Summary

  • The introduction by Winthrop-Young and Wutz is a great précis of Kittler’s work more generally and I would recommend returning to it when preparing for the exam.

Keywords

  • “so-called Man,” b/c we have to hammer home that antihumanism

Notes

Translator’s useful introduction

  • Kittler’s project: “It is necessary to rethink media with a new and uncompromising degree of scientific rigor, focusing on the intrinsic technological logic, the changing links between body and medium, the procedures for data processing, rather than evaluate them from the point of view of their social usage” (xiv).
  • Here’s the link from structuralism to media theory: “Step 1: We recognize that we are spoken by language. Step 2: We understand that language is not some nebulous entity but appears in the shape of historically limited discursive practices. Step 3: We finally perceive that these practices depend on media. In short, structuralism begot discourse analysis, and discourse analysis begot media theory” (xx).
  • The importance of the titular media technologies from the 1880s to 1920s was that they move beyond the symbolic mediation of the alphabet and into the inscription of the real (in the Lacanian senses of the terms) (xxvii–xxviii); here we can see how Ernst makes similar arguments about the phonograph’s archaeographic recording of “real” time.

Introduction

  • Like Heidegger’s “The Thing,” we open with the bomb. Digitization in optical fiber networks protects crucial military infrastructure from an EMP; it also leads to the total erasure of distinctions b/t media, as all become numerical (1–2). Same claims advanced in “There Is No Software.”
  • Foucault as the “last historian or the first archaeologist” (5).
  • “Electricity itself put an end to this. Once memories and dreams, the dead and ghosts, become technically reproducible, readers and writers no longer need the powers of hallucination” (10). One of Kittler’s major points is that media theory must become a science because of the mathematics underneath it: we need a scientific precision to our study.
  • “The dream of a real visible or audible world arising from words has come to an end. The historical synchronicity of cinema, phonography, and typewriting separated optical, acoustic, and written data flows, thereby rendering them autonomous. That electric or electronic media can recombine them does not change the fact of their differentiation” (14).
  • “The methodological distinctions of modern psychoanalysis clearly coincide with the distinctions of media technology. Every theory has its historical a priori. And structuralist theory simply spells out what, since the turn of the century, has been coming over the information channels” (16). Woof.

Gramophone

  • The gramophone is the passage from the symbolic to the real; with it comes a regime (episteme) that treats sound as a space of research (25–26).
  • Like what the hell do we do with passages like this: “The phonograph is thus incapable of achieving real-time frequency shifts. For this we need rock bands with harmonizers that are able to reverse-with considerable electronic effort-the inevitable speed changes, at least to deceivable human ears. Only then are people able to return simultaneously and in real time from their breaking voices, and women can be men and men can be women again” (35).
  • Moholy-Nagy’s etchings as pure transpositions between media; speaking w/o human interlocutor (46). The key is the “frequency,” as a number unmediated and unbounded to format, Kitter contends can mean something precise and the same across the board—which is precisely nothing at all.

Archive and Impact

  • French theory, esp. the trifecta for Foucault, Lacan, and Derrida (in that order). Ong’s “secondary orality” and McLuhan’s foundational media theory; “Superficially, Kittler’s work can be seen as a merger of Foucault, Lacan, and McLuhan, that is, a combination of discourse analysis, structuralist psychoanalysis, and first-generation media theory” (xvi).
  • Kittler uses poststructuralism to work against a specifically German hermeneutic and humanist tradition
  • There’s a weird conservatism around Kittler’s work; an avoidance of political critique, as though the power of the machine itself drains all organizations of power out of the conversation.