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Media as Technology and Culture

From: German Studies Review
Volume 37, Number 2, May 2014
pp. 405-416 | 10.1353/gsr.2014.0059

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Media as Technology and Culture
Chronopoetik. Zeitweisen und Zeitgaben technischer Medien. By Wolfgang Ernst. Berlin: Kulturverlag Kadmos, 2013. Pp. 428. Cloth €24.80. ISBN 978-3865991430.
Cultures of Mediatization. By Andreas Hepp. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2013. Pp. 180. Paper $22.95. ISBN 978-0745662275.
Fernsehtheorie zur Einführung. By Lorenz Engell. Hamburg: Junius, 2012. Pp. 255. Paper €15.90. ISBN 978-3885066927.

Decades after its provocative beginnings with Friedrich Kittler’s Aufschreibesysteme in 1985—which was nearly not accepted as the author’s Habilitationsschrift—German media theory has now solidly established itself at academic departments in Germany and the United States, and is already well into its second generation. As with Hegel’s followers, those of Kittler can be divided into distinctive wings or directions. One branch of media theory, represented by Oliver Jahraus, has tried to reforge a connection to hermeneutics in order to view literature itself as a medium.1 Others have sought to link media theory back to cultural studies, dubbing their product with the neologism Medienkulturwissenschaft. Wolfgang Ernst, however, continues Kittler’s deliberately cold, posthumanist, machine-driven perspective, bringing media theory from literary studies into history and, more specifically, the history of science and technology. Ernst’s name for his approach is Medienarchäologie, first programmatically set out in his Antrittsvorlesung at the Humboldt University in 2003, titled “Medienwissen(schaft) zeitkritisch,”2 and then developed in several subsequent books. Like Kittler, in Chronopoetik. Zeitweisen und Zeitgaben technischer Medien Ernst follows the discontinuous model of Foucault’s archeology, and Heidegger’s approach to technology; this has specific consequences for his writing. A longer quote from the opening of the book may be parsed to give a sense of Ernst’s project:

Das Dasein technischer Medien entbirgt sich im Moment ihres konkreten Vollzugs. Tätige Medien sind nicht, sie zeitigen. Das vorliegende Werk behandelt chronotechnische Instanziierungen in Apparaten und Menschen. Es findet sich dabei in Gesellschaft einer Reihe grundlegender Befragungen über diese Vertäuung von Zeit & Medien, sucht diese jedoch in dezidiert medienarchäologischen Hinsichten zu vertiefen. Es stellt sich den Eskalationen der sogenannten zeitbasierten Medien zunächst in der Zuspitzung auf zeitkritische Prozesse. … Der Fokus auf [End Page 405] zeitkritische Tempor(e)alitäten stellt dabei nicht einen weiteren Fluchtpunkt in der Serie epistemologischer turns dar, und schon gar nicht ist der Begriff »Zeit« das durchlaufende transzendente Signifikat der vorliegenden Analysen, der diverse operative, chronotechnische Figuren bündelt; vielmehr wird Zeit als Kollektivsingular begriffen, der durch medientechnische Zeitweisen radikal pluralisiert, aufgelöst und treffender durch eine Vielzahl technomathematischer Fachtermini benannt wird, die vom Diracimpuls über den Phasenwinkel und das Zeitverschiebungsintervall bis hin zur Autokorrelationsfunktion und zum Faltungsprodukt reichen.

(11)

Right away, Ernst situates himself (with Kittler) in the wake of Heidegger. Like Heidegger, Ernst resorts to neologisms with which to express his ontology of media. Zeitigen is one such neologism: in ordinary German (vulgo, as Ernst might say), it means “to produce or yield” (results or fruits). Ernst however (again following Heidegger) intends it to mean also something like “to time-ize” or “put in time”; for “temporalize,” he might have used verzeitlichen, but since what is meant here is “machine time,” such a familiar term might have risked implying narrative or history, precisely things that are negated here. Media do not exist, they make time or enact time, and do so only when active (in Ernst’s terms, “im Vollzug”). But in the next sentences, we seem to drift slightly away from the Foucauldian bracketing out of depth or meaning, since “the present work” seeks to “deepen” the “moorage” of time and media (11). (Even ontology cannot do without its own depths.) Furthermore, Ernst’s book “confronts the escalation of so-called time-based media in the sharpening [or dramatization] of time-critical processes” (11). Kritik was, for Luhmann and Kittler, only an object of mockery, associated with the Frankfurt School’s old-fashioned notions of emancipation; how can Ernst mean it here?

It is not mere nit-picking to point this out, for Ernst’s work, like Foucault’s and Kittler’s, depends crucially on what it is (“critically”…?) negating. Like Foucault, Ernst spends almost as much time telling the reader what he...