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<nettime> Florian Cramer on Wolfgang Schirmacher: Media Aesthetics in Eu
Wolfgang Schirmacher on Thu, 6 Jan 2000 07:09:55 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Florian Cramer on Wolfgang Schirmacher: Media Aesthetics in Europe-An Answer

Judging from his comments on "Media Aesthetics in Europe", Florian Cramer
strikes me as a highly opinionated person believing strongly in his own
judgments (and believing everything he does not know is not worth knowing).
Trust nobody from the Eighties, and the Nineties are so old-fashioned!  I
guess thirty years ago I was exactly like him, but I assure you, Florian,
the kids in my East Village neighborhood will already consider you megaout.

Let's get down to business: I have no idea how my lecture from a 1991
conference in Paris on "The Media in Europe" ended up in your forum but I
must congratulate Florian for sniffing out correctly to which time period
this piece belongs.  German Kulturwissenschaft at its best!  I've never
formally published "Media Aesthetics in Europe" (it is only included in one
of my websites) because of its dated context and somehow sweeping
generalities. But it served me well back in 1991 in the heated discussions
with Paul Virilio (whom I accused of "grandfather's philosophy" - how do you
like that, Florian?), Jean Baudrillard, and Vilem Flusser ("Don't give me
the kiss of death!" I screamed at him when he AGREED with some of my
assumptions). The basis of my rather harsh judgments in “Media Aesthetics”
was my experience with French students and academics when I taught "Media
Philosophy" in Paris in 1990, supported by some anecdotal evidence I got
from my German and Dutch friends. Still, in the age of the Internet 10 years
are like a century, and you will find a totally revised description in my
forthcoming book "Media Philosophy: Innovations in Communication".

Nevertheless, I'd like to comment on a few points Florian made.

>_When_ in the history of literacy has it _ever_ been possible to
communicate without the help of media-generated forms, role modles and
channels? If you compare the impact of the Christian Bible on
communication in the Western middle ages and renaissance with the impact
of the mass media on communication today, one could even argue that the
influence has become much more diversified. But after all, I can see
nothing in Schirmacher's observation that would add anything new to the
observations of mass media-triggered communication made, for example, in
Cervantes' Don Quixote and Goethe's Werther (whose protagonists say
"Klopstock" - the name of a 18th century poet whose odes on nature were
crucial prototypes for the sentimental style in German literature - when
they see a thunderstorm). >

Agreed, we all have read Walter Ong and friends, but the NEW phenomenon is
the ubiquitousness of media roles: Klopstock you could escape (just by being
one of the illiterate servants), try this with Arnold Schwarzenegger!

>> And the ease with which we can alter and expand the text already written
into the computer eliminates the "voice of authority" in us and allows us to
play with thoughts. No new insights; Michael Heim described all this in the
late 1980s. >

Yes, I've quoted Heim in published texts, but we both stand on the shoulders
of Derrida and - like him - Heidegger and so on.  According to Alfred North
Whitehead, all Western philosophy is just a footnote to Plato, according to
Pierre Aubenque, one of my teachers, Aristotle has already said everything -
and both may very well be right. But as a phenomenologist  I believe only in
evidence: "how it show itself to me", and  I merely refer to sources as a
service for my audience (for their follow-up readings).

>You find a very similar critique in Plato's remarks about writing _as such_
(i.e. as a technique that corrupts memory and fosters falsification). It's
astonishing that a philosopher wouldn't reflect upon the history of
philosophical media critique in order to flesh out what _new_ questions
electronic/digital media _actually_ pose.>

Don't confuse me with a mere scholar, Florian, I am foremost a philosopher
who according to Hans-Georg Gadamer (the founder of modern Hermeneutics) is
never able to quote correctly (because s/he rethinks the text every time).
I don't need Plato's Phaedrus (which I happened to teach last year at NYU)
to make my point.  More importantly, the audience doesn't need this
AUTHORITY either since their is only one way to prove if I am right or
wrong: Open your eyes (ears) and see (hear) for yourself!  The problem is
that we are (mis)educated to be biased as hell, and it is the hardest thing
just to acknowledge how a phenomenon really is.  The other major problem may
be that the phenomenon NEVER shows itself to us at the first glance!
And addressing the question of the NEW: Yes, I am a sucker for the New, too,
but I also keep Aristotle's insight in mind that it is the philosopher’s
duty to point out the obvious (which is usually obscured by a variety of

>If Schirmacher would cling to basic semiotics or linguistics, it would be
clear that there is no such thing as communication without a medium. It's a
pity that even academics who should be precise in their language do not
differentiate between 'media' in general and 'electronic mass media' in

Isn't this obvious?  No, I rather think it’s biased.  In a phenomenological
view, the similarities between "classical" media such as language, money,
power and "electronic mass media" are crucial and would be lost by imposing
a strict classification. To a great extend mass media has cannibalized
language, money, power and is in the process of becoming them (which will
consequently change the phenomenon of mass media profoundly).

