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Review: [untitled] Author(s): Robert C. Holub Reviewed work(s): Aufschreibesysteme 1800/1900 by Friedrich A.

Kittler Source: The German Quarterly, Vol. 60, No. 4 (Autumn, 1987), pp. 641-644 Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the American Association of Teachers of German Stable URL: Accessed: 01/03/2009 03:24
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KITTLER, FRIEDRICHA. Aufschreibesysteme 1800/1900. Munchen: Fink,

1985. 428 pp. in the of by Although reception poststructuralism Germanists the FRGhashardly beenextensive,the fewscholars havelooked Parisfortheoretical who to inspiration oftenproduce and works.Friedrich highly imaginative stimulating Kittler'sAufschreiis the besysteme just sucha study.Its theme,as the titleindicates,is writingaround and years1800and1900,andits thesisis thattwodistinct separate systemsofwriting in werein effectduring these periods. The firstsystem,whichis associated general withclassicism, and views language a conduit an indias for romanticism, idealism, vidualspiritor intellect.The human beingis placedat the centerof this conception of the writtenword,as creatorandcontroller linguistic of signs.The systemwhich itdoesnotdealwiththemessybusiness howthistransformation of replaces Kittler comesabout- valorizes written the word. Around language 1900 becomesa medium is and amongothermedia.Its materiality recognized, the human being,whoprevito it In recedesintooblivion. its broadest ouslyappeared employ forself-expression, he outlines, therefore,the tale Kittlerrelates is not whollyunfamiliar. Although uses liberaldoses of Derridaand Lacanto spice his argument, is clearthat he it drawsmostheavilyon the workof Michel Foucault. Rather thanthe deconstruction of the text or the linguistic structuration the unconscious, of like Kittler, Foucault, is mostinterested historical in differences thediscourses and which mark epochs. Kittlerdiffersfrom Foucault, in of on however, his inclusion and dependence technology,and the late "Prof.fur Geschichtevon Denksystemen" 421) is (p. Kittlerfocuses explicitlycriticizedfor neglectingthis area (p. 284). Accordingly not onlyon the discourseaboutwriting,butalso on the "technology" involved with for writingas well as its implications otherareasof sociallife. Thusin the firsthalf of the volume,devotedto the "writing from system"of 1800,he cites extensively variousprimerscomposedduringthe period.In particular notes a tendency he nonsensesyllablesandtowards awayfromteachinglanguage phonetically through the use of monosyllabic wordsof the German He language. claimsthatthis is part ofa naturalizing the of and trend; arbitrariness thelinguistic is ignored, language sign



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is incorporatedinto the sphere of nature. This, in turn, is connected with alternatives in family and social structure. The mother as nature and ideal is the source for the mother tongue, entrusted with the pedagogical task of language instruction. It is her responsibility to educate her sons as civil servants for the state. From this brief summary it is evident that Kittler's concern are broad. Throughouthis initial discussion he is intent upon exploring the connections between such phenomena as the reductionof illiteracy, the socializationof the educationalsystem, the rise of the concept of "Bildung," the appearanceof a particularnotion of the human beand In the latter part of the first half of the book he weaves other selected topics into ing. this discursive mosaic; among these are translation theory, the reading public for belles-lettres, and the close association of poetry and philosophy.A good portion of these sections centers on or takes off from Hoffmann'sDer goldene Topf,which becomes something like the archetypicalfairy-taleof the "Aufschreibesystem 1800." A century later things have changed drasticallyaccordingto Kittler'sarcheology. The logic associated with the materiality of language, one of "pure differentiality" (p. 95), also produces the typewriter, the phonograph, and film. Combining the analysis of statements made by the inventors and propagatorsof these technological innovations with the implications he derives from the technology itself, Kittler sketches for the reader a system in which all previous precepts and beliefs have been overturned. The distinction between sense and nonsense blurs (p. 214); the transcendental norm for language, formerly identified with a spoken ideal, is destroyed (p. 220); the subject, who had previously believed to use language, now disappears from the scene (p. 265). In short, discourses around 1900 are products of "Zufallsgeneratoren" 211). The social ramificationsare just as radicallydiffer(p. ent. The unity of Bildung disintegrates (p. 219); the role of the sexes is completely reversed (p. 233); and "forthe first time people are reducedto nakedsign perception" (p. 228). The "AufschreibesystemSchrift" (p. 216) evidences the victory of what Kittler refers to as psychophysics. Nietzsche is the inauguratorof this new system; Mallarm6its first poet; Freudthe perhaps unwitting, but exemplary proponent.The nationof "Dichterund Denker"becomes one of writers and analysts (p. 318). Kittler explores these topics with materials from a number of unusual and conventional sources, but with the exception of brief remarks on Benn, Holz, and George, the traditionalfield of literature is less pominent than in the first half of the volume. Rilke's des DieAufzeichunungen MalteLauridsBrigge is the only literary work "interpreted" in any detail, and Kittler's suggestion for renamingit Denkwurdigkeiten einesNervenkrankheitssimulanten 336) gives some indication of the direction he wishes to (p. take. YetKittler does make some general observations aboutdifferences in literature in the two eras, andthe followingquote summarizes his thoughtson this matter: Dichtungen von 1800 gehorten ins Reich Gottes. Ein absoluter Geist, an dem kein Glied nicht trunken war, konsumierte am Ende ihrer irdischen KreislaufeAutoren und Werke. Im Kelch seines Geisterreiches legten die Schreiber ihre biirgerlichen Namen ab, aber nur, um Unendlichkeitder Deutung und Unsterblichkeitdes Sinns zu erlangen. Uber dem Aufschreibesystemvon 1900 und seinen Tintenfassern steht ein ganz anderer Gott. Er ist irrsinning. An ihm haben Simulanten des Wahnsinns ihren Herrn.

