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Review: Mother's Mouth and Typewriter Author(s): Franz Futterknecht and David Wellbery Reviewed work(s): Aufschreibesysteme 1800-1900

by Friedrich A. Kittler Source: Poetics Today, Vol. 8, No. 3/4 (1987), pp. 675-687 Published by: Duke University Press Stable URL: Accessed: 01/03/2009 03:24
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Germanic and Slavic, Florida


A. Kittler,






If, as Friedrich Kittler declares, "under the conditions of an expanding book market intensive, repeated reading" (p. 150) of scholarly-scientific works promotes such works to the status of classics, then I can hardly avoid according his own habilitation, published under the title Discourse Networks18001900, such stature: I have read it more than once, and not merely because of my responsibility as a reviewer. Kittler's work prompts such a need for re-reading because it is the most eminent and at the same time the most brilliant challenge to traditional literary criticism currently available. In fact, both in its mode of inquiry and its findings, Kittler's book consigns the results of hermeneutic, ideology-critical and structuralist interpretations to oblivion. Its forthcoming publication in English (Stanford University Press) reflects its historical importance for our discipline. The foundation of Kittler's project derives above all from poststructuralist theory, which has become so popular in American literary criticism. But Kittler is not merely a faithful follower of this theory's founding fathers. To be sure, he adopts in their entirety theorems from Foucault's historiography, Lacan's psychoanalysis and Derrida's philosophy, but he connects them in such an ingenious way that their analytical and critical power is reciprocally amplified. How this networking of poststructuralist theoretical systems functions in detail, however, is never explicitly set forth for the reader. He/she can only intuit this on the basis of familiarity with Kittler's earlier publications-themselves not altogether explicit with regard to this question-and admire Kittler's virtuoso command of the theoretical game. It is evident, however, that the investigation pursues the analysis and critique of discourse and that its object is two discursive formations which succeeded one another in Germany and which developed around the two dates marked in the
PoeticsToday, Vol. 8:3-4 (1987) 675-687



book's title. In the terminology of traditional literary history, the analysis deals here, on the one hand, with the period of classicism, romanticism and idealist philosophy and, on the other hand, with modernism, which-according to Kittlerhas Nietzsche as its philosophical founder and naturalism as
its literary beginning.

But the explications and evaluations governing traditional literary historiography only play in Kittler's work the role of scapegoats. This is especially the case with hermeneutic and geistesgeschichtlicheapproaches to the understanding of the historical world. Rather, Kittler takes radically and seriously the poststructuralist insight that epochs owe their emergence, unity, orders and forms of knowledge and expression to the power of discourses. As self-generating organizational institutions, discourses appear in the form of linguistic-symbolic orders, which with absolute violence subvert real and natural forms of organization and thereby constitute the domain of the human and allot it its place in the Imaginary. The effects engendered by changes within discursive formations are therefore as fundamental as they are all-encompassing. They produce, for example, new forms of internality and psychic dispositions, restructure interpersonal relations on all levels including that of sexuality, re-form social institutions and techniques of education, create new hierarchies and dependencies, transform the shape of knowledge and the modes of operating with texts, and generate new forms of speaking, writing and reading; in short, they produce an interactive chain of functions, which, thus linked together, bring the new discursive system to power and deploy and maintain it. Thus, the task of the discourse analyst is to investigate the shifts discernible in epochal changes in view of their discursive functions, or-to put it another way-to describe historical change as the process of empowerment of a new discourse. The critique of discourse, on the other hand, is directed against the illusionary implications of a discursive system as well as the destructive effects of its apparent achievements. In his book, Kittler demonstrates all the tasks and possibilities of both discourse analysis and discourse critique in a most impressive fashion. Of systematic importance to his project is the conviction that the process of discursive empowerment occurs in the form of operations affecting "the materiality of language" (p. 34) itself. Like Foucault, Kittler directs his attention toward modifications in the "play of letters and paper" (p. 34). However, in his analysis of the concrete techniques that speaking, writing and reading have been submitted to, he advances into



territory which prior discourse analyses have not even suspected to exist. In this, Kittler's literary-critical background has proved extremely helpful, for Poetry, which emerges from the violence of the discourses he investigates, is for him (discourse network) of nothing other than an Aufschreibesystem discourses to which it owes its existence. On the far those very side of every hermeneutic, discourse-analytical reading practices nothing else than the simple reading of plain text, text-inclear. The results of which such a reading is capable are demonstrated at the very beginning of the book in Kittler's treatment of Goethe's Faust. This most classical of all German poetic texts appears here as a veritable charter of empowerment of the new discourse. When Faust renounces his membership in the old "republic of scholars" (p. 11) and declares the prior form of knowledge to be dusty book knowledge, this indicates for Kittler a discursive event, in which simultaneously in the name of "Man" this figure is enthroned as "living Spirit" and "living Soul" (p. 14). In its core, this revolt is accomplished through the disempowerment of the "word as signifier," its subordination to the "word as signified" (p. 17). And indeed, the form of knowledge which Faust defames, recognized unrestrictedly the imperative character of the word in the form of canonical writings and disciplined modes of operating with texts, which left the authority of words and letters untouched. Faust, however, disrupts such practices by freely translating the Book of Books, the Biblical text; or more thereby marking exactly the discursive event precisely-and in question here-by replacing the word "logos" at the beginning of the Gospel of John with its "true and proper meaning" (p. 17). This elimination and erasure of the "Word" and its replacement with a series of arbitrary signifieds indicates for Kittler the birth of a new discourse and of a hermeneutics centered on meaning. Out of this "deed," the (to be sure, illusionary) act of liberation from the domination of the "Word," is born Man as living Spirit (Geist), German Poetry, which brings this Spirit to expression, and German Philosophy, the science which interprets Spirit. Thus, according to Kittler the freely translating Faust combines all the roles in which Man will subsequently appear: those of the freely writing author and the freely thinking philosopher. The insight into the common origin of modern authorship and philosophy allows Kittler to explain the constant oscillation between German Poetry and German Philosophy in the period around 1800, to investigate their at once competitive and cooperative relationship and to unfold a criti-



cal-deconstructive reading of both philosophical and literary texts of the period. The translator Faust also reveals to Kittler that self-deception and damnation are the signature of the epoch. Faust's "hairraising discursive practice" (p. 19) admits, insofar as it always ends once again with words, both the vanity of its rebellion against the WVordand the Luciferian dimension of the project. It is the devilish spirit of Mephisto which sets into motion the act of translation which usurps the position of the divine Word. The logos-scene of Faust describes, according to Kittler's reading of its plain text, nothing other than the "birth of German Poetry out of the spirit of Hell" (p. 23). But Kittler elicits still other relations within the new discourse network through his reading. Mephisto, who soon diverts Faust from reading, translating and writing and convinces him to enter into a life-long pact sealed by a signature, figures the "State." Faust, the representative figure of Man, demonstrates in this contract that the true status of Man is that of the civil servant. Kittler endeavors to substantiate this thesis with reference to a wide range of indices that reach beyond the text of Faust and he never ceases to invoke the fatal consequences of this "double life" (p. 28) which Man leads in the new discourse. In contradistinction to the self-understanding of the epoch, Man did not make his way to a dominance-free realization of his capacities, but rather fell, together with the new disciplines in which he objectified himself, into the state's technologies of power. For it is the state, as Kittler shows, which established the new discourse network and which holds it in its control. The first step of Faust's revolt against erudition leads him into free nature, more precisely to "Woman," that is, to Gretchen. This path appears to the discourse analyst schooled in Lacan as if predestined. For with Lacan he knows that language is the instrument with which the Father subverts the natural relations of attraction between the mother and the speechless infans by submitting both to the laws of language. Thus, it is no accident that Faust, rebelling against the domination of the Word of the divine Father and setting out on his unending "quest for the transcendental signified" (p. 17), has Woman as the goal of his search. What is written in the scholar's tragedy and the Gretchen tragedy is read by Kittler as a phantasmatic revision of the primal scene. The effect of this is not at all the recuperation of natural forms of desire, but rather the hypostasis of Woman as the origin and center of the new discourse. In earlier publications Kittler has investigated the position



and function of Woman around 1800 and described the process that we can summarize as the maternalization of culturation (Kaiser and Kittler 1978; Kittler 1981). In Aufschreibesysteme, therefore, it is not so much the "invention" of the mother (p. 32), the reorganization of family relations and alternative maternal practices of education which occupy the focus of attention, but rather the analysis of techniques of culturation of which the mother makes use when she takes over the process of initiating the child into language and writing. These techniques affect in important ways the materiality of speech itself. In this connection, Kittler takes a close look at the children's alphabet books which replace the earlier catechisms as the child's first reading material at this time. The difference between the two is that the catechisms contained commands and dogma whereas the alphabet books tell the children the story of their own childhood world. Thus they establish a rule of reading according to which texts are not longer read as a dictation from another, but rather as the doubles of one's own life. On the level of consciousness, this reading proceeds as a visualization: while the eye follows the graphic signs there arises before the inner eye a sensate world in the form of an "inner film" (p. 124), in which the reader can see and understand his history, his desire and wishes. This not only makes possible individualized forms of operating with texts and likewise individualized paths of self-formation, it likewise builds the constitutive principle of what the period around 1800 called individuality and cultivation (Bildung). What guarantees that the irreducible difference between inscribed speech and ego is not perceived-and this is one of the central theses and discoveries of Kittler's book-is a new "technique of alphabetization," the "sounding method" (p. 37) developed by Stephani and implemented by the mothers. It undoes the power of articulate speech by prescribing that mothers present language to their children in "statu nascendi" (p. 33). Stephani achieves this by segmenting the words into letters and having the oral value of these evoked through the mother's mouth. Thus set into tone, language becomes equivalent to natural sounds. However, in opposition to animal sounds, the linguistic sounds produced in augmented sequence from the mother's mouth are addressed to the child as a request to be articulated in the form of human speech. The mother thus becomes one who gives birth to language and, herself speechless, makes her child into a speaking being. The subtlety of Kittler's own use of language is demonstrated here, as elsewhere, in his use of the term Muttermund



(mother's mouth and cervix). In its double meaning the term precisely designates the places and organs through which the child is born as a natural and as a speaking being. Nevertheless, it is abundantly clear that the linguistic re-birth of the child is by no means natural, and equally clear that the subjectivity of the child born into language is not equivalent to that of the speechless infans. The truly revolutionary effects of the new method of alphabetization take hold, according to Kittler, as the child learns to read. The "oralization" (p. 38) of the alphabet engenders an unthinkable event: "alphabetization without writing" (p. 40). Before the reading eye of the child, guided by the mother's finger and accompanied by the mother's voice which transforms the letters into sound, the graphic signs are dissolved into tones. The ability to read comes into being on the ground of the ability to hear. The child learns to read the graphic signs by understanding the meaning of the sound sequence carried by the mother's voice and pronouncing this as the word read. To be able to read is to understand between the lines of another's writing a beloved voice and to articulate in this manner what the writing says. A speaking and reading produced on the basis of a beloved maternal voice no longer know the subversive violence that inhabits a script and language produced "in the name of the Father." Rather, they become a pure and unforgettable event of love. And indeed the discourse system of 1800 is animated by an unfulfillable yearning; its object is the phantasma of Woman, who appears under the name of Nature and in the image of an infinite beloved. From her lips the lover draws spiritual nourishment as previously the child drew nourishment from the maternal breast. Woman appears then as the source of ecstatic revelations which the spirit of Man receives in order to return them to women in the form of knowledge and articulate speech and to thereby inspire these women, in turn, to love. If I have understood Kittler correctly, he considers these constellations the secret of the epoch. Written down, a speaking which arises as the dictation from a female voice is called "German Poetry." Kittler attempts to demonstrate this thesis in his ingenious reading of E.T.A. Hoffman's "Der goldene Topf." This inscription of feminine aspirations, however, is only made possible by a reinitiated by form in the mode of handwriting-likewise rendered graphic signs individualizable and Stephani-which thereby revolutionized writing itself. This new, individual and fluid writing transformed the act of writing into a "psycho-



logically motivated auto-activity" (p. 87), in which the female voice could be taken down unconsciously by male authors. According to Kittler, an essential effect of the new discursively conditioned disposition is the radical singularization and spiritualization of sexual relations. Relations with several partners, previously not at all unusual either for men or for women, are practically outlawed. What the old discourse knew of corporeal pleasure is replaced in the new discourse by a pleasure in writing and reading. The eroticization of these activities is viewed by Kittler as a cause of the unheardof alphabetization of central Europe around 1800 and of the new addiction to writing and reading, against which the cultural pedagogues of the time protested in vain. The place of a plurality of men and women is assumed, then, by Woman as "the one and only," who constitutes the non-speaking, non-thinking and non-writing, but all-inspiring origin, which brings Man-or men-to free speech, thought and writing. He recognizes authorship as the highest and most adequate form of life for men, and the plurality of women is recognized only in the form of readers, who to be sure do not themselves write, but bring forth all the love that can carry a discourse, which has brought itself to power in the name of Freedom and Love. The smooth functioning of this entire system is guaranteed, according to Kittler, by the state, the real beneficiary of the new arrangements. Thus, the state assumes the status of a state of cultivation (Bildungsstaat) and reorganizes, through a series of pedagogical reforms, the education of the sexes according to the rules of the new discourse. And the real victim of the new discourse, in Kittler's view, is woman. Although her function as discursive origin and transcendental signified places her outside the controlling regulations of the state, the role accorded her as loving mother and wife excludes her from all state institutions and from the possibility of a career. The total reduction of her interests to the pure love of men allows men to take an interest in everything. And wherever the interests of women reach beyond such love, there remains for them-as Kittler shows with rethe choice between self-denial gard to several cases-only and suicide. Kittler's analysis of the discourse network of 1800 ends with the histories of its victims in a fashion that renders any further criticism irrelevant. There can be no question but that Kittler's analysis of the discourse network of 1800 is not only brilliantly staged, but also has a systematic closure, the suggestiveness of which is



difficult to resist. And there can be no question but that around 1800 a new Man comes into being, distinguished from the previous one (whom he represses) by a new inner disposition. This new psychic disposition is elaborated-also unquestionably-in new attitudes that affect his morality and sexuality just as much as his relations to the state and to the universal, which it is now his primarv goal to serve. Moreover, it can hardly be doubted that the new Man creates not only new forms of knowledge, but also new forms of linguistic expression. The problems I have with Kittler's work, therefore, have less to do with the phenomena he describes than with their explication. Of course, I am easily convinced that the educational practices introduced in the last third of the eighteenth century accelerated the process of producing this new Man in decisive ways. This after all was their declared task. if I However, it is much more difficult for me-especially take his theses as literally as he seems to take his material of study-to accept the effects Kittler attributes to the "mother's mouth," the new techniques of alphabetization, and the reform of handwriting. These effects seem to me all too little embedded in a chronology of discursive events and in themselves too little demonstrated. As far as I know, the new Man not only appeared in all his characteristics prior to Stephani's introduction of the sounding method, but also in other European countries in which the ability to speak and read was transmitted in other ways. Likewise the forms of reading of 1800 are not an historical innovation and remain today, despite the introduction of alternative methods of instruction in reading, relatively stable. As far as I know, not even the fact that children today are led into the world of letters and writing by Kermit the frog has affected their "materiality." I also have objections regarding Kittler's global functional definition of the state in the period around 1800. At least from the point of view of the state, the new state-serving disposition of Man was not immediately recognized. It is not merely that in a few individual cases these pilgrims in search of the state did not manage to find their salvation, but that the state itself was for a long time a sphere which tended to exclude the new Man rather than accept him. Kittler can only succeed in conveying the impression of a hand-in-hand development, as the new order of things emerged, by neglecting events difficult to integrate into his account and by keeping the chronological references relatively vague. Thus, the simple hermeneutic question poses itself whether or not the network of effects which Kittler reconstructs isn't in fact a retroactive confirmation of a theory projected into the



