geert lovink on Thu, 15 Jan 2004 13:03:55 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Media Philosophy: An Email Exchange with Frank Hartmann

Discipline Design: The Rise of Media Philosophy
An Email Exchange with Frank Hartmann (Vienna)
By Geert Lovink

Lately, in German speaking countries a 'media philosophy' debate has
unfolded. If you fear you missed something, don't worry. Unfortunately,
there is not much at stake. At least, the antagonists have so far failed
to make clear what the controversy over this concept is all about -
presuming there is one. From the outside it looks a failed cockfight over
non-existing institutional arrangements, in a time of rising student
numbers and shrinking education budgets. Like all academic disciplines,
philosophy is also confronted with the rise of the computer. This has been
the case for half a century, but it is only now that the knowledge itself
is being produced and stored in networks and databases. Technology is no
longer an object of study for some, but alters studying in general.

Some of you might be familiar with the work of the Vienna-based
philosopher Frank Hartmann. In 2000 I posted an online interview to
nettime with Frank (reprinted in Uncanny Networks), in which he talked
about media philosophy and how this emerging discipline relates to
Kittler's media theory and the dirty little practice of 'net criticism'.
Recently Frank Hartmann published Mediologie (also in German). Like his
previous Medienphilosophie, it is written as a general introduction to
current topics. Unlike most of his continental colleagues, Frank
Hartmann's style is free of hermeneutic exercises. In the following email
dialogue Frank summarizes his latest work and contextualizes the debate.
For some, media and networks are the latest fads that will fade, thereby
not affecting the 'eternal' philosophical questions, whereas others
believe that the philosophical practice will indeed be fundamentally
transformed after the introduction of new media is well and truly over.

In the Anglo-Saxon world the term 'media philosophy' has been compromised
from the start - Imagologies, the cyber-hype book from Mark C. Taylor and
Esa Saarinen, contributed substantially to the derogation of the term. The
tragic superficiality of Imagologies proved once and for all that it is
not enough to link up students and scholars via email and satellite. As
the Canadian communications theorist and political economist Harold Innis
realized, one's technics of practice - or 'appraisal' of technology - is
peculiar to the medium of communication, and will change according to the
type of medium adopted. Human action, after all, is an extension of media
forms; for a critical, reflexive practice to emerge, it is essential to go
beyond the excitement and hubris of being early adaptors. Praise of
Technology is not enough: readers expect philosophers to negate, to
circumvent society and its PR phrases, and not just to celebrate the
latest. Only radical futurism, such as the transhumanism, has been worth
debating. Speculative philosophies need to transcend the present and
explore unlikely futures and reject the temptation to extrapolate the cool
present. It is also not sufficient either to retreat to the safe Gutenberg
galaxies of critical theory. Media philosophy has to take risks and cut
across disciplinary borders. The 'iconic turn' debate as summarized by
Hartmann can only be one of many beginnings and proves just how difficult
- and immature - 'pictorial thinking' is.

Hartmann's new media analysis is free of fear and disdain. Without
becoming affirmative, he is keen to avoid 'totalising' concepts that try
to explain all and exclude next to everything that doesn't fit into the
newly carved-out discursive cave. One neither has to be subjected to the
Empire of Images, nor does one has to flee it. Every day there are fresh
challenges, from blogs, games and wireless to ip-telephony, all set within
Big Brother, SARS and the Iraqi War. New media do not stop to surprise us
researchers. Tired critics are free to leave the stage and pursue other
interests, but that doesn't mean the Media Question has been resolved. It
is all too human to take a break, switch profession and take up parallel
passions. Hartmann's way is to stick around and describe the media reality
on its own merits. Philosophy can provide us with outside references, but
the outcome is little more than the reproduction of the same. And even
that is about to come to an end, as we discuss below with reference to the
current situation of the university in Germany and the EU's efforts to
enter the game of higher education as a transnational commodity of

