What characterises German media theory is the amount of attention it pays to the physical aspects of relations with the media. They no longer believe that a distance exists between the subject and the image or sound. Looking and listening have become physical, tactile experiences. At the same time, one can say of media theory that it does not engage in metaphysics, but, rather, displays a great interest in the hard facts about the effect of technology. According tot heir view. The new concepts to be identical to the design of the hardware. Media theory sees itself as an entr acte, in anticipation of an adequate description of the computer.
In search of the place which a future theory of the media might occupy. Lovink talked to two exponents of German media theory, Norbert Bolz and Dietmar Kamper.
Dietmar Kamper’s contributions to media theory consist of writings about the nature of human perception, in which he often refers to the world of Greek mythology. He makes use of the treasure trove od interpretations in this mythological universe in his experiments, which are aimed at a conceptualisation of contemporary technology. Dietmar Kamper displays a certain caution in taking this approach: during the following talk, which took place in late January 1991 in Berlin, this allows new insights to come about.
Dietmar Kamper was born in 1936 and studied philosophy and pedagogy. Since 1979, he has been professor of sociology at the Freie Universität in West Berlin. He is one of the editors of the magazine Tumult and, together with Christoph Wulf, has published countless collections of articles, about laughter, the holy, the return of the body and the deceptive beauty of appearances, among other subjects. Dietmar Kamper describes the science which he practices as ‘historical anthropology’. His most well-known book Zur Geschichte der Einbildungskraft has recently been published in a pocket edition by Rowohlt. His own books are usually published by Hanser Verlag in München (for example, Zur Soziologie der Imagination and Das Gefangene Einhorn ). The latest of his works to be published was Hieroglyphen der Zeit, with the sub-title Texte vom Fremdwerden der welt.
When the Gulf war broke out, Paul Virilio made an appeal in the Berlin daily newspaper Die Tageszeitung for a reconquest of time. In it, he claims that we must first analyse and interpret the images, before protesting. How might such an analysis look?
I think that we must employ a certain reserve if we wish to avoid falling into the mentality of contemporary commentators, who are only capable of presenting us with the choice of either thinking the one... or: the other. We all still remember Virilio and Kittlers' hypotheses that the media are offspring of the war. What dumbfounds me about the Gulf War is that the media are denying us images. Officially, it’s based on considerations of military secrecy, but I think that something else is going on. All of these images radiate an air of competence. Over and over, ad nauseum , we're convinced of the fact that they're in control of the situation. Only, we're not allowed to see whether that indeed is the case. The selection of images amounts lo an adoration of the absolute weapon, as Virilio terms it. That is unheard of and unbearable, in the long run. As long as no images of the dirty war are shown, human beings continue to appear to be the lord and master of the situation. But as soon as the dirty images begin filtering in, that competence is done for. This means that images no longer show the power of people. Do they indeed have power of their own, a strategy of their own? Does the reporters' fear of the images have to do with the fact that the images no longer increase the power of human beings?
I suspect that because of the remarkable ban on images and the apotheosis of competence, that the images will acquire another status than that which we have been used to up to now. They no longer illustrate instrumental appropriation. The excessive use of images in past decades has led to the images' causing a reaction to the viewers and makers. In ancient religions, the ban on images was effected because they were thought to amplify human beings' potential for power. Now that interaction with images has become extremely commonplace, the images lose their potential power for those who use them.
At the moment, I lean toward viewing the image more as a window than as a mirror. The mirrors have been shattered to pieces. Historically considered, the mirror stage is finished, which brings about a great anxiety. The fantasms which Freud and Lacan saw as emergency solutions which offered something of a foothold have disappeared. What remains is the naked fear of a hard reality. This new situation raised the question of the extent to which we can exist in a myth - free space, stripped of any symbolic order at all. The excessive use of images places us before the question of who is actually playing a game with who. Perhaps we will become aware now that images have always played a game with us and a new passion for images which no longer submit themselves or serve for submission will come into being.
In Hieroglyphen der Zeit, you write:// because of the erosion of virtually all criteria, the authentic is glorified more and more, and simulation is denigrated. With regard to this, you appeal not for a return to the authentic, but for a mimetic undermining of simulation, that which Baudrillard calls the strategy of appearances. How should we picture this, in this media world?
