«The book series Recursions: Theories of Media, Materiality, and Cultural Techniques provides a platform for cuttingedge research in the field of ...»
The book series Recursions: Theories of Media, Materiality, and
Cultural Techniques provides a platform for cuttingedge research in
the field of media culture studies with a particular focus on the cultural
impact of media technology and the materialities of communication. The
series aims to be an internationally signif icant and exciting opening
into emerging ideas in media theory ranging from media materialism
and hardware-oriented studies to ecology, the post-human, the study of
cultural techniques, and recent contributions to media archaeology. The
series revolves around key themes:
– The material underpinning of media theory – New advances in media archaeology and media philosophy – Studies in cultural techniques These themes resonate with some of the most interesting debates in international media studies, where non-representational thought, the technicity of knowledge formations and new materialities expressed through biological and technological developments are changing the vocabularies of cultural theory. The series is also interested in the mediatic conditions of such theoretical ideas and developing them as media theory.
Editorial Board – Jussi Parikka (University of Southampton) – Anna Tuschling (Ruhr-Universität Bochum) – Geoffrey Winthrop-Young (University of British Columbia) Medium, Messenger, Transmission An Approach to Media Philosophy Sybille Krämer Amsterdam University Press Translated by Anthony Enns.
The translation was made possible by a grant from the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchandels.
Cover illustration: Giambologna, Mercury (Hermes), 1580. National Museum of Bargello, Florence.
Cover design: Coördesign, Leiden Lay-out: Crius Group, Hulshout Amsterdam University Press English-language titles are distributed in the US and Canada by the University of Chicago Press.
isbn 978 90 8964 741 2 e-isbn 978 90 4852 499 0 (pdf) nur 670 © S. Krämer / Amsterdam University Press B.V., Amsterdam 2015 All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this book may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise) without the written permission of both the copyright owner and the author of the book.
Recursions: Editors’ Introduction Recursions: Theories of Media, Materiality and Cultural Techniques is a book series about media theory. But instead of dealing with theory in its most classical sense of theoria as something separate from practice that looks at
objects and phenomena from a distance, we want to promote a more situated understanding of theory. Theory, too, is a practice and it has an address:
it unfolds in specific situations, historical contexts and geographical places.
As this book series demonstrates, theory can emerge from historical sources and speculations still closely attached to material details.
We therefore speak of the recursive nature of theory: It is composed of concepts that cut across the social and aesthetic reality of technological culture, and that are picked up and reprocessed by other means, including the many media techniques featured in this book series. The recursive loops of theory and practice fold and define each other. The genealogies of media theory, in turn, unfold in recursive variations that open up new questions, agendas, methodologies, which transform many of the humanities topics into media theory.
The Recursions series revolves around the material and hardware understanding of media as well as media archaeology – a body of work that addresses the contingent historical trajectories of modern media technologies as well their technological condition. But we are also interested in addressing the wider field of cultural techniques. The notion of cultural techniques serves to conceptualize how human and nonhuman agencies interact in historical settings as well as to expand the notion of media to include the many techniques and technologies of knowledge and aesthetics.
This expansive – and yet theoretically rigorous – sense of understanding media is also of great use when considering the relations to biology and other sciences that deal with life and the living; another field where media studies has been able to operate in ways that fruitfully overlap with social studies of science and technology (STS).
Overall, the themes emerging from the Recursions book series resonate with some of the most interesting debates in international media studies, including issues of non-representational thought, the technicity of knowledge formations, and the dimensions of materialities expressed through biological and technological developments that are changing the vocabularies of cultural theory. We are interested in the mediatic conditions of such theoretical ideas and developing them as new forms of media theory.
Over the last twenty years, and following in the footsteps of such media theorists as Marshall McLuhan, Friedrich Kittler, Vilem Flusser and others, a series of scholars working in Germany, the United States, Canada and other countries have turned assumptions concerning communication on their head by shifting the focus of research from communication to media. The strong – and at times polemical – focus on technological aspects (frequently referred to as the ‘materialities of communication’) has since given way to a more nuanced approach evident in appellations such as ‘media archaeology’ and ‘media ecology’. These scholars have produced an important series of works on such diverse topics as computer games, media of education and individuation, the epistemology of filing cabinets, or the media theories underlying the nascent discipline of anthropology at the end of the nineteenth century, thereby opening up an entirely new field of research which reframes our understanding of media culture and the relationship be tween media, culture, politics, and society. In other words, these approaches are distinguished by the emphasis on the materiality of media practices as well as the long historical perspectives they offer.
A major part of the influences of recent years of media theory, including fields such as software and platform studies, digital forensics and media ecology, has been a conjunction of German media theory with other European and trans-Atlantic influences. The brand name of ‘German media theory’ commonly associated with, though not restricted to, the work of Friedrich Kittler – is a helpful label when trying to attempt to identify a lot of the theoretical themes the book series addresses. However, we want to argue for a more international take that takes into account the hyphenated nature of such influences and to continue those in refreshing ways that do not just reproduce existing theory formations. We also want to challenge them, which, once again, refers to the core meaning of recursions: variation with a difference.