Deep incursions of real-time global media into everyday life continue.
There seems to be no end to the technology boom, despite the latest bust.
Media enter the realms of imagination and 'reality' from all sides, as Big
Brother and similar reality TV programs demonstrate. Infotainment has
elements of both war and game, contributing to what Paul Virilio termed
the 'militarization of civil society'. In this fluid, transient world,
people long for 'ethics' and 'values' and dream back to the future of a
society in which the individual knows his or her place. Philosophy can be
one of those pseudo religions. In Infinite Thought, Alain Badiou calls for
a return to philosophy. He no longer wants philosophy to be subordinated
to a 'multiplicity of language games'. Language is not the absolute
horizon of thought, so claims Badiou. He calls for the return of an
unconditional principle. How could we translate this into media philosophy
terms? Or should we rather dismiss Badiou's call because he looks down on
the mediasphere - as one would expect from a French 68 philosopher.
According to Badiou, 'the world is submitted to the profoundly illogical
regime of communication' that 'transmits a universe made up of
disconnected images, remarks, statements'. This is the dilemma media
philosophy faces. Should it return to something stable or jump into the
unknown and risk losing all ties with the institutionalised knowledge?
Nietzsche would certainly have opted for the latter - but then Nietzsche
himself has become captured, framed and institutionalised like no other

GL: You're just back from a media philosophy conference in Germany. What
happened there? Why has it been so crucial to draw up a new discipline?
Can this drive solely be understood by institutional politics or is there
something more at stake?

FH: This was a small conference in Stuttgart. Concerning media philosophy,
it is significant that the discipline of design is now entering a new
stage. Media and computers are becoming part of mainstream debates and
teaching methodologies. There are some anthologies published, there are
new teaching positions. It is quite interesting to observe that nowadays
the discussion is not so much about entitling this new discipline but how
to actually shape it. This is what is so crucial. Media philosophy started
as a frustration of sorts, which means that as far as the topic of new
media goes, one cannot simply address the tradition of philosophy in order
to obtain answers. Certainly there is much valuable material in that
tradition, but we will not necessarily find answers for our situation,
since whether we like it or not, what we now have to address are
completely new and different questions. With new technologies, the
'episteme' changes, a new kind of thinking is under way. This should
really be quite a simple matter - as you noted in your introduction, the
Canadian media theorist Harold Innis was well aware of this over half a
century ago. But we must remember that the problem of media philosophy is
not only a theoretical or methodological one - institutional reputations
and academic careers are also at stake!

What we can state for now without any hesitation is that since media
technology changes our perception of the world, and therefore the way we
think and act, it is generally a good thing that philosophers are picking
up the topic of communications media. But similar to your critique of
Hubert Dreyfus' account on the Internet - we need to question not only the
fact that communications media play a dominant role in the organization of
social relations, but more importantly, we need to critique the way this
is done, which is so often completely detached from the actual 'net
condition'. Discussing the concept and the definition of the term 'media'
and how it relates to some canonical writings is not something I would not
grant as very exiting at the level of insight, primarily because it is
about the philosophical discipline or some school or another ascertaining
itself. This is what is happening nowadays, and whether you've asked for
it or not, like some Poltergeist Heidegger is back. Welcome to the desert
of repetition without difference!

GL: Perhaps the current lack of complexity within media philosophy could
also be the result of the effect decades of a welfare state has had on
philosophers. They can only start thinking when there is a properly
defined discipline that fits neatly into the academic structures,
including all its institutional arrangements. There is not much 'thinking
on the fence' going on. Apart from the question of whether a person needs
to have actual programming skills, there seems to be a complete lack of
'dangerous thinking' outside of the institutions. It is only when media
philosophy has been properly defined, and its existence is authorized and
hence legitimized, that people will enter this field. Prior to that the
central concept needs to be loaded up with hermeneutic speculations while
at the same time it is sheltered against attacks from neighbouring tribes
that envy philosophy's millennial history.

FH: I agree with your diagnosis that there is a certain saturation, if you
will, in the discourse on media philosophy, but I also see a vast field
emerging of a new kind of philosophical investigation. On the one hand,
there are these self-sustained questions of the traditional approach, with
all the institutional power and the assumptions of what really matters in
the discipline. What are the incentives for someone in a tenured position
to change this and go for new topics? Really, why bother when by the time
you've reached your job as professor you're so inculcated into a largely
corrupt feudalistic system of patronage? What else can you be but
exhausted and demoralized? I'm more of an optimist than that, and there
are significant institutional changes afoot in any case.

