Prof. Dr. Wolfram Nitsch

October 2011 - March 2012
Wolfram Nitsch (born 1960 in Munich) is Professor of Romance studies at the University of Cologne as well as board member of the university's Zentrum für Medienwissenschaften (Center for media studies) and its Centrum für interdisziplinäre Frankreich- und Frankophonieforschung (Center for interdisciplinary French studies). He studied French, German and Spanish philology at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, where he achieved both his PhD and his habilitation and worked as assistant professor and later as professor. He has also been visiting lecturer at Universidad Nacional de Tucumán (Argentina), Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (Spain), and Universidad Nacional de La Plata (Argentina). Since 2010, he is co-editor of the series "machina" published with transcript Verlag.

Fields of research

French contemporary prose; French novels of the 19th and 20th century; Spanish baroque literature and culture, modern Argentinean literature; French cinema; urban space in literature and film; literary anthropology, media theory, theory and history of the metaphor.

IKKM Research Project

MOBILE MEDIATOPES - Urban Transport in Contemporary Paris Films

In a mediology (Debray) conceived as an ‘ecology of the mind’, transport technologies as well as transmission technologies form the material environment of mental phenomena. Means of transport, however, as ‘structural media’ have long been the ‘poor relatives’ of information media in the field of media studies, although the founder of discourse on the media, McLuhan, advocated the inclusive term ‘communication’ to describe these two forms of technology. Only recently have they received increasing theoretical attention, either from the anthropological perspective such as in the writings of Augé on metropolitan mobility or from the aesthetic point of view such as in Schwarzer’s studies on modernism’s ‘zoomscape’, in the constitution of which new vehicles and new visual media interact. Following up on such considerations, the present research project is aimed at describing contemporary urban means of transport as mobile mediatopes. In doing so, they are intended first to be seen as milieus in which human perception is formed in particular ways. Urban means of transport mobilize the observer in relation to the cityscape, which appears to him, depending of the speed of transport, as a flight of images or as an unexpected still image; and they socialize him by integrating him with a varying collective of passengers and traffic participants. Second, the aim is also to situate the various means of transport themselves in their urban surroundings. The motorised and surrounded observer’s perception of the city depends not least on how abstract and how symbolic the transport corridor used by him is shaped. He moves along tracks and streets with various levels of demarcation, and he crosses spaces that are lettered, illustrated and ‘ensonified’ in varying degrees and that count on his movement or its interruption (say, in front of monitors). Thus a topology of urban transport beckons as the systematic yield of this project, one which takes into account the multitude of mobility options available to the contemporary traffic participant (acceleration vs. deacceleration, collective transport vs. private transport, above-ground vs. underground routes). The reference framework of the project is formed by two theory traditions from France that only recently have been accepted in this country, traditions which allow one to refine McLuhan’s reflections on an ‘ecology of the media’: Debray’s ‘mediology‘ designed in relation to ecological figures of thought, as well as the ‘cultural technology’ or social and cultural anthropology of technology founded by Mauss, which has been further developed by Haudricourt and Leroi-Gourhan and revived by Serres and Latour. The systematic description outlined in this way is intended to be derived and examined using Paris films from recent decades in which the generally unplanned impact of urban transport on human perception is studied with particular attention. Their shared historical background is formed by the increasing acceleration and networking that occurred in connection with the so-called ‘Second Haussmannisation’ of Paris during the postwar years, which increasingly transformed Paris from a monumental ensemble into a decentralised network with connection options between the most varied means of transport (railway, métro, omnibus, automobile; more recently again tramway and bicycle). In addition to relevant instructive episodic films (Paris vu par, Vingt ans après, Paris je t’aime), trend-setting films by Tati (Trafic), Rivette (Le Pont du Nord), Wenders (Der amerikanische Freund), Beineix (Diva), and Besson (Subway), lesser known productions such as those of Clair Denis (Vendredi soir) and Jean-Claude Guiguet (Les Passagers) are also intended to be examined more closely as especially revealing explorations of this transport area.