Grey Room

Unfolded, Not Opened: On Bernhard Siegert’s Cultural Techniques

Reinhold Martin


Some time ago, Gilles Deleuze showed that folding was perhaps the problem for seventeenth-century European metaphysics, a subset of which was the problem of envelopment. Five of the ten virtuosic essays in Siegert’s new book, Cultural Techniques: Grids, Filters, Doors and Other Articulations of the Real (2015), touch on this period. All, however, eschew the critique of metaphysics for the study of primary material processes, like those that separate insides from outsides. Among the claims that Siegert, a leading media theorist and codirector of the Internationales Kolleg für Kulturtechnikforschung und Medienphilosophie (IKKM) in Weimar, makes for the “cultural techniques” approach is that it “moves ontology into the domain of ontic operations” or “empirical transcendentals.” Rather than speaking about beings as such (like monadic human beings), the study of cultural techniques, which can mean the study of quite a few things, gets underneath their being to the procedures and processes from which they arise: human beings from their hominization, time from its measurement, space from its control, and so on. Culture, brought down from the pedestal of literacy, includes all of the above and more. The archive of media-theoretical analysis thus expands from the material substrate(s) of writing or graphism into essentially the entire playing field of human and nonhuman history.