9 (2006), Nr.2/June



1. Oliver Fahle/Lorenz Engell (ed.), Philosophie des Fernsehens, München: Wilhelm Fink 2006, 203, Seiten, € 30,80. 39.898 Zeichen.



The sound mixture of Stüwe & Legenstein at Wienstation, Lerchenfelder Gürtel 28, consisted of house music and drum and bass, played from two PowerBooks softly, not too loud and with a focus on extended breaks. Along with playing acoustic guitar some melodies or riffs a nice French fella gave, about every five minutes and in quite good German equipped with sympathetic accent, explicitly partial comments on what happened on the wall on which was projected the broadcast. The broadcast was set silent film mode, the sound of the broadcast suppressed and replaced by a long prefab stadium audience applause loop. With broadcast culmination points of the match this soundscape was turned a bit louder by the DJs. The optical quality of the picture was excellent, giving a taste of what HDTV will be in the near future. The game transmissed took its course with cameras near to players’ faces. Crackling tension.


It is obvious that team sports is particularly apt for being broadcast. This was the case with radio, and it is even more so with television. The production and technologically staging of sports events coalesces economically with viewer attitudes of getting satisfaction with sensation-seeking and the chance of regression to childhood stages psychoanalysis has devoted a good deal of describing to. On the other hand with being emotionally involved in television as an everyday matter of all people in Western civilization obviously makes it difficult for theorists to deal with. TV seems to have spread even in intellectuals –  news! – into a form of semi-awareness that explains why they don’t want to cope with TV as is noticed frequently. For this reason it took some time to establish a Fernsehwissenschaft that would attract the attention of philosophers. Especially in German speaking countries we can feel a vivid impulse given by what is established since the end of the 1990es as philosophy of the media. Incubation time is over. Before us lie outlines of what can be examined as „philosophy of television“.


The volume to be scrutinized is edited by master mind Lorenz Engell and his compatriote Oliver Fahle. Engell has already heavily included philosophy in his Ph.D. thesis from 1989, Vom Widerspruch zur Langeweile. Logische und temporale Begründungen des Fernsehens, = Studien zum Theater, Film und Fernsehen, number 10. On the basis of a professorship at Weimar Bauhaus-Universität since 1996 and as founding Dean of the School of Media there (1996-2000) he specialized early on in philosophical TV theory. A debated account of the very philosophy of TV done by itself –  apart from „philosophers’ philosophy“– as a reflection of the medium by itself in terms of Aristotelian Luhmannism has been given by Engell in his „Tasten, Wählen, Denken. Genese und Funktion einer philosophischen Apparatur“, in: Stefan Münker/Alexander Roesler/Mike Sandbothe (Hg.), Medienphilosophie. Beiträge zur Klärung eines Begriffs, = ftb 15757, Frankfurt am Main: Fischer, 53-77, 198-200, 208f., especially pages 53-58 and 76f. (compare Lambert Wiesing’s criticism stored on Mike Sandbothe homepage:[]=wiesing).


What Engell offers himself with „Das Ende des Fernsehens“ is a mature treatment of one feature of TV: the end. With seriality and the event in mind and with aiming at an understanding of finiteness as a form of reflection in TV Engell intends to sublate finiteness from an aesthetic and theoretical level to a philosophical one. That, at least, is suggested by a list of stunning televisual events: the turning off of Eastern Germany TV on October 2 1990 11.59 pm, the suicide of a TV host in front of a camera, the politically meant invitation to turn off the TV set after having turned off the studio light by host Adriano Celentano himself, the live images, on occasion of a report about the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, of the breakdown of a wall of monitors shown on these very monitors, the daily end of national TV programs playing the national anthem. Counter to Raymond Williams’s theory of, as one could say, TV’s „non-finite“ flow Engell does not think of the end of a live broadcast, the open end of a studio discussion, the end of the flow interrupted, the possible termination/sublation of TV in newer media like the internet. He addresses an end that intrudes as the outer world the world within of televisual signs. Asked with direction to Heidegger: Can media and not only existence (Dasein) refer to its own end? With George Spencer Brown Engell says yes, but it is possible only if TV is a system critical of itself in temporal terms. In fact, as Engell demonstrates, an observation of TV can be imported into itself. This concerns space, but time as well, by a pre-running (Vorlaufen) in possible states of the system. There is a basic self reference of the event that is gone in the next second. This paradox means an overcoming of the finiteness within the program flow: the fading of the event ist the event. The end of TV is an interruptor of self reference, delivered with the impression of the intrusion from the outside by means of outside reference. This circumstance paves the way to negate a possibility, to negate the event in the reality mode. In this sense the event in the system means the end. As a consequence a „second“ system is established for this end, for instance as a thought in the viewer’s consciousness, an observation Engell believes to explain with Deleuze by a doubling into the actual and the virtual thereby confirming the finitude of the system. Engell further believes that this application of system theory cannot but sustained by a finiteness that is modelled in terms of Peirce’s semiotics. The TV sign system –  which admittedly is narrower than the system of system theory – does not refer to objects but events: with help from Derrida’s différance one could invoke a Saussurian temporality. In any case, Engell thinks to supports his account with Bense’s aesthetics, G. Günther’s dialectics and Serres’s notion of the parasite, but most of all with Peirce’s recognition that you can generate signs only from other signs – and that taken as an event! This amounts to a minimal definition of art which may be extended temporally, as Engell supposes. Given that the last sign is the interpretant of earlier signs or pictures, TV cannot produce a last sign or picture. Now, what about finiteness in TV? Peirce’s referring in terms of dynamic interpretants – in the consciousness – makes them final ones, if only virtual ones and as a limit. Again, this final sign is a sign for the entire chain of signs within the interpretation process. But it reveals the properties and achievements of the sign system to be the properties and achievements of consciousness. This very simultaneity of sign system and consciousness makes TV live, an event-ual sublation between the different systems (Niklas Luhmann). To this final interpretant Engell adds three more kinds of interpretants: the emotional/saturating interpretant, the energetic/practical interpretant, and the logical/pragmatical interpretan. It is the latter that works as a rule organizing the saturating and the energetic interpretants. Summary: For television there is never an end at the end – the end may only be found in the full course of the events; the doubling of the event of the end and the end of the event is given with live TV: final events are always live; and the intrusion of the outer world always coincides with an outbreak into the environment of the system. According to this, finality refers to the inner, the outer and to their distinction. „That the final interpretation is preferred and rooted in the relation of the picture system TV to its environment is based on the fact that in this connex a ‘self’ of television is distinguished from its ‘other’ in a way that this distinction reflects itself on its turn.“153 That exactly puts ourselves into question and makes TV philosophical. For the end can be imagined. Qed.


