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The Protreptic Writer

Focussing on the text of the essay “The Gesture of Smoking a Pipe,” this paper proposes that at least some of Flusser’s writing can be usefully identified as protreptic.  Having arisen in ancient Greece as a form of speech or writing for the explicit purpose of persuading an audience, protreptic also served to display the author’s skills and attract students, persuading young men to take up philosophy.  It was never confined to a particular genre of writing, but always addressed its audience in a specified situation, that is, in circumstances shared by writer and reader.  Applied to Flusser’s writing, the “communicative purpose” becomes a way of examining both the compositional structure and the implicit dialogue between writer and reader that appears in the text. Questions about the implied identity of the reader and of her relationship to the writer lead to a conclusion that even as the text argues about the right way to classify the gesture of smoking a pipe, it is also performing a phenomenological inquiry. The reader plays the role of audience to the performance, and so becomes the object of persuasion at another level as well. The paper further suggests that study of rhetorical structures in Flusser’s writing may reveal a new level of coherence across its languages, disciplines and genres. 

Protreptic (PDF 244.78 KB)

Writing Philosophy. On Vilém Flusser’s Multilingual Dialogical Style

Flusser’s brilliant multilingual essayistic style is not only based on his practice of constant translation and retranslation. In his texts, he also makes frequent use of challenging metaphors, and even annoying comparisons, through an array of rhetorical devices including, etymologies, puns based on homophones (paronomasia), and polysemy, in order to draw the reader’s attention to the fundamental constructed ways of our looking at the world. His philosophical rhetoric of breaking up, multiplying, mixing, comparing, combining, linking and connecting is a strategy used to create novelty and surprise, that is, new information through recombination. Flusser’s philosophy operates on a meta-communicative level: language is a model, a network that captures meaning, given that all languages are artificial, and words do not primarily mean objects but other words of the same language or different languages. Languages are not primarily representational but interconnected systems of signs. Flusser calls our attention to the material side of the medium he is using, to the diversified opacity of the different languages he writes with. In sum, Flusser wants to achieve these different goals by having us embark with him as dialogical partners on an ironical journey.

Writing Philosophy (PDF 312.24 KB)

Denken neu denken mit Vilém Flusser

Flusser suggests synthetic images may free us from the tyranny of linear thinking, whilst calling upon us to engage actively in the new ‘Einbildungskraft’ or techno-imagination. The innovative dimension of this new form of synthesizing information might be the transcending, overcoming or undermining of dualistic patterns of thought. ‘Dedicated to synthesis of contrasts’ (1949) Flusser not only translated between cultural poles but strove for a ‘method of cognition [...] with aesthetic qualities’, ‘which extends beyond philosophy’ (1951). His poetically composed philosophy transcends the traditional opposition of art and philosophy. Yet, as ‘every technical revolution induces a new mankind which again designs a new technique’ (1991), the challenge facing us is more than merely thinking and acting in new technical ways, we must deliberately co-design. Thus, the transformation at hand may be discussed as a shift away from the dominance of thinking in dichotomies, indicating an interrelational understanding of the (re)programming of our environments and of ourselves in dialogue.

Denken neu denken (PDF 248.56 KB)

Da soggetti a progetti. L'abbandono dell'Humanismus in Vilém Flusser

By focusing on two of Flusser’s last writings, this essay tries to address the question of the relationship between Flusserian thought and the tradition of humanism. Moving towards a form of intersubjectivity based on dialogue and mutual responsibility, Flusser succeeded in breaking the bonds that bind the contemporary subject to modernity’s unbearable burden. He described the meaning of a contemporary becoming human in a very distinctive way. Indeed, the trajectory drawn by Flusser is not entirely superimposable on the actual vernacular of post-humanism and I believe that its deepening could open us up to more responsible ways to deal with technological development and “post-humanist technologies”.

Da soggetti a progetti (PDF 210.21 KB)

X: The Gesture of Essaying

Drawing upon Flusser’s sketch of “being-in-the-skin”, this essay explores the significance of the dialogical form of chiasmus for Flusser’s conception of gesture, arguing for an understanding of his “gesture of writing”, as a gesture of essaying, wherein a “poetic subject” is manifested – one who is born to understanding, gestated, in the process of conversing in-between, where “meaning” is organised through rhythm. The essay itself sets up this argument through a gesture of essaying, placing Flusser into conversation with a broader discourse on writing and gesture.

The Gesture (PDF 259.43 KB)

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