Cultural Techniques: Grids, Filters, Doors, and Other Articulations of the Real

Cultural Techniques: Grids, Filters, Doors, and Other Articulations of the Real

Cultural Techniques: Grids, Filters, Doors, and Other Articulations of the Real

Cultural Techniques: Grids, Filters, Doors, and Other Articulations of the Real


In a crucial shift within posthumanistic media studies, Bernhard Siegert dissolves the concept of media into a network of operations that reproduce, displace, process, and reflect the distinctions fundamental for a given culture. Cultural Techniques aims to forget our traditional understanding of media so as to redefine the concept through something more fundamental than the empiricist study of a medium's individual or collective uses or of its cultural semantics or aesthetics. Rather, Siegert seeks to relocate media and culture on a level where the distinctions between object and performance, matter and form, human and nonhuman, sign and channel, the symbolic and the real are still in the process of becoming. The result is to turn ontology into a domain of all that is meant in German by the word Kultur.

Cultural techniques comprise not only self-referential symbolic practices like reading, writing, counting, or image-making. The analysis of artifacts as cultural techniques emphasizes their ontological status as "in-betweens," shifting from firstorder to second-order techniques, from the technical to the artistic, from object to sign, from the natural to the cultural, from the operational to the representational.

Cultural Techniques ranges from seafaring, drafting, and eating to the production of the sign-signaldistinction in old and new media, to the reproduction of anthropological difference, to the study of trompe-l'oeils, grids, registers, and doors. Throughout, Siegert addresses fundamental questions of how ontological distinctions can be replaced by chains of operations that process those alleged ontological distinctions within the ontic.

Grounding posthumanist theory both historically and technically, this book opens up a crucial dialogue between new German media theory and American postcybernetic discourses.


Cultural Techniques, or, the End of the Intellectual
Postwar in German Media Theory

Media theory in Germany since the 1980S

In The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, Ernst Cassirer claimed that “the critique of reason is turning into the critique of culture.” With the rise of so-called German media theory, an alternate formula has emerged: The critique of reason is turning into the critique of media. Indeed, in the wake of German reunification and the subsequent countrywide reconstitution of cultural studies (Kulturwissenschaften), a war is waging that pits “culture” against “media.” the stakes are considerable: Both combatants are striving to inherit nothing less than the throne of the transcendental that has remained vacant since the abdication of the “critique of reason.” the struggle has been concealed both by a rapid succession of “turns” and by attempts to pacify combatants by introducing equalizing monikers such as “cultural media studies” (kulturwissenschaftliche Medienforschung). Around the turn of the millennium the war of and over German cultural studies witnessed the re-emergence of the old concept of “cultural techniques.” This phrase covers a lot of what Anglophone regions like to label “German media theory.” Therefore, in order to explain to the other side of the Channel and the Atlantic how this development affects so-called German media theory, it is necessary to step back and take another look at the latter.

The difficult reception of German media theory in Britain and North America was linked to the misunderstanding that it is a theory of media, as well as to the all-too-perceptive understanding that it never aspired to be a docile theory of media eager to join the humanities in their customary playground. What arose in the 1980s in Freiburg and has come to be associated with such names as Friedrich Kittler, Klaus Theweleit, Manfred Schneider, Norbert Bolz, Raimar . . .

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