Sphinx meets siren

VTwenty years ago, a book by Friedrich Kittler and Cornelia Vismann with the flirtatious title “Vom Greece” was published by Merve Verlag in Berlin. That sounded very nonsensical, but it was meant differently: It was not about the classic norm of even shapes, but about a rhythm that goes “in the legs” (Hegel), about a theory of tone that was supposed to stand alongside Goethe’s theory of colors , to a living antiquity that shows itself in a “flicker of sound and light”.

Kittler, who turned German studies into media studies and, as a cultural scientist, came up with an original Hellas that Heidegger would never have borrowed, was a siren as an academic teacher – people followed his call from far beyond the subject areas.

The artist Joulia Strauss is one of those who want to spread this reputation. She has now found a location for this, which one would rather associate with a contact with the gods à la Erich von Däniken than with the epiphanies of Attica.

Between the city and the bacon belt

The International Congress Centrum Berlin (ICC) is sitting on the threshold between the city and the bacon belt as if from an unknown universe, a “monster”, as it was recently called in the FAZ, which has lost its original purpose and is waiting for a future one.

Demolition would open another wound in a city’s history that has already shoddily discarded far too many of its most interesting places. There is currently another temporary use at the ICC: “The Sun Machine is Coming Down” is the name of an exhibition by the Berliner Festspiele that invites you to a fun art search campaign in the sophisticated maze of levels of the congress hall: Where do you go, please, to the performance again by Tino Sehgal?

Joulia Strauss is right next to Sehgal. She has a room that is so cramped and amphitheatrically arranged that one would even like to open it up for smoking – which in turn would be entirely in the spirit of Friedrich Kittler. It stands there brightly lit as a sculpture: a siren that is also a sphinx, a head with hair and mustache that is beginning to blow, sitting on a busty torso that continues down into the hybrid.

Sculpture with a mustache

Joulia Strauss’ ivy grows in the middle of the room, where perhaps in an ideal antiquity the teacher sat in the midst of a crowd of students. A plant whose foliage tends to be mathematical, as she said on Thursday evening during one of the séances with which she would like to bring Kittler to the table in the coming days.

October 18th marks the tenth anniversary of his death, and on this occasion you can go on “soul journeys” to see him at the ICC. Recordings of his lectures are shown on two video walls; you can listen to him eroticizing his idiosyncratic ancient Greek.

The word Symmachos, for example, comrade in arms or fellow combatant or ally, he carried over to trench warfare in bed. And the intimate togetherness is triangulated aphroditically, because wherever there is love, the goddess of love is always there, but she is then also secularized again in the idealization of the loved one, whereby the transcendent third becomes a twosome.

Which, with some poetic freedom, almost leads to the solution that Oedipus had for the riddle of the Sphinx: the being that stalks through the world with one to three legs is man.

“Academic knowledge begins with the lame desire to be desired,” wrote Kittler twenty years ago. Even ten years after his death, the eros of knowledge is so strong that Joulia Strauss has now given him an Elysion in which pentagrammatic greenery proliferates in the dark and in which you can consult the modern oracle of a chatbot that has Kittler quotes in store Has.

The suggestion for the monster in whose belly all this takes place is quite clear on leaving: One could simply let the ICC run wild and meanwhile many utopian academies should sprout inside.


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