Does the tension between abundance and lack— a ubiquitous component of medieval mediality, if we accept the arguments presented here— become less acute at a certain point in history? Does it dissipate as theological figures of thought lose their dominance? Or does it live on, in a modified, radically altered, perhaps secularized form? At the end of each of the preceding chapters there has been a brief preview of the shifts, upheavals, or new approaches that we can expect to find in the early modern period. In one case the focus was on inner representation, in another on the effort to gain control of salvific presences, in the third on experimentation with semiotic and textual models which do not simply dismiss the existing models, but give greater weight to immanence than to transcendence. Elsewhere the emphasis was on the new attitude of reflection toward material and immaterial phenomena, or on a subjectivism which, for example, offers new ways to talk about the body.
The different aspects can hardly be reduced to a single common denominator. Even if we were to remain within the framework of historical self-description (the dominant perspective in this book) it would be impossible to observe anything more than an increase in pluralization and opacity, diversification and complexity. Nor would the construction of a metanarrative offer any great advantage over the familiar technological and sociological narratives, or those based on the history of ideas. A more interesting approach is to look further into the future. When did the Western media household come to be perceived as so greatly altered that people began to refer back to earlier times— operating with categories such as abundance and lack?
The answer to this question leads us to the period ca. 1800. The Enlightenment was accompanied by a widespread literacy program. The aim was to make reading and writing an established element of everyday life, across all social strata. Writing was now no longer purely a means of making the absent present, as it had been since antiquity. It was also seen as an ideal way to transport information over long distances. The downside, though, was an awareness that communication was losing its sensory element. This then led to counter-efforts to emotionalize written communication, and to invest it with oral, physical elements— resulting in paradoxical interconnections between mediality and non-mediality, presence and absence.