material of historical research. To be sure, I regard both Kittler's critique of the phantasmatic status of the new discourse formation and his enumeration of its victims as one of the most remarkable contributions to the deconstruction of that epoch of German philosophy and poetry which has proven normative in Germanistikup till the present. On the other hand, I find disturbing the alternative to the achievements of classicism and romanticism which Kittler's analysis of the discourse network of 1900 poses. For it is entirely evident, in Kittler's view, that serious words are not to be wasted on behalf of the discourse of 1800. This discourse has been thoroughly replaced by a new discourse formation the superiority and truth of which consist not only in its non-suppression of the facticity of discursive forms of domination, but also in its admission of the element of arbitrariness, meaninglessness and violence in all discursive imperatives. This is brought about, according to Kittler, not only by fundamental restructurations within the literary and cultural systems, but also through entirely new forms of text production and text processing. At the same time the new epoch attains access to the single successful strategy through which the repressive domination of the masters of discourse can be subverted: that is, the simulation of an euphoric madness. Kittler conceives of the relationship between the two discourses that succeed one another c. 1900 as a pure caesura. The point of this discontinuity thesis is directed against the hermeneutic concept of tradition, which right up till the prediscursive processes as Geistessent has misrepresented geschichte (p. 183). Kittler accords Nietzsche a key role in the process of empowerment of the discourse of 1900: he prepares for its domination by radically rejecting the accomplishments of the previous discourse. Thus, Kittler's remarks on Nietzsche begin with the latter's destructive "weighing the balance of classicism" (p. 183), which nullifies all those classical acquisitions made in the name of humanity and of a higher determination of man from the standpoint of scientific probity. Nietzsche therefore confronts the terrifying insight that human speech and thought are not grounded in a faculty of knowledge which could serve as the foundation for a higher truth. On the contrary, speech and thought result in Nietzsche's view from terror-reflexes, the aim of which is to defend against and veil an unbearable reality. Reality, for Nietzsche, stands under the power of a delirious god, whose pleasure is to give pain. If I am correct, the (eventually mad) poet Johann K. Wezel



depicted the relationship between reality and human reason in a similarly radical fashion around 1800 in his satirical novel Belphegor and reflected on the possibility of avoiding the insanity of the world through Gedankenflucht. Kittler, however, neglects throughout his entire work to consider the threatening counter-voice which accompanied the optimistic thought of c. 1800. What characterizes the epoch around 1800 seems to me to be less the happy absence of any knowledge of the abysmal character of life than a widespread resistance against succumbing to this insanity. This is, in fact, an attitude which continues up to the present and which I cannot ignore as easily as Kittler. In Nietzsche, as Kittler demonstrates, such a will to resist is no longer detectable. His fundamental renunciation of all efforts for a more humane world is documented for Kittler in an act in which the elementary relations of the new discourse formation are objectified: Nietzsche's rehabilitation of the word as signifier and his elimination of the dominance of the signified. Thus in a single stroke Nietzsche suspends all the central functions of the discourse network of 1800, especially those of the meaning-producing author and the meaning-understanding reader. These positions are taken up by a new sort of illiteracy which can no longer perceive meaning in texts and books, and a new sort of writing which reduces itself in the most extreme cases to an associative word-making and has as its only purpose writing itself. The value of words, the selection of which is no longer governed by the meaning-intention of an author, is determined in Nietzsche's pure "logic of the signifier" (p. 195) solely through "differentiality," or more precisely through a calculus which seeks to generate a maximum amount of energy from a minimal amount of word material. Kittler attributes the direction of the new discursive rules to modern poetry, as exemplified in Mallarme's wordpoetry or in naturalist text experiments. What these have in common is that they are not addressed to a readership; their status is that of "refuse" (p. 188). Thus, they can only be made use of by the new sciences which around 1900 began to specialize in the analysis of such linguistic waste products. This is especially the case for nineteenth-century physiology and psychology, whose fundamental role in the destruction of the old discourse and the constitution of the new one is demonstrated in Kittler's book. If the discourse network of 1800 enthroned Man as free spirit and soul, then it was neurophysics and brain physiognomy which liquidated his existence and claims by explaining all mental and psychic events as the performances of a psycho-physical apparatus. Kittler's