People are used to op posing simulation to authenticity, a deception which is considered the opposite of realness. In our relations with the media, it’s been apparent to me for some time that both authenticity and simulation are on the same side. They belong together. If you long for something authentic because of a lack, then you yourself are not. Someone who is alive doesn't know this desire at all. If one wishes to be authentic, one has only the means of simulation at ones disposal. Then one journeys into history in search of moments which radiate realness, while, in my opinion, they never came into being because of an urge to be authentic - one already simply was. The simulated realness which results from this is ultimately not real either, causing one to dispatch it as simulation... that’s an endless spiral.
I believe that opposed to this is mimetic behaviour, which can't be traced back to imitation (Nachahmung). As early as the Greek fathers of the mimesis idea, we find the fallacy that something like authenticity can be brought about by upbringing. In both Aristoteles and Plato, mimesis as an imitation of nature is based on a lack, which inescapably results in simulation. In fact, the entire imitation concept is based on a misconception about the meaning of mimesis. This actually has its origins in the capacity of the human being for play. When children play, they don't simply imitate the world of adults. They possess a power which one could describe as a premonition ( Vorahmung ). They develop a premonition in order to achieve a specific goal. The same thing has been discovered among the so-called childlike primitives: they portray the rain, marriage, etc. From these rituals came a foundation for human culture. Everyone who is aware of this will understand that this desire to bring about analogies isn't just an attempt to imitate something already existing, but that this power gives rise to something that didn't exist previously. Mimesis is original and creates a new world, that of imagination and fantasy, of artificiality and art, which can be assigned a reality of its own. The relapse into fundamentalism in evidence everywhere at the moment, is the inability to play, to attain a distance from one's self and regard one's self with irony, to be humoristic, take yourself less seriously. This is only possible with the help of play. As soon as people lose the ability to play, they begin warring.
In earlier times, people lessened this by means of war games. Up until the 18th century, one can say, in retrospect, war was also a kind of game. Today, war results in a complete state of emergency, the only things at stake are life and death. The keynote of everything which is staged in the theatre of war is a bloody state of emergency. The ability to play has become one of the stakes. That is the reason for my appeal for a revival of mimesis, as a way of departing by means of fantasy from the established paths, abolishing automatisms. That may cause irritation and confusion among our dead- serious, fantasy-Iess fellow human beings, but otherwise, those like yourself and I, who hold to a playful relationship towards ourselves and others, are in danger of going under. Once play disappears, difference will too, and only more of the same will remain. One can dispatch this as blasphemy. Play is indeed directed against deadly earnestness, which asks for sacrifices and must make them.
How would mimesis in the present situation look? In this regard, I've described a paradoxical state which I've called 'conscious self-deception'. It creates skills for dealing with pain, hunger and desire. This doesn't relieve people, but it does make it possible for them not to hold the world to which they're condemned to he the only possible one. When play disappears, one can only go through life as a perpetrator or a victim.
You speak of the fremdwerden der Welt. Is it possible, perhaps, to speak of a fremdwerden der Medien, as a consequence of the influence of the flood of images?
If we conclude that the images have a strategy of their own and that human beings no longer dispose of them instrumentally, but, rather, should approach them as a partner, these relations with images strike us as being strange. The continuous pressure to have to transcend causes the old distinction between ones own, trusted environment and the alien world outside to he undermined. It is replaced with a permanent immanence. The dialectic between appropriation and alienation, such as the great critics of the bourgeois 19th century described, has developed itself in such a way that it has become difficult to speak of an 'alien world outside', In the midst of this immanence is the inventor of this world, astonished at the seemingly infinite appropriation of all that 'outside'. Like a wizard, he is astonished at his own success, unable to comprehend how he accomplished all those magic tricks. His magic formulas have become reality. The same strange awareness makes itself master of us when we see the media expanding. This is what I mean by fremdwerden der selbstgemachten Welt. The media landscape is the field upon which the extent to which the inventions are getting out of hand becomes visible. Theoreticians display an ambiguous attitude toward this fremdwerden, sometimes they deplore the one, exult in the other and vice versa. I do, too, The creation of an artificial environment causes one to forget one thing, namely, one’s self. This 'stepping out of ones self' is splendidly expressed by Hegel when he says that humanity has gotten outside of itself. That is a grand skill which hadn’t existed, up to then.
For quite a while, I was a follower of Günther Anders' idea that one reacts to this self-made world with shame. But when he formulated that, he hadn't had the kind of media experience which we do. Leaving aside the critical situation of the present moment, we could say that we might be especially astounded at the capabilities which we dispose of. This doubtless contains an element of self-adoration, but that’s not what I mean. I see an attentiveness and responsibility, not in a moral sense, but in a questioning sense. We don't wonder what the answer might be, but, rather, what the question might be, to which people have already reacted in advance. The fact that people are a step ahead must certainly have to do with mimetic capabilities and the power possessed by the images. The ban on images that we find in the oldest writings of our culture, is, at the same time, a ban on breaking out of this traditional society. With the advent of the New Age comes a great enthusiasm for appropriating the world and making it humane with the help of images. One could say that working with images is pre-eminently human. Hans Sedlmeyer once claimed the opposite: the idea that in God’s plan for creation, the characters who create the imagination don't occur. Thus, in order to give them a place, people in the Middle Ages situated images in hell.
Thus, the Modern Age would be hell par excellence. The world which human beings have made for themselves, would therefore have to be branded as hell. I don't require that. I don't want to reverse the claim, either. The power of dialectics is based on reversals. If you want to depart from that, you mustn’t reverse your position, you must 'paraverse' it, take up a position next to it. Paradoxy means 'departing from the teachings'. One doesn’t contradict them, one takes up a position next to them. One doesn't stand things on their head completely, just a bill. Fantasy offers you a chance to get off the track, to oppose nature. A self made world doesn't necessarily have to wind up with Star Wars, this stage can be conquered. The world created for ourselves doesn't necessarily have to be destroyed because it’s all our own fault. In this respect, we aren't in the same position as Goethe’s sorcerers apprentice. It isn't that we've invented things which we can't free of the curse that is on them. We haven't even understood what it is we've invented, yet. The sorcerer has to go back to school. With out forgetting about the dark side, or pronouncing everything which is happening holy in advance, we can undertake experiments with mixed feelings, experiments which were never possible, before.
In your contribution to the collection Bildmaschinen und Erfahrung, you claim that new technologies can’t be covered with one theory. What might be the element which connects the new media theories?
The artificial world which has been created is characterized by polyvalence. It's not centered. Where could the centre lie, anyway? Practice refutes any theory, that's become obvious to me in my meetings with video artists and with radio and television makers. This doesn't mean that we should lay aside the technical apriori being researched by Kittler. The questions he raises are of great historiographical interest, but don't apply to all periods. I would like to turn back the time machine and take a look at how the artificial world must have looked when there were no microphones or technical image reproduction. Just as in the case of the exchanging of paradigms in the natural sciences, one can't claim that earlier practices were superfluous or even wrong. That which is applicable to a special area, can't become a generalisation. We're not so far along that we can claim that video has taken over film theory. Once I've seen a lot of video art, I quit seeing anything at all. I wonder why video makes it possible once again to delve into systems of thought. Because video isn't image production, it’s image destruction. Images aren't built up, they're broken down. The images are worked on, and, often, it’s thought that is unleashed on them. This kind of development isn't linear, like people often think when technical innovations happen. The media move on different levels. You could indeed claim that the media give us new insights about the human body and that the order which we encounter within them might be of crucial significance for the relationship between the different media theories. What caresses the eye, pleases the ear and stimulates the tactile sense can coincide quite well in a physical reality which doesn't per se have to be portrayed on a monitor. Language will remain in the game, as will writing.
Writing about media which lay on the other side of the written word will continue to exist, in light of the fact that reflexive capabilities develop only very slowly. An alliance comes into existence, but what supplies the inner coherence no longer needs to be 'the concept' or that one theory, or the plane upon which certain patterns are created, like the images on a TV screen or the imaginary spaces which can be entered with the help of cyberspace technology. The cyberspace which we know to date is too much oriented to imitation and attempts to create a disguised form of authenticity. It will only become interesting when video and radio makers, filmmakers and writers come together and distribute their knowledge. We find ourselves at present in a phase of remarkable competition between the different media, which also makes itself felt in theory. That will pass. I hope that the way out will have a physical dimension, which prescribes an order in which one expresses various time dimensions via the body. In the construction of the human world I see time emerge as a secret pattern. That’s the time which we've actually lost, time in its whole extent and multiplicity. Then it will have to become clear that there’s a difference between short and long time, that the duration of a human life can't be compared with that of stars, that light is not the absolute measure of all things, but that a mixture of shadow and light is absolutely necessary, that past, present and future are dimensions in time which require different media. I've never understood how one can narrate about the future. One can only narrate about the past. One can only fight with the present, a battle must he waged for it. One can't do otherwise than prophesise about the future, and, as far as that goes, I'm a strict follower of the Old Testament.
