Thomas Y. Levin

Thomas Levin joined the Princeton faculty in 1990 following graduate study in art history and philosophy at Yale University and after a year in Los Angeles as a fellow at the J. Paul Getty Center for the History of Art and the Humanities. His teaching and scholarship range from Frankfurt School cultural theory and the history and theory of film (cinema & philosophy, early German cinema, Weimar cinema, New German Cinema) to various aspects of media theory (archaeologies of vision, rhetorics of new media, cultural politics of surveillance) and sound studies. Levin has been a fellow at the Internationales Forschungszentrum Kulturwissenschaften IFK (Vienna), at the Collegium Budapest/Institute for Advanced Study (Budapest), and a Senior Fellow at the Getty Center in Los Angeles in 2004 and at the Internationales Kolleg für Kulturtechnikforschung und Medienphilosophie (IKKM) at the Bauhaus Universität Weimar in 2011.  Together with his Princeton colleague Nikolaus Wegmann and the two directors of the IKKM, Bernhard Siegert & Lorenz Engell, Levin co-founded the Princeton-Weimar Media Studies Summer School in 2010, which he has co-directed every other year since its inception.

Levin's work as a curator dates back to his participation in the curatorial collective that mounted the first major museum show devoted to the work of the Situationist International: “On the Passage of a few people through a rather brief moment in time: The Situationist International 1957-1972” opened at Centre Georges Pompidou (February-April 1989) and then travelled to the ICA London (June-August 1989) and the ICA Boston (October 1989-January 1990).  In 1999 Levin was chosen by the Dutch Ministry of Culture to be "curator-in-residence" at the Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art in Rotterdam, where he developed a project entitled "Celluloid Rembrandtiana" that investigated the dynamics of cultural nationalism and mass media through a program of over a dozen films on Rembrandt (1920 to 1999) which was subsequently shown at the Staedel Museum in Frankfurt/Main, at the Arsenal Kino in Berlin, and, in the USA, at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles (2005) and the St. Louis Art Museum (2006). During the academic year 2000-01, which he spent in Germany as the academic director of the Berlin Consortium for German Studies at the FU-Berlin, Levin also curated a major international exhibition entitled "CTRL [SPACE]: Rhetorics of Surveillance from Bentham to Big Brother" which was on view at the Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie (ZKM) in Karlsruhe through late February 2002.  Besides a number of further publication and curatorial projects related to his research on the aesthetic politics of surveillance --including the 2002 exhibitions "Anxious Omniscience" at the Princeton University Art Musuem and "9/11 + 1: The Perplexities of Security" at Brown University's Watson Center-- Levin also organized a one-day conference at the Louvre Museum in Paris in November 2005 entitled "Photographie, Prison, Pouvoir: Politiques de l'Image Carcérale" which re-examined the history of the "carceral image" in the wake of Abou Ghraib.  Levin went on to curate a small show (drawn from his personal collection of the work of the Situationist International) entitled "'The Arts of the Future will be radical transformations of situations, or they will be nothing': Guy Debord Cineaste" at the Slought Foundation in Philadelphia (2006) and “Sound Mail: Samples from the Curious History of Audio Epistolaries,” an exhibition of gramophonic postcards and other audiovisual artifacts from his archive (with the collaboration of Jennifer Eberhardt) at the Mendel Music Library, Woolworth Center for Musical Studies, Princeton University (2008).

As the winner of the prestigious Einstein Prize, Levin was the Einstein Visiting Fellow at the Friedrich Schlegel Graduate School for Literary Studies at the Freie Universität Berlin from 2010-2014, where he directed a large-scale research project on the media archaeology of voice mail.  This ongoing work on questions of aesthetics, technology, and sound, which gave rise to the Princeton Phono-Post Archive, grew out of Levin's longstanding research interest in metronomes, gramophones, and the prehistory of acoustic inscription, as well as his activities as associate editor of The Musical Quarterly, where he was for many years responsible for the section Institutions, Industries, and Technologies of Music.  Most recently, Levin has been collaborating with his Princeton colleague in Computer Science Prof. Adam Finkelstein on a completely unknown ur-chapter of the history of audio epistolary: voice postcards from the beginning of the 20th-century. Funded by two generous multi-year grants from the David A. Gardner ’69 Magic Project and the Dean for Resarch Innovation Fund, Levin & Finkelstein have developed an innovative method of capturing the voice mail recorded on these fragile cards in 1905-07 using entirely non-tactile, optical/algorithmic means.