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<nettime> Religion and Media

Nils Roeller
Academy of Media Arts
Peter-Welter-Platz 2
50676 Koeln

Religion and Media

Dissymetries Dissymetry will be the starting point of the following
reflections inspired by a colloque on Religion and Media organized by Sam
Weber and Hent de Vries. Sam Weber pays in his reading of Derrida
attention to the dissymmetry between the words religion and media , the
overlapping of the two apparently so different terms" (Sam Weber: Thoughts
on Religion and Media - Colloque in Chbteau de la Bretesche). This is a
challenge.  First of all it is a methodological challenge: We try to
approach in the traditional medium of the text a diversity of hybrid
phenomenena. Hybrid phenomena are for example films that are transformed
into computer games, comic strips that are animated, that are brought into
movement. We cannot refer to a history of logoi about media and we don't
approach media as philoi.  Hent de Vries argues that we have to catch up
with scholarship (Hent de Vries: In Media Res- Colloque in Chbteau de la
Bretesche). We have to catch up with the philoi and logoi of other
disciplins and we have to consider again positivism. I think that
nineteenth century positivsim and its philologies have formed the basic
for Saussures and Cassirers concepts of language. But where are the
Humboldts, the Grimm Brothers, the Bopps of the media, that will lead to a
Saussure, to a Cassirer, to a Heidegger of the media? How can we approach
media when we are not philoi of the media? We are afraid of their
vulgarity, of their relation to institutionalized power and we are not
sure how media are able to link people like once the christian religion
did ( what al least historians tried to make us believe). 

The technology of the computer as well as the filmindustriy are inventions
of the nineteenth century, but they are unfolding now their impact on our
senses, our intuition and our rationality.  We are used to combine the
media with the spectacular. This combination becomes fragile when we have
to add the word digital to media. The word digital can be traced back to
the latin digitus. Sentences like Numerare per digitos or novi digitos
tuos express that once numbers have been at hand, that once they have been
organically connected with the human body and that once there was no
distinction between mental procedures and the body.1 At the end of the
nineteenth century the definition of numbers was at stake. The
mathematician Richard Dedekind asked 1888 "Was sind und sollen die
Zahlen?"2. One answer came from Gottlieb Frege. In the Grundlagen der
Arithemetik he discusses Kants thesis, that " Verstand " und "Anschauung " 
depend on each other. 3 Frege denied that. 4 Numbers can no longer be
defined through reference to the physical world, related to "a sinnliche
Anschaung". Numbers do not enter through the senses in our mind, they are
not related to an intuition, that is somehow connected with sensual
experiences. As a consequence of these doubts a Grundlagenstreit in
mathematics burst out between WI and WII. One result of this are digital
computers which are obviously placed in every office of the western
industrialized world. But I do consider them as a hidden force that
irritates Debords Society of the Spectacle.  To talk about media and
religion is today not possible without talking about computers. Can we
discuss the religio that links the spectacle of the media with the
abstract sign processing machine? Is the visual, the spectacular one side
of the medal and the abstract denial of intuiton the other side? Who is
able to define the material of the medal?  Are words materialized in this
medal?  Is it right to say that the loss of sensual experiences in
computerized sign processing is related to the desire to amuse and to join
spectacles? (I prefer the plural, because I see concurrencies between
different forms of the spectacle that are more or less connected with
computer technology and telecommunications. There is for example a
concurrence between homebased entertainment and locationbased
entertainment, Imax, Segaworld, video journals, pay tv, porno images in
the internet.)

The Academy of Media Arts has charged Siegfried Zielinki and me to
organize the festival Digitale, where we try to accomplish intuitive
fieldwork on the relation of digital media and moving images. This
fieldwork has to take in regard a political demand. Because now the word
digital has a different appeal. Now that is in the last twenty years of
our decade, when politicians all over the world try to build High Tech
Centers in order to convince investors to settle down and to localize a
benefit gained from a general trend of computerization.  In Northrhine -
Westfalia the Minister of Economy has established the Digitale as a part
of his political strategy. The festival is asked to motivate local film-,
television- and multimedia-producers to compete with international
productions and the festival has to pay special attention to computerbased
production. The festival is asked to produce content for a technolgy, a
technology that tends to be integrated in different modes of
representations like film, foto, audio, print... 

