Kimberly Hall responds to Lindsay Wilhelm
Lindsay Wilhelm offers an important reading of Susan Zieger’s book as a pedagogical model. She challenges us to “show our students a more complete picture of Victorian literary life,” of which ephemeral media, as Zieger illustrates, constitutes a significant aspect. What might this look like in an undergraduate classroom, in which the demand for coverage is matched only by the ephemeral practice of assessing outcomes? Perhaps Wilhelm’s discussion of aestheticism is the most effective way to achieve this. As Zieger points out, media objects are mechanisms of engagement as much as they are screens for content. As the emphasis on aesthetics present in any contemporary Apple advertisement makes clear, media devices are now beautiful, collectible things as much as they are tools to connect us to the interiorized world of content. As we move toward a media economy in which the division between content producers and hardware producers becomes increasingly blurred—see Apple TV+, Apple’s anticipated foray into streaming service and content production—we see a return to this paired understanding of medium as both text and object. As Wilhelm points out, “aesthetes didn’t uniformly reject mass culture,” and were, in fact, deeply engaged as collectors. Perhaps in illuminating for our students how these cultures of collecting and reading overlap in an aesthetic engagement with the mediated world, we find ways to meet them in their own moment and illustrate the enduring power of ephemeral media.