On the other hand, there are new premises in our culture that have been
made possible by new technologies, and that matters to philosophy. One
cannot retreat into a world of classic texts and negate the new
mediasphere, as Debray calls it. There are problems with our concept of
knowledge, with semantics and information, 'intelligent' machines and the
processing of data, and so forth. Dealing with these new questions, one is
closer to engagement and intervention than to interpretation and
hermeneutics. But you also have to cooperate with other disciplines like
the sociological field of technology assessment, or go to a computer
science lab and listen to what programmers have to say about software
agents, rdf-code and information ontologies, or join a discussion on the
effects of open source in our culture - these are all contemporary issues
which should be placed at the centre of what is called media philosophy.
Italian/Oxford philosopher Luciano Floridi, who has recognized this new
arrangement that underpins media philosophy, said that there should be an
end to cloning academics, and a start toward preparing the critical media
literacy of citizens for our reflexive, informational society, as Plato

Alas, German media philosophy has little more to offer than yet another
program for cloning academics. It seems that this whole debate on media
philosophy reveals little more than the complete lack of philosophical
analysis concerning media products and media events, old and new. Most of
the participants in this debate have not even reached the state of their
own presence on the Web, not to speak of new publishing forms - they hold
hardly any internet skills beyond consuming Web content (with the
exception of two colleagues I would like to mention: Herbert Hrachovec,
who among other things installed a wiki-web at the Vienna Institute of
Philosophy: - and Joachim
Koch, who published a Web-register of contemporary philosophers:

GL: What strikes me after having read the anthology on German Media
Philosophy is the absence of research programs or even basic questions.
The whole debate, if you may call it one, revolves around the occupation
of a term that antagonists guess may have some importance in the near
future. It's dotcom for philosophers. Besides such speculations, where do
you see research being done in this area? In her contribution, Barbara
Becker pointed at a dialogue between philosophers and media scholars over
the post-humanism issue. But that itself is an outcome of conceptual
speculation. What will the empiricists and pragmatists do, once the
concept wars are over? Is the Gutenberg background of many philosophers a
handicap in that respect? And would you agree that media philosophy could
be a hybrid and study both old and new media?

FH: I suspect that the recent excitement with media philosophy still
relates to the struggle with metaphysics. What is meaning? Who is
speaking? Are media just neutral agents in the production of sense? Do
they just transport a message or also transform it? Do they actually
produce a semantic dimension? Thus the fascination for the hardware
aspects - traditional German philosophy focussed on idealism and
hermeneutics. And there is a trend in the recent debate to correct the
Kittler approach, which pointed out the materialistic dimension of media,
ignoring questions of signification and issues of power within a
socio-technical system. There is also a claim for the dignity of
discourse, and again, the attitude towards McLuhan is mostly polemic, at
least this is true for the Habermas School. This kind of new debate
anxiously leaves out material aspects and media archaeology.

One problem is that the German language allows you to use the term
'medium' in a much more substantial way than it is used in the French or
English language. This is why German media philosophy bears the
connotation of being much more essentialist than a philosophy of the
media. So this makes it possible to pursue questions like what is a
medium?, how is it defined?, how does it impact on the formation of our
thoughts?, etc. Further to this, European philosophers are trained to
produce texts relating to texts. The classical attitude is to 'defend' the
thesis you have formulated in your text, and to 'destroy' any opposing
argument. There is no dialogue, no lively thought - even at workshops
people do nothing else but read their prefabricated texts to each other.
The inbred discourse produced in this manner is only of interest for the
philosophers themselves.

It is a privilege of philosophers to discharge empirical research and
indulge into what you call conceptual speculations. When it comes to a
topic like the media, of course we have to address the economical and
political power of technologies that transform our culture, and not just a
concept. Drawing on the work of Innis, Marshall McLuhan, whom I consider
the first media philosopher, first introduced reflections on this
ontological shift. He pointed out that writing texts is but one form of
processing ideas, and that new media culture points beyond this singular
form, and even beyond the medium of language itself. This certainly is
something a German philosopher does not want to hear. And yes, it is the
typographic cultural bias that also forms a barrier to the
transdisciplinary discourse that media philosophy should be.

