Mediamatic Magazine 3#4 Geert Lovink 1 Jan 1989

Media Archeology

In the shadow of French philosophy is a West German project currently researching media history. The work does not investigate mass communication, all-powerful monopolies, censorship and is openly opposed to criticism of the culture industry. It is being conducted by those literary academics who know their FAUST
but prefer to build on the songs of their youth and get high on PINK FLOYD and JIMI HENDRIX. They write about media realities created by the post, the telephone, xerox machines, the silent film and artificial intelligence (AI)

At the heart of this group of researchers is FRIEDRICH KITTLER, Germanist and computer freak, who comes from Freiburg and has been recently lecturing at Bochum. He practices discourse analysis and has written two papers much in demand amongst others of his circle. In fact, they are essential reading for understanding the Kassel School- so named after the place where research results are regularly exchanged. These papers can be highly recommended to those devotees of the heavyweight German tone covering the attitude of artists towards the media at the turn of the century. But we must still wait patiently for a theory about the effect of contemporary media. Perhaps the international propagation of the Kassel hypotheses will accelerate this process.

The mother's mouth


Media Archeology - This text was printed in Mediamatic Magazine Volume 3 Issue 4 and accompanied the text Media Archeology.

KITTLER'S thesis, Aufschreibesysteme 1800 - 1900, is an academic discourse which both in terms of style and of literature discussed still conforms with the discipline of Germanistics. But it has caused a palace revolution within the walls of this hand-me-down Gelehrtenrepublik where even today GOETHE'S children still maintain the endless circulation of text interpretation. First of all KITTLER deprives the classical writers of the 1800s of their transcendence by placing them in the context of the current drive towards literacy and the advent of general knowledge whose means of distribution was mother's mouth. Once this process was achieved and with the advent of new recording techniques at the beginning of the 20th century, the author observes the disappearance of every sentence of literature, it all vanished in a puff of white noise. Writing poetry at the beginning of the 19th century was pure distribution ofdiscourse, a century later it's nothing more than a recycling ofpsychiatric garbage.Exit the hermeneuticians. Their object has been defiled by KITTLER and is now placed in the broader context of media history. This literature that rstablished Germany’s reputation as a land of poets and philosophers has become one of the many systems of notation in chronology from LUTHER'S Authorized Version to the multi-media, atom bombproof ISDN glass-fibre cable network that will installed within the next ten years. Following the example of FOUCAUL'r's studies of prisons and sexuality, KITTLER also sees a break in history around the year 1800. In this case it concerns the appropriation of texts. Up to that point they were literally rattled off without paying any attention to the meaning and were simply learned by heart. This meant that it was impossible to achieve a standard unified language and hence it became important in the prehistory of the technical media (beginning in 1800) that the language children learnt was purged of dialects and animal sounds. This language had to be a general equivalent. The Bildungsstaat ordered pedagogues to propagate a homogeneous medium,and the medium elected for the job was called mother. She would educate the civil servants of the future by means of the phonetic method. Her stylized voice would replace the reading aloud of separate letters.
KITTLER characterizes this phoneticizing of the alphabet as being
the 1800 revolution. It would not be the voice of transcendence but the mother's mouth that was to be the source of all discourse which the writer would later owe his prodigious imagination to. The use of this instrument produces a new body that prohibits reading out loud and installs an inner voice so that writing becomes oral production and reading oral consumption. So writing is no longer a skill exclusive to priests and public servants, it is a universal medium. It is only in the capacity of author that the individual can perceive himself as being a fully fledged human being. So writing weaves a discourse around humanity and raises it to one common denominator. Everything in this Aufschreibesystem 1800 , as KITTLER calls it can be in principle translated and put into words. So the art of writing poetry consists of the re-evocation of the voice in
the text. Poets develop the capacity to translate the words flowing from the mother’s mounth and ensure that the oral and the textual is a constant flow between author and reader.
Women as mothers become producers of truth in government service yet they have no voice of their own. They do not write, they simply speak the words of male authors. They are both subject matter and consumers of poetry; only as readers can they enter into correspondence with the classical poets. Driven by his Einbildungskraft the poet saturates his love texts with riddles so as to initiate the flow of communication between author and female reader. This leads RACHEL VARNHAGEN to the statement that onecan love without loving Goethe. Male pedagogues study this consumption and compile slim volumes of poetry to lead her in the path of rightteousness. Women have taste, but not the creative power of genius as one of them says. This image remained the reason why women were exluded from universities in the 19th century.

