absent presence

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1. In poststructuralist theory, a concept most closely associated with Derrida, for whom it refers to the mythical status of the supposed hub of any system of ideas (see also deconstruction; différance; transcendent signified). This derives from the point voiced by Socrates in Plato's Phaedrus (c.370 bc) that the absence of the writer from a (circulated) text leaves it open to misinterpretation, in contrast to presence in face-to-face interaction (see also phonocentrism). This is in fact a feature of all mediated communication, where the participants are spatially and/or temporally separated.

2. The structuralist notion of (present) signifiers referring to (absent) signifieds, which is also a design feature of language (see also displacement), and of all representation.

3. The mass-mediated presence of onscreen personalities and events which can generate the illusion of almost immediate presence or even (particularly with television) parasocial interaction.

4. Some important and relevant term, concept, factor, question, or issue that is ‘conspicuous by its absence’ in a discourse (‘the elephant in the room’ phenomenon). The avoidance involved is often based on embarrassment or social taboo (e.g. in the case of disability).

5. The symbolic erasure of a particular sociocultural group (e.g. females, gay people, or ethnic minorities) in a text, genre, or medium, or in a particular social context.

6. The discernible influence of a particular individual on some social or textual practice even when they are not present (especially when they are no longer alive), e.g. in film, when one discerns the absent presence of Hitchcock in the style of a contemporary thriller.

Subjects: Media Studies.

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