Stefan Heidenreich – Media Materialism and the Logic of Links

Event Date: 9 October 2013

Bolivar Hall
Venezuelan Embassy
54 Grafton Way, London WC1

The London Graduate School presents:

Media After Kittler


Media determine our situation.

F. A. Kittler (1999), Gramophone, Film, Typewriter

Professor Stefan Heidenreich Media Materialism and the Logic of Links

When Friedrich Kittler said, “media determine our situation,” the term “situation” (or Lage, in German) refers to a type of military briefing that provides an overview of different positions on the battlefield and the accordant actions to be taken. Surprisingly, this “situation,” as a very contemporary, practical issue, never received any attention from Kittler’s branch of German media theory, and even resulted in its blindness to the increasing ubiquity of the internet.

There are four crucial terms in Kittler’s approach to media that are of primary relevance here: historicity (Geschichtlichkeit) and a certain fixation on the primal scene., as weel as materiality and the technical a priori. Only the later two of these four terms offer us a means of transforming German media theory from a retrospective into a prospective theory. A fixation on primal scenes confuses ontology with origins; and with its strict separation of practical and theoretical questions, historicity is but a legacy emerging from the establishment of the humanities as a discipline around 1800. Ultimately, both of these factors are what led to Kittler’s late turn to the ancient Greeks. In order to best approach our contemporary situation, one has to keep in mind that the time of media in the traditional sense is over. Media defined as technical devices of communication—which from about 1800 to some years ago conquered the human senses—came to an end with their convergence in digital media. What is left is a singular, ubiquitous digital medium and its concomitant gadgets or interfaces. If we still want to say that media determine our situation, then the term “medium” must continue to include concepts of the “middle” or “connection,” such that one might also describe the internet—with its multitude of links—as a mediating network. Certainly, the materiality of the internet can still be traced back to physical connections, but the architecture of the web unfolds by overloading these physical links with other data—first text, then images or sounds, and most recently, “friends.” The major web companies with their functional monopolies follow exactly McLuhan’s concepts by inscribing old content in new media, or pre-existing functions in newly linked structures. The point where media and humans meet is no longer the body, but network-based modeled behaviour of all sorts, from profiles to consumption to political activities.
Like the old media, new networks must not be understood as tools. Instead, we observe an a priori resulting from directed technological progression. The fact that media continue to define our situation should not be confused with crude techno-determinism. Even the most determined “situation” may unexpectedly transform into unforeseeable and contingent events.

*1965 Biberach an der Riss (Germany)
1986 – 92 studying Philosophy, Communication Sciences, Literature in Bochum and Berlin
1987 – 89 studying Physics and Economy in Bochum (no degree)
1992 – 96 Artist (Solo Shows: KW Berlin, Galerie Schipper Cologne)
1998 – now Journalist: Art Critic (FAZ, Freitag, Frieze, Art Agenda)
2001 – 2003 Research Assistant Media Studies, Humboldt University, Berlin: History and Systematics of Digital Media
2006 Lecturer in Media Studies at the Humboldt-University Berlin
2007 Consultant for the Startup Yumondo
2010 – 2013 Lecturer Art and Architecture ath the ETH Zürich
2011 – 2012 Prof. Design Theory / Systems Design at the Art Academy Kassel
2012 – now Research Assistant, Center for Digital Cultures, University Lüneburg

Publications / Books
2009 Was verspricht die Kunst? (2nd ed. PB) btv, Berlin
2008 Mehr Geld (mit Ralph Heidenreich) Merve, Berlin
2004 Flipflop. Hanser-Verlag, München
1998 Was verspricht die Kunst? Berlin-Verlag, Berlin


share this entry: