Issues in the History of the Performing Arts in a Mediamorphic (or Techno-Psychological) Perspective (14, 2, 2025)


Guest editors: Fabrizio Deriu (University of Teramo), Roberta Ferraresi (University of Cagliari)

Originating in the field of practical and theoretical research on the so-called electronic “new technologies” of communication, the notion of mediamorphosis has found fast and widespread application in several fields, for example the studies on popular culture and popular music [Middleton 1990; Blaukopf 1992; Agostini 2006]. The term refers to the complex process by which media transformations occur over time, usually brought about by the complex interplay and juxtaposition «of perceived needs, competitive and political pressures, and social and technological innovation [...] [It] is not so much a theory as it is a unified way of thinking about the technological evolution of communication media. Instead of studying each form separately, it encourages us to examine all forms as members of an interdependent system, and to note the similarities and relationships that exists among past, present, and emerging forms» [Fidler 1997].

Clearly related is the well-known notion of remediation [Bolter - Grusin 1999], which develops McLuhan’s famous insight that the content of one medium is always another medium. While surpassing earlier media, each new communication tool pays homage to the previous ones since it appropriates their forms, contents and social meanings, in a logic not only of competition between old and new technologies but also giving rise to a complex process in which old media refashion themselves in response to the challenges posed by technical innovations.

With even greater perspicuity, the principle is also at work in the perspective of “mediological” inquiry pursued by the original as well as controversial French intellectual Régis Debray [Debray 1991; 1992; 2000]. Far from being a branch of the sociology of media (with which it is instead often confused), mediology – according to Debray – has as its object the interactions, present and past, between technique and culture. It is meant to be a reflection on trace, archive and memory, which can range from ancient to contemporary history, from the earliest forms of cuneiform writing to the Internet, from the bicycle to the great systems of cultural imagination. Mediology aims at understanding how a break in our methods of transmission and transportation provokes a change in mentalities and behaviours, as well as, inversely, how a cultural tradition provokes, assimilates or modifies a technical innovation. Similarly to mediamorphosis and despite the suffix, mediology does not claim to be a “new science” but, in a larger sense, an original mode of coming to knowledge, consisting in relaying an historical phenomenon to the technical mediations which have made it possible. One is acting as a mediologist – Debray states – each time one brings to light correlations unifying a symbolic corpus (a religion, a doctrine, an artistic genre, a discipline, etc...), a form of collective organization (a church, a political party, a school, an academy) and a technical system of communication (writing, press, recording, storage and trace circulation).

The theoretical framework, in one case as in the others, is ultimately supplied by the research path that the aforementioned Marshall McLuhan and the so-called “Toronto School” started about the social and psychological effects of media, with special attention to the complex dynamics that mark in the history of human civilizations the transitions from orality to writing and from writing to electrical/electronic communication [McLuhan 1962; 1964; Ong 1982]. Derrick de Kerckhove, who worked with McLuhan as assistant and co-author, reshaped the topic by coining the notions of

Psychotechnologies and Techno-Psychology [de Kerckhove 1990; 1991, 2008]. Psychotechnologies are those tools of thought and expression (such as precisely writing, printing, photo-phono-cinematography and contemporary digital devices) that extend the mind, just as “physical” technologies extend the various organs of the body. Techno-Psychology is the study of the relationships existing between technologies and mental organization, particularly the analysis of the ways by which the former modify our environment and transform the mindsets of the people who use them.

Inaugural examples for “techno-psychological” research are precisely de Kerckhove’s essays on the relationship between the invention of the Greek phonetic alphabet and the coeval development of theater [1981; 1982]. The inspiration came straight from McLuhan, as de Kerckhove himself tells the story: «I was at the terminal [...] stage of a six-year writer’s (and mental) block over my thesis, when McLuhan kindly informed me that I was looking in the wrong direction, that tragedy was not an aristocratic art form of the Ancien Régime, but a strategy invented by the Ancient Greeks to help absorb the socially and psychologically devastating effect of learning to read and write». As a big side- effect, literacy dissolved the ancient tribal identity, based on the oral transmission of cultural knowledge. Therefore, we have a strong suspicion: namely, the fact that the “techno-psychological” investigation properly started from the study of a performing arts phenomenon it is perhaps anything but a coincidence; or, to put it differently, it is a lucky but not fortuitous circumstance. It is well known that in McLuhan’s and “Toronto School” thinking, the arts as a whole represent the “cultural laboratory” where artists carry out, well in advance in respect to the rest of society, the work of interpreting and “metabolizing” the effects of new technologies. However theater and the performing arts, in such a process of psychological and cultural appropriation, offer an especially powerful terrain and tool insofar as – to put it in Walter Benjamin’s words - their material of creation is only and exclusively the body and behavior; that is, bodily gesture and lip gesture as the first and oldest manifestations of mimesis as the “original phenomenon of all artistic activity”. Furthermore, the hitherto so-called “techno-psychological” perspective strongly resonates with the Benjaminian hypothesis of the historicity of perception [Benjamin 1935; Hansen 2012; Pinotti – Somaini 2012].