Every person has gifts of prophecy, if he only knows how to mobilize the power in that direction. Words do indeed have a structure which is aimed at the future: once spoken, one must prove one’s words, follow them with ones deeds. One must account for them, either to ones self or to others. The future shines through the word once spoken. Images, on the other hand, show us a special mixture of past and present. In this respect, TV is rigid: everything immediately becomes the past. The TV does not participate in the unfolding of time. To me, the microphone and sound recording equipment are an enigma. I find them provocative. One is challenged to say something which hasn't been said before, insights come into being of which one was completely unaware and which would never have surfaced in the loneliness of the study. We're rightfully witnessing the disappearance of the unidirectional, Iinear media theories, which are making way for a physical, multidimensional agglomeration.
In November of 1990, you organized a conference in the Literaturhaus in Berlin with the title Das Ahr als Erkenntnisorgan - zur Antropologie des Hörens. In light of the dominance of the eye, can we see this discussion as an attempt to rehabilitate the ear?
To my amazement, what emerged from this seminar is that the ear isn't just a passive organ which obediently records. The idea was to do more listening than speaking. In the beginning, we were able to do so only with great difficulty, which is already an indication of how unusual it is to assign the human ear a power of its own, which isn't only subservient to thought, but also to speech. What someone has to say, is highly dependent on the extent to which he is listened to and who is listening. No pure research has been done on that. What everyone does know is that if you can't hear yourself, you can't say a single sensible word or that you can only make sentences with great difficulty. The ear specialist Tomatis from Nice ran into this problem after the Second World War. He cured opera singers by teaching them to listen better. The voice healed on its own, as the source of the singers' complaints was not their voices but their hearing. This discovery in physiology parallels the re- appearance of the Jewish oral narrative tradition in this century, in which one assumes that the ear is a tiny step ahead of what one wishes to say. The ears have a small head start on speech, so the voice can be corrected. As Rosenstrock-Huessy said: if people would listen to themselves better, 50 much nonsense wouldn't be talked. As soon as one listens to another accurately, he also stops talking nonsense. I've tried that out with students and found it to be true.
The ear, which has been declared dead, possessed such power in the Middle Ages, but it was only used to enforce blind obedience and servility. Now that the eye has attained the peak of its capabilities and is becoming overloaded, a new chapter of reason can he opened up with the ear. It’s remarkable how, from various different angles, one arrives at the point at which the eye loses itself in looking, while the ear finds itself in hearing. That’s such an asymmetrical result that research into it must be promising.
Translation Jim Boekbinder
The West German philosopher Norbert Bolz Enjoys international fame as a specialist in Walter Benjamin’s Passagen – Werk. He proved himself to be an expert on modern classics with the publication of his bookAuszug ais der Enzauberten Welt (departure from the demistified world). In it,Bolz treats the philosophical extremism between the two World Wars no longer as something which must be condemned in retrospect. A number of years back, with this well-equipped luggage filled with nineteenth century concepts, Bolz changed over to the world of twentieth century media technologies. The following conversation took place last January in Berlin.
After a long career as lecturer in philosophy at the Freie Universität of Berlin, Norbert Bolz is now a free-lance researcher. He is a permanent participant in the publications and conferences which are initiated by the West German research project Media and Literature Analysis in Kassel (two such group publications are reviewed in this issue of Mediamatic ) and is associated with the name of Friedrich Kittler (in Mediamatic 3# 4 an overview can be found of Kittler’s ideas). Bolz’s recent work, which supplies the ‘materiality of the media’ with a history, might easily be seen a part of this group research. Eine kurze Geschichte des Scheins, a treatise about the philosophical background of the ‘ancient duel between semblance and being’, was recently published by the Wilhelm Fink Verlag. In this book, after a long tour through Nietsche’s works, Bolz arrives at ‘digital aesthetics’, a subject with which he will be occupied in the near future.
