01 Oct 2021

Heisenberg position of the German Research Foundation (DFG) for Tobias Wilke with the project “Digital Language”

The literary and media scholar Tobias Wilke started work on his project Digital Language. Linguistics, Communication Research, and Poetics in the Early Information Age at the ZfL. The work is funded by the Heisenberg Programme of the German Research Foundation (DFG). Conceived as a cross-disciplinary contribution to the fields of media studies, literary history, and the history of science, Wilke’s research project explores the interrelations between natural language and concepts of the digital that emerged in linguistic research, cybernetics, information theory, and poetics of the 1950s and 1960s.

By investigating the notions of ‘digital language’ that emerged during this period in terms of their material conditions, institutional contexts, and cultural functions, the early genealogy of the so-called information age is re-examined. Up until now, this early, formative phase of the information age has been examined predominantly with a focus on the technical development of the first mainframe computers and software programs, which gave rise to the digital in the form of numerically coded, electronically processed data. Wilke, by contrast, shifts attention to another, more general understanding of digital communication that evolved during the postwar period—an understanding that exceeded the machine-based, mathematical ‘computing’ of information, and which became manifest especially in new analytical approaches to spoken and written language.

His research focuses, therefore, on a wide range of theories, research designs, experimental practices and writing strategies. Analyzing its phonematic, lexical, grammatical, and syntactic structures, they served to (re)consider natural language as a digital medium in its own right which was also shaped and reflected upon as an object of knowledge in the context of aesthetic programs.


Most recently, Tobias Wilke was an Alexander von Humboldt Foundation Research Fellow at the ZfL with his project Sound Writing. Experimental Modernism and the Poetics of Articulation. After studying Modern German Literature, Philosophy, and Political Science, he received his PhD from Eberhard Karl University in Tübingen and Princeton University in New Jersey in 2008 with a dissertation on thing concepts and perceptual techniques 1918–1939. From 2009 to 2018, he was an Assistant Professor in the Department of Germanic Languages at Columbia University in New York.


See website of the project:

Digital Language. Linguistics, Communication Research, and Poetics in the Early Information Age