Kittler’s Literate Anxiety

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014 by willm2

Kittler does a powerful job articulating how media is key to the concept of Foucauldian discourse networks. He criticizes Foucault (rightfully so) for ignoring how media works. Writing, as the original monolithic media, shaped discourse in innumerable ways. That which was not writing did not get to be ‘history’, banished instead to the uncivilized non-academic realm of ‘orality’.

Kittler seems to want to draw a connection between the pan-media of writing to the (at that point) future pan-media of fiber-optic cables. Just as writing collapsed all kinds of pre-existing media into a single mode, fiber optic cables have done the same by eliminating the rifts between film, radio, TV, and the rest. If the old-media replaced by fiber optic cables represented the isolated, yet still immensely powerful disciplinary institutions of the past, then the new pan-media is the society of control written about by Deleuze. In the past, the subject was forced into discrete institutions, each one beginning the process of subject formation anew (the home –> school –> military/factory –> prison/hospital); the society of control, on the other hand, can accommodate itself to the subject, creating a seamless pattern of shaping that extends well beyond the traditional workday/workweek of western civs. The pan-media of the internet is the ‘tool’ by which this modulation is accomplished.

Kittler is justifiably concerned over this turn of events. What confuses me, however, is why Kittler does not try to apply this same critique to writing in the past. He laments the loss of ‘poetic’ writing to the mechanistic discourse of the typewriter. For him, poetic imagination cannot be transmitted by a typewritten document. Kittler even seems to enjoy the pan-media nature of writing. He speaks of audio-visual data encoded into texts by the author and decoded by the reader. Writing/reading is a creative practice that is swept away by the compartmentalization of audio/visual data into separate systems like film and radio. Kittler even infuses writing with the power to bring memory, and thus, the dead, back into the present (words “quiver with sensuality and memory”). How can writing, a type of media just as pervasive as Kittler’s prediction of the fiber-optic world, be privileged in this way? Is Kittler just a German Romanticist at heart?

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