For a number of years, Michael Wetzel was coordinator of the (now closed) Kassel research project Metadisciplinary Literature Analysis. In this capacity, he is well-informed on the state of affairs in media theory. Like Norbert Bolz, Michael Wetzel is a philosopher and not a historian. With a comprehensive view of this new area, Wetzel has taken it upon himself to make a contribution to 'general media theory'. This media philosophy is purely conceptual and produces tools that can be used by others in (historical) monographs. As the title indicates, the book is about the supposed downfall of the book as the technical media rise, and the subsequent return of the written word in photography, film and tv.
It contains no lamentations about the collapse of culture and emerging barbarism as the book loses its monopoly position of exclusive medium for the transmission of knowledge. Wetzel claims that the complaint of the book's loss of power is as old as the medium itself. What remains is The Written Word as defined by Derrida. Wetzel lifts the written word from the Gutenberg galaxy as a general denomination and promotes it to a universal category applicable to all media, in all times and circumstances. The book's totalitarian and authoritarian claims and the original sin associated with them (when one does not act according to the letter of the law of the Book), disappear like snow in the sun. Grammatology builds no monuments in stone or paper, preferring to grub through remains. The written word is no more or less than ash, ruins that indicate loss and guilt and never will ripen into a uniform sign. They are not recorded, but erased. Like Derrida, Wetzel sees the written word as traces that are traces of traces in turn, with no origin or ultimate destination, situated amidst a mysterious absence. The multiplicity and ambiguity of these traces is what characterizes the written word and what can be subsequently decoded by deconstruction. But Wetzel does not say what the return of the written word has to offer to media art/theory. The conclusion that all media are equal (no more than traces) is something that film and tv have discovered in practice already. A design for a media theory should have more to offer than this comforting thought.