Jussi Parikka, Anna Tuschling & Geoffrey Winthrop-Young Table of Contents
Canadian media theorist Marshall McLuhan famously argued that the purpose of media studies was to make visible that which normally remains invisible ‒ namely, the effects of media technologies rather than the messages they convey. When he originally proposed this idea in the 1960s McLuhan was widely celebrated as the great prophet of the media age, but in the decades that followed his work gradually fell into disregard. In the 1970s, for example, Raymond Williams claimed that McLuhan’s ideas were ‘ludicrous’1 and Hans Magnus Enzensberger dismissed him as a ‘charlatan’ who was ‘incapable of any theoretical construction’ and who wrote with ‘provocative idiocy’.2 This tacit dismissal of McLuhan’s ideas was largely accepted until the late twentieth century, when there was renewed interest in his work among several German media theorists, such as Friedrich Kittler and Norbert Bolz. Unlike the critics associated with the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, who primarily focused on the content of media texts and the interpretive work performed by media audiences, these theorists applied epistemological and philosophical questions to the study of media, which was largely inspired by McLuhan’s famous claim that ‘the medium is the message’.3 Kittler even argued that ‘[w]ithout this formula…media studies itself would not exist as such in isolation or with any methodological clarity’. 4 Kittler’s emphasis on the technical aspects of media gradually became fashionable in intellectual circles, and it is now widely known as ‘German media theory’. Some of the concepts and ideas that are common to both Canadian and German media theory include their focus on the materiality of communication, the notion of media as prosthetic technologies or ‘extensions of man’, the concept of media ecology, the impact of media technologies on the formation of subjectivity as well as the military applications of media technologies. Although German media theory has often been criticized for ignoring questions of content and reception and for promoting a kind of technological determinism (as was McLuhan and other critics associated with the Toronto School of Communication Theory), it has also been described as one of Germany’s most significant intellectual exports,5 and despite these criticisms the technical aspects of media have once again become a central issue in the humanities.
10 MediuM, Messenger, Tr ansMission Sybille Krämer is rarely mentioned in these discussions, as her work is not widely known outside of Germany and it does not share the technical emphasis that is widely seen as the hallmark of German media theory.
Nevertheless, her early work primarily focused on developing a philosophy of technology and theorizing the function of the computer as a medium.
Krämer received a Ph.D. in philosophy at the Philipp University of Marburg in 1980, and her doctoral thesis, Technik, Gesellschaft und Natur: Versuch über ihren Zusammenhang (Technology, Society and Nature: An Attempt to Explain their Relationship), outlined her earliest reflections on technology.
Beginning in 1984 she was also part of the ‘Mensch und Technik’ (Humans and Technology) work group as well as the ‘Artificial Intelligence’ commission of the Verein Deutscher Ingenieure (Society of German Engineers) in
Düsseldorf. In 1988 she published her second book, Symbolische Maschinen:
Die Idee der Formalisierung in geschichtlichem Abriss (Symbolic Machines:
on the Concept of Formalization), which investigated the use of formalization, calculization, and mechanization in mathematics.
Krämer introduced the terms ‘symbolic machines’ and ‘operational scripts’ to refer to mathematical equations, as these equations are not readable texts but rather executable processes. If concrete numerals are replaced by letters, for example, it is possible to calculate using signs in a fundamentally more abstract manner. The introduction of algebra thus made it possible to use new signs for new operations, such as the introduction of differential calculus, which made it possible to work with infinitesimally small values.
This book effectively expanded Krämer’s understanding of technology by arguing that all mathematical equations are essentially mechanical operations. In other words, Krämer did not attempt to provide a history of the computer or even to suggest that the machine should be understood as a manufactured object; rather, she suggested that the concept of the machine was a result of the mediating function of symbols or the process of ‘formalization’. Symbolische Maschinen thus signaled a shift from the study of technological history to the study of intellectual history and from the concept of technical operations to the concept of symbolic operations.
In 1989 Krämer became professor of theoretical philosophy at the Institute of Philosophy at the Free University of Berlin, and in 1991 she published her habilitation treatise Berechenbare Vernunft: Kalkül und Rationalismus im 17. Jahrhundert (Computable Reason: Calculation and Rationalism in the 17th Century). This book represented an extension of the argument presented in her previous book by elaborating on the history of the idea of computation, and it similarly focused on operations rather than technologies. Berechenbare Vernunft can thus be seen as part of a similar inTroduc Tion: The Media PhilosoPhy of sybille Kr äMer shift away from the technological a priori that shapes or determines medial processes to the question of ‘mediality’ itself as a topic of philosophical inquiry. Kramer’s divergence from the dominant trends in German media theory at this time was made particularly apparent in her contribution to the 1998 anthology Medien, Computer, Realität: Wirklichkeitsvorstellungen und Neue Medien (Media, Computer, Reality: Perceptions of Reality and New Media), in which she articulated a very different concept of media: ‘We do not hear vibrations in the atmosphere but rather the sound of a bell; we do not read letters but rather a story.’6 In other words, the medium is supposed to be inaudible and invisible, and it only becomes apparent when it is not functioning properly.
Krämer made a similar argument in her 2001 book, Sprache, Sprechakt, Kommunikation: Sprachtheoretische Positionen des 20. Jahrhunderts (Language, Speech Act, Communication: Theories of Language of the 20th Century),
which focused on the disembodied nature of speech acts:
Not only is language dematerialized, but also the speakers themselves.