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Cornelius Meyer. I Ecclisse del primo Satellite di Giove, 1696.

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Becoming-media: Galileos Telescope


JOSEPH VOGL
TRANSLATED BY BRIAN HANRAHAN

Medium means middle and in the middle, mediation and mediator; it calls for a closer questioning of the role, workings, and materials of this inbetween. Media studies field of inquiry is quite rightly a broad one, stretching from prehistoric registers of the tides and stars to the ubiquitous contemporary mass media, encompassing physical transmitters (such as air and light), as well as schemes of notation, whether hieroglyphic, phonetic, or alphanumeric. It includes technologies and artifacts like electrication, the telescope, or the gramophone alongside symbolic forms and spatial representations such as perspective, theater, or literature as a whole. However, the very size of the eld only highlights the relative inability of media studies to provide reliable information on how media work, on what they actually do, and even on what they are. In this wide area, we see a mixing and clashing of methods and disciplinary traditions: approaches from literary study, history, art history, information engineering, journalism, economics, communications, and the history of science all muddle together without any particular guiding principle. Furthermore, the unclear relationship between media studies and other disciplines highlights its lack of a dened, common disciplinary space and its problematic (to say the least) denition of an object of study. Across many disciplines, questions about the functioning, effects, and history of media continue to be posed, but in answering them we still have no single, stable, well-demarcated canon of knowledge to rely on, in spite of the widespread institutional and disciplinary establishment of media studies. Media theory might thus axiomatically claim that no such thing as a medium exists, at least not in a stable generic, disciplinary, substantial, or historical sense. Media cannot be reduced to means of representation, like lm and theater; or to technologies, like printing or telecommunications; or to machines, like the telegraph or the computer; or to symbolic systems, like writing, images, or numbers. Nonetheless, all these things are emphatically medial. The concept of media cannot be adequately explained by reference to the material bases or the forms of communication, to symbolic systems or to distribution techniques. Recent theoretical positions may give us
Grey Room 29, Winter 2008, pp. 1425. 2007 Grey Room, Inc. and Massachusetts Institute of Technology
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a common horizon and a better understanding of media as something more than a set of procedures for information storage, processing, and distribution, for the spatial and temporal transmission of data. Rather, media are specic, systematizable objects of study for the following reason: everything they store and mediate is stored and mediated under conditions that are created by the media themselves and that ultimately comprise those media. This is what is meant by the well-known dictum that the medium is the message; or that media determine our situation; or that everything we learn and know, we learn and know through media. What media are and what they do, how they work and the effects they create, their places in cultural and social practices, their specic roles as cultural technologies, not to mention the concept of medium itselfnone of this can be reduced to a simple denition, template, or set of facts. In this respect, media analysis is not simply about communications, devices, and codes but also about media-events. These are events in a particular, double sense: the events are communicated through media, but the very act of communication simultaneously communicates the specic event-character of media themselves. Media make things readable, audible, visible, perceptible, but in doing so they also have a tendency to erase themselves and their constitutive sensory function, making themselves imperceptible and anesthetic. This double becoming-media cannot be predetermined with any certainty because it is in each case differently constituted as an assemblage, a dispositive (in Foucaults sense) of heterogenous conditions and elements. Becoming-media opens up perspectives on the cultural effects of media and a culture constituted by media and takes the analysis of media away from the monopolies of literary studies, the history of technology, and the history of communications. Above all, the history and theory of media must address the singular scenes or situations where media (more strictly: the functions and functioning of media) come into existence in a coming together of heterogeneous elementsapparatuses, codes, symbolic systems, forms of knowledge, specic practices, and aesthetic experiences. The following analysis examines a prominent and exemplary case. In 1610 Galileo Galilei, in Sidereus nuncius (News from the Stars), speaks of incredible messages transmitted from the stars to the telescope, from telescope to eye, eye to hand, and then, in black and white, to paper, book, and reader. But this event contains more than just a demonstration of Copernicanism, more than the arrival of a new cosmology, more than the birth of a startling new view of the heavens scribbled down in just a few nights. In addition, this event marks a change in how the meaning of seeing and visibility is determined, as well as the meaning of the relationship between the eye, the gaze, and the viewed object. Furthermore, this event also involves a technological transformation