Richard Dienst’ „Seinsgefahren in einer televisuellen Welt. Heidegger und die onto-technologische Frage“ is a translation of part of chapter/essay 6 of his „Still Life in Real Time. Theory after Television“ published in 1994. The editors do not inform about the context of Dienst’s work within his book and to TV discourse more generally, nor do they elucidate the book’s interesting title. Dienst who works on a high critical level in the portion presented here entertains a minute reading of Heidegger’ writings on technology and „The Time of the World Picture“. According to Heidegger the compression of space and of history by means of modern technology entails a challenge to the world in claiming to be a truth on its own. With the Ge-stell – Dienst names the translations „installation“ (Lacoue-Labarthe), „enframing“ (William Lovitt), „emplacement“ (Samuel Weber) and „con-struct“ (L. Harries) – in machinery and science man establishes a constancy (Bestand) that dispenses with all distance to nature thereby completely absorbing it. With this comes technology’s permanent re-presentation of which Heidegger diagnoses a suppression of appearance and the difference of traditional truth between revealing and hiding. Hence the difficult position of poiesis between téchne and technology as Dienst puts it with Heidegger interpreter Hubert Dreyfus. Whereas true art is seen by Heidegger as a scene of confrontation with technology, the Ge-stell of television for instance seems to be incapable of touching the providence, destin(y)ation, propriety, befitting (das Schickende). Says Heidegger that television, the set up of projective subject/object space, transforms things to pictures and informations as already cinema had been an ordering of universal visibility. But as Heidegger does not invoke ethical or socio-economical terms to prevent his cultural critique from cynically equating motorized agriculture, concentration camps and the hydrogen bomb he does not treat cinema or television either. For this reason it cannot be figured out what his account has to say about Brecht’s estrangement effect (Verfremdungseffekt) or the cinematic potential against alienation that the Cahiers du cinéma credited Heidegger once with having recognized it. Contrary to this and equipped with insights by Adorno, Baudrillard and Kittler Dienst feels as sure as to think that space and time can only be surpassed by television and that the uncanny needs to be reserved to atomic energy. He further thinks that the bracketing or parenthesizing frame, as he puts it with Derrida and supposedly beyond phenomenology, makes all things constantly available yet not visible because of TV’s lack of distance. Also TV’s permanent shift encloses an inconspicuous concealment. Dienst concludes with a political critique of the TV interview that Heidegger gave a the end of his life comparing it to Heidegger’s political attempt in 1933. Dienst’s conclusion however that resistance in what form ever inevitably needs to arrange with power, more precisely to involve a mutual infiltration of the enemies of technology and the friends of television remains questionable. Although he criticizes Avital Ronell’s deconstruction of Heidegger’s writings, lectures and interviews pertinent to what is circumscribed with the title of her book (The Telephone Book. Technology, Schizophrenia, Electric Speech, Lincoln/London: University of Nebraska 1989) he could have made more use of her critique of the Heidegger-Telefonzentrale centralizing power by means of a TV channel today relativized by local networks and the prospective mobile phone potential of technological individualization.


