Ficha de Leitura: Kittler and the media – Geoffrey Winthrop-Young

Winthrop-Young

WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011.

Introduction

“Sometimes […] [Friedrich A.] Kittler emerges as the leading German poststructuralist media theorist. An impressive and slightly intimidating label, but how accurate is it? […] To begin with, Kittler did not start out as a media theorist. His early work from the 1970s dealt with literary text rather than with media technologies. The very words ‘medium’ and ‘media’ hardly occurred, and he never referred to himself as a media theorist. […] While Kittler did employ [the label ‘poststructuralist’] at the outset of his career (one of his early edited volumes was subtitled ‘Programs of Poststructuralism’), the term soon disappears. Even worse, it is ridiculed by Kittler, whose work in fact raises doubt whether it should have been used at all.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 1-2)

“Nonetheless, the label German can and should be applied to Kittler. […] the deeper layers of his work, the bias of his arguments and the recurrence of a certain ser of references and associations, not to mention the way in which he expresses them. have to be understood against the background of debates about technology, humanism, and individual as well as collective identity formation that over the course of the last two centuries emerged in the German-speaking countries.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 3)

“To simplify matters, this introduction will treat Kittler’s work as a sequence made up of three stages. The first stage, which lasted from the mid 1970s to the early 1980s, focused on texts, more precisely, on the discourse analysis or ‘archeology’ of primary literary texts. The second stage, which started in the early 1980s and lasted for roughly two decades, concentrated on media technologies, first on the new, primarily analog media of the late nineteenth century (phonography, cinematography, the typewriter-induced mechanization of writing) and then on digital technology. […] The third stage, at the center of which is a large-scale, ontologically oriented genealogy of mathematical and musical notation systems, engages cultural techniques (Kulturtechniken), a complex term greatly in vogue in current German theory that combines an attention to media technologies with a focus on elementary physical and mental skills, including, most prominently, reading, writing, and computing.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 3)

“Each chapter [of this book] begins with an opening teaser, that is, with an analysis by Kittler of a short ‘text’ that contains in a nutshell the salient points of that particular stage. These texts have been chosen because each of them constitutes, to introduce the first item of vintage Kittlerese, a ‘discourse on discourse channel conditions’. They are messages about their own medium, they discuss and perform their own medial conditions, and are thus highly revealing of the media conditions of their day.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 4)

“Focusing on the noticeable continuities, rather than on the ruptures, we can just as well describe Kittler’s work as a widening spiral in which similar questions recur, but each time on a more expansive level. The (very ambitious) spatio-temporal expansion is obvious: the ‘literatures stage’ focused almost exclusively on German literature from the so-called age of Goethe (1770-1830); the ‘media stage’ expanded the scope to incorporate almost 200 years of media-technological development in Europe and North America; and the recent ‘cultural techniques’ stage aims at nothing less than the whole of occidental history from ancient Greece to Guttenberg galaxy and beyond into the Turing age.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 4)

“No doubt many readers expect that a focused engagement with a high-profile media theorist will result in some insight into media abuse and provide clues as to how we can curb media manipulation, clear the conduits of communication, fully realize the potential of our technologies, or empower the disenfranchised. The idea that someone would spend decades trying to understand media while neglecting, denying, at times even ridiculing such aspirations – that idea is difficult to grasp. Kittler is that someone. His work will strike many as profoundly asocial or even ahuman, especially when approached in a more idealistic spirit. In his texts you will rarely encounter the words Gesellschaft (society) or Aufklärung (enlightenment) whithou hearing a sneer. Mensch – ‘human’ or ‘man’ – is almost always (diis)qualified as der sogenannte Mensch (‘so-called man’) […] This is not because he disapproves of emancipatory  socio-political agendas, but because these approaches are in his eyes based on naïve conceptualizations of media that do not take into account the degree to which, to quote his most (in)famous opening line, ‘media determine our situation’ – especially when we believe that we can determine them while pursuing our worthy social goals.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 6)

“The german poet Gottfried Benn, who occupies a prominent seat in Kittler’s personal pantheon, once remarked that ‘the opposite of art is not nature but well meant’. This can be read as a radicalization of T. S. Elliot famous axiom that ‘the more perfect the artist, the more completely separate in him will be the man who suffers and the mind which creates; the more perfectly will the mind digest and transmute the passions which are its material’. […] A similar axiom could be applied to Kittler’s self-understanding as a theorist: the opposite of theory is not practice but well meant. Good theory does little to improve the human lot; it does not make the world a better place; it merely serves to make it a bit more inhospitable for bad – that is, naïve, sentimental, uninformed, serenely clueless, and hopelessly deluded – theorizing.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 7)

I.                    BACKGROUND – BIOGRAPHY AND BEYOND

  1. After Stalingrad

“Kittler is a so-called Stalingrad child; he was born during the Third Reich but after the catastrophic defeat that caused a growing number of Germans to lose faith in the military powers of the regime. (WINTHROP-YOUNG, G, 2011, p. 9) […] Kittler recounts how his elder half-brother, a former wireless operator, used his technical expertise to assemble illegal radios by using parts scavenged from abandoned military aircraft in order to impress the local girls. At the same time, this father, a teacher who had lost most of his students to the war, took to lecturing his children instead, with the result that by age seven Kittler was able to recite long passages from Goethe’s Faust off by heart. Thus, at a very early stage, much of what later came to dominate Kittler’s work was already in place, from the pre-established discursive order that ensnares children in the humanist universe to the emergence of civilian recording and broadcasting technology as an ‘abuse of army equipment’. The juxtaposition of Goethe and the radio, classicism and technology, high literature and modern media, already contains the contrast between the ‘Discourse Network 1800’ and the ‘Discourse Network 1900’ that Kittler would elaborate three decades later. And we also have the biographical background for Kittler’s controversial attempts to relate modern war (and World War II in particular) not to stories of politics and ideology, crime and guilt, on tyranny and liberation, but to the evolution of modern control, communications, and computing technology.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 11)

  1. Heidegger’s Lair

“[Kittler claims] that we are ‘produced by our schools, by our universities and by our lecturers’” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 13)

“what was Kittler doing in his rooms [in 1968] apart from listening to The White Album [by the Beatles] and The Piper at the Gates of Dawn [by Pink Floyd]? He was reading; and among his preferred authors were not only Heidegger and Nietzsche […], but also a phalanx of the new French theorists on the verge of crossing the Rhine into Germany: Michel Foucault, Jacques Lacan and Jacques Derrida.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 13)

“in Kittler’s eyes the operas of Wagner represent a ‘monomaniacal anticipation of modern media technologies’. That is to say, the media magician Wagner with his warly Sensurround Gesamtkunstwerk –what has been described as ‘Pink Floyd in Bayreuth’ – is bidding farewell to the world of books and libraries that nurtured and confined the work of Foucault.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 15)

  1. French struggles at abbey road

“While there have been initial attempts to chronicle and discuss the US reception of so-called French theory, no such projects have been undertaken in Germany. The wounds are still fresh; the past is not yet dead enough for impartial autopsy. […] It is precisely the aggressive, uncompromising, polemical German attack on French theory that makes the American reception appear less impressive, self-serving, if not pathetic in many respects; in turn, it is the more detailed, rigorous American engagement with Derrida et al. that serves to highlight the blinkered obsessions shaping the German debate.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 17)

“Poststructuralism, to put it mildly, did not enjoy a warm welcome in Germany. Its difficult reception was in many ways the opposite of its more spectacular take-off in the United States, where the work of Derrida, Lacan, and Foucault was received at elite institutions (Johns Hopkins, Berkeley, and Cornell, not to mention the ‘Yale School of Deconstruction) and then percolated downward and outward. Germany, on the other hand, had little to offer apart from a small, dispersed coterie of for the most part untenured scholars who lacked a spiritual father as well as an intellectual center.. As a result, the German reception tended to start at the margins (students, junior academics, minor publishing houses), and then, gradually, move inward and upward.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 18)

“For decades New Criticism had been the dominant force in American literary criticism, but by the early 1960s this had ruin its course. The deconstructive method championed by Derrida was an uncannily ideal replacement. On the one hand, it was new and –true to the spirit of the sixties – radical in its unabashed critique of the most cherished and unquestioned basics of literary scholarship: the unity of the work, the ability to arrive at a clear message, and the presumed function of literature to transmit so-called timeless values. On the other hand (though practitioners were not too keen to admit this), many of the deconstructive techniques employed to tease out the warring significations in a given text resembled the formalist techniques that New Criticism had employed to probe a text’s ambiguities, tensions, and paradoxes. The skills fostered by New Criticism to reverse-engineer a text (let’s take it apart to show how it works) remained very much in demand when it came to deconstructing a text (let’s take it apart to show that it never worked as intended in the first place).” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 18)

“it appears that US-style deconstruction allowed a sizeable number of literary scholars […] to continue their business as usual – that is, analyze texts with little regard for social context – but it also gave them the feeling of being engaged in a tremendously radical activity, since the principles of deconstruction could be – and indeed soon were – applied to many extra-literary meaning edifices, including the fundamental narratives of progress and emancipation that academics located further to the left were still clanging to. Bluntly put, a lot of warly deconstruction was New Criticism with an attitude.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 19)

“In collective academic memory two conferences that coincidentally both took place in 1966 have come to represent the inter-generational passing of the critical baton. In the United States the Johns Hopkins Conference on the Humanities, which feature performances by Roland Barthes, Jacques Lacan, and Jacques Derrida, is now seen as the foundational event of the American appropriation of French theory. At about the same time an annual meeting of Germanists in Munich signaled the uprising of the younger, politically  more active generation against decades of deeply conservative scholarship” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 19)

“Many of the leading Germanists of the 1950s and early 1960s had been trained in the Third Reich, some of them had already achieved a certain prominence under the Nazis, and while most scholarship was not explicitly supportive of the regime, it had not been inimical to it either. […] The generational rupture, then, was not only based on the intellectual obsolescence of traditional scholarship, but also in the impression that the latter was soiled by Nazism. […] Under these circumstances it was a great deal more difficult for poststructuralism to acquire the radical stature that it quickly attained in the United States.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 20)

“who had been of greater importance to poststructuralist theorizing than Edmund Husserl, Sigmund Freud, Nietzsche, and, of course, Heidegger, without whom ‘Derrida and Lacan would be unthinkable’[?] Moreover, the fact that the canonized German precursors had themselves sponged off earlier German contributions to critical thought served to further illuminate French theory’s lack of originality. […] questions raised by Derrida and others regarding the mediation of reference and subjectivity by and through language had already been addressed and in part solved in the writings of Friedrich Schleiermacher and other post-Kantian Romantic hermeneutic philosophers. In short, what was good about French theory wasn’t always that new, and what was new wasn’t always that impressive” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 21)

“Innocent observers may ask why the German base of French theory served to impede the latter’s reception in Germany. The answer is simples: in the ideologically laced debates of the late sixties and early seventies indebtedness to Nietzsche and Heidegger was bound to encounter the ubiquitous Irrationalismusvorwurf, that is, the charge of irrationalism.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 21)

“Critics on the left saw the work of Derrida, Lacan, and Foucault as a kind of offshore laundering of politically compromised German theories that now, concealed underneath the fancy stylistics and terminological updating that the Parisian master thinkers excelled in, was poised to re-enter and re-poison young German minds.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 21)

“There can be no doubt that of the many authorities and maître penseurs Kittler draws on – Hegel and Nietzsche, Lacan and Foucault, Turing and Shannon, McLuhan and Virilio – Heidegger is the most important.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 23)

“the young Kittler was too ambitious and pragmatic not to realize that in the late 1960s deferential invocations of Heidegger would not augur well for a career as a Germanist. French poststructuralism offered a way out: ‘for me, the import of Foucault and Lacan rests on the fact that their writings allow possible ways of returning to Heidegger without naming him’. As we shall see later, the older Kittler has moved closer to those who charge that French poststructuralism amounted to a rehashing of Heidegger.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 24)

“the cultural upheaval of the 1960s was not only a matter of politicking and street-fighting but also, and more fundamentally, of sex and drugs and rock’n’roll. For Kittler, reading and analyzing Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno takes a back seat to listening to and analyzing Syd Barret and Roger Waters. Ultimately, the world revolutions concocted in Berkeley or Vincennes are less important than the Beatles’ ‘Revolution No. 9’, engineered at Abbey Road. The reason for this subordination of the political to the psychedelic is contained in the cryptic Freud reference quoted above: underlying all the political, musical, sexual, and drug-induced intoxications of the 1960s (or any other upheaval, for that matter) are discursive and technological regimes which create and shape the so-called subjects who remain who remain blissfully unaware of what makes them speak, think, and protest. To decipher these guiding structures and forces, to experience the intoxications of the day, and then to analyze them in technical detail is the real inheritance of the bygone cultural revolution” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 25)

“Together with Peter Sloterdijk’s […] and Klaus Theweleit’s […], Kittler’s work should also be read as the last great drum roll of 1968.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 25)

II.                  DISCOURSE ANALYSIS

1. First teaser: hermeneutic hush-a-bye

Über allen Gipfeln

Ist Ruh,

In allen Wipfeln

Spürest du

Kaum einem Hauch;

Die Vögeleinschweigen im Walde.

