Analogue Nostalgia and the
Aesthetics of Digital Remediation
Obsolescence and retro-cultures
It has become a commonplace to describe the last decades as a period
of unprecedented and ever-accelerating media technological transition
and of increasingly mediated life environments. Our times have often
been characterised as an era of planned obsolescence, turning yester-
day’s appraised new gadgets into today’s decrepit devices and tomor-
row’s waste. Their disposability may even be ‘one of the truly distinctive
features of new media in our age’, according to Jonathan Sterne (2007,
p. 18). Moreover, even media formats with a strong tradition like the
book (as a material object) or cinema (as a speciﬁc ‘dispositif’) are now
perceived to be threatened by obsolescence and seem to be outpaced by
their increasingly ephemeral digital successors. Referring to these corre-
lating processes, science ﬁction writer Bruce Sterling proclaimed in 1995
that we live in ‘the golden age of dead media’ (2008, p. 80). It also seems
to be a golden age of nostalgia for these allegedly ‘dead media’ that, in
fact, continue to haunt a popular culture obsessed with its own past
(Guffey, 2006; Reynolds, 2011). Jussi Parikka argues that retro-cultures
‘seem to be as natural a part of the digital-culture landscape as high-
deﬁnition screen technology and super-fast broadband’ (2012, p. 3).
This distinct sense of nostalgia that Western societies have developed
has to be understood as an integral aspect of our culture of preserving
and storing. As Hartmut Böhme notes, in everything that is preserved
and remembered they emphasise that which is still lost and forgotten,
and thus create a deliberate emptiness (2000, p. 25). With this in mind,
it seems important to consider the ‘mediality’ of nostalgia itself.
Based on a brief overview of this culture of (un)dead media, I will
discuss one of the most recent manifestations of this general trend of
28 Analogue Nostalgias
nostalgia: the longing for what is assumed to be lost in the continuing
process of digitisation that accounts for contemporary media culture’s
widespread romanticising and fetishising of analogue media. Symp-
toms of this ‘analogue nostalgia’ in its broadest sense can be found in
every area of culture and society. For example, in 2012, the Academy
for Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded the most Oscars to The
Artist (Michel Hazanavicius, 2011) and Hugo (Martin Scorsese, 2011).
Both of these ﬁlms celebrate not only the artistic qualities of early
cinema but also the celluloid ﬁlmstrip as its material basis, and what
David Bordwell calls the ‘Steampunk ﬂavor’ (2012, p. 7) of analogue
ﬁlm projection. Similar trends can be observed in the context of avant-
garde art. Many of the most successful contemporary installation artists
display a deep affection for outdated analogue media, and ‘today, no
exhibition is complete without some form of bulky, obsolete technol-
ogy’, as Claire Bishop writes in her broadly discussed article ‘The Digital
Divide’ (2012, p. 436). In general, these retrospective celebrations of the
analogue range from deﬁant denunciations of digital production tools
(as practised most famously by artists like Tacita Dean) to the fetishised
commodiﬁcation of the analogue object (like the ubiquity of the ana-
logue audio cassette as an icon on t-shirts, tote-bags and smartphone
covers). Most pivotal for this context, however, are those works that
quote certain characteristics typically associated with analogue inscrip-
tion within digital media in a more or less self-reﬂexive fashion. In 2000,
Laura Marks described this digital remediation of analogue aesthetics as
‘analog nostalgia’, although today the term is applied to a broader range
This chapter will be less interested in the technical differences
between ‘the analogue’ and ‘the digital’ than in the affective attributes
of these respective ﬁelds. Speciﬁcally, I will examine why aspects
that were once considered as disadvantages or problems of analogue
media are now appreciated enthusiastically. To investigate what causes
this retrospective revaluation of analogue media’s malfunctions and
the speciﬁc noises they create, I will draw upon Sterne’s question-
ing of the ‘metaphysics of recording’ (2006) and the ‘double logic of
remediation’ as put forward by J. D. Bolter and Richard Grusin (2000).
