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Optical Media

Friedrich Kittler

ISBN: 978-0-745-64090-7 December 2009 Polity 332 Pages


This major new book provides a concise history of optical media from Renaissance linear perspective to late twentieth-century computer graphics. Kittler begins by looking at European painting since the Renaissance in order to discern the principles according to which modern optical perception was organized. He also discusses the development of various mechanical devices, such as the camera obscura and the laterna magica, which were closely connected to the printing press and which played a pivotal role in the media war between the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation.

After examining this history, Kittler then addresses the ways in which images were first stored and made to move, through the development of photography and film. He discusses the competitive relationship between photography and painting as well as between film and theater, as innovations like the Baroque proscenium or "picture-frame" stage evolved from elements that would later constitute cinema. The central question, however, is the impact of film on the ancient monopoly of writing, as it not only provoked new forms of competition for novelists but also fundamentally altered the status of books. In the final section, Kittler examines the development of electrical telecommunications and electronic image processing from television to computer simulations.

In short, this book provides a comprehensive introduction to the history of image production that is indispensable for anyone wishing to understand the prevailing audiovisual conditions of contemporary culture.

Preliminary Remarks

1. Theoretical Presuppositions

2. Technologies of the Fine Arts

2.1 Camera Obscura and Linear Perspective

2.1.1 Prehistory Greeks and Arabs

2.1.2 Implementation Brunelleschi Alberti

2.1.3 Impact Perspective and Letterpress The Self-Printing of Nature Europe’s Colonial Power

2.2 Laterna Magica and the Age of the World Picture

2.2.1 Magic Lanterns in Action

2.2.2 Implementation

2.2.3 Impact Propaganda Heidegger’s Age of the World Picture Jesuits and Optical Media Travelling People Jesuit Churches Jesuit Theatre

2.3 Enlightenment and Image War

2.3.1 Brockes

2.3.2 Phenomenology from Lambert to Hegel

2.3.3 Ghost Seer Schiller Hoffmann

2.3.4 Romantic Poetry

3. Optical Media

3.1 Photography

3.1.1 Prehistory

3.1.2 Implementation Niépce and Daguerre Talbot

3.1.3 Painting and Photography: A Battle for the Eyeballs

3.2 Film

3.2.1 Preludes

3.2.2 Implementation Marey and Muybridge

3.2.2 Silent Film

3.2.3 Sound Film

3.2.4 Colour Film

3.3 Television

4. Computer

  • Friedrich Kittler is a leading scholar of media history in Germany
  • This accessible study is based on his lectures on the history of optical media in 1999 at Humboldt University, Berlin
  • The broad-ranging history of optical media examines a variety of examples such as European painting and the invention of the camera obscura
  • As one of the most important and interesting German theorists, Kittler already has a good following but this will also appeal to all students in media, cultural and literature studies