Warte nur, balde

Ruhest du auch.

 

Above all mountain tops

Is calm,

In all tree tops

You feel

Hardly a breeze;

The little birds are quiet in the wood.

Just wait, soon

You will rest too.

 

This is a poem by Goethe, Germany’s iconic man of letters, hence there is no lack of learned interpretations” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 28-9)

“[Wilkinson says that t]here is in it not a smile, not a metaphor, not a symbol. Three brief, simple statements of fact are followed by a plain assertion for the future. We point to the immediacy with which language here conveys the hush of evening. […] the order of the inner process of nature as known by the mind, an organic order of evolutionary progression in nature, from the inanimate to the animate, from the mineral, through the vegetable, to the animal kingdom and so inevitably to man. A natural process has become language, has been wrought in another substance, the poet’s own material” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 29)

“Staiger, one of the twentieth century’s leading Germanists, stressed how in the poem’s first two lines ‘the long ‘u’ and the pause following it make the silent twilight audible’, and how the du in line four ‘is not as profoundly calming because the sentence does not end and the voice remains raised, and this corresponds to the last faint rustling in the trees’ […] the most inaccessible alpine and arboreal regions are eager to calm ‘the most restless of beings, man’” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 30)

“Kittler readily admits that analyses such as Staiger’s describe the linguistic tricks and effects of Goethe’s poem well; however, they ignore the discursive preconditions that enabled the poem to operate in such a way. Meaning and meter alone do not account for its effect. How does language have to be constituted for the poem to cast its spell? What order of discourse, what mechanisms of speech production, what rituals of language acquisition have to be in place in order to lure the wanderer and his readers into an ‘audible twilight’ in which trees and mountains are brimming with soothing messages […] ? Kittler is less interested in what the poem is saying than in uncovering the mechanisms that produce meaning in the first place.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 31)

“He starts out with one of the most threadbare questions of traditional criticism: Wer spricht – who is speaking? As the conspicuous use of the pronoun du indicates, the ‘discursive event’ of the poem is an interpellation. A voice is addressing the wanderer; more precisely: a voice is speaking to the wanderer of the ways in which nature speaks to him, with the result that the wanderer (and his readers) cannot but interpret even the most meaningless noise as a meaningful message. So who is speaking? To cut to the core of Kittler’s analysis, it is the voice of the mother.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 31)

“Kittler is not providing a trite psychoanalytic reading. Instead he delivers an analysis of an incisive rupture in the order of speech that gave rise to Goethe’s poem and subsequently to Freud’s psychoanalysis. The poem is not read through Freud; if Freud is of any importance at all, he is read through the poem.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 31)

“In the second half of the eighteenth century the upbringing of infants and children underwent significant changes. The emergence of the bourgeois nuclear family with its near-total relegation of women to the private sphere redefined and promoted the role of the mother as the principal caregiver. Breaking with practices that were common in the extended families of the Middle Ages and the Early Modern Age, mothers were now charged with turning raw infant material into individuals equipped with a sufficiently developed psychic center of resonance and reflexivity, commonly referred to as spirit or soul. This required that mothers be taught how to teach their children. Within a short period a wide array of new child-rearing practices emerged. For instance, when it came to putting babies to sleep, herbal concoctions, sedatives, tranquilizers, narcotics, and other barbarian means which treated the infant as nothing more than ‘a body among bodies’ gave way to the loving voice of the mother singing lullabies.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 32)

“Goethe’s tree-top poem, Kittler argues, is based on an old lullaby from Saxony, but far more importantly it re-creates the salient features of the voice of the mother, thus triggering in the wanderer and, by extension, in hermeneutically conditioned readers a response similar to that of an infant listening to Hush-a-bye-Baby on the Tree Top. To introduce a phrase that will recur several times, Goethe’s poem is ‘a discourse on discourse channel conditions’; it foregrounds and performs rules, codes, and cultural ruptures which allow it to affect its readers” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 32)

“in Discourse Networks, Kittler analyzes how in the latter part of the eighteenth century education reformers brought about a substantial change in language-teaching practices. Having children pick up language by listening to unwieldy biblical names or strings of letters or phonemes became a thing of the past. Instead mothers were instructed to voice what Kittler calls ‘minimal signifieds’, such as du mu bu be ma am ag ga. These are neither real words (though some of them – for instance, am or du – can indeed be words) nor meaningless syllables, but located somewhere in the middle. What is important is their ability to naturally merge into words: bu and be result in Bube (little boy), a simple repetition of ma yields Mama. ‘In this way meanings come into being on the border between sound and word through the augmentation of minimal signifieds’. The effortless fusion is based on the assumption that minimal signifieds like bu, be, or ma are always already pregnant with meaning. In defiance of common linguistic wisdom meaning is already present on the sub-lexical level.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 33)

“Together, the love of the mother and the semantic plenitude of language guarantee that whatever comes out of the mother’s mouth will and must be meaningful. We are dealing with nothing less than the discursive construction – propagated by poets, philosophers, and education reformers – of that particular type of intimate, eroticized motherhood which 100 years later will be excavated by Freud and presented as a near-universal constant.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 33)

“language became a ‘general, purified, homogenous medium’. As a result, language, nature, and the voice of the mother are all meaning and no noise.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 33)

“Just as the child perceives the mother’s minimal signifieds to be pregnant with meaning, Goethe’s wanderer perceives even the most meaningless natural sound to be brimming with existential significance” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 33)

“The poem both describes and brings about a hermeneutic infection precisely because it re-stages that which made us susceptible to this type of infection in the first place” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 33)

2. Rewiring the French connection

“Underlying this reading of ‘Wanderer’s Nightsong’ are two premises with large-scale implications that will continue to guide Kittler’s work for most of his career: the disempowerment of the speaking subject and the discontinuity of the orders of speech.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 34)

“Kittler’s analysis presupposes that we are not masters of our language. Language was there before us, we grew up surrounded by it, we grew into it, it colonized us – whatever ‘us’ was before it was framed, carved up, and identified by language.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 34)

“It is through language that we gain our sense of identity as separate entities, for what was ‘I’ at first other than something that was called ‘you’ by someone else? We do not speak language as much as it speaks us. To phrase it in the shortest way possible, language subjects us.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 34)

“This linguistic disempowerment of man, the alleged master of language, is indebted to the structuralist psychoanalysis of Lacan. Rewriting Freud (while claiming to spell out what Freud really meant), Lacan argued that the subconscious was structured like a language because its emergence was tied to the subject being immersed in the symbolic structure of language.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 34)

“The second premise is that history is subject to incisive cultural breaks. The so-called Discourse Network 1800 (roughly, from the later eighteenth to the mid-nineteenth century) is completely distinct from the so-called Scholar’s Republic that came before; and it is separated by an equally radical caesura from the Discourse Network 1900 that arrived with new analog media technologies in the second half of the nineteenth century. So incisive are these ruptures that they preclude the usual cultural continuities. There is no tradition, no discernible cultural trajectory, no red thread or grand narrative (be it of progress and emancipation or of decadence and decline) that runs through the breaks. If the subordination of the subject to the symbolic grid of language comes courtesy of Lacan, this dramatic history of caesuras is indebted to Foucault, more precisely […] to the discourse-analytical or ‘archeological’ Foucault of the mid-1960s. In The Order of Things, his ‘most elegant book’, Foucault described a sequence of epochs, each of which was ruled by an episteme ‘that defines the conditions of possibility of all knowledge. Once the basic orders of discourse change, even the most venerable red threads or timeless props of history disintegrate. The ‘almost uninterrupted development of the old European ratio from the Renaissance to our own day’, Foucault remarked, is ‘only a surface appearance; on the archeological level we see that the systems of positivities was transformed in a wholesale fashion at the end of the eighteenth […] century’. This rupturism is inherited by Kittler: ‘The historical adventures of speaking do not form a continuum and so do not constitute a history of ideas’. Rather, they constitute – to anticipate our final chapters – what Heidegger called a ‘history of being’ (Seingeschichte), a succession of fundamentally differente ways in which humans relate to being.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 35-6)

“The specifically Kittllerian twist is the merging of these two premises. Foucault is lacanized, Lacan is foucaultized. With the help of Lacan, Foucault’s discourse analysis or archeology is equipped with a psychoanalytical extension in order to show how discursive regimes shape the unconscious by inscribing, for instance, subject positions within the new familial order. With the help of Foucault, Lacan’s unhistorical analysis is historicized in order to show that psychic inscription processes undergo radical shifts in time. Foucault’s epistemes are not only involved in the formation of knowledge but also in that of the human psyche” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 36)

“[as Kittler defines it,] ‘the term discourse no longer refers, as in Lacan’s rendering, to the linguistic and therefore abstract notion of existence of language as shaped by institutions of pedagogy, technical means of reproduction, storage and transfer, available strategies of interpretation, and so on’. Disempowerment and discontinuity: people are shaped and inscribed by a priori discursive regimes, but in time the latter undergo such fundamental changes that it requires a considerable amount of blindness to shape them into a coherent grand narrative.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 36)

“while Foucault meticulously dissected various epistemes, he neither explained why they arose nor how they managed to maintain themselves. Not only did he summarily dismiss the traditional key players at the center of modern history (the transcendental subject, the middle class, capitalism, the spread of enlightenment, the perfection of society, the nation-state, and all the other usual suspects)m, but he also denied that it was possible to fully account for the theories, ideologies, belief systems, or aesthetic products of any given age by referring them to their social context or carriers:

‘Though membership of a social group can always explain why such and such person chose one system of though rather than another, the condition enabling that one system of though never resided in the existence of the group. We must […] distinguish two forms and two levels of investigation. The first would be a study of opinions. The other, which takes no account of the persons involved, or their history, consists in defining the conditions on the basis of which it was possible to conceive of (…) knowledge (…) The first analysis would be the province of a doxology. Archeology can recognize and practise only the second’ (Foucault 1994; 200)” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 37)

“[Foucault] had the gall to highlight a period of wholesale transition at the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth century […] without any reference to what was going on in society. With the courage of impudence, Foucault dared not to speak of the French Revolution. Kittler inherits this rupturism as well as the provocative disdain for social or contextual explanations.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 37)

“for Foucault as well as for Kittler there is not that much difference between left and right […] most approaches – according to the poststructuralist diagnosis – remain spellbound by notions of cultural continuity that, in one way or another, are all rooted in the conceptualization of humans as vessels of timeless values or as the yet-ti-be-fully-realized subjects of history. In a word, both Foucault and Kittler are taking aim at the belief that there is, was, and will be something called l’homme, der Mensch or ‘man’.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 38)

“[there is a] very explicit anti-humanism emerging from the archeological diagnosis that man-the-subject is a discursive construct that first appeared in the late eighteenth century as a result of the modern arrangements of knowledge. An array of sciences appears that places man at the center of all intellectual endeavor. But ‘man is neither the oldest nor the most constant problem that has posed for human knowledge’, Foucault reminded this readers, ‘man is an invention of recent date’. Not only is man young, he is already nearing his end, as Foucault pointed out in the most notorious prediction of cultural theory since Nietzsche’s closely related proclamation that God is dead […] one of the basic messages of Kittler’s work is that the event obliquely referred to by Foucault has already taken place. As we shall see, Kittler has figured out the nature and the location of the beach that witnessed the disappearance of man’s image.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 39)

”while Foucault pursued an archeology of the sciences, Kittler’s insight is based primarily on the discourse analysis or archeology of literary texts that acted as inscription techniques for the creation of the modern subject. Goethe’s ‘Wanderer’s Nightsong’ revealed and romanticized one of the most elementary techniques involved in this project.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 39)

3. Kiss of the snake woman: the birth of poetry and philosophy from the spirit(s) of bureaucracy

“Kittler defines discourse networks as ‘the network of technologies and institutions that allow a given culture to select, store and process relevant data” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 39-40)

“A culture is a large-scale information machine which, depending on the way the data inputs, throughputs, and outputs are wired, produces basic notions as to why and to what end this machinery is supposed to function.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 40)