Wenn der irrsinnige Gott trinkt, dann nicht, um Phantasien im dreifachen Sinn aufzuheben. Wo es um 1800 eine Funktion philosophischen Konsums gab, steht 100 Jahre spater die nackte Vernichtung. Schreiber, die im TintenfafJdes irrsinnigen Gotts ertrinken, kommen nicht zu Unsterblichkeit eines Autornamens; sie ersetzen nur jene anonymen und paradoxen Analphabeten, die ein ganzes Aufschreibesystem von aulen her aufschreiben konnten. Schon darum gibt es anstelle von Autoren und Werken bloBSchreiber und Schriften. (p. 343)


I have quoted at length here not only to allow Kittler to represent his own case but also to give the reader an idea of how he represents it. For I think that the single most disturbing factor for readers of this book will be the style in which it is written. Too often Kittler's arguments seem obscure and private. The reader will frequently have the impression that the author is not writing to communicate, but to amuse himself. His text is a tapestry of leitmotifs, puns, andcryptic pronouncements, which at times make it fascinating to read, but somewhat difficult to comprehend as scholarship. Logic too often cedes to apodictic statement. Kittler goes out of his way to appear genial, and althoughmany connections he makes are both original and illuminating, his penchant for preferring bons mots to reasoned arguments is ultimately deleterious to his goals- assuming, that is, that he would like us to understand and to be persuaded by his presentation. Since the reader of this review may suspect that any difficulty in the passage cited above is due to its being ripped out of context, let me illustrate the shortcomings of Kittler's style briefly with the very first sentence of the book. The initial statement reads as follows: "Die Deutsche Dichtung hebt an mit einem Seufzer" (p. 11). Kittler then quotes as evidence the initial verses from the first scene in Faust I ("Habnun, ach! Philosophie"). His point here is, as I have explained above, that a spirit or intellect informs the written word; the "Ach," according to him, is a sign of this "einmaligeWesenheit"(p. 11). Althoughthis argumentis not uninteresting, the manner in which he has sought to demonstrate it asks the reader to stretch his/her knowledge too much. Faust does not stand at the beginning of German literature; it is usually viewed as the culminationof Goethe's creative efforts and of German classicism in general. Even Urfaust was not Goethe's first work, and certainly no one wouldplace it at the beginning of even the modern literary tradition. Nor does Faust actually begin with these verses; the authoritativeversion includes the poem "Zueignung"and two prologues before the scene in Faust's chamber. Finally, the "Ach"does not start the line, much less German literature, but is embedded squarely in the middle. Now these may be petty objections relating to minor details. One can argue that the reader will understand what Kittler means here, ignore the fudging of facts, and probablygo along with his argument. But once s/he recognizes that this sort of argumentationis the rule and not the exception, s/he will very likely become suspicious of his claims. In short, even if the reader manages to fight through the opaqueness of much of the text, s/he is asked to buy into the rhetorical strategy and hyperbole too much and too often, abjuringin the process obvious facts and counter-examples. In light of its style one would be justified in raising the question of what "writing system" Kittler's book itself belongs to. On the one hand, it is, for reasons I have



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given above, a very individualwork, one in which the considerable intellect of its authorshines throughor is reflected in the various discussions. One might therefore be tempted to see it as a throwbackto the "Geniezeit,"or at least as the attempt to refashion this era for the present. On the other hand, Kittler himself obviously pays a great deal of attention to the materiality of the printed word. By this I mean not only those passages involving word plays-he reminds us, for example, that "ach" is part of Sprache-but also the manner in which the book is arranged. Chapter headings are supplemented by notes in the margins; illustrations are frequent and carefully integrated into the text; the front cover shows us an austere, priestly figure pointingto a typewriter; the backcover depicts Goethe, as bureaucrat, answering a telephone. Kittler obviouslyfeels that word and image in their material reality are as important as message. Indeed, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the "writing system" around 1900 is somehow more accurate to reality or at least more aware of the true function of the written word. Wenn das Aufschreibesystem von 1800 das Spiel gespielt hat, keins zu sein, sondern Inwendigkeitund Stimme Des Menschen, so kommt um 1900 eine Schrift zur Macht, die nicht einfach in iiberkommendenSchriftsystemen aufgeht, sondern aus der Technologie von Schrift iiberhaupt alle Konsequenzen zieht. (p. 216) If Kittler's work does not fit easily in either of the two systems he describes, it is perhaps because he is participatingin the beginnings of a new era. Although it is impossible to name the writing system governing him, we might want to speculate nonetheless on what technological emblem to assign to it. If the "writing system" around 1800 employed pen and ink and "Muttermund," the subsequent system is if identified with typewriter, phonograph, and film, we might see the "Aufschreibesystem 2000" prefiguredin the walkman, i.e., in hermetic, self-contained, privatized systems which use public media, but which do as much to defy as to promote communication. Kittler's voluminous scholarship and his intuitive insights cannot be denied; his achievements are sometimes breath-taking. But I suspect that while sympathetic readers will emit sighs of exhileration and admiration,the "ach"which many will utter in reading this volume will often accompany exasperation and frustration. ROBERT HOLUB C. Universityof California, Berkeley

Geschichte deutschenLiteraturkritik der (1730-1980). Ed. Peter Uwe Hohendahl. Stuttgart: Metzler, 1985. 375 pp.

The present voluminous tome is a collection of five lengthy essays that treat German literary criticism from the eighteenth century to the present. The table of contents lists a series of progressive Germanists who teach in the United States: Klaus Berghahn traces the evolution of Kritik from its beginnings in the Enlightenment to Weimar Classicism. Jochen Schulte-Sasse picks up the evolutionary story with the changes in literary criticism introduced by Romanticism in the context