The essay traces the intertwined martial and theatrical histories of searchlights, floodlights, stage lamps, and laterna magica. Inspired in part by Paul Virilio’s emphasis on the close link between war and illumination, the argument centers on the ability of the searchlight to pinpoint objects, isolate them from their surroundings, and thus target them for destruction.
A Short History of the Searchlight
Friedrich Kittler (1943–2011) studied German, philosophy, and romance studies at the University of Freiburg. He completed his PhD in 1976 and his habilitation, Discourse Networks, in 1984. He was professor of German at the Ruhr University in Bochum (1987–1993) and subsequently appointed the chair in media aesthetics and history at the Humboldt University in Berlin (1993–2008). The key representative of German media theory, Kittler was at the forefront of the German reception of French poststructuralism and is now considered one of the most important media theorists. His work ranges from the early Greek vowel alphabet to the study of computer hardware. Several of his books have been widely translated, including Discourse Networks 1800/1900; Gramophone, Film, Typewriter; and Optical Media.