“Writing machines”

“Of course, even where the instruments and strategies of post-structuralist thought have been enthusiastically adopted, they have often served as a modish disguise. Thus the reception and broad dissemination of Derrida in the United States has taken a shape as a blending of New-Critical immanent interpretation, on the one hand, with a negative theology of the literary work in which texts figure as the hopefully hopeless allegory of their own failure, on the other. The difficult term deconstruction has become a laxly used synonym for negative critique. Advocacy of this sort, held in thrall to fascination, is merely the inverse of the accusation of fashionableness. Information, according to Gregory Bateson’s definition, is a difference that makes a difference. By consigning post-structuralism to the realm of fashion, American literary criticism has systematically refused to be informed.”


“The precondition of this unweaving is the minimal experimental condition of psychophysics: that writing, as writing, be written down. In order for this detachment of writing from subjectivity to occur, however, inscription has to become mechanized, and this happens with the typewriter. The typewriter, Heidegger noted, alters our relationship to being: it takes language away from the hand, which – and here Heidegger is faithful, as so often, to Aristotle – distinguishes “man.” Kittler, without sharing the philosopher’s nostalgia, renders this Heideggerian intuition historically concrete. The typewriter frees writing from the control of the eye and of consciousness; it institutes spacing as the precondition of differentiation; it stores a reservoir of signifiers that strike the page much as Ebbinghaus’s syllables strike the body’s sensory surface. Nietzsche’s notion of moral inscription is modeled on the typewriter, one of the earliest versions of which he owned and used. Saussure’s linguistics, in Derrida’s reading a linguistics of arche-writing, has its technological correlate in the typewriter. Freud’s psychic apparatus, as he called it, is a writing machine. Moreover, as Kittler shows, the literacy production of the era is no less dependent, in conception and practice, on the new technology of the letter. Mallarmé calls for the disappearance of the elocutionary subject and derives poetry from the 26 letters of the alphabet and the spaces between them. Kafka’s instruments of torture are writing machines. Morgenstern develops a poetics of autonomous punctuation. Like psychophysics (for which it is a technological precondition as well), the typewriter alters the status of discourse and repositions literature, science, and theory. The end of “man” postulated by Foucault is brought on by a mechanism that writes writing.”

Wellbery, David E. Foreword to Discourse networks 1800/1900 by Freidrich A Kittler. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1990.


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