Notes for Sybille Krämer “The Cultural Techniques of Time Axis Manipulation: On Friedrich Kittler's Conception of Media ”

Key concepts: Fourier method, real, symbolic, technological ontology, time axis manipulation.

Operations of computer writing and reading compared to human operations of the same names feeds conclusion that machines using software have gone off on their own hidden commands to do their own bidding, entrained by their own traces (programming language data structures as graphemes) operating at frequencies incomprehensible to humans (alien temporalities). Final definition of media relating to time axis manipulation, spatialization of time, equivocating time and space. These points complement other theorists well: analog as first important technological media; working beyond gulf of natural and social sciences; beyond human teleology and embodiment; switched, data unit ontology; digitalized existentialism.

Related theorists: Foucault, Heidegger, Derrida, Kittler, Lacan, Shannon. Propose fossification as beyond default submergence of meaning to data.

Translator's Notes

Begins with quote from German version of Draculas Vermachtnis saying only that which can be encoded exists, alluding to the future when everything is computed, happens via machine control; that implies a deterministic outcome of possible object phenomena loosely equivalent to that which exists, exists because it is computable, that is why it happens, because it happens in machine intelligence.

(93 endnote 1) A key axiom of Kittler's 'information-theoretical materialism' that literally translates as 'Only that which is switchable is at all.'
(93) The task here is to reconstruct an ingenious discovery without, however, disputing the fundamental core of Kittler's notion of media. This breakthough can be found in Kittler's linking of media with the technique of time axis manipulation.


1. Media Beyond the Register of Signs

Kittler definition of media as culture techniques allowing selection, storage and production of data and signals. Need to find those other definitions of key terms by various writers most relevant for texts and technology.

(93) 'media' are first and foremost cultural techniques that allow one to select, store, and produce data and signals.

Default media epochs alphabet, press, computer map onto orality, literacy, electronic (still do not like this selection); getting to the core: analog versus technological media, autoproduction versus symbolic reminiscent of external marks of Phaedrus, Lacanian real versus symbolic, but technological media still have contours (Manovich, Sterne).

Technological media can capture unique, contingent, chaotic phenomena beyond syntactical regimentation of symbolic media.

(94) First, Kittler's reconfiguration affects our understanding of media history. Our traditional conception of media is based on the stereotype – which appears to be almost a belief – that media history is made up of three marked phrases: the invention and dissemination (1) of the alphabet; (2) of the printing press; and, finally (3) of the computer. . . . Analog media – and optical-technological media in particular (Kittler, 2002) – mark the beginning of a development that ends with digitization and the computer. In the age of handwriting and the printing press, all forms of writing are bound up in a symbolic universe – which in its most basic variant is that of everyday speech to select, store, and produce the physical realities themselves. Here, Kittler adopts the term 'real' from Jacques Lacan's distinction between the symbolic and the real. . . . Technological media allow one to select, store, and produce precisely the things that could not squeeze through the bottleneck of syntactical regimentation in that they are unique, contingent, and chaotic.

What of Harman glorification of aesthetics, is Kittler missing on human side of phenomenology?

Media analysis orthogonal to sensibility.

(94) This is precisely the point where the media-historical and hermeneutic-critical aspects of Kittler's thought come together: his concept of media continually attempts to speak about the realm of literary studies in a way that avoids using distinctions such as 'understanding', 'interpretation', 'meaning', 'referent', or 'representation', terms that are integral to the vocabulary of literary studies. . . . Kittler is thus concerned not with a media analysis that is diametrically opposed to meaning, but rather with a practice of writing about media in which concepts such as sense and sensibility are no longer relevant.


2. Two Obstacles

Excludes human embodiment, perhaps to study machines first.

(95) 1. The first problem is his exclusion of the body as a medium and his omission of human perception. . . . The inattention to the dimension of 'those things that cannot be switched', or in other words to a corporeality that has not yet been transformed into a mechanical apparatus, should not be seen as an oversight but rather as an intentional act on Kittler's part. . . . At this point, it suffices to note the unique condition that humans are excluded as a medium from a historical analysis of media.

Shannon emphasis downplays cybernetic writing, so look at von Neumann.

(95) 2. The second difficult that one faces is the canonical status of Claude Shannon's communications theoretical writings in Kittler's texts. . . . In the realm of cybernetics, by contrast, the theories of automation and of self-organization were central to shaping the perspective on development and on computer design.

