Theory, Culture & Society asked me and Paul Feigelfeld to edit an e-special issue on the work of the German media theorist Friedrich Kittler. We are happy to announce that the issue has now been published and it is the first in a series of e-specials the journal is commissioning. Our issue includes a selection of Kittler’s own articles and texts by other scholars about his work. The articles are open access for a selected period. The issue includes also a new Kittler-translation “Authorship and Love” which is introduced by professor Geoffrey Winthrop-Young.
We also wrote the introduction to the issue: Kittler’s Media Exorcism (PDF).
Recently also this book Media After Kittler got published, and there is a French translation of Kittler’s software writings forthcoming later this year.
Sybille Krämer’s Medium, Messenger, Transmission: An Approach to Media Philosophy is the first book in our new book series Recursions (Amsterdam University Press). The influential book that represents one significant strand of so-called German media theory is translated by Anthony Enns and is now available!
Enns has also written a very good introduction to the book that offers a context in which to understand Krämer’s impact in the field of media theory and media philosophy. Her work has over the years addressed philosophy of technology, cultural techniques and processes of formalisation in mathematics, as well as themes relating to artificial intelligence, language and rationalism. Krämer is interested in how a focus on the technical apparatuses is not sufficient for us to understand the wider field in which media works – she is interested in mediality. Krämer’s take on media philosophy introduces different models for such medial operations of transmission and messaging.
As Enns outlines in his translator’s introduction, Krämer’s position suggests that:
“(1) A philosophy of mediality can only begin by recognizing that there is an unbridgeable distance between the sender and the receiver ‒ a distance that can never be overcome.
(2) The medium occupies the intervening space between the sender and the receiver, and it is able to facilitate their connection while still maintaining the distance that separates them.
(3) All forms of communication are reducible to acts of (non-reciprocal) transmission between the sender and the receiver, as unification and dialogue remain impossible.
(4) Transmission is an embodied, material process, yet it is frequently understood as disembodied, as the medium is supposed to be invisible through its (noise-free) usage.” (Enns 2015, p.13).
Enns outlines how Krämer’s phlosophical position refuses technological determinism but is constantly interested in how the non-human participates in communication even if we often mistake and reduce agency to the humans participating in the event. Hence it is a take different from Friedrich Kittler’s but also differs from the hermeneutical accounts to understand mediality. Enns continues how “[a]ccording to Krämer, all of these various forms of transmission ‒ angels,
viruses, money, translators, psychoanalysts, witnesses, and maps ‒ can be seen as media in the sense that they simultaneously bridge and maintain differences between heterogeneous worlds. The messenger model thus depends on the basic insight that a community of different individuals is founded on the distance that separates them, which precludes the possibility of unification or intersubjectivity, and all attempts at communication are actually acts of transmission, as communication is fundamentally unidirectional, asymmetrical, and non-reciprocal.” (Enns 2015, p. 16).
As series editors, we hope that the book will have the wide impact it deserves, being such an important take on fundamental issues that speak to media and communication scholars but also to the wider philosophical and cultural discourse concerning what mediation means.
You can find the introduction to the Recursions book series online (Academia.edu) and copied below.
Please consider asking your library to order a copy of Krämer’s exciting study!
For review copies, you can contact AUP or one of us series editors.
Recursions: Editors’ Introduction by Jussi Parikka, Anna Tuschling and Geoffrey Winthrop-Young
Recursions: Theories of Media, Materiality and Cultural Techniques is a book series about media theory. But instead of dealing with theory in its most classical sense of theoria as something separate from practice that looks at objects and phenomena from a distance, we want to promote a more situated understanding of theory. Theory, too, is a practice and it has an address: it unfolds in specific situations, historical contexts and geographical places.
As this book series demonstrates, theory can emerge from historical sources and speculations still closely attached to material details. We therefore speak of the recursive nature of theory: It is composed of concepts that cut across the social and aesthetic reality of technological culture, and that are picked up and reprocessed by other means, including the many media techniques featured in this book series. The recursive loops of theory and practice fold and define each other. The genealogies of media theory, in turn, unfold in recursive variations that open up new questions, agendas, methodologies, which transform many of the humanities topics into media theory.