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in Galileos hands and before his eyes, the telescope fundamentally changes its nature from the simple device supposedly brought to Italy by Dutch lens grinders, displayed at fairgrounds, and eventually plagiarized by Galileo. The device now gives data of a unique kind: having been an instrument, it becomes a medium. How can we describe these historical steps, this transformation, as the telescopes becoming-media? Denaturing the Senses The significance of Galileos telescope is not limited to his turning of the telescope from Earth to skyhaving dismissed [the use of the telescope to observe] earthly things, I applied myself to the exploration of the heavens;1 it goes further than the far-reaching theoretical shift noted by Hans Blumenberg, who discerned in Galileos action the rst technologization of natural science. Before any investigation of the rmament, Galileo begins with an investigation of the device itself. The investigation brings his astronomical studies back to the complete theory of this instrument and turns a two-lens lead-and-paper pipe into an object almost as unfathomable as the stars.2 Thus Galileo begins by experimenting on and with the device, testing its performance, its magnification and measurement of angles. The view through the telescope is supplemented by a view of the laws that govern that view. Everything the view makes visible also allows seeing itself to be seen. The telescope here appears as constructed, materialized theoria (in the Greek sense of the word), as vision. The device is no longer simply for enlarging, for bringing things closer or reproducing them. The telescope is not just an extension of the senses nor an auxiliary device to improve or correct the senses, one whose usefulness would ultimately lie in the advantages of the instrument . . . on land and at sea.3 Rather, the telescope creates the senses anew: it denes the meaning of vision and sensory perception, turning any and all visible facts into constructed and calculated data. Ultimately, all the phenomena and messages it produces bear the mark of theory. The sensory evidence transmitted by these messages is conveyed alongside the procedure by which that evidence was established. This experimentalization of seeing relates to the fact that the eye and its natural vision are now merely parts of a single optical case among many others. The telescope does not enlarge any more than the eye makes smaller, and the telescopic view is no less natural than the eyes vision is artificial. Galileos telescope thus erases the coordinates of natural vision, the natural view, and the natural eye. Johannes Kepler, enthusiastically following up on Galileos work, grasped this immediately in his Dioptrik, subtitled A sketch of the results of the recent invention of the telescope for vision and visible things. The telescope should not, he suggested, be considered to be an
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ordinary instrument. Furthermore, a theory of the instrument touches directly on the theory of the eye, and vice versa. One cannot be developed without the other. Because their reciprocal determination is so close, the telescope, its optics and laws, now denes the sensory capacities of the eye. Like the telescope, the eye is an example of applied geometry, by virtue of which the retina is painted with the colored rays of visible things.4 In 1604, Kepler had already established that the eye is an optical devicemade up of a lens, lightproof chamber, and retina/screenand so showed how vision is itself an optical distortion and that sensory perception is based on sensory deception.5 The example of the telescope allowed him to bring this more clearly into focus: eye and telescope are both optical systems, and any natural difference between the two is erased. In both cases, the view implies its own construction. In both cases, any object seen implies the technical operation that makes it visible. Since Galileo, changes in vision cannot be understood in terms of given, natural vision: what the eye sees is now itself understood to be a construction. The eye is no longer the reliable organ of Aristotelian world-disclosure. What the eye sees is deception as much as it is truth. Vision has lost its status as natural evidence. The telescope is more than an auxiliary instrument. To the extent that it becomes a theoretical object, to the extent that it presents itself as constructed theory, it cracks open the world of natural vision. From