Claudia Blümle („Blu-Box“) draws on blindness as constitutive condition for the visual arts. She refers to invisibility, to blackness in cinema, to the black area between film frames, an area that has been expanded to including black film of various length into movies. She interprets Derek Jarman’s last movie „Blue“ as an allegory of nonetheless opaque „fifth wall“ as was called TV by author Werner Rings in his 1962 book on the history of television. Jarman managed to thematize his increasing incapability of seeing at the end of his life by using the blue-screen effect. That effect finally was left as a lack –  the only visible thing remaining. Come with the blue background of PAL the TV specific blue-screen effect is thereby revealed to make visible blindness, as Blümle recognizes. She takes up Derrida’s recognition of the fact that drawing implies the blindness of the eye between the object out there and the object to be drawn on the paper, a blindness thematized with drawing the origin of the drawing and the prosthesis by the perspectival apparative conduction of the drawer’s gaze (and finally discovered as the eye’s blind spot by physicist Mariotte soon after Descartes. Artist Richard Kriesche’s video „Malerei deckt zu Kunst deckt auf“ of 1977 also uses the chroma key procedure. Whereas painting covers s part of the world and so hides what it could or should make visible, Kriesche’s video reveals by means of a TV technique that covering with the paint blue on the surface –  in reality: glass – first of all reveals that coating is the condition of revealing, of making visible.


An important lesson for philosophy is Ralf Adelmann’s and Markus Stauff’s „Ästhetiken der Re-Visualisierung, Zur Selbststilisierung des Fernsehens“. It is probably the first time that a title uses „Ästhetik“ in plural form. Obviously is meant style –  „Ästhetik oder Stil“55 – , design, look and not an account of theories about re-visualization, not to speak of aesthetic theories in the philosophical sense. The explation is: of the volume’s thirteen authors there is only Trinks who is a philosopher by education and he does not even work at a philosophy department. As with the selection of authors for the seven volume „Ästhetische Grundbegriffe“ German speaking countries have a communication problem between Kulturwissenschaften and philosophy. Or has philosophy here become so weak that it is unable to deal with advanced cultural or technological subjects? Although Adelmann and Stauff hold that „Ästhetik oder Stil“ has nothing to do with TV but more with arts or pictorial media like film or photography –  a move against the neglect of non-normative mass medium TV between film/photography and computer in recent philosophy of media – they do not ignore influential philosophical conceptions. Even in the Kulturwissenschaften after the post-semiotic visual turn as proclaimed by WCT Mitchell and with the emergence of the concept of visual culture TV has been kept on the back burner, they observe. Still influential theories of the flow (Raymond Williams), of the bardic (Hartley/Fiske) and of the excess of seriality (Fiske) remain semantic theories. True, say the two, television does not bring forward unique visual forms, and yet it’s possible to work out a picture theory of TV not focused on visualization as new or on TV as art. Adelmann and Stauff perceive help from reception theories like Dewey/Shusterman’s account of a pop-aesthetic experience of the artistic in somatic effects or Susan Sontag’s concept of visual taste as an anti-artistical and -stylistic form of aestheticization. On a more empirical level of production –  split screen, animation, writing, auteur style – the authors recognize a will to temporary constructions on a „field of visualizations that does not produce typical pictures but processes specific aesthetics <Ästhetiken> throughout“ (page 61, my translation). They say so consciously of Horkheimer and particularly Adorno (1953) who reproached TV as being part of the cultural industry negating style and giving aesthetic miniatures of people shown quasi „without words“. Adelmann and Stauff are fascinated by any visual element possible, may it come from reality TV’s infra red recordings, documentaries, surveillance video or camcorder pictures. For this reason they finally resort to TV director John Caldwell’s heavy volume „Televisuality. Style, Crisis, and Authority in American Television“ from 1995 of which have been translated forty pages by Adelmann and of (another contributor of the volume to be reviewed here) Matthias Thiele in a reader under the title „Grundlagentexte zur Fernsehwissenschaft“ composed in 2002 of translations from English and (one) French texts from 1956 to 1999. Caldwell’s book is attractive for Adelmann and Stauff because he writes pro picture effect and against theories of TV as flow, or as auditory or live medium. With his phenomenalist approach Caldwell discovered a stylistic multitude specific to TV since the 1980es. Channels and broadcasts differ by means of colority, camera work and film material in a hyperactive, anonyme, reflective and masquerade (concerning genres) way with compressing the picture surface in the final stages of post production. This form of TV in the status of an event means constantly referring to picture forms of other media. Concerning the picture effect which is neither a reality nor fiction effect Caldwell sheds light on the visibility and reflection of pictures, of surface and picture textures in a materiality, spatiality, subtility and brilliance of its own, qualities that are economically exploited with respect to different stylistic competence of target groups. Adelmann and Stauff make one more step in saying that the „reflection“ work as described by Caldwell gives rise for assuming a philosophical content in media products and production to be made explicit as Lorenz Engell attempted in „Tasten, Wählen, Denken“. With the picture effect comes, since 1980, a permanent reworking of the performance of style, an aesthetics instead of contents with a variety of looks of authorship and paratexts, and the new entanglements of pictures and writing along manifestations of the convergence of TV with the mobile phone and the internet. This revalorization of pictures-with-processsing goes hand in hand with their meaninglessness. Again, this paradox makes the two authors consider whether this battle ground in our media culture allows for a kind of expression of the medium together with a transition of itself. Be it the cinematic performance of imitation or the more videographic or digital styles including interaction of audiences we are confronted with re-visualizations that make clear –  with TV’s steering between naturalization and artificialization – that the decrease of referentiality and the prospective increase of immersion by HDTV will result in a TV aesthetics that puts TV itself into question.