And why don't you consult Plato on the point that there is no communication
without a medium, Florian?  Remember the dialogue of the Soul with itself as
authentic communication?  Actually, my favorite philosopher, Spinoza,
claimed that a non-discursive intuitive understanding (Amor Dei
intellectualis) is the true human reasoning - no media involved except the
cosmos itself.

>Is it possible that is has been a _very_ long time since Schirmacher saw a
European (or German) university? This and the following paragraphs strike me
as an echo of third-hand banalizations of 1960/1970s Frankfurt School
scholarship. Everyone who is familiar with 'Kulturwissenschaft' as the major
trend in German humanities of the 1990s knows that Schirmacher's description
is without any reality today, although German 'Kulturwissenschaft' remains,
in its large indeptedness to Aby Warburg, Ernst Cassirer and cultural
anthropology, quite different from Anglo-American 'Cultural Studies'.>

Vorsicht, Juergen Habermas will not take lightly that you include his
postmodern opponent among the Frankfurt School followers!  What I owe Adorno
and Marcuse for my philosophy of technology I have recently acknowledged in
my edition of "Frankfurt School" you mentioned.  But I am renowned for the
first "green" philosophy in the Seventies, utilizing Heidegger's question
concerning technology to address the ecological crisis (biotechnology is
still one of my main areas).  Also, by becoming the president of the
Schopenhauer Society in 1982 (then Europe's biggest philosophical
association), I have offered a "new" reading of Schopenhauer and advocated a
discussion of his philosophy in the context of other schools of thinking
(notably Hegel and Nietzsche).  Both my work on "ecosophia" and the "white
Schopenhauer” have been translated into many languages, even if it seems I
am forgotten in my home country if one believes you. Anyway, I stayed in
contact with colleagues in Germany and have discussed with them regularly in
conferences, round-tables, on the radio and TV.  Friedrich Kittler,
Christina von Braun, Peter Mattusek, Siegfried Zielinski, and Hartmut Boehme
are among the people who keep me informed about Kulturwissenschaft. .

> To mix television and computers in the same bag is a mistake many media
theorists (like, in Germany, Dietmar Kamper at the second "Softmoderne" 
conference) made in the early 1990s because their views and vocabulary had
been shaped by Baudrillard and Virilio. Schirmacher is fighting battles
that are over in my opinion. I guess many Nettime subscribers share my
view of TV as an old-fashioned mass medium which, since the mass
availability of computer networks, has hardly developed any interesting
visual/symbolic forms lately.  Television may be on a crossroad between
(a) a smart medium integrated into the Internet as a view-on-demand
service embedded into (database-retrievable) text information and (b) a
dumb, linear medium, formatted to death with sitcoms, talk shows and
commercials >

The battles may be over but the war goes on.  I mostly disagreed with Kamper
during a round-table on "Cyberlove" last May in Munich.  And in my
observation, the Web is not ready yet to replace TV and it will take a few
years (and major upgrading on the side of the users) before your (and my)
option A is a reality.

Florian concludes his criticism by lecturing me on semiotics, the linguistic
and the anthropological turns.  It seems I didn't pay attention to what I've
taught at the New School since I designed a class "Media Philosophy" in 1986
(the first in the US as far as I know).

I wrote:>> There is communication beyond written or spoken language which is
as powerful as it is silent. And it can be increasingly observed that in
communication a language based on words is a part, and not the whole.
Pictures and sounds, silence and performances, an art-filled space, and body
language speak their own mind. >>

Florian's two remarks:

>[1] At least the structuralist tradition of modern language thinking begins
with Saussure who, in his 'Cours de la linguistique générale', clearly
states that (a) linguistics is only a part of a more general science called
semiotics, (b) the linguistic rules he observed are only valid in written
language ('langue'), not in spoken language ('parole') and that they
wouldn't be applicable to the larger science of semiotics. Later
structuralists like Roland Barthes have disregarded these warnings,
nevertheless the awareness of semiotics as a larger discipline than
linguistics has always existed.>

So, I am not allowed to recognize it because Saussure did it already?  I've
addressed a media culture which is still totally dependent on words (story
lines) - even the Web for all its images is a page, structured by a word
language. For an updated version of my criticism: Eine Medienphilosophie des
Zwischen. Interface 3: Labile Ordnungen.Ed.K.-P.Dencker. Hamburg 1996.  For
English language readers, Gregory Ulmer's writings should prove helpful, and
Peter Greenaway’s visual language project may serve as encouragement.

