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Cacography or Communication? Cultural Techniques in German Media Studies Author(s): Bernhard Siegert and Geoffrey Winthrop-Young Reviewed work(s): Source: Grey Room, No. 29, New German Media Theory (Fall, 2007), pp. 26-47 Published by: The MIT Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/20442774 . Accessed: 12/02/2013 11:44
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Signal, character set and sample telegram of the Pollak/Virig telegraph.



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1. Assessing theSituation Since theappearance inGermany of amedia historiographyindebted to "The critiqueof rea Michel Foucault,ErnstCassirer'sneo-Kantianformula, sonbecomes a critiqueofculture," with an alternative has been confronted formula: "The critiqueof reasonbecomes a critiqueof media." In the wake ofCassirer and Foucault and shaped by the ways in which universities have come to organize thehumanities and social sciences since the 1990s, a
covert war is now being waged. of the "critique It is a war of succession, of reason." This war its prize nothing in secret pri

less than the throne of the transcendental that has remainedvacant since
the abdication

andmedia history a pragmatic marilybecause culturalhistory have forged basis on alliance thattends to exclude any discussion of the theoretical which theparties involvedconceptualize both cultureandmedia. Various observers have noted thattheresearchinstitutions and networks involved in exploring thehistoryof media and culture are engaged in "a rewriting of culturalhistoryas a historyof media,"' which makes itpossi ble to articulate thehistoryof culture-and indeed historyas such-as a sequence of epochs. This approach, however,presupposes the dubious notion ofhistoricalguiding media (Leitmedien). Long-standingtermslike to a book culture,letter culture,computerculture,or digital culture refer in terms of the social, sequence of cultures that may allegedlybe defined ofan alphamedium (print,letter, scientific economic,artistic, (etc.)effects wait for McLuhan's medially produced But didn'twe have to computer). a contingentculturewith a specific, subse narcissism,which identifies quently canonized guidingmedium, toknowwhat theseguidingmedia media as factors ofculturaldifferentiation were, or are?To observe already media and the presupposes a historical canonization of mythificationof theirfounding heroes:Gutenberg, Edison, Turing.
Furthermore, to speak of a "rewriting" is to forget thatmedia stories and histories have been around foras long as cultural history with all of its stories.


GreyRoomn 29, Winter 2008, p.26-47. C 2007GreyRoom, Inc. andMassachusetts Institute ofTechnology


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InGermany, media historyis in factan umbrella termthatencompasses a



intended, partlycondoned, and partlycondemned.To beginwith, thereis the confusion of "media history" with what some preferto call "media In fact, archeology." theverytitles adorningthefirst volumes thatin theearly 1980s grewout of the"Literature andMedia Analysis" projectcoordinated inKassel (and that were instrumental in delineating a German historical "media science" outside theconfinesof sociologicallyorientedcommuni cation studies) already indicated thatthevolumes were not aiming fora historyof media but fora historyof the soul and of the senses.2The latter were to be removed fromthedomain of psychology and aesthetics and transferred to a "different site"-that of media. Paradoxically, the typeof
history that is currently practiced in Berlin and inWeimar, among

crew ofmethods;

as a result, there is a lot of confusion

that is partly

ature,philosophers,pedagogues, and psychologists were too offended by thesudden invasionof their nicely cultivatedgardens toask for an orderly theoretical justification fortheonslaught. Only in thecourse of theuniversity-wideinstitutionalization of media studies in theshape ofdepartments,faculties, graduate colleges, and spe cialized study programsdid these historical sciences come into closer contact with thattypeof "media archeology" thatfocused on individual media histories.The latterinclude thehistoryofphotography and thatof film; in other words, specialized areas ofmedia-historical research that are the realheirs tonineteenthand early twentieth-century media histo ries.Characteristically(witha fewexceptions), therelationshipbetween

were beyond

otherplaces, and that goes by thename ofhistorical media studies did not enterthefray with thepretenseofproducing media histories. Media histo riesweren't written; they were found. Nobody in the twentieth century needed to write a history of telegraphy. The studiesbyKarlKnies andGustav Schottle had alreadybeen around since thesecond half of thenineteenth century. GeorgePrescott's of thetelephoneand thephonograph history was published in1887,John AmbroseFleming'shistory of theradio tube in 1919. A numberof accounts dealingwith the invention of telegraphy, telephony, gramophony, radio,thetypewriter, and thecomputer cinematography, were in fact written by the inventorsthemselves,frequently in thecontext of legal squabbles over thepriority of invention. The media archeologyof the 1980swas, inNietzsche's sense, a gay science:Rather than writing media itdugup sources that history, had remained out ofbounds to thehumanities without worrying aboutanyunderlying of "concept media" (an issuenowadays raisedby every wiseacre). Confronted with insightsintothe medial condi tionsof literature, truth, education,human beings,and souls-insights that
the reach of the hermeneutic study of texts-scholars of liter


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of "Early Cinema Studies") specialized historiansof film(e.g.,practitioners media studies that and thehistorical emergedfrom media archeologyfluc disinterest. Film studies may tuates betweencomplaisantdistanceand utter have appropriated the termsarcheologyandmedia links,but by turning archeology into the label of an alternativehistoriography ofmedia, they have rehistoricized and belittled theterm. 2.Cultural Techniques It is probablyno coincidence, therefore, thatthe term cultural techniques millennium and soon become ubiqui (re)emerged around the turnof the The notion of cultural techniques strategi tous inGermanmedia theory.3 media and culture; itopens up cally subvertstheproblematicdualism of discussion by highlightingthe media, culture,and technologyto further and logically precede the operationsoroperativesequences that historically media conceptsgeneratedby them:4 Cultural techniques-such as writing, reading,painting,counting, are generated makingmusic-are always older thantheconcepts that fromthem. People wrote longbefore theyconceptualizedwriting or alphabets;millennia passed beforepictures and statuesgave rise to theconcept of the image;and still today, people sing ormake music without knowinganything about tonesormusical notation systems. most Counting, too, is older than thenotion ofnumbers.To be sure, mathematical operations,but culturescounted or performed certain thisa concept ofnumber.5 did not necessarilyderive from they or constitute thoseoperativesequences that Once we reconstruct configure can be explained as cultural techniques.Cultural tech media, the latter niques, however,are not limited to symbolicpractices based on images, writing systems,and numbers. They also includewhat Marcel Mauss make ofbodies, includ termed thatis, theuse cultures "body techniques";6 and disciplinary ingrites,customs,and habitual acts7as well as training systems, dietetics,or hygienicpractices. From thisethnologicalpoint of mental tech view, reading, writing,and countingare physical ratherthan with interactive forcedtocompete navigational instruments. of culturehas implied the Since antiquity, the European understanding The very word culture, constituted. notion thatculture is technologically to the development and practical application dimension by referring
of technologies deriving from Latin colere and cultura, contains an eminently practical the soil and settling the land.8 In Germany, niques. They are the result of drilling docile bodies, which these days are