The budget does not permit to invite George Lucas, the creator of the mass
epos Star Wars, and this would not match with the interest of the Academy
of Media Arts as the organizer. We respect George Lucas but we cannot work
within the categories of Showbiz. The Academy takes the festival as a
chance to investigate popular forms of digital culture. Last year the
Academy has invited Artists from Brasil, Russia and Japan and asked wether
there is a general trend to one global dialect. We found out, that these
three countries have different approaches to combine computers with
techniques of image production.  I would like to give a short overview, in
order to explain how we tried to approach the plural media. 

Brasil: Military government enforced the building of efficent and modern
television network. As a result Brasil has one of the largest televison
audiences of the world. Nearly every household in Brasil has access to
television, everybody is connected to the oneway traffic of the channels
that sends telenovelas.  In the eigthies when the military establishment
became "too tired" to resist against redemocratization, also mediapolitics
changed but the oneway traffic - which is only from senders to the
receivers of televisual messages and not back - remains a problem.
Military government has prohibited the import of computer technology, also
telephone lines have remained a service for the happy few.  The connection
between individuals was not wellcome. So we have a vivid television- and
videoscene but a poor internet and multimedia-industry. Still people have
to wander hundreds of miles in order to express in the capital their
political interests.5

Russia: Here the distinction between universal computers and special
purpose calculators has to be taken into account. Russia had a
computerculture:networks reserved for intelligence services as well as for
scientific institutions and Russia did have a tradition of computer
engineering, it is better to say of electronic calculators.6). But this
machines are build to calculate with the highest reliability functions,
especially ballistic functions to determine the flight of transcontinental
rockets. This computers are not universal in the sense that they could be
applied for multi media production. The latter would imply universal
programmability. 7, The Russian machines worked reliable also in extreme
climates. Their errors have been of such an astonishing minimal scale that
since the end of the Cold War specialists of the Nasa book timeshifts at
these computers. Russians still tell the joke that Americans let two
computers operate in order to check whether there is an error in a
calculation not taking into account that both computers may not be

It is obvious that restrictive government policy tends to controll the
production of spectacles and prohibits the use of computers that may serve
in connection with the internet as tool for indivual production and

Japan is different. The consumer industry is innovative, competing and
challenging. This is the well known hardware side. The software side or
better the content side may become as challenging. Apart from
institutionalized forms of the spectacle, for the flow of images, there is
a strong popular culture for the production of images that uses computers
to create on production centers. Enforced by strong demand for images,
comics with cute girls in blue skirts and white socks are one component of
the large production of Manga and Anime, that can be traced back to an
adaption of Walt Disney by Osamu Tezuku. But result is high integration of
different media: print, tv, film, music, CD-Rom, internet chats, games are
vivid examples of a convergence of computerbased technologies and
sensualization through cinema.  For the Digitale we concentrated on the
representation of the cities in Manga and Anime and we had to face
unexpected values and concepts. Cities are destroyed and rebuild within
seconds. This images are animated by a permanent expectation of a final

Tours de Souabe 
Personally I was astonished about the Japanese Artist Koichi Ohata. He is
a Manga -Artist, he creates comic stories, and he produces Anime, comic
films. His speciality is Mecha:. The design of machines, hybrid
man-machines, a futuristic mixture between Samurai and medieval knight in
futuristic armour. 