Oliver Fahle delivers an observation of „Das Bild und das Sichtbare. Eine Bildtheorie des Fernsehens“. Like Bordwell’s four visual styles in that author’s more structural history of film –  taken by Fahle with Niklas Luhmann as an evolution in modernization concerning the technological, economical, institutional threshold extrinsic to media and the aesthetic/poetic threshold intrisic to media – and with having in mind the leap from painting, photography and film to the digital media Fahle considers, in the steps of Deleuze, a bifurcation of the image of old TV and the meta-image of the new TV, two stages of TV Francesco Casetti and Roger Odin had tried to seperate in an article of 1990, edited as one of the Grundlagentexte. Casetti and Odin distinguish the hierarchical communication structures of education oriented programs for collectives of old TV from the interpersonal proximity of the exchange between TV producers and TV public in the everyday event space of new TV. To the latter Fahle attributes a meta-image because, seen in more formal terms, there have emerged series of images that can not anymore be semantically contextualized, images that remain indifferent as mere interruptive image sequences (Christian Metz), images that may be conceived as a series of mise-en-phase énergétique. This is all the more so since the advent of remote control, says Fahle who concedes that strictly spoken the „meta“ does not apply to TV because of the lack of a diegesis altogether. To exclude ensuing problems from the outset Fahle recommends an expansion of the notion of the image with the visible. As Maurice Merleau-Ponty has shown, Fahle emphasizes, images are manifestations of seeing, that is of the visible out of things themselves. The visible and the seeing are linked like sea and coast, and Merleau-Ponty demonstrates this relationship with the spontaneous order of things as perceived by Cézanne painting nature in a kind of primal, original state thereby having stepped between the classical, figurative, spatial and limited picture and the modern, abstract, temporal and unlimited picture as Fahle puts it. In terms of external media the picture is a framed composed visual thing, whereas the visible has become the out-there (Michel Foucault) for the modern image as a theme of the picture interlaced with the visible, an intermediate zone (Deleuze). Only that hors-champ plus movements given with montage and camera open an understanding for the relationship of the visible and a picture merely given by approximation. Fahle also explains the break in TV history as stated by Casetti and Odin with a step to monitoring act, a change that Stanley Cavell had made the core of his definition of TV from already from the beginning when film’s succession of automatic world projection is succeeded by TV’s stream of simultaneous event reception. Fahle steps on with Merleau-Ponty in saying that by the focusing act of the gaze the visible is open for several processes simultaneously: monitoring + viewing allows for disseminating perceptual points together with the composed images of the quadrage. Fahle finally draws on the non-identifying gaze of repetition thereby opening up the new as characteristic for new TV. Speaking of aesthetics it is possible only as an identity of re- and decenterings that are transverse to genres establishing permanent difference.


For Hartmut Winkler, philosophy has lost „the“ power. The title of his contribution „Nicht handeln. Versuch einer Wiederaufwertung der couch potato angesichts der Provokation des interaktiv Digitalen“ deserves translation, for it summarizes his position: „No acting. Essay of a revaluation of the couch potato in face of the provocation of the interactive digital“. Referring to his one time 270 minutes zapping with 2000 times switching –  40 channels 50 times - Winkler discovered his desire for forgetting and recovery by getting lost in the stream of television. Winkler speaks of the oceanic feeling – a feeling, I add, of the unlimited and eternal as Sigmund Freud’s „Civilization and its Discontents“ renders Romain Rolland’s description of the origin of religion. For Freud this feeling is one of continuity and may be traced back to the states of falling in love with a person or of helplessness as infant. Winkler in some consequence lives his feeling colourfully described against being the everyday subject necessary for our working identity. TV as interactive, like computer games, by means of the remote control gives space for a performing practice like the incitation of sex with an inscription of power in the clothes of emancipation, as Winkler puts it with Foucault. The same with TV. Watching TV means sharing the function of symbolic media processes when the acting ego is not eager to question itself. Winkler finally does not convince with having discovered subversive potential in couch potatos, be it at the cost of dispensing with emancipation.