Epistemological reduction to representation by technological processes; give Kittler method a chance to be an idea pump for experiment waiting for Big Other to speak as halting problem.

(95-96) Everything that can be described, can be represented in the terminology of technological processes. . . . The decision to adopt a technologically biased terminology – in contrast to a 'hermeneutic' vocabulary, for example – is not necessarily wrong to begin with. Instead, one might grant this terminology a probation period since it attempts to describe something in a way that allows the surprising, the unexpected, and the new to emerge.
(96) What conception of the technological becomes operative with this approach?


3. Media Technology: The Reversal of Units of Time

Compare to Thomson interpretation of Heidegger, where for Kittler the founding philosopher is Lacan: media alters experience of flow of time in virtual realities; dynamism of symbolic time of literature towards living writing, extra-symbolic reality recording and reproduction; storing time and the real makes manipulable in unique ways the creations of computer systems, exemplifying surprising, unexpected emergence as Maner argues computing inspires unique ethical questions.

Time management the new feature of technological media.

(96) Indeed, the explanation of the technological as a modality of time management is precisely the 'main point'. . . . In media technology, time itself becomes one of several variables that can be manipulated. In the age of writing and of the book, symbolic time, by being fixed in space with linear syntactical structures, becomes repeatable and, to some extent, also moveable. What is unique about the technological era (from the gramophone to the computer) is that the technologies allow one to store 'real time' . . . to process 'real time' as a temporal event. Data processing becomes the process by which temporal order becomes moveable and reversible in the very experience of space (Kittler, 1997: 130-146).


4. Discourse Networks Instead of Discourses

Foucault archive limits; dare cross through Derrida?

Historical approach leaves discourse analysis behind.

(97) this is the system that magnetizes the influences of the eras, which Foucault terms the 'archive', and which epitomizes the systems of expression that can be documented.
(97) As soon as the monopoly is broken that writing and the book hold on processes of storing and processing, and as soon as other types of discourse networks emerge with technological, analog media, then an archeology of present forms of knowledge can no longer be practiced by discourse analysis but must rather be taken over by technological media analysis. . . . His historical approach transforms discourse analysis into the reflex and symptom of a specific – and since ended – media epoch. With this move, Kittler takes up technological media as the focal point around which everything is arranged that can even be registered as an analyzable fact after Foucault.

Change in operation of media to performative, autonomous, autopoietic (Hayles): makes more obvious that media are production sites of data overdetermining what may come to presence, a presence traces of symptoms of which can be detected in discourse systems, as Kittler masterfully demonstrates.

(97) The operations of media structure the terrain of data processing: they select, store, and produce signals.
(98) It is far more the case that media are the production sites of data. These production sites are discourse systems, the networks of techniques and institutions that preprocess what will even be considered data in a given epoch.


5. The Monopoly of the Alphabet

The symbolic, not speech, is content of written media, adjusting the sense of McLuhan.

(98) Of course, Kittler's most recent works have shown that in its origins, the Greek alphabet transcribed speech, music, and numbers. . . . The content of written media – and precisely this is Kittler's purpose in emphasizing the transcription of speech in writing – is the symbolic.
(98) For Lacan, a symbol is not something that stands for an extra-symbolic entity, but rather is primarily something that can be substituted for another symbol.
(99) The connection between the symbolic and time is what is at stake here: by referring to the symbolic, written media adhere to a specific temporal order.

Time axis manipulation has its origin in going beyond logical time implied by symbolic to techniques of representing temporal relations spatially in data structures.

(99) Kittler considers alphabetical writing, however, as the technique of 'assigning a space to each element in the temporal series of the chain of speech' (1993b: 182) together with the invention of blanks. This approach creates the necessary precondition for a method that Friedrich Kittler terms 'time axis manipulation'.

Affects of time of storage retrieval learned from studying machine operations, whereas not captured in print reading practices, cannot be firmly grounded without excluding oral language and unrecorded voice.

(99) 1. The first peculiarity is his consequent exclusion of oral language and of the (unrecorded) voice as media. . . The only techniques that can be considered data processing are those that use a spatial means to create possibilities of ordering the things differently that are etched into this spatial ordering. This notion carries specific consequences for Kittler's concept of storage. Storing is not merely a means of preserving but is also intrinsically connected to spatial order. Wherever something is stored, a temporal process must be materialized as a spatial structure.