“One of the most persistent notions is the claim that culture is, somehow, tied to human significance. Culture may reveal the essence of humanity, act as a harbinger for human ideals, or indicate what ‘man’ is or could or should be; at the very least, culture expresses the allegedly uniquely human gift of recognizing, providing, and processing the significance of objects and artifacts beyond their most basic appearance and/or use value. No culture insisted more strongly on this humanist belief than that which emerged out of the Discourse Network 1800.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 40)

“it did not only come about as a result of changing language acquisition practices re-created in Goethe’s poem. They were no more than a part of a linked network of cultural techniques, ranging from the reform of writing lessons all the way to the new hermeneutical practices of the newly promoted disciplines of philosophy and aesthetics, and, last but certainly not least, to the bureaucratic reforms designed to mobilize and install modern, self-reflexive, and self-directing subjects as civil servants in the service of the emerging nation-state. At  the center, however, are those cultural techniques that concern the speaking, writing, and reading of language.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 40)

“those keen on understanding the first half of Discourse Networks are advised to start by enjoying Hoffmann’s tale [‘The Golden Pot’] before tackling Kittler. […] The opening scene on the banks of the Elbe depicts an experience similar to that of Goethe’s weary wanderer. Rustling and crackling change into whispering and lisping which then magically transform into ‘half-heard words’. The snake’s song, in turn, graduates from rhythmic onomatopoeia emulating their twisting motion to well-phrased poetic discourse. Hoffman’s tale makes explicit what in the case of Goethe’s poem had to be unearthed by archeological analysis: it is the voice of Woman or Love or Nature – which in the Discourse Network 1800 were synonymous – that enables the seamless transition from noise to sound to speech. Love makes trees and reptiles speak in and with human tongues. The same applies to writing. Were it not for Serpentina, Anselmus would be faced either with meaningless natural phenomena […] or with equally illegible alien [Arabic] scripts. However, inspired by love, he is not only able to effortlessly reproduce Lindhorst’s mysterious manuscripts, but audibly understands what he is writing. While copying the strange story of Lindhorst’s previous life and banishment, Anselmus hears the very words he is reproducing voiced by Serpentina.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 43)

“a seamless continuity from nature to culture is established; […] Kittler ties it to changes in language instruction. Just as the new language acquisition practices taught children to merge minimal signifieds into words, the new writing lessons taught them to merge the basic strokes (vertical lines, half-circles, half-ovals) into letters and then words which are ‘naturally’ understood and heard.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 44)

“The writing scenes in The Golden Pot ‘put a simple school program into practice’; they show how what we read and write is always already heard and seen. Whether manipulated by quills or tongues, meaningless constituent elements are combined into meaningful units; and humans inscribed by these cultural techniques will come to believe that nothing is meaningless because everything is always already on the threshold of meaning. Beyond this guarantee of constant semantic plenitude, the most momentous consequence of the new pedagogical techniques described by Kittler was the emergence of the modern subject:

‘Whoever wrote in block letters would not be an in-dividual (…) The great metaphysical unities invented in the age of Goethe – the developmental process of Bildung, autobiography, world history – could be seen as the flow of the continuous and the organic simply because they were supported by flowing, cursive handwriting (…) To develop handwriting as out of one mold means to produce individuals’” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 44)

“Kittler is […] rephrasing what in more stately fashion had been diagnosed by the philosopher Hegel:

‘Thus, if at first the specific nature and innate peculiarity of the individual, together with what these become as a result of cultivation and education, are taken as the inner, as the essence of his action and his fate, then this essence has its appearance and externality to begin with in his mouth, hand, voice, handwriting, and the other organs and their permanent characteristics. Thereafter, and not till then, does it give itself further outward expression in its actual existence in the world’

Kittler’s analysis updates Hegel by inverting him. Handwriting is not the external appearance of an already present inner individual; on the contrary, the inner essence came about by the training of ‘mouth, hand, voice, handwriting’. In short, the emergence of the subject, soul, and spirit (Geist), all the ineffable qualities that signify Foucault’s metaphysically burdened man, is tied to changes in the materialities of communication. Where letters were, there subjects shall be.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 45)

“In the closed circuits of the Discourse Network 1800, the modern male individual receives language from Woman (be it empirical mother or any loving Serpentina), but since Nature or Woman do not speak clearly it will be up to the male subjects, once they have been taught to write by their fathers or paternal authorities like Lindhorst, to translate the discourse of Woman or Nature into poetry and literature. This output, in turn, will be read, first, by many female readers who thereby will learn how to speak and thus be able to teach language, and, second, by philosophers like Hegel, who, banking on the guarantee of meaningfulness that permeates the system, will provide the metaphysical legitimation for the subject that arises from the new pedagogical and literary practices. The Discourse Network 1800 is based on ‘an endless oscillating from Nature to books and back to Nature’.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 45)

“There is no doubt something mechanical about these circuits of speaking, writing, and reading: indeed Kittler himself has described the Discourse Network 1800 as well as his analysis of it as a grand information machine:

‘basically, I linearized the history of mothers, poetry and philosophy around 1800: the mother generates the mass of words which literature takes over and turns into works, and philosophy rereads the entire output of this production as theory. I visualized the whole thing as a switchboard diagram, which explains why technological metaphors like ‘feedback’ started cropping up. But it was supposed to be more than a matter of mere metaphors, I wanted to structure entire blocks of the text in this way. So I really took care that the Mother enters the channel of Poetry as input and, upon exiting at the other side, is collected in the storage medium of Philosophy. That was the concept. From the beginning, the book was designed like a machine’

And that is precisely what discourse networks are: a set of large-scale, historically contingent information machines, one of which gained particular prominence by producing cultural entities such as the new nuclear family, composed of modern subjects equipped with the requisite hermeneutical skills.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 46)

  1. You must remember this: heretic german lessons

“’The Protestant pastor is the grandfather of German philosophy’, Nietzsche – himself the prodigal son of a Protestant clergyman – mocked. He is also the father of German literature. If Paris bred French literature, German literature came of age in a country parsonage. ‘It has been calculated that, even excluding philosophers, 120 major literary figures writing in German and born between 1676 and 1804 had either studied theology or were the children of Protestant pastors’ (Boyle 2008: 10)” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 47)

“The hallmark of this cultural tradition is said to be Innerlichkeit. Usually translated as interiority or inwardness, Innerlichkeit is tied to the secularization of protestant and pietist soul-searching and self-observation practices that involved probing and verbalizing one’s feelings towards God. Especially in the second half of the enlightened eighteenth century, the richly developed religious lexicon that suffused German parsonages was extracted from its religious origins and increasingly applied to nature and to other human beings. The plus side was an impressive psychological expertise and a keen eye for the processes of subject formation (as evident in the German Bildungsroman), as well as a profound awareness of the problems of consciousness, self-reflexivity, and communication that reached its zenith in the idealist philosophy of Schelling, Fichte, and Hegel (and that enjoyed a late blooming in Niklas Luhmann’s systems theory). The flip side was a marked negligence for the more mundane matters of the world, including the political, social, and economic spheres that received far more attention in English or French literature.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 48)

“The conventional approach to German cultural history claims that the plenitude of meaning that was initially guaranteed by God is subsequently applied to nature and interpersonal relationships (which is why it is in many instances difficult to tell wether poems by Goethe and his contemporaries are addressed to God, Jesus, the German forests, or a German girl). In Kittler’s account the same plenitude of meaning was first guaranteed not by any divine force but by the natural origin of language emanating from the ‘mother’s mouth’.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 48)

“While this highly influential refunctionalization of religious discourse for literary and philosophical purposes is a fairly German affair, the familial setting is not. The new child-rearing and language-teaching practices Kittler focuses on were part of a momentous shift that affected many Western societies on the verge of the Industrial Revolution and that created the alleged unconscious universals later excavated by Freud. It was accompanied by the growing middle-class rift between a public and private sphere that relegated women to the latter.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 48)

“as muses and mothers who inspire and provide the input, and as readers and consumers who pore over the aesthetic output, the middle-class women of Kittler’s Discourse Network 1800 are as excluded from cultural production as they are in the standard socio-historical accounts from material production.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 49)

“While the British bourgeoisie set sail to create an exploit an empire, and their French counterpart took to the streets to stage a revolution, the economically and politically atrophied German middle class congregated in governmental offices and lecture halls to pursue empires and revolutions of the mind. Heinrich Heine’s famous remarks – that ‘German philosophy is nothing but the dream of the French revolution’ and that Kant’s philosophical guillotine, decapitating unwarranted metaphysical speculation, represents the equivalent of Robespierre’s guillotine decimating political opponents – are as politically perceptive as they are historically and philosophically astute. The common perception seems to be that the French act while the Germans merely think.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 49)

“The renowned apex of German cultural production – the literature of classicism and Romanticism, from Goethe and Schiller to Hoffmann and Hölderlin, the heights of philosophic speculation that climax in Hegel and Clausewitz, the contributions of the Grimms and the Humboldts – is not the result of the economic ascendance of property-owning budding entrepreneurs but the work of state officials, governmental clerks, and publicly employed academics. While the conventional accounts focus on how the middle class was forced into these bureaucracies, Kittler centers on the techniques that equipped these bureaucracies with expansive hermeneutic expertise.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 50)

“It is the ideal union of poet and bureaucrat, so memorably embodied by Goethe (and ironically romanticized in Hoffman’s semi-reptilian librarian Lindhorst), that becomes the real protagonist of the Discourse Network 1800.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 50)

“While Kittler never explicitly states that the technologies of subject formation and the new insistence on self-reflexivity directly came about in the service of the state, he clearly indicates that there was an ongoing feedback between the hermeneutics of state and subject. Changing discursive practices breed a literature of and for subjects, while the state breeds administrative class of and for subjects. And once again it is Hegel, who in Kittler’s narrative act as the grand impresario of the Discourse Network 1800, who provides a philosophically informed reading of the cultural output: the final framework of the self-reflective subject (who stands in and provides a basis for the absolute spirit) is at this stage in history only possible within the framework of the (Prussian) state. The promise of love and meaning – which in the words of The Golden Pot entails the poetical recognition of ‘the sacred harmony of all things’ – is fully embodied in the existence of the civil servant.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 50-1)

“Kittler’s analysis of the Discourse Network 1800 amounts to a sequence of intriguing substitutes. Others ponder the redirection of religious discourse; he probes the eroticized discursive infections emanating from the ‘Mother’s Mouth’. Others focus on the public/private split with its attendant gender differentiation; he foregrounds the new language acquisition practices of the mother-child dyad. Others trace the migration of a socio-economically and politically hamstrung middle class into governmental administration and university careers; he highlights the philosophically embellished hermeneutic imperialism of poet-bureaucrats. The younger Kittler, in short, was less of a rebel than a heretic. He was not introducing altogether new ideas but retelling old stories from a new angle. It soon became apparent, however, that the new angle needed a footing. In what remains his most influential move, Kittler began to ground discursive regimes in media” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 51)

III.                MEDIA THEORY

1. Second teaser: Syd’s song

“with the possible exception of Wagner’s operas – another passion Kittler shares with Nietzsche – no music has had the same impact on him as that of Pink Floyd. Their lyrics already appear as mottos in his dissertation; thirty years later they provide chapter headings for Musik und Mathematik. […this] was later cited as an example of the poststructuralist erosion of the boundary between scholarly and literary discourse. But the high point of Kittler’s engagement with ‘the Pinks’ occurred in 1982, with his analysis of one of their best-known songs, ‘Brain Damage’, from the 1973 album Dark Side of the Moon.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 53)

“Goethe and Pink Floyd are rarely mentioned in one breath but for the following it is interesting to note that ‘Brain Damage’ is no that dissimilar from ‘Wanderer’s Nightsong’. Once again sounds and voices impact a solitary listener; once again this impact proceeds along clearly defined stages […]; and once again it is ultimately not quite clear who ends up speaking or singing to whom inside whose head.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 53)

“Kittler once again sidelines the usual interpretations – the song is about angst, alienation, or our inability to respond to ‘the child’ or ‘the real human being living inside’ (Roger Waters, quoted in Jones 1996:101) – in favor of an analytical shift from the inside to the outside, from human truths and messages to rules, conditions, and (technical) standards. In much the same way as he had handled Goethe’s poem, Kittler treats ‘Brain Damage’ not as a song that requires interpretation but as a ‘discourse on discourse channel conditions’.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 54)

“‘Brain Damage’ is said to retrace and perform the history of recording technology; it is nothing less than a musically staged genealogy of rock music that manages to link its self-performance to the question of how technology relates to madness.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 54)

