Eva Horn is a Professor of Modern German Literature and Cultural Studies at the University of Basel, specializing in literature, conspiracy and war in the 20th century.
This short essay is the editor's introduction to a guest edited edition of the journal Grey Room.
"There Are No Media" Edit
In this essay, Horn offers speedy history of recent developments in media studies (particularly new German media theory) as a context for the authors in the Fall 2007 issue of Grey Room. Historically, media studies has often been occupied with ontological questions regarding the being or nature of media. In dynamic opposition to this inquiry, the newer strand of post-Foucadian, post-Kittler media theoriests (as they are gathered in the issue) are no longer occupied with defining what media are, nor solely intereted in "describing their social, aesthetic, communicational, ideological, or other functions" (anti-Frankfurt school) but rather turn their attention toward the “technological-medial a prioris” of culture (7).
"the question of what a medium “is” has been (and continues to be) the object of heated debate. Rather than defining the “essence” of media as technology, “extensions of man,” communication devices, system of codes, and so forth, or describing their social, aesthetic, communicational, ideological, or other functions, the theorists collected in this volume channel our attention toward the “technological-medial a prioris” of culture; that is, toward the function and functioning of media over and against any interrogation of their “nature.” Such an approach aims not at understanding media as an ontological concept but rather—as the founding figure, Kittler, put it in an early text—at focusing on the “networks of technologies and institutions that allow a given culture to
select, store, and process relevant data.” Within this type of media analysis, institutions play as important a role as technologies, and modes of coding and notation, archiving, and the transfer of data are as crucial as questions of the political or strategic impacts of media." (7).
Theorizing media, thus, is no longer even just an analysis of objects, but of processes, institutions, and networks. Media are intensely historically specific, arising as events, "assemblages or constellations of certain technologies, fields of knowledge, and social institutions that compose the media a priori for human experience (here we hear the echoes of Kittler and Nietzsche, "our writing machines are working upon our thoughts"). Horn admits that the broadening of this analytic frame may mean a that media studies is not so much a discipline as a way of forming questions, as the new flexibility of this inquiry integrates media studies with other fields.
Horn notes the German media theory in particular is marked by a rejection of nostalgic humanist interests [book good, computer bad], and rather a desire for a disciplinary closeness with science and technology. The avante garde of media theory in some sense is a response to technophobia in the humanities and the German population. Horn writes: "Closing this gap via radical transdisciplinarity may thus be the most fruitful impact of media theory on the modern intellectual environment [...] The question now is whether what was originally a critical and experimental impetus can be preserved as media studies transforms into its own discipline. At its most creative, media theory might not be a field in itself but rather a disciplinary crossover or a transdisciplinary pursuit" (8-9).
The scholars presented in the issue are united in two methodological ways: first, the authors have a "post-Foucault/post-Kittler" heritage in that they emphasize the "epistemic effects of media in the production and processing of knowledge and on the medial dimensions of the mechanisms of power" (10). Second, the authors reject an ontological conceptualization of media (thus a reliance on "a single, specific, and thus paradigmatic historical example") (10).
While Horn does not expressly posit a definition of media archaeology (or even raise the phrase whatsoever), possible connections are there, through Foucault. In one sense, some of the authors offer a media study that is an archeology of knowledge through to its material foundations, considering object/s that "becomes a medium precisely by becoming epistemologically productive in the constellation of a specific technology, a new theoretical framework, and a visual effect, thereby constituting [...] an “epistemic thing" (10).
In a wildly helpful qoute, Horn writes: "Whereas Foucault observed the rules and truth effects that governed a given network of historical discourse, post-Foucauldian media theory broadens the scope of an archeology of
knowledge by including the material objects that enable its constitution. From this perspective, historical concepts of, for example, the cosmos or human perception can be reconstructed as media effects" (10-11). This would suggest then, that all material have the capacity to become media insofar as they may constitute conditions of knowledge.