In Auszug aus der Entzauberten Welt //you deal with a very wide range of different thinkers, from Walter Benjamin and Ernst Bloch to Carl Schmitt and Ernst Jünger. For the most part, you indicate what they have in common. According to you, they all display a negativity with respect to their own time. Does this also apply to their view of technology? To what extent did they go further than simply instrumental criticism of technology?
The blind spot of thought between the two World Wars is the technologieal apriori of individual thought. An exception, perhaps, would be Walter Benjamin and Ernst jünger, who show an awareness of this in some passages. Benjamin and jünger occasionally depart from an instrumental view of technology, which regards machines as objects which are situated in the outside world. Jünger’s 'organic construction' indicates synergy between man and machine. This is a formulation which comes close to Mcl.uhans 'extensions' of the individual body, the senses and the central nervous system. Not 'outside', that is. The claim is still made that media are objects which one can turn off and shove into the corner. That 's possible, but the function no longer has the character of a tool. Intellectuals, especially, have difficulty seeing media as protheses. The media addicts are evidence that we aren't simply dealing with a tool here. To Lacan, these gadgets are objects which are desired, 'object lower case a', detached parts of the individuals body. In this way, the utopias of the thirties, which tell of a symbiosis of machines and collectives, become more understandable. Then, they were fantasies, but, now, that interweaving isn't far away.
Your book Theorie der neuen Medien opens with a chapter about Nietzsche. Why do you find this antiquarian from Basel to be the founder of modern media theory?
Nietzsche is one of the first to discuss the widely divergent meanings of the word medium. From telepathic to technical. He does that within a broad framework in which he indicates the blind spots of the second Enlightenment, which was beginning in his times. He produced a theoretical concept of the first mass medium in a pregnant sense, namely Wagner. Die Geburt der Tragödie aus dem Geiste der Musik is a description of the first mass medium, in my view. The analysis of the Apollonian and the Dionysian, which has always been dispensed with as having to do only with mythology, turns out to be a fairly adequate typification of the bodily condition of the media. The world of images and sounds is called into being by inner excitement and is made visible and audible by actors and musicians in a rain of images and an endless melody, Together, this causes an effect which hadn't yet been shown, in an aesthetic sense, and may rightfully be termed a Gesamtkunstwerk.
This can no longer be called the production of 'object art' in the strictest sense of the word, but, rather, of a mass medium which stages images and sounds and which takes possession of the spectator completely. It’s a multi-media, staged event in which the spectator is absorbed into the work of art from the beginning onwards, Nietzsche emphatically points out the rebirth of the aesthetic spectator. Since classical antiquity, aesthetical reception has viewed art as alien objects which one perceived from some distance. And then, suddenly, under the denominator of 'intoxication and dream', a manner of reception is discovered in which the distance between subject and object no longer exists. This is paradigmatic for all mass media. It is senseless to introduce the difference between subject and object. The spectators are consumed by the performance. If one reads soberly, one sees that Die Geburt der Tragödie can easily be rewritten to form a first theory about multi -medial staging.
Nietzsche later accused Wagner of having exchanged the path of multi -medial aesthetics for that of art which propagates a message. Up until now, Wagner wasn't regarded as a media artist simply because the techniques of mass communication weren't at his disposal. That was to change radically only a couple of years later, and Chamberlain was able to propose accompanying Liszt with film. This causes Nietzsche’s texts to sound unreadable and archaic, while he discusses the most modern aesthetic products. His texts about Wagner can only be lifted out of this traditional context by short-circuiting them with today's media theories and by creating an interface between Nietzsche and McLuhan.
What is the significance of following the path leading backwards from McLuhan to Nietzsche, for us?
The significance is that only in retrospect does the genealogy of the new media become visible. A history of the individual media, of photography or of film, is not capable of that. Lt’s McLuhan who turned the history of technology into a retrospective view of the way in which we perceive. Moreover, he made the professional literature in the area of the psychology of perception accessible, in which it is demonstrated that images are experienced not so much visually as tactilely. We cannot simply dispense the image-bombardment as a purely optical phenomenon. The history of this organisation of perception is much more interesting and we find it in Nietzsche, Benjamin, RiegI, Wölfllin and McLuhan.
Gadgets actually only effect staging-illusions which were already extant. Nietzsche points out the connection between individual endogenous signal production during dream and intoxication, and mass- staged events. Dream images and intoxication- experiences connect aesthetic perception with mass communication. The goal of this is the creation of connections, not the propagation of messages; it’s to make a large-scale connection between the central nervous system and the collectively experienced aesthetic product.