We can find a very good example of such a transdisciplinary approach in
the recent books of Régis Debray, who simultaneously talks about the
history of art and religion when he addresses questions of transmission
and mediation. To understand media we have to go into the history of
cultures, and what we find there is not a better definition of 'media' but
instead a better understanding of the 'milieu', the ambience or the
setting which in more than one way determines a culture and its use of
different media. To do research on this basis does not stop once you've
pointed at the hardware of communication. One needs to investigate the
intermediary functions of technology and examine how these mental tools
shape user's visions and cognitive capacities. This is an exciting
heritage from McLuhan, who saw media as 'active metaphors in their power
to translate experience into new forms'. Because without such instances of
media translations of everyday experience and sensory perception,
technical media would never find their acceptance. Increasingly, the
challenge for businesses involved in marketing media technologies is a
challenge of media translation. Just take a look at the squadrons of 'cool
hunters' swarming about the place, desperate to report back on user
uptakes of palm pilots, new generation mobiles, fridges with inbuilt
browsers that allow you to restock your food, and the like.

GL: Are you suggesting that the metaphysical clouds that surround the
'media' concept in German-speaking circles need to be blasted? It's in a
sense such a luxury to indulge yourself in that ontological jargon,
because the alternative - the transient world of pop culture - seems so
empty, so wary of reflection and conceptualisation. The world outside of
German academia is pretty tough and cold, so detached from all these micro
differences between dead authors. Of course the world of new media is
exciting, because it's changing at such a fast pace. As you've suggested
with your reference to 'cool hunters', there is a lot at stake in that
field. But it's not necessarily open to intellectual engagement.

FH: The point of any intellectual engagement is to never stop questioning,
no matter what agenda there is. Following the approach of mediology, I
certainly favour a materialistic model over the metaphysical cloud.
Mediology means to come up with concrete research questions that could
indeed be the needle to pop this bubble called 'media philosophy'. Rather
than having a precise definition of the term 'medium', I imagine a raw mix
of sociological, philosophical and semiotic questions that deal with the
problems of our technologically advanced culture.

It is true that there is a clear antagonism between business orientation
and intellectual life. Perhaps nowadays the difference between criticism
and engagement derives more from this antagonism than one might believe,
because 'thinking' the difference does not make any difference. Neither
does the cultural theorist's interpretation of difference. No, we should
go beyond texts and interpretations to come up with new ideas. Since I do
not like to take on the role of an expert, I should return the question:
how can we do this? A possible answer lies in the reflexive modalities
towards the way we teach, do research and the forms in which we publish.
These all consist of enlisting media technologies in an array of
situations whose problems are peculiar to the instance of communication.
So, to go beyond the impasse of media philosophy involves addressing the
contingencies of the media situation.

GL: For all this bashing of media philosophy, it was you who, in the year
2000, published a book called Media Philosophy. You also own the domain. Is it just a bit ironic that you are
rebelling against the very term that you helped to promote? Why are you
now more in favour of the term mediology?

FH: Mainstream philosophy was and still is oblivious to the topic of
media, while media changed the world we live in. I did not plan to
establish a new discipline, I just wrote a reconstruction of certain
philosophical positions in relation to this topic. And I share this
interest with a group of philosophical scholars, like Mike Sandbothe,
Sybille Krämer and others from the anthology you mentioned before.

With the expected tardiness of institutionalised thought, a lot of
academic colleagues have now discovered their way to media philosophy. To
be honest, I am not very interested in their discussions. It is also not
an alternative to lurk around and quote Deleuze. The only intellectually
stimulating approach I am able to recognize is Peter Sloterdijk's
'spherology', and he is not really a mainstream philosopher or even close
to those discussions on media philosophy. But with his work in progress,
Sloterdijk sure makes the most profound attempt to philosophically
approach the topic of globalized communications.

Because I see 'media philosophy' as a narrowing discourse and because I am
interested in the opposite, I adopted Régis Debray's term 'mediology' for
my latest publication. Mediology fits quite well as an umbrella term for
epistemological questions (media philosophy), the use and the perception
of media (media aesthetics) and the technological and historical questions
in a wider sense (media archaeology).

GL: What do we gain there, compared to, for instance, media theory? How
does Régis Debray, who first came up with the term mediology, see
shortcomings within media studies?