has informed thenotion of cultural thisengineering aspect of agriculture

for cultivating

Techniques in German Siegert iCacography Cultural Media Studies r3f Communication?


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techniques since the late nineteenth century.9 The corral thatseparates hunterand preyand thatin thecourse of a coevolutionarydomestication produces theanthropologicaldifference between human beings and ani drawn in thegroundby theplow, and the (grain)silo are mals, thefurrow ofhominization.The concept of cultural techniques, archaic technologies isvehemently therefore, opposed toanyontologicalusage ofphilosophical terms: Man does not exist independently of cultural techniques of does not exist independently ofcultural techniquesfor hominization, time ofcul calculatingandmeasuring time;space does not exist independently turaltechniquesforsurveying and administering space; and so on. The notion of cultural techniques,then, promises to align culturalhis tory andmedia history by referring back toconcretepracticesand symbolic operations.These practices rangefrom ritualacts and religiousceremonies toscientific methods ofgenerating and referencing "objective"data, as ana lyzed ingreatdetail byBruno Latour.10 They includepedagogicalmethod ologies aswell as political, administrative, anthropological, and biological Whether or not thenew studyof cultural tech "designs of thehuman." niqueswill indeedbringabout amedia-anthropologicalturn(Kehre)inhis media studies depends onwhether cultural techniquesare seen as torical Mauss's body techniques or as operations that conceptual extensions of a technicalartifact. require,first and foremost, Simply put,you can't cook without some kind of vessel. The art of cooking-which, according to most elementary Claude Levi-Strauss,is the ofall culturaltechniques-can
not be derived sion ofman,

hollow handwithout losingyourhand in theprocess. Every culturebeginswith the introduction of distinctions: inside/out side, sacred/profane, intelligible speech/barbarian gibberish,signal/noise.
The fact that they are able to generate a world is the reason why we experi ence the culture inwhich we live as a reality and, more often than not, as

for example,

from a body technique. A pot is not aMcLuhanesque exten of the hollow hand: You cannot boil anything in a

the"natural"orderof things. Yet thesedistinctionsare processed bymedia in the broadest sense of theword. Doors, for instance, process the inside/outside distinction, yet they belong toneitherside of thedistinction
the position of a third. These media are eminent

cultural techniques. It is importantto keep inmind, however, that the distinction between nature and culture is itself and based on a contingent distinctionthatis processed by cultural techniques.The latter predate the distinctionbetween nature and culture:They give rise to acculturation use may introducede processes; their misappropriation or transgressive culturation processes; and they contributeto theepistemologicaland aes theticjudgmentofwhether something is part of nature or culture. What

and instead always assume


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Levi-Strauss wrote about theartofcookingcan be applied tocultural tech

niques in general: " [T]he system demonstrates that the art of cooking . . ..

being situatedbetween nature and culture,has as its functionto ensure their articulation onewith theother."11 The examinationofcultural techniquesisnot restricted toobservingthe roles media play in acculturationprocesses; it is also concernedwith the tenserelationshiptoprocesses ofdeculturation, for whichmedia can act as vehicles. Media are not only culture techniquesthatsuspend codes or dis seminate,internalize, and institutionalize sign and symbolsystems;they also serve to loosen culturalcodes, erase signs,deterritorialize imagesand tones.Three basic consequences follow fromthis.First, media appear as code-generating interfaces between thereal that cannotbe symbolizedand theculturalorder. Second, researchintoculturaltechniquescannotbe con ducted without an analyticsofpower.Third, cultural techniques have tobe understood as heterogeneousarrangementsinwhich technological,aes thetic, symbolic, and political concepts of one ormore culturesof writing, image, number,line,and body interact. 3.The StudyofCultural Techniques as Parasitology To definecultural techniquesas media thatprocess theobservation,dis of distinctions is to introducea concept of placement,and differentiation media that Michel Serres'sunderstanding may be linkedto of the"parasite."'12 The model of theparasite, as developed by Serres,Derrida, and others, encompasses both theold (agrarian)and thenew (medial and culturalist) meaning ofcultural techniques.'3 limitations of Precludingall reductionist theconcepttotheexclusivelytechnological model of the domain,the parasite allows us tocombine theperspectivesdeveloped by culturalanthropology, culturalethnography, economy, politics,andmedia theory. Themetaphorsofagriculture and script, and sowingandwriting,reaping reading are deeply embedded inEuropean culture.They appear in the Greek as well as in the Judeo-Christian tradition. According to Plato's Phaedrus, livingspeech is theseed sown by thesensible farmer (ho noun to sow knowledge (episteme) echongeorgos) in suitable soil. In contrast, by means of writing-that nonautonomous,fatherless, or, inDerrida'swords,
tantamount to "writing in water" brother of logos-is "parasitical" (en hydati graphein).14 Logos and water are at odds. The ideal polis must keep its distance from the sea, for the latter is "a briny and bitter neighbour" to truth. The sea swamps the city with "wholesale trafficand retail huckster of parasitic writing resonates with a historical figure of the parasite: the merchant. The merchant is neither producer nor consumer but instead

and distrustful habitsof thesoul.'15 Derrida's concept ing," breeding"shifty

Siegert ICacographyorCommrunication? in German Cultural Studies Techniqu3es Mfedia