But, certainly, in the beginning of this century, no connection existed between the public realm and the world of individual experience? The German authors you deal with are no experience? The German authors you deal with are no exception to this, are they?
Indeed, these authors of the twenties employ a concept of politics from the nineteenth century, when it still wasn't necessary to search for a connection with medial reality. Walter Benjamin and Ernst Jünger are the only two who break free of this tradition and develop a new concept of politics under the precursory sign of collectivism. Benjamin’s reproduction thesis and Jünger’s Der Arbeiter were both written in the context of collectivism, even though they were written by individualists. It was no longer possible to analyse with the experience of separate individuals as a point of departure. It had become insignificant: that had been demonstrated by the First World War. The bourgeois individual is let go of and a collective body replaces it. In Benjamin’s case, the matrix is communism. In Jünger’s, it’s the mythic form of the worker. They may mean little to us now, but what’s important is the urgent need which they conceal: the need to think of a collective body. The polltical body of Benjamin and Jünger is of the same order as the aesthetic body of Wagner and Nietzsche. If mass communication is to have any meaning, then one should first define it as the technical organisation of a collective body.
//Carl Schmitt has proposed that all concepts of polities are of
theological origin, and have been secularized in the course of time. Can we say that about the concepts which are employed in media theory as well?//
The question of whether a 'theology of the media' exists arises as soon as one takes even one step away from a functional description and begins to doubt the rather stiff, masculine conviction that the functioning of the system has become a goal in and of itself. The theological dimension of the media becomes visible at the moment at which the telepathic and electronic media begin to approach one another. When the connection of various media and its users has progressed to such an extent, immaterialisation will have reached a critical boundary and all subjectivity will dissolve. The 'consummate anonymity' which then comes about certainly has a theological background, conceptually. For Kierkegaard, anonymity was the 'incognito' of negative theology.
In my view, the new theology should take the form of gnosis. A theology which is based on an absolute claim to knowledge. Theology is only still tolerated if it takes the form of an integral knowledge of the world. The outlines of this integral knowledge, patterns for defining the world, are becoming apparent in the convergence of different branches of physics. At the same time, the aid religions will return as a reaction to the continuous Entzauberung. The new media also carry a radical disillusionment with them. The new gnosis which the Pax Americana brings, will find itself confronted with old, fundamentalistic religions, which will withdraw into remote regions. Militant sects which succeed in mobilising the population can link with the religious reserves which people possess during the total Entzauberung der Welt.
Is Hans Jürgen Syberberg a member of one of those sects? Why did this film maker suddenly turn against the media?
Syberberg believes that his own project is threatened by the gadget lovers. What he wants is a Durcharbeitung (further development) of the German myth. Alexander Kluge and Hans Jürgen Syberberg are some of the few in Germany who are convinced of the need to continue working on the myth. It is no coincidence that both work with film. The fact that the film maker Syberberg is a Wagnerian fits perfectly into my hypothesis, of course. Continuing to work on the myth and the ability to understand how the new media work are two complementary enterprises, in my view. At present, there’s a real danger of both of them being paralyzed. Enlightened minds make research of the myth impossible, while mythologists pronounce the media taboo. I think that such fears disappear if you show that media and myths overlap. I know that Syberberg is scared that his own productivity will be hindered by new techniques. That’s the product of ignorance. And Its grotesque, of course, if you know the extent to which he’s connected with the classic, new medium of film. He sees the Gesamtkunstwerk as theatrical staging and reduces the multi-medial character to theater. That is a typically conservative interpretation of Wagner. Instead of recognizing that film does indeed offer the possibility of liberating the Gesamtkunstwerk from aid chains, he reverses the whole case and returns to the form of theater. After having begun moving in the direction of this dead end, he’s allowed himself to be led into making the most insane statements.
I suspect that Botho Strauss, with his plea for a ‘primary literature’, will have great influence in the nineties within the bourgeois discourse and that aversion to the media will become the dominant mentality. Don’t you think that this conservative attitude will hinder media theory in its further development?