Based on a brief analysis of a scene from the contemporary TV series
Californication (Showtime, 2007–2012), I will argue in conclusion that
the phenomenon of ‘analog nostalgia’ (in Marks’s sense of the term)
embodies a return to the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries’ fascina-
tion with ruins and its fragmentary aesthetics, which eventually led to
the construction of artiﬁcial ruins.
Dominik Schrey 29
The mediality of nostalgia
Media can serve as a means of virtually accessing the past, and are thus
an important resource for cultural memory. Consequently, they often
establish the precondition for a nostalgic perspective on things past (and
present). This nostalgia can be the content or style of media represen-
tation, and, beyond that, media themselves can become an object of
nostalgia. In this case, the sentiment can be directed towards their spe-
ciﬁc medial constitution, their materiality, the aesthetics resulting from
these factors, or all these combined: ‘Our cultural memories are shaped
not just by the production qualities of an era [ ...] but by subtle prop-
erties of the recording media themselves’, as Reynolds (2011, p. 331)
notes. This process, in turn, can then be reﬂected by media again, which
is why nostalgia for outdated media technologies or their respective aes-
thetics can be regarded as a special case of self-reference in the media
Of course, the general phenomenon of nostalgia for outdated media is
anything but new. According to Svetlana Boym, ‘outbreaks of nostalgia
often follow revolutions’ (2001, p. xvi), which seems to be true not only
in the context of politics she is referring to, but also in relation to media-
historical periods of transition. In fact, nostalgia for seemingly obsolete
modes of representation is a way of theorising changes in media with
rich tradition and a surprisingly constant rhetoric. From the critique
of writing in Plato’s Phaedrus to the fears associated with the intro-
duction of the printing press to the defensive reactions towards those
new technologies of the nineteenth century that are now commonly
referred to as ‘analogue media’ and the lamenting of the ‘phantom
world of television’ (Anders, 1956), every media technological inno-
vation can be, and has been, told as a nostalgic narrative of loss and
decline (Serres, 2001). Evidently, the common denominator of these
nostalgic narratives of media change is the fact that they assess the
value of the new by the standards of the old, as Umberto Eco (1994)
noted. While after almost 50 years Eco’s analysis is still valid in many
respects, it is important to stress the correlation between the ﬂaws of
apocalyptic media criticism he describes and the fact that new media
always deﬁne themselves ‘in relationship to earlier technologies of rep-
resentation’, as Bolter and Grusin assert (2000, p. 28). In their take
on media history, ‘[w]hat is new about new media comes from the
particular ways in which they refashion older media and the ways in
which older media refashion themselves to answer the challenges of new
media’ (p. 15).
30 Analogue Nostalgias
The metaphysics of recording
This is not the place to delve into the complex conceptual histories
of the terms ‘analogue’ and ‘digital’. However, it seems important to
emphasise two of the most important prerequisites for the phenomenon
of analogue nostalgia. First, a semantic vagueness characterises the dis-
tinction between analogue and digital; the common media-historical
approach makes this distinction ‘into a matter of new and old’ (Rosen,
2001, p. 303), while Western societies have developed a ‘wider cultural
situation where vintage is considered better than the new’ (Parikka,
2012, p. 3). Second, in order to understand media transition ‘we must
resist notions of media purity’ and static deﬁnitions, as David Thorburn
and Henry Jenkins (2004, p. 11) rightly point out. Yet, such pragmatic
perspectives still seem scarce. Although often reduced to a simplis-
tic dichotomy of mutually exclusive concepts, both terms, analogue
and digital, have quite different implications and meanings in dif-
fering contexts. It is not only in their vernacular use that several
overlapping semantic ﬁelds blur a precise understanding. The count-
less media-theoretical articles and books that have been written about
the consequences of digitisation and the differences between analogue
and digital representation in the last decades have fuelled the polysemy
inherent in the terms and their distinction rather than offering clariﬁca-
tion (Baudrillard, 2009). Film theorists of the 1990s and early 2000s, too,
often described digitisation as a process of deprivation and disembodi-
ment, a fundamental threat to ﬁlm and photography as photochemical
media (Sobchack, 1994). Based on idiosyncratic metaphors, like Roland
Barthes’s assertion that a ‘sort of umbilical cord links the body of the
photographed thing to my gaze’ (2010, p. 81), the supposed continu-
