Kittler, Discourse Networks

Kittler, Discourse Networks


Kittler, Friedrich. Discourse Networks, 1800/1900. Trans. Michael Metteer. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford UP, 1990.
First of all, there is no reading Kittler quickly. Discourse Networks 1800/1900 is like a technology-focused sequel to Foucault’s The Order of Things. Kittler notes that Foucault ended his archaeology of discourse around 1850, 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). The German title Aufschreibesysteme arguably translates more accurately as “notation systems” or “inscription systems”; provided that Kittler does relatively little with the idea of “network”, “inscription systems” seems like a better fit with what’s here.

What’s here? Two epistemes and periods, each corresponding to a century mark. The discourse network of 1800 is set against the discourse network of 1900. The first is characterized by hermeneutics, alphabetization, and (original, solitary, Romantic) poetry (its emblematic figure, Goethe’s Faust); the second is characterized by technological media, inscription, and exhaustive data storage and transmission (its emblematic figure, Nietzsche). In David Wellbery’s foreword, he calls Discourse Networks a “genealogy of hermeneutics.” (xi). After brief chapters explaining how the figures of Faust and Nietzsche prime the epoch under consideration, each section consists of three chapters.

Discourse Network of 1800 (Romantic/hermeneutic)
The Mother’s Mouth (25): mother and state as producers/encoders of discourse; normalization of speech (36) via alphabet and primers; consumption and production model; Poet-Author ascendant.
Language Channels (70): language as mere channel (for love); writing from nature (inscription systems naturalized); aims of discourse are love and poetry.
The Toast (124): Literary philosophy driven by interpretation; philosophy joins poetry in the hermeneutic trap; complementarity of genders.

Discourse Network of 1900 (Modern/medially inscribed)
The Great Lalula (206; psychophysics, technological media): materiality!; discourse analytics such as counting words (190); mathematical linguistics (222); memory experiments free from hermeneutics (208); language standards and dehumanization (223); data storage; film and gramophone; typographic spatiality (257).
Rebus (265; psychoanalysis, literature): translation is impossible; transposition is possible only in untranslatability [does this anticipate digitality?] (265-273); Freud transposes dream-images into symbolic relations and written records (274); limited inscription systems determine psychoanalytic subjects; technological media destroy the monopoly of writing.
Queen’s Sacrifice (347; gender): antagonism of genders.

Wellbery suggests that Kittler “establishes a positive research program for posthuman criticism” (xii) and that he does so, in part, by analyzing at the level of machines rather than the signifier. In this respect, Discourse Networks has something in common with Fuller’s Media Ecologies. Kittler’s explanation of technological media suggest that they are capable of subsuming human corporeality, subjugating the subject to data such that agency dissolves and Man and soul no longer apply (258) [Fuller uses this point to distinguish Kittler from McLuhan who suggests a more cooperative dynamic between humans and their extensions].

With the medial turn in the discourse network of 1900, the flight of ideas commences. Language loses its inwardness (243), and individuals learn the autonomy of linguistic expression (239). Kittler identifies one defining locus for the transition between the two epistemes, oddly enough, in talking dolls (232), which he explains shift from repeating parental phrases (dolls of 1800) to the self-relation of children’s recorded voices talking or singing to children (Edison). This self relation displaces both the mother and the state–primary encoders in the discourse network of 1800.