Writers like Botho Strauss are becoming more and more conscious of the medial premises of their work and can no longer withdraw from the media. That’s why they respond with a hysterical counter-reaction. They refuse interviews, stay far away from television and act as though what they write is free of secondary literature. However, if you look at their books, which I admire, by the way, they are full of references, to Lacan, for instance. In Paare, Passanten there's a quote from Gnosis und Politik, a book I collaborated on. Intertextuality can't be removed as easily as all that, with a simple coup de force. Today, texts are a part of a media conglomeration, they form a moment within the netwerk. Out of fear of the disappearance of writing, Peter Handke turns up with the 'history of the pencil'. This is a return to the idyllic idea that one can evoke ones intuitions with the most primitive of tools. And, indeed, one can, within an artificial paradise, which, in its turn, is a part of the media landscape. Stories written in pencil can be sent quite well by fax! They stick to humanistic ideas such as geniality and intuition with great refinement. That Handke presents himself as a poet and Strauss as a creator of primary literature, form expressions of the religion of individuality, which find a great deal of acceptance in the media as a surrogate. Messages like these are gladly heard. But they contain no innovative potential. Botho Strauss did have potential, but, beginning with Rumour, he ceases to narrate about the reality in which we now live. Old Opitz, our baroque poet, once said: Poetry always was negative theology and one can now say the same of Handke and Strauss. Their appeal is directed at a class of //Bildungsbürger, like the teachers who read the serial in Die Zeit. But this bourgeois intelligentsia is all but dead. They'll be replaced by a poly- technical intelligentsia and people who have a good nose for the true poetry of today. That doesn't necessarily have to be cyberpunk, either. There are refined methods for receiving the sparks from the media world. Hans Magnus Enzensberger sometimes succeeds in doing so. The victory over 'real literature' is just a question of time, until this enlightened humanistic clique is done for. There’s even an ethnological interest in such writers in foreign countries: just look, writers still at work on the German myth!
Isn’t it strange that it’s precisely literary science, which is occupied with texts, which is producing the foundations for a media theory?
One of the greatest, Marshall McLuhan, was a literary scientist. Friedrich Kittler is, too. I think that that has to do with a change in paradigms during the last twenty years. It goes from structuralism to discourse analysis and, subsequently, makes the step to media theory. Those three are not mutually incompatible. They emerge from crisis phenomena, from the blind spot possessed by every system of thought. Thus, discourse analysis has outdone structuralism and media theory is now doing the same. It contains that which went before it and produces new ways of formulating questions posed earlier. To begin with, structuralism divested itself of the central role of the individual. One no longer concentrated fetishistically on a sender or a receiver; rather, one looked at the structure of language or the exchange relationships. Discourse analysis added a number of historical aprioris to that, which made possible the transformation of such structures. It indicated discontinuities, named concrete dispositives of power and showed what happens when discourse allies itself with certain institutions. It also showed the physicality of discourse, so that Nietzsche's Einschreibung could be seen from a new viewpoint.
The blind spot of discourse analysis is technology, however, It is fascinating to see how immune Michel Foucault is to new media, while he does welcome their coming. For the system theoretician Niklas Luhmann, it's unthinkable that communication technology has a logic of its own. The discourse is so immaterial that it’s impossible to even connect it with alphabetic symbols. The invisibility of the discourse is its power. With the power apriori, discourse analysis has overlooked the hard facts of technical apriori. On the other hand, I must admit that media theory is in danger of neglecting the power apriori. It has no answer to questions called up by politics.
Which texts indicate the transition from representation analysis to media theory?
Indications can be found in Derrida, for instance, in La carte postale, in which his examination of the crisis of broadcasting, the broadcast, led to a theory of telematic technologies. This text dramatically embodies the shift from discourse to media. In De la Grammatologie there are some important passages about storage and archive techniques. Moreover, Derrida took the step from the book to the electronic media in his definition of writing. From this, we can conclude that media theory originates in a media-technological view of discourse analysis.
What do you think will occupy media theory in the future?
I think that media theory will retain a retrospective character for some time to come, in order to map out its own genealogy. The countless books about computers appearing today lack any historical awareness at all. Even obvious founders like Turing, von Neumann and Shannon aren't mentioned. This amnesia applies to very recent history: someone who speaks about cyberspace should at least have read Norbert Wiener’s Cybernetics!
