Notes for Friedrich Kittler “The World of the Symbolic—A World of the Machine”

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Aristotle definition of beautiful as to eusunopton form of pattern recognition.

(130) According to Aristotle's commendable formula—to eusunopton—the beautiful is defined as that which the eye can easily embrace in its entirety and which can be surveyed as a whole. . . . Thus, long before Baumgarten's modern foundation of the concept and the subject matter of Aesthetics, and longer still before the term arose which will have guided by commentary, Aesthetics begins as 'pattern recognition'.

Psychology diverges from philosophy in admitting non-human and machine pattern recognition.

(131) So-called Man, distinguished by his so-called consciousness, is unnecessary for this process because nature's mirrors can accommodate these types of representation just as well as the visual center in the occipital lobe of the brain.
(132-133) However, this philosophical teaching is precisely the point where psychoanalysis diverges from philosophy, by insisting that consciousness is only the imaginary interior of media standards. . . . Presumably then, every psychology or anthropology only subsequently spells out which functions of the general data processing are controlled by machines, that is, implemented in the real. Kant's “I think,” which in Goethe's time had to accompany every reading or aesthetic judgment, was within the true so long as no machine took over pattern recognition for him.

Freud material reasoned to limits of information machines of his era, a Latour modern.

(133) In contrast to philosophy, psychoanalysis was established during Freud's lifetime “on foundations similar to those of any other science,” namely the strict separation of transmission and storage functions, so as not to fall prey to any “scientific self-misunderstanding.” . . . A Random Access Memory (RAM) and a Read Only Memory (ROM) are thus mutually in play because, according to Freud, “we cannot off-hand imagine an apparatus capable of such complicated functioning [wherein it is both influenced and also unaltered].”
(134) Freud's materialism reasoned only as far as the information machines of his era—no more, no less.

Lacan understood theory of psychic being reflects media technologies, and capitalized on this awareness in his Ecrits, Seminaires, and Radiophonie: telephone, film, phonograph.

(134) The transmission medium of The Interpretation of Dreams was an optical, camera-like apparatus that converted latent dream thoughts into a system of conscious perception—and Lacan could easily decipher these virtual images as film.
(135) Telephone, film, phonograph and print (typewritten by Freud since the Spring of 1913) shaped the psychic apparatus.
(135) Only Lacan understood this. The first, and for that reason also the last, writer whose writings were simply called
Ecrits, whose seminars were called Seminaires, whose radio interview was called Radiophonie, and whose television broadcast was called Television, brought psychoanalysis to the level of high-tech.

Hegel and Freud, then Freud and Lacan separated by technical invention and use of mathemtics.

Reconnect importance of technical inventions on theorizing about human psyche to platform studies.

What separates Lacan from the next metaphysical/ontological/methodological iteration?

(135) Hegel and Freud are separated (according to Lacan) by a technical invention: Watt's steam-engine centrifugal governor, the first negative feedback loop, and with that Mayer's Law of Constant Energy, the numerical basis of Freud's economy of desire. Similarly, Freud and Lacan are separated by the computer, Alan Turing's Universal Discrete Machine of 1936.
(136) Descartes' innovation (going beyond Cardano) lies precisely in his giving a name to imaginary numbers like [square root of negative one], thus assuring mathematics that one could quite simply incorporate them into further computation.
(136) With explicit reference to the “theory of complex numbers,” Lacan records the “imaginary function of the phallus as [SQR(-1)].

Transfer Lacan methodological distinction to media theory: symbolic, imaginary, real maps onto computer, optical, analog storage.

(138) A media theory which transfers Lacan's methodological distinction to information technologies does not distort it back into object categories, notwithstanding some criticism to that effect. That first of all, the medium of the symbolic is called the computer, or with Turing and Lacan, “the universal machine,” follows directly from its conceptual coincidence with the natural numbers. That secondly, the medium of the imaginary must be optical follows not only from the primacy of gestalt recognition, but also, and more elegantly, from Cartesian geometry. . . . That thirdly, and finally, the medium of the real is to be found in analog storage devices is proven by every phonograph record.
(138) Lacan also occupied himself with these assignments of the real, the imaginary and the symbolic to media.

Lacan noted materiality of sound in Marey chronograph; likewise Edison phonograph allowed methodical distinction between phonetics and phonology, real and symbolic, thus the possibility of structural linguistics.

(139-140) In reference to Marey's chronograph of 1873, Lacan emphasizes what philosophers “always forget”--technical sound recording proves that language is “something material.” On these grounds, it is Edison's phonograph that first allows for the possibility of a methodical, distinct separation between the real and the symbolic, between phonetics and phonology, which is to say the possibility of structural linguistics itself.

Lacan resonance between patient and analyst maps onto Shannon redundance.

(140) Lacan's theory of “resonance” between the patient and the analyst is only an inversion of Shannon's redundance, which haunts all amorous whisperings on the telephone. . . . The implication of this is that digital information is all of the information present in amorous telephone whisperings, whereas everything of the real falls under the category of noise.

Encoding transfers unlimited chance of the real into lawful syntax of the symbolic for both machines and humans.

(141) Straightforward encoding transfers unlimited chance (the real) into a syntax with requirements and exemptions, that is, with laws. . . . Although the popular objection maintains that computers cannot think because they must always first be programmed, Lacan counters that human beings, who carry out the same operations as machines, think just as little for the same reason.
(143) That infants, in contrast to young chimpanzees, (mis)recognize their mirror image with identificatory exultation, only opens a gap that makes room for war, tragedy and cybernetics.

Something must function in the real independent of any subjectivity for there to be media and information machines.

(143-144) Media and information machines, and culture as their independent variable, exist only when something “functions[s] in the real, independently of any subjectivity.”

Lacan equivocates circuit with von Neumann architecture, releasing theory from constraint of conceiving storage as engram.

(144) Lacan simply says “circuit,” and does not hesitate in equating oscillation, the master clock of every computer system, with scansion, the rhythm of intersubjective or strategic time. . . . In circuit mechanisms, a third and universal function—the algorithm as the sum of logic and control—comprehends the other two media functions [transmitting and storing]. Computers release theory from the age-old constraint of having to conceive of storage as an engram—from cuneiform characters in sound through to sound-grooves in vinyl.

Freudian riddles of desire and death drive solved by immortal circulation of information in technical positivity, yielding something that stops not writing itself; does Derrida recognize this in his meditations on the archive?

(144) Of primary importance is that information circulates as the presence/absence of absence/presence. And with sufficient storage capacity, that circulation is immortality in technical positivity. Two of Freud's riddles, the indestructibility of desire and the repetition of the death drive, are solved—without the biological miscalculation of instinct or the metaphysics of writing.

Discourse of the other is discourse of the circuit.

(145) That the unconscious is the discourse of the other is already repeated in the feuilletons. But that the discourse of the other is the discourse of the circuit is cited by no one. . . . It is not for nothing that Lacan forbid himself from talking about language with people who did not understand cybernetics. Only when a theory is implemented in algorithms, graphs or knots (as in the later Lacan), is it possible that something stops not writing itself.

The danger is theory of risk becomes risk of theory when implemented in machines.

(145) Implemented in machines, the theory of risk—and psychoanalysis as conjectural science is nothing other—becomes the risk of theory.

No post-modern, only the or this modern post.

(146) There is no post-modern; rather, only the or this modern post.



Kittler, Friedrich A. “The World of the Symbolic—A World of the Machine .” Literature, Media, Information Systems: Friedrich A. Kittler Essays. Ed. John Johnston. Amsterdam: Overseas Publishers Assocation, 1997. 130-146. Print.