Despite some interesting but circumscribed works which have appeared, for example, in Shakespearean critical literature [Ayers 1993; Guarino 2010] or on publishing drama in the modern age in Europe [Chartier 1999; Worthen 2006; Peters 2010], as well as the three editions of an ambitious but rather discontinuous handbook [the most recent: McConachie - Fisher Sorgenfrei - Nellhaus - Underiner 20163], it seems to us that from a “mediamorphic/mediological” - or, if one prefers, “techno-psychological” - perspective, the history of the performing arts (theater, dance and music, but not excluding technically reproducible forms and genres, starting with cinema), in the West as elsewhere, may constitute a most rich field of research, quite little explored up to these days.

«Mimesis Journal» invites to submit proposals for essays in Italian or English language, revolving around the suggested methodological perspective, either on specific case studies or on cross-cutting topics, preferably for historical but not excluding theoretical contributions (see, below, bibliographic suggestions). The articles will be collected in the monographic issue 14.2 (December 2025) edited by Fabrizio Deriu and Roberta Ferraresi.

Send the proposal to, in the form of a short abstract (maximum 2000 characters including spaces, in Italian and English) accompanied by a brief biographical note of the author/author (maximum 500 characters including spaces). The deadline for submission of proposals is the end of July 2024; if accepted, the deadline for delivery of the full essay will be March 31st, 2025.

Suggested bibliography

AGOSTINI, R., Origini, sviluppi e prospettive degli studi sulla popular music in Italia, in Deriu, F. – Privitera, M., Popular Music. Fare, ascoltare, insegnare, Aracne, Roma 2006, pp. 19-38.

ARTONI, A., Il sacro dissidio. Presenza, mìmesis, teatri d’Occidente, UTET Libreria, Torino 2005.

AUSLANDER, Ph., Liveness. Performance in a Mediatized Culture, Routledge, London and New York 20082 (prima ed. 1999).

AYERS, P.K., Reading, Writing, and Hamlet, in «Shakespeare Quarterly», 44, 1993, pp. 423-39.

BENJAMIN, W., Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner reproduzierbarkeit (zweite Fassung), in Id., Gesammelte Schriften, VII/1, Surkhamp Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1989, pp. 350-384 (trad. it. L’opera d’arte nell’epoca della sua riproducibilità tecnica (prima stesura dattiloscritta 1935-36), in Id. Opere complete VI. Scritti 1934-1937, Einaudi, Torino 2004, pp. 271-303.

BLAUKOPF, K, Musical Life in a Changing Society, Amadeus Press, Portland 1992.

BOLTER, J.D – GRUSIN, R., Remediation. Understanding New Media, The MIT Press, Cambridge-London 1999 (trad. it. Remediation. Competizione e integrazione tra media vecchi e nuovi, Guerini, Milano 2002).

CHARTIER, R., Publishing Drama in the Early Modern Europe, The British Library, London 1999 (trad. it. In scena e in pagina. Editoria e teatro in Europa tra XVI e XVIII secolo, Edizioni Sylvestre Bonnard, Milano 2001).

DEBRAY, R., Cours de médiologie générale, Gallimard, Paris 1991.

DEBRAY, R., Vie et mort de l’image, Gallimard, Paris 1992 (trad. it. Vita e morte dell’immagine. Una storia dello sguardo in Occidente, Editrice Il Castoro, Milano 1999).

DEBRAY, R., Introduction à la médiologie, PUF, Paris 2000.

DERIU, F., Performático. Teoria delle arti dinamiche, Bulzoni, Roma 2012.

DERIU, F., Mediologia della performance. Arti performatiche nell’epoca della riproducibilità digitale, Le Lettere, Firenze 2013.

DERIU, F., Forma sociale della psicologia alfabetica. Il teatro nell’ipotesi ‘neuroculturale’ di de Kerckhove, in «Between. Rivista di teoria e storia comparata della letteratura», vol. 4, n. 8, 2014. (; ultimo accesso: 18 gennaio 2024).

DERRIDA, J., L’écriture et la différance, Seuil, Paris 1967 (trad. it. La scrittura e la differenza, Einaudi, Torino 1971).

