Anti-Kittler

There are of course many who, like me, try to use technology – the internet, websites, modest blogs like this one, social media – for precisely the things the German media theorist Friedrich Kittler (1943-2011) and others say it will, or has already, necessarily killed: philosophy (and especially humanistic philosophy, including a certain understanding of the human subject), the tradition, and traditional understanding, of the humanities or Geisteswissenschaften, the defence of the book, of writing, of reading, of the classical conception of culture in general. And more.

In the face of Kittler and, in fact, many post-humanists who simply accept and even approve of the death of philosophy, the humanities, the book etc., this is clearly what must be done. It simply has not been shown that it is impossible. One must do what one can.

I have written about my use of this blog in earlier posts under Uncategorized. When I publish something on politics, I often attract, by now, a quite considerable number of readers. Needless to say, my philosophical posts or indeed any other posts are nowhere near them in the views and visitors stats. But my hope is that not only the comparatively much smaller number of readers who come here because of the philosophy or the arts or spirituality, but also some of the politically interested ones do note and occasionally pay closer attention also to the other categories.

Politics sells, as it were; or rather, of course, my politics sells. Through it, I can at least to some extent reach a broader readership with my deeper message too, a message to which the politics is in reality related, albeit in a way that can only be grasped when the deeper message is to some extent understood. At the very least, all readers will see some of the images in the Arts category. And in many respects that is in fact enough.

There is certainly much to say about the impact on technology on culture, but no historical materialist determinism has been or can be proven definitively true with regard to the consequences focused on by Kittler, or indeed in any other cultural respect. The medium of this blog is, I submit, not in itself a message contrary to the one explicitly and implicitly communicated and intended by me. It has not even been particularly difficult to make this medium convey precisely that message and no other.

More generally, it would seem the potential of the use of at least some technologies in the service of a creative traditionalist humanistic and spiritual culture has not yet been properly explored. This, needless to say, is a vast subject. But is it not possible to suggest that it is at least primarily in conjunction with other social, economic and cultural (or anti-cultural) forces that technoloy is a threat here? Going deeper into this matter, it is, however, necessary to take a renewed, close look at the great philosophical critics of modern technology.

Not just Marx but Spengler had a determinist, materialist view of technology and culture in many ways similar to that of some of today’s media theorists and anti-humanists. Probably the most influential of the philosophical critics, Heidegger, on the other hand, while not defending humanistic philosophy as he conceived of it, grew disappointed with national socialism because of the extent to which it bought into modern technology. Jeffrey Herf studies the issues in 1920’s and 30’s Germany in Reactionary Modernism: Technology, Culture, and Politics in Weimar and the Third Reich (1984).

But it needs to be strongly emphasized that a discerning affirmation of technology as harmonizable with the mentioned creative traditionalism is not the same as a reactionary modernism. The result should be neither reactionary nor modernist. The use of technology in itself does not have to imply modernism, and the cultural content that according to this vision it can and should serve is not simply reactionary.

Herf is of course aware of the possible objections. The term reactionary modernism makes for an interesting title of his book, but as a concept it is not only philosophically problematic in view of the position I am inclined to defend, but also in some respects historically inadequate in the period in which or with respect to the thinkers to whom he himself applies it.

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Jan Olof Bengtsson D.Phil. (Oxon.)

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