Mary-Ann Doane’s „Information, Krise, Katastrophe“ is obviously a translation of one of her older texts. Well hidden in brackets attached to footnote 25 seems the mention of the original place of publication in Patricia Mellencamp (ed.), Logics of Television. Essays in Cultural Criticism, Bloomington: Indiana University Press 1990. Unlike the Dienst excerpt the philosophical momentum is weak. Doane who is not a philosopher applies Roland Barthes’s dictum with Husserl that the time passed is the „noema“ of photography, a claim that Barthes may have made with phenomenologically inspired cinema theorist André Bazin who spoke of film as an embalming of time. Doane’s interesting comparison is that film’s „it was so“ is replaced by TV’s „it is so“. Still running into a theory of death, the inseperability of the medium from the referent „reality“ allows her to shed light on TV’s event with respect to the human interest of information, the compressd time of the crisis and the most critical crisis with catastrophy. However, despite good examples and some more accidental references to singular theoretical points made by Bloch, Benjamin and Lyotard Doane does not manage to interpret and found her findings philosophically, for instance with Heidegger or Baudrillard. There may not have been a need for doing so in the Mellencamp reader. Nor to Doane herself. But it would have been necessary for a reader titled „philosophy of televison“.


Again with Caldwell Matthias Thiele’s „Ereignis und Normalität. Zur normalistischen Logik medialer und diskursiver Ereignisproduktion im Fernsehen“ observes TV since 1980. Determined as a series of special events Thiele finds a dialectics at work. Events are linked with normality, produce normality. Thiele observes that the TV-as-event is modelled in three ways: it is a pre-media window to the world (something we cannot say anymore in the age of Windows, I think); it is news before the event – staging and mediation of events –  ; and it is the TV with and as event. It is the third model that is conceived by Thiele along Baudrillard’s theory of the construction and generation of events as hyper-reality that includes an ecstasis, a death of reality that fades into a sea of mere signs. Without discussing Baudrillard’s account –  it would have been worthwhile to inquire what Baudrillard says about TV from a more detailed theoretical philosophical perspective – Thiele turns to Engell’s „Das Amedium. Grundbegriffe des Fernsehens in Auflösung: Ereignis und Erwartung“ (montage a/v  5 (1996), nr. 1). According to Thiele Engell sets out to describe events as a selection, manufacturing and reworking of parts of tokens (Vorkommnissen) that bear more similarity to discursive events as Foucault analyzed them in „Orders of Discourse“. Punctual events in the proper sense are impossible with TV because events are permanently expected, produced, stretched and repeated. Therefore we have to deal with the paradox of the permanent event, an event determined by effects so much so that we cannot but speak of events in the status of deferred action (Nachträglichkeit), as Kay Kirchmann says. The unexpected live modus turns out to be something always already expected, says Thiele with Engell and turns to Louis Althusser’s „Contradiction and Overdetermination“ (1962) with highly insufficient reference to the text –  no trace of normality given by Thiele and claimed by him to have been treated by Althusser –  whereas Thiele could have much more profited from the concept of overdetermination in Freud (mentioned by Althusseer), when for instance any of the elements of „normal“ manifest dream reveals to be nourished and represented by several elements of latent dream thinking. For this reason Thiele’s notion of a normalist program (Normalprogramm) –  by the way not systematically developed in face of program deviations –  lacks a solid basis significantly even when he extends normalist production of events to the „normalizing“ control gaze in monitoring (Cavell).


Also in his contribution „Philosophie der Möglichkeiten. Das Fernsehen als konjunktivisches Erzählmedium“ Kay Kirchmann follows the line given by Engell to a great extent. Like Otto Gmelin’s Hegelian view of TV as an exterioration (alienation?) of the programmed idea to the world and like Engell’s and Fahle’s apprehension of TV as self reflective medium and TV philosophy focusing not on the mimetic or transformative but autopoietic acts of the medium –  Luhmann with philosopher and gestalt psychologist Fritz Heider: media can only be observed with their forms –  Kirchmann intends to demonstrate this stance by an application to the narrativity of TV programs. As a certain panoptism the camera directed on the moon onto the earth and with the selectionism of multi-channel TV since the 1970es (in Germany) along with the remote control device and second and third TV sets in households a main feature of TV may be recognized in the apparent pressure to exploit different possibilities (Engell). Theoretically Kirchmann recognizes behind that a unity of difference between the actual and the virtual at work (Deleuze) that may again be depicted with reference to something else. TV series and their formation of opinions, their genres of game and knowledge shows and their fragmentation of narration –  like Miami Vice responding to ad breaks and video clip styles –  testify to this complexity. Kirchmann concludes from TV’s preference of possibilities that TV –  today’s new TV (Casetti/Odin)! –  is „modal“ TV, is subjunctive in the grammatical sense instead of classical indicative TV. It correlates with an aesthetics of discontinuity, as Kirchmann puts it. On the one hand TV programs today are hyper-narrative, on the other hand narrating remains the basic mode for any forming in media including the labyrinthic game’s moves towards possible worlds (Mary-Laure Ryan). The same with movies and literature. A bit too fast Kirchmann claims that these narrative forms have „become reflective: ergo philosophical“ (page 166), he gives no theoretical evidence either. But he has interesting things to tell, for instance of the first German interactive TV game in channels ARD and ZDF in 1991, „Mörderische Entscheidung –  Umschalten Erwünscht“, of the narrative peculiarities of the mock history „Der Dritte Weltkrieg“. Highly fascinating is his analyses of the episode „When Night Meets Day“ of the series „Emergence Room“, broadcast first in the USA on May 9, 2003. Kirchmann uses a variety of instruments of literary analysis to show the antagonism of discourse versus histoire, a multifaceted procedure that may be found occasionally in cinema movies, but is at home in TV’s space of possibilities. Kirchmann may be right with regarding the „TV program as a continuous subjunctiv“171, in its immanent and transverse figuration of selection possibilities (again Engell). He concludes with the prospective that Engell’s theory of TV as a dispositive structure and his own of TV as subjunctive narrative may be once synthesized as a theory of programmatic structure in the subjunctive.


