Friedrich Kittler

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Friedrich Adolf Kittler (born June 12, 1943 in Rochlitz ; † October 18, 2011 in Berlin ) was a German literary scholar and media theorist . His main focus was on writing systems , the theory and history of the cultural techniques of reading, writing, arithmetic and, since around 2001, the meaning of the Greek alphabet in Homeric poetry, Pythagorean music and mathematics. In his work, the terms recording systems , technology and military play an important role.

Live and act

Friedrich Kittler was born in Rochlitz, Saxony, in mid-1943 as the son of the headmaster Gustav Adolf Kittler , his brother Wolf shortly before the end of the war. Kittler's family moved with him to the Federal Republic of Germany in 1958 , where he attended a science and modern-language grammar school in Lahr / Black Forest from 1958 to 1963 and then from 1963 to 1972 German , Romance studies and philosophy at the Albert Ludwigs University in Freiburg im Breisgau studied. Kittler was married twice.

During his studies he was influenced by the texts of the French post-structuralists , especially Jacques Lacan , Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault , who were largely unknown in Germany at the time. 1976 Kittler was with a thesis on the poet Conrad Ferdinand Meyer graduated . His doctoral supervisor was Gerhard Kaiser . From 1976 to 1986 he worked as a research assistant at the German Department of the University of Freiburg. In 1980 he published the anthology "Austrieb des Geistes aus den Geisteswissenschaften", for which he also translated Derrida's essay "Title (to be determined)", Titre (à préciser) into German.

In 1984 he was in the German Literary History habilitation , for which a total of eleven reports were necessary. This was followed by several stays as Visiting Assistant Professor and Visiting Professor at US universities, such as the University of California, Berkeley , the University of California, Santa Barbara and Stanford University .

From 1986 to 1990 Kittler was head of the DFG project "Literature and Media Analysis" in Kassel . In 1987 he was appointed professor for modern German studies at the Ruhr University in Bochum , and in 1993 he was appointed to the chair for aesthetics and history of the media at the Humboldt University in Berlin .

For his research in the field of media theory , Kittler was awarded the Siemens Media Art Prize of the Center for Art and Media Technology (ZKM) in Karlsruhe in 1993.

In 1996, Kittler was a Distinguished Scholar at Yale University and in 1997 a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Columbia University in New York . Since 2001 he has been the deputy director of the Hermann von Helmholtz Center for Cultural Technology and a member of the research group "Bild Schrift Zahl" (DFG).


Friedrich Kittler died on October 18, 2011 in Berlin. He is buried in the cemetery of the Dorotheenstadt and Friedrichswerder communities in Berlin-Mitte.

Work and meaning

Friedrich Kittler was one of the most influential and important German media theorists and founded the “Berlin School” in media studies. Kittler stands for a new approach to media theory that originates from technical media and became increasingly popular from the 1980s.

Kittler borrowed the term “writing systems” from the work of Daniel Paul Schreber . At Kittler he describes "the network of techniques and institutions [...] that allow a given culture to address, store and process relevant data." This is also to be understood as a declaration of sympathy (in the Foucault tradition) for madness. According to Kittler, there is an element of paranoia in all science.

Kittler's central project was "to prove the human sciences [...] their media-technical a priori " ( Hartmut Winkler ), or, in his own words, the "expulsion of the spirit from the humanities", as the title of a publication from 1980 of the same name.

Kittler rejected Marshall McLuhan's reading of the media as “ extensions of man ”: “Media are not pseudopodia that the human body would extend. They follow the logic of escalation that leaves us and the history of writing behind. ”However, media are never autonomous; rather, their use is always historical.

To simplify matters, one could summarize Kittler's theses to the effect that our knowledge (and what we believe to be true) depends crucially on the cultural techniques that we use.

Consequently, he sees a continuum in the writing of literature , the writing of computer programs and the burning-in of structures in silicon chips:

“As we know and just don't say, nobody writes anymore. […] Today human writing runs through inscriptions that […] are burned into silicon using electron lithography […]. It may therefore have been the last historical act of writing when a team of Intel engineers [...] [recorded] the hardware architecture of their first integrated microprocessor in the late seventies. "

Kittler's technological-materialistic view of all productions of culture became fashionable in the 1980s among students and young humanities scholars who were derisively called "Kittler youth". Kittler's students are Norbert Bolz , Knut Ebeling , Bernhard Siegert , Wolfgang Ernst , Claus Pias and Christian Jendreiko .


Critics point to Kittler's tendency to formulate apodictically and obscurely. Die Zeit criticized the lack of clarity in his work “Music and Mathematics”: “Perceptible up and down lines are not Kittler's business. Wherever it screams "Clarity!" From our depths, it sails away, and we who are perplexed must continue to suspect ”. The psychoanalyst Harald Weilnböck quoted Kittler's dictum in the journal Mittelweg 36 : “In forgetting the word forgetting, what is said and what is said come together. The frenzy of this collapse is the truth ”, adding that reading this sentence had put him intellectually into just such a“ frenzy ”.