ous nature of analogue inscription and, especially, the direct connection
between the representation and that which is represented were consid-
ered to be ﬁlm’s ‘medium speciﬁcity’ and were perceived as the very basis
upon which ﬁlm studies was built (Doane, 2007). In many accounts, the
vaguely deﬁned category of the analogue that gained contour mostly in
contrast to its digital other was mistakenly identiﬁed completely with
the indexical, as Tom Gunning (2007) and others have pointed out in
Most of the arguments put forward in this debate within ﬁlm theory
(and, to a certain degree, in media studies) had already been discussed
in the context of audio recording and its question of ‘ﬁdelity’ (Milner,
2010), yet these critical discourses have never intersected in a meaning-
ful way. The forced displacement of analogue vinyl records and audio
Dominik Schrey 31
cassettes by the digital compact disc throughout the 1980s was one of
the ﬁrst moments when the scope of imminent media technological
changes became evident to a broad public, creating an instant sense of
nostalgia for the supplanted recording media. Many of the claims that
the digital lacked something essential stem from this historical situa-
tion. As early as 1983, only a year after the ofﬁcial market introduction
of the CD, an article entitled ‘Digital Discontent’ by David Lander was
published in Rolling Stone magazine, stating: ‘Maybe there’s something
in music that numbers and lasers can’t translate’ (1983, p. 88, cited in
Chivers Yochim and Biddinger, 2008, p. 187).1
The concern behind this thought is obviously an epistemological one.
In his trenchant article ‘The Death and Life of Digital Audio’ Sterne
criticises this ‘metaphysics of recording’, speciﬁcally the idea that ‘medi-
ation is something that can be measured in terms of its distance from
life’ (Sterne, 2006, p. 338). According to Sterne, this notion originates
in the age-old belief that a recording captures a certain amount of life
and ‘that as a recording traverses an ever larger number of technological
steps, that quantity of life decreases, essentially moving it (and perhaps
the listener) toward death’ (p. 338). In their early days, those media now
cherished as analogue were subject to the same criticism, as exempliﬁed
by Henri Bergson’s Creative Evolution. Here, Bergson maintains that ﬁlm,
or ‘cinematographic illusion’, can never really capture the continuity of
movement, as movement itself is always that which happens between
the still images. Thus, in Bergson’s perspective, movement essentially
eludes recording, as it always ‘slips through the interval’ (1944, p. 334).
Sterne (2006) demonstrates that the same metaphysical argument is
generally made regarding the discontinuity of digital inscription. Such
arguments claim that the separate samples processed in binary code are
merely ‘simulations’ of what they represent, hence missing the ‘essence’,
the ‘soul’, the ‘authenticity’ or the ‘aura’ of the actual recorded sound.
Sterne pleads for a re-evaluation of this question of ‘life’ in a recording
as a ‘social question, not an ontological or metaphysical one’ (p. 339).
Moreover, he proves that some analogue media, like the magnetic tape,
are ‘just as discontinuous as the 0s and 1s in digital storage’ (p. 340f).
Bolter and Grusin address the same desire for authenticity as part of
a complex and seemingly contradictory double logic by assuming a
discourse-analytical perspective. For them, one of the driving forces of
media history is the desire for immediacy or the ‘transparent presenta-
tion of the real’ (2000, p. 21). This desire ﬁnds expression in media’s
attempt to erase all indicators of mediation2and present their repre-
sentations as ‘life itself’ (or, at least, as a direct window onto it). At the
32 Analogue Nostalgias
same time, though, there is another tendency working in the opposite
direction. The logic of hypermediacy enjoys the opacity of represen-
tation and highlights or even multiplies the signs of mediation. These
two cultural logics of immediacy and hypermediacy do not only coexist;
they are mutually dependent. Approached from a social or psychologi-
cal perspective, it becomes evident that both logics share an ‘appeal to
authenticity of experience’ (p. 71) that is socially constructed. In con-
sequence, even the ‘excess of media’ (p. 53) can become an authentic
experience; hypermediacy can thus become a strategy to achieve imme-
diacy. This seemingly paradoxical relationship can be illustrated with
a famous quotation from British radio pioneer John Peel: ‘Somebody
was trying to tell me that CDs are better than vinyl because they don’t
have any surface noise. I said, “Listen, mate, life has surface noise” ’
(Chassanoff, 2012). In this perspective, the speciﬁc signs of media-
tion that seem to distract from the immediacy of the recorded sound
counter-intuitively create the authentic experience in the ﬁrst place.
