-fulfillment but by its constitutive alterability,” by the differing and deferring movements of an economy.13[[#_edn13|[xiii]]] For instance, according to our example here, animation enables a transferability between the movements of the character and the emotion of the audience. That is, the gestures can be seen as signs of life, as emotional expressions. As developed more in Chapter Six, animation makes the transferability of semblances to the screen and emotion to the character possible.
Modes, in contrast, are the specific and particular results enabled by the –abilities of media. Modes are the historical, embodied form of perception. A mode is a way of signifying, shared between speakers, audiences, and texts. Modes are a perceiving as, a way of receiving and interpreting texts. As Gunther Kress and Theo van Leeuwen describe, modes are “a system of social deixis which ‘addresses’ a particular kind of viewer, or a particular social/cultural group, and provides through its system of modality markers an image of the cultural, conceptual, and cognitive position of the addressee.”14[[#_edn14|[xiv]]] In this sense, each mode is also a metaphor; it provides a perspective from which certain reads make sense. Modes constitute perspectives though which certain things become perceivable and others invisible or insignificant. Modes direct the perception of space and time as well as other features of form and content. To take an example from a medium that is a close heir to animation, Scott McCloud shows how comic book artists developed different techniques for drawing gutters, the space between frames, to direct the reader to perceive different kinds of transitions in time and space such as flashbacks or a progression of moments.15[[#_edn15|[xv]]]
This notion of modes builds off my earlier work, where I isolated the “judgmental mode” of news media photography and the “iconic mode” of Apple’s iPod ads.16[[#_edn16|[xvi]]] This dissertation continues and refines my work by emphasizing the dual relationship in modes between text and audience. Modes are perhaps best conceived as liminal or in-between, a relational structure between speaker-text and text-audience. Modes are cued by formal features of the text but also require participation of audiences who take the cues and perceive according to the mode. In this way, we might think of a mode as an enthymeme. This liminality precludes locating the origin of the mode in any single speaker, audience, or the text. All play a crucial role in the completion, repetition, and circulation of a mode. Thus modes are fundamentally cultural and historical; they are embodied forms of perception that constitute a shared world. Kress and van Leeuwen, who argue modes guide what a culture or group considers credible, real, or truthful, explain:
“What one social group considers credible may not be considered credible by another. This is why we see modality as interactive, rather than ideational, as social, rather than as a matter of some independently given value. Modality both realizes and produces social affinity, through aligning the viewer (or reader, or listener) with certain forms of representation, namely those which the artist (or speaker, or writer) aligns himself or herself, and not with others. Modality realizes what ‘we’ consider true or untrue, real or not real… To the extent that people are drawn into this ‘we’, new values, new modes of thinking and perceiving can establish themselves.”17[[#_edn17|[xvii]]]

This liminality demarcates modes as a relational structure. As such, modes work through an economy, or what Benjamin calls a dialectic. The economy of the mode is the origin of the perception, opening the possibilities of appearance and signification as Derrida argues. For instance, Kress and van Leeuwen discuss the modality of photographic naturalism, “the dominant standard by which we judge visual realism.”18[[#_edn18|[xviii]]] The standards of photographic naturalism are defined according to economies or scales related to color, depth, brightness, contextualization, and abstraction. Too much color saturation makes the image diverge from photo naturalism, yet at the same time too little saturation does likewise. Too much or too little saturation can make the image appear, in the mode of photographic naturalism, less real. Photographic naturalism is defined by an economy between these poles. Another example comes from Bolter and Grusin who describe the competing tendencies towards hypermediacy and immediacy in digital media.19[[#_edn19|[xix]]] Immediacy is similar to photo-realism, a seemingly transparent presentation of the real. Immediacy seeks to erase or efface the mediation, to give the audience the sense of entering the frame, the screen, or the scene. Hypermediacy, on the other hand, acknowledges and pursues the pleasure of mediation, often through the employment of spectacle and the proliferation of interfaces for user manipulation. Although Bolter and Grusin seem to consider these mutually exclusive tendencies, elsewhere I have argued that hypermediacy and immediacy are better seen as an economy, particularly with video games.20[[#_edn20|[xx]]] Video games balance the opposing forces of immediacy and hypermediacy, giving both a sense of realistic immersion and the pleasurable control of a virtual gaming experience.
Chapters Five and Six illustrate two modes accompanying cinema and animation—the cinematic mode and animistic mimesis. With animistic mimesis, an economy of semblance and play directs the differences and deferrals, what the audience sees and does not see, how they read the text. The reception moves by oscillating between semblance and play, with the tension between the two defining the process. The mode is a movement from semblance to play, play to semblance. The animation must maintain semblances to real life but never be too close. Mickey must both look like a mouse and not. His image must have semblances but also a healthy dose of play. It is the tension, the oscillation between semblance and play that enable the perception of animated characters as living, expressing, and feeling beings. Nothing guarantees adherence to these modes, but as media spread they serve as persistent reminders and continual opportunities to engage in the mode. When engaged, modes shape cultural perceptions. Through the various translations, the culture learns the formal message, learns about the being of the mode. The “message,” if it had to be reduced to linguistic paraphrase, would simply be, “This mode is possible.” Some may miss the “message” or interpret this existence in contradictory ways. But the translations provide lessons in the existence of the mode nonetheless.
This conceptualization of modes draws heavily from Benjamin’s massive unfinished The Arcades Project.21 [[#_edn21|[xxi]]] In it, Benjamin focuses attention on such consumers as the flâneur, the collector, the gambler, and the moviegoer as well as trends in home décor, shopping, and fashion, articulating how these practices are based on a modal economy. The Arcades, a prototype of malls or department stores, were covered passages in 19th century Paris lined with stores. The flâneur was a type of pedestrian who frequently wandered through the Arcades. The flâneur, however, did not seek purchase or passage to another section of the city; they were not shoppers or pedestrians. They communicated with the Arcades in a unique respect, a way Benjamin describes as the colportage of space.22[[#_edn22|[xxii]]] That is, the flâneur sees the Arcades as a labyrinth full of hidden mysteries.23[[#_edn23|[xxiii]]] The Arcades are a mystery story constructed by the flâneur, who sees as a detective and in turn peddles their detections in the form of written books or oral narratives. The flâneur wanders the Arcades, at a turtle’s slow place, seeing not just buildings, crowds, and commodities but a landscape shot through with mysteries of far-off times and places.24[[#_edn24|[xxiv]]] “The space winks at the flâneur.”25[[#_edn25|[xxv]]] “The street conducts the flâneur into a vanished time.”26[[#_edn26|[xxvi]]]
The flâneur’s intoxication with such mysteries stems from a particular modal economy, a way of seeing and constructing texts through a system of metaphors. The mode of flânerie enables a specific legibility of the city and its Arcades. Benjamin calls it an illustrative seeing, whereby the flâneur constructs texts to accompany the images they witness.27[[#_edn27|[xxvii]]] The flâneur views the physiognomy of the city as evidence of its deeper mysteries. The flâneur sees the material Arcades but also invests what they see with an abstract knowledge, a knowledge which traveled from flâneur to flâneur by word of mouth and was often codified in popular literature of the time.28[[#_edn28|[xxviii]]] Armed with these “dead facts” the flâneur experiences the city as an interior, as familiar to them as the inside of their homes.29[[#_edn29|[xxix]]] They perceive the city’s features as “something experienced and lived through.”30[[#_edn30|[xxx]]]
Such seeing-as operates through a modal economy or dialectic. The dialectic of flânerie creates a tensive economy through the mediation of the crowd.31[[#_edn31|[xxxi]]] On the one hand, the flâneur feels viewed by all, like a suspect among the crowd. This creates the opportunity to construct texts about the suspects; the faces of the crowd offer themselves as images for the projection of deep secrets. On the other hand, the flâneur feels hidden, undiscoverable, one of a mass of faces whose deeper secrets are hidden by the jumbling indistinctness of the crowd. Cloaked by the crowd, the flâneur sees as a detective, moving surreptitiously through the crowd, uncovering the mysteries behind the physiognomy of the city and its inhabitants. In other words, flânerie, as a form of reception and hence textual construction, works via an economy of the visible and the hidden, physiognomy and mystery, each discernable through the mediation of the crowd. They see the streets crowded with suspects and view it as a detective, hidden amongst the mass. They see the visible physiognomy of the city as evidence of its hidden mysteries.
Operating through an economy, modes are not about presence, a substance of place or identity or ideology that guarantees their outcome. The flâneur is not simply a person who strolls through the arcades, or a white, bourgeois male of the late 19th century, or a duped consumer falling for the commodity fetish. In de Certeau’s terms, what defines the flâneur is not their status or location in the strategic place of society. What defines them is a difference in tactic, differences that “refer to the modalities of action, to the formalities of practices. They traverse the frontiers dividing time, place, and type of action into one part assigned for work and another for leisure.”32[[#_edn32|[xxxii]]] Modes are the practices through which humans experience their existence.
Thus it is crucial to pay attention to modes and distinguish them from media because modes are the historical, embodied form of perception enabled by media. They are the messages of media. Communication media produce –abilities that enable and limit various ways of communicating, particularly by altering social spatiality and temporality. These –abilities are virtual potentialities, and modes are their actual realization. Media enable translations; they create a certain translatability. Modes are the specific translations. Media translate modes into new forms, providing cultures with new ways of communicating. As the modes spread, they create new ways of perceiving and relating that shape the cultural habitus. One way they do so is by constituting new rhetorical situations when the newer cultural modes are in turn translated into language. The mode is the original text that, when translated, constitutes the Disney version of the American dream and its constellated metaphors. In short, the translation of modes constitutes models of the rhetorical situation like the Disney version of the American dream. That is, the mode of the animated movie viewer (animistic mimesis) is translated into discourse as a model of communication that underwrites the Disney version of the American dream.


[[#_ednref1|[i]]
1- Walter Benjamin, "The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility: Second Version," in The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility, and Other Writings on Media, ed. Michael W. Jennings, Brigid Doherty, and Thomas Y. Levin (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2008), 23.
[[#_ednref2|[ii]]2- Weber, Benjamin's -Abilities, 118.
[[#_ednref3|[iii]] 3-Ibid., 113.
[[#_ednref4|[iv]] 4-For instance,McLuhan remarks, “Concern with effect rather than meaning is a basic change of our electric time, for effect involves the total situation, and not a single level of information movement.” McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, 39.
[[#_ednref5|[v]] 5-Walter Benjamin, "The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility: Second Version," in Selected Writings: Volume 3, 1935-1938, ed. Michael William Jennings and Howard Eiland (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 2002), 120.
[[#_ednref6|[vi]] 6-McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, 24.
[[#_ednref7|[vii]] 7-Stephen Kern, The Culture of Time and Space, 1880-1918: With a New Preface (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2003).
[[#_ednref8|[viii]] 8-Lev Manovich, "What Is Digital Cinema?," in The Digital Dialectic : New Essays on New Media, ed. Peter Lunenfeld (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1999), 174.
[[#_ednref9|[ix]] 9-Christian Metz, "The Fiction Film and Its Spectator: A Metapsychological Study," in Apparatus, Cinematographic Apparatus : Selected Writings, ed. Theresa Hak Kyung Cha (New York: Tanam Press, 1980).
[[#_ednref10|[x]] 10-Manovich argues that history has come full circle. Cinema, which grew out of animation, is returning to its roots. “Digital cinema is a particular case of animation that uses live-action footage as one of its many elements… Born from animation, cinema pushed animation to its boundary, only to become one particular case of animation in the end.” Manovich, "What Is Digital Cinema?," 180. I concur with Manovich and believe that this conclusion further justifies the focus of this dissertation. A historical understanding of animation is crucial to the analysis of newer, digital media, including digital cinema.