Significance of printing press diminished in favor of codex over scroll for its addressing and random access capabilities implicitly transforming consciousness and subjectivity of souls traveling through the technical epoch.

(100) 2. The other anomaly concerns Kittler's revision of the media-historical meaning of the printing press. In contrast to traditional references to the epochal break in the Gutenberg Galaxy that can be found in almost all media-historical analyses, Kittler regards the true, significant break as being not so much the invention of the printing press, but rather the transition from the scroll to the codex. . . . The codex in which one can leaf through the text first transforms the temporal spaces of the material into individuated and traceable spaces in the text (Kittler, 1993b).


6. Technological Media

Transductions by operations of technological media afford new media effects like reversing temporally sequenced events, which, as others point out, affects pitch among other things impossible to convey by manipulating text: such are possibilities when the real is saved in the age of technical reproduction even before computers.

(100-101) Technological media are the very media that make the data-producing processes of storage and manipulation accessible, processes that were previously unwritten and thereby fell through the 'grid of the symbolic' (Kittler, 1999, 11). Textual media transform the linguistic-symbolic into an operable code; technological media, by contrast, transform the contingency-based, material, real itself into a code that can be manipulated (see Kittler, 2002: 37). This type of manipulation creates the possibility of reversing temporally-sequenced events. . . . Then Edison begins the experiment with his phonographs and discovers the possibility of playing musical numbers in reverse, which affects precisely the actual tonal characteristics of the individual sounds.
(101) The real itself is saved by phonograph, by photography, and by cinematography, it is transmitted by radio and television, and it is – at least in part – also even produced.

Fourier method does for real of signals what Greek alphabet did for symbolic of language.

(101) The significant point in the calculability of the contingent is that the 'purely unrepeatable' (Kittler, 1993b: 196) become visible as the sum of decimals, and thereby also become repeatable. The Fourier Method makes this possible. . . . The Fourier Method accomplishes for the material realm of signals what the Greek alphabet achieved for the symbolic realm of language.

Decoding the real with machines releases from discursive subject Hayles feels postmodernism too rigidly adheres.

(101-102) The unforeseeable thereby becomes foreseeable; the real, in the Lacanian sense, is transformed into a code that can be manipulated. . . . Shannon's communications technology attempts to process contingency. . . . the relation between signals and noise can also be interpreted as that between a coded signal and its deciphering by enemy intelligence. . . . This type of analysis, in contrast to that of Foucault's theories, no longer refers to the realm of the symbolic but rather operates in the material world of the real. This perspective transforms nature into an encoded text, albeit a text that no longer needs to be interpreted but must rather be decoded with machines.

Enigma cryptography example redeems hermeneutics.

(102) A peculiar metamorphosis emerges in this projection of the real as enigma cryptography, which – when brought to a technological stand – is almost a rehabilitation of the hermeneutic project of 'nature as a text'. . . . This notion also explains Kittler's fascination with Alan Turing's, Claude Shannon's and Norber Wiener's work, who with their crypto-analytic, communications-theoretical, and communications-technological ambitions achieve precisely what will prove to be the computer's unique accomplishment: making chance sequences calculable.

Media convergence explained.

(102-103) The binary system provides a universal key that allows one not only to translate each of the numerous formats of image, sound, and textual media reciprocally, but also, and at the same time, to traverse the symbolic-technological boundaries of the epoch of alphabetic writing. . . . The computer connects all of these media, in that it incorporates their input and output into a mathematical procedure of digitalized signal processing with microsecond rhythms (Kittler, 1993a: 187).

Alien temporalities of computer writing and reading compared to human operations of the same names feeds conclusion that machines using software have gone off on their own hidden commands to do their own bidding, entrained by their own traces (programming language data structures as graphemes).

(103) While it is true that the computer writes and reads, it does so in a way that is invisible to the writing and reading human. . . . Every step in computer processing takes time, albeit a span of time that is less than the smallest unit of time that can still be captured by the human senses (Kittler, 1993b: 201).


7. Beyond the Senses, but also the Observer

Higher frequency ranges where hearing and sight disappear.

(103) While syntax-bound media such as musical notation carry out time axis manipulation in lower frequency ranges, in other words, in realms that are still accessible to acoustic and optical perception (Kittler, 1993b: 191), technological media diverge into the higher frequency ranges, 'where our hearing and sight disappear' (Kittler, 1993b: 192).