This reversal of the common logic of recording is characteristic of
analogue nostalgia. In this context, Thomas Levin notes:
In the age of digital recording and playback, the sound of error has
changed signiﬁcantly [ ...]: The moment of the scratch is no longer
the signal of malfunction but is instead the almost nostalgic trace
of a bygone era of mechanical reproducibility, one can say that it
has become auratic, and as such it suddenly becomes available for
aesthetic practices of all sorts.
(1999, p. 162)
These aesthetic practices, however, can be remediated and appropriated
in digital media to simulate or mimic this notion of an authentic or
‘auratic’ experience, as I intend to illustrate with the help of a scene
from the recent TV series Californication in which the hitherto described
discourses are neatly interwoven.
An analogue guy in a digital world
In an early episode of the series, the protagonist, troubled novelist and
playboy Hank Moody, is shopping for groceries when he meets a woman
who remains nameless throughout the episode and is only addressed as
‘surfer girl’ in the DVD’s liner notes. As is typical of the series, they end
up in Moody’s apartment after a short and rather trivial conversation,
sitting on the ﬂoor and smoking marijuana while listening to the writer’s
Dominik Schrey 33
collection of old vinyl records. In this situation, the following dialogue
Surfer Girl: ‘I fucking love vinyl.’
Hank Moody: ‘Yeah, it just sounds better. It’s warmer, right? It’s just
Surfer Girl: ‘You’re just an analog guy in a digital world, aren’t you?’
This highly clichéd scene encapsulates the basic concept of
Californication. The series’ appeal is based on the conﬂict between the
‘old/authentic’ and the ‘new/superﬁcial’, situating its protagonist as an
anachronistic ‘last of his kind’ character. Most of Hank Moody’s key
characteristics could be described as symptoms of a rather serious adap-
tive disorder, yet throughout the series he is depicted as irresistibly
charming and as a stubborn and nostalgic romantic. Not only does he
prefer his music to be played from vinyl records, but he also writes his
books on an old typewriter instead of a computer. Of course, this affec-
tion for almost obsolescent media technology mirrors his equally obses-
sive clinging to outdated concepts and values like romantic love and
artistic authenticity. He is tormented by the superﬁciality of Los Angeles
and its entertainment industry, which turned his highbrow novel into
a silly ‘rom-com’, and he is homesick for an idealised New York that
apparently exists only in the past tense of fond memories, thus seem-
ing ineffably remote. Hank Moody is the prime example of what Mark
Desrosiers once called the ‘R. Crumb Effect’: ‘when modernity gets
you down, you can put yourself on the cutting edge by fetishizing
ancient styles and technologies, and your antithetical inﬂuence will start
making its mark on popular tastes’ (2002).
To underline its nostalgia narrative, Californication relies heavily on
the aesthetics of analogue ﬁlm, which becomes particularly evident in
the opening credits of the series. In a little less than a minute, the viewer
is presented with the whole range of analogue artefacts (Flückiger, 2008,
pp. 334–356), or typical ﬂaws of decaying ﬁlm stock. In the credit
scene, the image looks dirty and gritty, laden with scratches and vis-
ible splices. A tattered grunge frame with rounded corners limits the
picture as it would in an old 8 mm home movie. The ﬁlm’s grain is
heavily visible, and, in some of the shots, the emulsion seems to be
on the verge of dissolution. The perforation of the ﬁlmstrip, as well
as the black intervals between frames, is repeatedly made visible. Addi-
tionally, numerous ﬂash frames and lens ﬂares emphasise the analogue
nature of the footage. At ﬁrst glance, the shots seem to represent Hank
34 Analogue Nostalgias
Moody’s memories of ‘better’ times, shot in a home video style to signify
their ‘pastness’ (see also Chapter 2 in this volume). The shots are obvi-
ously set in LA, though, and the same style is repeated in the frequent
interludes that serve the narrative purpose of connecting discontinuous
Surprisingly, Californication is shot completely with digital cameras;
only the pilot was ﬁlmed in 35 mm, but this ﬁrst episode did not yet
feature the opening credit scene (Caranicas, 2011). All the described ana-
logue artefacts were thus added digitally in the post-production process,
proving Lev Manovich’s assertion that the classic ﬁlm look acquired ‘a
truly fetishist status’ (1996, p. 58) in digital cinema. In fact, there are
vendors like CineGrain.com who sell footage of raw analogue glitches
for personal or professional use in collections ranging from $300 to
$3000, advertising their products with phrases like the following: ‘A ﬁlm
collection worn by time and too many projector changes. Here’s the
sought after looks for the messed up and scratched up, the tattered and
dishevelled. Broken has never looked so beautiful.’