now on, vision is denatured. Producing a Fundamental Self-referentiality The telescopes self-referentiality means three things. First, the telescopic view pinpoints the observer as much as the object observed. Second, any relation to the object in Galileos observations is also a relation of observation to itself. Finally, the telescopes medial character is also revealed in its self-referential structure. The surprising turn taken by Galileos viewing of the sky through the telescope is that when Galileo looks through his telescope at the planets, and in particular at the moon, what he sees above all is the Earth. When Galileo examines the moons surface, he establishes that it does not have the crystalline smoothness and roundness suggested by Aristotles quinta essentia but instead is raw and cratered, an absolutely earthly landscape. The surface of the moon is, he writes, not smooth . . . but, on the contrary, [is] uneven, rough and crowded with depressions and bulges. And it is like the face of the Earth itself, which is marked here and there with chains of mountains and depths of valleys.6 He discovers dark patches and bright zones and notes that we have an almost entirely similar sight on Earth, around sunrise, when the valleys are not yet bathed in light but the surrounding
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mountains facing the Sun are already seen shining with light. And just as the Sun climbs higher, so those lunar spots lose their darkness as the luminous part grows.7 These examples continue in his reflections as to whether the Earth lights the moon like the moon lights the Earth and whether the Earth rises and sets on the moon as the moon does on the Earth. When Galileo looks through the telescope at the moon, he not only sees another Earth, that is, a world, his concept of world changes with this view: the difference between Earth and other heavenly bodies is erased, and the Earth itself appears as a star among stars. The Earth is no longer the dump heap of the lth and dregs of the universe but becomes one in a multitude of worlds.8 Among the effects of this combined observation and self-observation is that observation itself is made conditional. This effect is deeply embedded in the textual structure of Sidereus nuncius. Time and again, we find formulations claiming that a particular heavenly object is thicker, not in itself but in relation to our view; that, were one to look at the Earth from the moon, this or that would be seen; or that seen from a certain point, a particular condition would be fullled or a conclusion made possible.9 Even at the level of formulations and syntax a telescope-effect is apparent things are made relative or hypothetical, and the standpoint of the speaking subject is made conditional. Correct observation can only be expressed in the conditional. Just as every observer in a Copernican system must factor in the mobility and thus the relativity of his standpoint, so every description and every observation is made conditional and incorporated into a selfreferential system. In this respect the telescope pointed at the heavens is in fact a Copernican instrument, an organ or medium for the creation of a Copernican world, with a relativized observer who observes him- or herself as an observer. The new sky is not simply a constellation (an assemblage) of planets and stars distributed into a new universe (or a pluriverse). The new sky is above all a constellation of views, a system of intersecting observations. This means that whoever, along with Galileo, looks at the sky through a telescope is at the same time looking back at him- or herselfseeing is self-seeing, observation is self-observation, locating is self-locating. By setting up these constitutive relations of self-reference, the telescopeand this is another aspect of its becoming-mediaproduces a world. Generating an Anesthetic Field In this way perception becomes a complex process that affects in turn the status of the visibilities seen through the telescope. The eld of the visible is inextricably linked with a constitutive invisibility, revealing a further
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insight into media-transformation: The critical point of the historical analysis of media is not to be found in what a medium makes visible, tangible, audible, readable or perceptible; it is not so much located in the aesthetic of the data and in-formation provided by a medium but rather in the anesthetic side of a media process. Again, what does Galileo Galilei see when he turns his telescope toward the sky? What exactly are the visibilities that Galileo observes, then captures in his texts and drawingsthe lunar surface, unknown xed stars, the Milky Way, the moons of Jupiter? Sidereus nuncius leaves no doubt: Galileo sees, newly perceptible in his telescope, not just sun, moon, and stars but the difference
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Constellation of belt and sword of Orion. From Galileo Galilei, Sidereus Nuncius: Nachricht von neuen Sternen (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 2002), 107.

between the visible and the invisible. Telescopic vision becomes a second order of vision. Consider Galileos comments on his diagrams, based on telescope observations, of Orion and the Pleiades: [I]n order that you may see one or two illustrations of the almost inconceivable crowd of them, and from their example form a judgment about the rest of them, I decided to reproduce two star groups. In the rst I had decided to depict the entire constellation of Orion, but overwhelmed by the enormous multitude of stars and a lack of time, I put off this assault until another occasion. For there are more than ve hundred new stars around the old ones, spread over a space of 1 or 2 degrees. For this reason, to the three in Orions belt and the six in his sword that were observed long ago, I have added eighty others seen recently, and I have retained their separations as accurately as possible. For the sake of distinction, we have depicted the known or ancient ones larger and outlined by double lines, and the other inconspicuous ones smaller and outlined by single lines.10 Galileo explicitly states that both the visible and the invisible are represented here. More precisely, he documents the relation of the visible to the invisible. We have here a double image, a reproduction of Galileos view through the telescope and a schematic record of the difference between the visible and the invisible. As Blumenberg pointed out, this clearly marks the end of the visibility postulatethe belief, held from antiquity to the middle ages, that human beings organic equipment was adequate to comprehend nature and the cosmos. In Galileos telescope-view, a new, variable visibility appears, an alterable horizon of the visible. A dark background of invisibility now appears, reaching far into the representation of visible things. This change is intimately bound up with the telescope and the new ways of using it, as well as with other factors, like perspectival construction. Sight is now turned toward that which withdraws from sight; it is incorporated into a process that calls up immensities of invisible and hidden things along with the visible data. Galileo, in his Letter to the Grand Duchess, writes, If we want to grasp the deeper concepts which stand written in the map of the heavens, we do not believe that it is enough to take in the shine of the sun and stars and to observe their rising and setting. This can be seen even by the eyes of animals and of the uneducated mob. But behind this are hidden secrets so deep and thoughts so sublime that the efforts and vigils of hundreds of the keenest minds, in their
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millennia of work and learning, have not yet fully fathomed them. What is given to us by the mere sense of our sight is as nothing compared to the wonders discovered by the reason of reasonable men.11 What the telescope thus brings into view is the difference between the visible and the invisible, and what it produces above all is invisibility, visible invisibility. The naked eye and unaided appearance are found wanting, and any apparent optical gain is counterbalanced by that which now lies, irretrievably, just beyond our view. Blumenberg declared this to be an antinomy in Galileos epistemology, but it is also one of the effects of the telescopes becoming-media. On the one hand, the telescope increases visibility, produces an increase in empirical knowledge and gives certain evidence for the Copernican system. On the other hand, this very evidence is called into question by the telescope-effect: every visibility now bears a stigma of provisionality; every visibility is surrounded by an ocean of invisibility. Everything visible remains contingent, forever encompassed by the imperceptible and the unknown. Hence the antinomy: the telescopic view gives proof of certain hypotheses (e.g., the Copernican system)in fact, the whole question of proof is given over to the empirical facts of vision as the final instance of truthbut visibility itself is rendered extremely problematic, a questionable, endangered, risky option riddled with uncertainty, dependent on coincidence, threatened by illusion (including optical illusion), and relativized by its segmentarity.12 A trace of provisionality always remains: every truth that appears through the telescope is bordered by as-yet-undiscovered truths, by the countless truths remaining to be discovered, as Galileo put it. We might understand this as the birth of a certain idea of science, positioned in the awkward space between sensory evidence and abstraction. Exactly here, however, the media-historical argument applies: along with the visible, the becomingmedia of Galileos telescope creates something invisible, nonperceptible, and anesthetic. With every deepening of clarity comes a new depth of the unclarifiable. With Galileos telescope, the heavens star-spangled vault becomes an immeasurable black void.
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In laying out these points, I have tried to describe a limited, local historical situation in which we can observe the becoming-media of the telescope; that is, its transformation from a mere optical instrument into a medium. A number of quite heterogeneous conditions were needed for this becomingmedia: the technology of Dutch lens grinders; the invention (initially anony22 Grey Room 29

mous) of a device whereby two lenses mounted in a tube create an enlargement effect; a new knowledge, the Copernican hypotheses that dene a new eld of application for the telescope; certain experimental practices, which for Galileo meant the testing of vision itself against the telescope; a physical knowledge expressed in the formulation of optical problems; nally, a particular manner of drawing and representation, to be found in Galileos drawings but also in the relationship of these images to his text. Further factors could be added: the laws of perspective, for example, which condition Galileos way of seeing and representing things, which encode the flux of light and dark into geometric forms;13 more broadly, printing, which immediately turned the telescope-effect into one of the first great Europe-wide scientic events.14 All these factors meet in Galileos telescope, which is no longer a simple object but a complex formation comprising material, discursive, practical, and theoretical elements. Although the transformation of these disparate elements, devices, and arrangements into a medium is at issue, the specic case does not imply a generally valid concept of media. Rather, in each case, it is a question of a specic, local, and limited becoming-media, in which the conuence of various factors decides on the emergence of a medial function. Any general history of media will be the task of a historiography whose representation of events takes into account the way in which events become representable and in which events are always presented with a certain ambiguity. A history of media will always be tainted by histories that are themselves enabled and created by media: the history of writing, which rst produced the distinction between myth and history; or the history of the printing press, whose typographical persistence made possible a history of progressive knowledge.15 A history of media must be a history of media-events in a double sense: a history of events that determine the production, the representation, and the formation of events. Perhaps we might identify a kind of general determination, usable for our (historical) observation of media but resistant to a more general, transhistorical definition or determination. Ambiguous becoming-media such as these cannot be predetermined. In each case of becoming-mediaas when series of letters become writing or polished lenses become an optical instrumentthe transformation of apparatuses, symbolic orders, or institutions comes about through a specific assemblage of diverse conditions, factors, and elements. For the future of media studies, I would like to suggest that we should set aside any general concept of media in favor of examining historically singular constellations in which we can identify the metamorphosis into media of things, symbolic systems, or technologies. No such thing as a medium exists in any permanent sense. That media denaturalize the senses and
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allow their historicization; that media can be understood as self-referential, world-creating organs; that media are dened by the anesthetic space they producethese might form the outline of a framework in which the history of media is constituted in nothing more and nothing less than the mere events of a discontinuous becoming-media.

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Notes

1. Galileo Galilei, Sidereus nuncius, or, The Sidereal Messenger, trans. Albert van Helden (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989), 38. The following considerations draw in particular on the groundbreaking analyses of Hans Blumenberg. See Hans Blumenberg, Das Fernrohr und die Ohnmacht der Wahrheit, in Galileo Galilei, Sidereus nuncius, ed. Hans Blumenberg (Frankfurt: Insel, 1965); Hans Blumenberg, The Genesis of the Copernican World (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1987); and Hans Blumenberg, The Legitimacy of the Modern Age (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1983). 2. Galileo, Sidereus nuncius, 39. 3. Galileo, Sidereus nuncius, 38. 4. Johannes Kepler, Dioptrik (1611; Leipzig: Engelmann, 1904), 34, 28. 5. Svetlana Alpers, The Art of Describing (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983), 34. Alpers cites Keplers Ad vitellionem paralipomena, quibus astronomiae pars optica traditur (1604). 6. Galileo, Sidereus nuncius, 40. 7. Galileo, Sidereus nuncius, 41. 8. Galileo, Sidereus nuncius, 57. 9. Galileo, Sidereus nuncius, 5357. 10. Galileo, Sidereus nuncius, 5961. 11. Galileo Galilei, Letter to the Grand Duchess, in The Galileo Affair: A Documentary History, ed. Maurice A. Finocchiaro (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1989), 103104; translation modified. See also Blumenberg, Das Fernrohr und die Ohnmacht der Wahrheit, 21, 38. 12. Or, the media-function is documented in the constitutive distortion of that which is mediated. See Michel Serres, The Parasite, trans. Lawrence R. Schehr (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982). 13. See Joseph Vogl, Kraterlandschaft, in Umwege des Lesens: Aus dem Labor philologischer Neugierde, ed. Caroline Welsh and Christoph Hoffmann (Berlin: Parerga, 2006), 303316. 14. See Elizabeth L. Eisenstein, The Printing Revolution in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1993), 83. 15. See Jack Goody and Ian Watt, The Consequences of Literacy, Literacy in Traditional Societies, ed. Jack Goody (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1968), 2768; Eisenstein, 226237.

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