discussion of the situation of research in physiology and psychology around 1900 shows him to be a dazzling expert in this material, the importance of which has hardly been noticed in the traditional literary histories. For this reason I find it all the more unexplainable that he fails to mention-in a manner on suppression-that not only the history of these bordering disciplines, but also the history of their applications in the fields of philosophy, anthropology, aesthetics and psychology began already in the middle of the eighteenth century. In fact, the history of metaphysics was altered more decisively by the physiological theories of Haller, Bonnet, Wolff and Blumenbach (to mention just a few names) than by any other event. One can show that the appeal to medical knowledge took very different forms in the work of, for instance, Herder, Schelling, Wilhelm von Humboldt, Goethe and the romantics, which still deserve to be heard in the contemporary discussion of these issues. Kittler, however, tells the history of the material basis of modern literature in such a way as to give the impression of a discursively conditioned consensus among the forms of knowledge and writing around 1900. Concerted actions, the interplay of which directs discourses, form-in Kittler's approach-closed systems in view of which one needn't even bother to ignore what doesn't fit into therh. In the concert of revolutionary discursive events around 1900 Kittler also discovers the significance of technical inventions and of the new media. And here too he points out connections which constitute "an unwritten chapter in the history of German literature" (p. 192). An example is his correlation of the invention of the typewriter with the new forms of writing. Moreover, the invention of the typewriter creates a new female type in the form of the secretary, who eradicates the old functions of the maternal, inspiring and reading woman. As a writing capacity she receives the meaningless dictation of the master which she transfers to the paper through a set of learned and automatized abilities and with the help of a technical apparatus in order then to distribute what has been printed into the various channels of information where it can be used for any purpose whatsoever. Thus, the secretary becomes for Kittler the figure symbolizing the new discourse, which itself reveals the secret of all discourses. Language, including written language, proves to be no longer the translator of an inspired spirit capable of apprehending the truth, but rather the product of an arbitrary dictation, which proceeds from a master of discourse and is simply distributed. Language, cut off from all truth- and meaning-functions, becomes one medium among others. According to Kittler, the



new media contribute decisively to the reduction of language to writing and signifiers. With the invention of the gramophone the sound dimension of language becomes technically reproducible, as do the visual representations accompanying language with the invention of film; that is, the reading effects, from which the discourse of 1800 drew its life, become technically reproducible. Thus, all books written in the classical form enter into a medial competition: their destiny is to be used as film scripts. If post-classical literature tends toward the artwork of pure language, it is in order to avoid, in Kittler's view, being transposed into another medium. But even here Kittler's account of the effects of the new discourse does not come to its end. His book discusses new reforms in handwriting, changes in the teaching of German, women's emancipation, university reforms, access of women to the universities, and modifications in intimate relations; and above all it discusses the dissolution of the old complicity between philosophy and poetry and its replacement with that between literature and psychoanalysis. Not only is literature multiplied as an object to be made use of by psychologists, not only do the literary figures take an interest themselves in psychic disturbances, but also, according to Kittler, a writing which renounces any intention toward truth in the name of truth comes into the vicinity of madness and delirium, the fatal consequences of which it can only avoid by euphorically simulating them. All these interconnections, which for the most part have been ignored up till now, are discussed by Kittler principally in order to make the literature of 1900 readable this side of a hermeneutic appropriation of meaning. What a discourse-analytical reading is capable of in this regard is demonstrated on texts by the naturalists, on dada happenings, on works by Morgenstern, George, Benn, Rilke, Valery and others most impressively, and indeed, in such a manner as to make evident to the reader Kittler's essential agreement with this literature. Kittler's selection of authors, however, makes clear that he could no more bring all the authors and literary figures within the thrall of his discourse of modernity than he could the entirety of scientific and philosophical thought of the period. And this by no means implies that we find in all these undiscussed authors a rigid adherence to the discourse of 1800. Probably because Kittler closes his book with a reading of Valery's Mon Faust, I thought of Thomas Mann's Doktor Faustus. In this novel too, to remain within Kittler's terminology, the discourse of 1800 is "revoked," but here the forms of de-



construction which Kittler favors are illuminated by a critical as "intentional re-barbarizations" and their sehermeneutic cret connection to fascism and to the catastrophe of the Third Reich is exposed. Whoever reads, as I do, Adrian Leverkfhn's confession at the end of Doktor Faustus as a discursive event in discourse is itself revoked, will which the post-Nietzschean read Kittler's book, which reanimates this discourse, with no little doubt and unease. (Translated by David Wellbery)
Studien zu Goetheund Kaiser, G. and F.A. Kittler, eds., 1978. Dichtung als Socialisationsspiel: Gottried Keller(Gottingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht). Kittler, FA., 1981. "Die Irrwege des Eros und die 'absolute Familie,'" in: B. Urban and W. Kudszus, eds., Psychoanalylische und psychopathologische Literaturinterpretation (Damstadt: Wiss. Buchges).