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Of Gods and Scripts around the Mediterranean. Symposion in memoriam Friedrich Kittler

  • Deadline:
    Oct. 20, 2012, midnight
  • Location:
    ZKM_Media Theater, Lorenzstr. 19, Karlsruhe, 76135, DE

During his life, German media theorist Friedrich Kittler had prepared the symposion “Of Gods and Scripts around the Mediterranean, which will take place from 19–20 October at ZKM | Karlsruhe. With a full program, experts in the field will explore European written cultures, which Friedrich Kittler had once made his focus. Participating lectors include Eva Cancik-Kirschbaum, Beatrice Gruendler, Thomas Macho, Ludwig Morenz, Barry Powell, Oliver Primavesi and Siegfried Zielinski.

In his life’s work, Friedrich Kittler (1943–2011) turned the history of poetry, philosophy, even culture as we know it, on its head by factoring in its technical and pre-technical media. What “discourse networks” are for literature, what command codes are for programmable machines, that is to the gods the most elementary medium in the literal sense of the Latin elementa: letters. The symposion “Of Gods and Scripts around the Mediterranean,” is dedicated to this hypothesis. How have contact, innovation, and competition among the various alphabets around the Mediterranean influenced, since early antiquity, the future history of western culture?

Since the Neolithic Age, there have been Mediterranean cultures whose alphabets show commonalities through the systems of administration, trade, currents of commands and laws, but also a culture in which the alphabet was created from writing down music and singing performance, from composing verses and calling on the gods.

Some Mediterranean scripts are oriented on graphic systems – in cuneiform, hieroglyphs, syllabary script. They comprise mostly consonants or consonant groups in the words of the language. Others, such as the Greek alphabet, which was the first in history to include vowels, are phonetic, and thus, in principal, can be translated into every language. Powerful, ruling gods command and punish; the communication with them is regulated in laws. On the other hand, some gods are present and absent. The communication with them is not regulated, but entered into. How do the writing systems reflect these different manifestations of the world of the gods?

Gathered at the symposion to discuss this thematic complex are experts in the fields of various written cultures. Eva Cancik-Kirschbaum, an Assyria scholar, investigates cuneiform script, which was invented by a woman and practiced by male priests. The Egyptologist Ludwig Morenz will use animal icons to discuss the consonants and the “words of gods” in hieroglyphic writing. Hebrew and Old-Testament scholar Joachim Schaper discusses the script of the Old Testament. Barry Powell, Greek scholar and great theorist of vowel alphabets, explains the emergence of vowels among the letters and writing of the Mediterranean. The Greek scholar and Empedokles researcher Oliver Primavesi explores the transcription of Tetraktys and the letters of Pythagorus in the four elements: fire, water, air, and earth. The Arab scholar Beatrice Gründler analyses dialect and written forms in classical Arabic. As the result of these new, historical reflections on the emergence of written culture as the beginning of all media theory, Kittler himself outlined a theory about Jesus of Nazareth as a media rebel.

On the second day of the symposion, Kittler’s questions are transposed to present time; geographies and media are addressed. The Berlin Cultural Studies scholar Thomas Macho explores the work of Julian Jaynes, whom Kittler saw as very important, and who saw the disappearance of the gods and similar events in the twentieth century such as brain autonomy, physiology and neurology, as the end of the “bicameral psyche” – of two separately operating halves of the brain – that come together in the emergence of writing. With this, human consciousness first becomes a cultural factor. The art- and media historian Siegfried Zielinski deconstructs the word “Mittelmeer” (Mediterranean Sea) into the derivatives “Mittel” and “Meer” in order to arrive as a theoretician at the non-identical, “most uncertain and deceptive element” (Hegel) – the water. Cultural Studies scholar Lars Denicke creates from “land, sea, air, and fire” a geopolitical theory of the elements, in which he not only carries Empedokles’ four elements into the concepts of the train, ship, and airplane, but also into the end of the fossil fuel-burning age.

Cultural Studies scientist Tania Hron and Media Studies scientist Paul Feigelfeldt (Berlin) will in closing discuss the work in and around that left behind in Friedrich Kittler’s estate. The recursion of media theory into its own archive with “Voices and Scripts” and above all the huge stacks of programs written by him are hardly thinkable without the archiving of the hardware itself and its operating systems. It is also the hardware of a kind of music, an “instrument.” Artist, composer, and theorist Jan-Peter E.R. Sonntag and media archeologist Sebastian Döring present the anatomy of Friedrich Kittler’s synthesizer. Antony Moore, longtime friend of Friedrich Kittler, experimental musician and author of numerous texts for the band Pink Floyd, has composed a piece for the occasion of the symposion that will be premiered at the ZKM Cube, within an atmosphere of optimal electroacoustic conditions.

The symposion’s closing will form a gestural alphabet using a recent script from around the Mediterranean: an originally Spanish influenced alphabet that uses the “Assambleas” of the Occupy movement. The form of the symposion will transform into a performance by the Berlin artist Joulia Strauss Cari Machet, a guest from the Occupy movement, to finally become the location of this new alphabet.

Duration: Fri/Sat, 19–20 October 2012, all day symposium, admission free, no registration required