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occupies an intermediary position.His element is the sea ratherthan the land.He belongs to thoseparasites that give birthto relationships by prey ingon them. Afterall, thePhoenicians, a nation of seafaring merchants, inventedthephonetic alphabet,awriting systemthat preciselybecause it articulates phone remainsindependent ofany individual languageand can therefore be used to transcribe anyother languageintoone's own.16Indeed thereare good reasons to further pursueDerrida's query "What is a para site?"or at least to"reconsiderour logicof theparasite."''7 Inhis studyThe Parasite, the mathematician, philosopher,and historian of scienceMichel Serres evolved theconcept of theparasite intoamulti faceted model that makes itpossible toemployboth communicationtheory and cultural theory toarriveat an understanding of cultural techniques.18 This conceptualizationof theparasite strikes me as particularlyinteresting because itcombines three different aspects.First,an informationor media theoretical aspect is linked to theFrench double meaning of le parasite, which can also refer tonoise ordisturbance. Second, by crossingthebound arybetween human and animal, the semanticsof theparasite bring into play cultural anthropology. Third, the referencesto agricultureand eco nomics inherentin the termintroducethedomain of cultural technology.

however, is the factthatSerres's conceptualization of theparasitewas a reevaluation (carriedout under the influenceofClaude Shannon) of the Biihler-Jakobson model ofcommunicationthat allowed Serres tosketchout a concept of cultural techniquescapable of combiningdifferent methods and approaches. Serres's concept of theparasite emerged in theearly 1960swhen logi
cians were

strikes me as revealing from the point of view of the history of theory,

was to replaceAlfredTarski's categoricaldistinctionbetween departure as symbol, definedby logicians,and signal,as definedby information the with thevery orists, problemofdistinction;thatis,Serres inquired intothe conditionsthat enable thisdistinctionin thefirst place. The objectof inves The conditionsfor theabstractform recognizing and for commu rendering nication successful are one and the same.20Logic, then,appears to be grounded in a culture-technical fundament thatisnot reflected upon. The concept of theparasite impliesa critiqueofoccidental philosophy, inparticularof thosetheories of the linguisticsignand economic relation ships that in principle never venturedbeyond a bivalent logic (subject and thatinevitably conceived object, sender-receiver, producer-consumer) of theserelationshipsin terms of exchange.Serres enlarged thisstructure
and logic, the symbol as etre abstrait, is consti tigation formathematics tuted by the cleansing of the "noise of all graphic form" or "cacography."'19


again discussing


a symbol

is. His

initial point


Diagram fromMichel Serres, The Parasite, trans. Lawrence R. Schehr (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982).


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intoa trivalent model. Let there be twostationsand one channel connect ingboth.The parasite thatattaches itselfto thisrelationassumes theposi Locke toSearle and tionof the third. Unlike the linguistictraditionfrom Habermas, Serres does not view deviation-that is, theparasite-as acci interrupted; rather, "[t]hedeviation is partof the thingitself, and perhaps it even produces the thing."21 We do not startout with an unimpeded orgoods orbits); rather, from thepointofview ofcul exchange (ofthoughts of writ turalanthropology, economics, information theory, and thehistory ing,theparasite came first. The origin lieswith thepirate rather than with themerchant,with the highwaymen rather thanwith the highway.22 and idlers Systems that byway of inclusionexclude pirates,highwaymen, increasetheir degreeof internal differentiation and are thusina position to establish new relations. The third precedes thesecond. That is thebegin media theory-ofany media theory. "A third existsbefore the sec ning of ond. A thirdexists before the others.... There is always a mediate, a middle, an intermediary."23 rela In Serres'smodel of communication it is not thesender-receiver but that between communicationand noise. tionship thatis fundamental This corresponds to thedefinitionof theculture-technicalturnoutlined above: From thepoint ofview of thisturn, inter media are code-generating facesbetween thereal that cannotbe symbolizedand culturalorders. "To seek toexclude him."24 Thus Serres invertsthehierarchyof the six sign functionsin Jakobson'sfamous model.25 It isnot thepoetic or thereferen tial function that(accordingto thetypeof speech) dominatesall theothers but the to thechannel. In all communication, phaticfunction,thereference ispreceded by a reference each expression,appeal, and type of referencing to interruption, difference, deviation. "With this recognitionthephatic which function becomes theconstitutive occasion forall communication, can thusno longer be conceptualized in theabsence ofdifference and delay, and noise."26 resistance,static, The phatic function-that of thesign that addresses particularfunction thechannel-was the last of the six functions introducedby Jakobson in 1956. Its archeology reveals the culture-technical dimension of the communication concept. Itwas firstdescribed in 1923 by Bronislaw he spoke of "phaticcommunion."27 Malinowski, though Using thecommu nication employedduring Melanesian fishing expeditions as an example, Malinowski-who in the CONTEXT wake of Ogden and Richards was working (referential) MESSAGE (poetic) ADDRESSER (emotive) CONTACT (phatic)
Diagram fromRoman Jakobson, "Linguistics and Poetics,: inStyle (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1960).

dental. We

do not start out with

a relation that is then disturbed

or even

hold a dialogue,"

Serres wrote

in 1964, "is to suppose

a thirdman



ADDRESSEE (conative)

in ed.Thomas Sebeok Language,





or Communication?

Cultural Techniques

inGerman Media



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on a theory of meaning linked to situationalcontexts-developed amodel of meaning that he called "speech-in-action.""Phatic communion,"how function in thecourse of ever, denotes a linguistic which words arenotused not toexpress thoughts, but in which a tocoordinateactions,and certainly means of is constituted utterances. community by exchanging meaningless When itcomes to sentences like "How do you do?" "Ah,here you are," or "Nice day today," of thesit languageappears tobe completelyindependent Yet a real connectiondoes existbetween phatic commu uational context. nication and situation,because in the case of this particular type of of sociability"involving the languagethesituationisone ofan "atmosphere speakersbut createdby theutterances. But this is in factachieved by speech, and the situation in all such cases is created by theexchange ofwords.... The whole situation consists in what happens linguistically. Each utteranceis an act serv
ing the direct aim of binding hearer to speaker by a tie of social senti

ment or other.28 The situationofphatic communion is therefore not extralinguistic as in the

mode case of a fishing expedition; it is the creation of the situation itself. It is a of language inwhich the situation as such appears or inwhich lan