Écriture automatique

KITTLER contends that the belief in the universal medium of language that transports thought dwindled towards the end of the 19th century. New techniques robbed language of context. What remains of literature as phenomenon after recording by gramophone or psychoanalyst is only the unutterable visibleness of the naked signs that honour a cult of letters. Voiceless. (BOLZ) With the advent of the technical media, literature was no longer characterized by the correct choice of words to express emotional impulses, rather it concerned the search for a new relationship with the equipment. So the text had
to be subordinated to the standard and materiality of the other medium. The translatable, general equivalent had to step aside for the punctual and serial transposition of signs.
In the Aufschreibesystem 1900 the universal discourses of yesteryear have become outputs of chance generators and Ach!, the romantic's gasp, is relieved by an ecriture automatique that works on the trash heap of the unconscious subject: blah, blah, blah. KITTLER sees NIETZSCHE'S telegram style or the poems of CHRISTIAN MORGENSTERN as being the expression of an unrestrained production that defies signification. If the words are despatched in telegram form, they acquire an fixed price and should be subjected to the logic of advertizing that prescribes that the minimum of words should possess the maximum of energy. Style, once the great writers' signature, has become a sign economy in 1900.
Reading, speaking, hearing and writing no longer have a subject in this physiological era. And no female teachers. The mother is replaced by the child as object of solicitude. Her task of propagating literacy has been taken over by the media so that her function as
instrumental mouth has become superfluous. She becomes a different kind of medium that acts not on a symbolic level but in reality and serves the equipment as a typist. From that point on nimble female fingers retype manuscripts or take dictation.

New notation techniques

KITTLER completed the second extensive work to be discussed here immediately after receiving his PHD. It is completely devoted to the Grunderzeit of the media (1880-1920). It deals with the written reactions of literati to the new information techniques and hence forms a supplement to the section about the Aufschreibesystem 1900.
Because KITTLER no longer had to fulfill PHD criteria, his Grammaphon Film Typewriter offers far more insight into the way in which he wants to research the media's effect. The dialogue with the Germanists, which is de facto the domain of the 19th century, still reverberates but he breaks new ground such as with the history of technology and of war. The book is well illustrated and the text isalternated with long quotes and short stories which are then interpreted. Treating the advent of the three notation systems separately brings the ideas of Aufschreibesysteme 1800/1900 to life and KITTLER'S technical computer language no longer seems like some foreign body in the text.
The introduction opens with the current disappearance of the distinction between the optic, acoustic and written media with the advent of glass-fibre. The total media alliance that this produces will do away with media in the plural. But until that time we will have to put up with the partial coupling that MCLUHAN discusses: film andmradio combined in TV... records and tape brought together in radio. What is still absent from these couplings is the binary unity of the number that is converted into arbitrary interface effects such as TV, videophone or telefax . The present combinations still depend on the senses.
KITTLER'S view of history is concerned with the sensorial which first had to be produced before the media could define what reality is. This opening up of autonomous senses for emitted impulses is an operation which began around the year 1900. It was linked with an attack on the monopoly of writing which exists in a symbolic order of time. The possibility of manipulating time with the new media techniques sparked off the differentiation between the optic, the acoustic and the written so that nothing remains of the sanctity and eternity of the word.
As in his doctoral thesis KITTLER uses LACAN'S distinction between the real, the symbolic and the imaginary - a useful theory to characterize the whys and wherefores of these sensory stimuli and to explain the origin of media diversification. However, this
diversification ended with the building of the TURING machine around the time of the Second World War. In the world of pure data that arose with the birth of the computer, the symbolic literally coincides with the machine, a universal apparatus in which numbers

