Friedrich Kittler

Friedrich Adolf Kittler is a German media and literary theorist (although he would certainly see those as the same). His work, along with Siegfried Zelinski's, is considered to be among the core texts of media archaeology.

Kittler's primary theoretical influences stem from French psychoanalysis and post-structuralism--Lacan, Foucault and Derrida. His critiques and literary context, however, largely employs the work of German writers and philosophers, particularly Nietzsche and Goethe.

Kittler's work is exceedingly deterministic--media have their own autonomy. They are not merely McLuhan's extensions of man--they go farther, producing man's technological a priori. Here one could map a fundamental disagreement in media archaeology (or, more simply put, non-progressivist accounts of media history) between thinkers like Kittler and thinkers like Lisa Gitelman or Carolyn Marvin who steadfastly oppose the notion that technology can reproduce their own conditions or manage their own dissemination.

Gramophone, Film, Typewriter [1986 German | 1999 English]

While this book is rich in its scope and intertextuality, a few words will suffice. Kittler's essential proposition is that media do not simply influence our thought; rather, they are our thought. Media are the technological a priori of all thinking. It is not that the film mimics our unconscious, but that our unconscious mimics film. As Kittler suggests, differential equations can be solves in either direction.

Language is the virus that struck man, the first media that shaped our thought. With the major technological-communication revolution, the gramophone, film and the typewriter seperated sound, image and language (here the divergence from the man whose voice and language is semblative of his inner soul, the German Romanticist identity Kittler explores in Discourse Networks), and human psychology was sliced. The gramophone appeals to the real, functions as an analog representation of the voice, and maintains the voice of the dead (the scream of the dying over radio). Film functions as the imaginary, capturing not light waves but the effect of light waves, and reproducing our illusory doppleganger before our eyes at a speed too fast to capture difference. The typewriter corresponds to the symbolic, a symbolic order now stripped of its inherent relationship to male thought as thousands of women enter into the typing fields.

Kittler is fairly unconcerned with traditional "historical" method. He flips back and forth through time, disregarding conventional chains of events or obvious explanations for societal shifts. Rather, he utilizes stories and essays to unlock how media are represented and the powers potentially attributed to them. He practices, perhaps, a form of time-axis rotation in his own writing; if history if the groove wound 'round the gramophone cylinder, Kittler is the DJ moving it about to find complementary vibrations.