guage thematizesthe"basis of relation." Malinowski's discussion of phatic communion bears a remarkable resemblance to Serres's theoryof communication, according towhich of communication is not the transmission meaning but theexclusion of a third."The breakingof silence, thecommunion ofwords is thefirst act to which is consummatedonlyby thebreaking establish linksof fellowship, ofbread and thecommunionof food."29 Malinowski's parallel between thecommunionof foodand thecommu nication ofwords establishes an intrinsic connectionbetween eating and
in Serres's model that is also apparent of the parasite. For speaking as well as for Serres, to speak in themode of "phatic commu Malinowski

nion" is at first of silence in merely an interruption-the interruption Malinowski's anthropological model and the interruption ofbackground noise in Serres's information-theoretical model. Communication is the The linkbetween Malinowski's phatic communion and Serres's "being of relation" (i.e., theparasite) is Jakobson's functionalscheme that short circuits thechannel (in the sense ofShannon's information with theory)
Malinowski's "ties of union": exclusion of a third, the oscillation of a system between order and chaos.

contact between anthropological linguistics and the technosciences of information theory."30

"The phatic

function is in fact the point of


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ForSerres, then, communicationisnotprimarilyinformation exchange, appeal, or expressionbut an act thatcreatesorderby introducing distinc tions, and thisisprecisely what turns means ofcommunicationintoculture of techniques. As statedabove, everyculturebeginswith the introduction distinctions:inside/outside, sacred/profane, intelligible speech/barbarian gibberish, signal/noise. A theory of cultural techniques that, like would Serres's,was toposit thephatic function as itspoint of departure also be a history and theory of interruption, disturbance, deviation.Such a ofculturaltechniques history may servetocreatean awareness fortheplen as an inexhaustible itudeof aworld of as yetundistinguished thingsthat, reservoir ofpossibilities, remainthebasic point of reference for everytype ofculture. Iwill illustrate dif thisbyusing three examples that describecompletely ferent constellations.The first example involves twoelementary cultural modern age, theuse of zero and the typographic techniquesof theearly
code; the second concerns the parasite as a message of analog channels; and

between noise andmessage in digital the thirdfocuseson therelationship media. Ihave toemphasize,however,thattheseexamples do not amount to anykind ofhistorico-philosophicalthree-step.
1: Case Typography On his way to the court of theOttoman on thewall

Austrian monarch Ferdinand I,discovered Busbecq, an ambassador forthe fied as a copy of the famous Index rerumgestarum, the account of the achievementsofAugustus writtenby theemperorhimself.Busbecq only needed to read theheading:


in 1555, Ogier Ghiselin


in the precinct of the of a temple (to be precise, of a Sebasteion) inAngora (Ankara) a Latin inscription that he identi Haci Beiram Mosque

up inRome.)

(Below is a copy of the acts of theDeified Augustus by which he placed the whole world under the sovereignty of the Roman people, and of the amounts which he expended upon the state and the Roman people, as engraved upon two bronze columns which have been set

which the monument of occidental culturalhistory, The discoveryof this historian Theodor Mommsen called the "queen of nineteenth-century



or Cornmun~cation?

Cultural Techniques


Medi1a Studies


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inscriptions," was bynomeans accidental.Throughout his journeythrough the Balkans andAsia Minor,Busbecq had been trying tocommunicate with classical antiquity. His media of communicationwere inscriptionsand coins.His communicationformat was the lectio (in thedoublemeaning of collecting and reading)-corresponding to theJudeo-Christian tradition of legerethat combines thecultivationof the land with thepracticeof read ing.The biblical topos is thestory ofRuth the Moabite, who plucked ears ancestor ofKing David (Ruth 2: 4).Medieval monastic didactics turned Ruth theparasite intoan ideal student who-to quote theprologue to the sermonsof the abbot of tenth-century Morimond-by means of copying
"collects the heavenly bread which is theword ofGod of corn leftby the reapers on the field of Boaz and who was chosen to be an

hungerofhis soul."32 In lesshumble fashion, thefirst editorof the Res gestae speaksof the more thantwohundred Greek inscriptions that with hiswrit Busbecq "harvested turaltechniquethat processes residuesand leftovers. Culture itself appears out tobe a laborious Busbecq turns venture, because thechannel linking him toantiquityis inhabited more by another, powerful parasite: theTurks.The Turksuse coins asweights,or they melt them down to manufacturebronze More seriously,theTurkish transmissionof biblical timesand vessels.34 ancient Greek appears to Busbecq tobe quite literally deranged:
mixture The Turks have no idea of chronology and dates, and make a wonderful and confusion of all the epochs of history; if it occurs to them to do so, theywill not scruple to declare that Jobwas a master of the as a bricolage of spoils. Yet the communication with antiquity envisioned by ing tube (calamo exarata)."33 Difference and deviation have turned into a cul

in order to satisfy the

ceremoniesto King Solomon,andAlexander the Greathis commander and they in-chief, are guiltyof even greater absurdities.35

Busbecq learns in passing that of contingent historyis a function cultural techniques.The Ottoman realm is just one ofmany possible worlds that were not realized in the Christian orEuropean domain; in thisquotation, siticaldeviation.Thus we encountera problem that concerns thehistory of cultural techniqueson a basic level:namely, that an order historyis itself produced by cultural techniques. Busbecq writes thattheparasitical intru
sions of the Turks are to blame the possible appears as the deranged, which is another name for the para

MonumentumAncyranum,he keeps encountering: tions,such as the

for the illegible Greek

and Roman


I had it [the inscription] copied out by my people as far as itwas legi ble. It is graven on themarble walls of a building, which was probably


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theancient residenceof thegovernor, now ruined and roofless. One

half of it is upon

upper paragraphs are almost intact;in the middle difficulties begin owing togaps; the lowerportionhas been somutilated by blows of much tobe deplored by the learned.36
clubs and axes as to be illegible. This is a serious loss to literature and

the right as one enters, the other on the left. The

The comments writtenby conquerorsare truly shattering. Busbecq's copy appeared inprintforthefirst timein anAurelius Victor volume editedbyAndreas Schott in 1579.Humanists likeSchott, who com new typographic were charged with remov manded the storagetechnology, ing fragments from stone,or fromthereach ofbarbarian writingutensils, and, bymaking use of thenew print medium and the systemof courtly libraries, rendering themlegibleenough to facilitate a new communication with antiquity undisturbedby anybarbarian influence. Under thesecondi ple surroundingthe readercannot be addressed.Media lacunis laborare incipient-"in the middle difficulties begin owing togaps,"Busbecq writes inhis letter of 1555.Desunt quaedam-"a lot ismissing," comments the editor in chargeof the typographic of 1579.Where Busbecq reproduction
had used a locative adjective in order to speak of gaps, Schott refers tomiss ing textual units.37 Desunt quaedam doesn't point to gaps at all but to a sign tions, however, the real location of the letters on the interior walls of a tem

Schott in all likelihoodhad invented himself: that


PRIVATO. CONSILIO. M ... ..... ....