Disappearance of Dasein in communications techniques and activities.

(104) What Kittler characterizes here as a media-induced disappearance from perceptibility continues in numerous vanishing acts: the body disappears, as does art, history, but, most of all, man himself disappears. . . . The human senses are taken over by the technological media.

Using technology without understanding how or why it works suggests terrain for philosophers of computing that Kramer argues Kittler does not appreciate but McLuhan envisioned; consider Derrida with his Macintosh.

(104) We can use technology without needs to understand how, and especially why, it works. In practice, Kittler also refuses to make his distinction. . . . Kittler's leap from methods of operation that are far removed from the sensory to a process of making something useable that marginalizes the sensory thus falls short.
(105) The assumption presents itself that a
theoretical-strategic consideration outweighs Kittler's factual arguments. Kittler develops his concept of media with, but especially in latent opposition to, the father of contemporary media debates, Marshall McLuhan (Kittler, 2002: 24f.).
(105) In other words, McLuhan's theories reflect the aspect of the escalating drive of media to surpass that is so crucial to Kittler in a way that does not exclude but rather incorporates man and the organization of his senses into this self-dynamism without thereby needed to fossilize man as the intentional subject of this wave of technologization.

Nuances of observer relativity lost in reduction to machine operations of technological media systems: can this excluded perceptibility that was once human phenomenal fields be turned around like the duck rabbit to virtual virtual realities?

(105) Excluding the dimension of perceptibility also leaves no room for the relativity of the observer as a methodical principle for making categorical distinctions.

Ontology of switchable existences is Kittlers reductive technological ontology; switched means virtually encoded, unfounding phenomenologies.

(106) Does Kittler make the operative truth absolute, that aims to transform 'truth' into 'technological precision' and that applies exclusively to formal calculable systems (Kramer, 1991)? And does he thereby arrive at a technological ontology, in which only that which can be switched exists at all?
(106) Every type of phenomenology loses its foundation, Kittler's critique of hermeneutic sense-orientation encompasses phenomenological strategies. Both of these are not only falsified but they also become historically obsolete with the development of technological media.

Time becomes universal form of technological accessibility.

(106) Time is no longer a universal form of our perception or experience, but rather it becomes a universal form of technological accessibility.


8. What, The, Are Media and What Is Their History for Friedrich Kittler? A Caveat

Final definition of media relating to time axis manipulation, spatialization of time, equivocating time and space, complementing other theorists: analog as first important technological media; working beyond gulf of natural and social sciences; beyond human teleology and embodiment; switched, data unit ontology; digitalized existentialism.

Propose flossification as beyond default submergence of meaning to data.

(106) 1. What are media? Media are practices that use strategies of spatialization to enable one to manipulate the order of things that progress in time.
(106-107) 2.
What is a history of media? . . . The computer is not the first, significant innovation in media-technology, but rather – after writing – the analog, technological media.
(107) 3.
What is the purpose of media studies? . . . media studies operates beyond the gulf between the natural and social sciences.
(107) 4.
Are media a priori functioning universals? . . . The machine substitutes man as the referent of communication; corporality disappears, and with it, each and every trace with which the body is involved. This teleology is not a specific aim of someone, nor is it a result of human intention, but can rather be ascribed to the self-dynamic of escalating inter-reference between technological media.
(107) 5.
Does this concept of media imply an ontology? . . . A piece of data thereby becomes the smallest unit that underlies the realm of the symbolic as well as of the real and in which everything that belongs to our world can be dissected.
(108) 6.
A form of digitalized existentialism? The culminating points within the tradition of literary studies . . . are transformed into the absurd with the binary code that cannot be expressed by humans, and with modern data processing as a textile that cannot be read by human eyes. This 'absurdity' can be understood in the sense of Kierkegaard as a paradox of the historical, which stands in start opposition to human logic and sensibility, or in the sense of Camus, who counter-intuitively lets the world remain mute to human questions. Does a type of 'digitalized existentialism' speak out from Kittler's texts?


Krämer, Sybille. “The Cultural Techniques of Time Axis Manipulation: On Friedrich Kittler's Conception of Media.” Theory, Culture and Society 23.7-8 (December, 2006): 93-109. Web. 1 Aug. 2012.