The task which media theory is confronted with is the transformation into computer theory, because that will certainly become the meta theory in this area. Within it, the connection will have to be made between the electronic media and the meta medium computer. One could view all of this as a retrospective task. Lt only becomes diagnostic when it reshapes itself into a media aesthetics and studies changing perception. This brings to mind 'scientific visualisation', in which people begin to debate with images. This is sensational when one considers that the Enlightenment, up to now, has destroyed images in order to replace them with concepts. Also, I think of the simulation techniques which densify information in such a way that you can manoeuvre through the data masses like a pilot, in a manner of speaking. There are institutions, such as the one here in Braunschweig, at NASA and at Boeing, at which research is being conducted on visual technology. In my view, they' re practicing media aesthetics there.
Is media theory based on a new aesthetics?
Yes, it is, if you define aesthetics as the 'theory of perception'. lf I'm correct, the eye absorbs 5 gigabytes per second. This is such an enormous amount that the biggest mainframes can only barely equal it. With the eye, one can absorb incredibly much more information than with any other sense or intellectuaI capacity. This means that information processing must be visual in the future, because the eye possesses the potential for processing large quantities of information in a meaningful way. This kind of research goes back to the Second World War. At that time, Boeing ordered research to be done on what actually happens within the eye of a pilot who is landing his plane after combat activities. The result was that the eye turned out to be an ingenious processor of information, which does not work statically, but dynamically. From these studies of the capacity for absorption of information, one can draw conclusions about how images should be generated and which characteristics they should possess in order to be optimally 'readable'.
In researching the image, we can hardly resort to philosophy. Hasn’t philosophy always attempted to throw off the yoke of images?
The argument in favour of a world without images is that one no longer gets around to thinking and is swamped by images. Ergo: the mind can only be liberated in an image-less society. Images, according to this view, were used in animistic practices and served to outdo the speaker; just consider the similarity to Plato's cave, the first pamphlet against the power of images. The rationality of the Abendland has pushed the images aside to an ever-increasing degree. Even Adorno's aesthetic theory was based on a radical aversion to images. He even went so far as to say that the aesthetic image is an image-less image, that is, an image which has been divested of all of its image-qualities. One might think of Mondriaan and abstract art. This is a good indication of the impasse at which twentieth century aesthetics has arrived.
This argument can be traced back to the biblical ban on making representative images. The images which art creates are then no longer allowed to be representations. Art would then only be considered good when it no longer exhibits representations, but represents only itself. Images are actually misleading and belong to the realm of illusions. Not only do priests employ images to mislead the people: in general, images aren't capable of representing the complexity of reality, in this view. Just consider the famous statement of Brecht’s: A photograph of the AEG factory doesn’t say anything about the reality of the AEG factory. That was dialectical thinking. Concreteness is only achieved through dialectical constructions, not simply by looking: if I simply look, I see nothing at all.
The remarkable thing about present day research on scientific visualisation is that its now rationality itself which demands representation, while, until recently, it was assumed that true knowledge was unimaginable: our reality was thus abstract to such a degree, because it was unimaginable. And then, suddenly, the whole business gets stood on its head: in order to conceptualise knowledge at all, we must visualise it, in light of the fact that images produce a higher information density than concepts. In fractal research and chaos theory, one can see well how the computer first produces images which are subsequently interpreted.
Does art history say nothing about images, then?
About art history, one can say that it's been occupied with art which did not produce representation, with realism as the Fall. It would be interesting to explore the exact way's in which realistic art interpret s its own images as constructions of reality. But abstract art provides us with more, as it’s a construct from the very beginning. One can say about art, à Ia McLuhan, that it has not made any images; rather, it has shown the way in which perception took place. One painted the perception, not the perceived situation. History shows how important the apriori of perception is. That’s why media theoreticians don't emerge from sociology or philosophy, but from aesthetics and literary science. They have a better sensorium for the historical apriori of perception.
If we assume that all images will be calculated in the near future, earlier works of art which enjoyed an aura will become electronically readable and just as subject to deconstruction as the others. We'll see how they react to their absorption into the realm of electronic images. The most beautiful paintings were created in a conflict with new media, in my view, eye to eye with photography and film. Painters wondered what the consequences of those registration techniques were for their own, archaic occupation. This is how the deconstruction of their own techniques came about, a shift which caused a new perspective to be created, one which expressed itself in pointillism, cubism, etc. It’s to be hoped that artists take up the present technological challenge. McLuhan already envisioned artists leaving the ivory tower and taking up their places in the control room. Should they not do that, then their work will simply be taken over by the makers of music videos.
Translation Jim Boekbinder