Flusser Studies 33 – May 2022 – Double Issue / Thematic Focus: Flusser’s Modernity
Part I: Flusser’s Modernity
The known forms of criticism are only possible in certain habitable zones. Lately, these seem precariously confined to surfaces shrinking precipitously. Professions of critical humility abound, commonsensical, descriptive reading lessons about realism, flat ontologies, the mortifications of theory, etc., are legion. The lynch-pin of this pseudo-reading lesson involves retraining ourselves to want less as we wait in line for alien perspectives. This essay invites us for a journey to find Flusser’s Planet: a habitable zone for criticism. From Richard McGuire’s Here (2008) to Stephen Hawkings’ Five Favorite Places, following Flusser’s five-runged schema that plunges into inhuman deep time – in a four-dimensional, ancestral zone shared with animals, plants and rocks – and then reaches an apex of sorts in the zero-dimensional computational universe, the essay proposes a Flusserian form of criticism in the idea of an “extreme deixis,” a criticism that would emphasize the subject’s position in the world, with a focus on questioning temporality.
Animated Animals and Metabolic Machines: Affect in Vilém Flusser’s Theory
This essay analyzes Flusser’s playful engagement with the nature/culture divide and its implications for Affect theory and posthumanism. For Flusser, affect is not a pre-processed human feeling, but a composite of moods, emotions, automated habits, and recursively activated reactions that come from outside – the apparatus of communication, conventions and algorithms that encode what counts as truth. Affect partakes of the same process that binds the “artificial” production of “truth” and the “customization” of life according to conventional knowledge. Similarly, the “natural” world dissected in Natural:Mind is subject to determinations by technology, culture, and habit; in fact, nature is produced by culture as part of the apparatus. Flusser’s version of affect theory destroys the fantasy of the human individual and indicates how humans do not exist in essence, but are themselves symptomatic expressions of the modern, programmatic society. Flusser’s twisted humanism invites a reflection on the cognitive and critical possibilities of aesthetics – as a secondary, reflective form of knowledge that provides models to grasp unhabitual and unusual phenomena even if it cannot account for their occurrence. Art in this sense functions like a Trojan horse used to storm the naturalist fortress sheltering humanist humanity.
Flusser’s Vampyrotheutic Sublime
This short essay suggests that Flusser found in the Vampire Squid a modern sublime: an animal that escapes instrumental mentality and creates a human fear of the unknown. In Vampyroteuthis Infernalis Flusser discussed the cephalopod, which he imagined to be a giant “beast,” and its deep-sea habitat. He was aware of the impossibility of the two species, Vampyroteuthis Infernalis and human, to meet. Such meeting would sublate the subject-object relationship. While he respects the vampire squid and its inhuman Umwelt, Flusser still imagines the creature as an impossibly powerful, alien thing. In this regard, Vampyroteuthis Infernalis and the greatness of its abyss unfold the sublime.
Flusser’s Plantonic Philosophy
This essay examines the imagery of trees in Flusser’s works such as Natural:Mind, as well as shorter essays “On the Forest” [Da Floresta] and “Plant Film.” The figure of trees and plants cut across the different facets of Flusser’s corpus: from his employment of Husserlian phenomenology, to his retooling of Heidegger’s metaphysics, to his views on media thinking and the apparatus. Understanding his engagement with the plant world can help us understand his modernist method of thinking and the importance of language as a mediating apparatus for thinking. Together, these ideas about trees offer a unique view into Flusser’s thinking of media as a locus of innovation and resistance – two modernist concerns par excellence.
Auschwitz as Philosophical Device: An Adornian Heritage in Flusser’s Thought?
This essay traces the use of “Auschwitz” as a philosophical device in Vilém Flusser’s thought, from History of the Devil and The Last Judgement, to Posthistory and his later media theory. Throughout Flusser’s oeuvre, the Nazi regime and the brutality of the concentration camps (condensed in the figure of Auschwitz) articulates for Flusser the relationship between progress and Western culture. Taking a detour into Adorno’s own theorization of “Auschwitz” – and especially his maxim that “to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric” – the essay investigates how modern thought has interpreted Auschwitz not as a glitch in the fabric of modernity, but as a programmed step in the march of progress toward hell. After meeting Adorno, Flusser’s thought on Auschwitz matured and he developed his theory of modernity considering the event of the Holocaust as something integrated in the “program” of Western civilization. Flusser often applies an almost cybernetic conception of the operation of a computer system to understand the functioning of our present reified societies, Auschwitz being a paradigm of the transformation of institutions into “apparatuses” and the metamorphosis of human beings into “functionaries” by means of an automatically playing program.