Key terms: monopoly of writing (370), genealogy of hermeneutics (xi), presupposition of exteriority (xiii), presupposition of mediality (xiii), presupposition of corporeality (xiv), cybernetic sociology (xviii), Lacanian register (symbolic, imaginary, real) (xxxi), Republic of Scholars (4), free writing (14), free translation (19), hermeneutics (21), cloud of meaning (21), nature’s production of discourses (25), mother as primary instructor (26), alphabetization (27), coercive act of alphabetizing (30), purification of speech (37), true programming (49), circuit of legitimation (61, 153), bureaucratic baptism of knowledge (61), inscription (64), silent reading (65), love and poetry (73), translation of the unspeakable (77), fantasia of the library (91, 99), poetry, author, work (109), fixed idea (110), authorial function (111), serial storage of serial data (116), reading mania (144), anthology (147), new humanists (150), deixis (168), German essay (180), genres (183), maker of words (185), free essays (185, 329), typewriter’s chaos and intervals (192), mnemotechnics (196), flight of ideas (205), random generators (206), Morgenstern’s The Great Lalula (212), catch phrase (222), written verbigeration (228), rebus (274), red marks on essays (330), writer as medium (331).

“Whatever the historical field we are dealing with, in Kittler’s view, we are dealing with media as determined by the technological possibilities of the epoch in question. Mediality is the general condition within which, under specific circumstances, something like ‘poetry’ or ‘literature’ can take shape. Post-hermeneutic literary history (or criticism), therefore, becomes a sub-branch of media studies” (xiii).

“Words have no effect because they are skipped over; reading issues only in writing’ authors’ names detract from the phenomenon of the book. In retrospect the discourse network of 1800 is a single machine designed to neutralize discursive effects and establish ‘our absurd world of educators’–‘to the “able servant of the state” this promises a regulating schema’–founded on the ruin of words” (179).

“The discourse network of 1900 could not build on the three functions of production, distribution, and consumption” (186).

“Not every discursive configuration rests on an originary production of signs. Circa 1900 several blindnesses–of the writer, of writing, of script–come together to guarantee an elementary blindness: the blind spot of the writing act. Instead of the play between Man the sign-setter and the writing surface, the philosopher as stylus and the tablet of Nature, there is the play between type and its Other, completely removed from subjects. Its name is inscription” (195).

“Writing ceased to wait, quiet and dead, on patient paper for its consumer; writing ceased to be sweetened by pastry baking and mothers’ whispering–it now assaulted with the power of shock” (223).

“Standards have nothing to do with Man. They are the criteria of media and psychophysics, which they abruptly link together. Writing, disconnected from all discursive technologies, is no longer based on an individual capable of imbuing it with coherence through connecting curves and the expressive pressure of the pen; it swells in an apparatus that cuts up individuals into test material” (223).

“The ordinary, purposeful use of language–so-called communication with others–is excluded. Syllabic hodgepodge and automatic writing, the language of children and the insane–none of it is meant for understanding eyes or ears; all of it takes the quickest path from experimental conditions to data storage” (229).

“As technological media, the gramophone and film store acoustical and optical data serially with superhuman precision. Invented at the same time by the same engineers, they launched a two-pronged attack on a monopoly that had not been granted to the book until the time of universal alphabetization: a monopoly on the storage of serial data” (245).

“One needs the whole power of one’s vision to glimpse the overlooked visibility of texts. The black and white of texts seems so timeless that is never occurs to reader to think of the architects of that space” (256).

“After the destruction of the monopoly of writing, it becomes possible to draw up an account of its functioning” (370).

More passages to keep: x, xiii, xxvi, xxx, 9, 10, 13, 16, 20, 21, 24, 29, 32, 33, 41, 51, 53, 74, 82, 95, 97, 100, 101, 108, 109, 111, 116, 117, 119, 130, 140, 177, 178, 179, 183, 186, 190, 193, 195, 212, 215, 223, 227, 228, 229, 237, 238, 243, 245, 256, 257, 264, 267, 270, 271, 274, 275, 283, 284, 298, 299, 303, 319, 326, 344, 352, 369, 370.

Wait!: epigraphs are mathematical formulas; Wellbery: DN is like Benjamin’s Work of Art essay; first half is frustratingly Germanic, referential; dithyramb (181), on counting words (190), Bildung (223), tachistoscope (260), norn (266). Also, read Goethe, Nietzsche and Freud to get the big picture in certain sections.


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