Notes for John Johnston editor Literature, Media, Information Systems: Friedrich A. Kittler Essays



Friedrich Kittler: Media Theory After Poststructuralism

Fiber Optic Networks: Connecting Up the “Present”

Importance of knowledge and understanding suggests criterion of epistemological transparency must accompany Kurzweil emphasis on increasing speed, miniaturization, capacity, affordability.

(3) In other words, for Kittler today's “situation” is defined by the inventors and the technicians who understand the technology and how it “constructs our sense perception” on the one hand, and the end-users and consumers increasingly dependent on it who are kept distanced and ignorant by an array of user-friendly devices on the other.

DN 2000
(4) With the invention of new storage and transmission media, which Kittler explores more fully in
Grammophon Film Typewriter, discourse analysis alone can no longer suffice, and literary criticism can no longer ignore the materiality of its objects.

The basic conception of media convergence in contrast to which Jenkins carves his niche.

(5-6) If the historical synchronicity of film, phonograph, and typewriter in the early twentieth century separated the data flows of optics, acoustics and writing and rendered them autonomous, current electronic technologies are bringing them back together; in the future a total connection of all media on a digital base will erase the very notion of a medium.

The fifteen year span will expire soon, so it is time to rigorously theorized DN 2000.

(6) However, methodological constraints determine that an event inaugurating another discourse network can only be identified retrospectively. Despite intriguing possibilities raised by the current telecommunications assemblage and computer chip architectures, Kittler must therefore remain silent about DN 2000.

Communications and/or Computation

Consider Turkle assessment on blindspots of poststructuralism.

(8) Indeed, what is perhaps most striking and useful in Kittler's work is how fundamental postructuralist concepts and assumptions are deployed to revitalize and update media and literary theory, while implicitly raising the question of the degree to which technology was always the impense or blindspot of poststructuralism itself.

Nervensprache: The Discourse Network Circa 1900

Nervensprache discourse network similar to Sterne on extending sound studies from discrete artifacts to auditory culture.

(10) In other words, on the basis of this particular selection of data not only perceptions, ideas, and concepts—all that is coded as meaningful in short—but also a system authorizing certain subjects as senders and others as receivers of discourse is instituted.

Poetic “Alphabetise”

Media reproduced synthetic, hallucinatory power of the word.

(13) Electricity brings to an end the classical-romantic experience of reading and writing. Among other effects, the synthetic, hallucinatory power of the word will be (re)produced in the twentieth century by other media: movies will replace the fantasia of the library; the entertainment industry will flourish.

Nietzsche's Typewriter
(16) By thus rendering the eye and ear autonomous, Nietzsche's theory of language anticipates in its very formulation the differentiation that new technological media—typewriter, phonograph, film—will soon bring about.

Pink Noise, or Psychophysics
(17) Psychophysics subverted not only the assumed referentiality of language but of sense experience itself, the “referential illusion” of which is unsparingly laid bare in an exacting analysis of the brain, sense organs and nerve tissue.

The Simulation of Madness
(20) Modern literature however is doubly articulated with the discourse network of 1900: on the one hand through its simulations of
anomie, madness and neurosis, but on the other through its concern with “language channels” and the effects of modern technical media.

Literature and War

Machines at the Scene

Machines infuse psychoanalysis; Lacan imaginary, real, symbolic correspond to separation of media film, phonograph, linguistic signifiers.

(23) If there is an analogy between the child's writing device and the operations of the psychic apparatus, it is because the latter is already inhabited and made possible by a machine, a writing machine.
(23) The most salient fact about Lacan's “Seminar on the Ego” is that it is elaborated in relation to cybernetics and information theory.
(23-24) In Freud's time, however, storage functions could only be conceived of on the model of the
engram, which includes not only the graphic inscriptions highlighted by Derrida but also the grooves on Edison's newly invented phonograph.
(24) Thus, for Kittler, Lacan's triple register of the imaginary, the real and the symbolic corresponds exactly to the separation of media, that is, of film, phonograph, and linguistic signifiers respectively. . . . Lacan simply implements in a functional model the most up-to-date media of information storage, transmission and computation.

Computer Chips, and What They Tell Us

Need to study technology to respond to classical philosophical questions.

(25) The theory of communication and control: it all seems to come down to the basic question of whether nature is a Turing machine or, as Jacques Lacan would have it, the real is what is impossible in relation to our machines and systems. . . . Instead of seeking essences in the pursuit of what Heidegger called the question of technology, it is from the specific terms—the equations, blueprints, circuit diagrams—that technology itself provides that one must proceed, in order to see how and what is said (or not said), what mechanisms determine and set the limits of our bodies, our subjectivities, our discourse.

We become subjected to machinic phylum.

(26) In order to provide a more easily functional, 'user-friendly' interface, computer technology must substitute its zeros and ones for real numbers, thereby reducing noise and warding off chaos, but also confusing hardware and software, matter and information. Kittler draws attention to the limits of this technology, and to the price we pay for the service it renders. In short, we become subjected to it: as subjects of Word Perfect or Microsoft Word, its commands become our commands, its limits, our limits, our “writing” a repression of our necessary interface with a new “machinic phylum.”

Epistemological transparency seems tightly linked to subjectivity under modern technology.

(26) By “protect[ing] the operating system from the users,” Intel deliberately obscures the difference between the two modes and hides the inefficiency such doubling brings about; more seriously, this new architecture actually transfers the logic of separation from the military-industrial complex into that of the information technology itself. The same strategy of separation that blocks access to power also blocks full access to writing machines, thereby producing simply names (and obscures) the strategy of simulation that secretly governs today's writing subjects and the bureaucracies within which they operate.

Johnston, John., ed. Literature, Media, Information Systems: Friedrich A. Kittler Essays. Amsterdam: Overseas Publishers Association, 1997. Print.