. Desunt

.38 quaedam

Finally, only a few scattered words


remain in an ocean of dots:


.. ..

. .......................... ............... ...............................................

..................................A. A. ME






S~egertCacoraphy orComunication CuturlTcnique

6rma Media Studies


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Et haec




............ Turcae

Et haec quoque expunxerunt immanesTurcae-"and this, too, thecruel Turks destroyed." Or, in amore literaltranslation, Was Schott expunged.
aware of his double entendre

between his activitiesand thoseof thebarbarian commentators? It is as if theTurks,anticipatingeditorial interpolations, had alreadydescribed the The cultural techniqueof readingappears as a physical technique based on of reference. With theedited text, however, thespeaker can no longerbe located.The space referred toby Schott's commentary is linked to thegaze
of a bodiless a spatial system of orientation that uses the body of the reader as its point gaps as a series of dots. In Busbecq's account there is left and right, up and down, and a center.

that in a bizarre way blurred

the distinction

question "Where?" makes no sense because theresponse "here" is already implicitin thecomment. Any reference toa threeor two-dimensional mon umentno longerexists.The space thecommentary refersto is exactly the a topological,"digitized" space. by thedots: thespace of the text, Schott'sdots uncover what in thecase ofundisturbedtextualcommuni cation remains hidden: that by making use of a parasitical (supplementary) obvious analogue is the Indo-Arabicplace-value system,a cultural tech nique imported Italian by thirteenth-century merchants. In theIndo-Arabic numeral system,tens, hundreds, and thousandsare not explicitly written
out; they are always already implicitly coded by the place that has been assigned to a digit. It is important to keep inmind that in this numeral sys tem the spatial extension of the paper is an integral part of the numerical carrier the text refers to a symbolic order based on a place-value system. An same space that is taken up by the commentary on paper and that ismarked

subject. To respond

to the statement "A lot ismissing"

with the

sign.This becomes evident in thecase of zero,which marks thespatiality of thedigit in the symbolic.Place-value systemsare codes thattake into account the media employed to storeand transmit them. The channel, the parasite, is not supplementary, but theground fortheoperationalityof numerals.Digits are signs thatcan be absent fromtheir place (as opposed
to Roman numerals

have no place value). In turn, the dots introducedby Schott as signs for missing textualunits are invisiblypresent in every letter and become

that cannot be absent

from their place




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visible only when the letter is missing. Just as the invention of zero allows
us towrite the absence of a digit, Schott's dot is an invention that allows us

real gaps intoa set of dis to write theabsence of a letter, thereby turning crete,countable elements.The real is digitized, and the textualspace is removedfrom barbariancacography. Brian Rotman has drawn attention to the close relationshipbetween modern algebra-as a symbolicorderbased on zero-and linearper early a spective.40 The onlyposition thatthereadingsubjectcan assume vis-'a-vis printed textis the same thattheviewing subject assumes vis-'a-visa per position of spectivalpicture. It is theposition "of thegaze, a transcendent vision thathas discarded thebody . .. and exists only as a disembodied With this in mind, a second parallel between linearperspec punctum."'41 tive and typographictextualorder suggests itself.Justas Leon Battista Alberti's treatise Della pinturahas thesurface of thepaintingact aswindow that allows us to see theobjects locatedbeyond by imposingan orthogonal grid, typographicdigitization renders themonument-in Foucault's words "transparent."42 Gazing throughtheprinted text, we behold the Res gestae in true,indestructible, and complete text of the much thesame Whereas thereal stillallowed forthepossibilityofa necessarilyfragmented text,typographic coding gives rise to thenotion of a necessarilycomplete text.43 The third channel constitutes precedes thesecond:The typographic humanist readers. antiquityas a communication partnerfor
Case My II:Analog Media second example concerns way as we catch sight of the true shape of things through Alberti's window.

to installa communicationchannel between thepresentand Roman later, FranzKafka's famous"Pontusdream": antiquity, writes tohis fiancee, Felice Bauer].Well, Iwon't sleep anyway, only
dream. As Very late, dearest, and yet I shall go to bed without I did yesterday, for example, when deserving it [Kafka I ran

a further attempt, undertaken

about 350 years

towarda bridgeor somebalustrading,seized two telephonereceivers

that happened to be lying on the parapet, put them tomy ears, and

in my dream

whatever butnews from "Pontus";but nothing keptaskingfor nothing

came out of the telephone except a sad, mighty, wordless song and the was impossible forhuman roar of the sea. Although well aware that it voices to penetrate these sounds, I didn't give in, and didn't go away.44 The dream represents a new version of the old invocation of theMuses.45 that speaks at the origin It is no longer the mouth of the Homeric Muse of language but the background noise of the telephone channel, the signal