Flusser on-the-Fly: Towards an English Translation of Flusser’s Bochum Lectures
This essay examines Flusser’s lecture series in Germany at the Ruhr University Bochum in 1991 and the challenge of translating the lectures into English. The late Flusserian thought in the Bochum Lectures is preoccupied with programming, computing, and algorithms, describing a modern world of war-mongering programming functionaries. Flusser sees the future of humanity in continual playful re-programming instead of re-volutionizing ruptures. This essay then focuses on issues of language and translation – and on the author’s own challenge in translating Flusser’s lectures into English. The process involved establishing an energetic idiom that adequately captures his playful and idiosyncratic moments, his autodidact erudition, his on-the-fly theoretical vernacular and jarring movements, in rhetoric and gesture, of expansion and compression. Translatability, and thinking-as-translation, remained pertinent in Flusser’s thoughts in Bochum and he frequently employed etymological wordplays throughout his lectures in an attempt to make students aware of the obscured meanings of their conversant languages by oscillating between literalized and lateralized thought processes.
Flusser’s Sonic Modernity
This chapter addresses Flusser’s often neglected writings on music and sound as they relate to his understanding of modernity. Taking two lectures ‘On Music’ and ‘On Modern Music’ given in Sao Paolo in 1965 as its departure point, Flusser’s conceptualization of a sonic modernity is examined within his ‘communicological’ theory. Contrary to a McLuhanesque media theory of the auditive, I argue Flusser’s theorization is distinct due to his characteristic ‘groundlessness’ and seeks to destabilize, rather than restabilize, a liberal Western humanist modernism.
Part II: Open Contributions
Thinking Plurality. Vilém Flusser and Michel Serres: A philosophical convergence
This essay compares Vilém Flusser’s and Michel Serres’s notion of plurality. Flusser’s and Serres’s writing and thinking are strikingly similar even if they radically diverge on some points. For both philosophers, thinking is not a linear progression that moves straight ahead along a simple line, but a journey full of meandering and surprising twists and turns, which can lead back on its tracks. To describe this complex contradictory movement, Flusser uses the spatial metaphors of the circle and the spiral. This is best exemplified in his practice of multiple translations and retranslations, and the Jewish method of Pilpul. Serres, on the other hand, uses the metaphors of the randonnée – a random stroll across a landscape –, the wild flight of a wasp and the unfolding and refolding of a plane of dough. Both authors reject a view of reality based on a single centralized point of view, an umbilical vision of the world, as Serres called it. They both question systematic thinking and favor theoretical plurality and openness. In Flusser’s view, synthesis brings points of view together that often radically differ from each other. For Serres synthesis is a cluster of differentiated but organized relations. Flusser’s and Serres´s thinking is non-linear, non-hierarchical and always open-ended, a proliferation of fixed points to infinity. For both thinkers these different points of view are equally valid.
Von Vilém Flusser’s Gesten ausgehend. Zur Phänomenologie des Entwerfens und seiner Werkzeuge
This essay draws on Vilém Flusser’s phenomenological approach and speculative thinking to envision a theory of architectural design. It focusses particularly on the last book he published during his lifetime, Gesten (Gestures) 1991. Based on a series of lectures held in São Paulo and in the mid-seventies in France, Gesten offers a sequence of 18 essays reflecting upon everyday activities as “movement(s) of the body or of a tool attached with the body, for which there is no satisfactory causal explanation” (3-4). The book culminates in the call for a general theory of gestures. Starting from a close reading of some of these chapters, this essay examines the relation between gestures and thinking, between gestures and the future, with a particularly close look at the gesture of making. Gestures are discussed in terms of primary means of visual expression, which in many ways become starting points for design processes. Flusser's general theory of gestures facilitates a theory of architectural design based on a phenomenological analysis of its tools and processes. By going back to some of Flusser's writings on tools, machines and apparatuses and their unforeseen repercussions, new design practices and digital design tools can be understood as ways of simulating and anticipating the consequences of design decisions, permitting us to better understand and deal with them.