[[#_ednref11|[xi]] 11-In relation to one of Benjamin’s –abilities, translatability, Weber takes issue with the first English translation of “The Task of the Translator” which reads, “Translation is a mode.” Weber argues that the term “form” is a more appropriate translation because mode suggests a wholeness or harmony in traditional aesthetic theory. Although I find the caution against seeing mode as a harmony rather than an economy as valuable, I believe the concept of “mode” reads more clearly in English than “form.” In English, form suggests a substantive, not a process or an –ability. Perhaps a single translation is a form, but translation as a mode is defined by translatability. At other places in Weber’s book, the use of the term mode seems to jive very well, for instance in the translation chapters where he discusses the difference between meanings and ways or modes of meaning (72-73). In the introduction, he describes iterability as “a distinctive mode” (5). Elsewhere he states, “Language, in short, names a modality rather than a substance or a substantive. It describes the possibility of a particular way of being: that of being communicated, communicability” (117). Weber, Benjamin's -Abilities.
[[#_ednref12|[xii]] 12-Walter Benjamin, "The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility: Third Version," in Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings Volume 4, 1938-1940, ed. Michael W. Jennings (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2003).
[[#_ednref13|[xiii]] 13-Weber, Benjamin's -Abilities, 42.
[[#_ednref14|[xiv]] 14-Gunther Kress and Theo van Leeuwen, Reading Images: The Grammar of Visual Design (London: St. Edmundsbury Press, 1996), 178.
[[#_ednref15|[xv]] 15-Scott McCloud, Understanding Comics ([Northampton, MA]: Kitchen Sink Press, 1993).
[[#_ednref16|[xvi]] 16-Eric S. Jenkins, "Seeing Katrina: Perspectives of Judgment in a Cultural/Natural Disaster," Visual Communication Quarterly 14, no. 2 (2007). ———, "My Ipod, My Icon: How and Why Do Images Become Icons?," Critical Studies in Media Communication 25, no. 5 (2008).
[[#_ednref17|[xvii]] 17-Kress and van Leeuwen, Reading Images: The Grammar of Visual Design, 176.
[[#_ednref18|[xviii]] 18-Ibid., 163.
[[#_ednref19|[xix]] 19-Bolter and Grusin, Remediation : Understanding New Media.
[[#_ednref20|[xx]] 20-Eric S. Jenkins, "Wii Extended: Video Games, Gender, and the Narcissistic Desire," (2008). [Unpublished manuscript]
[[#_ednref21|[xxi]] 21-As Susan Buck-Morss explains: The Passagen-Werk was to be a ‘materialist philosophy of history,’ constructed with ‘the utmost concreteness’ out of the historical material itself, the outdated remains of those nineteenth-century buildings, technologies, and commodities that were the precursors of his own era. As the ‘ur-phenomena’ of modernity, they were to provide the material necessary for an interpretation of history’s most recent configurations…Benjamin’s goal was to take materialism so seriously that the historical phenomena themselves were brought to speech.” Susan Buck-Morss, The Dialectics of Seeing: Walter Benjamin and the Arcades Project (Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 1989), 4.
[[#_ednref22|[xxii]] 22-Walter Benjamin, "The Flâneur," in The Arcades Project, ed. Rolf Tiedemann (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press, 1999), 418. [M1a,3]
[[#_ednref23|[xxiii]] 23-Ibid., 429. [M6a,4]
[[#_ednref24|[xxiv]] 24-Benjamin remarks about a favored flâneur pastime of walking turtles on leashes through the Arcades. He says this is indicative of the flâneur’s pace. Ibid., 422. [M3,8] He states, “We know that, in the course of flânerie, far-off times and places interpenetrate the landscape and the present moment.” Benjamin, "The Flâneur," 419. [M2,4]
[[#_ednref25|[xxv]] 25-Benjamin, "The Flâneur," 418-19. [M1a,3]
[[#_ednref26|[xxvi]] 26-Ibid., 416. [M1,2]
[[#_ednref27|[xxvii]] 27-Ibid., 419. [M2,2]
[[#_ednref28|[xxviii]] 28-Ibid., 417 [M1,5]
[[#_ednref29|[xxix]] 29-Ibid. Benjamin discusses the city becoming interior throughout this section on the flâneur. See Ibid., 423. [M3a,4]
[[#_ednref30|[xxx]] 30-Ibid, 417. [M1,5]
[[#_ednref31|[xxxi]] 31-Ibid, 420. [M2,8]
[[#_ednref32|[xxxii]] 32-Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, trans. Steven Rendall (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), 29.