2019 | 1


In recent years, the term »ontography« has been re-discovered across various disciplines, in a number of contexts ranging from geography to literature, phenomenology to object-oriented ontology, and media philosophy. Denominating various forms of recording of and access to ontic reality without the mediation by language or consciousness, the term encompasses different kinds of medial processes and operations of tracing and registering the Real. So, ontography is at the same time a concept, a procedure and a way of existence. Of the many operations that set up and maintain existence and call things into being, ontography centers on graphic operations, more precisely: the cultural techniques of designing, drawing, sketching and recording, of writing, of listing, of diagrammatics, and other techno-aesthetic graphics such as photography, cinematography, radiography. In contrast to other techniques, ontography has a special proximity to utensils and instruments, to the techniques and technologies of drawing and registering, to the tools of painting and writing ranging from the stick in the sand to high-tech imaging tools.
However, unlike in traditional ontology, ontography does not prioritize or privilege in any way verbal writing and language in general. On the one hand, the very procedures that—as part of ontic reality—record or »write« the respective being can be qualified as ontographic. On the other hand, also the special mode of being of those entities whose reality consists precisely of the fact that they carry out the operations of recording, or of depicting, or registering is ontographic. Drawing is ontographical, on the one hand, because it registers something and, on the other hand, because it consists in itself only of that very process of registering. And thirdly, both sides of ontography feed back to each other as what is recorded or drawn is precisely the transcript of the process of the recording or drawing itself.
For media and cultural research the concept of ontography in its current state of development is hardly more than a suggestion meant to inspire further elaboration; as such it holds a whole series of challenges in store. The first is to determine the scope of the term: Which ontological operations and procedures should be comprehended as non-ontographic and how do they relate to ontography? How can we distinguish ontography more clearly from self-reference, from mere autopoiesis, from related forms of recursion, feedback, and re-entry? What is gained when more traditional medial operations such as mimesis, representation, or transmission are rendered readable as ontographies? Can the ontographic mode be defined especially as a medially grounded mode of existence in the sense of Latour’s canon of modes of existence? And finally, one can expect that further analyses will expand and consolidate the heuristic value of the concept. Hopefully the processing and answering of these questions will further the insight into the possibilities and conditions of an operative ontology.

Complete edition (PDF)


Editorial Lorenz Engell, Bernhard Siegert

The Planetary Test Orit Halpern

Harsdörffers Geschirr Natalie Binczek

Zur Medialität der Samenbank, oder: die Nacht der Substanz Nicole C. Karafyllis

Debatte: Digital Humanities Fotis Jannidis, Markus Krajewski

Archiv: Christian Wilhelm Büttners Marmorpapierseite kommentiert von Héctor Canal, Jörg Paulus Christian Wilhelm Büttner, Héctor Canal, Jörg Paulus

Out for a Walk Jane Bennett

Write, neverendingly. Ontography in Merleau-Ponty Sébastien Blanc

Die Einschreibung möglicher Dinge. Zwei Urszenen der Computergrafik und eine ontographische Schneise Gabriele Gramelsberger, Dawid Kasprowicz

Ontology and Ontography in Digital Imaging Till A. Heilmann

Ontography as the Study of Locally Organized Ontologies Michael Lynch

Re-Drawing the Lines of Reality: The Ontography of Reversible Gestalts Michael Stadler

Existential Graphs as Ontographic Media Daniela Wentz


Lorenz Engell, Bernhard Siegert Editorial

Orit Halpern The Planetary Test

In 1943, in the midst of the Second World War, the famous architect Richard Neutra was commissioned by the government of Puerto Rico to build hospitals and schools. In response, he produced a number of prototypes and processes investigating different ways to ventilate and climate control buildings in the sub-tropical environment of the island through technology. Neutra famously labeled his work in Puerto Rico a Planetary Test. This article examines this history of making climate a medium for design and the implications of these practices for our present.

