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Max Bense (1969)

Max Bense (February 7, 1910 in "Strasbourg – April 29, 1990 in "Stuttgart) was a "German philosopher, writer, and publicist, known for his work in "philosophy of science, "logic, "aesthetics, and "semiotics. His thoughts combine "natural sciences, "art, and "philosophy under a collective perspective and follow a definition of reality, which – under the term existential rationalism – is able to remove the separation between humanities and natural sciences.



Max Bense spent his early childhood in his birthplace Strasbourg and in 1918 his family was deported from "Alsace-Lorraine as a consequence of "World War I. Starting in 1920, he attended grammar school in "Cologne and after 1930 he studied physics, chemistry, mathematics, geology, and philosophy at the "University of Bonn. During his studies, his interest in literature is revealed by several contributions to newspapers, journals, and broadcast, for which he wrote several "radio dramas. In 1937 he received his doctor's degree (Dr. phil. nat.) with his dissertation "Quantenmechanik und Daseinsrelativität" ("Quantum Mechanics and Relativity of "Dasein). He used the term Relativity of Dasein, which he adopted from "Max Scheler, for explaining that novel theories do not have to contradict classical science. Bense – declared opponent of "national socialism – knowingly opposed the "Deutsche Physik of the Nazi regime (cf. "Johannes Juilfs), which rejected the "theory of relativity due to "Einstein's "Jewish origin. Therefore he did not receive his postdoctoral qualification.

In 1938 Bense initially worked as a physicist at the "Bayer AG in "Leverkusen. After the outbreak of "World War II he was a soldier, firstly as a meteorologist, then as a medical technician in "Berlin and "Georgenthal, where he was mayor for a short time after the end of the war. In 1945 the "University of Jena appointed him to "curator (Chancellor of the University) and offered him the possibility of postdoctoral work ("habilitation), which was likely to be cumulative, at the Social-Pedagogic Faculty, which was followed by an appointment to "Professor extraordinarius of philosophical and scientific "propaedeutics.

In 1948, Bense fled from the political development of the "Soviet occupation zone to "Boppard; and he was appointed as a guest professor in philosophy and theory of science by the "University of Stuttgart in 1949, and as senior lecturer (associate professor) there in 1950. In 1955, Bense raised a controversy concerning "mythologizing tendencies of German postwar culture. Thereupon he became the target of public "polemics, resulting in a postponement of his appointment to "full professor until 1963.

In addition, he worked at the adult education centre in "Ulm and at the "Ulm School of Design from 1953 to 1958; he was also guest professor at the Hamburg College for Visual Arts from 1958 to 1960 and in 1966/67.

Max Bense became professor "emeritus on February 7, 1978 and died in 1990 as an internationally accredited scientist.


"Raum und Ich" ("Space and Ego"), Bense's first publication (Berlin 1934)

Mathematics in art and language[edit]

Already in his first publication, "Raum und Ich" ("Space and Ego"; 1934), Bense combined theoretical philosophy with mathematics, semiotics, and aesthetics; this remained his thematic emphasis. For the first time, he phrased a rational aesthetics, which defines the components of language – words, syllables, "phonemes – as a statistical language repertoire, and which opposes literature that is based upon meaning. Conversely, Bense studied the concept of style, which he applied to mathematics – following "Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz' Mathesis Universalis –, designing a universal "markup language. "Die Mathematik in der Kunst" ("Mathematics in Art"; 1949) was his starting point for investigating mathematical principles of form in the history of art. From this, Bense developed a perspective to see the mathematical spirit in works of literary art, especially in "metrics and "rhythm. Bense's thoughts assumed the correlation of a mathematical and linguistic consciousness, which have a common origin and have grown into complementary modes of thought. He considered the "atomistic structures of the linguistic modes to be equivalent. By using non-interpretable basic elements (characters) and rules or operators, these forms give meaning, impart information and make stylistically formed language possible. He considered the aesthetic and the semantic information to be generally separated and not to be defined until they are used. This was the first German integration of "Ludwig Wittgenstein's work into the field of aesthetics.

Some of Bense's knowledge is based on the investigations of the American mathematician "George David Birkhoff. Thus some termini like "redundancy" and "entropy" have to be equated with "Ordnungsmaß" and "Materialverbrauch" (consumption of material) from Birkhoff's aesthetics research.

Technology and ethics[edit]

Bense considered the destruction of the social and intellectual middle-class world since the beginning of the 20th century a parallel to the destruction of the concept of "being in philosophy. He saw the natural world replaced by an artificial one. As a forerunner of the computer age, Bense thought about the technical counterparts of human existence; unlike many of his contemporaries he considered machines as pure products of human intelligence, having "algorithms as a basis, but soon he posed ethical questions, which were not discussed in "ethics of technology until decades later. His pragmatic views of technology, influenced by "Walter Benjamin, which lacked either belief in progress or its rejection, brought him the criticism of "Theodor W. Adorno – and again put him in the role of the opposition.

Structural analysis of language[edit]

Inspired by "neuroscience, "informatics, and the occupation with electronic calculating machines, but also by Wittgenstein's concept of the "language-game, Bense tried to put into perspective or to extend the traditional view of literature. In that, he was one of the first philosophers of culture who integrated the technical possibilities of the "computer into their thoughts and investigated them across disciplinary boundaries. He statistically and "topologically analysed linguistic phenomena, subjected them to questions of "semiotic, "information theory, and "communication theory using "structuralistic approaches. Thus Bense became the first theoretician of "concrete poetry, which was started by "Eugen Gomringer in 1953, and encouraged e.g. "Helmut Heißenbüttel, Claus Bremer, "Reinhard Döhl, Ludwig Haring, and Franz Mon to perform further experiments, and also had influence on "Ernst Jandl's language deconstruction (see also Stuttgarter Gruppe/Schule).

Discussion with writers[edit]

In his work with literature and literary language, Bense was not content with only theoretical considerations; he had close contact to authors like "Alfred Andersch and "Arno Schmidt. His constructions of analogy to "visual arts made major contributions to the understanding of "cubism and "dadaism.

Understanding of science[edit]

As a theoretician of science, Bense represented the synthetic intellectual concept, where classical "humanism and modern technology constructively complement one another. From this concept of science, he hoped for progressive knowledge, which must always be ethically scrutinized, and at the same time, for the prevention of regression. Because of that, Bense argued for "enlightenment and put himself into that tradition.

After 1984 Max Bense applied his theories of visual art to screen media. Because of that, early thoughts of "media studies concerning the "internet, especially the concept of "digital poetry, can be traced back to Bense.


All publications are in German.

Secondary literature[edit]

All references are in German.

External links[edit]

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