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Friedrich Kittler (1943-2011)

October 18, 2011 14 comments

Writing anything after hearing about the death of Friedrich Kittler (1943-2011) is not really easy, even if it surely will boost the academic publishing industry into a range of publications. Somewhere I read him characterized as the “Derrida of media theory” and where the writer (probably Winthrop-Young or Peters) added that of course, Kittler would like to be called “Foucault of media theory”. But then again,

I think he would have liked to be thought of as, well, I guess “Any-Band-Member-of-Pink-Floyd – of Media Theory”.

Quite emblematically, as happened with the translation and cultural import of French theory to English speaking academia, things got mixed. German media theory became a general term that mostly hide a lot of differences between writers. Same thing had happened with French Theory when it arrived in the US. In media theory, Kittler became however the leading figure, due to the two translations: in 1990, Aufschreibesystem got its English form as Discourse Networks, and in 1999 Gramophone Film Typewriter came out. Meanwhile, his essays started to pour into English language.  On computers, literature, psychoanalysis, music and sound, and optical media – the classes he gave in 1999, translated into English later as Optical Media (2010). He wrote a lot, and his amazing expertise from literature to physics and engineering produced something eclectic – a weird world of Pynchon and voltages, of Goethe and dead voices of phonographic recordings, a mix of sex, Rock’n’Roll and philosophy. Pink Floyd was as important to him as Foucault (see the wonderful little book by Winthrop-Young), and he never really believed in Cultural Studies.

We had the honour of hosting his last talk at Sophienstrasse, and probably his last public talk ever. The Medientheater was jam packed, primarily because of Kittler, talking at the last event of the Sophienstrasse 22 address. Even then he continued along the same line of thought: critique of the standardization of university worlds. He was an adamant defender of the old(er) ideas of university, before the subsuming of the education system to short-term market terms, the creative industries, the psychobabble that is unscientific and leads to a deterioration of intellectual goals. Despite being a fan of “Old Europe”, he was against the BA-MA structure reforms (the Bologna process) that offered standards for degrees across Europe. Similarly as he was offering meticulous analysis of the work of standards in computing, he did so in terms of education system, which, as we know, is just another program. It programs us, into suitable subjects – from Goethe-zeit, to the neoliberal programming of little entrepreneurs.

For such universities, Heidegger, Deleuze, Whitehead, Kittler might be seen at times too difficult, which means that we should push them more. The legacy of Kittler has been debated already during his lifetime, with Winthrop-Young in Kittler and the Media nicely remarking: “Is there a ‘Kittler School’? Yes, but it is not worth talking about. As in the case of Heidegger, clones can be dismissed, for those who choose to think and write like Kittler are condemned to forever repeat him.” Instead, continues Winthrop-Young, we need to be aware of the Kittler-effect and the impact he had to so many discussions. For me, personally, this happened through the combination of Kittler and Deleuze; reading groups in the late 1990s in Turku (largely because of a couple of people at the University: professor Jukka Sihvonen, and my friend, colleague Pasi Väliaho, along with our Deleuze-reading group together with Teemu Taira).  That provided another road already, one that Kittler never really took, and which lead to thinking technics and Deleuze-Guattarian philosophy in parallel lines. Kittler might have hated that, but that is the point; keeping his legacy alive means new ideas and combinations. What I would like to sustain from his fresh, radical, anarchist ideas are the eclectic method of crisscrossing ontological regimes across science and arts; his keen historical (some would say “archaeological”) focus even if not always correct in details; his materiality, and no-nonsense attitude to theories and analysis of for instance digital media. That is much more than most of the current writing can still offer. Of course, there is so much that I refuse to take aboard, but that should be part of any intellectual reading and adaptation.

People often remember his older writings – and the idea of discourse networks, then developed into media theory. Yet, the past years he was occupied with the Greeks and what remained mostly an unfinished project: Music and Mathematics. He never reached the final book of the series on Turing-zeit, unless somewhere in his study there is a manuscript waiting to be found. Fragments for sure.

The amount of inspiring ideas he was able to pack even to a one sentence – where you were not always sure what it even meant, but you got the affective power of it. One of my favourites was the quote from Pynchon with which he started his Gramophone Film Typewriter: “Tap my head and mike my brain, Stick that needle in my vein”.