FH: When in the 19th century new questions arose on a new phenomenon named
'society', Auguste Comte coined a new discipline and named it 'sociology'.
The 20th century discovered 'media' as a core topic, so why should there
not be a discipline like 'mediology'? But there is more to this concept
than the issue of media. Debray established mediology as a general science
of the transmission of cultural forms. It clearly relates to the
theoretical tradition of the Toronto School, namely Harold Innis and
Marshall McLuhan, and tries to correct the shortcomings of a text-centred
structuralist tradition as well as those of mass communication studies,
with its roots in American 'psychological warfare' think-tanks and
post-war sociology. Media and communication studies did not produce much
insight into what is going on with our culture, since the research done in
previous years clearly followed commercial interests. Any critical
counterpoint is totally missing. And it is a sad fact that the European
Commission, which became the main sponsor of research done on the
Information Society, forces the rationalization of research within the
limits of economic interests. As for the national promotion of research,
nowadays it seems to be better to have a business plan than an
intellectual ambition. This sad state of affairs is hardly peculiar to
Germany or Europe, I know.

GL: Could the latest 'media philosophy' fad perhaps be explained by a
growing sense of unease amongst philosophers that the text, or the spoken
word, delivered either in the form of a dialogue or monologue, is about to
lose its hegemony? In Mediologie you wrote about the 'iconic turn', which
has been fiercely debated lately, in Germany and elsewhere.

FH: Your question points to what is there, beyond dealing with words and
texts, and could it still be called 'philosophy'? We have touched on this
earlier, but let me make a few additional points. It was Vilém Flusser
who, in the age of video, first speculated about new forms of
philosophical expression. These should not only be seen as the antagonism
of images versus texts. We now have software routines and synthetic
images, as well as sounds, that derive from handling data with certain
algorithms. First, this media revolution does not make language extinct:
but it will change it, like the printing press changed it before. Second,
we are in need for a meta-medium in order to comment and reflect upon what
is going on in another medium. The art critic will do better to write
about an exhibition or a concert, and not create a new set of images or
sounds. A philosophy of computing will be written, not programmed. But
then, third, we live in a culture of 'remediation', as Jay Bolter and
Richard Grusin called it. We see images composed of other images and
texts, we hear sounds that are sampled and remixed. Visual design, DJ-ing
or programming are most certainly also a form of philosophical reflection.

Obviously there is a post-linguistic quality in the new medial forms of
reflecting culture. It has already come to the attention of pessimistic
cultural critics like George Steiner (in Real Presence), who acknowledges
that the role of language and text are no longer crucial for social
reproduction. I think the problem is not so much that philosophical
reflection still exists in the form of textuality. It is rather how to
accept non-typographical forms of transmission. When cultural theory
started to put images on the same level as texts, this was labelled as an
'iconic turn'. Ten years ago W.J.T. Mitchell (in Picture Theory) came up
with this methodological question of a second-order discourse about
pictures 'without' recourse to language, and he called it the concept of a
'metapicture', an interpretation within the same medium. Now I would not
say that medial hybridisation never works, but as a picture will never be
a text, texts and meta-texts should not pretend to be anything else than
texts. It should be clear what their function is, and the context within
which they work. This again points to the 'milieu' that makes texts into
what they are, a medium of intellectuality.

The early 90's excitement about hypertext soon faded away. What followed
was the debate on the 'iconic turn'. Actually this topic has got quite a
history. Take for example the work of socialist reformer Otto Neurath, who
in the 1920/30's was very well aware of the iconic turn in western culture
and tried to adopt it scientifically in a new form of picture language. I
published a book on this last year ( Information
aesthetics will gain more importance in the future.

GL: With the acceptance of references to a few contemporary French
thinkers, media philosophy, as it appears out of this anthology, seems to
be quite inward looking, very 'German' somehow. There seems to be only a
limited number of players. We all know that today's German theorists all
read English, so it's not a matter of language skills. Aren't people
interested in what's going on elsewhere? Do people perhaps have the idea
that a philosophical program can be build up within the safe borders of
the nation state and its educational institutions? Right now there are
university strikes happening all over Germany. Simultaneously, the
BA-MA-PhD system is being introduced, which will give students much more
international mobility. And of course the German universities also have
their eye on the much sought after market of students in Asia. Shouldn't
we involve such big changes in the education system in the debate of how
new media should be taught and what foundations a possible media
philosophy should have?