Flusser on Writing: The Toronto Heritage and the Paradoxes of Writing after the End of Writing / Flusser e a escrita: A herança de Toronto e os paradoxos da escrita após o fim da escrita
The paper begins with a bibliographical survey of Flusser’s writings on writing, in preparation for an examination of his thesis of “the end of writing” after the advent of the digital media. It presents the following subtopics: (1) comparison of Flusser’s prophecy concerning the future of writing with Plato’s prophecy about the end of oral culture after the invention of writing. (2) Flusser’s conviction of the superiority of alphabetic over logographic writing and its roots in the Toronto School of Media Studies (Ong, McLuhan, Havelock), (3) Flusser's views concerning the fundamental antagonism between iconic and symbolic signs, (4) the influence of the Toronto School’s theory of the transformation of the consciousness of oral cultures through writing, (5) the performative paradoxes of writing after the end of writing.
An Improbable Science Fiction
The essay explores Flusser’s thoughts on both the literary genre of science fiction, as understood by Suvin and Jameson, and the employment of fiction in science, an idea that can be traced back to Vaihinger’s scientific fictions. Texts such as The History of the Devil, “O bicho de sete cabeças” [The seven-headed beast], and “Science Fiction” are analyzed and compared, attentive to the philosophic and scientific insights informing them. Flusser believed most science fiction is banal (The History of the Devil) and, following information theory, proposed the genre should turn towards the possible, yet unlikely. He believed science fiction could be more than a mere empty diversion, a “turning aside from the original course”, and could actually become a window for us to see our future (“O bicho de sete cabeças”). In “Science Fiction”, he frames his topic more as a gray zone between science and imagination than as a literary genre. Fiction as epistemology. In this understanding of the term, the philosopher also links science fiction with the question of technical images, for he believes we are more likely to find it in synthetic images and computer algorithms than in texts. The present essay goes on to throw some light on the relationship between science fiction and real science, as well as between science fiction and the future. The impossibility of predicting the future is identified as a question pertinent to both science fiction and philosophy of science, and is explored through works of Hume, Meillassoux, Taleb, Bergson, and Berardi.
Experiment und Versprechen – Über die Entgrenzung des Denkens
A speculative impulse is inherent in or precedes every experiment, presumably every thought. The hoped-for promise of an answer, a solution, a proof, is thus built on an idea of mental outgrowth. It is characterised by not-knowing, from which it takes its course (cf. Busch et al. 2020). The starting point of this paper is the experiment Vampyroteuthis infernalis (Flusser / Bec 1987) as a model of a fabulatory, creative epistemology (Bozzi 2007), which at the same time functions as a symbol of human existence in postmodernity. Part scientific treatise, part parody, part philosophical discourse, part fable, this work presents itself as an im/possible form of speculative research and exploratory speculation at the same time. Flusser thus provides fruitful impulses for the persistently discussed approaches of experimental and practice-based research in the formative disciplines, such as design, art or architecture, which are discussed in this paper as well as a possibly related disruption of knowledge hegemonies.
Técnica, espaço e abstração: uma visão do Instagram em perspectiva Flusseriana
This study attempts to mobilize Flusserian propositions as a means of reflecting on contemporary phenomena such as Instagram. It begins with the issue of photography and its relationship with technique. Because both Walter Benjamin and Vilém Flusser treat technique as a mediator in the production of symbols in photography and cinema, the essay will engage the work of both.The concept of apparatus will also be revisited in this article. Linked to the concept of the apparatus, the ideas of program, employee and programmer will also be taken into consideration. In addition, Lúcia Santaella’s idea of cyberspace will be used to position Instagram as part of a universe that reconfigures the notions of the here and now, enabling news of places visited and moments experienced to be published in real-time. Instagram is then seen to be an apparatus and part of a broader escalation of abstraction, toward a space of zero dimension.
Reflexões Acerca da Ética do Artificial - Do Paradigma de Simon ao Paradoxo de Flusser
This essay aims to develop a critical dialogue between Herbert Simon’s and Vilém Flusser’s ideas about design by focussing on Simon’s The Sciences of the Artificial (1996) and a collection of Flusser’s writing on design, Codified World – towards a philosophy of design and communication, (Rafael Cardoso, ed., 2006). The essay begins with an analysis of the differences between the concepts of artificiality and project-design, contrasting the Simonian postulate of problem solving with the paradoxical Flusserian notion of obstacle for removing obstacles. Simonian utilitarianism and his discourse of technical neutrality are questioned by Flusser’s ideas about the need for a post-industrial design ethics. If Simon’s utilitarian approach concentrates on the technical efficiency of artifacts, Flusser’s existentialist perspective focuses on the communicative and dialogic aspects of objects, emphasizing the issues that revolve around the freedom and responsibility inherent in every creative act.