Clairaudient Kittler

“In recent years I have come to think of myself simply as a philosopher who, nevertheless, is keenly interested in the reality of things, as opposed to a philosopher who reflects on reflection, as it were.” — Kittler in an interview with John Armitage

The Theory, Culture & Society annual issue is available online at Sage. There are a number of articles on Frierich Kittler. I was introduced to Kittler at the PhD course I attended in Sweden. I like some of his ideas, others are a little too German.

However, there is an interesting article — a translation of a lecture he delivered in 1993 — as part of the TCS issue. It is called Lightning and Series — Event and Thunder. The mention of ‘event’ and ‘series’ is referenced to Foucault and his inaugral College de France lecture of 1970. I would suggest instead of just page 232 (of the Pantheon edition) as it is referenced in the lecture, it should be 229-232 inclusive. Foucault’s purpose was to ‘restore to discourse its character as event’ (229).

“We frequently credit contemporary history with having removed the individual event from its privileged position and with having revealed the more enduring structures of history. That is so. I am not sure, however, that historians have been working in this direction alone. Or, rather, I do not think one can oppose the identification of the individual event to the analysis of long term trends quite so neatly. On the contrary, it seems to me that it is in squeezing the individual event, in directing the resolving power of historical analysis onto official price-lists (mercuriales), title deeds, parish registers, to harbour archives analysed year by year and week by week, that we gradually perceive – beyond battles, decisions, dynasties and assemblies – the emergence of those massive phenomena of secular or multi-secular importance. History, as it is practised today, does not turn its back on events; on the contrary, it is continually enlarging the field of events, constantly discovering new layers – more superficial as well as more profound – incessantly isolating new ensembles – events, numerous, dense and interchangeable or rare and decisive: from daily price fluctuations to secular inflations. What is significant is that history does not consider an event without defining the series to which it belongs, without specifying the method of analysis used, without seeking out the regularity of phenomena and the probable limits of their occurrence, without enquiring about variations, inflexions and the slope of the curve, without desiring to know the conditions on which these depend. History has long since abandoned its attempts to understand events in terms of cause and effect in the formless unity of some great evolutionary process, whether vaguely homogeneous or rigidly hierarchised. It did not do this in order to seek out structures anterior to, alien or hostile to the event. It was rather in order to establish those diverse converging, and sometimes divergent, but never autonomous series that enable us to circumscribe the `locus’ of an event, the limits to its fluidity and the conditions of its emergence.” (230)

“If discourses are to be treated first as ensembles of discursive events, what status are we to accord this notion of event, so rarely taken into consideration by philosophers? Of course, an event is neither substance, nor accident, nor quality nor process; events are not corporeal. And yet, an event is certainly not immaterial; it takes effect, becomes effect, always on the level of materiality. Events have their place; they consist in relation to, coexistence with, dispersion of, the cross-checking accumulation and the selection of material elements; it occurs as an effect of, and in, material dispersion. Let us say that the philosophy of event should advance in the direction, at first sight paradoxical, of an incorporeal materialism. If, on the other hand, discursive events are to be dealt with as homogeneous, but discontinuous series, what status are we to accord this discontinuity? Here we are not dealing with a succession of instants in time, nor with the plurality of thinking subjects; what is concerned are those caesurae breaking the instant and dispersing the subject in a multiplicity of possible positions and functions. Such a discontinuity strikes and invalidates the smallest units, traditionally recognised and the least readily contested: the instant and the subject. Beyond them, independent of them, we must conceive -between these discontinuous series of relations which are not in any order of succession (or simultaneity) within any (or several) consciousnesses — and we must elaborate — outside of philosophies of time and subject-a theory of discontinuous systematisation. Finally, if it is true that these discursive, discontinuous series have their regularity, within certain limits, it is clearly no longer possible to establish mechanically causal links or an ideal necessity among their constitutive elements. We must accept the introduction of chance as a category in the production of events. There again, we feel the absence of a theory enabling us to conceive the links between chance and thought.” (231)

Anyway, Kittler’s lecture is interesting because he uses the image of lightning and thunder to talk about Foucault’s concept of event and series. Of course, as a (now) Whiteheadian-inspired Deleuzian I can not accept Foucault’s assertion about ‘accepting the introduction of chance as a category in the production of events’, if the series which is allegedly meant to follow the event (as the echoes of thunder follow lightning) is not considered an event itself. If not belonging to the same event as the original ‘event’ itself, then an event on its own. The electrical discharge of lightning and the sonic boom of this discharge surely pertain to the multiplicity that is the duration of the lightning-thunder event? There is a singular signifiance actualised with the force of at least two senses (sens, a vector of force/meaning) as lightning and as thunder.

Anyway, the problem is that from my perspective the serial dimension of discourse is also evental, simply on another scale to the event of discourse as Foucault is normally interpreted as configuring it. The micro-genealogy of enthusiast literature that I have carried out for my dissertation traces the emergence of particular configurations of discourse (and the material synergies across cultural and commercial relations that allow it to happen). The durable configurations of discourses that marks a certain rhythm on the scale of social organisation only endure as events. They are not timeless, nor are they an infinitesimal flash of lighting. Is the event of chance the event for Foucault or is it the concrescence of immanent forces on various scales (as per the first large quote above) which cross an incorporeal threshold that marks discourse? I argue in my diss it is the latter, with the incorporeal threshold is a movement across the collective body of enthusiasts and the textual resources of the publishing and media industries. Indeed, as a minor science of the archive, Foucault’s methodology was organised around pursuing the traces of singularities of these incorporeal movements.