Analogue nostalgia and the aesthetics of virtual ruins
The term ‘analog nostalgia’ was originally coined to address aesthetic
practices exactly like these. It appears for the ﬁrst time in a chapter
of Marks’s book (2002); seven years later it reappears in Rombes’s Cin-
ema in the Digital Age (2009), though without an explicit reference to
Marks. For Marks, analogue nostalgia expresses a ‘desire for indexicality’
and ‘a retrospective fondness for the “problems” of decay and genera-
tional loss that analog video posed’ (p. 152). Thus, in her perspective,
the phenomenon is not about the refusal of digital technologies, but
exclusively about the digital remediation of analogue aesthetics within
the digital. To put it in terms of communication theory, analogue nostal-
gia is directed towards the noise, not the signal. In the broadest sense,
it operates as a strategy of re-enchanting an object through aesthetic
de-familiarisation as it is characterised by deliberate imperfection:
In the high ﬁdelity medium of digital video, where each generation
can be as imperviously perfect as the one before, artists are importing
images of electronic dropout and decay, ‘TV snow’ and the random
colours of unrecorded tape, in a sort of longing for analog physical-
ity. Interestingly, analog nostalgia seems especially prevalent among
works by students who started learning video production when it was
fully digital. (p. 152f)
Dominik Schrey 35
Rombes does not explicitly link his only sketchily deﬁned concept of
analogue nostalgia to indexicality, but for him, too, there is ‘a tendency
in digital media [ ...] to reassert imperfection, ﬂaws, an aura of human
mistakes to counterbalance the logic of perfection that pervades the dig-
ital’ (2009, p. 2). Sometimes, Rombes’s text itself verges on a polemical
and nostalgic manifesto, for example when he concludes his book with
these sentences: ‘In the end, it is the mistakes, the errors that we assert
in the face of the code that keeps it from consuming us with its purity.
Mistakes must be our answer to the machines of perfection that we our-
selves have built’ (2009, p. 156). In this regard, analogue nostalgia as an
aesthetic practice is the paradoxical attempt to preserve decay and plan
‘What is lost in the move to the digital is the imprint of time, the visi-
ble degradation of the image’, writes Mary Anne Doane (2007, p. 117f), a
claim that is intentionally or unintentionally reminiscent of Benjamin’s
famous description of the aura withering in the age of technological
reproducibility (2008, p. 22). Assigning an almost organic quality to ana-
logue media, David N. Rodowick notes that ‘the material basis of ﬁlm is
a chemically encoded process of entropy’ (2007, p. 20). From this per-
spective, analogue media do not merely contain a certain amount of life,
as discussed in the context of the ‘metaphysics of recording’; they even
share certain essential qualities with it. In fact, analogue media age, and
they show distinct signs of decay the older they get; each playing of a
vinyl record or a celluloid ﬁlm expedites its self-liquidation. This pro-
cess leads to the traces of usage that typically appear exactly at those
moments which were often replayed or rewound. This fact might be of
great importance for a deeper understanding of analogue nostalgia.
