The Truth of the Technical World

Friedrich A. Kittler, „Die Wahrheit der technischen Welt, Essays zur
Genealogie der Gegenwart“, Berlin 2013

Remarks to Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht’s Edition

Friedrich A. Kittler was a controversial scientist: His enthusiasm for technology, mathematics, psychoanalysis, and rock music and his delight in the eclectic speculation were suspect to many of us. But not to Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht: For him Kittler’s work is  “idea and promise of a truth” to our technological world. As a history of technology, Kittler’s narrative of cultural history forms, perhaps, a figure of thought, which contributes to the “understanding of the digital present and future”. Gumbrecht, who is interested in the cultural consequences of digitization, therefore wants to expose the potential that lies in this work.

This, he sees pre-embossed primarily by Foucault’s discourse analysis, Lacan’s revision of psychoanalysis and an “innovative reading” of Nietzsche . This created a discursive formation, that denies the autonomy of the subject and stresses the materiality of cultural artifacts. The latter, in particular, must have impressed Gumbrecht, the enthusiasts of presence in the world, of spatial proximity and substance. Anyway, in Kittler’s work he sees a “basic motion”, namely the desire to expel the hermeneutics off the humanities.

This decentration of the subject contrasts with Kittler’s fascination with rock music and Thomas Pynchon, “sizes” in which cult and authorship are heavenly celebrated. He combines the interpretation of Gravity’s Rainbow with military history and thus comes to a surprising periodization of Media and Technical history: (1) Memory for acoustics, optics and scripture – film, gramophone and typewriter – since the American Civil War, (2) electrical transmission – radio, television – since the First and, (3) finally, with the Second World War, the computability of these electronic media.

The effect of this assemblage: Kittler “presentificates” and simulates, that is to say, vice versa, he does not narrate and does not confirm. He strives for accuracy and he speculates associatively, a combination that makes his texts highly complex. But this is not all: He thinks and writes on the level of the present, that is in the time of the Computer, as Gumbrecht doesn’t forget to emphasize. Finally, Kittler’s  texts, failing to differentiate the temporal levels, got an own, distinctive quality.

Kittler’s assemblages become scary where they deal with the maximization of technology transfer and the tendency to replace people through systems dominated by machines and Algorithms. The truth of the technical world is the discovery and salvage of the being in the things of everyday life. With Kittler the being is materially and functionally present. That is why Gumbrecht, the enthusiasts of physical proximity and substance, is so interested in him. Kittler is a “Mythograph” of our present and future. His work might not finish with Heidegger’s thought but will take it further. Anyway, Kittler contributes significantly to the metamorphosis of our self-image. And thus to the Philosophy of the Digital Humanities.


Guido Koller

Senior Historian, Swiss Federal Archives, CH-3003 Berne, Switzerland

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