“In the first stanza the ‘loonies’ are outside ‘on the grass’, their distant voices and laughter are so far removed from the listener that they cannot be spatially localized. ‘As an acoustic quote, then, the first stanza is the meager time of monaural reproduction’. […] [As Kittler puts it,] ‘This is how at the end of Grantchester Meadows the acoustically built staircase functions, on which steps proceed from left to right – from vinyl directly in rooms and into the ears of the listeners. Stanza two, then, is the time of High Fidelity and stereophony’. […] Finally, ‘the lunatic is in my head’. Due to further advances in sound reproduction, sounds and voices coming from all angles surround and invade the listener. This is primarily due to the invention of the ‘Azimuth Coordinator’ […] the overall effect was an invasion of vertiginous ears that could no longer tell where the sounds and voices were coming from and whether they were outside or inside the listener’s head. ‘The explosion of acoustic media flips over into an implosion which crashes with headlong immediacy into the very centre of perception’. The brain has become one with all that arrives from the outside.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 54-5)

“‘Nobody knows who is singing – the voice called David Gilmour that sings the song, the voice referred to by the song, or maybe the voice of the listener who makes no sound and is nonetheless supposed to sing once all the conditions of magic have been met. An unimaginable closeness of sound technology and self-awareness, a simulacrum of a feedback loop relaying sender and receiver. A song sings to a listening ear, telling it to sing. As if the music were originating in the brain itself, rather than emanating from stereo speakers or headphones’ (Kittler 1999: 36-7)” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 55)

“According to Derrida, the fact that we can hear ourselves speak (or, as Kittler would add, sing) was the anchoring point for a long-lasting metaphysics of presence. But under new media-technological conditions, the philosophically portentous inner voice that Goethe’s poem could merely conjure up in the symbolic register of words can now be technologically simulated inside our skull. Unlike the voices coming from singers on stage, these voices ‘implode in our ears (…) As if there were no distance between the recorded voice and listening ears, as if voices traveled along the transmitting bones of self-perception directly from the mouth into the ear’s labyrinth, hallucinations become real’” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 56)

“‘Brain Damage’ doesn’t sing of love or other such themes; it is one single feedback between sound and listener’s ears.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 56)

“So what, then, is the brain damage the song announces in its title? It quite simply means, to quote the lyrics, that ‘there’s someone in my head but it’s not me’. Here three levels of analysis intersect. The first is the conventional interpretation that rehashes traditional Pink Floyd lore, according to which ‘Brain Damage’ […] is a paean to Syd Barrett. In an uneasy mixture of regret and relief, the song invokes Barrett’s departure from Pink Floyd and his exile to a ‘diagnostic no-man’s-land between LSD-psychosis and schizophrenia’, otherwise known as The Dark Side of the Moon. But, in Kittler’s reading, ‘Brain Damage’ also alludes to a possible return of – or rather to – the excluded, for the song may well induce its own title, in which case the band will truly start playing ‘different tunes’ and thus join their former leader on the dark side of the moon, that is, madness. Using the most up-to-date recording technology, ‘Brain Damage’, then, performs the age-old association of moons with madness.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 56)

“The second level – one clearly indebted to Deleuzian and early Foucaultian strands of French poststructuralism – is built arounf the question: what is madness? Or rather: what sounds mad in the age of reason? Answer: madness is the compulsive, incessant talking about the rules, protocols, and institutions that make us talk; it is, in Kittler’s words, the unstoppable ‘discourse on discourse channel conditions’ […] [B]randing this as madness presupposes that sane discourses are perceived to be individual speech acts presided over by an autonomous subject. Sanity means being in control of what you say; madness is the compulsion to incessantly talk about that which makes you talk. The ‘loonies’ (as well as the engineers) are well aware of this: ‘Lunatics appear to be more informed than their doctors. They spell out that madness […] is […] a metaphor of technologies.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 57)

“This points to the third, truly Kittlerian level: ‘Brain Damage’ performs itself. It is a complex recording that technologically simulates its own title to such a degree that madness and music are as difficult to tell apart as outside and inside voices. Unlike Goethe’s ‘Wanderer’s Nightsong’, however, which could only refer to intruding voices by way of writing, ‘Brain Damage’ manipulates sound, thus performing the media-technological structures that make us what we are by making us speak. ‘Wanderer’s Nightsong’ is a poem that proclaims and performs what poetry can do, while conjuring up how poetry’s effects came about. ‘Brain Damage’ is a song that sings of the conditions under which it is sung, by providing its own technologically simulated genealogy. And that, of course, is the difference: Goethe is stuck with words; Pink Floyd operates in the realm of media technology.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 58)

 

2. Skulls without spirit: media technologies of the discourse network 1900

“the shift [Kittler makes in the early 80s] from discourse analysis to Medienwissenschaft (‘media studies’, though the more literal translation would be ‘media science’) seems both logical and inevitable. The desire to provide a concrete historical footing for Foucault’s epistemic regimes and Lacan’s psychic inscription practices had led Kittler into a detailed assessment of the materialities of communication that characterized the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Moving forward in time to the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries required a similar focus on the new analog recording and storage technologies that challenged the alpha status of scriptographic production and typographic reproduction techniques of the Guttenberg Galaxy” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 58)

“it was not only a matter of progressing from the Guttenbergian writing practices of the Discourse Network 1800 to the Edisonian media of the Discourse Network 1900; it was also a matter of recognizing the basic fact that the former, too, were and always had been media technologies. And this, Kittler argues, is something Foucault failed to realize. Hunting down documents in libraries in Paris, Warsaw, or Uppsala, Foucault ‘simply forgot’ that ‘even writing itself, before it ends up in libraries, is a communication medium’.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 58)

“[Foucault] shied away from analyzing what happens when the processing of discourse networks is entrusted to modern storage and recording devices. ‘It is for this reason that all his analyses end up immediately before that point in time at which other media penetrated the library’s stacks. […] In short, Kittler technologizes and extends Foucault. He plays Marx to Foucault’s Hegel by turning discourse analysis onto its media-technological feet.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 59)

“writing may be a ‘communication medium’ but it does not operate like a camera or a phonograph. In order to emphasize this distinction Kittler, regardless of a certain tautological ring, frequently refers to the latter as ‘technological media’ (technische Medien). What is the pivotal difference? Writing operates by way of a symbolic grid which requires that all data ‘pass through the bottleneck of the signifier’, whereas phono-, photo- and cinematographic analog media process physical effects of the real.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 59)

“The trees and birds of Goethe’s poem are word-signs that stand at a considerable remove from the real things, but the photo of a tree or the recording of birdsong presuppose – at least in pre-digital times – that at one point trees and birds were around. The data obtained and processed are the result of storing light and sound waves reflecting off, or emanating from, trees and birds. In this context Kittler likes to quote the film theorist Rudolf Arnheim, who said of medial reproductions that ‘they are not only supposed to resemble the object but rather guarantee this resemblance by being, as it were, a product of the object in question, that is, by being mechanically produced by it’. Arts give way to media; aesthetic styles are replaced by technical standards.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 60)

“if the eighteenth-century materialities of communication had indeed been so instrumentally involved in the construction of high-profile cultural entities such as souls, subjects, and states, then the replacement of the hermeneutically glamorized writing technologies of the Discourse Network 1900 could not but affect culture at its most basic level. What happens to the souls in the age of Edison? This is a long and at times convoluted narrative that takes up the second part of Discourse Networks and all of the more accessible Gramophone, Film, Typewriter” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 60)

“Kittler ties the development of nineteenth-century analog media and related technological innovations to simultaneous advances in the analysis of human cognition and perception. The exact nature of the relationship between psychophysical research and media-technological progress is not quite clear; it appears to be a kind of feedback in the course of which cerebral and technical data-processing operations are constantly modeled on each other.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 60)

“the shift emerges around the mid-nineteenth century; and it begins, as we would expect in a Kittlerian context, with war and destruction:

‘Nature, the most pitiless experimenter, paralyzes certain parts of the brain through strokes and bullets wounds to the head; research (since the Battle of Solferino in 1859) is only required to measure the resulting interferences in order to distinguish the distinct subroutines of speech in anatomically precise ways. Sensory aphasia (while hearing), dyslexia (while reading), expressive aphasia (while speaking), agraphia (while writing) bring forth machines in the brain.’ (Kittler, 1999: 189)

[…] handicaps and crippled brains isolate and highlight cognitive subroutines. […] As the founder of experimental medicine, [Claude] Bernard advocated the diagnostic benefits of exploratory vivisection: remove a liver or a spleen, observe and measure the resulting physiological changes, and you will be able to pinpoint the function of the extracted organ. For Kittler, this practice of determining function by way of malfunction also applies to cognitive operations: ‘Blindness and deafness, precisely when they affect either speech or writing, yield what would otherwise be beyond reach: information on the human information machine’.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 61)

“The difference is that livers, spleens and kidneys were seen as separate organs, whereas speaking, writing, hearing, or reading were traditionally subsumed under grandiose headings such as Geist or Bewusstein (spirit or consciousness). Here, Kittler’s focus on discontinuity once again rears its head. As described in the preceding chapter, one of the fundamental physic techniques of the Discourse Network 1800 was the smooth, effortless transition of graphemes into acoustic and visual signs, and vice versa. It was this systematic blurring of the boundaries between speaking, listening, reading, and writing that enabled the construction of language as a homogenous alpha-medium, able to weave together nature and culture in a continuum of meaning that subsequently was explored and exploited by writers and philosophers. The net outcome of this fusion of data-processing techniques was a subject fully in command of language, because it appeared to be so fully in command of the various ways in which language was produced, recorded, and communicated that everything seamlessly blended into each other. Precisely this continuity is destroyed by the media-technological shift commonly associated with pioneers and tinkerers like Bell and Edison. The essence of this shift was a technological differentiation of data streams and the subsequently ability to store and manipulate real-time data. The new photo- and phonographic media provided optical and acoustic data with their own storage and communication channels that no longer depended on symbolic mediation. Sights and sounds that hitherto had to be conjured up in the trained mind of the alphabetized reader were now presented directly to eyes and ears. And, with the advent of the typewriter, writing itself was mechanized –  a mechanization that removed hands from writing surfaces and replaced the continuous flow of ink on paper (so important to Hegel and Lindhorst) with discrete, typographically standardized letters.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 61-2)

“The implications are enormous. Take, for instance, the inevitable demotion of literature. The status it enjoyed in the Discourse Network 1800 rested on the fact that it actively performed, maintained, and recycled the fundamental hermeneutic features attributed to knowledge language. […] To read was to raise and cultivate a soul, to internalize the fundamental order of culture and nature, and to extend an empire of meaning across the expanse of being. To read was to exorcize meaningless noise in favor of omnipresent meaning. All this changed with the arrival of the new analog media. Inevitably, Kittler argues, literature was debunked and lost its cultural importance. Why simulate acoustic and optical data with words if they can be directly recorded, stored, and transmitted without any recourse to symbolic mediation? Why bother with the awkward relationship of language to time if new technologies are able to store and manipulate real-time data flows? […] Under these inauspicious intermedial conditions writers are left with two options: they can either withdraw into the esoteric realm of (post)modernist prose or subserviently mimic the new technologies. In other words, they can either produce Finnegan’s Wake, the self-reflexive, self-enclosed unfilmable work of art, or Jurassic Park, the text that aspires to be a film script. The fate of literature in the age of mechanical and digital reproduction, then, is either intramedial autism or intermedial serfdom.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 63)

“If the impact of analog media is related to the fact that they can store and communicate the acoustic and optical data, which hitherto were only symbolically encoded in writing, does this not imply some kind of connection between the former and the latter? But if there is some kind of connection, is the media shift really one of those decisive ruptures that preclude all talk of continuity? ‘The history of every art form’, Walter Benjamin famously noted in The work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction, ‘shows critical epochs in which a certain art form aspires to effects which could be fully obtained only with a changed technical standard’. Exactly: the reading practices of the Discourse Network 1800 created a demand for media experiences that could only be met by post-print technologies. The hermeneutic cultivation of reading prepared the grounds for its supersession.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 64)

“Foucault spoke of epistemes that changed without rhyme or reason; Kittler was able to acertain that these changes were related to media shifts (or at least to changing medial practices). Gramophone, film, and typewriter put an end to the Discourse Network 1800” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 64)

“[Kittler posits] an autonomous media-technological evolution driven by an internal dynamic. Of Gutenberg’s letterpress, Kittler writes that it ‘made the techniques that supersede it – from photography to the computer – possible in the first place. It was the unique medium that set other media free’. Media react to media; ‘they follow each other in a rhythm of escalating strategic answers’. Humans are at best along for the ride; more precisely, they are the nodes and operators necessary to keep the process going until the time arrives at which media are able to interact and evolve without any human go-between. That, however, smacks far less of technologized Foucault than of an updated Hegel; it is a hidden grand narrative to which we shall return later on.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 65)

