The eclectic German post-structuralist philosopher and media theorist Friedrich Kittler, who has died aged 68, once wrote: "We are the subjects of gadgets and instruments of mechanical data processing. In his extraordinary book Gramophone, Film, Typewriter he argued that "those early and seemingly harmless machines capable of storing and therefore separating sounds, sights and writing ushered in a technologising of information". Later technologies — the internet in particular — further extended technology's domination over us. He told one interviewer in that the internet hardly promotes human communication: "The development of the internet has more to do with human beings becoming a reflection of their technologies … after all, it is we who adapt to the machine.
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The eclectic German post-structuralist philosopher and media theorist Friedrich Kittler, who has died aged 68, once wrote: "We are the subjects of gadgets and instruments of mechanical data processing. In his extraordinary book Gramophone, Film, Typewriter he argued that "those early and seemingly harmless machines capable of storing and therefore separating sounds, sights and writing ushered in a technologising of information".
Later technologies — the internet in particular — further extended technology's domination over us. He told one interviewer in that the internet hardly promotes human communication: "The development of the internet has more to do with human beings becoming a reflection of their technologies … after all, it is we who adapt to the machine. The machine does not adapt to us.
Kittler, sometimes dubbed the "Derrida of the digital age", thus tapped into humanity's fear of being neutralised by its own tools. Kittler's point was not that machines will exterminate us; rather that we are deluded to consider ourselves masters of our technological domain.
Hegel had suggested that the march of history culminated with absolute human knowledge and freedom. Kittler turned that philosophy on its head. His biographer Geoffrey Winthrop-Young argued that Kittler's project was to trace "not the triumphal emergence of humanity into freedom, but our exit from the fulsome enjoyment of our taste for ourselves that assigns humanity a place to which it has no right".
Gramophone, Film, Typewriter began bracingly: "Media determine our situation. He countered: "Media are not pseudopods for extending the human body. They follow the logic of escalation that leaves us and written history behind it. That logic of escalation was best understood, for Kittler, by considering military innovation.
He was struck, for instance, by how Nazi military experiments spurred Alan Turing's second world war code-breaking work at Bletchley Park and thus hastened the development of the computer. Kittler argued that technology changed the nature of war: "It has become clear that real wars are fought not for people or fatherlands, but take place between different media, information technologies, data flows.
Kittler's focus on military innovation was probably in part prompted by the fact that he had been a war baby, born in the aftermath of the Nazis' defeat at Stalingrad. He was born in Rochlitz, Saxony, and one of his earliest memories was seeing from a distance Dresden ablaze, bombed in February by the allies.
He also recalled being frequently taken by his mother to a Baltic island to visit the site where Hitler's V2 rockets had been developed. And yet the traces of this particular aspect of the German military industrial complex, which were located on a very romantic and idyllic island so as not to be seen, were everywhere.
His parents left East Germany in to enable Kittler to get the best German university education possible. The aura of Martin Heidegger, the Nazi-supporting philosopher and the university's former rector, hung over the town. He took from Heidegger the idea that we are at risk of being eclipsed by technology. At Freiburg, he also became one of the first German intellectuals to appreciate the French post-structuralist thinkers Jacques Lacan and Michel Foucault. Like Foucault, Kittler diagnosed the present through what he called discourse analysis — the excavation of the underlying structure of human practices.
For him, Foucault had focused on the production of discourses, not the channels through which discourses were received. Kittler sought to remedy this.
But what is a discourse network? Kittler defined it thus: "The network of technologies and institutions that allow a given culture to select, store, and process relevant data.
Kittler joked that it was unusual for a German intellectual to get tenure by being inspired by a madman's text. Unlike Foucault, or indeed other leading media theorists such as Jean Baudrillard or Paul Virilio, Kittler steeped himself in physics, engineering, optics, the science of fibre-optic cables, and even wrote computer code — arguably gaining a more profound insight into media than his contemporaries.
Kittler presented himself in interviews as a shy and socially awkward man — one who kept his personal life private, revealing only what impinged on his work. We know that he was married, for instance, because he reported that his interest in Lacan caused arguments with his wife "as she wished to remain professionally faithful to Freud".
That was his first wife, Erika Kittler, with whom he remained on good terms after their divorce. But doubtless Kittler attended Bayreuth for opera rather than celebrity worship. Later, he wrote several essays for Bayreuth festival productions of Wagner. By the time of his death, one volume of a projected monumental tetralogy on music and mathematics had been published. Arguably, Pink Floyd meant more to him than Foucault. In his book Dracula's Legacy, he meticulously analysed the band's song Brain Damage from the album Dark Side of the Moon, arguing that its three verses move from mono to stereo to "maddening" surround sound — the hi-tech version of Wagner's Gesamtkunstwerk.
According to admirers, he would have liked to have played in the band. An appealingly perverse, cross-disciplinary and radical thinker who taught widely in Germany and the US, Kittler was appointed professor of media aesthetics at Humboldt University, Berlin, in After an academic career lasting more than 30 years, during which he wrote and edited more than two dozen books, he retired in , remaining Humboldt's guest professor in media philosophy. He is survived by his second wife, Susanne Holl, and his brother Wolf.
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Friedrich Kittler obituary
Kittler, Friedrich. Michael Metteer. First of all, there is no reading Kittler quickly. Kittler notes that Foucault ended his archaeology of discourse around , just before things got going with the second industrial revolution and the expansion of media technologies -- typewriter, gramophone, and film each contributing to a medial turn Foucault does not address.
Instead, for Kittler, Dracula is a story about media machines and the technologies of writing. In short, Kittler approaches Dracula as he approaches all literature: he reads it as science fiction. His work continually reveals such unlikely texts as Dracula , the tales of E. In his hands, these disparate fictions become accounts of interactions between humans and machines in a defamiliarized, technologically saturated world.
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