In an article on cinephilia, Robnik writes that analogue ‘rental videos
confront you with traces, ruined images, left behind by someone else’s
fascination by a moment’ (2005, p. 59). For him, the analogue’s mal-
functions constitute ‘textual ruins’ and are thus more than just indica-
tors of age, as they can also be understood as traces of appreciation or
pleasure.3When these traces of use are digitally simulated, we abolish
the uncanny fact that in organic life – as well as in analogue media –
the process of aging irretrievably leads to death or complete dysfunc-
tion, respectively. Analogue nostalgia simulates a process of aging that
has not happened yet, and never will happen (at least, not in the form
that is simulated). This condition is analogous to the artiﬁcial ruins of
the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, as it involves the artiﬁcial,
or, rather, virtual, ruins of the digital age. However, these ruins are no
longer ‘signiﬁers of absence’, as Böhme (1989) once deﬁned the lure of
36 Analogue Nostalgias
ancient ruins. On the contrary, the purpose of this digitally simulated
analogue decay seems to be the signiﬁcation of presence: as it simulates
exactly the life or ‘soul’ that the digital was always accused of lacking.
1. Certainly not by mere coincidence, the same year also saw the release of
Herbie Hancock’s Rockit, the ﬁrst mainstream music title to feature scratch-
ing as an artistic practice. Speaking with Rosalind Krauss (1999), one could
call this the ‘redemptive role’ of the threat of obsolescence that leads to an
artistic reinvention of the medium and the ways in which it can be deployed.
2. In this context, it should be noted that a similar claim can be found in Walter
Benjamin’s famous Artwork essay and its description of the ‘vision of imme-
diate reality’ as ‘the Blue Flower in the land of technology’ (2008, p. 35). The
‘Blue Flower’ as a pivotal symbol of German Romanticism is the idealisation
of that which cannot be obtained, something that is always already lost and
exists only in longing desire.
3. The best illustration for this assumption is Quentin Tarantino’s 2007 ﬁlm
Death Proof, where he playfully suggests that the climactic moments of a lap-
dance scene might have been cut out of the ﬁlm by the projectionist for his
own collection, leaving the actual viewers of the ﬁlm with a ‘textual ruin’
(Schrey, 2010, p. 189).
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Media and Nostalgia
Yearning for the Past, Present and Future
The French Press Institute/CARISM, Pantheon-Assas University, Paris 2, France
Introduction, selection and editorial matter © Katharina Niemeyer 2014
Individual chapters © Respective authors 2014
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List of Figures vii
Notes on Contributors ix
Introduction: Media and Nostalgia 1
Part I Analogue Nostalgias
1 Analogue Nostalgia and the Aesthetics of
Digital Remediation 27
2 Homesick for Aged Home Movies: Why Do We Shoot
Contemporary Family Videos in Old-Fashioned Ways? 39
3 The Instant Past: Nostalgia and Digital Retro Photography 51
4 Retromania: Crisis of the Progressive Ideal and
Pop Music Spectrality 70
Maël Guesdon and Philippe Le Guern
Part II Exploited Nostalgias
5 Retrotyping and the Marketing of Nostalgia 83
Michael Pickering and Emily Keightley
6 Anti-nostalgia in Citroën’s Advertising Campaign 95
7 Networks as Media for Nostalgia in an
Organisational Context 105
Thibaut Bardon, Emmanuel Josserand and Florence Villesèche
8 Media and the Closure of the Memory Boom 118
Part III Screened Nostalgias
9 Nostalgia Is Not What It Used to Be: Serial Nostalgia and
Nostalgic Television Series 129
Katharina Niemeyer and Daniela Wentz
10 AMC’s Mad Men and the Politics of Nostalgia 139
11 The Television Channel ARTE as a Time Machine and
Matrix for European Identity 152
12 Nostalgia, Tinted Memories and Cinematic
Historiography: On Otto Preminger’s
Bonjour Tristesse (1958) 160
Part IV Creative Nostalgias
13 Creative Nostalgia for an Imagined Better Future: Il treno
del Sud by the Migrant Filmmaker Alvaro Bizzarri 179
Morena La Barba
14 Nostalgia and Postcolonial Utopia in Senghor’s Négritude 191
Nadia Yala Kisukidi
15 Impossible Nostalgia 203
16 Journeys through the Past: Contempt, Nostalgia, Enigma 212
Poetic Transfer of a (Serious) Situation 223