Tchniques in Studies Germnan Med1ia S~egert ICacographyorCommunicahon?C:ul1turD


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theoretical "groundofbeing," as Serreswould have it. No signpenetrates

this noise to reach the ears of the dreamer, just an uncoded signal, that wordless song that is also "the only real and reliable thing" transmitted by phatic function of referring to the channel as the voice of the telephone as a nonrelating entity (i.e., as a

thephones in Kafka'sCastle.46 The message isalmostentirely reduced to its

parasite).From a technohistorical point ofview, thissong may be identified incidentally, supported by thecontext ofKafka's letter.47 But theimportance of thistechnohistorical reminiscence becomes apparentonlyonce thesong of the Odyssey,because the latter explains thealluringand seductivequal
emanating from the receivers is deciphered as an allusion to the Siren songs introduced by Philipp Reis in 1863, a reading,

ity of the song that chains the dreamer to the telephone receivers. It is the lure of death. Kafka moves themythic origin of language (and of culture) from the anthropological domain to that of the nonhuman, where the dis tinctions between language and noise, animals and human beings are abol

ished, and which threatens-or, rather, seduces-Ulysses with his own

demise. The origin of language has been relocated to the realm of nonhu man signaling technology, and it is there that the dreamer hopes to hear the classical voice of Roman antiquity. For the "news from Pontus" are in fact nothing but Ovid's Tristia, with which the exiled poet tried to retain his latinitas by putting into words his despair over being exiled to the Black Sea. This experience of alienation as a distance from humanity, this bar barism in the classical sense, is no longer located in the non-Latin sounds emanating from barbarian mouths; it is now based on the noise of a techni cal channel that human voices cannot traverse. The conceptual frame that determines the Other as well as the humanity of one's own voice has been shifted: In the age of technological media, being barbarian (and being

human) is no longer definedby thegeographicaland confessionalbound

aries of Christian Europe but by the difference between signal and noise. This, however, is a differ ence that alters the relationship between cultural may illustrate

this: It is an ad for the telegraph Pollak and Virag that was able to developed by transmit handwritten messages, but thatwas able to do so only because it defined handwriting as just another cursive script or cacography.48 The Pollak/Virag telegraph handwriting is a sig nal much like the song of the Sirens. Writing, that elementary cultural technique, emerges out of an operation that concerns the channel (the parasite)

techniquesand parasites.The following depiction


Signal, character set and sample telegram of the Pollak/Virag telegraph.


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itself: It is thefiltering out of signals from noise. This is,no doubt,an apoc ryphalexample thatcannot claimmore thanemblematicvalue. Yet, asmy last examplewill clarify,the logic that it manages to illustrate becomes nothing less thansystemicin thedominantcultural techniqueof our pre sent: theorderofdigital signals. In 1968, theSaarldndischeRundfunkand Radio Bremenbroadcast a radio play by Max Bense andWolfgangHarig that presentedClaude Shannon's of communicationas an approximationof a natural mathematical theory to a girl language.49 Entitled TheMonologue of TerryJo, theplay referred
who had been found in a boat adrift off the coast of Florida in November Case III:Digital Media

1961.Though unconscious, she spoke incessantly. with a The play starts textthatinnine stepsgraduallyapproaches thegirl's computer-generated flowof speech. By stagingthediscourse of an unconscious uninterrupted processingmeaning is nothing but "a sufficiently complex stochastic process."50Shannon had demonstrated in his "MathematicalTheory of Communication"how, regardless ofanygrammatical or sys deep structure approximations, whereby the selection of a given letter depends on the with which it follows thepreceding letter(digramstructure), probability the twopreceding letters(trigram and so on.51TheMonologue structure), starts outwith a zero-order ofTerryJo approximation;thatis,all signsare independentof each otherand equi-probable: "fyuiomge-sevvrhvkfds zuiei-sewdmnhf-mci6wziikmbw." The play thenproceeds via a first order approximation (symbols still independent of each other but with thefrequencies ofGerman text)toa second-order occurring approxi mation (German digramstructure): "enie-sgere-dascharza-vehan-st n-wenmen"; and fromthereto a third-order approximationthatalready containscombinationsof letters thatlook suspiciously German: "zwisch woll mochte mit sond /ich scheid solch uibend leb gross sein und solch selb / hab hoffschluss nicht geb"; and so on.52 The radio turnsintoa tech nologicalmuse's mouth thatgives birth to language-random selections with differing from a repertory of events a noise whose frequencies,from as an equi-probabledistribution statistical definition of independentsigns as a source of information. thechannel itself makes itpossible to interpret It speaks.
The step leading from an analog, infinite set of signals to a finite and limitable set of selectable of signals leads to the exchangeability tem ofmeaning, a natural language may be synthesized using a series of person in such a way, the play demonstrates that in the age of signal