The Planetary Test

Natalie Binczek Harsdörffers Geschirr

German Baroque poet Georg Philipp Harsdörffer delineates a theory of emblematics that clearly sets itself apart from other contemporary theories, especially by its versatility. In particular, the author negates the difference between internal and external usage of emblems in books not only by promoting the incorporation of emblems into printed works but also by supporting their depiction on dishes and tapestries. This article strives to read Harsdörffer’s extensive thoughts on the matter of emblems not simply as another work on the theory and history of emblematics but rather as a contribution to design history as well.

Harsdörffers Geschirr

Nicole C. Karafyllis Zur Medialität der Samenbank, oder: die Nacht der Substanz

A modern sperm bank can actually be described by using media terms such as ›stock‹ or ›infrastructure‹. However, the mediality of sperm seems to be persistently lingering in a blind spot, its vitality artificially prolonged in the dark of the cooling chamber. This article discusses different variants to treat the problem of describing the teleology of nature with the help of media terms and offers a new take on the story of ›the birds and the bees‹. The argumentation stresses the importance of sperm as the very quintessence of a non-reducible substance whose latency as a medial a priori of life thus becomes palpable.

Zur Medialität der Samenbank, oder: die Nacht der Substanz

Fotis Jannidis, Markus Krajewski Debatte: Digital Humanities

During the last ten years, the so-called digital humanities have developed from a footnote to being a major player in the academic field of cultural studies and humanities alike. However, success goes hand in hand with increasing criticism, and Fotis Jannidis identifies three topoi of critique digital humanities repeatedly have to face. 1. ›We already knew that‹ 2. ›The topics of digital humanities are outdated‹ 3. Digital humanities are said to be a new form of positivism not adequately describing humanities related issues. Jannides takes up these accusations against digital humanities by scrutinizing and questioning their argumentative and scien tific-political substance. The article closes with a speech promoting of a phase of trial and error, of tinkering and of curiosity for the subject at hand while analyzing newly originated data collections from libraries or archives. In Markus Krajewski’s opinion, however, the expectations placed in the potential of innovation of digital humanities are exaggerated which subsequently leads him to label them an ancillary discipline. The usefulness of digital humanities is entirely limited to providing the link between humanities-related research questions and computer-based methods in the same way diplomatics relies on the analysis of records, numismatics on the process of categorizing coins or paleography on the analysis of historical manuscripts. Krajewski sees the real task of digital humanities in bringing the cultural technology of coding into the spotlight. He describes the ability to write and read source code as a key competence every modern humanities scholar needs in order to be able to critically comment and interpret the script of the future: algorithms designed by software developers, computer engineers, and auto-didactic machines.

Debatte: Digital Humanities

Christian Wilhelm Büttner, Héctor Canal, Jörg Paulus Archiv: Christian Wilhelm Büttners Marmorpapierseite kommentiert von Héctor Canal, Jörg Paulus

Archiv und Kommentar

Die Marmorpapierseite stammt aus einer zwischen die Deckel eines Pergamentbandes eingefügten Kompilation von Buchseiten, Manuskripten, vielfarbigen Papieren, Stoffproben und anderen Materialien, die im Goethe- und Schiller- Archiv (GSA) in Weimar verwahrt wird. Zusammengetragen und der Nachwelt hinterlassen hat dieses in Buchform gezwungene Chaos der Universalgelehrte Christian Wilhelm Büttner (1716–1801), Professor der Naturgeschichte in Göttingen, später sachsen-weimarischer Hofrat in Jena. Nicht nur das zurückliegende

  1. Todesjahr Laurence Sternes (1713–1768) legt es nahe, die ungefähr am Ende des ersten Drittels in den Band eingebundene Seite in Verbindung zu bringen mit der ominösen »marbled page«, auf die der Leser im dritten Buch von The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman (1761) stößt und die der Erzähler als das buntgescheckte (»motley«) Emblem seines Buches bezeichnet.
Archiv: Christian Wilhelm Büttners Marmorpapierseite kommentiert von Héctor Canal, Jörg Paulus

