It’s a constant stream across all platforms: studies and think pieces about how the latest media are altering us and our cultural production. But as we are reading and producing these reflections via the very machines and interfaces we subject to critique, this issue aims to speak of media as something more than the hardware and software that we objectively call “tech.” As has been asked by many before us, are the gestures we make in passing, the way we mimic each other’s profiles, entering and exiting the codes of so many micro-communities, not kinds of technology too? What if, rather than writing a social history of media, we thought through media to read our social sphere: does the often-critiqued vagueness and heterogeneity of the term not also point to a net of connections and influences within the social field? With this issue, Texte zur Kunst takes on a subject that for our German readership might come with a loaded past. To speak of media theory (even in this revised mode) is, for many, to invoke a fraught debate: one of ’90s techno-determinism versus the biopolitical forces of capital in the social field. So it is with this conflict that this issue begins, recombining the fallout as a framework for using “media” to see the social, not simply in terms of clickbait topics such as “(post-)Net” art or the “digital realm,” but through a meditation on contemporary relations of body, class, and power.
With the term “media,” “communication” comes quickly to mind, but miscommunication also always plays a role. In fact, this issue itself, having been initiated and in part conceived by American art historians Luke Cohen and Michael Sanchez, stems from the gaps that occur in rereading ’90s German media discourse through a ’10s American lens – a mode that perhaps directly correlates to the way in which much of today’s content is taken in: achronologically and in translation. Bridging these zones, Reinhold Martin, Isabelle Graw, and André Rottmann here share their thoughts on the reception of Kittlerian media theory in German arts discourse (Texte zur Kunst in particular) and, in English-language thought, namely surrounding the American journal Grey Room, of which Martin was a founder and which has played a significant role in the material’s transatlantic distribution. How to deal with the shortcomings and problematic aspects of this theory, they ask? And what might the material have to offer us now? Emphasis is given to an understanding of media as “cultural techniques” (a term used by Friedrich Kittler and further developed by Bernhard Siegert and Cornelia Vismann). Media scholar Ute Holl, in her contribution to this issue, reflects on the distinction between cultural techniques and media studies – the latter being one of the most elegant epistemological attempts of the twentieth century, she writes. Reversing the question, she asks: what do we gain from looking at media instead of social operations, taking distance from the latter?
Placing media theory in relation not only to “the social” but to the body within it, Karin Harrasser offers a history of the sense of touch in media – the “common sense” for Aristotle – staging it as key input for looking at today’s social and corporeal technologies. As she notes, one could write a history of media theory – and a history of art – as a history of the body/touch, and thus as a constant re-interpreting and negotiation of what’s inside/outside in relation to our surroundings, technologies, and learned techniques.
The body must be androgynous and the interior empty, remarks Klaus Theweleit, in the second volume of his legendary “Buch der Könige” (Book of Kings), reading the interpersonal habits of Andy Warhol as emblematic of what constitutes maximum functionality in our post-Industrialist now. Only machines can like everybody, he writes. An excerpt of this 1994 work, which presciently spoke to the infinite reproductions of selves to come, is republished here, reprinted twenty-one years after it first appeared, now with the English alongside it, introduced by Michael Sanchez.
Kerstin Stakemeier, in her essay, looks at the current digital aesthetics in contemporary art. In the recent proliferation of empty centers and the pervasive “camouflage” of contemporary capital in so-called post-Net art, Stakemeier locates a divergence of art and its critical-historical readings. She here calls for an embrace of, or at least a search for, a ruptured materiality (however that may now be defined) as a way for art and its discourses to again find common ground. And yet as Hannah Black makes clear, the spaces of global capital – social media platforms, for one – perhaps can, in fact, be inhabited to political ends. Or more precisely, as the London and Berlin-based artist and writer notes, resisting these spaces alone has no meaning until other forms of state and corporate violence, particularly against certain racialized and gendered bodies, has been overcome.
Harry Burke, meanwhile, speaks to the potential of these spaces in their ability to pry language not just away from the line but also from the page – where it’s only been resting, he remarks – sharing his insights on current manifestations of poetry, language, and art developing predominantly online in often non-printable form. And why would Thumbelina (as the digital native has been dubbed by Michel Serres) constrain her thinking to this vestigial form? Holding in her hands her device, her head, Thumbelina has in turn, as musician Alina Astrova remarks here, become newly aware, even obsessed, with her body-as-interface, and the significance of its physical parts: the body, as a medium for identity, has become – ever more acutely, or perhaps abstractly, nostalgically – an alienated proxy for the self. But not just bodies can be proxies; other humans can be too, as evidenced quite horrifically in the work of controversial American novelist Peter Sotos. Speaking with him about his work, Luke Cohen asks Sotos about the limits of representation in the 'mass' media, among other medial forms.
“Life with decapitation.” “Painting as human medium.” Finally, in this issue, Jutta Koether acts as experimental interpreter for our media as legible to us now: our currencies and protocols, emerging and ancient, that do and long have separated selves from others, signal from noise.