• “This book focuses on the media-technological conditions of files and recording devices with a view to their largest area of application, the law. More precisely, it will investigate how files control the formalization and differentiation of the law” (xii).


  • In German, “files” and “records” share the same word: Akten, which also then speaks to the proliferation of one through the other: records generation files (xii). This takes on the sense of a quasi-natural-biological phenomenon. Otherwise, Vismann very deliberately does not define “files”: “As variables in the universe of writing they elude any general, context-free determination. Beyond their varying historical concretions, they can only be defined in formal fashion as that which generates a certain type of law” (xii).


0. Preface

  • “These acts-transmitting, storing, canceling, manipulating, and destroying-write the history of the law” (xiv); history written in media activities.

Archive and Impact

  • Method: Vismann relies on literature to reveal that which the law can’t tell about itself: “Literary fictions that deal with administrations highlight those media and realities of the law that nonfictional, scholarly self-presentations of the law and its history tend to overlook or even suppress” (xiii).
  • Compare Vismann’s relationship of the file (a materiality, a mediality) with the law to the code-as-logos conversation raised in Chun and elsewhere.

I don’t have a lot of time so I’m deferring to Young’s review:

  • “The book seeks to rethink the history of the law through a media materialist perspective and is an impressive and stimulating synthesis of media and cultural theory, historiography, philosophy, and legal scholarship. This approach offers an unconventional trajectory for writing the history of the law, focusing not on specific legal case studies nor on the meaning or content of the western legal tradition’s documentary apparatus, but rather on the apparatus itself” (160).
  • “Her intervention thereby amounts to nothing less than a prehistory of the digital computer, which ultimately shows that ‘administrative techniques of bygone centuries are inscribed as stacks, files, compiler or registers in a digital hardware that remains unaware of its historical dimension’ (Vismann, 2008: 164). Such a project is one of media archaeology; in the seemingly innocuous administrative writing and documentary practices of earlier historical epochs Vismann unearths certain ontological (pre)conditions of the digital age” (161).