“literature may be important but it pales in significance to the question of language. What happens to language under new media-technological conditions? And given the complicity of subservient language and masterful subject in the Discourse Network 1800, how does the changing status of language change ‘so-called man’?” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 65)

3. Dracula’s phonograph meets Zarathustra’s typewriter

“Count Dracula, depicted by Stoker as a medieval potentate from the backwoods of Eastern Europe, is planning to turn Britain into his undead fiefdom. […] Dracula starts to exert a kind of telepathic remote control over a man called Renfield, who promptly ends up in a mental institution raving about the impending arrival of the ‘master’. In lay terms, Renfield is mad. But what is madness? Or […] what sounds mad in the age of reason? It is the apparent inability to control one’s speech […] Madness, in other words, is the most revealing form of the ‘discourse on discourse channel conditions’. Obviously, branding this as madness presupposes that ‘discourses are perceived as individual speech acts’, presided over by an autonomous subject that is not a mere talking machine or a ventriloquist’s dummy” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 66)

“[Jack] Seward [, the supervising doctor,] realizes that he cannot grasp his patient’s madness by straightforward rational analysis. Rather, his own thought processes – more precisely, the subconscious processes that have not yet emerged into consciousness – will have to match Renfield’s. Somehow, Renfield’s subconscious will have to be transferred and mapped onto Seward’s, following which Seward will study his own subconscious processes in order to reveal what is troubling Renfield. […] Seward listens to his patient, then he rushes to his phonograph and records his uncensored associations which, once they are transcribed and open to conscious and deliberate inspection, wikll reveal what is behind Renfield’s rambling. Ultimately there are two phonographs involved: the real one which Seward uses to record his own associations, and Seward’s unconscious which apparently can record Renfield’s unconscious with the  indiscriminate receptiveness of Edison’s new recording device.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 67)

“[For Kittler,] Seward is practicing what Freud […] had called a talking cure, but it is a talking cure that literally enacts what Freud had only referred to metaphorically. […]

‘To put it in a formula, he [the doctor] must turn his own unconscious like a receptive organ towards the transmitting unconsciousness of the patient. He must adjust himself to the patient as a telephone receiver is adjusted to the transmitting microphone. Just as the receiver converts back into sound waves the electric oscillations in the telephone line which were set up by sound waves, so the doctor’s unconscious is able, from the derivatives of the unconsciousness which are communicated to him, to reconstruct that unconscious, which has determined the patient’s free associations’ (Freud XII, 1962; 115-116)

[…] Just as the analyst, in order to reveal what the patient is repressing, privileges unintentional and sub-lexical clues over intended utterances, Kittler takes literally what Freud introduced as mere metaphors and comparisons. Psychoanalysis is not like phonography or telephony, it is phonography, because it accepts and enacts the new ways humans are determined by the technical Standards of the Discourse Network 1900:

‘Freud’s materialism reasoned only so far as the information machines of his era – no more, no less. Rather than continuing the dream of the Spirit as origin, he described a ‘physic apparatus’ (Freud’s wonderful word choice) that implemented all available transmission and storage media.’” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 68)

“Psychoanalysis has a phonographic a priori. The crux of Freud’s (and Seward’s) talking cure is that ‘so-called man’ is not in command of language. Language is a data stream that can be recorded; moreover, it is precisely the fact that it can be recorded, transcribed, and scrutinized that reveals it to be a data stream operating according to its own rules. Sooner or later it will betray rather than constantly obey the conscious ego of the speaker. The introduction of impassive mechanical sound-recording technologies, then, constitutes the main enabling factor for a fundamental reassessment of language, at the core of which is a reversal of the traditional relationship between speaker and language.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 68-9)

“As already alluded to in the analysis of the Pink Floyd[‘s song] […] the Discourse Network 1900 reveals madness – the inability to produce discourse as individual speech acts – to be the true state of affairs. […] In the famous words of Arthur C. Clarke, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic; for Kittler, any sufficiently advanced media technology is indistinguishable from madness” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 69)

“Mina’s career embodies the fate of women in the Discourse Network 1900. The sexually closed circuits of the Discourse Network 1800 are breached; women who hitherto had been confined to the input and output position as muses and readers, respectively, become an integral part of discourse production.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 70)

“If […] the Discourse Network 1800 revolved around ‘the discursive production of the Mother as the source of discursive production’, then the removal of Mother/Woman/Nature puts an end to the guarantee of meaningfulness explored and exploited by poets and philosophers. If language no longer originates from the Mother’s Mouth, all the noise that reaches the ear of Goethe’s wanderer […] is just that and nothing more: noise. Language is no longer a homogenous transparent medium; and whatever messages it may contain are no longer grounded in the always already meaningful constituent components (the ‘minimal signifieds’), but are the effect of statistically computable arrangements of meaningless elements.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 71)

“[The typewriter] embodies the two closely related key features of the Discourse Network 1900, separation and discontinuity, which not coincidentally happen to be the opposite of the key features of the Discourse Network 1800, transition and continuity. As discussed in the context of the writing lessons in Hoffman’s ‘Golden Pot’, the production of the indivisible subject self was linked to continuous handwriting. Now the flow of ink and the direct connection between hand, pen, and paper is replaced by standardized, discreet letter signs mechanically produced by a contraption that separates the hand from script. Heidegger was one of the first philosophers to be deeply concerned by this. Playing on the strong connection in German between Hand and handeln (‘to act’ […]), which allowed him to present the hand as ‘the essential distinction of man’ because ‘man himself acts (handelt) through the hand’, Heidegger concluded that ‘when writing was withdrawn from the origin of its essence, i.e., from the hand, and was transferred to the machine, a transformation occurred in the relation of Being to man’.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 71-2)

“In response to an inquiry from a friend whether the [writing ball] machine had an effect on his style, Nietzsche responded with a statement that contains most of modern media theory from Innis and McLuhan onwards: […] ‘Our writing tools are also working on our thoughts’. In an extensive reading, Kittler treis to show how the mchanincs of the typewriter reappear in Nietzsche’s genealogical analysis, according to which humans are not blessed with inborn faculties such as knowledge, speech and virtue, but are in fact no more than walking, talking memory machines. Crouched over his mechanically defective writing ball, the philosopher came to realize that humans have changed their position ‘from the agency of writing to an inscription surface’.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 72)

“[hermeneutics] subjects all of creation to a regime of meaning, turning the world into a semantic playground for the inspired male subject. At the other end there is […] the insane Nietzsche in the last years of his life, ‘screaming inarticulately’, mindlessly filling notebooks with simple ‘writing exercises’, and ‘happy in his element as long as he had pencils’. This is the ground zero of hermeneutics at the center of the Discourse Network 1900: no spirit, no soul, no guaranteed meaning, but only a body in all its vulnerable nakedness, media technologies in all their mindless impartiality, and between them an exchange of noise that only focused delusion can arrange into deeper meaning.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 73)

 

4. Write text to power: programmare aude!

“In the course of the 1980s Kittler turned his attention toward digital technology. […] If Nietzsche was the first renegade philologist to use a typewriter, Kittler is the first renegade Germanist to teach computer programming. […] All the important and contested points appear early on, in this quote from the introduction to Gramophone, Film, Typewriter:

‘The general digitization of channels and information erases the difference among individual media. Sound and image, voice and text are reduced to surface effects, know to consumers as interface. Sense and the senses turn into eyewash. Their media propagated glamour will survive for an interim as a by-product of strategic programs. Inside the computers themselves everything becomes a number, quantity without image, sound, or voice. And once optical fiber networks turn formerly distinct data flows into a standardized series of digitized numbers, any medium can be translated into any other. With numbers, nothing is impossible. Modulation, transformation, synchronization; delay, storage, transposition; scrambling, scanning, mapping – a total media link on a digital basis will erase the very concept of medium. Instead of wiring people and technologies, absolute knowledge will run as an endless loop.’” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 74)

“Digital technology comes with a certain messianic finality: once it has arrived there will be nothing else, no further history, at least no further history of technology, to speak of. […] whatever not-Von-Neumann design may arise in the future, it will not change the erasure ‘of the very concept of medium’. Note that Kittler is talking about concepts rather than about media as such. Media continue to exist but they have suffered a demotion. […] media are no longer located at the crucial intersection of physical processes and the human sensory apparatus; they have been moved to the margin of the digital machine in order to allor humans some access to this self-contained numerical universe: ‘There are physiological-physical computer interfaces that can still be regarded as media. But on the inside, in the hardware or software, there’s nothing imaginary’ (Kittler and Weinberger 2009: 100) […] Media are the computer’s concession to our inferiority; their existence is due to the inability of any living being – with the exception of Neo, the hero of the Matrix trilogy – to directly interface with digital processing on the inside.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 74-5)

“despite all this, user-friendly software tricks us into believing that we are in charge of the computer. We continue to think of computers as mere tools, and this, in turn, serves to perpetuate our narcissistic self-image as homo faber, man the toolmaker. All the polemical energy once reserved for the glorification of the enlightened subject is redirected toward software. […] so bent is Kittler on exposing the hollowness of software that he came to deny its very existence. There is no software because it can be reduced to basic hardware operations:

‘Not only no program, but also no underlying microprocessor system could ever start without the rather incredible autobooth faculty of some elementary functions that, for safety’s sake, are burnt into silicon and thus form part of the hardware. […] All code operations come down to absolutely local string manipulations, that is, I am afraid, to signifiers of voltage differences’” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 75-6)

“The Discourse Network 1900 discovered a skull without spirit; it is now a matter of discovering the spiritless mainframe. Kittler is debunking software in much the same way as nineteenth-century science pried apart the human mind by examining how the brain works. Ultimately, there is no software for the same reason that there is no higher faculty known as Geist, mind or spirit: both are no more than fleeting configurations that can be reduced to the switching on and off of countless tiny circuits routed through hollow containers made of tin, bone or plastic.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 76)

“the fact that this ‘post-modern Tower of Babel’ is at base a hardware configuration has been ‘explicitly contrived to evade our perception’. This is where the argument moves from technological reductionism to a technologically evolved version of ideology criticism. Operating systems, especially those with names like ‘Windows’, promise unobstructed transparency but are in fact one-way mirrors. Like invisible police investigators examining a suspect, the computer sees us; looking at the computer, we only see ourselves. […] User-friendly machines that conceal their non-human internal operations allow humans to conceal from themselves that their self-descriptions are the deposit of equally non-human discursive processes.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 77)

“this software criticism echoes some of the rhetoric of the social movements that Kittler avoided in his student days. Software is condemned as the new opium for the people; it is dispensed by forces that are bent on keeping the untrusted user masses from taking over the digital means of production. […] We must study basic programming and operating languages in order to overcome their dependence on the software opium handed out by the industry. […] Kant had chided the ‘self-caused immaturity’ that keeps us from using our mental faculties without the guidance of another: ‘the motto of enlightenment is therefore Sapere Aude! Have courage to use your own intelligence!’ […] Kittler intones a similar rallying cry: Programmare Aude! Have courage to use your own programming skills! And while this results neither in Western Enlightenment nor in any mastery over digital machines, it will at least enable us to rise above our self-caused software-supported immaturity and interact eye to eye (or signal to signal) with all that is on the verge of leaving us behind. […] Frank Hartmann, one of Kittler’s most astute and incisive critics, claimed that what Kittler ultimately has in mind is a ‘machine whisperer’, somebody who […] has such mastery over the machine code that he can directly interact with basic operating levels of digital systems without any need for intermediary software programs. The precondition would be the fulfillment of the grand dreams of Leibniz and Turing: the complete conversion of thinking into computation” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 78)

“A good Christian needs no clerical infrastructure to achieve a connection to God; a good user needs no fancy software interface to connect to cyberspace.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 78)

  1. On the silicon beach: the ends of man and media

“what does digital technology do? All information is digitized, ‘which is why computers in principle comprehend all other media and can subject their data to the mathematical models of signal processing’. The computer effectively de-differentiates the tripartite Edisonian Discourse Network 1900, which roughly a century earlier had technologically differentiated the homogenous alpha-medium language of the Discourse Network 1800. The result is a philosophically portentous 1-3-1 structure. A pristine unity (spiritualized language) is divided against itself and split up (analog differentiation in combination with the typewriter’s mechanization), but this antithesis is in turn overcome by the unity of higher, i.e., digital, complexity.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 79)

