Ben Kafka (born 1976) is Assistant Professor of Media History and Theory at New York University since 2007 and a candidate psychoanalyst at the Institute for Psychoanalytic Training and Research in New York since 2010. Having received a B.A. in History and Modern Culture and Media at Brown University (1998) and a Ph.D. in History at Stanford University (2004), Kafka was a lecturer and Cotsen-Perkins-Fellow at Princeton University from 2004 to 2007. In the summer of 2008 and 2009, Kafka was a visiting assistant professor at the Department of Global Communication of the American University in Paris. He was a fellow at the Princeton Society of Fellows (2004-2007), a scholar at the School of Social Sciences (2009-2010) and since 2007, he is a fellow at the New York Institute for the Humanities. Most recently, he has been awarded a Charles A. Ryskamp Fellowship from the American Council of Learned Societies.
Dated from 2012
Fields of research
Media history and theory with special interests in writing, printing, paperwork, archivistics, grammatology, and psychoanalysis. Current research: history of graphology
IKKM Research Project
I am currently researching a book on the history of handwriting analysis tentatively entitled "The Live Diagram." Graphology fails to meet even the most rudimentary requirements of a science. Yet to many people it makes intuitive sense: our handwriting must tell us something about ourselves, about the people we know, about the people we want to know, or the people we hope not to. This intuition is important, not because it is true — it isn’t — but because it is symptomatic of two deeply felt epistemological wishes. The first is our wish to find meaning in difference, a wish that long precedes its formalization in Saussurian linguistics. The second is our indifference to meaning: we know that this or that inscription must mean something, but we can’t be bothered with that right now. The graphologists are among those who bother on our behalf. Four centuries of graphological research make for a fascinating archive of academic, esoteric, and popular knowledge about writing, media, and communication.
The Demon of Writing: Powers and Failures of Paperwork, Zone Books, MIT Press (to appear in fall 2012).
The Live Diagram. A History of Graphology (under contract to Yale University Press for fall 2013 submission).
History of the Present (University of Illinois Press), 2010 (Co-Editor).
American Imago (John Hopkins University Press), 2011 (Contributing Editor).
West 86t. A Journal of Decorative Arts, Design History and Material Culture (Bard Graduate. Center & University of Chicago Press), 2011 (Contributing Editor).
Medium/Media, in: Emily Apter, Jacques Lezra, and Michael Wood, (eds): Dictionary of Untranslatables: A Philosophical Lexicon (Princeton University Press, forthcoming)
From the Desk of Roland Barthes: Putting Mater (and Pater) back in Materialism, in: West 86th: Journal of Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material Culture 18:2 (Fall-Winter 2011), S. 72-77.
Paperwork: The State of the Discipline, in: Book History 12, 2009, S. 340-353.
Hunting the Plumed Mammal: The History of 'Bureaucracy' in France, 1750-1850, in: Peter Becker and Rüdiger Von Krosigk (eds.): Figures of Authority: Contributions Towards a Cultural History of Governance, Peter Lang, 2008, S. 111-126.
The Demon of Writing: Paperwork, Public Safety, and the Reign of Terror, in: Representations 98, spring 2007, S. 1-24.