FH: What makes this approach specific is the different concept of the term
'medium'. In defence of European discourse, I have to stress the fact that
we are confronted with a very narrow-minded reception of cyberculture and
the net as an exclusively American thing. And sometimes we are perhaps
just fed up with the affirmative prophecies of MIT professors.
Anglo-American analytical philosophy also is a quite self-contained
matter. Besides this, English and French authors are widely read of

As you note, German and Austrian Universities are undergoing profound
changes at the moment - organizational and educational ones. It seems we
are about to overcome the disciplinary structures, which are a heritage of
the 19th century. Mobility of research in all aspects is a prime topic.
The European ministers of Education adopted the so-called 'Bologna
process', a reform of higher education with the aim to establish a
homogenous European Higher Education Area by 2010 and to sponsor cultural
and scientific cooperation. At least this is the political rhetoric, and
we have to see what will come out of it.

While in the '68 revolt students wanted to change conservative systems,
their situation now is being changed by the system itself. While access to
higher education was largely free and open to everybody, recently tuition
fees were introduced. Cities close to bankruptcy like Berlin have to make
enormous cuts in their university budgets. The university strikes are
quite lame and will not change much about this predicament.

The organizational changes in the education system certainly hold chances
for innovative approaches which do not fit into the disciplinary
framework. Likely contenders include gender studies, cultural theory and
maybe mediology. New forms of transdisciplinary teachings are evolving,
and new forms of studying, including E-learning procedures. What about
media philosophy? With the growing economic pressure, resulting in shorter
terms of studying, the interest in a reflective approach is decreasing. To
be attractive and exiting, media philosophy should develop its own
approach to questions concerning postmodern culture. It should not only
function as a fig leaf covering the bareness of philosophy as an old and
partly outdated discipline. The question of how it fits into the old
knowledge structures really might be not as forceful as it seems for
careerist academics.

GL: In your book you've got an interesting chapter about the 'knowledge
society'. Who are going to be the future's gate keepers and decide what
is, and what is not knowledge? In these times of rapid expansion of ICTs
worldwide (see: WSIS), the term is used in a rather friendly, inclusive
and somewhat blurry way. Knowledge is a term that philosophers have dealt
with for centuries. Can we perhaps expect a contribution there? Everything
can be stored as data and processed so that it becomes information. But
not every bit contains knowledge. What socio-technical configuration do
you see emerging to clarify this issue? You indicate that images can also
contain knowledge.

FH: Knowledge became a commodity ever since antecedents of the dotcom
business, like Diderot and his publisher, created the business of
enlightenment by selling the Encyclopédie in 1752 on a subscription basis.
Knowledge, and the access to it, means business, it is tied to economic
factors. To gain knowledge has a price: books, computers, tuition fees,
software, an Internet account...and knowledge is a key factor for economic
success. But we live in knowledge capitalism, not in a knowledge society.
According to Jeremy Rifkin (The Age of Access), only 4 percent of the
employed people in the US are knowledge workers, but this small group
makes 51 percent of the income of all working people.

What is knowledge? Maybe the sociological approach to this question will
do better than the philosophical one. The philosopher would fathom the
meaning of the term, while the sociologist would relate this term to the
effects it has in culture and society. The term 'knowledge society' was
also set against the technocratic vision of an 'information society', and
it holds the connotation of autonomy, which is of philosophical relevance.
Because while within two or three decades the technology of our digital
culture might be history, the way we organize our technology and the way
we are programmed by it is not. The quality of our present and future
culture will depend on our capabilities to see what is at stake. This is
the philosophical challenge: how to deal with the freedom of choices, with
uncertainties, with ambivalence, with errors, including the antagonists of
knowledge-like religious fanatics.

