CFP: GSA 2020 Panel: Thinking Machines and the "Psychic Apparatus", Washington, D.C. (13.02.2020)

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Call for Abstracts for GSA 2020 panel series: Thinking Machines and the “Psychic Apparatus” 

Freud’s tendency to use the term “psychic apparatus” as a synonym or even substitute for “Geist” [mind, spirit] explains in part his unique position within contemporary humanistic approaches to science and technology studies. On the one hand, the technical locution marks Freud as a late exponent of a 19th-century scientific tradition that strove to render the mind ‘material,’ via a combination of physiological research, psychophysical experimentation, and novel inscription technologies. On the other, Freud was unceasing in his efforts to conceive and describe the unconscious mind in terms of media for the recording, storage, and processing of information. This, coupled with his insistence upon the consequences of this media-theoretical reconception of the mind for inherited notions of subjectivity, has made him a foundational figure for a techno-materialist tradition bent on decentering – or desubjectivizing – the psyche. “Freud's materialism,” Friedrich Kittler writes in an essay on psychoanalysis and media, “simply thought what was realized in the information machines of his era -- nothing more and nothing less. Rather than continuing to dream of the Spirit [Geist] as origin, he described a 'psychic apparatus' (Freud's wonderful neologism) that implemented all available transmission and storage media.” 

This panel seeks contributions from scholars of media history and science and technology studies on the discursive history of the “psychic apparatus” and the associated media technologies used to study, model, and describe the workings of the conscious and unconscious mind, both within the psychoanalytic tradition and without. For although the term was popularized by Freud, it is neither his invention nor was he the sole psychoanalyst to employ it. Instead, references to a “psychic apparatus” appear throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, in contexts ranging from Helmholtz’s work on the physiology of sense perception to Kapp’s theory of the technological unconscious to Nietzsche’s “nerve- and brain-apparatus” a.k.a “falsification- and abstraction-apparatus” to Viktor Tausk’s seminal 1919 essay on the hallucinatory “influencing machine” afflicting paranoid schizophrenics. Similarly, efforts to describe, model, or imitate the mind in terms of modern media technologies did not cease with Freud, but have only intensified – from Lacan’s cybernetics to the photographic memories of Blade Runner’s replicants to the fMRI imaging of modern neuroscience and affect theory. Central questions of this panel include: What can be learned from the media used to study, model, or describe the mind at a given historical moment? What forms of subjectivity have different media technologies or media regimes helped to create, uphold, or undermine? How have media-theoretical representations of thought influenced historical ontologies or epistemologies? 

Contributions might address:

- Intersections of psychoanalysis and media theory 

- The media of psychoanalysis and their influence upon (or challenge to) key doctrines of psychoanalytic thought

- Resistance to representation and modeling in psychoanalysis, immaterialities of the unconscious

- Mnemotechnics, Memorex, Vannevar Bush

- Gendered apparatuses, androids and gynoids (Hoffmann, Villiers de l’Isle Adam, Siri/Alexa/Cortana)

- Conceptual history of “psyche,” “mind,” or “psychic apparatus”

- “Machine man” and 18th century physiological materialism

- 19th-century physiological materialism

- Psychophysics, psychophysiology, the history of psychographic media in the 19th century

- Artificial intelligences, mechanical or machinic unconsciouses

- Cybernetics and machine thought, Heidegger and in-form-atics, Lacan’s thinking machines

- Pre-, post-, or para-Freudian models of the ‘mechanical’ or ‘technical thinking’ in philosophy, physiology, art, or science

- “Apparatus theory” and film studies

- Theories of the “optical,” “acoustic,” or “tactile unconscious”

Please submit 350-500 word abstracts and a short bio to Jake Fraser ( and Jeffrey Kirkwood ( by February 13. Please also indicate whether you would be willing to serve as a moderator or commentator on other panels. 

Redaktion: Constanze Baum – Lukas Büsse – Mark-Georg Dehrmann – Nils Gelker – Markus Malo – Alexander Nebrig – Johannes Schmidt

Diese Ankündigung wurde von H-GERMANISTIK [Johannes Schmidt] betreut –