In a way, Kittler wrote media theory with Heidegger, but also with Pynchon. Gravity’s Rainbow is one key to his early writings, when you realize the style, but also the ontology behind it. Subjectivities wired to technologies, and high physics being the language “behind” the everyday appearance and seeming randomness that is just an effect of the complexity of science and engineering. The V-2 is one reference point for modern technology in general. It has a special relation to human sensorium:

“As the pendulum was pushed off center by the acceleration of launch, current would flow—the more acceleration, the more flow. So the Rocket, on its own side of the flight, sensed acceleration first. Men, tracking it, sensed position or distance first. To get to distance from acceleration, the Rocket had to integrate twice—needed a moving coil, transformers, electrolytic cell, bridge of diodes, one tetrode (an extra grid to screen away capacitive coupling inside the tube), an elaborate dance of design precautions to get to what human eyes saw first of all—the distance along the flight path.”

In short, what Guattari summed up in short that “machines talk to machines before talking to humans”, for Kittler is an elaborate work of physics and engineering, even before we see what hit us. And hear it afterwards.

Pynchon, and Gravity’s Rainbow, tie of course to Kittler’s other passion where the rocket technology took us after the war. The moon, Pink Floyd‘s moon to be specific. One is almost expecting to hear Kittler’s rusty voice whispering at the end, after the crackling LP almost finishes…”There is no dark side of the moon really…as a matter of fact, it’s all dark.”

Operative Media Archaeology

September 22, 2011 Leave a comment

If interested in Friedrich Kittler, German media theory, and new approaches to archives, technical media and media archaeology – check out Wolfgang Ernst’s work. My article on his media archaeology is out now, in Theory, Culture & Society.

Having said that, Ernst is someone who is not – despite some misunderstandings in especially Anglo-American reception – a student of Kittler’s, and to make things even more complex, Kittler himself denounced being a media archaeologist. Despite such figures even in Germany as Bernhard Siegert referring to the 1980s and 1990s vibrant German media theory discussions as an age of media archaeology & Nietzschean Gay Science, Kittler himself recently took a bit distance from this particular term (even if, underlining how symphathetic he is to Ernst’s approach).

In any case, you can find the article here. I hope it to work as an introduction to Ernst’s work which is still not very well known in Anglo-American discussions. And more to come: next year or so, University of Minnesota Press is putting out a collection of Ernst writings (edited by me), which gives a deeper insight of why he might just be relevant not only as a “post-Kittler” theorist to spike up our theory discussions from that Berlin directions but also as someone who could bring an additional angle to thinking about archives and digital humanities.

So22

Media theory has a place – and last night it was very much about Sophienstrasse 22, Berlin. Friedrich Kittler was running his institute there, and developed it over years into a classic Berlin location, that was also internationally  known not only as the place of Berlin media theory (material, historical, technically specific, and weird) but more specifically as Sophienstrasse 22. This is not to say it’s the only place, and dissemination has worked – in Germany, and internationally.

Yesterday was the final academic event at Sophienstrasse, and our cadre of speakers was spectacular: Ernst, Pias, Hagen, and of course, with his red wine, his cigarettes, his Greek – Kittler. After that, our book presentation on Media Archaeology with some of the same speakers as well as Anthony Enns – a Kittler translator.

Wolfgang Ernst

Claus Pias

Wolfgang Hagen

Friedrich Kittler and the red wine.

Object-Oriented-Madness

With tongue in cheek, I call it object-oriented-madness. Collections of lists, notes, polaroids: of objects, newspapers, series after series, accompanied with measuring devices of various sorts (time measurement, geiger counter, and so forth). Even empty places, room corners, merit wide explanations and commentaries.

Horst Ademeit’s Secret Universe is like a diary of madness, illustrating some of the classical symptoms found often in medical case studies – and of continous interest to media theorists: they are not only personal/social symptoms, but socio-mediatic symptoms, as with Dr Schreber, or for instance Victor Tausk’s study of “influencing machine” concerning delusional schizophrenia – as well as broadcasting media (see Jeffrey Sconce’s article in Media Archaeology).

On the Hamburger Bahnhof-website the project is described as follows:

“This artist has devoted more than 20 years of his life to the photographic documentation of what he   called “cold rays” and other invisible radiation that he thought harmed him and his environment. In the complex reference systems developed by Ademeit, certain motifs play a constant role: electricity meters, peepholes, building sites, electric cables, collections of bulky trash or bikes. Ademit began to cast the flood of images he produced in a concrete form in October 1990: he arranged measuring instruments and a compass on a newspaper and photographed them with a Polaroid camera. Over the course of 14  years, he made 6006 numbered Polaroids.”

