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

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

translated by geoffrey winthrop-young
Copyright Date: 2015
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Cultural Techniques: Grids, Filters, Doors, and Other Articulations of the Real
    Book Description:

    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.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-6417-9
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  6. INTRODUCTION: Cultural Techniques, or, the End of the Intellectual Postwar in German Media Theory
    (pp. 1-18)

    InThe Philosophy of Symbolic Forms, Ernst Cassirer claimed that “the critique of reason is turning into the critique of culture.”¹ With the rise of so-called German media theory,² 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.”...

  7. 1 Cacography or Communication? Cultural Techniques of Sign-Signal Distinction
    (pp. 19-32)

    During the eighteenth century the general concept of thesignacted as a point of departure for the subdivision of knowledge into aesthetics (with all its internal distinctions) on the one hand and philosophical and scientific disciplines such as economy and medicine on the other. In the course of the twentieth century, however, the sign fragmented into more or less sharply separated constituted components which, in turn, became the foundational basis for a number of autonomous objects and scientific disciplines. Among the discourses arising from the decomposition of the sign, three are particularly distinct: first, the discourse of mathematical or...

  8. 2 EATING ANIMALS — EATING GOD — EATING MAN: Variations on the Last Supper, or, the Cultural Techniques of Communion
    (pp. 33-52)

    All communities are communities of the table. This is a basic axiom of Judeo-Christian-Islamic culture that appears to apply to many other cultures as well. Homer’s epics leave no doubt that the rules of hospitality were instituted by Zeus in order to allow high-born members of society to engage in peaceful intercourse outside of their houses or fiefdoms without killing each other at first sight. Next to those regulating marriage, the rules determining with whom you may share your food (or not) are one of the fundamental criteria that separate cultures from one another. While sedentary, land-owning and food-producing peoples...

  9. 3 PARLÊTRES: The Cultural Techniques of Anthropological Difference
    (pp. 53-67)

    According to Deleuze and Guattari, the animals on display in the zoo of philosophers—the philosophical beasts, as it were—constitute a subspecies of classified animals.¹ Talking birds are kept in this menagerie for the purpose of illustrating that special “plus x” which separates humans from animals. The wordparlêtre(a term on loan from Lacan)² signifies a being that subverts the anthropological difference based on language. Talking birds, however, explode the category of the philosophical animals; they may even suspend Deleuze and Guattari’s entire typology.

    It would be easy to describe the ups and downs of certain animals in...

  10. 4 MEDUSAS OF THE WESTERN PACIFIC: The Cultural Techniques of Seafaring
    (pp. 68-81)

    What is a ship? Physics provided an early answer courtesy of Archimedes: A ship is a body that floats in water because it displaces its weight in fluid.Heureka. Naval architecture, which speaks of ships only in the plural—galleys, carracks, outrigger canoes, three-deckers, herring luggers—offers a more differentiated response: The ship is a colonial and scientific technology, a medium of overseas trade or ceremonial exchanges, a war machine, a technology for harvesting fish and other ocean riches. It is, no doubt, a very protean first-order technique, yet it is more than that. As Foucault notes, it is “for...

  11. 5 PASAJEROS A INDIAS: Registers and Biographical Writing as Cultural Techniques of Subject Constitution (Spain, Sixteenth Century)
    (pp. 82-96)

    For year after year throughout the sixteenth century the passenger lists of the Casa de la Contratación in Seville recorded traces of fleeting existences:¹ little bits of information about individuals who entered the stage only to swiftly exit. They appear on these sheets of paper because they were “sending themselves away” (se despacharon) from Spain tolas Indias,the New World (Figure 5-1). Priests, merchants, bookkeepers, trainees, families, single men, wives following their husbands—almost imperceptible traces of obscure lives lacking anyfama. It requires the melancholy soul of an archivist to take full measure of these registration efforts in...

  12. 6 (Not) in Place: The Grid, or, Cultural Techniques of Ruling Spaces
    (pp. 97-120)

    Xenophon’sOeconomicusintroducestaxisas a fundamental cultural technique of the economic domain.Taxisrefers to an order of things in which each and every object is located in a fixed place where it can be found. Humans, however, differ from things. “When you are searching for a person,” Xenophon cautions, “you often fail to find him, though he may be searching for you himself.”¹ Humans defy the fundamental rules of economy because for them “no place of meeting has been fixed.”²

    This distinction between retrievable things and untraceable humans points to the fundamental divide that separates the Greeks from...

  13. 7 WHITE SPOTS AND HEARTS OF DARKNESS: Drafting, Projecting, and Designing as Cultural Techniques
    (pp. 121-146)

    When architects speak ofdesign, they tend to use the word in the meaning it acquired during the Florentine Renaissance: Design isdisegno. As Wolfgang Kemp has shown, between the 1540s and 1570s the term moved from referring to a drawing or sketch produced by a schooled hand to an act of pure imagination., Following Benvenuto Cellini there was a division into a primary internal and a secondary externaldisegno, with the latter relegated to a supplementary position. Mindful of this discursive origin, it is necessary to approach the notion of design from two sides, that of theforma...

  14. 8 WATERLINES: Striated and Smooth Spaces as Techniques of Ship Design
    (pp. 147-163)

    In 1629 the architect Joseph Furttenbach noted that naval architecture (architectura navalis) differed from its civilian and military counterparts (architectura civilisandmilitaris) because it takes

    such a defiant and fearful thing as the human heart . . . even further away from its natural habitation and the place assigned to it by God, and dares, upon the wild and terrible element of the formidable sea, to tame it with a wooden, if mightily fortified structure, that it may grant him free residence, for year and day, on its round surface and prevailing expanse.¹

    Furttenbach was alluding to the ancient...

  15. 9 FIGURES OF SELF-REFERENCE: A Media Genealogy of the Trompe-l’oeil in Seventeenth-Century Dutch Still Life
    (pp. 164-191)

    As opposed to natural things embedded in a surrounding landscape, the flowers, fruits, pastry, fish, meat, cheese, or game we encounter in still lifes are objects of domestic use. They appear as things that by definition refer to absent human actors. In Heidegger’s parlance, still-life things are equipment (Zeug).¹ Victual still lifes refer to actions either past, pending, interrupted, or (for representational reasons) deferred. The things are no longer ready-to-hand (zuhanden); instead they are, in recalcitrant fashion, merely present-at-hand (vorhande).

    It is this recalcitrance, resulting from the interruption of the referential context of the “equipment,” that endows still-life things with...

  16. 10 DOOR LOGIC, OR, THE MATERIALITY OF THE SYMBOLIC: From Cultural Techniques to Cybernetic Machines
    (pp. 192-206)

    We have lost the ability, Theodor W. Adorno lamented in his American exile, “to close a door quietly and discreetly, yet firmly.”¹ Adorno diagnosed the decline of this elementary cultural technique as nothing less than a prelude to fascism. One has to slam car doors and refrigerator doors, he observed, while other doors snap shut on their own. Doors cease to be cultural media that preserve a “core of experience” and instead change into machines that demand movements in which Adorno, in all seriousness, saw intimations of “the violent, hard-hitting, unresting jerkiness of Fascist maltreatment.”

    One can make of this...

  17. NOTES
    (pp. 207-240)
    (pp. 241-260)
  19. INDEX
    (pp. 261-266)
  20. Back Matter
    (pp. 267-268)