Kittler’s Discourse Networks 1800/1900

Friedrich Kittler
Discourse Networks: 1800/1900
Area: History of Rhetoric and Memory Studies
From Thomas Sebastian’s Review

•    The book is “‘thoroughly informed by post-structuralism’” but especially because it avoids a discussion of post-structuralist theory altogether, engaging instead in a radical application of its practice.
•    Post-hermeneutics: a criticism that “stops making sense”
•    “Discourse analysis, he argues, must be transformed into an ‘archaeology of the present’ by considering the material and technical conditions that permit discourse storage in the first place.”
•    “It follows that the status of literary texts is also determined by what one might calls this technicist perspective:
o    Discourse analyses…have to be materialistic.  An elementary datum is the fact that literature (whatever else it might mean to readers) processes, stores, and transmits data, and that such operations in the age-old medium of the alphabet have the same technical positivity as they do in computers.”
•    “As a result Kittler takes the fictive content of literary texts at face value as though the projections of a literary text are tantamount to eh historical reality from whci it emerges.”
•    “The epochally inopertune is thus excluded by the fable of two mutually exclusive historical orders.  Their relationship, determined by a categorical paradigm clearly recognizable as a construct, is based on a simple oppositional series: 1900 is to 1800 as signifier to signified, writing to speech, insanity to sanity, untranslatability to translatability, anarchy to state, outside to inside.  Kittler’s history describes the inversion of one order unto the other.”
•    “Kittler advances ‘woman’ somewhat crudely as a ‘presignifying talking machine’ in order to conceive of literature around 1800 as a recording system in the sense of technical medium.  ‘Woman,’ however, does not refer to ‘the women’ around 1800 as historical individuals, but rather those ‘mothers’ who Kittler believes to have discovered in the metaphoricity of literary, philosophical and pedagogical texts of that time as the instance which, according to Lacan, ‘causes speech but does not itself speak.’”
•    “A shift was made form learning complete words and phrases to the phonetic approach of oralizing the consonants and syllables of the alphabet. But the success of this ‘coercive act of alphabetizing’ was not merely initiated by a pedagogical shift to phonetics in High German orthography but rather, according to Kittler, because this measure was associated with the body of ‘biographical’ mothers.”
•    “’Man’—a word not simply problematic, but one that has become utterly devoid of content for Kittler—is a machine in a larger complex of machines […]  The principle governing this universe is energy consumption or ‘exhaustion.’ Just as machines ultimately break down and wear out, so, too, does Man as machine.”
•    “For Kittler, translating around 1900 is no longer the translating of signifieds (as he claims it was in 1800), but is instead simply based on relationships between signifiers.  Kittler calls these interlinear translations ‘transpositions of media’; he presumably uses this term in order to metaphorically rule out all doubt that this transposition of media is still a hermeneutical procedure.”
•    “Kittler thinks of technology merely as a technical apparatuses in their empirical facticity and not, like Foucault, as a function of knowledge.  And Kittler does not recognize that if he replaces language by technologies—conceived of as such empirical apparatuses—then everything that Foucault says about language holds true precisely for technology.”
•    “As Heidegger, for example, would argue, this is precisely an anthropological definition of technology, namely technology as man’s supplementing instrument, since man has been considered a zoon technocon since Aristotle at the latest.”


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