The Recursions series revolves around the material and hardware understanding of media as well as media archaeology – a body of work that addresses the contingent historical trajectories of modern media technologies as well their technological condition. But we are also interested in addressing the wider field of cultural techniques. The notion of cultural
techniques serves to conceptualize how human and nonhuman agencies interact in historical settings as well as to expand the notion of media to include the many techniques and technologies of knowledge and aesthetics. This expansive – and yet theoretically rigorous – sense of understanding media is also of great use when considering the relations to biology and other sciences that deal with life and the living; another field where media studies has been able to operate in ways that fruitfully overlap with social studies of science and technology (STS).
Overall, the themes emerging from the Recursions book series resonate with some of the most interesting debates in international media studies, including issues of non-representational thought, the technicity of knowledge formations, and the dimensions of materialities expressed through biological and technological developments that are changing the vocabularies of cultural theory. We are interested in the mediatic conditions of such theoretical ideas and developing them as new forms of media theory. Over the last twenty years, and following in the footsteps of such media theorists as Marshall McLuhan, Friedrich Kittler, Vilem Flusser and others, a series of scholars working in Germany, the United States, Canada and other countries have turned assumptions concerning communication on their head by shifting the focus of research from communication to media. The strong – and at times polemical – focus on technological aspects (frequently referred to as the ‘materialities of communication’) has since given way to a more nuanced approach evident in appellations such as ‘media archaeology’ and ‘media ecology’. These scholars have produced an important series of works on such diverse topics as computer games, media of education and individuation, the epistemology of filing cabinets, or the media theories underlying the nascent discipline of anthropology at the end of the nineteenth century, thereby opening up an entirely new field of research which reframes our understanding of media culture and the relationship be tween media, culture, politics, and society.
In other words, these approaches are distinguished by the emphasis on the materiality of media practices as well as the long historical perspectives they offer. A major part of the influences of recent years of media theory, including fields such as software and platform studies, digital forensics and media ecology, has been a conjunction of German media theory with other European and trans-Atlantic influences. The brand name of ‘German media theory’ commonly associated with, though not restricted to, the work of Friedrich Kittler – is a helpful label when trying to attempt to identify a lot of the theoretical themes the book series addresses. However, we want to argue for a more international take that takes into account the hyphenated nature of such influences and to continue those in refreshing ways that do not just reproduce existing theory formations. We also want to challenge them, which, once again, refers to the core meaning of recursions: variation with a difference.
I am pretty chuffed about this visit: I received one of the University of New South Wales (Sydney) Distinguished Visiting Scholar awards and will be giving some talks and a workshop, as well as meeting loads of people during my time in the Southern hemisphere.
It’s not a big surprise that my talks and workshop will focus on media theory, materiality and history. In the workshop, or “master class”, we will be reading key texts of German media theory, especially focusing on the concept of cultural techniques.
One of the talks (on March 17) will be on the geophysical materialities of media in art and technology, “a story less about extensions of Man than extensions of the planetary.” It’s a preview of the forthcoming book A Geology of Media.
In addition, another talk (March 16) is an early attempt on what might become a research/book project together with Lori Emerson and Darren Wershler on humanities labs/media archaeology labs. Below is the abstract for that. Thanks to Tom Apperley at UNSW for coordinating and facilitating the visit. For any queries related to the talks, contact Tom.
A Laboratory Practice? Media Archaeology Labs and Humanities Knowledge as Creation and Hacking
This talk will address media archaeology but from the angle that considers it as a spatialised, institutionalized practice. By addressing existing and emerging media archaeology labs such as in Berlin, Boulder (Colorado) and other places, it aims to offer ideas how to contextualize the idea of “labs” in contemporary humanities. Media archaeology labs are often pitched as a way to think cultural heritage and contemporary technology outside the more established institutional practices of archives and museums. Instead, the labs seem to have become sites of “hacking”, opening up technologies and pedagogical ways of appropriating past technologies as epistemological ways of understanding modern technological culture. Besides offering examples and introduction to some key ideas and practices, the talk aims to expand to artistic practices and other cross-disciplinary ways of humanities knowledge-creation.