channel and source that is typical forthe information-theoretical model

~~~~ ~~Ci ltui

ha 0qs

German Media



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of communication. Human voicesmay not be able topenetrate thisflurry ofparticles,but itdoes allow forthesynthesizingof a vocoder voice. In a 1958 radio essay on Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky," Max Bense described the inversionof the logocentric understandingof signs as a sig nature mark of twentieth-century media culture.The claim of traditional

the assumption that "meaning exists prior towords"; however, Lewis Carrollwas willing to maintain the"pre-existence of words-words under stood as pure signals-prior to meaning."53 As signals, words come before their meaning. Like physics,aesthetics is a sciencewhose primary object is signals, thephysical materialityof signs. Thus a completely new understanding of the world permeating physics, logic,linguistics and aestheticsis emerging-anunderstanding which, briefly put, replaces . beingswith frequencies . qualitieswith quantities *things with signs with functions . attributes with statistic.54 *causality "Each and every communicative relation in thisworld," Bense wrote inEinfiihrung in die informationstheoretische Asthetik (Introduction to Information-Theoretical Aesthetics), "is determined as a signaling
process. derives The world a critique

theory that "the word

is the carrier ofmeaning"

is based


operations."55 Accordingly,Bense (much like Serres, and prior tohim) grounded inShannon; semiotics has tobe grounded in information the ory."With thissignal-theoretical conception,"he notes, "the sign remains amaterial construct."56 munication theory:The basic operation of those cultural techniques responsible for processing thedistinctionbetween nature and culture,or
barbarism This opens up the possibility of a culture-technical approach to com of the concept of signals. For Bense, Peirce has to be

is the sum total of all signals,

that is, of all signaling

cation processes-be itbreakingbread orbreakingsilence-is toestablish

social ties by means of transcending matter and turning it into a sign, then this sign firsthas to be produced in the technical real. If the culture-technical the second

and civilization,

is a filtering operation.

If the goal of communi

that operationof filtering generatesthissign from noise is in theposition of of thecurrent turn comprehendtherangeand impact ofcultural techniques.
"We are," Serres writes in "The Origin of Language," a third that precedes and first, then Serres's work enables us to




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submergedtoour neck, toour eyes, toour hair, in a furiously raging ocean.We are thevoice of thishurricane,this thermal howl, andwe do not even know it. Itexistsbut itgoes unperceived.The attemptto understand thisblindness, this deafness, or, as is often said, this me.57 unconsciousness thusseems ofvalue to
It is not a matter ofman disappearing but of having to define, in thewake of

and second-ordercybernet theepistemic ruptures broughtabout by firstics, noise and message relative to theunstable position of an observer. Whether something isnoise or message depends onwhether theobserveris locatedon thesame levelas thecommunicationsystem(e.g.,as a receiver)
or on a higher level, as an observer of the entire system. "What was once an

obstacle (a parasite) forthe message turnsaround and adds itselfto the Ifexclusion and inclusion,parasite and host, are nomore information."58 thanstatesof an oscillating systemor a cyberneticfeedback loop, then it becomes necessaryoncemore to inquireintothoseculturaltechniquesthat, asmedia, process distinctions.

Siegert Cacographyo3r Communcation?CulturaI Techniques in Medi Studies German


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Notes 1. For example, Mediengeschichte 73-86. Sven Grampp, "Erben der Gutenberg-Galaxis: als Kulturgeschichte immedientheoretischen 6 (2006): Diskurs," Archiv f?r Mediengeschichte der Seele 1989); and


2. For example, Friedrich Kittler and Georg Christoph Tholen, eds., Arsenale of the Soul] ;Literaturund Medienanalyse seit 1870 (Munich: Fink, and Michael see Wetzel, Armaturen 1870 bis 1920 Sch?ttpelz, "Die der Sinne [Armatures 1990). und technische Medien Erhard (Munich: Fink,

Jochen H?risch Literarische 3. For

of the Sense];


Kulturtechniken," Kulturtechniken While viewed fact?which

Archiv f?r Mediengeschichte is translated either as "cultural common,

Kehre der medienanthropologische 6 (2006): 87-110. note: [Translator's

the former ismore

or "cultural technologies" techniques." the latter is used here because it draws attention to the said techniques are not to be

is of importance to Siegert's argument?that as (artifactual) exclusively techno7ogies.] 4. See Sch?ttpelz, 90. 5. Thomas Macho, "Zeit und Zahl: Kr?mer Kalenderand Horst ed. Sybille Mauss, Bredekamp

und Zeitrechnung

als Kulturtechniken,"


Bild-Schrift-Zahl, 2003), 179. 6. See Marcel and Sanford 7. This, niques Weigel, and

(Munich: Wilhelm

Fink Verlag, Crary

Kwinter however,

"Techniques (New York: Zone

of the Body," Books, 1992),

in Incorporations, 454-477.

ed. Jonathan

serves to establish a problematic the increasingly notion of "rituals." popular "Literaturwissenschaft und Kulturwissenschaft,"

between tech cultural proximity See Gerhard Neumann and Sigrid in Die Lesbarkeit der Kultur:

zwischen Kulturtechnik und Ethnographie, ed. Neumann and Literaturwissenschaften (Munich: Fink, 2000), 9-16. Weigel 8. See Hartmut B?hme, Peter Matussek, and Lother M?ller, Kulturwissen Orientierung 2002), 165. schaft: Was sie kann, was sie will (Reinbek, Germany: Rowohlt, 9. A hundred of cultural would have years ago the academic investigation techniques been part of the agricultural and geological sciences. Meyers Konversationslexikon Gro?es of 1904 defines Kulturtechnik as "all related technical activities that are rooted agriculturally in the engineering Konversationslexikon, 10. See Common Bruno in particular, in agricultural engineering." Meyers Gro?es 6th ed., vol. 11 (Leipzig-Vienna, n.p., 1905), 793. "The 'P?do?T of Boa Vista: A Photo-Philosophical Latour, Montage," sciences, Introduction of Table Manners: and Doreen Weightman (London: to a Science of

4.1 (1995): 144-187. Knowledge 11. Claude The Origin L?vi-Strauss, vol. 3, trans. JohnWeightman also notes

Mythology, 1978), 489.

Jonathan Cape,

12. Sch?ttpelz 13. See Claudia Schriffttheorien Derrida's essay which Jacques (1990): Derrida, 16-21.

may be because

on the and hardly touches theory of the parasite an ethical rather than a media-theoretical she is pursuing "Subverting 276b-c, the Signature: A Theory Dialogues of the Parasite," of Plato,

this. Sch?ttpelz, 89. Literarische Jost,Die Logik des Parasit?ren: (Stuttgart and Weimar: Verlag J.B. Metzler,

Texte, medizinische 2000).

Diskurse, Jost takes her cue from upon the work of Serres, Blast agenda. See 2 Unlimited and

14. Plato, Phaedrus

in The Collected

ed. Edith Hamilton