“Discourse Network 1900 is the antithesis to the Discourse Network 1800, and the Discourse Network 2000 (a term, incidentally, used far more often by Kittler’s readers than by himself) sublates the two. Media theory points toward a veritable philosophy of media history.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 79)

“‘they believe that technology and science are mere tools made for people in the street […]. Machines, especially the contemporary intelligent machines as conceived by Alan Turing in 1936, are not there for us humans […] nature, this glowing, cognitive part of nature, is feeding itself back into itself’” (Kittler, 2003, p. 270, apud WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 79)

“Hegel’s philosophy presented history as the process through and by which the Absolute Spirit achieves self-understanding. Evolving human consciousness is the stage on which the diremptions and syntheses are conceptualized, an ascending spiral heading toward the reconciliation of spirit and nature […]. Kittler is replacing Hegel’s Phenomenology of the Spirit with […] a ‘phenomenology of despritualization’. The ultimate subject of history is technology, understood in a very broad sense as the processing of nature that for extended period of time was dependent on human intermediaries, but that now, with the arrival of digital technology, is closer to a self-processing of nature that leaves humans behind.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 80)

“The processing facilities of human mind are no more than a transitory stage in an ever finer, ever more accelerated and complex feedback cycle that – in Lacan’s terms – aims at establishing direct connections between the symbolic without any recourse to the imaginary.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 80)

“At one point in the long history of the encounter between media and bodies, there was a place and maybe a need for subjects; but once machines able to read and write without human input can take care of business on their own, such biological prostheses become obsolete.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 80)

“[Kittler] is not arguing that computers are artificial human brains, or that they digitally ape specifically human ways of thinking. Rather, they optimize certain patterns of information processing that were also imposed on human beings and that subsequently were mistaken for human qualities. Where subjects were, there programs shall be – because programs were there in the first place.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 80)

“discursive of the late eighteenth century drew the figure of man into the sand, and even if he manages to survive the etching, typing and storing of the late nineteenth-century analog media, he is certain to disappear with the compression of that sand into silicon. The only thing that remains constant is the sound of the sea. That sound, incidentally, is referred to in German as Rauschen […,] easily one of the most overused words in German poetry since the age of Goethe […]. German physicists came to use Rauschen to denote a disturbance variable with a broad-frequency spectrum – what in English is called (white) noise. And this is maybe the shortest, most economic way to summarize the switch from the Discourse Network 1800 to 1900, and then on to the Discourse Network 2000 […]: from Geist to Rauschen, from philosophically promoted poetry and naturalized hermeneutics to stochastics and information theory, from the guarantee of an always already meaningful world to an environment of meaningless noise that can at best me momentarily arranged into allegedly significant patterns.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 81)

IV.               GREEK CULTURAL TECHNIQUES

1. Third teaser: siren facts

“‘Come closer, famous Odysseus – Achaea’s pride and glory –

Moor your ship on our coast so you can hear our song!

Never has any sailor passed our shores in his black craft

until he has heard the honeyed voices pouring from our lips,

and once he hears to his heart’s content sails on, a wiser a man.

We know all the pains that Achaeans and Trojans once endured

on the spreading plain of Troy when the gods willed it so –

all that comes to pass on the fertile earth, we know it all!’ (Homer 1996: 277)

This short passage from Book 12 of Homer’s Odyssey is known as the Song of the Sirens, a duo of singing temptresses. […] what little we learn about them in the Odyssey comes straight from the mouth of antiquity’s most accomplished liar [Odysseus]” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 83)

“Pietro Pucci has noted that many of the terms, wpithets, and phrases used by the Sirens do not occur elsewhere in the Odyssey; they are instead much closer to the language of the Iliad. […] the seductiveness of their interpellation lies in its appeal that the addressee reassume his former glory” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 83)

“the Odysseus of Horkheimer and Adorno is faced with the possibility of losing himself in the past itself. Succumbing to the Sirens is tantamount to regressing to an earlier, archaic state of existence that would undo the fragile form of individual selfhood Odysseus has built up through cunning and sacrifice. The voyage home to Ithaca ‘is the way taken through the myths by the self’ – a self that can only emerge by subjugating both inner and outer nature. […] The ‘black ship’ survives because it reproduces a class-based society: the proletarian crew, their ears stuffed with wax, keeps rowing on, while their lord, able to listen but unable to move, is tied to the mast” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 85)

“Kittler stages his reading of the Siren passage in direct competition with that o Horkheimer/Adorno. […] He trusts Homer but is wary of Odysseus. Given the latter’s notorious mendacity, why should we believe his account? He is so untrustworthy he even infects his sources. Circe […] describes the Sirens as surrounded by ‘heaps of bone / rotting away, rags of skin shriveling on their bones’. […] If that were the case the stench alone would have kept all ships at a safe distance. Also, Odysseus choice of words is suspect. Why does he use the plural form ‘we could hear their song no more’ […]? And when describing how his ship ‘put that island astern’, why does he use a ver that usually describes leaving rather than merely passing by?” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 86)

“In april 2004 Kittler […] obtained a permit to visit the Li Galli islands […] He placed two female singers on the beach and had himself rowed past. […] He was able to hear the voices from quite a distance, but no matter how close the boat came to the shore […] he could not understand them. The reason is simple: vowels carry far but consonants do not, and while the former ‘may impart the gift of music, consonants give that of language […]’. In passing, Kittler also noted that the meadows mentioned by Circe are invisible from a boat; you have to step ashore to see them. […] ‘After 2,800 years we finally provided philology with an experimental footling rather than with textual masturbation’ (Kittler 2005)” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 87)

2. Greek writing lessons

“the excursion into antiquity is part of an attempt to provide a grand occidental narrative that centers on the basics of data processing and the feedback between the materialities of communication and changing world views. […] it is a matter of Seingeschichte, the history of being. We are, however, dealing with a work in progress that, should it ever be concluded, will encompass at least 7 books [Kittler published two of them prior to his death in 2011].” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 88)

“The immediate connection to Kittler’s prior media-historical work is the emergence of the Greek vowel alphabet. […] around the eighth century BCE the Greeks are said to have adopted a Phoenician consonantal script. […] The most important modification was to have those letters designating consonants that did not exist in Greek refer to vowels instead. Aleph, which indicated a glottal stop, turned into alpha and came to stand for the vowel a […]. [T]he Greek alphabet was the first to feature specific vowel signs. […] a lot of thought went into the adoption of the Phoenician script, but – and this is crucial for understanding Kittler’s resolutely anti-philosophical take on Greek philosophy –  a lot of thought came out of it too.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 88-9)

identifying vowels serve to isolate consonants The latter no longer appear, as in so many syllabaries, always already attached to a vowel (bee cee dee eff gee kay), but as detached sound elements. However, while we keep encountering the former […], we rarely come across pure consonants outside of elementary school classes or public readings of modernist poetry. Like almost any other script, the Greek alphabet is not only a repository of signs but also an analysis of language; but, unlike almost all other scripts, it analyzes not what you hear but how you speak by cataloguing the basic building blocks of speech. […] it was the encounter with an alien technique and the need to modify its sign system that revealed to the Greeks the fundamental constituent components of their own language. This is no doubt the historically most important instance of the rule that we invariably introspect language in terms laid down by our writing systems. ‘Rather than viewing writing as an attempt to capture the existing knowledge of syntax, writing provided a model for speech, thereby making the language available for analysis into syntactic constituents, the primary one being words which then become the object of philosophical reflection as well as the object of definitions’ (Olson 1994: 76).” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 90)

“The fact that the adaptation of a sign system taught the Greeks how they themselves spoke corresponds directly to Kittler’s assertion that ‘we know nothing about our senses until media provided models and metaphors’. Just as the nineteenth century discovered precisely those information machines in our brains that were being developed by Edison and others, the Greeks discovered the operations of speech in their encounter with an imported storage system.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 90)

“Kittler […] tends to be slightly dismissive when discussing the storage and recording capabilities of non-Greek scripts, such as Egyptian hieroglyphs. […] his prime example […]: ‘Nobody knows how the heretic king Akhneten called his N-f-r-t-t when they were making children’. […] [Egyptologist Jan] Assman would respond by pointing out that the Egyptians themselves knew and that they were fully capable of transcribing and subsequently vocalizing her name in ways that resembled Akhneten’s connubial exclamations. The crucial point, however, is that all of us, whether we speak Greek or not, know what it sounded like when Odysseus, engaged in similar activities, called out the names of Penelope, Circe, Calypso [etc.]” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 91)

“While trying to illustrate the basic operating principle of the Greek alphabet that ‘each simple sound is represented by a sign, and each sign always stands for the same sound’, Ferdinand de Saussure […] chose, of all Greek words possible, βάρβαροι (bárbaros) – onomatopoetic word that imitates the incomprehensible noise emanating from the mouths of foreigners. […] The real hallmark of the Greek vowel alphabet is not that it allowed the Greeks to say clever things about themselves, but the fact that it allowed them to store barbarian babble as faithfully as it recorded their own elevated discourse. What sets the vowel alphabet apart, then, is the possibility of cross-cultural contact and appropriation rather than enhanced navel-gazing. Just as Edison’s phonograph records with equal impassivity Renfield’s ramblings, Doctor Seward’s analysis, and the rustling of oversized bats, and just as the computer indiscriminately processes noise and meaningful messages, the alphabet stores Plato as faithfully as the verbal hubbub of those whose writing systems cannot distinguish Plato from Pluto. This is the first hint at Kittler’s grand historical arc that will link the Greek alphabet to the computer.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 91)

“Of far grater consequence is the question of why the Greeks developed the vowel alphabet. […] Semitic languages are based on root consonants, which obviates the need for specific vowel signs, while Indo-European languages (and Greek in particular) make extensive use of vowels to indicate change of meaning. A sign system lacking vowels cannot adequately transcribe the latter. […] Circe, the denouncer of the Sirens, can be rendered into Phoenician script, but not her island Aeaea. […] But this explanation addresses constraint rather than cause” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 92)

“According to Kittler’s grumpy assessment, there are ‘many lazy answers’ which make reference to the mundane spheres of law, economy and politics. By around 800 BCE the Greeks were venturing overseas, founding colonies and involved in extensive trade with Eastern empires that were in possession of their own writing systems. So why not adapt a script and use it much like the trading partners were using theirs? The trouble is that ‘unlike those of the Near East there is not a single archaic Greek inscription that deals with matters of trade, government or the law; they all emulate the Odyssey by invoking wine, women and song’. […] [Classicist Barry Powell] argues that the early alphabetic Greeks ‘act as if the know only how to write hexameters’.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 93)

“But no matter how important the question of the origin of the Greek alphabet may be, the most pivotal issue is its subsequent refunctionalization. To be more precise: its unprecedented functional extension in the course of which signs representing phonetic elements also came to be used as mathematical and as musical signs.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 94)

“‘We exclusively call those scripts alphabets that, first, have a finite number of individual signs for all the sounds of a language, and, second, arrange these signs in a sequence’ (Kittler 2006: 105). Once this sequence is fixed it is easy to have a given element refer to its own numerical position in that sequence. Ordinal becomes cardinal: Alpha stands for the vowel a¸but since it is firmly enshrined as the first letter in the mnemonic sequence alpha-beta-gamma-delta it can also stand for 1; in the same way β equals 2 [and so on]. Two to three centuries after the introduction of the alphabet the numerical system appears to have been fully worked out. The first nine letter stood for 1 through 9, the second nine letters for the tens, and the third nine letters for the hundreds […] ‘Whenever readers came across a sequence of letters which unlike all the others could not be translated into a sequence of sounds and thus into meaning or logos, it turned out to be a combination of hundreds, tens and ones, that is, a number’ (Kittler 2006: 56). Finally, ‘ever since Euripides the Greeks indicated [tones] with a letter from their alphabet rather than marking them, as we do, on staves’. One and the same sign system, then, was used for letters, numbers and tones; and this came about because a sign system extended its function by using its own sequence. ‘Thus for the first time in the history of writing a set of signs was applied to itself; it was recorded’.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 94)

“Kittler is fascinated by the way which the multi-functionality of the Greek alphabet arises from the self-recursive operations. By exploiting its own properties one and the same sign system comes to indicate letters, numbers, and musical tones […] However, what is most intriguing to him is when numbers are used in a musical context. To be precise: when numbers are used to produce musical harmonies while playing a lyre. Referring to one of the key players in Musik und Mathematik, the Pythagorean philosopher Philolaus (~470-385 BCE), Kittler explains that ‘in order to teach singers and musicians by what stretch they had to shorten the string of their lyre in order to sound the fourth instead of the keytone, Philolaus simply put down δ και γ: Strike the string at the point that marks the ratio four to three!’” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 95)

“the lyre is not to be regarded as a simple musical tool or instrument. It is a ‘magical thing that connects mathematics to the domain of the senses’, because it allows for the sensual (spoken words and songs) and the symbolic (a multi-functional, self-recursive sign system that provides exact instructions where to strike, how to sing, and what to recite) to be directly translated into each other. […] it is through this performance that the audience may come to understand how signs and sense and their mutual interaction work. For Kittler, as we shall see in the concluding section, all the glory that was Greece resides in the conscious performance of this alpha-numerical recursion” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 95)

 

3. And the gods made love: Pythagorean groupies

“Have another look at the Siren’s greeting:

deur’ ag’ iôn, poulain’ Oduseu, mega kudos Achaiôn

For Kittler, this is the most beautiful of the tens of thousands of lines flowing from Homer’s mouth. ‘Lovingly, all the seven vowels and diphthongs known to the Greeks change in the first verse, each time with only one mute sound in the syllable. […] this is the most beautiful line because it is the most performative – that is to say, the most evocative of the underlying rules that govern both its production and transcription. […] this line performs and highlights the constituent components of the Greek language as well as that of its new recording system. It is, as it were, a self-conscious celebration of the Greek vowel alphabet at the time of its birth from the spirit of hexametric poetry. But it is also much a call to listen (and leave the boat) as it is to love and learn.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 96)

“First, the learning. The sirens claim they know ‘all that comes to pass on the fertile earth.’ […] By emphasizing their omniscience, Kittler is following a long-established tradition that identifies the Sirens with the Muses, the divine sources of knowledge and inspiration.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 97)

“This ritual invocation of the muses takes on a special note when it is linked to the introduction of memorization techniques whose storage capabilities outstrip those of the individual bard – as expressed by Homer […]:

Sing to me now, you Muses, who hold the halls of Olympus!

