Antonio Somaini

Somaini Photo BildEvidenz

Prof. Dr. Antonio Somaini

Professor in Film, Media, and Visual Culture Theory at the Université Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris 3

Co-director of the research unit LIRA
(Laboratoire International de Recherches en Arts)


Oktober 2017 – Januar 2018


„An Archaeology of the Concept of Medium“

What is a medium? And how can the history of the term – the way in which it has been used and theorized – help us answer this question? The research project An Archaeology of the Concept of Medium takes as a starting point the current interest, within the field of media theory, for notions such as media environments, elemental media, and mediating matters, and tries to reconstruct, retrospectively, the multiple, intertwining genealogies that originate from the Greek term metaxy and the Latin term medium. A special focus is dedicated to those theories that have interpreted the medium as a sensible environment, milieu, or Umwelt constituted by diaphanous substances (air, clouds, ether, water, glass) capable of determining the conditions of sensory perception.

After investigating the notion of media diaphana in medieval and modern optics,  the uses of the English term medium in British Romanticism (Hazlitt, Ruskin, Turner), and the uses of the German terms Medium and Mittel in Goethe’s Farbenlehre and in German literature and Naturphilosophie between the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century (Brentano, Herder, Schelling, Ritter), the project will analyze the meanings of the term in a number of authors writing on photography, cinema, and other media during the 1920s and 1930s: Béla Balázs (for whom the Medium is an Aura and an Atmosphäre), Walter Benjamin (who places the idea of a Medium der Wahrnehmung, a medium of perception, at the core of his media theory), Fritz Heider (who sees in the Medium the loose, undifferentiate background from which Dinge, things, emerge), and László Moholy-Nagy (for whom the Medium is Licht, light, and the different art forms have to be interpreted in terms of Lichtgestaltung, configuration of light).

The general aim of the research project, which will be published in a book in English, is to show that the current interest in media environments, elemental media, and mediating matters needs to be archaeologically framed within the longue durée of an environmental and perceptual understanding of mediation which has its roots in classical antiquity and which reaches the beginnings of 20th century media theory (McLuhan’s understanding of media as environments) through a series of historical stages. An analysis of such stages is important if we want to fully understand the contemporary relevance of such a tradition.


  • The history of photography, film, and media theories, with a special focus on the 1920s and 1930s (Arnheim, Balázs, Benjamin, Eisenstein, Epstein, Faure, Kracauer, Moholy-Nagy, Vertov)
  • The theories and practices of montage, between photography, cinema, the visual arts, and the tradition of image atlases
  • The theories of images and visual culture, with a special focus on the question of the aesthetic, epistemic, and political implications of the high and low definition of images and screens


Antonio Somaini, La Glass House de Sergueï Eisenstein. Cinématisme et architecture de verre, Paris: B2 Editions, 2017

Antonio Somaini (with Andrea Pinotti), Cultura visuale. Immagini, sguardi, media, dispositivi, Turin: Einaudi, 2016

A. Somaini, Ejzenštejn. Il cinema, le arti, il montaggio, Turin: Einaudi, 2011 (English and French translations forthcoming in 2018 with The University of Illinois Press and CNRS Editions)

Dziga Vertov, Le Ciné-Œil de la révolution. Écrits sur le cinéma, édition établie par François Albera, Antonio Somaini, Irina Tcherneva, Dijon: Les Presses du Réel, 2017 (forthcoming)

Sergei M. Eisenstein, Notes for a General History of Cinema, ed. by Naum Kleiman and Antonio Somaini, Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2016 (French edition Notes pour une histoire générale du cinéma, éd. par François Albera, Naoum Kleiman et Antonio Somaini, Paris: Editions de l’AFRHC, 2013)

Walter Benjamin, Aura e choc. Saggi sulla teoria dei media, ed. by Andrea Pinotti and Antonio Somaini, Turin: Einaudi, 2012

László Moholy-Nagy, Pittura Fotografia Film, new Italian edition by Antonio Somaini, Turin: Einaudi, 2010


Antonio Somaini

Kolleg-Forschergruppe BildEvidenz

Arnimallee 10
14195 Berlin