Kiening, Christian

Prototype Media Scenarios – From Moses to Caligari

The history of media goes back less than a century. For most of this period since its inception by Balász or Benjamin, McLuhan or Innis, it has been studied as a history of techniques and technical innovations: the history of scripture, of printing, of photography, of film, of radio, followed by the history of electronic and digital media. Although cultural studies in media research now exist, in which researchers look beyond the analysis of the traditional media of communication to observe the colourful diversity of material forms and symbolic formations which could all be described as media, (from means of transportation, such as the wheel or horse, to abstract items such as money or power, faith or love) the isolated examination of single media in their social, political, and aesthetic dimensions still dominates – single media, whose genuine medial character constitutes something like the blind spot within the examination. If we shift our interest away from the question of what media are, to the question of what serves as a medium in which situations, we encounter the more basic problem concerning the conditions allowing for the possibility of media. Hence, we have to turn our attention not only to the picture that the media gives us of the world, but also to the pictures that form our notion of what media are. It is the aim of this research project, therefore, to examine the history of media as an idea. The individual chapters of the envisaged book outline constellations and scenarios of media which have become determining factors for the notion in the western world: from Moses on Mount Sinai to the cave-dweller in Plato, Narcissus and Echo in Ovid, the medieval forms of ecphrasis and body scripture, to the crucial moments on which the differences in the media of the modern era are founded, such as differences between text and picture in Lessing’s Laokoon, or between spiritualist medium and technical apparatus in Wiene’s Caligari. During his stay at the Lichtenberg-Kolleg, Kiening intends to elaborate on the medieval elements of this spectrum: the figure of the singer in Beda’s church history, the role of the stigmata in Bonaventura’s vita of St Francis, and the picture of the all-seeing God in Cusa’s De visione dei.