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Cairns Huntington 15. Plato, Laws Cairns, 1297.

(Princeton: 704a-705a,

Princeton in The

Press, 1982), 521. University Collected Dialogues of Plato,

ed. Hamilton


16. The next great rupture in the history of cultural techniques once again at a occurred between land in and and centers of the Italian sea, Genoa, Florence, Pisa, upper boundary commerce. The use of Indo-Arabic practice numerals that uses highly complex writing maximum effect. 17. Jacques Derrida, and double-entry the two-dimensionality represents bookkeeping of the writing surface a to

trans. Gayatri Chakravorty (Baltimore: Of Grammatology, Spivak on his promise 54. to fur Press, 1997), Johns Hopkins University Though he never delivered never completely it See nish a theory of the parasite, Derrida either. Derrida, forget 16-21. the Signature," "Subverting 18. Michel University 19. Michel Philosophy, Press, 1992), 20. Serres, 21. Serres, Serres, Serres, 66. 69. "Platonic Dialogue," The Parasite, 13; translation altered. The Parasite, 53. "Platonic Dialogue," and David inMichel F. Bell Serres, Hermes: (Baltimore: Literature, Science, trans. Lawrence R. Schehr (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1982),

ed. Josu? V. Harari

Johns Hopkins


22. For example, French that suppressing fourteenth-century legal experts discovered roads were not royal property robbery would they were highway profit the king. Though the king to claim a protective function. Highway hors du commerce, which enabled robbery became acted a means as swaths du for extending the monarch's territorial power beyond his domain?roads into territories that were ruled over by the local nobility. See Paul Allies, territoire "Platonic (Grenoble: 63. Presses Universitaires de Grenoble, 1960), 157.


23. Serres, 24. Serres,

The Parasite,

in original. 67; emphasis Dialogue," in Style in Language, and Poetics," ed. Thomas Jakobson, "Linguistics Sebeok (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1960), 130-144. 26. Bruce Clarke, of the Quasi-Object: Serres through the Subjectivity "Constructing at "Constructions of the Self: The Poetics Latour" of Subjectivity," (lecture presented 25. See Roman com have here a new type of linguistic use?phatic invention?a I am tempted to call it, actuated by the demon of terminological type are created by a mere in which ties of union of words." of speech Bronislaw exchange in C.K. Ogden in Primitive "The Problem of Meaning and I.A. Malinowski, Languages," munion Richards, A Study of the Influence The Meaning ofMeaning: and Kegan the Science (London: of Symbolism of Routledge 28. Malinowski, 315. 29. Malinowski, 30. Clarke. Mommsen, ed., ResgestaeDivi (Berlin: Apud Weidmannos, 1865), 4. Augusti 61 (1951): 208-229. 32. Jean Leclercq, "Saint Bernard et ses secretaries," Revue b?n?dictine & Viro Augerio 33. Andreas ed., "Ampliss: Schott, Byzantino, Busbequio Exlegato in Sextus Aurelius Praefecto" Isabellae Victor, De vita et (Dedication), supremo Curiae 31. Theodor 314. of Language Paul, 1949), upon Thought 315. and of South Carolina, 1999). University 27. "There can be no doubt that we



or Communication?

Cultural Techniques

in German




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romanorum imperatorum (Antwerp: Ch. Plantin, 34. The Turkish Letters ofOgier Ghiselin de Busbecq, 49. UK: Oxford Press, 1968), (Oxford, University 35. The Turkish 36. The Turkish Letters, Letters, 55. 50.


6. Seymour Forster

trans. Edward

37. Or Busbecq In his edition of the Exemplum himself? (which contains Busbequinam insertion: desider several copies of the copy), Mommsen reproduces only one anonymous antur quinqu? xvi. This seems to suggest that the remaining lineae. Mommsen, interpola tions are the work of Schott. 38. Res gestae rum, 70. 77. 39. Res gestae divi Augusti, Brian Rotman, Signifying Nothing: Press, 1993), 14-22, 28-46. University 40. 41. Rotman, 42. Michel York: Pantheon, 43. See Wolf 32. Rotman Foucault, 1972), The Semiotics of Zero Stanford divi Augusti, in Aurelius Victor, De vita etmoribus imperatorum romano


is quoting Norman Bryson. The Archaeology of Knowledge, 138. and Marthe Grund,

trans. A.M.



(New Zu

Peter Klein

"Die Geschichte Interpunktion,"

der Auslassungspunkte: Zeitschrift f?r germanistis

Form und Funktion der deutschen Entstehung, che Linguisitk 25, no. 1 (1997): 26. 44. Franz Kafka Erich Heller and 1973),


to Felice Bauer, 22-23 January 1913, in Franz Kafka, Letters to Felice, ed. Duckworth (New York: J?rgen Born, trans. James Stern and Elisabeth 166. [Translator's note: In German receiver" isH?rmuschel, lit "telephone "Nachrichten vom 'Pontus': Das Problem der Kunst imWerk

erally "hearing shell."] 45. See Gerhard Neumann, Franz Kafkas," Franz (Mainz, 1957),

Germany: 46. Franz Kafka, 95.

1983, ed. Wilhelm Kafka Symposion Hase und Koehler, 1985), 194. The Castle, trans. Willa and Edwin Muir


and Bernd Seeker



and Warburg,

17 January 1913, in Kafka, Letters 47. See Kafka Kafka to Bauer, to Felice, 158; and "Pronto! Telefonate I:Medien, und Telefonstimmen," ed. R?diger Campe, Diskursanalysen a 86. note: to Friedrich A. Kittler et al. (Opladen, Germany: In letter [Translator's 1987), n.p., on 17 January 1913, Kafka mentions Bauer Felice that he just read an old set of Die Gartenlaube, a family magazine, an essay by Philipp Reis from 1863. That set included the first telephone experiments.] 48. Compare with A. Kraatz, Maschinentelegraphen Friedr. Vierweg (Braunschweig: 1906). on u.


as part of the series rot under 49. In its original version, the text, which was published nur. der the title vielleicht der terry jo im mercey zun?chst wirklich monolog hospital of terry jo in the mercey hospital") consisted ("maybe at first really only, themonologue only voices For the radio version Ludwig Harig of the monologue. in the murder. of the people who participated 50. Claude in Claude (Piscataway, Elwood Shannon, 1993), "A Mathematical Papers, 15. Elwood Shannon, Collected enlarged the script by adding the

Theory ed. N.J.A.

of Communication" Sloan and Aaron

(1948), D. Wyner

NJ: IEEE Press,


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51. For more 52. Max Partituren, 53. Max Lewis and Elisabeth 54. Bense, 55. Bense, Bense

on this, see Shannon, Haris,

14-15. "Der Monolog

and Ludwig ed. Klaus Sch?ning Bense, Walter inMax Bense,

der Tery Jo," inNeues H?rspiel: Texte, 1969), 59-61. (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, zu einem Gedicht von Text und Theorie, "Jabberwocky: Folgerungen Radiotexte: Essays, 2000), Votr?ge, H?rspiele, 71. ?sthetik: 20. 77. ed. Caroline Walter


(Heidelberg: Winter, 71. "Jabberwocky,"

Anwednungen 56. Bense, 57. Michel

in die informationstheoretische Einf?hrung in der Texttheorie (Reinbek: Rowohlt, 1969),



28. Einf?hrung, Serres, "The Origin of Language," 58. Serres, "The Origin of Language," 266.

in Serres, Hermes,



or Communicaton

Cultural Techniques

in German




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