Especially because 2004 is the 200th anniversary of Kant's year of death,
we will be flooded with journalistic crap on what philosophy can and
cannot do. Seriously, it could be very helpful to work on a redefinition
of enlightenment under conditions of new media. To technically collect and
store data does not mean we gain knowledge. Purified data means
information in a non-technical sense, but only for a given purpose, and it
still is not knowledge. The outline for an alternative definition could
be: knowledge is the mastering of meta-code. If code defines how data gets
handled on a technical level, then meta-code (like belief systems,
ideologies, organizing principles) is the philosophically relevant level.

This is how Otto Neurath saw the problem in 1946: 'The ordinary citizen
ought to be able to get information freely about all subjects in which he
is interested, just as he can get geographical knowledge from maps and
atlases. There is no field where humanization of knowledge through the eye
would not be possible'. His project was to visualize data for easier
access, so he and his team worked on the development of new tools.

GL: What could a 'philosophy with images' look like, after the iconic
turn? Do you know about inspiring examples? Will there still be a need for
narrative structure? I know you're interested in web design and icons. One
of the trends many have speculated about is the disappearance of grand
narratives (such as the Hollywood feature film) and the rise of
rhizomatic, hypertext types of environments one can browse through. To
some extent we're already facing a crisis of the book as the main storage
medium of knowledge, but I wouldn't say that about film and television.
Formats in the pictorial industries remain rather conservative. Perhaps
navigating through the mediasphere itself is what constitutes knowledge
these days, the links between data fragments - the 'pattern recognition'
not the works themselves and their monumental shapes.

FH: There is this old thread on the Language of Thought hypothesis and the
debate on language acquisition and the evolution of cognition (Michael
Tomasello). It was given a new twist by the rise of new media. Any
post-typographic order does not necessarily mean to bypass language in a
'Pentecostal condition of universal understanding and unity' (McLuhan),
but a certain form of typographic order and thereby old school literacy.
What we have to overcome methodologically is the shortcomings of
Saussurean semiology - the idea that all cultural expression is somehow
structured like a language. Mediology is more in the tradition of Ernst
Cassirer, who in the 1920's defined man as an 'animal symbolicum', by
which he means that in using symbolic systems, humans relate to each
other, not to things in the world. This was an important step in order to
go beyond the philosophy of representation. The meaning of a new
mediasphere is a kind of disposition which is not linear, but dynamic and
relational. It is best expressed within the network metaphor, as opposed
to the multimedia metaphor, because it is all about new forms of
organization within the symbolic systems. It would be shortsighted to stop
with the question about interfaces or the 'language' of new media.

You ask about the possibility of a new cultural poiesis. Well, what kind
of experiences is expressed in the old one? Clearly those of the literate
man of Western culture. This is the model to think of the human 'subject'
in philosophy, a model generated by the typographic era. We lack the
imagination of a poiesis because - all new media technologies included -
we still express ourselves using letters and numbers, i.e. symbols of
typographic reason (the alphanumerical code, as Flusser called it. His
vision, two decades ago, was to philosophise with video...). In his
exciting new study on the 'myths of book culture'
(, German media theorist Michael
Giesecke votes for a cultural vision of a new media ecology to integrate
verbal, nonverbal, natural and technical media.

Flusser pointed out that iconic culture actually is not a return to
imagination (the making of images) but a move forward into calculation and
computation - from graphosphere to videosphere and now to the numerosphere
of digital culture, to put it in Debray's terminology. In this sense
Giesecke asks if the new poiesis could be put in a 'dialogue vision', not
as a kind of return to face to face communication, but as an integrative
culture of information processing under conditions of intensified
transmission and feedback processes, including data-flows within
incompatible orders, as can be found in and between plants, machines, and

(edited by Ned Rossiter)


My previous interview with Frank Hartmann, posted on nettime, June 16, 2000

Frank Hartmann's homepage:

Mediologie, Ansätze einer Medientheorie der Kulturwissenschaften, Wien:
Facultas Verlag/WUV, 2003.

Stefan Münker, Alexander Roesler, Mike Sandbothe (Hg.), Medienphilosophie,
Beiträge zur Klärung eines Begriffs, Frankfurt am Main: Fischer Verlag,
Review links:

Media philosophy program at the Bauhaus University, Weimar (Germany)

Mike Sandbothe: Was ist Medienphilosophie? (lecture,  July 2003)

Database of related online texts, compiled by Herbert Hrachovec

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