At the Digitale he presented M.D. Geist. Most dangerous Geist. In the
Japanese as well as in the American version the German word is reproduced.
The integration of other languages indicates a global trend and is not
accidential for Japanese mass narrations. Adaptions of western terms and
names are often found. You will meet for example spacecommander Jung-Freud
in a comic film for teenagers. But my question is how to deal with the
syncretistic adaption of the German word. It appears now in the context of
popular culture incarnated by a fairy soldier with bright eyes. Here Geist
is a product of bio-engineering and is a part of special unit that the
"troops of the government" have formed to combat the Negusrom.. This
special unit became too dangerous and was exiled on a desert planet. After
years one of them M.D. Geist reappears. He joins the Regierungstruppen and
animates them in a very rough military sense: "Durch Geist wird die
Kampfkraft der Truppe gestdrkt .8 The object of the manoeuvre is to enter
Brain Palace. Brain Palace is a central but empty building of the
Negusrom, where the programm Death-Force is located. It has the aim to
destroy finally the already weak government. Geist fights and opens for
government the way to the Brain Palace and to their command-central. The
officer of the government troops can stop Death Force.. But Geist kills
him and restarts the Death Force "um das Spiel selbst zu beginn. Geist is
an outlaw and he is bvhse . He is the agressiv and dangerous synthesis of
the battle between Negusrom and the government. And he starts an already
written programm for his own interest. This interest is not to become rich
and to live in luxury - he denies this before - but only revenge. 

We have to face the fact that we may find in the internet via search
enginge a mailing list of M.D.Geist fans next to a list of group studying
Derridas text. Even when we specify our search by: "Geist + power +
action" this search will place Ohata and Derrida closely. 
This is only an example of what we can find if we start to go in Media Res
. We have to to consider different meaning of single signchains different
cultures. For Ohata Geist is tough, hard-boiled.  What does Geist mean to
us and when? Before or after reading Derrida? May be we have first to
start to gather material, to get an overview. But this can become a tour
de Souabe . 

Two examples: If we reserach with sufficient detail, we have to be sure
what is sufficient. Let us take one example of what is not sufficient but
taken as if it was sufficient. 

In German bookstores you can find Hdussermanns short biography on
Hoelderlin.9 It was first published in 1961. There you can find a hint how
to relate Geist to machines. For sure Ohata did not know this. He did not
know that the word Geist implies the philosophy of Hvlderlins
collegefriend Hegel. Hdussermann mentions that there is a field worth to
be investigated. Still after 35 years this investigations are not well
known because their is no common scientific interest to enter the field
with sufficient detail. I would like to mention the relationship between
the three famous Stiftskvpfe of T|bingen in Swabia: Hvlderlin, Schelling,
Hegel to their Ahnen:: Johann Albrecht Bengel (1687-1752)), Friedrich
Christoph Oetinger (1702-1782), Philipp Matthdus Hahn (1739-1790). Why is
this important? Because you may find in a compendium for the history of
technology as many details about Hahn as in a standard synopsis on the
history of Protestantism. The three fathers interpreted the biblical text
on word-per-word method, they conducted alchemistical experiments, and
they designed instruments for precise measurement. Hahn for example was
the inventor of the Neigungswaage. .Schelling wrote it in the age of
fifteen a poem on Hahns, des "Spdhers " death . He admired the
theologician, who measured exactly the "forces of nature": 

"Sprechet, wog er nicht mit k|hner Schale, Sterblich noch die Krdften der
Natur Drang sein Auge nicht durch's Weltall noch im Erdenthale, Sucht' und
fand' der Gottheit reinste Spur?"10

Bengel previewed exactly "Jugement Day" to happen in 1839. Obviously the
"Swabian Fathers" did fail sometimes. We can avoid errors by taking into
account that philosophy, mystic and engineering are more close than
historians testify. Xavier Tilliette for example mentions Hahn only
twice.11 Historians like Ernst Benz and Robert Minder have documented
relations between the Swabian Fathers and the Swabian " Stiftskvpfe ". We
can argue with them that the Swabs are " l' Ecossais de l'Allemagne ". We
can say with Robert Minder that they are "regardants, calculateurs,
iconomes ".12 But an investigation of the relation between measuring
instruments and Geist in this time is still missing. This could help to
understand the impact that calculating machines did have on German

Do we have a method to conduct this research? I may confess that I was
participating another tour de Soabe when I tried to define how the concept
of simulation changed. Baudrillard connected historical lemmata of the
word simulation with the use that computer-scientists have extablished
since the fifties. At hand I had a bibliography of dissertations,
unfortunatly of dissertations of seventeenth and eigthineeth century. It
led me to author like Grotius, Pufendorf, Duns Scouts and Thomas Aquin but
also to Paulus and Petrus, to Origines and Augustinus, later I passed
Franz Overbeck and Nietzsche, Felix Krull, German health policy, computer
film companies like mental images and films like Total recall . 

