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The chapter defines TV’s immediacy effects. Television started out as a live medium. Although shows were soon pre-produced and recorded, an aesthetic of liveness, retained by shooting sitcoms and talk shows in front of studio audiences, has remained integral to TV culture. It sets TV apart from earlier visual media, particularly film, and is pivotal for the medium’s reality effects. Although “television” means to “see at a distance,” the initial promise of TV was that it would erase the distance between the viewers and the depicted events. Because event, transmission, and reception occur simultaneously during a live broadcast, it possesses not only temporal immediacy but also evokes a sense of spatial proximity and actuality. TV live coverage seems to bring the world home or to transport the viewers to the site of action. By presenting on- and off-screen worlds as directly connected, live TV blurs the boundary between public and private spheres, between fiction and fact, and creates the impression that the viewers participate in the broadcasted events. Since American TV is a commercial medium, the cultural dominance of TV results in a pervasive commodification of experience.
The introduction argues that American literature participates in American culture’s ongoing quest for immediacy, that the effort to generate ever-new reality effects has sparked the innovation of new literary techniques and forms, and that a common strategy American writers have used since the nineteenth century to create texts of greater immediacy has been to study and rework the reality effects of photography, film, and television. The chapter defines immediacy as a culturally and historically situated effect that indicates how the relation between reality and representation as well as between knowledge and mediation is construed in a given culture. In media history, claims to immediacy play a central role in the competition and alignment between media. The introduction shows that literature participates in this dynamic and promotes an understanding of literature as a medium rather than an art form. The chapter argues that literary studies will produce more complex accounts of literary history if it reconceptualizes the dynamics of literary experimentation and innovation from a comparative media perspective. The introduction also outlines the book’s chapters.
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