Is It Time Yet to Talk About the Conservatism of German Media Theory?

At least in the circles where I travel, Anglophone importers haven’t really reckoned with the political conservatism of so-called* German media theory. Geoffrey Winthrop-Young has a few good lines on the subject in Kittler and the Media, but I have not found a systemic critique, and there is little discussion.

At this historical moment, when fascisms and nationalisms are resurgent and we are in a full-blown climate crisis, I think it’s time for a real discussion.

Here’s a bad translation (via Google Translate) of a recent piece on the future of the humanities by Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht for consideration. The original German below for those who want the more nuanced version. The full article is here.

Since then, their representatives at the universities have cultivated the mood of political correctness as the aspiration to uphold the traditional orientations of a Social Democratic to a Socialist left in times of new challenges and the uncertainties that they pose. As if 1989 had not happened – and as if the world had hardly become more complex since Karl Marx. They devote particular attention to the description and demands of diverse minority identities, always under the premise that moral status must also be linked to minority status.

An den Universitäten haben vor allem ihre Vertreter seither die Stimmung politischer Korrektheit als den Anspruch kultiviert, in Zeiten neuer Herausforderungen und der von ihnen ausgehenden Unsicherheiten die traditionellen Orientierungen einer sozialdemokratischen bis sozialistischen Linken hochzuhalten. So als habe sich 1989 nicht ereignet – und als sei die Welt seit Karl Marx kaum komplexer geworden. Mit besonderer Hingabe widmen sie sich dabei der Beschreibung und den Forderungen vielfältiger Minderheitsidentitäten, stets unter der Prämisse, dass mit dem Minderheitenstatus auch ein moralischer Vorrang verbunden sein müsse.

I’ll just say this for now: the way he describes the academic left seems profoundly, even willfully ignorant. There’s another passage where he derides academic networks, as if he himself has not benefitted mightily from institutional and personal connections in his own career. (The quoted bit comes at the beginning of a section entitled “The New Moralism”)

*There is a lot of other good work on media by Germans that is not capital German Media Theory.

**It has been pointed out to me that Gumbrecht is not a “real” German media theory person. All I can say is that that is how his Production of Presence and Materialities of Communication are read in English, and that in the summer of 2018, I saw him presented as an expert on the subject to the Stanford-Leuphana media studies summer school.