You are goddesses, you are everywhere. You know all things –

all we hear is the distant ring of glory, we know nothing –

who were the captains of Achaea? Who were the kings?

The mass of troops I could never tally, nevel name,

not even if I had ten tongues and ten mouths, a tireless voice an the heart inside me bronze,

never unless you Muses of Olympus, daughters of Zeus,

whose shield is rolling thunder, sins, sing in memory

all who gathered under Troy.

Together with many other similar invocations this passage […] celebrates the close association of storage and inspiration. It is nothing less than a Homeric discourse on discourse channel conditions. By inviting and willingly submitting to a force of song and memory superior to his own, the bard is welcoming that take-over of tongue and mind described in Pink Floyd’s ‘Brain Damage’: There’s someone in my head but it’s not me.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 98-9)

“Second, the love. Deur’ ag’ iôn, the Sirens sing – come here. Before and beyond all learned exegesis, it is an invitation to have sex. On this fairly accessible level of analysis the Sirens are nymphs […] rather than Muses, and the passage devoted to them appears to be the straightforward tale of a couple of girls hanging out on the beach waiting for a sailor willing to have a good time. He arrives, disembarks, they make love, he replenishes his water supplies, and sails on, though […] he later concocts tall tales of danger and self-negation that for millennia will fool audiences […] In a next step, this reading is granted an etymological halo. […] Kittler rejects all alternate explanations of the origin of siren (for instance, that it derives from seira, the Greek word for rope, or from the star Sirius) and opts for a Thracian origin, according to which zeirênê refers to Aphrodite, who is of course the goddess of the love that the sirens are offering to Odysseus.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 99)

“What is at stake here is nothing less than the attempt to recoup what Kittler considers the original Greek meaning of mimesis […] The basic idea seems to be that whenever Greeks made love with reference to their gods […] they were mimicking the preferred behavior of their gods and thus re-creating their own origin. At rock bottom, Greek song and poetry, before it descended into the realms of mere literature, celebrated the joyful acts of unencumbered love and their constant reiterations:

The chain of these repetitions (…) transforms love into song. And for a good reason, indeed for the best in the world: without gods making love there would be no mortals, without parents making love there would be none of us children. Thus only gratitude and repetition remain. As long as the Greeks were singing rather than perpetrating speeches or literature, this was the meaning of [mimesis], dance as an imitation of the gods. And the gods made love. (Kittler 2006, 128)

Or, with telegraphic economy: ‘Gods lead the way making love, we mortals follow. And that is mimesis, nothing else’.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 101)

“The opening line of the Siren song, then, not only consciously repeats and performs the techniques and sign systems on which it passed, it also, and equally consciously, repeats the invitation to perform the acts of love that are then praised (frequently in order to incite further repetitions) in countless songs and epics.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 101)

“Just as living beings are made, very literally, by a coupling of male and female, the world arises from odd and even. Ratios that (re)produce the harmony of sound are numerical relationships making love […] Sirens and lyres sing of love (and frequently lead to love-making) and they are love, for generating signs, sounds and children all arise from the recursive operation of basic constituent elements that belong to two separate groups: even numbers, consonants and men on the one side and odd numbers, vowels and women on the other. It just takes one party – for instance, Odysseus’ groupies on Li Gallo – to call out deur’ ag’ iôn.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 101)

“‘And the Gods made love’ is the title of the psychedelic lead-off track on Kimi Hendrix’ legendary 1968 album Electric Ladyland. […] Some claim that ‘electric ladies’ are groupies […] while others insist that Hendrix was referring to guitars. The superimposition of guitars and groupies indicates the way sex and music – the exploration  of love an harmonies – merged in Kittler’s Greece” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 102)

4. Greek-German affairs

“Kittler’s Greece is a very isolated affair. […] [Walter] Burkert asserts that the ‘Greek miracle’ is not merely the result of a ‘unique talent’ but also ‘owes its existence to the simple phenomenon that the Greeks are the most westerly of Westerners’; Kittler draws a clear line between (European) Greeks on the one hand and (Asian) Persians, Semites, or Egyptians on the other.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 103)

“Kittler’s Greece is a very cultural affair. To claim that the invention of the vowel alphabet arose from the desire to transcribe Homer’s epics, rather than from any need to take stock of governmental or economic activities, serves to reinscribe the traditional image of ancient Greece as first and foremost a cultural entity. […] antiquity never knew a state or a politically or economically united entity called Greece” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 103)

“Kittler’s Greece is a very German affair. The media-historical resonance – that is, the idea that the digitally enhanced re-appearance of a multi-functional sign system facilitates a greater understanding of the original Greek alphanumerical achievement – is a technologically informed variation of a peculiar notion that occasionally haunts certain sections of classical studies: namely, that there are times, countries, and regions that share a deeper spiritual connection with ancient Greece. […] [Heidegger] could on occasion wax mysteriously about the deep ties between language and thought that characterize both German and Greek. This focus on linguistic affinity grew out of a perceived historical similarity. […] German was for a very long time a frequently highly divisive patchwork of city-states, petty duchies and kingdoms that shared a common language and that subsequently came to see itself in the first instance as a cultural rather than a political or economic entity. […] [the] most conspicuous linguistic residue [of this] is the distinctly German compound noun Kulturnation.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 104)

“as an extension of Discourse Networks [Kittler’s] Greek project aims to ‘provide Europe – also in the interest of Europe – with a viable foundation of thought and to return to the Greeks. After all, do we want to end up in the New Testament, the Old Testament or the Koran?’.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 105)

“Kittler’s idealized early Greece is a very heteronormative affair. But somehow it did not last; a pristine aphroditic world of letters, lyres, and theo-mimetic lovemaking was afflicted by a reduction of elementary heterosexual vigor. Increasingly, Greeks make words rather than love” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 106)

“For Kittler, the refusal of Socrates to sleep with Alcibiades signals a decline in which mere speech comes to replace Rausch or intoxication, whereas for Foucault precisely the opposite was the case: ‘Within his system of cultural codes, Socrates’ sovereign ability to renounce what he does desire is the basis for his masculinity’ (Berger 2006: 123). This practice of self-negation for the purpose of building up inner reserves (which was also central to the reading of the Odyssey proposed by Horkheimer and Adorno) is linked to a reorientation toward homosexual relationships in what Kittler calls ‘the age of classical pederasty’” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 106)

“Foucault must be spinning in his grave apropos of the way Kittler practically inverts Foucault’s analysis of the Greek complicity of sexuality and subjectivity […] Kittler’s emphasis on fullness, plenitude, and performative presence in his idealized Greece is very much at odds with Lacan’s insistence on lack and deferral.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 107)

“Kittler alludes to a certain similarity between the Greek alphanumerical system and the computer. Both are based on recursively operating sign systems that can process linguistic, visual, and acoustic data. […] the digital code echoes the multi-functional Greek alphabet on a higher level. ‘In the Greek alphabet our senses were present – and thanks to Turing they are so once again’. […] The crux of the matter is that media-historical resonance has a profound cognitive impact. […] Because of the return of self-recursive multi-functionality under digital conditions we are in a privileged position to understand the culture of ancient Greece” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 108)

“What we have here is another manifestation of a pan-occidental Hegelian chronicle that defies the orthodox distrust of grand narratives promulgated by poststructuralists.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 108)

“Ultimately Kittler’s Greece is a very media-theoretical affair. Any student of media theory knows that media shifts and the habituation to new media technologies inevitably give rise to new understanding of media history. […] [The concepts of] ‘‘Primary orality’ and ‘oral history’ came into existence only after the end of the writing monopoly, as the technological shadow of the apparatuses that document them’’ (Kittler 1999: 7). Media theory and communication studies have their own changing media-technological a prior.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 109)

5. Greek stakes: the meaning of being

“Kittler’s Greece is a highly selective, internally divided affair. […] the differentiation between Greece and its inferior neighbors is re-entered within Greece. […] We are dealing with another episode in the love affair between Germany and the Presocratics, that is, with a peculiar predilection exhibited by a number of German philosophers for early Greek singers and thinkers, most of whom did not reside in Athens and/or lived prior to the crucial divide that- to use Heiddeger’s biased binary – replaced thought and poetry (Denken und Dichten) with mere philosophy and literature. […] something happened around the fourth century BCE in Greece – something went wrong; a promising beginning was aborted, and it is vital that we understand and reconnect with those pristine days.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 111)

“From Kittler’s point of view, this crucial divide occurred when the conscious, celebratory, and media-based performance of the interaction between signs and senses was replaced by an ontological stew that, more or less oblivious of its technological conditions, proceeded to analyze the world according to ‘form and matter, meaning and non-meaning, spirit and body and all the other absurdities that have been around since 330 B.C.E’. Instead of celebration, conscious re-enactment, and intransitivity, we find philosophically embellished denigration, forgetfulness, and hermeneutics. The celebration of elementary matters such as song, speech, and numbers (not to mention food and water) turns into their denigration as they are now used in purely instrumental fashion to refer to philosophical or scientific truths. Existence as a conscious re-enactment of divine acts that brought us into being yields to a forgetfulness of that which is, at best, unconsciously repeated. Finally, the recursivity of medial performances – lovingly singing and speaking about the ways we sing, speak, and love – gives way to the subordination of medium to message. To put it bluntly, Kittler’s Greece appears to have been one big discourse on discourse channel conditions.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 111)

“The meaning of being is that there is being. Whoever hopes for more is deluded. Homer sung it for us. His legends were written down from the very beginning. That separates Being [Sein], as it once arose in the dawn of Greece, from all the scraps of prose the many other, equally old legends of Troy and Thebes turned into […]. The singers sing; enchanted, we listen. The singer sings that his hero, too, enchants his listeners when he sings. One, male or female, wrote along with the singer. And that was it.” (KITTLER, F. 2006, p. 121 apud WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 112)

“From being to scraps of prose; from the enchantment of the rose-colored dawn of Greece to the grey of the never-ending label of misguided interpretation – we are dealing with the story of an epochal rupture in the Heideggerian history of being (Seingeschichte) that served to enthrone millennia of hermeneutic aberration.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 112)

“Aristotle’s teacher Plato […] had already initiated the divide between matter and mathematics by eschewing the strong Pythagorean complicity of numbers and being in favor of his more abstract notion of ideas. As Eric Havelock emphasized, the latter reveals the profound impact of increased alphabetization on the discursive practices of classical Athens. The stability, retrievability, and communicability facilitated by phonetic transcription were transferred from concrete world to abstract thing. Ideas are a glorified abstraction of writing practices; only when writing is part of social reality can there be an ideal, higher, realm of enduring truths, a realm more real than the reality it both denies and depends on. […] Whitehead’s famous claim that European philosophical tradition ‘consists of a series of footnotes to Plato’ must be read literally rather than metaphorically. With Plato, philosophy comes into being as writing; any subsequent contribution – be it for or against Plato – cannot be anything but a further instance of writing.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 113)