Kittler left his collected work to the Marbach Literature Archive during his lifetime . These include unprinted manuscripts, preparatory work on published works and selected copies of his library, as well as correspondence between him and fellow scholars such as Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida . His estate, which is kept in the Marbach literary archive, also includes a synthesizer he built himself . The permanent exhibition of the Museum of Modern Literature shows selected pieces .



  • Frank Hartmann : Friedrich Kittler . In: Information Philosophy. 25, 1997, No. 4, pp. 40-44.
  • Josef Wallmannsberger: Friedrich Kittler . In: Helmut Schanze (Ed.), Susanne Pütz: Metzler Lexikon Medientheorie, Medienwissenschaft. Approaches, people, basic concepts. Metzler, Stuttgart / Weimar 2002, ISBN 3-476-01761-3 , p. 162 f.
  • Geoffrey Winthrop-Young: Friedrich Kittler for an introduction. Junius Verlag, Hamburg 2005, ISBN 3-88506-607-6 .
  • Christoph Weinberger: The cold model of structure . In: Journal for Media Studies. 1, 2009, pp. 93-102.
  • Frank Hartmann : Friedrich Kittler . In: Uwe Sander et al. (Hrsg.): Handbuch Medienpädagogik. Wiesbaden 2008, ISBN 978-3-531-15016-1 , pp. 251-256.
  • Jürgen Kaube: On the death of Friedrich Kittler. Every love was one at first sight. In: FAZ.NET. October 18, 2011, accessed on October 18, 2011 (initially under the title: The media theorist Friedrich Kittler is dead. Thinking as far as the medium goes ).
  • Stavros Arabatzis: Doxologies of the circuits and heterosexuality of the media: Friedrich Kittler and the untruth of the technical world. In: Weimar Contributions . ISSN  0043-2199 , Vol. 60 (2014), H. 1, pp. 99-117.
  • Thomas Etzemüller: " poor madman", pseudoscientist and Friedrich Kittler. The anti-academic as a function and an inner attitude , in: Mittelweg 36 26, 2017, H. 4–5, pp. 70–87

Web links

Lectures and readings

Web links from and about Kittler:

Individual evidence

  1. 2013: Message in a bottle to the future. With Till Nikolaus von Heiseler, Kadmos, ISBN 978-3-86599-235-2
  2. Andreas Rosenfelder: Comment: Kittler's secret files. In: . April 25, 2012, Retrieved October 7, 2018 .
  3. see the documentation Frank, M. et al .: Aufschreibesysteme 1980/2010. In memoriam Friedrich Kittler (1943–2011), in: zfm (Journal for Media Studies), Vol. 6 (2012) No. 1, 114–192.
  4. ^ Prize winner 1993: Friedrich Kittler . In: Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe (, accessed on October 18, 2011.
  5. Jürgen Kaube: On the death of Friedrich Kittler. Every love was one at first sight. In: FAZ.NET. October 18, 2011, accessed on October 18, 2011 (first under the title: The media theorist Friedrich Kittler is dead. Thinking as far as the medium goes. ).
  6. ^ Aufschreibesysteme, p. 501.
  7. ^ Friedrich A. Kittler: History of the communication media. In: Jörg Huber, Alois Martin Müller (ed.): Space and procedure. Stroemfeld / Roter Stern, Basel 1993, ISBN 3-87877-414-1 (Interventions 2.), pp. 169–188.
  8. Friedrich Kittler: There is no software . In: Friedrich Kittler: Dracula's legacy. Technical writings . Reclam, Leipzig 1993, ISBN 3-379-01476-1 .
  9. Andreas Rosenfelder: "We only have ourselves to draw from." In: Welt am Sonntag . January 30, 2011. ( online , accessed October 30, 2011)
  10. Maximilian Probst: The media are the children of war. In: The time . October 19, 2011. ( online , accessed October 30, 2011)
  11. ^ Christian Schüle: Kirke, Kalypso, Kittler. Small protocol of perplexity in view of the study "Music and Mathematics" by Friedrich A. Kittler . In: The time. No. 12, March 16, 2006, accessed October 18, 2011.
  12. Harald Weilnböck: The trauma must remain unavailable to the memory. Trauma ontology and other misuse / use of trauma concepts in humanities discourses. In: Mittelweg 36 . Volume 16, no. 2, Hamburg April 2007, p. 7.
  13. Reading Syntheses Workshop Conference Pt. 1 . University of Lüneburg, focus area "Audio". Retrieved November 15, 2016.
  14. Cultural scientist Kittler has died. In: The time. October 18, 2011.