Is Kittler non-anthropological?

Monday, April 14th, 2014 by sdileonardi

I want to blog about one of the many topics that I imagine will not make the cut for my final presentation; there’s only so much we can talk about in a couple of hours. It would be great if this topic comes up in our discussion tomorrow, but in case it doesn’t here are some thoughts on my end. Kittler begins his description of discourse network 1900 with two experimental “victims,” that is, Nietzsche and pyschophysics psychologist Ebbinghaus are portrayed as suffering bodies capable of producing the very knowledge they are studying: “Ebbinghaus took the place of Nietzsche’s victim or experimental subject and then retroactively became the observer of his own experience in order to quantify what he had suffered” (207-8). Look at the language in this quote: victim, suffered. A particular attention is being given to Ebbinghaus’ body.

According to David Wellberry in the foreword to the book, this concentration on the body is part of post-structuralism’s response to its non-anthropological position. You know all of those discussions we’ve been having all semester about taking the human out of the humanities? Well, Kittler isn’t the only post-structuralist who has dealt with them, and, if you are inclined to agree with Wellberry, the reason Foucault and Kittler cannot genuinely be called non-anthropological or negligent to human concerns is because post-structuralism does not deny the subject but replaces it with the body—subjectivity is defined by corporeality (check out page xv of the foreword). One of the implications of this is that Kittler and Foucault (for example) actually pay close attention to the pathos and sufferance of the human body in order to identify the construction of social terms such as aberrant, perverse, mad, sexual, etc., or, in the case of Kittler, to catalogue the ways in which Nietzsche or Ebbinghaus suffered under the strain of their auto-experiments.

This is in no way an accurate representation of Ebbinghaus’ experiments, but to get a feel for the regimented, daily, incessant memorization exercises he endured take a look at this computer-based rendition of his monosyllabic memory test:

I think what I want to pay attention to here is the ways in which these experiments would have strained the eyes, produced head aches, etc, and the ways in which Kittler seems acutely aware of Ebbinghaus’ bodily pain in the name of scientific pursuit. Is this enough for you to rethink our accusations? Should we consider the post-structuralist approach to be more in tune with human concerns than we previously thought? I would really like to hear the class’ response on the subject.


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