I felt lost in a labyrinth of texts. Without a concept, without an idea of
how to relate ideas to this mass of texts, languages, sciences. Just try
the labyrinth How to know which details are important and which not? The
jesuit Robert Busa convinced me indirectly that I was mislead. With IBM he
has developped a computerized index of Thomas Aquinas works. When a
computer could do this research, why should I behave like a computer? But
I was already acting like a computer. I was gathering, storaging
documents, recombining texts. And I was caught ba a category that lead to
Turings proof. Robin Gandy has written about "the Confluences of Ideas in
1936" the year, when Turing published his paper. Turing made a proof ex
negativo. He demonstrated that despite of given well defined procedures,
unsolvable questions will allways exist in mathematics. Hilbert had
proclaimed that there are no unsolvable questions. "His last words of 1930

`ein unlvsbares Problem gibt es |berhaupt nicht. Statt des tvrichten
Ignorabimus hei_e ich im Gegenteil unsere Losung: Wir m|ssen wissen, wir
werden wissen4".13

Turing has defined what is an effective procedure in mathematics. He used
this definition to show that there will always be unsolvable questions.
His definition "influenced the design and development of high speed
computers".14 I proceeded with a well defined method to get a complete
view of the use of the word simulation. I followed this part of the Turing
proof where judgement and intuition are suspended. They are suspended in
favour of a formula, and their iterability. Here we are confronted with a
constitutional factor of objective reasoning. We are "at the site of
repeatability" like Derrida says in "Faith and Knowledge". To have faith
into a procedure means to follow Hilberts optimism. It does not take into
account the logical improvability of this optimism. And therefore my
search of completenes became a tour de Souabe. 


When we consider how Turing became possible we see that he deals with a
missing link between formal procedures and creative power. Computers
enlarged this link into a gap. This gap was discussed as a gap between
absolut subjectivity and rule based objectivity or as a gap between
intuitive view of the world and ist objective constructions. The years
between WW I and WWII especially 1925 and 1927 are years of a struggle.
They inform about different attempts to cover the becoming gap. We refer
to this as to the Grundlagenstreit. Usually Hilbert and Brouwer are
mentioned as conflict partners. Hilbert establishes mere symbolic
mathematics. This is a distinction between numbercrunchers, sign operators
on one side and on the other side meta mathematicians, who take care of
the proof of operations.15

In a way he uses the division of labour that was introduced in projects of
French and British academies, especially by Charles Babbage. His opponent
is Brouwer who reintroduced the term intuition into the debate, arguing
that mathematical procedures shall always be rooted in intuitions. He did
not mean, that numbers should be at hand. The basic of mathematical
operations is intuition.16 Between both Hermann Weyl has to be situated.
He published 1926 a Philosophy of Mathematics and Physics17 and was
therefore called "Halbintuitionist "  and "Verrdter an der
phdnomenologischen Sache". 

Weyl confesses to have never solved the conflict between constructive
science and the vividity of daily life intuitions. He knows that there is
enough evidence that mathematics and physcis are related to the
experiences that one faces in daily life, but logical these relations
cannot be proofed. Weyl did not follow rigid platonism. He did not express
a believe that God could have proceeded in a mathematical way when he
created the world. 18 Weyl did not expect an universal code to decipher
the structure of the universe. Instead of this Weyl documented tensions
and gaps. In Raum, Zeit und Materie he uses the word Tensor.19 When we
talk about Raum, Zeit und Medien we may use the term as well.  Tensor
Analysis may be a way to understand the demand for immanence and the
demand for universal problem solving machines. Both demands are crucial
for our time. 20

