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The Brazilian Exile of Vilém Flusser and Stefan Zweig

In this article, I outline the history of Jewish exile to Brazil during the 1930s and 1940s, and I compare Vilém Flusser’s philosophy of immigration and Stefan Zweig’s last work of fiction, Schachnovelle. Flusser and Zweig shared a similar dialectical form of thinking, and yet Zweig’s novella expressed the failure of finding a synthesis due to exile while Flusser found the synthesis in the experience of immigration itself. Flusser’s philosophy of immigration is not clearly applicable to those who are not in his same situation, since he places awareness, disengagement, and transcendence at a key position. His emphasis may not be applicable to all refugees, transnational immigrants, and border crossers; however, Zweig was one of those in a similar situation as Flusser. Like many of Zweig’s novellas, the framework of Schachnovelle is constructed around a number of opposites and their possible reconciliations and yet these various attempts to bring together the opposites all fail. Flusser’s philosophy is a positive one that has incredibly strong features, yet its limitations show up in an analysis of Zweig’s work and point to the need for further work in the philosophy of immigration.

Brazilian Exile (PDF 123.47 KB)

A perturbante estranheza do Novo: o Brasil de Vilém Flusser

Is Flusser’s Phenomenology of the Brazilian a Brazilian utopia or does it contain just the depiction of an alienated underdeveloped country? The article tries to demonstrate that it is neither. Surely, there is a utopian tradition to “thinking” Brazil. Right from its “discovery,” Brazil was a utopia. In some way, even the utopian genre as such is Brazilian, as Utopia (1516) was (vaguely) written within the context of the debate over the “discovery” of Brazil. But, of course, a utopia is not about the other but about the self. Nevertheless, Brazil also inaugurated a rather distinct tradition of discourse: the discourse about the New. Brazil, in the sixteenth century, was the “New World” (Vespucci). The idea of a “New World” requires a conceptual revolution as it necessarily alters what was the world before: one’s own world ages. Flusser continues this tradition. He thinks Brazil neither as a better nor as a worse complement to the European self but as something which, from a European/“occidental” point of view, is unimaginable, absurd, even abject. His book is about the strangeness of Brazil and its disproportionate difference. To think the New is almost impossible (and, occasionally, Flusser cannot avoid slipping into the utopian trap). It seeks to overcome the categories of thinking of the self as it emerges, however, the self can only find absence and even perversion of meaning. So, to the “occidental” eye, and as an underdeveloped country, Brazil appears principally as a country of alienation. This means that the Brazilians degenerated from the human way of being perceived as “true” to the “occidental” eye. Now, Flussers asks: what is the true human way of being? It is teleological concept. The Brazilians never had a “true” being to lose. The concepts of alienation and underdevelopment, therefore, are not only inappropriate for “thinking” Brazil, they hinder the conception of the profound alterity of the country. What is unthinkable and inadmissible for these categories is the place of the New. The New, in conclusion, only appears if the self changes and becomes other. In this sense, to think the New which Brazil represents means to become Brazilian, which is what happens with the narrator-immigrant of the book.

Estranheza do Novo (PDF 150.1 KB)

One of the most important Brazilian philosophers

This article seeks to introduce Flusser’s Brazilian phase to English-speaking readers. It refers to Abraham Moles, who recognized Vilém Flusser as one of the most important Brazilian philosophers, but it remembers also that probably many Brazilian academic philosophers would not agree with Moles. Flusser’s reception is complicated, for one, because Flusser was a foreigner and outsider-philosopher, and also because, in the sixties, he strongly criticized his Brazilian peers. Vilém Flusser formulated a proposal to confront the apparatus, to confront technicism and to confront Brazilian “developmentism.” His proposal consists of attributing certain values, but via a philosophy ex situ, a philosophy written by an eternal and foreign foreigner.

Brazilian Philosopher (PDF 98.02 KB)

No-nada. Formas brasileiras do niilismo

In his notes from 1887-1888 Nietzsche wrote that “European Nihilism," the “uncanniest all of guests” [unheimlichste aller Gäste], is already waiting at the door. He tried to show that there will be several ways of nihilism in history. The present essay investigates the question, starting out from Vilem Flusser's “Fenomenologia do Brasileiro," whether there are specific “brazilian ways of being-in-nothing” [estar-no-nada].

No-nada (PDF 134.14 KB)