Watching the hundreds, perhaps thousands of polaroids, meticulously commented one thinks of archival lists, notes, and notation systems themselves as tightly coupled with measurement systems. It’s curious how so many of the pictures were focused on electricity systems, part of wider electricity networks of course. But also indeed trash, miscellaneous objects in a manner that reminded me of some of the object-oriented ontology and vibrant matter theorists interest in hoarding and the life of objects. Jane Bennett talks of hoarding and “thing-power”, Paul Caplan has aptly talked of similar themes in relation to data and object-oriented philosophy approaches. What I want to point towards more widely is how the metaphysical idea of agency

Series

of things, and matter is inherent so well in mental disorders, which themselves can be seen as wider mediatic phenomena (well, also part of capitalist consumer society). As such, there is an inherent link between this technical media-capitalist context, and object-oriented approaches, if understood more widely. This brings specificity to the context in which the wider interest in thingsirreducible to discourses and human practices emerges. It is parallel to the observational power of the paranoid schizophrenic, who believes in thing-power — or that things have agency, connected to wider networks. Such paranoia is  an observation of power, and of things empowered. Furthermore, watching the series of meticulous organisation (labeled, serialized also by numbering) of for instance newspapers to show the repetitious elements in layout etc. one cannot but think of the digital humanities projects concerning serialisation…could we find a geneaology even for that in the madness of painstaking serialisation?

Transmit, Process, Store: Launch of Media Archaeology and Goodbyes to Sophienstrasse

June 28, 2011 3 comments

Welcome to our July 15 event at Institute of Media Studies, Humboldt University in Berlin – where we are both celebrating the launch of Media Archaeology and even more importantly, processing (excuse the pun) the closing of a certain era of German media theory. The by now legendary address of Sophienstrasse 22 is closing down and the institutes are moving premises. This is the address where Friedrich Kittler worked, and a whole generation of German media theorists can consider their alma mater…


TRANSMIT, PROCESS, STORE

Goodbye Sophienstrasse – Book presentation Media Archaeology

On the 15th of July 2011, the time of the Institute for Media Studies at Sophienstraße 22a is coming to an end and together with the other institutes, we will relocate to the Pergamon Palais on Kupfergraben, on the site of Hegel’s house. This transmission marks an occasion to bring together teachers, researchers, students and friends of Sophienstraße to process and store the times and ideas which emerged in this spot, in order to duly celebrate our farewell. Furthermore, we will present the new volume Media Archaeology, edited by our current research fellow Jussi Parikka together with Erkki Huhtamo.

We cordially invite you to join us in talks, discussion and celebration on Friday, July 15th 2011, starting 4 p.m. Berlin’s best book store Pro qm will be present with a book table.

Program:

Location: Medientheater (ground floor of Sophienstrasse 22a):

4 p.m.
Welcome: Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Ernst, Paul Feigelfeld und Dr. Jussi Parikka
4.15 – 5.45
Contributions by: Prof. Dr. Friedrich Kittler, Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Ernst, Prof. Dr. Claus Pias, Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Hagen

5.45
Book presentation “Media Archaeology” (University of California Press), edited by Jussi Parikka and Erkki Huhtamo. Talks and discussion with Jussi Parikka, Claus Pias, Wolfgang Ernst and Anthony Enns.

Followed by drinks and music, until security shuts us down.

MediaSoup: Trond Lundemo talk in Berlin – 15/6

June 12, 2011 1 comment

The MediaSoup-talks continue with Trond Lundemo: next Wednesday the Stockholm based professor of Film is talking about Motion Pattern Recognition. All welcome!

MEDIA SOUP is an open colloquium of the Institute for Media Theories at Humboldt University Berlin, hosted by Paul Feigelfeld.

The talk starts at 6:15 p.m. and is followed by a Q&A and discussion.

Moderated by Paul Feigelfeld and Jussi Parikka.