The sound-signal

In the first section that deals with the phonograph, texts by GUYAU, RILKE, RENARD and FRIEDLAENDER make it obvious that the reproduction of sound recordings directlymanipulate the brain (Sound of music in my ear as PINK FLOYD says). Hallucination is rendered feasible and memory constructable once time can be manipulated. The writers involved with this issue are producing a cerebral physiology in a literary form. However, their texts have neither a technical nor a futuristic tone. Following the texts' interpretation KITTLER comes to the conclusion that since the phonograph texts exist without a subject and the grooves of the record dig the grave of the author. In the same vein comes his assertion that during analysis FREUD would act as a telephone service and actually became a receiver.
This chapter really hots up once we get to the bit about the war. KITTLER describes how radio came out of the misuse of communications equipment at the end of the First World War. He deduces from that fact the 20th century notion that in all cases the entertainment industry has misused military material. Ears are first and foremost weapons to localize the enemy, to tap in and only after the usual delay are they the source of revenue (as radio and the record industry has discovered). The advent of stereo makes this crystal clear. This was used for the first time in the Battle of Britain.
The Luftwaffe transmitted signals from various locations in Europe which the pilot received through the left and right ear-pieces of his headphones. He would release his cargo of bombs over London or Coventry once the ping-pong sounds became one merged tone. It was exactly the same story with magnetic tape recording which was first used by the German secret service to check whether the morse code messages they received from secret agents were real and not some enemy ruse. They were compared with previous recordings bearing the acoustic signature of the agent concerned. The importance of
tape and stereo within the context of post-war culture hardly needs illuminating here. The fall-out of the Second World War is called rock 'n' roll and blares out in stereo HIFI from FM radios or tape recorders in cars and living rooms throughout the world.

The curtain-fire of images

KITTLER'S film story begins where sound recording ends: with the cut-up. BURROUGH'S experiments with three tape recorders took place some 80 years after the invention of the phonograph while film used editing right from the very beginning. That's why in LACAN'S terms film also belongs to the realm of the imaginary and KITTLER
concludes that phonography and the feature film relate to each other as the real does to the imaginary. This domain must also be conquered and again by means of military techniques. KITTLER concurs with LACAN'S lecture in Guerre et Cinema which
demonstrates that the mechanism of the first film camera was based on a machine gun. After this technical leg-up, we move on to the soul where the stream of images is received by means of nerves on the retina. For this part the resulting shock is verbalized by
psychiatrists, psychoanalysts and psychotechnicians. Films are more real than reality, they produce reality, duplicate duplication, make everyone a doppelganger, transform life into recording, film films. The films reproduce the original tempo of the associations, determine everyday perception, or rather //they emit the viewer's process of
perception, in short they form the model of the soul//. Film can render the mechanisms of the unconscious far more accurately than studies of hysteria or other psychological experiments can because it is the first medium able to process the neurological stream of data. Once the symbolism of literature vanished into the calculator (the real as object of philosophical reflection has become something impossible that probably lurks somewhere in a data processor) the imaginary, instead of being a dream emanating from the soul's abyss, finally becomes a simple optical gimmick. Media technology has completed its work. Differentiation has been achieved. Various media links may be realized now that the separate levels can be controlled.