1 Sybille Krdmer: Symbolische Maschinen.. Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche
Buchgesellschaft, 1988, 7.
2 Richard Dedekind:Was sind und sollen die Zahlen?  Braunschweig 1888.
3  Kr.d.V. A50/B74 f..
4 Gottlieb Frege:Grundlagen der Arithmetik (''89, 90).
5 David Bartelt: Brasilianischer Herbst. Lettre International  37, 105.
6 Yaroslav A. Khetagurov: The Art of Reliable System Creation. In: Lab
1997 - Yearbook of the Academy of Media Arts. Kvln: Verlag der
Buchhandlung Walther Kvnig, 1997. 334-342.
7 For a general discussion see: Michael Conrad: The Prize of
Programmability: In Rolf Herken (Hrsg.): The Universal Turing Machine. A
Half Century Survey. Hamburg/Berlin: Kammerer & Unverzagt (nowWien:
Springer), 285-307.
8  Quoted aft the directors cut original Japanese and American version
with german subtitles. New York: Central Park Media/Riku Saniyo: Nippon
Columbia Co., 1996.
9 Ulrich Hdusserman: Hvlderlin in Selbstzeugnissen und Dokumenten.
Reinbek: RoRoRo, 1961/1980.
10 Alfred Beck: Aus Schellings Jugend. T|binger Bldtter 1955, S. 10f (nach
11 . Xavier Tilliette: Schelling I - Une philosohie en devinir. Paris:
Librairie Philosophie J. Vrin, 1970.
12  Robert Minder: Herrlichkeit chez Hegel ou Le monde des  Phres souabes.
In:Itudes Germaniques, dicembres 1951, 277.
13 Hilbert quoted by Gandy, Robin: The confluence of Ideas in 1936. In
Herken, Rolf, 63.
14 Gandy, 90.
15  David Hilbert: Axiomatisches Denken. In: Mathematische Annalen Bd. 78.
1918. ND in: Gesammelte Abhandlungen I-III. Berlin: Verlag von Julius
Springer 1932
Hilbert, David: Neubegr|ndung der Mathematik. Erste Mitteilung. In:
Abhandlungen aus dem Math. Seminar d. Hamb. Universitdt  Bd.1. 1922. ND
in: Gesammelte Abhandlungen I-III.
16  Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari refer to Brouwer. Massimo Cacciari
discusses Brouwer and Weyl in Icone della Legge. Milano: Adelphi, 1985.
17  Hermann Weyl: Philosophie der Mathematik und Naturwissenschaft. In:
Schrvter (Hrsg.): Handbuch der Philosophie. M|nchen: Oldenbourg 1926/27.
English Edition: Princeton: 1947. Deutsche Neuausgabe: M|nchen:
Oldenbourg, 1966. 
18 For a modern expression of platonism see: "But what is expressed there
(Penrose, Roger: Shadows of the mind. Oxford: Oxford University Press,
1994( is a prejudice of mine, that the whole physical world is governed
mathematically, and that there are no parts of it  which are not
mathematical. The second prejudice is that the whole of the mental world
is rooted in the physical world, so that you cannot have souls or so on
floating around without any physical basis. And the third, which is a
slightly subtler one, is that the whole of the Platonic world is
accessible to our intellect; in principle, even though in practice it
might not be. Which is to say that there are not mathematical truths which
are in principle outside our comprehension. One often worries about this
in mathematics; are there statements about numbers which are simply
unprovable? And people often think that Gvdel's theorem shows that there
are, but it doesn't. Gvdel's theorem shows that you have to go to new
types of reasoning all the time, you cannot tie yourself down to a
specific set of rules for proving results, but the insights show you
always how you can get outside this, to generate new insights. But those
insights are potentially within us. So what I am trying to say, is that
here is not anything in principle which is inaccessible to the human
intellect" (Penrose, Roger: Inverwiew with Jane Clark. In: Journal of
Consciousness, 1, No.1. 1994, 23f.).
19  Hermann Weyl: Raum, Zeit, Materie - Vorlesungen |ber eine allgemeine
Relativitdtstheorie. Berlin: Julius Springer 1918.
20 David Larchers videoText is one example how Tensor between different
media can be developed. Another examples are Thomas Brinkmanns adaptions
of Heinz von Foerster, Martin Heidegger and Alan Turing in his electronic

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