Medientheater. Institut für Medienwissenschaft, Humboldt Universität Berlin, Sophienstraße 22A, 10178 Berlin

Trond Lundemo

The (Un-)Attainable Gesture: Two Modes of Motion Pattern Recognition

The analysis of movement is the key agent in the development of cinema. The inscription of the gesture is a central concern for chronophotography (Marey, Charcot, Gilbreth), psychotechnics (Munsterberg) and in the new modes of perception sought by the various film movements of the 1920s (Vertov). Cinematic analysis gives access to the ‘optical unconscious’ (Benjamin, Epstein), through the means of the close-up, slow motion, repetion and frozen movement. How do these modes of inscription relate to the analysis of movement in the digital domain? In the biometrics of digital video surveillance, the analysis of the gesture remains a key problem for automated pattern recognition. Motion capture may prove to be a decisive breakthrough in this analysis, as it separates the motion pattern from the photographic representation. This presentation aims to explore some (bio-)political implications of these shifts in modes of inscribing and analysing the gesture.

Bio

Trond Lundemo, Associate Professor at the Department of Cinema Studies at Stockholm University. He has been a visiting Professor and visiting scholar at the Seijo University of Tokyo on a number of occasions. He is co-directing the Stockholm University Graduate School of Aesthetics and the co-editor of the book series “Film Theory in Media History” at Amsterdam University Press. He is also affiliated with the research project ”Time, Memory and Representation” at Södertörns University College, Sweden, and “The Archive in Motion” research project at Oslo University. His research and publications engage in questions of technology, aesthetics and intermediality as well as the theory of the archive.

MediaNatures-talk in Berlin (June 8)

I am giving a talk in Berlin as part of the MediaSoup-colloquium convened by Paul Feigelfeld (Institut für Medienwissenschaft at Humboldt University where I am a visiting research fellow for this Spring and Summer). On June 8, 6 pm (starts 6.15) I will be talking on MediaNatures, abstract below.

Place: Medientheater. Institut für Medienwissenschaft, Humboldt Universität Berlin, Sophienstraße 22A, 10178 Berlin.

MediaNatures

This talk riffs off from Donna Haraway’s influential concept of naturecultures which established one framework to think about the topological continuity from nature to culture. As such, it was an important spark for the discourse on “new materialism” in cultural studies, a form of rethinking materiality in new ways outside a Marxist or a representational framework. Naturecultures – also resonating with a range of positions such as Latour’s – is a way to think through the multiple materialities we encounter in terms of contemporary technological society.

The talk extends naturecultures into a more medium-specific direction with the concept of medianatures. By discussing media materialism and its relation to “new materialist” debates as well as “medium-specificity”, the talk addresses ways to think through the technical and scientific specificity of contemporary media – beyond meaning, representation and the human body, the fact that technical media engage in such processes, speeds, and phenomena that escape the phenomenological human register per se.

Yet,  the talk points towards a different kind of reading of media materiality than often found in accounts for instance in media theory. We can question the notion of specificity and argue that there are various specificities from which we can draw upon. While German media theory (acknowledging that the term is in itself not very apt) has been insisting on drawing on materialities that can be directly connected to the important scientific contexts of technical media, we can think through a milieu theory of media: how media establish but also draw on nature, animals and other non-human intensities, forces and potentialities. Instead of thinking nature here in terms of the metaphorics it has offered for a long time for media cultural phenomena, and avoiding proposing any form of purity of nature, I want to look at the continuums of not only naturecultures, but medianatures that is slightly different from the emphasis of media cultures as the “new” environment for us human beings. Instead we approach medianatures as affordances, as intensities, as regimes of affects and relations and as processes of mediatic nature that offer a non-human view to new materialist media theory. Hence, we end up talking about minerals, waste and nature.

Signals, not signs

Most of my text-slaughter (i.e. cutting down the word count of my new book ms Media Archaeology and Digital Culture, and posting some blurbs online) happens here, but wanted to add this note, extracted from a chapter on”archives, in this blog space. It deals, very briefly, with some aspects of Wolfgang Ernst’s media theory:

Signals instead of signs, physics instead of semiotics – such a turn is at the core of how Wolfgang Ernst wants to define media theory. How do you do that methodologically? Theoretical work, analysis of diagrams, epistemologies, scientific frameworks for technical media are completemented in the case of Ernst by the existence of the media archaeological fundus – a certain kind of an archive of media archive – but an operational one. This is what he describes as based on the idea of epistemological “toy” – epistemisches Spielzeug (where the “Zeug” includes a Heideggerian connotation). Whereas I deal with Ernst, the fundus and their contexts in more detail in a range of forthcoming publications (in Theory, Culture &Society, in a book on Digital Humanities edited by David Berry and in my introduction to the forthcoming volume of Wolfgang Ernst writings from University of Minnesota Press) here is a short blurb into the direction of signs:

One of the aims of the fundus is to show that our perceptions are dependent on the signal processing capacities of our devices. This is evident with the example of online streaming, especially with a slightly slower internet connection that halts at times to load the content. But you can find this reliance on the signal as a time based process in earlier mass media as well. Perceptions become a function of the signal processes and the signal-to-noise ratio that is governed by complex diagrams usually more familiar to engineers and mathematicians whether we are talking about the statistics inherent in transmission, or the specific colour worlds this has related to:

“However, the broadcast of any football game illustrates the signal-to-noise ratio between plays on the field and amorphous shots of the spectators in the stadium only statistically. The archeology of media searches the depths of hardware for the laws of what can become a program. Has not the character of television shows after the introduction of color sets been determined decisively—indeed down to the clothes of the hosts—by the new standard and what it can do in terms of color and motion? Even today, the color blue has a mediatic veto in chroma key resolution; the same goes for the blue screen, and for manipulations of resolution and color filters. […] For media archeology, the only message of television is this signal: no semantics.” (Ernst: “Between Real Time and Memory on Demand: Reflections on/of Television” The South Atlantic Quarterly 101:3, Summer 2002: 627-628)

In such perspective, media artists such as Nam June Paik have been at the forefront of illuminating these technical aspects of transmission of signals by investigating the noise and non-meaning inherent in the medium. In one way, this is a reforumation of a McLuhan idea of medium as the message – the materiality of the mediation as the importance, but here turned into a more concrete physical detail: we would not see or hear anything were it not for the work of signals to transport, to transmit such phenomenological details to us.

Metastable biomedia bodies: Paul Vanouse’s Fingerprints

March 19, 2011 Leave a comment

The Suspect Inversion Center (SIC)

It is a beautifully created little exhibition; a dark room, three projects, all like spotlights into aspects where the biological is becoming media – and as such, part of the epistemic frameworks. These forms of mediated knowing are then of course themselves access points to a plethora of  techniques of power, proof and aesthetics. Yet, as has been demonstrated the recent years in various bioart and biomedia-theoretical works, the biological just not is – but is created.

Hence, Paul Vanouse’s Fingerprints, curated by Jens Hauser, is one of such works that is able to extend the notion of “media” to processes deep inside the body, and yet abstract enough to encompass global transactions, economies, regimes of knowing. Exhibited at the Schering Stiftung, Berlin, three pieces (The Suspect Inversion Center, Relative Velocity Inscription Device, and Latent Figure Protocol) are on show. What Vanouse is able to show is the inherent instability, or perhaps metastability if we want to use concepts from Gilbert Simondon, of these constellations of production of “truth”. What kinds of truths? Truths about race, about culpability, about how DNA samples do not just stick to the body, or that the relation is fragile, sustained, maintained exactly by the techniques supposed to “find” them. This is basic stuff that Science and Technology Studies has given us: apparatuses, techniques and frameworks create, never just discover. The truths found are as much in the apparatus as in the body – and hence, more accurately in the various couplings of technologies, biological bodies, and the mentioned abstract frameworks.

It’s mediated, to amusing extents: From the mini-laboratories of Suspect Inversion Center that is an on-going performance aimed to demonstrate the manipulability of DNA samples and images (which involves a “becoming OJ Simpson” of Mr Vanouse’s DNA) to the game-like Relative Velocity Inscription Device where the DNA of four family members are staged to compete against each other in a race form (the pace of their DNA samples moving through the gel electrophoresis that is instrumental part of DNA imaging technologies).

 

The Relative Velocity Inscription Device (RVID) - the biological body processes turned into a "game" for involuntary processes

Visible, invisible – or sustaining and stabilizing something that is dynamic in its radical temporality (such as the DNA in our bodies) as imaged is one of the most crucial questions for the interconnection of power/media (to modulate Foucault’s “power/knowledge-pairing). Such media and visual cultures are yet grounded in the wet fleshyness of the body, a further connection or demonstration of the idea of even biological bodies as media – and essential to mediated cultures. In this context, such pieces are to me much interesting than thinking them in terms of their genre of “bioart” – in the way they force us think nature-cultures, body-technologies, transversal links.

Monumental runs

Where I run, in the midst of monuments; gigantic heads of Lenin, monoliths, animal shaped, or just fallen from the sky.

Categories: Berlin, memory, monument