Vrääth Öhner in his text „Von der Gewöhnlichkeit des Ungewöhnlichen. Serielle Ordnungen und Ordnungen des Seriellen im Fernsehen“ is right with being more positive about Williams’s flow conception. TV flow –  if achieved at all – is considered by Öhner as a unity within the difference of technology and cultural form attesting visual mobility, contrast of points of view and the optical field variation. They all make for a kind of beauty between utopia and pessimism that is not characteristic everyday TV. Having said this Öhner deals with common defense against the uncanny by pragmatism with respect to contents and theory. As with Marshall McLuhan there is a neutralization in transforming spectators into screens and dominating that uncanny technology by means of the alphabet. Similar Freud at first glance to whom Öhner refers. He traces back the horrible to the common and explains its threat with seeming invincibility and the incapability of seperating the besouled and the unbesouled. Again with Freud Cavell constructed the topos of the uncanny of the common. This allows, according to Öhner, with a re-reading of Williams’s theory, to attribute to TV flow the ambivalence of technology and culture, of the planned and the irresponsible, of stereotypes and flowing identities, of the repeatable and the transitory. That genres do not amount to be genres-as-medium but only cycles makes them uncanny, says Öhner with Cavell. And with Deleuze, the stability of the series is achieved by a synthesis of the homogeneous instead of the heterogeneous. Hence multi-seriality does not lead to crisis but to synthesis of the heterogeneous and in consequence to a non-balanced state against which TV’s indifference can be put into play (Lawrence Grossberg). This explains the transitory of repetition, the longue durée of for instance an event like 9/11 (Oliver Fahle). Time (Dienst) and the present (Deleuze) converge here with the flow. We can get accustomed to the uncanny of the common by means of the mechanism of global representation. And repetition is not the transitory. The uncanny is common like the vicinity of remote points.


Heidemarie Schumacher’s contribution „Fernsehen und Hysterie“ departs from the fact that already what doctor Jean-Martin Charcot dealt with as hysteria has run into a rapture of series of copies of disease symptoms produced by, but not restricted to patients. Comparably the hallucinating similarity produced in more recent times with the effect of liquidating reference or the replacement of the real by signs of the real culminates today in the production of a hyperreal (Baudrillard) that even works without television. Broadcasts like „Big Brother“ or the cult of the webcam testify to what is celebrated as authenticity. Taking account of these newer social and cultural developments Schumacher observes a form of hysteria in talkshows that appears to be transformed to series of hyperreal emotions acted out, played. This is what she adds to a definition of the new television concerning the social space (Casetti/Odin). It explains why –  apart from the law of serials’ „infinite analysis“–  conflicts in daily soaps or talks basically remain unsolved, why there are formless, endlessly stretched „second/third/fifth“ acts but no „first/fifth“ ones and why there is a whole culture of „first/fifth“ acts superimposing the other ones with recaps and cliffhangers. The result is, as Schumacher says, a hysterodrama with a simulated symptomatology along the self-representation of addressees. Lay actors in daily afternoon’s talking cure produce affects on command nowadays under the supervision of priests, judges and therapists. In any case these freak shows demonstrate an inner emptiness resting on the schizoid cleavage of emotions.


