The Technical Reproducibility of the Unconscious

Monday, April 14th, 2014 by willm2

I was interested in the passage from Discourse Networks: 1900 that discussed automatic writing (ecriture automatique). The experiments in automatic reading and writing done by Gertrude Stein have been interpreted as a kind of gate-way to the unconscious. Our good friend W.B. Yeats thought his wife’s automatic writing was actually spirit channeling. In both instances we see the body transformed into media itself (literally a psychic medium in the latter case). But is the automatic writer really transmitting their own unconscious mind? Kittler doesn’t think so; for him, automatic writing is writing about writing, perhaps similar to Derrida’s ‘arche-writing’. Automatic writing does nothing but expose the medium of writing as something purely discursive (in the sense of a discourse network). In a perverse way, however, by writing writing, we are indeed exposing deep truths about ourselves. After all, the totality of our experience and identity is delimited by that which media allows us.  It appears then that the purest expression of our identities is simultaneously a pure expression of our existence as technological media.

If we are merely the output of media, or perhaps media which outputs itself, then we have lost the dream of the Romantics, the figment of the soul which Kittler discusses in the 1800 portion of the book. And what is a soul but the solipsistic perception of our own personal aura? If we have souls then we become like the ritualized objects in Benjamin’s discussion. After all, we believe that like a piece of art, our identities are without precedent. Our souls dwell in some secret place within us, much like the ritual object in the tabernacle.

What does it mean, then, when this soul-aura is sucked into the gears of a typewriter, or the grooves of a gramophone? Do we as individuals become technically reproducible in Benjamin’s sense? Of course, Kittler would just say that we are simply moving from one discourse network to another, from the soul (1800) to the typeface (1900), but I’m interested to know if there is a Benjamin-esque argument about freedom from tradition that could be made instead.



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