Geoffrey Winthrop-Young

  • Ergot, as illustrated by Jan Christiaan Sepp in Jan Kops’s Flora Batava of Afbeeldingen en Beschrijving van Nederlandsche Gewassen (Pictures and Description of Dutch Crops), 1865.



    In September 1933, just a few months after Adolf Hitler came to power, the Austrian writer Leo Perutz published Saint Peter’s Snow, a remarkable novel about an outlandish pharmacological plot to send Germany back into the Middle Ages. A reactionary nobleman, the Baron von Malchin, has discovered that all outbreaks of religious frenzy during the Middle Ages—flagellations, witch hunts, crusades, and the like—were preceded by the consumption of bread infected with a fungus known as Saint Peter’s snow. This connection allows Malchin to explain, once

  • Madison Square on election night, New York, November 6, 1888 (Harper’s Weekly, November 17, 1888).

    Charles Musser’s Politicking and Emergent Media

    Charles Musser, Politicking and Emergent Media: US Presidential Elections of the 1890s. Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2016. 288 pages.

    EVERY FOUR YEARS, the world gets hooked on two competitive extravaganzas—the Summer Olympic Games and the US presidential elections. The similarities are obvious; in fact, the only real difference is size. The elections take place on a larger scale: They go on for longer, their two displays of stadium-based pageantry last a week rather than a night, they are even more dominated by Americans, and their television coverage is even more dismal.

  • Joris Hoefnagel, Maltese cross, mussel, and ladybird (detail), 1591–96, watercolor, gold and silver paint, and ink on parchment, 6 5/8 x 4 7/8". Verso of a page from Mira calligraphiae monumenta, 1561–96. Photo: The Getty Center, Los Angeles/Open Content Program.


    IF ANYONE could bring the art world down to earth, it would be BERNHARD SIEGERT. The pioneering thinker has made his name by relentlessly grounding philosophical idealizations, insisting instead on underscoring the empirical historical objects and operations that make up the means through which we make meaning. If such subjects were formerly the province of media theory and media studies, Siegert has redefined and expanded the concept of media into the broader notion of “cultural techniques.” He has revealed the vast networks—the conduits, channels, and intermediaries—that underlie the formation of culture, from the invention of the postal system and its impact on literature to practices and devices such as trompe l’oeil painting, eating, seafaring, and maps. Here, scholar GEOFFREY WINTHROP-YOUNG, who translated Siegert’s new book, Cultural Techniques: Grids, Filters, Doors, and Other Articulations of the Real (Fordham, 2014), talks to the German theorist about the tools—and their infinitely varied applications—that make culture possible.

    GEOFFREY WINTHROP-YOUNG: Why don’t we start with the Old Man himself: Friedrich Kittler, father of so-called German media theory, the ornery paterfamilias one has to talk about before one can talk about studies in media, culture, and technology today.One formulaic way of assessing Kittler’s heritage would be to describe it as the switch from materialism to materialities. In other words, from the depths of philosophy to the shallows of operations; from a focus on the representation of meaning to the conditions of representation themselves; from the myth of the weightlessness of information,

  • Cow-milking-machine demonstration, ca. 1946. Photo: Kirn Vintage/Corbis.


    The only philosopher to have contributed a regular column in these pages, VILÉM FLUSSER (1920–1991) was among the most prescient—and eloquent—thinkers on the environmental conditions of a world mediated by technology. Here, scholar GEOFFREY WINTHROP-YOUNG introduces an exclusive excerpt from the first English translation of Flusser’s book Natural:Mind (first published in 1979 in São Paulo as Natural:Mente by Duas Cidades), out this month from Univocal Press. In the essay “Cows,” Flusser poses the animal as a “highly automated” machine, asking, “As we contemplate the cow, are we


    Eleven scholars, critics, writers, artists, and architects choose the year’s outstanding titles.


    Miriam Bratu Hansen completed Cinema and Experience: Siegfried Kracauer, Walter Benjamin, and Theodor W. Adorno (University of California Press) shortly before she died last year after a long illness. A summa of her life’s work, this magisterial book is a gift—and a must—for anyone interested in critical theory’s engagement with film, media, and mass culture; there is no other study like it. The book’s ultimately discarded working title, “The Other Frankfurt School,” pointed to

  • Friedrich Nietzsche’s typewriter, an 1878 Malling- Hansen writing ball. Photo: Dieter Eberwein.


    THE GERMAN MEDIA THEORIST FRIEDRICH KITTLER, who passed away last October at the age of sixty-eight, was perhaps the most incisive contemporary exegete of our relationship with machines. Artforum asked Geoffrey Winthrop-Young, author of Kittler and the Media (2011), and Eva Horn, professor of modern German literature at the University of Vienna, to delve into Kittler’s rigorously antihumanist, wryly polemical, and stunningly prescient vision of a world in which technology is omnipresent.


    FRIEDRICH KITTLER was a strange man: appealing and difficult, brazen and shy, a scholar equally adept at excluding and seducing. The contradictions extend to his work. Like Marshall McLuhan, he was both ahead of his time and decidedly retro, but this lack of synchronicity means that his work has become representative of an age marked by temporal fracturing. “The future,” runs one of William Gibson’s best lines, “is already here—it’s just not evenly distributed.” By the same token, the past is still around—it just hasn’t evenly receded. Both statements apply to