Jürgen Trinks with „Erlebte und erzeugte Serialität. Ein Beitrag zur phänomenologischen Medienanalyse“ categorically states that television is thinking, but, unlike Engell, in distance to Philosophy. Trinks speaks of a kind of thinking that is realization, expression, a lived thinking experienced through the body. The key example for TV seen this way is the TV series, a possibility of experiencing –  with imagination, phantasy, bodilyness (Leiblichkeit) and affectuality –  seriality with cinematic pictoriality, narrativity and presentation that is sustained by monitoring (Cavell). Pictorial seriality, first, is linked by Trinks with fin de siècle impressionist painting, with photography and film. At stake is not an object, but an appearance realized with time. Required is style of thought directed to an expectation of contingency. Husserl saw the picture as composed of a material basis, a sujet as something meant and the pictorial object as a whole of representational elements together with the material of the pictorial thing. With Husserl Trinks states that there is no pictorial thing given with TV, hence a stepping forward of pictures’ rhythmical movements, a „dance“ of pictures. Necessary becomes a decision about the use of the series of film frames, and before all about depicting. As with photography the mirroring and the play with depiction run into kind of intermediate time allowing to plunge into or emerge from the horizons of not yet decided situations. Simultaneously being struck and the living of phantasy is fulfilled in bodily experience. Secondly pops up a seriality after a transformed narrativity. Narrative connections work via markers together with particular temporality and an aesthetic quality of the horizon of bodily uncertainty. Here comes in Cavell’s principle of series-episode as a deviation from the narrative: a singularity to be tested in different contexts. Thirdly, there is a need for supply by TV with serial forms because of the peculiarities of monitoring, its expectation of the unexpected and its trained gaze for quick turns that allow for a mastering of fear and anxieties, be they imagined or real. This considered and compared Trinks willynilly is drawn to recognize that TV further entails a reception attitude focused more on consciousness and not interbodily relationships. He observes a removal of the uncanny –  not the sublime! In consequence the world becomes boring and the body is excluded without having the transpossible. All this makes possible seriality as entertainment and superficiality, seriality’s phantom-body effects (Günther Anders), a seriality that reworks imagination without phantasy and replaces contingency with disposal.


O.k. Some remarks will be in order. What do we do with all this?


When Kay Kirchmann says there is only Fahle’s/Engell’s philosophy of TV –  „no further account for the formulation of a philosophy of TV at hand“ (pages 158f.) – he does not think of or ignores the theories of a variety of philosophers. He may depreciate them. But then he should say so. And why. There are quite a few figures around though. Yes, Theodor W. Adorno and Günther Anders  – Herbert Marcuse belongs here too – are far away from systematically philosophizing about TV. Yet there are several important older essays that are even referred to in this volume (without person index) by Dienst and Trinks. It is further a desideratum to reconstruct or give an interpretation of what may be or may have been a fuller account of ancestral media theories with respect to TV. That applies to Cavell whose seminal „The fact of television“ is used significantly by the authors as for instance by Jürgen Trinks who himself wrote a book length study with referecne to Cavell. I think particularly – because of co-editions with Friedrich Kittler of „Fugen, Deutsch-Französisches Jahrbuch für Text-Analytik“ 1977 and Diskursanalysen 1 (media) and 2 (institution university) 1987 and 1990 – of literary theorist Samuel Weber whose work about TV is ignored by all of the volume’s authors (see The Media and the War, in: Emergences 3/4, Fall 1992; Die Sprache des Fernsehens: Versuch, einem Medium näher zu kommen, in: Dubost (ed.), Bildstörung. Gedanken zu einer Ethik der Wahrnehmung, Leipzig 1994; Television: Set and Screeen, in: Mass Mediauras. Essays on Form, Technics and Media, Stanford 1996). Norbert Bolz may be out of fashion, yet he has published Eine kurze Geschichte des Scheins in 1991 still worth to be studied. Also overlooked is Alexander Nehamas who published on the subject from a point of view of analytical philosophy. And as with Italian philosophers in general Mario Perniola has had so far a difficult stand in German speaking philosophy – his „Fernsehästhetiken“ 1983 and „Videokulturen als Spiegel“ 1990 have found almost no response.


There is a problem that can only be solved by philosophers with acquiring a double perspective, an internal and an external perspective. As for the latter, we must not ignore anymore that in film theory – and TV theory – Cavell and Deleuze are not taken as seriously as philosophers like it to see. Besides the difficulty of and the suspicion against philosophy by film and TV studies the reason for low regard is that the result of an approriation of both philosophies is judged in terms of which and how many theorems we can get from them. A preliminary reading may give the impression that Cavell’s book is a hybrid mixture of Bazin, Panofsky, Baudelaire, the formalism of Greenberg and Fried, Kuhn and, more hidden, Wittgenstein and some Heidegger, and that Deleuze’s two books are a forced attempt of a synthesis of Bergson and Peirce including texts on movies by Pasolini, Burch, Eisenstein, Metz, Vertov, Beckett and rarely on philosophy by Balázs, Nietzsche, Maldiney or Merleau-Ponty, with both Cavell and Deleuze entertaining a variety of film interpretations. An additional difficulty for using Cavell and Deleuze in film and TV studies is that the former seems to not take much notice of film and TV studies – to put it carfully – whereas Deleuze refers in many cases to French film studies that have not given translations, with finally both Cavell and Deleuze refraining from giving a full philosophical setting of their endeavours.


