Friedrich Kittler’s “Forgetting:” The Whistler at the Gates of Morning?

I’ve tracked down a copy of an early paper by Kittler, titled “Forgetting” (1979). The translation appears to be quite good, except for the unfortunate rendering of Pink Floyd’s Piper at the Gates of Dawn as in the title, above. But this actually proves Kittler’s point: Despite the insistence of hermeneutics on the integrity of the work and of the author’s communication through it, the hermeneutic “work” was in Kittler’s time (and much more clearly today) overshadowed by the database, catalogue, archive, and algorithms of translation and organization. Increasingly, these are the only means of access, persistence, organization and retrieval for these works –via online catalogues, full text databases and the ubiquity of Google queries:

The person who draws up catalogues does not understand them any more than the person who uses them. A book list, a representation of the keys on a typewriter, or a telephone book do not constitute sentences, but statements. Catalogues are statements which make statements manipulable. And if the most frequently printed and the most frequently used books today are tables, inventories, circuit charts which only schizo[phrenic]s write or read from front to back, then [how can] hermeneutics, without question, takes as its point of departure that subclass of books that some people still write or read from front to back.

Kittler further argues that these books and instruments are imperfect, providing flawed representations of the information they organize –pointing the user to missing files or records, deleted Web pages and dead domain names. Forgetting, in other words, is one of their key functions –and it appears as similarly indispensable in the methodology outlined by Kittler in this remarkable piece.

From: Discourse. Berkeley Journal for Theoretical Studies in Media and Culture, Nr. 3, 1981, 88-121

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