FIDLER, R., Mediamorphosis. Understanding New Media, Pine Forge Press, Boston 1997 (trad. it. Mediamorfosi. Comprendere i nuovi media, Guerini, Milano, 2000).

GEMINI, L. – BRILLI, S., Gradienti di Liveness. Performance e comunicazione dal vivo nei contesti mediatizzati, Franco Angeli, Milano 2023.

GUARINO, R., Shakespeare: la scrittura nel teatro, Carocci, Roma 2010.

HANSEN, M. B., Cinema and Experience, University of California Press, Berkeley and Los Angeles 2012 (trad. it. Cinema & Experience. Le teorie di Kracauer, Benjamin e Adorno, Johan & Levy Editore, Milano 2013.

HAVELOCK, E.A., Preface to Plato, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass. 1963 (trad. it. Cultura orale e civiltà della scrittura, Laterza, Roma-Bari 1973).

HAVELOCK, E.A., The Muse Learn to Write. Reflections on Orality and Literacy from Antiquity to the Present, Yale University Press, New Haven and London 1986 (trad. it. La Musa impara a scrivere. Riflessioni sull’oralità e l’alfabetismo dall’antichità al giorno d’oggi, Laterza, Roma-Bari 1987).

KERCKHOVE, D. de, A Theory of Greek Tragedy, in «Sub-Stance», n. 29, may 1981, pp. 23-36.

KERCKHOVE, D. de, Écriture, théâtre et neurologie, in «Ètudes Françaises», vol. 18, n. 1, 1982, pp. 109-128.

KERCKHOVE, D. de, The Alphabet and the Brain, Springer Verlag, Berlin-Heidelberg 1998.

KERCKHOVE, D. de, La civilisation vidéo-chrétienne, Éditions Retz/Atelier Alpha Blue, Paris 1990 (trad. it. La civilizzazione video-cristiana, Feltrinelli, Milano 1995).

KERCKHOVE, D. de., Brainframes. Technology, Mind and Business, Bosch & Keuning, Utrecht 1991 (trad. it. Brainframes. Mente, tecnologia, mercato, Baskerville, Bologna 1993).

KERCKHOVE, D. de, Dall’alfabeto a Internet. L’ “homme littéré”: alfabetizzazione, cultura, tecnologia, Mimesis Edizioni, Milano-Udine 2008.

KERCKHOVE, D. de, Psicotecnologie connettive, Egea, Milano 2014.

LORD, A., The Singer of Tales, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass. 1960 (trad. it. Il cantore di storie, Argo, Lecce 2005).

MANOVICH, L., The Language of New Media, The MIT Press, Cambridge-London 2001 (trad. it. Il linguaggio dei nuovi media, Olivares, Milano 2002.

MIDDLETON, R., Studying Popular Music, Open University Press, Buckingham 1990 (trad. it. Studiare la popular music, Feltrinelli, Milano 1994).

McCONACHIE, b. - FISHER SORGENFREI, C. – NELLHAUS, T. - UNDERINER, T., Theatre Histories. An Introduction, Routledge, London & New York 20163 (edizioni precedenti:  ZARRILLI, P.B. – McCONACHIE, B. – WILLIAMS, G.J. - FISHER SORGENFREI, C., 20061 e 20102).

McLUHAN. M., The Gutenberg Galaxy. The Making of Typographic Man, University of Toronto Press, Toronto 1962 (trad. it. La galassia Gutenberg, Armando Editore, Roma 1976).

McLUHAN. M., Understanding Media, McGraw-Hill, New York 1964 (trad. it. Gli strumenti del comunicare, Il Saggiatore, Milano 1967).

ONG, W., Orality and Literacy. The Technologizing of the Word, Methuen, London and New York 1982 (trad. it. Oralità e scrittura. Le tecnologie della parola, Il Mulino, Bologna 1986).

PETERS, J.S., Theatre of the Books 1480-1880. Print, Text, and Performance in Europe, Oxford University Press, Oxford 2010.

PINOTTI A. - SOMAINI, A., Introduzione, in Benjamin, W., Aura e choc. Saggi sulla teoria dei media, antologia a cura di A. Pinotti e A. Somaini, Einaudi, Torino 2012, pp. IX-XXXI.

STALLYBRASS, P. - CHARTIER, R. - MOWERY, J.F.  WOLFE, H., Hamlet’s Tablets and the Technologies of Writing in Renaissance England, in «Shakespeare Quarterly», 55, 2004, pp. 379-419.

WORTHEN, W. B., Print and the Poetics of Modern Drama, Cambridge University Press 2006.