Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Auf Wiedersehen, signandsight.com

It know that it occurred 7 years ago, around the time I began this blog, but I cannot recall the route by which I first happened upon signandsight.com, the website whose motto is--or was--"Let's Talk European." I say was, because almost a month ago, on March 28, the editors, Thierry Chervel and Anja Seeliger, posted a valedictory letter, letting readers know that this little internet torch of knowledge would be doused; there would be no more new articles, magazine essay summaries, feuilletons, links, anything. All good things do come to their end, but the web will be intellectually and discursively poorer without signandsight.com, which focused primarily on German arts and letters, but cast its net widely to gather together reviews, intellectual debates, controversies, new cultural discoveries, translations, and a range of other materials few other sites matched.
German writer Emine Sevgi Özdamar (signandsight.com)
Most of the authors, among whose ranks you could find the likes of 2009 Nobel Prize winner Herta Müller, eschewed the sort of refined, sometimes icy hauteur in displaying their prodigious learning a reader might encounter in The New York Review of Books, yet by the same token they also delved more fully into their topics than New York Times or Guardian journalists. Since the site was anchored in German history and culture, that country's and the Germanophone world's concerns usuallyfilled its scrolling headings, but the range of topics often crossed (European and global) national boundaries. The weekly (every Tuesday at noon!) European magazine summaries, the last appearing March 27, were like smorgasbords of information, often offering a slant perspective on American takes on the news.  To give one example, there's been little coverage in the US press, save in Paul Krugman's blog posts, about the growing rise of fascism in Hungary, but in this last grove of links, you could learn about the mutual far-right admiration societies in Poland and Hungary, the latter's influence sending chills up the spines of moderate and left-leaning Poles.

Among the longer articles, a representative range might include "The medium is English," questioning whether there were still any British intellectuals; "Against obscurantism," which covered the Argentinian philosopher and scholar Horacio Potel's battle against publishers who sought to kill (and did) his not-for-profit websites featuring texts by Nietzsche, Heidegger, and others; and "How to save the quality press," an impassioned and informed article by none other than Jürgen Habermas, one of the world's greatest living thinkers.  More than once on Sign and Sight I learned something new about a figure, like Christa Wolf, whose work I thought I was conversant with, but I also would learn about writers and thinkers I'd never heard of. For example, Friedrich Kittler (1943-2011) a German media theorist, scholar, and peer of and correspondent with Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, and Klaus Theleweit. In an interview conducted by Andreas Rosenfelder originally in Welt am Sonntag (Sunday World newspaper) that signandsight.com posted, I learned that Kittler's seminal works examined "discourse networks," war and militarism, hacking and computers, popular culture, and, in his latter years, love as concept and practice. Such is his following that there exists a group of young scholars who call themselves the "Kittner Youth." I also learned that Kittler wrote the first chapter, on Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Faust, of his influential dissertation only after rolling a joint and inhaling deeply. He also apparently had crackups, traveled to hear Jacques Lacan's seminars, and proposed a distinctive way of thinking about technology, including writing as technology and the technology of writing. I have, suffice it to say, since sought Kittler's work out.

Here is his response to Rosenfelder's question about whether he has any interest in Facebook:

No, not remotely. It gives me the uncanny feeling that normal people have become so unimportant for those in power and business that self-presentation is the last resort. When I arrived in California for the first time and went up Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley heading for campus, I passed a playing field full of exhibitionists running about. People dressed as harlequins begging for money or smoking dope. When I then entered campus and looked at the people there, they lowered their eyes. People either seem completely depressed or they put on a huge show and telephone loudly in the train restaurant.

As for the interview itself, he compared it to the pleasures of psychoanalysis, the creating of literature while lying on the couch. A bit of that literature, he hinted, might have been created in his conversation with Rosenfelder; a trove of literature, it's clear for anyone who regularly read signandsight.com, could be found behind its seven-years-worth of headlines. Auf wiedersehen!

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