Florian writes:
"[2] Again it seems that Schirmacher is out of touch with the European
humanities. In contrast to Anglo-American cultural studies with their mix of
poststructuralist and postmarxist theory, the German 1990s discourse of
'Kulturwissenschaften' has been characterized by attempts to replace the
'linguistic turn' with an 'anthropological turn' and, at least in the case
of some scholars, do without analyzing language and without referring to
structuralist concepts at all!>

In May last year I delivered a lecture at a conference on "Anthropology of
Media", organized by Reinhard Margreiter at the Freie Akademie in Wiesbaden.
Both he and Oswald Schwemmer who also lectured are non-structuralist
proponents of the anthropological turn - with a lot of Cassirer attached.  I
am totally aware how important it has become to ask WHO WE ARE before we
delve into media as a given environment.  That is the reason why my next
book dealing with the ethical concept of a good life in the
post-technological age is titled HOMO GENERATOR. What I missed most from the
anthropological turn advocates is a view of humanity (Menschenbild) which
can survive the postmodern criticism.  And equally important is to think
beyond word language and let the images have a language of their own.
Instead, being in control of symbols seems to be a major concern to
Schwemmer.  Being not in control (see Greenaway) but trusting your ability
to live a fuller life anyway, is the advice I would give (and Deleuze would
back me up here if we needed an authority).

Yet, I'd like to underline my judgment from 1991  >What is missing is an
unbiased sensual experience with media>> and offer Florian's comments as
initial proof.  European media scholars continue to be disgusted by the US
produced mass media, with little constructive criticism. To quote Florian
again: TV is "a dumb, linear medium, formatted to death with sitcoms, talk
shows and commercials". And again: "There is an exaggerated attention for
Hollywood blockbusters and TV sitcoms in the contemporary European
humanities. I am sure, younger scholars will have noticed the decline of
Hollywood blockbusters in the 90s - from a quite sophisticated period with
films like "Pulp Fiction" and "Total Recall" to the boredom and irrelevance
of today's movie theater programs".

Yeah? What about "The Matrix", "Fight Club", "American Beauty", "The Dogma",
to name a few I've send my students to see?  It is part of the game never to
rule out Hollywood or TV sitcoms may surprise you.  My point is you must
combine a tough criticism of the American media culture with an appreciation
of the potential it provides to newcomers .

If I had to characterize the difference between Media Aesthetics in Europe
and the US from my current perspective, I think the increase in Internet use
by European media scholars has had no real impact on their fundamental
belief: They still treat technology basically as a tool, understand
themselves as the masters of the game (or have the paranoid belief, like
Kittler, hardware has taken over).  Therefore, they stubbornly defend their
(biased) view of humanity as homo sapiens,  homo creator, homo faber.  It
really feels like I never published “Technik und Gelassenheit” (1983) and
“Ereignis Technik” (1990) in Germany, establishing technology as our genuine
way of living a life worth living: We are technicians-artists - and nothing
else!  And yet, there is no reason to despair: The next generation (playing
Pokeman at the moment) is on its way and will sweep the floor with Florian.

The US situation is trickier with its blatant capitalistic takeover of every
form of media, including the alternative ones.  One result for
university-level education is an increase of graduate students who just want
to learn the know-how of the business (including web design) but have no
appreciation of the theoretical framework, the true software of their future
lives. American universities follow this trend to trade schools, and
increasingly there is no place to go for the brightest students, striving to
be both theorists and creative persons.  I have no doubt that in a few years
the pendulum will swing back when the lack of vision will be felt in the
media field.  But as a counter-measure I’ve founded a cross-disciplinary
Master and Doctoral Program in Communication (from film to new media) as an
English language summer program in Switzerland.  Among our professors are
genuine philosophers from many fields who, in my view, will shape how we
perceive and create media (and life): Jean Baudrillard (on photography!),
Peter Greenaway (the multi-media filmmaker), John Waters (subversive
aesthetics goes mainstream), Slavoj Zizek (Lacan meets popular culture),
Sandy Stone (the body in cyberspace), Donna Haraway (Cyborgs as feminists),
Avital Ronell (the black lady of deconstruction), Jean-Luc Nancy (a rare
vision of politics), Gregory Ulmer (electeracy at work), Siegfried Zielinski
(anarchaeology of media), Yve-Alain Bois (art theorist as well as curator
who studied with Roland Barthes and let the work determine the theory).  The
European Graduate School www.egs.edu blends the best feature of the American
and European systems, and our students are a true international mix
(currently from the US, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, Japan, Germany,
France, Philippines, Italy, and Switzerland).

On Friday, June 2nd, I’ll be back in Germany to participate in a round-table
discussion with Julian Nida-Rümelin (culture commissioner in Munich and
philosophy professor in Göttingen) and Jens Reich (genetics professor and
one-time presidential candidate for the Greens). Our topic “Homo generator:
How does Media Technology Relates to Genetic Engineering?” was suggested by
me long before the Peter Sloterdijk controversy (by the way, Sloterdijk is
another of these media-hating Europeans intellectuals).  The round-table
will be meeting at the LITERATURHAUS (20 h) and will later be aired on radio
and TV (ARTE).

It would be nice to meet some of you there - how about coming to Munich,


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