Situation Determines Our Media Theory
“Situation determines our media theory.” It is with this reversal of the
(in)famous opening statement of Friedrich Kittler’s Gramophone, Film,
Typewriter that Marc Steinberg and Alexander Zahlten announce the pro-
grammatic aim of their fascinating collection of essays on “media theory
in Japan.” At once the proclamation of an imperative to bring geocultural
specificity to media studies in general and a concrete call to particularize
media theory and development in Japan, this reversal— situation, not media,
as determinant— furnishes a basis upon and a background against which
to evaluate the stakes of Steinberg and Zahlten’s proj ect. At the same time,
it serves as an anchor for interweaving what are, to be sure, highly diverse
contributions whose commonality stems less from any shared commitment
or claim than from a collectively singular, though highly disparate, engage-
ment with the situation of Japan.
Informing Steinberg and Zahlten’s reversal of Kittler’s perspective is an
ambivalent reception of the volume that I coedited with my then University
of Chicago colleague W. J. T. Mitchell, Critical Terms for Media Studies. In
our introduction to this volume, Tom and I also took up Kittler’s infamous
pronouncement by deforming it. “Rather than determining our situation,”
we wrote, “media are our situation.”1 By this, we meant that media permeate
A F T E R W O R D. T H E D I S J U N C T I V E K E R N E L
O F J A PA N E S E M E D I A T H E O R Y
mark b. n. hansen
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