Friedrich Kittler, 1943 - 2011

Focus Online is reporting that media theorist Friedrich Kittler has died this morning in Berlin. Having taught at a number of universities, including Berkeley and Stanford, he was appointed to the chair for Aesthetics and History of Media at the Humboldt-University, Berlin in 1993. The European Graduate School notes that his book Gramophone, Film, Typewriter "first appeared in German in 1986. The book examines the restrictive nature of Michel Foucault's discursive textual archive theory. Kittler proposes a wider media band in which he examines phonographic and cinematic flows as ways of deconstructing literary writing. Friedrich Kittler's 'media discourse theory' follows from Foucault as the prime member of the triumvirate Michel Foucault, Jacques Lacan and Jacques Derrida…. Kittler derives Lacan's real, imaginary and symbolic from the data channels of the phonograph, cinema and typewriter. His ability to apply theoretical concepts to technology is what makes him one of Germany's most relevant philosophers of today."

Update: "The legacy of Kittler has been debated already during his lifetime," writes Jussi Parikka, "with [Geoffrey] Winthrop-Young in Kittler and the Media nicely remarking: 'Is there a 'Kittler School'? Yes, but it is not worth talking about. As in the case of Heidegger, clones can be dismissed, for those who choose to think and write like Kittler are condemned to forever repeat him….' In a way, Kittler wrote media theory with Heidegger, but also with Pynchon. Gravity's Rainbow is one key to his early writings, when you realize the style, but also the ontology behind it. Subjectivities wired to technologies, and high physics being the language 'behind' the everyday appearance and seeming randomness that is just an effect of the complexity of science and engineering."

Update, 11/27: Blogging for the London Review of Books, Tom McCarthy:

While I was writing C, friends kept telling me I had to check out Gramophone, Film, Typewriter. But I held off, not wanting to cloud my primary research on technology and melancholia with academic "takes" on the subject. I read it as soon as I'd finished though, and boy was it good:
What remains of people is what media can store and communicate. What counts are not the messages or the content with which they equip so-called souls for the duration of a technological era, but rather… their circuits, the very schematism of perceptibility.

This was not just the new Hegel: even better, it was the anti-Hegel, deliriously following through on his avowal to chase Spirit (Geist) out of the Humanities (Geistliche Wissenschaften), to celebrate the poetry of materiality and the materiality of poetry. Here was someone who – at last! – had charted the genealogy, or transmission lines, of writing's interface with bodies, from Sade to Kafka, Marinetti to Pynchon. Most exciting of all, he lucidly and irrefutably articulated something I'd been trying ineptly to persuade people of for years: that Dracula is a book about the Dictaphone.



Photo by Hendrik Speck: Kittler in 2010. For news and tips throughout the day every day, follow @thedailyMUBI on Twitter and/or the RSS feed.

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  • thomas groh

    this may also be of interest:

    http://jussiparikka.net/2011/10/18/friedrich-kittler-1943-2011/

  • David Hudson

    Very much so — and thanks, Thomas, for passing along today’s sad news.

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