The mechanical aphorism

The notion of the typewriter, to which the last section of KITTLER'S book is devoted, has a double meaning: typewriter and typist. The typewriter is unable to conjure up anything imaginary in the way that film can or simulate something real as a tape recorder does. But what it can do is switch the gender of writing. Until the middle of the 19th
century men had a monopoly on the copying and processing of texts. Up to that point German writers of genius only employed male secretaries. Women were ideally associated as source of inspiration and sounding board but never participated in the actual production of a text. Fifty years later it was almost exclusively women who as (steno-) typists worked the discourse machine guns - it's no coincidence that we talk about 'striking' a key.
The American writer MARK TWAIN wrote his novel Tom Sawyer in 1874 on the first REMINGTON. From then on the typewriter became an important instrument for the mass production of text. KITTLER does not explore this functional aspect in any greater depth.
But he does elaborate at great length NIETZSCHE'S brief adventure with the HANSEN bullet-shaped typewriter (1867) which he was able to use from January to March 1889. KITTLER argues that this must be viewed as being the beginning of typewriter literature because NIETZSCHE'S aphorisms - the transition from philosophy to literature also concur with his reflections on this piece of equipment. (Keywords: Unser Schreibzeug arbeitet mit an unseren Gedanken). Still more important than the few letters he typed is the fact that NIETZSCHE was the first to team up with women to further his writing. Since then countless modern writers have formed logistic couples with their secretaries. After listing countless convincing cases (the fraternal marriage of GOTTFRIED BENN with a woman who could type 200 letters a minute) he discusses the corresponding duo FRANZ KAFKA - FELICE BAUER in greater depth. She worked for the LINDSTROM company in Berlin, the biggest manufacturer of dictaphones in Germany. She kept KAFKA informed of all the latest developments and he sent suggestions by letter or postcard about how to introduce collaborative technical innovations. This pair shows most clearly that their intercourse was textual rather than sexual.

The artificial text

After the typewriter section we plunge into post history, in which the beginning and end of all artificial intelligence has been formed by the war. At first sight this postscript resembles a computer manual in terms of terminology. All the media glamour and lady secretaries will be done for in the AI phase. The role of literature has been played out
(with the possible exception of THOMAS PYNCHON). KITTLER'S tone becomes hard, bitter even. We leave the folly of the bourgeois media publicity behind us and are initiated into the secret operations of the real users of digital data processing: the military. After failing to prevent the radio from falling into civilian hands at the end of the First World War, they developed the ENIGMA machine in order to transmit orders in secret codes. Using TURING'S discoveries the Allies succeeded in building COLOSSUS, the first computer that broke the German Enigma codes. The generations following the Second World War continue to calculate atomic explosions. So the computer was born into this world of destruction and AI research is still at the disposal of secret military strategies.
Dr. BENN'S motto was Erkenne die Lage (recognize the situation). However, KITTLER views this call to investigate the situation using one's senses to the utmost as having vanished into nothingness with the advent of artificial intelligence. A possible contemporary version, Erkenne die Medien (recognize the media), still does not provide any programmed formula for this kind of research. We are defenseless against topicality: in this situation there remains only the backwards glance and that means the telling of stories. The ancient medium of writing is only just capable of putting into words what happened at the beginning of this century with the introduction of now antiquated media such as the gramophone, film or the typewriter. Stories, myths, fictions and oracles that can still be propagated, appear in KITTLER'S view on the interface of two media like a moire, the interference that occurs when one matrix shifts across another. From this we can conclude that words fail to understand what automatized discourse analysis (as performed by a fifth generation AI machine) actually does. These computers engender no history, rather they open up a new space. What researchers can still do is construct stories. SO KITTLER'S discourse analysis is actually a game which others are invited to play. The Buch der Konige by the Freiburg master story teller KLAUS THEWELEIT is proof that this game is actually worthwhile and does produce new stories. In the 1200 pages of Orpheus und Eurydike (which was published in 1988 as the first of a four-part work) he frequently uses KITTLER'S postulates concerning the typewriter woman as the medium of the 20th century writer. He elaborates references to the lives of BENN and KAFKA into whole chapters that easily outstrip KITTLER in style and sense of conviction. It shows that once thought through theory possesses the vitality to attract tall stories.

translation ANNIE WRIGHT