Mediamatic Magzine vol 6#1 Geert Lovink 1 Jan 1991

Arsenale der Seele

literatur-und medienanalyse seit 1870

Friedrich A. Kittler, Georg C. Tholen (ed) Wilhelm Fink Verlag. (pub) München 1989 ISBN 3-7705-2575-2, German text, pp. 234 DM 68


Arsenate der Seele -

It’s not only technology itself which makes it difficult for us to fathom it, as Heidegger claimed. It is also the fault of research policy. People would rather finance descents into the inner Empire than the writing of the history of war technology. With this accusation of the poverty of the German think tanks, Kittler and Tholen launch a series of books which are to appear annually. In them, they seek to join with the Anglo-American research into ‘the technology of the intellect'. From now on, literature and media analysis means: discovering the time clock in Biot's Waste Land, the typewriter in Pounds lyrical typography, and Bowie algebra at work in Beckett.

The publishers of the collection Arsenale der Seele don’t wish to complain about the greying of literature; they want to indicate its place in the media system. Because literature is a stream of reports, it stands or falls with the manipulation of data. Looked at from this media standpoint, the writer loses his omnipotence as subject and becomes a connections-specialist who joins the inner to the outer world. The method which describes the connections is no longer that of interpretation — a method which causes its ‘planned’ aspect to evaporate in experiences — rather, by means of interception, one goes off in search of the design of the network of switches. ‘Identification with the aggressor' is a necessary evil. Whoever moves within the media is subject to the logic of war, summarized Heidegger: Im herausgeforderten Melden herrscht der Angriff.

Arsenale der Seele and Armaturen der Sinne form the nucleus of the Kassel research project Literature and Media Analysis. Tens of scientists from various disciplines report on their findings. While the majority of them are West Germans, their research can be called international. One could even call the contacts with Paris intimate. The collaborative research which is being done is historical in its purpose, although they have distanced themselves from classical historical writing. First comes media analysis in the period after 1870, then it shifts to the First World War and, in the third volume, which will appear this year with the title Soft War — Hard War, the period 1918-1945 will occupy centre stage. Along with that, the project organises a yearly conference, in which outsiders also participate. The theme of the conference in 1989 was ‘time signs' and in the last gathering, the ‘theories and techniques of listening' were considered.

A rsenale der Seele opens with a description of the entrance of communication into the sanatorium, a sheltered bourgeois domain which Thomas Mann described in his Zauberberg. Subsequently, Wolfgang Scherer demonstrates how much the work of the ‘compositeur de musique d’ameublement’, Eric Satie, was dictated by phonography. Satie, who carefully studied and used the new technique, stated: My work is one great recording session. Charles Grives continues to concentrate upon this theme, touching upon the phonographic writings of Villiers de l’lsle-Adam and Alfred Jarry, among others. Under the motto of ‘whoever wishes to be a user of new media, must not see ghosts’, psychiatry at the turn of the century set itself the task of getting insanity under control. Martin Stingelin dug in the archives of a Basel psychiatric clinic and found countless cases of ‘memory telegraphy’. The patients had received messages via ‘electric paths'. This connection between media and modern neurosis occupies variousresearchers in the Kassel project. Put briefly, they work with the Freudian assumption that the cases which deviate from the norm tell us about the 'normal' mental condition. If we look further, we find articles about psychosis theory, the radio as the ‘medium of forgetting', the connection between drugs and war and an essay of Kittler’s about Alan Turing, among others.

In volume two of Literature and Media Analysis, Frank Haase introduces his research into the history of telegraphy. The coming of telegraphy in early 1800 meant not only a breakthrough in the transmission of messages, but also the start of a new historical apriori: telecommunication. Using the novel The Count of Monte Christo by Alexander Dumas. Haase reveals how the star-shaped telegraphic network built by Napoleon worked. In the middle of the 19th century, this optical technique was replaced by an electro-magnetic technique, an innovation connected with the name Werner von Siemens. Theodor Fontane's novel C'ecile is modelled on this German inventor. In the social web which Fontane stretches, telegrams flash to and fro, just as the telephone is used within the bounds of today’s relationships in games of intrigue: bringing about connections, maintaining and ending them.

That one can’t simultaneously be called and call, is a de facto truth which didn't always apply. In his extensive report, Bernhard Siegert treats on the consequences of the technical flaws of the telephone in its early days. Professional literature from around 1900 is bursting with cases which describe how the ear of the telephone operator is besieged with explosive noises. At such moments the telephone operator was called not as a person, but as a machine and the electric signal struck the senses like a lightning bolt. If the attacks on the operators were fatal, then along came the medical-judicial dispositive with a diagnosis of hysteria. Siegert demonstrates that this fear of electrical shock resulted in telephonic messages being experienced as orders.

Further along in Armaturen der Sinne we find the 45 RPM version of Norbert Bolz’s book Theorie der neuen Medien, an analysis of the gaze in the photographs of Lewis Carroll and a study of the similarities between Benjamin's metropolis and the view of modern life from within the psychic clinic, as Adolf Wolfli saw it. The collection ends with an analysis of the effects which the trench/media/nerve war had on the work of Franz Kafka.

Whoever s curiosity has been aroused, after reading Kittlers Grammophon Film Typewriter, as to how software such as the poems of Georg Trakl can be played on the hardware of computers and other war technology, should be well equipped to penetrate further into the Kassel Galaxy. Without Lacan in one’s back pocket, entrance would seem a senseless enterprise. These annual publications are written for fans of zipping back and forth between informatics, philosophy and literature science. The individual contributions design, piece by piece, circuitry for the textual circuit which, in the foreseeable future, will be put on the market as ‘media theory’. Whoever thought that this was going to be as feather-light and fleeting as the media itself, is mistaken. This knowledge also requires a thorough study and rock-solid specialisation, which doesn’t flinch at higher mathematics or Heidegger. Only then can one pluck the fruits — this ambitious research from Kassel does prove that.

translation Jim Boekbinder