A lovely new interview with Geoffrey Winthrop-Young has been posted online: “More things in theory than heaven and earth are dreaming of.” Conducted by Melle Kromhout and Peter McMurray, it brings out great points. Winthrop-Young is always a pleasure to read, both because of the tone and the insights. Of course, in this case I remain biased, with the focus of the interview being about the so-called German media theory (which is not, as we are reminded, not so German, not pretending to present a big theory nor is it really merely German), Bernhard Siegert, cultural techniques and by the end, also about “media biology”. What’s not to like.
GWY has a fantastic sense of explication when it comes to media theory. When he responds about the subject topic of the interview that “cultural techniques are further installation of modern theory’s crusade against the as such” it both gives a subtle sense of how it maps as part of the contemporary theory landscape (and the persisting enthusiasm for the ontological as suchs) and also reminds me why I feel attracted to cultural techniques and related media analytical directions; I am, after all, a slowly recovering (cultural) historian who does not mind that the notions we operate by, the cultural layers, “all the levels all the way down are made up of historically locatable practices” even if with various twists of complex feedback loops.
I was Senior Fellow last year at MECS at Leuphana University in Germany – here’s one of the things I did there, an interview now online:
The Anthrobscene is now out and available as a short e-book in the new University of Minnesota Press series Forerunners. The short book (77 pp) extends on the notion of the deep time of the media (Zielinski) to talk of the geological and electronic waste layers that characterise media technological materiality. It consists of four short sections
1. And the Earth Screamed, Alive
2. An Ecology of Deep Time
3. A Media History of Matter: From Scrap Metal to Zombie Media
4. Conclusion: Cultural Techniques of Material Media
The sections outline the idea of materialities of media in the context of the Anthropocene – the suggested and widely discussed term for the geological period where the human being has had such a significant effect on the planet to merit a new periodization. But the idea is to extend this to emphasise the obscenities of the environmental damage that works across natural, social and media ecology.
The Anthrobscene is a preview or if you prefer, a single, of the forthcoming longer book A Geology of Media (out next Spring).
The book is one of three that kickstarts the new Forerunners series, “a thought-in-process series of breakthrough digital works written between fresh ideas and finished books” and characterized as “gray literature publishing: where intense thinking, change, and speculation happens in scholarship.” The series is edited at the University of Minnesota Press by Danielle Kasprzak.
The Anthrobscene is available for download directly on the UMP website as well as in your “local” Amazon (Kindle and the slightly more expensive print on demand paperback) and gradually in other e-book stores too, including now already on Barnes & Noble & Kobo. The Amazon-page has a preview of the content.
I am pretty happy about spending some time in Germany over the summer– and not just any trip, but as Senior Fellow at the Leuphana University Media Cultures of Computer Simulation-centre (MECS). MECS is one of the exciting developments at Leuphana (in Lüneburg) and in Germany, collecting some of the most interesting media theorists, analysts and historians. Led by Claus Pias and Martin Warnke, MECS’s project description tells the story of mutually informing investigations of media culture and science. Indeed, MECS presents itself as part of analysis of changes in scientific methods but also rather fundamental questions as to the nature of scientific knowledge itself. Furthermore, digital media becomes an agent in this transformation. “Digital media develops a medial obstinacy; it generates and at the same time processes problems which in the past were often inaccessible, either by analysis or experimentation.”
MECS’s annual themes for the coming years are found here – for this year, the focus is on Wissen referring to knowledge and the media epistemology of computer simulations, followed next year by Rechnen: to calculate/calculation.
In this context my own project focuses on the double bind of the media epistemological (e.g. sensors) and the environmental questions (such as smog) in a theoretical context of media materialism. I have been interested in how to expand media materialism to a wider set of material questions that include media ecology and the environmental too, partly in the context of Geology of Media. I also need to write a couple of commissioned articles on Friedrich Kittler during the summer. In addition, with Paul Feigelfeld we will edit a short e-issue focusing on Kittler for Theory, Culture & Society.