First thought: „Wow, what a great line-up.“ Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht, Friedrich Kittler, Geert Lovink, Irmela Schneider, Erhard Schüttpelz and Hartmut Winkler – they will all be at the University of Siegen on April 22.
Second thought: „Wow, what a great nonsense.“ All these brilliant people are actually coming together in order to discuss whether German media studies are on a „Sonderweg“ – a way that somehow sets it apart from media studies in other countries. The most pressing problem German media studies are faced with according to the announcement: Although „scholars all over the world measure themselves against German publications [...] German media scholars have troubles acknowledging their own supremacy.“
Ever since I moved back from Sweden to Germany, the peculiarities of German academia have never ceased to amaze me. Especially the fact that Germany seems to voluntarily shut itself off a lot of the international discussions. Sweden, the Netherlands, the UK, the US, even Austria – they all appear to be engaged in a productive common discourse, but Germany proceeds on largely independent trajectories. Only sometimes, someone decides to translate some text and the discourses are joined for a moment, only to drift off into different directions again.
A good example is Ganaele Langlois’ excellent dissertation “The Technocultural Dimensions of Meaning”, where she develops a „mixed semiotics“ framework inspired by Guattari in order to analyse Amazon and the MediaWiki software. In her argument, she covers a lot of theoretical ground by referring to Kittler and Gumbrecht (and Heidegger), but for the more concrete and up-to-date discussions, she moves on towards Latour, Galloway, Lessig and Manovich – as one would expect in the international discourse.
Obviously, there are plenty of potential points of connection between her argument and current debates in German media studies. It would certainly be interesting to see the fruitful discussions evolving out of such encounters. But what stands in the way for them is simply the lack of English translations of current German texts. Talk about German “supremacy” hardly seems like the right kind of attitude to make these encounters happen. It appears to me that it is not so much the false modesty of German scholars that is at the root of this gap but rather the self-induced isolationism of German academia.
The announcement in its entirety (as my own limping attempt at translating the entwined German academic language):
Without exaggeration the research areas ‘Mediengeschichte’ [media history] and ‘Medientheorie’ [media theory] can be described as idiosyncratic developments of the German ‘Kulturwissenschaften’ [cultural studies]. Therefore, scholars with related interests all over the world measure themselves against German publications. Despite this, there is a persistent belief at German universities that media theory’s ‘Mecca’ just has to be somewhere abroad. For Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht (Stanford University) this inadequate modesty is a display of the effects of, among others, intercultural provincialism. For if German media scholars are already having troubles acknowledging their own supremacy, they would probably consider it outright unthinkable that a research direction that fascinates them does not even exist in many other national academic cultures.
The iconography of the poster is certainly worth a visual culture-inspired study in its own right.
Technorati Tags: media theory