“philosophy – as opposed to what Heidegger called Denken – is based on the suppression of the very medium that gave rise to it.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 113)

“As Kittler argues […], the inability of philosophy to ‘conceive of media as media begins with Aristotle: first, because his ontology deals only with things, their matter and form, but not with relations between things in time and space. (…) Second, because the Greeks did not distinguish between articulated speech elements and articulated alphabetic letters, the very concept of writing as philosophy’s own (technical) medium is missing from Aristotle onwards’. The Greek alphabet was a bit too efficient; it was so good it became true. The ease with which letters came to serve speech made it easy to forget the former over the latter.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 113)

“Philosophy in the classical sense of the word, and a media theory that is worth its name, are incompatible since the emergence of the former rested on the suppression of the latter. The recuperation of mediality proper, then, depends on overcoming metaphysical suppression, which, however, provides the entry point to its own supersession. That pivotal moment, Kittler continues, occurred – or began to occur – with Heidegger’s de(con)struction of occidental metaphysics.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 115)

“Kittler, then, clearly views his alphanumerical megaproject as a continuation of Heidegger’s Seingeschichte […] though in a technologically and mathematically more informed way. […] but unlike Heidegger he reserves a special place for the practical performance of numbers facilitated by the recursions of the alphanumerical vowel alphabet, as is on display in Philolau’s lyre instruction δ και γ: ‘This instruction differs from the ontology of Aristotle in two elementary ways: First, it is without a doubt true; and second, it can effortlessly be proven. Whoever has ears to hear can simply follow Philolaus and discover that a lyre is not only a musical instrumental such as exists in any culture, but also a magical thing that connects mathematics to the domain of the senses. […] Such manifestness appears to be the only meaning of meaning, that is, the only meaning that logos can take on under computerized condition. After all, Philolaus and his followers […] literally referred to the 4:3 ratio of the fourth, the 3:2 ratio of the fifth, and the 2:1 ratio of the octave as logoi’ (Kittler 2006, p. 56).” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 116)

“Logos is neither mere word nor grand abstract concept, but a harmony that enchants and that can be numerically analyzed.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 116)

“Already in 1995 Kittler conceded that he ‘merely transferred Heidegger’s concept of technology to media’” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 116)

“This informed subservience to Heidegger now reappears as Kittler joins Heidegger in pronouncing the death of the latter’s own discipline and the birth of something that both preceded and is poised to succeed it. The return to a thinking in and of mediality that was silenced by ontology spells the end of philosophy. If fundamental distinctions that are indispensable for the operations of philosophy such as the one between physis and logos break down because, as Heidegger was shocked to realize, the latter can now be performed by and inside machines, philosophy has come to an end: ‘Insofar as Aristotelian logic is no professor’s task anymore, but implemented in digital computers, philosophy as such has come to its historical end; at the same time, however, the dawn or task of thinking has barely begun. Heidegger asks us in simple words to rethink for the first time the media history of Europe as such, and this at the very moment when European thought disappears by its global expansion’” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 116)

“Provided that it ever had a beginning, so-called post-structuralism also comes to and end. […] On the one hand, Foucauldian discourse analysis, with its focus on ensembles of utterances that are not explored with a view to their meaning, but always against the sum total of what could have been said in a given episteme, points toward Shannon’s information theory which states the information resides in the ratio between what is said and what could have been said. On the other hand, the Foucauldian history of ruptures is, to Kittler, ultimately nothing but a long footnote to Heidegger’s equally rupture-prone Seingeschichte […]. In short, the poststructuralist intermediaries are absorbed by what came before and after them.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 117)

“[Kittler’s] Greece is an idealized self-portrait […]. Under their serene Mediterranean sky these Greeks are doing what he sees himself doing. Listening to Homer, Sappho, or the Sirens, they are enraptured, intoxicated, spellbound; talking lyre and wax tablet in hand, they work out how those enchantments came about and how they can be repeated. Kittler, in turn, reads Hegel and Foucault, Homer and Pynchon; he listens to Wagner and Ligeti, Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd, and is enraptured; then he proceeds to locate the discursive rules – in time, the appropriate term will be algorithms – that programmed texts and intoxications, and he will build the machines and write the codes that give rise to the enchantment. This is probably the most fundamental feature of Kittler’s work, the constant transition between rapture and rule analysis.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 118)

V.                 CONTROVERSIAL ACHIEVEMENTS

1. “Media determine our situation”

“The switch from the Discourse Network 1800 to the Discourse Network 1900, no doubt, is Said to be caused by a media shift. With the arrival of new technological means of processing data, the whole cultural superstructure is overturned. But what about the preceding shift from the so-called Scholar’s Republic (which is Kittler’s version of the ‘classical’ episteme depicted in Foucault’s Order of Things) to the Discourse Network 1800? there was no corresponding media rupture in the second half of the eighteenth century. The discursive, educational, and governmental practices changed, but the data-processing technologies remained the same. Kittler is saying what he does not like to say: the codes and protocols that make people speak and write in new ways originated primarily in the social rather than the technological realm” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 121)

“Both [Kittler and McLuhan] were scholars of literature who, dissatisfied with their discipline, came to engage the structures and effects of changing media technologies; and in both cases it was precisely their philological background that enabled their impact on media studies. […] To this day, Kittler still likes to quote McLuhan, but it is obvious that he thinks of him as someone who identified the right problems but kept coming up with the wrong explanations. Unlike McLuhan, Kittler does not feel the need to squeeze all of media through the bottleneck of the human sensory apparatus […]. McLuhan’s focus on human perception is tied to the fundamental difference between him and Kittler. In the latter’s words, McLuhan ‘understood more about perception than electronics, and therefore he attempted to think about technology in terms of bodies instead of the other way round’. In short, McLuhan was and remains an anthropocentric thinker who conceptualizes media as extensions of the human body; to rid himself of this fallacy he should either have studied more electronics or read more Heidegger. […] [for Kittler,] McLuhan’s exuberant notion that the computer will usher in a ‘pentecostal condition of universal understanding and unity’ is nothing but an ‘arch-catholic media cult, which simply confuses the Holy Spirit and Turing’s machine’.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 122)

“According to McLuhan, the technological qualities of a given medium affect in predictable manner the sense ratio and hence alter the individual as well as perception. The sequential linearity of typography, for instance, already entails the detached, eye-centered, objective world of the Gutenberg galaxy. This facet of technodeterminism is absent from Kittler’s more subtle account. As the non-technological shift from the Scholar’s Republic to the Discourse Network 1800 indicates, Kittler instead posits a far more contingent relationship between technology and mindset. It is more revealing to pair up Kittler with an even more famous analyst of bases and superstructures that he seems to be completely removed from: Karl Marx” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 123)

“the charges of technodeterminism raised against Kittler recall those against the economic determinism of Marx/Engels. It is worth recalling the famous letter Engels wrote to Joseph Bloch […]:

‘According to the materialist conception of history, the ultimately determining element in history is the production and reproduction of real life. Other than this neither Marx nor I have ever asserted anything else. Hence if somebody twists this into saying that the economic element is the only determining one, he transforms that proposition  into a meaningless, abstract, senseless phrase’

Change two words and the diagnosis is for Kittler: the ultimately determining element is the production and reproduction of data.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 124)

 

3. Mick Jagger’s blitzkrieg and the machine subjects

“War appears [in Kittler] as the father of all things technical; the medial a priori collapses into a martial a priori. […] The 1-3-1 narrative (writing-differentiation into analog media-digital sublation) is said to be caused by a succession of wars” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 131)

“All the fancy entertainment gadgets that distract us between wars are nothing but weapons technologies in disguise. […] ‘the entertainment industry’ – to quote one of Kittler’s most (in)famous aperçus – ‘is, in any conceivable sense of the word, nothing but abuse of army equipment’.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 131)

“‘The domestic or civil servant, who is acting under orders, requires no more than understanding [Verstand]; the officer, who in order to complete a task has only been provided with a general rule and who is left to decide on his own what to do in a specific case, is in need of judgement [Urteilskraft]; the general, who has to judge all possible cases and think up a rule on his own, must posses reason [Vernunft]’ (Kant, quoted in Kittler 1987, p. 223)

Kittler reads this quote just as he had read Freud’s telephonic illustration of the unconscious. He takes literally what Kant inserted as helpful comparisons: generals are not just like subjects, they are their prototypes. The ascending hierarchy of understanding, the judgment around which Kantian epistemology revolves, is a military chain of command because the new forms of enlightened consciousness are products of the attempts to turn feudal and absolutist automatons into self-directed agents. […] Modern subjects are soldiers that have learned to think on their own. The whole narrative of literacy, soulfulnewss, and Romantic hermeneutics detailed in the first part of Discourse Networks can be recast in a martial vein. The history of reason belongs to the history of war.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 136)

“To top it off, the fact that modern subjects are self-directed agents capable of recursive reflection – that is, of reacting to unforeseen circumstances by rewriting the initial set of instructions – allows them to be replaced by modern weapons. […] there is not much difference between a self-directed human and a self-directed cruise missile. […] the crucial feature that turns mere machines into machine subjects is the implementation of conditional jump instructions or IF/THEN commands.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 136)

“Kittler insists that the difference between a straightforward mechanical command that determines exactly how an operation should be executed from beginning to end (which in Kant’s illustration is the level of the simple servant or soldier), and a program that enables the operator to alter its behavior during the operation once or if certain conditions have been met (Kant’s officer), is the same distinction between an animal code and a language involving human subjectivity:

‘For example, the dance of bees, as it has been researched by von Frisch, ‘is distinguished from language precisely by the fixed correlation of its signs to the reality they signify’. While the messages of one bee control the flight of another to blossoms and prey, these messages are not decoded and transmitted by the second bee. By contrast, ‘the form in which language is expressed (…) itself defines subjectivity. Language says: You will go here, and when you see this, you will turn off there. In other words, it refers itself to the discourse of the other’. In yet other words: bees are projectiles, and humans, cruise missiles. One is given objective data on angles and distances by a dance, the other, a command of free will’ (Kittler 1999, p. 259) (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 137)

“Subjective agency is conceived of as operational reflexivity which, translated into the computational realm, takes on the shape of feedback commands. This allows Kittler to establish a functional equivalence between human operators and cruise missiles as machine subjects, and to claim that the latter have ousted the former since they are able to receive, process, and execute incoming information in superior fashion. […] Subjects emerge from war only to be replaced by more efficient machine subjects.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 137)

 

4. Why war? From Peenemünde to Pynchon

“The advent of analog media […] put an end to Foucault’s ‘modern’ period (which corresponds to Kittler’s Discourse Network 1800). The basic message is that epistemes change because media change. But this is not much of an answer since it begs the obvious question: why do media change? Given Kittler’s reticence to attribute any kind of technological evolution to socio-economic factors, war (which in Kittler’s world is not much of a social event) provides a convenient answer: media shifts are due to military exigencies. World War II – to be precise, the need to decrypt intercepted German messages – was the motor that drove that evolution of the computer, thus initiating the switch from the analog Discourse Network 1900 to the digital age. In short, war is the explanans, the fundamental reason why media and discursive regimes change.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 138)

“‘When the development of a media subsystem is analyzed in all of its historical breadth (…), the (…) suspicion arises that technical innovations – following the model of military escalations – only refer to and answer to each other, and the end result of this proprietary development, which progresses completely independent of individual or even collective bodies of people, is an overwhelming impact on senses and organs in general’ (Kittler 2010, p. 30)

Note how in this passage ‘military escalation’ is qualified as a model. The intermedial dynamics that shape and reshape societies are not driven by war; they are like war. […] Sometimes war is ‘in truth and fact’ the agent behind all technological change; sometimes it is a mere model or metaphor. War is both explanans and illustrans” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 139)

“once you accept the premise that from a certain point on technological evolution departs from human evolution because technologies are designing and producing their next generations without the need for human intermediaries, the constant shift from motor to model and back loses some of its irritating fuzziness. If technology in the broadest sense of the word (i.e., including sign systems and cultural techniques and practices) is history, then the internal dynamics of an autonomous technological evolution are both the driving force and the shape of all the secondary social dynamics that are impacted by it. In much the same way as Hegel’s philosophy positions conflict in the very center of history because the ongoing process of diremption and struggle is central to the way in which the Absolute Spirit meanders toward self-realization, Kittler’s account merges war and the progress of technology by basing the latter on constant competition and one-upmanship.” (WINTHROP-YOUNG, Geoffrey. Kittler and the media. Cambridge, RU: Polity Press, 2011, p. 139)

Kittler

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