Although Engell and Fahle repeatedly refer to Cavell and Deleuze, with this book’s selection of contributions – done on which occasion? – Fahle and primus inter pares Engell (Thiele, Kirchmann, Fahle, Adelmann/Stauff) unfortunately show no interest in more extensively dealing with Cavell and Deleuze. Philosophically we are fed all over the book with small portions of references, footnotes, quotations. The book lacks more complex summaries of Cavell and Deleuze on their own conditions – even a philosophical or theoretical summary of often cited Caldwell would be rewarding. It would have meant entering work on chapters of the history of philosophy. The times for doing it seem unfavourable as shown by the increasing unwillingness of the authors to take account, as a necessary step of literary theories like that of Friedrich Kittler, Avital Ronell or Samuel Weber. They are not even a generation older so that the question arises whether the 78ers and younger feel themselves being on the move with competing with the 68ers? Compare, in this respect, the book’s references with those of Heidemarie Schumacher’s book Fernsehen. fernsehen, Modelle der Medien- und Fernsehtheorie, Köln: DuMont 2000.


No, a philosophy is asked that is ready to resume work for building new philosophical foundations. Doing philosophy of television also means to use insights into the the structure and use of television for synthesizing 20th century philosophies that have denied similarities and connections with opposite schools at the time. Paradoxically editors Engell’s and Fahle’s own contributions make an appetite for such an occupation with Jürgen Trinks’s approach making a reconstruction of phenomenology’s specific investigations all the more necessary, from Richir to Merleau-Ponty and Anders and down to Husserl, Dewey (Shusterman) and Bergson. With regards to the uncanny an exchange would be of help between Dienst and Öhner who develops a view on Cavell that is broader than the still valuable references of Fahle and Thiele. Peirce has been addressed by Engell in a way that could be further used for bridging the gap netween Peirce and phenomenology. Phenomenology and Peirce have something in common as Deleuze admitted in footnote 16 to chapter 6 in Cinema 1. Despite his skepticism toward phenomenology Deleuze – expressed for instance in Cinema 1, beginning of chapter four – there have obviously been some expectations on the side of Deleuze the were disappointed („Sartre’s anti-Bergsonism“). Fahle who is not far from being a Deleuzian profitably proposes a reading of Merleau-Ponty. And Engell - besides his indications of Goodman’s theory of notation in Languages of Art in his „Wählen ...“ – can even get to grips with Luhmann and Spencer Brown on phenomenological terrain. We may further hope that the sharpness of Baudrillard’s criticism honoured by Schumacher, Dienst and Thiele may be preserved for philosophy once one will have come to terms with his media apocalypse in transformation to philosophy of history that refines and sublates the Casetti-Odin distinction.


As Maurizio Ferraris demonstrates with his book about the mobile phone (Dove sei? Ontologia del telefonino, = Tascabili Bompiani 315, Milano: RCS libri 2005) – a subject that is painfully completely absent from the Fahle/Engell collection although a Japanese mobile communication company had announced to offer TV transmission from spring 2004 as early as fall 2003, as are absent theoretical occupations with TV’s general relations to radio, video, the internet, interactive art, the TV set, HDTV or storage specifics – the medium’s universal capabilities if producing and sending „inscriptions“ with registrating it simultaneously. These inscriptions on a particular support/surface – a writing machine in this case – make for social objects that have got to do more with recording than communication and as such constitute social reality. This necesitates a turn to the ontology of the media to which Ferraris contributes in favour of a weak textualism according to Derrida and with contrast to the strong realism of Reinach, the weak realism of Searle and the strong textualism of Foucault. Ferraris gives an example of if not rooting the philosophy of the media or one particular medium within more traditional philosophical realms.


Another realm could be aesthetics. Adelmann and Stauff give the outlines of theory of TV that could well of high philosophical importance. For the permanent reworking of the performance of style in TV over months and years could give rise to the question whether that „evolution“ itself could be described as a play of intellect and imagination that was, as is known, the basic requirement for the arts of Kant. Is television an – open – art work as much as it is an object formed over a span of time that usually is not observed with art?


For the moment I prefer considering a provisional Kantian perspective on the gaming of televison. We have since as late as 1969 with Nam June Paik’s and Shuya Abe’s video sythesizer an artistic use of live television. Now, with the remote control, with joystick/console, the cellular and artistic notebook interfaces it has become real for all of us to ascend to play with the instrument, consciously or not. The frustrating thing about TV is that it seems to have not reached a specific artistic use yet. It may involve all the traditional arts of spoken or written text, photography, film, music, radio, theatre (in the studio or transmissed live or recorded), video, film. But it has not come of age, come to its own consciousness of a specific language. The key may be given with the realization of a Williamsian flow within the different possibilities of remote control program selection that may again be appropriated in a much more offensive way by artists. What I think of is a mastering of TV images and sound – as for instance realized with "Piazza Virtuale" of "Van Gogh TV" at documenta 9 in 1992 on a large scale – that may produce an aesthetic distance to TV immediacy and allow for a phenomenalizing sublimation of the numerous realities of fun, violence and control. Could a live artistic confrontation with TV broadcasting under the title of TV-VJing/DJing – the use of the remote control in public space – pave the way for an art that allows to gain more philosophical insight? Could the consideration and experimentation of this potential be another step out of the current lameness in the philosophy of television and – of art?



Peter Mahr © 2006



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