Paul Lippert, Ph.D.

Lippert Personal

Professor of Communication Studies
B.A., 1977, University of Michigan
M.A., 1980, New York University
Ph.D., 1990, New York University

From my high school days on, I have always been interested in questions regarding the material bases of consciousness. Just how it is that people come to think the things they do is the issue that sparked my interest in history and the evolution of culture. After some youthful inquiries into the economic bases of consciousness, in graduate school I both broadened my investigation to include the influence of technology in general and simultaneously narrowed it to examine the special case of communication technologies, or media. As a student in the Media Ecology Program at NYU under Neil Postman my reading was centered upon the epistemic qualities of oral culture, the transformative influence of writing and print, and the resurgence of oral cultural traits in electronic media culture. Much of my reading was about the history of books, and the evolution of reading and other knowledge practices.

My doctoral research on the work of Walter Ong involved me in the investigation of the phenomenon of media interface, in which different media, social classes, institutions, and cultures come to interact and produce new cultural phenomena. Reading in the history and philosophy of scientific inquiry along with research on method in humanistic research got me more heavily involved in epistemic questions. This interest in the basis and validity of knowledge was enhanced by my polemic relationship with those enthusiastic about a new postmodern sensibility. It was here that I began repeatedly to make the observation that on the crucial issues of the day, contemporary left and right political tendencies are essentially not opposed but part of the same problem. Rather than being alternate routes to solutions in the future, they are but superficially different symptoms of pervasive, intractable problems of the present, I have concluded. Most fundamentally what they seem to have in common is a disloyalty, if not open opposition, to cherished qualities of modernity itself.

What most impressed me is the emaciated, even straw man, conception of modernity articulated in both postmodernist and conservative discourses alike, and the banality of alternatives being offered in both camps. This led me to reading in the history of modernity, especially the sixteenth century. This took place in two passes. The first pass stuck closely to my earlier studies of the history of the printing press and of the printed book. But this history seemed to leave much out, in terms of the social classes, cultural sensibilities, and social phenomena affected. It especially privileges word over image and, at least implicitly, tends to trivialize art as a medium for the representation of significant knowledge. In the most recent phase of my scholarly life, I have immersed myself in the art history of the early modern period to search for image-based analogues of the modernity-facilitating characteristics of print. My significant discovery is the little-appreciated mannerist sensibility and its relation to the intellectual crisis of the Renaissance. This was the source of much clarification regarding both the tendency to misconceive the nature of modernity as well as the roots of modernity’s actual problems and decline. From here I have begun to trace the history of these qualities inherent in mannerism through the Romantic Era—pregnant with similarities—and into the present. What I have found is that modernity, which has always had an uneasy yet dependent relationship with classicism, was born out of a dialectical alternation and interaction between classical and more heterodox, dynamic eras, but that since the end of the nineteenth century it has resisted this relation to the classical. The future of my research is planned to investigate the reasons for this resistance and possible solutions.

Dr. Paul Lippert ESU Scholar Talks

Selected Publications

Lippert, P.J. (2014) “Media Interface, Romanticism, and Modernity: Some Examples from Eighteenth Century France.” Journal of Technologies in Society, 10(1), pp. 13-21.

Lippert, P.J. (2013) “Of timber and timbre.” Pennsylvania Communication Annual, 69(1), pp. 102-112.

Lippert, P.J. (2005) “Adaptation: Studying Film & Literature” (Desmond and Hawkes). Explorations in Media Ecology, 4(3/4), p. 315.

Lippert, P.J. (2005) “Extending McLuhan.” Explorations in Media Ecology, 4(2).

Lippert, P.J. (2004) “Visualism in the University Culture.” Explorations in Media Ecology, 3(1).

Lippert, P.J. (2000) “Commodity Fetishism: Symbolic Form, Social Class, and the Division of Knowledge in Society.” In Anderson, R. & Strate, L. (eds.) Critical Studies in Media Commercialism (Part Five). New York: Oxford University Press.

Lippert, P.J. (1995) “Cinematic Representations of Cyberspace.”  In Strate, L., Jacobsen, R., Gibson, S., & Gumpert, G. Communication and Cyberspace: Social Interaction in an Electronic Environment. Creskill, NJ: The Hampton Press Communication Series.

Lippert, P.J. (1993) “Beyond Postmodernism in Science Fiction Film.”  In Newman, M.T. (Ed.), A Rhetorical Analysis of American Popular Film.  Dubuque, IO: Kendall-Hunt Publishing Company.  (pp. 117-134.)