Patrice Riemens on Sat, 9 May 2009 14:40:32 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> Debating German Media Theory in Siegen (from Henrike Donner)

My friend Henrike Donner, antropologist at the London School of Economics
(LSE), did for some time computer science in her student days (to take a
break from social sciences) and was taught by Friedrich Kittler. I fwded
her the thread on nettime, and this was her reaction, reposted with

Cheers, p+2D!

NB by Henrike, with the ptr: I have anonymised it (ie the original e-mail
-pr) a bit and made it a bit snappier - don't want to be accused of
boredom, on top of elitism and Technikfeindlichkeit (that's why I
originally joined: to overcome this character flaw) !

(in reply to Florian Cramer ('F.C.') latest - & other posts)

 This is perfectly well formulated, I wish I could have written it, but
obviously as a mere anthropologist, and one who has left German academia
- where the sentences drag on for paragraphs and five philosophers can be
piled into one section - I am not enabled to produce something that

I do recall, however, when I attended - or better: endured, a seminar at
Studienwerk Villigst, an elitist and old school lefty scholarship
foundation (churchfinanced) - of which I was a student-member and
recipient of accolades of money for books as well as scorn by my
'Autonomen' friends, who did not, as suggested in the piece by F.C.
populate the university as such, but dominated all departments with a
vague interest in social inequality, something that could not been said
about the departments of German Literature and Neuer Deutsche Geschichte
or the even more foggy and certainly theory avert "Voelkerkunde" I was
attached to.

The seminar I had chosen, being interested and intelligent as I was, was
enticingly entitled Kuenstliche Intelligenz and populated by mostly the
inner circle (better: clique) of the Siegen Graduate Colloqium, all of
whom were male, none of whom had a scholarship in said institution, but
all of whom were without fault arrogant and up to get studentships from
that Hort of German elitist pragmatism (what is close to science must be
good for the nation) Studienstiftung, and all were without exception very
macho in their demeanor, whilst vying for the attention of the bigwhigs
they had invited - most did not discuss the papers we had been sent in
advance but discussed parts of their Diplomarbeiten - that bit was
extremely tedious.

The seminar was run at very high level - so it was per se elitist, and was
based on an awful lot of jargon, and - as I learnt from F.C's text - it
was not only Heideggerian in its approach (actually that was the machine
phase they collectively went through and we had discs demonstrating the
Turing machine) - it was also a guru worshipping club of George-ian (as in
Stefan) dimensions. The guy who ran the seminar, a sociologist with a
distinct dislike for the social, is now Prof of Kulturwissenschaften in
Frankfurt - also had a distinct dislike for Kultur (they seriously asked
me whether "other cultures" recognised other then binary numbers - how
would I know - did I care ? I was just coming to terms with the idea of
digital that day). '

For me, not being into technologies of any sort or media it was a tough
call, and while I apprecicated to be confronted with radical psychological
cognitivism and media theory for the better part of week most of it
consisted of reiterating that the spread of IT was not only
inevitable, but also exciting and liberating (insofar as everyone would
get a scholarship to Stanford or the MIT), questions of social inequality
etc, all the usual provisios and questions were marked as 'vulgar Marxism'
or just ignored, and the understanding of technologies was remarkably

There were - not surprisingly - only two women (apart from the girlfriends
of certain guys, who turned up to the evening sessions), myself and a
Kittlerian Lesbian, who was highly intelligent, and very nice, but only
dared to invite for a demo in favour of the right to abortion in private,
as her colleagues were giving her a really hard time in that collective).
She had to do a lot of what I call intellectual coffemaking - basically
organising and facilitating - boys' discussions. Amongst the few
differently tuned misfits was a great guy with a passion for Swedish and
bulldozers, who turned up with two canoes on his roof - needless to say I
was the only one who took him on his great offer to paddle down one of
Germany's most maligned and most beautful stretches of river through
psotindustrial landscape in realtity - after having surved virtual spaces
the whole day. Neither of us got support for our doctorates, which were
not deemed applied or relevant enough - the IT guys, however, bred a whole
gang of budding Kittlers there, who collectively now live in Calfornia and
do research for American military and private business (I am guessing here
- maybe they multiply Turing discs and sell them as vintage video games in
urban underpaths...)

Kittler himself came one afternoon and was treated like royalty, he was
rather unassuming and I recall  mumbled a half-written paper, to great
applause - in rheinisch dialect, or I may just imagine that last bit....

The whole thing put me off technologies, IT, KI etc. for life and
certainly pushed my interest in practice theory, Foucault, and
constructivism of a non-cognitive kind. But I lost my fear of (and respect
for) people dealing with computers, they became merely a thing of the


PS: The volume that was the real reason behind this seminar has become a
bestseller in German Media Studies.

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