Jane Bennett Out for a Walk

I explore two walks, one by Henry Thoreau on a hot day in 1851 and one by a line as it winds its way into a doodle today. Walks, I contend, generate circuits of energies and affects, some issuing from people, some from elsewhere. The goal is to accent how ahuman energies and affects inscribe themselves upon selves and inflect their positions and dispositions. Borrowing a term from Lorenz Engell, I call this inscriptive inflection an ›ontographic‹ procedure. Ontography will mark the operations of a creative cosmos, of a more-than-human world continuously impressing itself upon us. At the end, I leave the ontographic to return to the linguistic, to human attempts to ›write up‹ the ahuman ontographies they experience.

Out for a Walk

Sébastien Blanc Write, neverendingly. Ontography in Merleau-Ponty

Rather than distinguish a phenomenological moment from an ontological moment in Merleau-Ponty’s work, this article aims to recapture its unity by questioning a metaphor that traverses it: that of the writing, the text or the trace. Ontography is the name of a problem and a paradox that Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy bears and assumes: what good is it to say the Being, if it is already written, if every word breaks the silent contact it demands of us? To write is to prolong and reveal a captive meaning in things.

Write, neverendingly. Ontography in Merleau-Ponty

Gabriele Gramelsberger, Dawid Kasprowicz Die Einschreibung möglicher Dinge. Zwei Urszenen der Computergrafik und eine ontographische Schneise

The increasing digitalization of science particularly forgrounds the status of its visual objects. While more and more disciplines depend on methods of computer visualization, the respective transformation processes of knowledge on which the visualizations are based often remain unthematized. The article argues that an ontographic aisle between the abstraction and representation of knowledge lies in the visualization processes. This aisle is central to digitized scientific cultures. Therefore, two case studies from the history of computer graphics will be discussed.

Die Einschreibung möglicher Dinge. Zwei Urszenen der Computergrafik und eine ontographische Schneise

Till A. Heilmann Ontology and Ontography in Digital Imaging

Ontography is intended to represent the epistemological counterpart to the ancestral ontology as well as the genuine functioning of certain media technologies. Using the media technology of digital imaging and processing as an example, the paper discusses the problem of a simple distinction between ontological and ontographic procedures.

Ontology and Ontography in Digital Imaging

Michael Lynch Ontography as the Study of Locally Organized Ontologies

Ontography is distinguished from ontology in the way it pursues historical or ethnographic case studies, rather than general philosophical reflections on the nature of being. Ontography takes classical metaphysical problems, such as how to distinguish between natural entities and human technologies, but instead of offering a general solution to those problems it describes how socially, historically, and institutionally situated agents address and provisionally resolve those problems. Examples of such investigations are practical efforts to resolve the difference between research artifacts and evidence of microscopical entities in laboratory research, and cases in intellectual property law which deploy a distinction between products of nature and compositions of matter.

Ontography as the Study of Locally Organized Ontologies

Michael Stadler Re-Drawing the Lines of Reality: The Ontography of Reversible Gestalts

The notion of ontography is characterizable as open-source, both due to its collaborative development, its heterogeneous backgrounds and its broad applicability. In my paper, I concretize these open-source aspects of ontography firstly by redefining it with reference to E. Winkler’s dialogue Die Erkundung der Linie and secondly by applying it to the Gestalttheoretical topics of figure-ground reversals and bidirectional part-whole relations.

Re-Drawing the Lines of Reality: The Ontography of Reversible Gestalts

Daniela Wentz Existential Graphs as Ontographic Media

In a number of recent philosophical works, the concept of ontography has been raised to involve a revaluation of figurative and visual thinking against logico-conceptual thinking—i. e. a revaluation of a philosophical practice that supplements or departs from the traditional site of philosophy, language. This paper investigates the ontographic dimensions of Charles S. Peirce’s diagrammatology by focusing on his system of »existential graphs« as ontography avant la lettre.

Existential Graphs as Ontographic Media