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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)

Uma reinterpretação linguística da ontologia

This essay intends to explore the ontological consequences of Vilém Flusser’s philosophy of language that he introduced in his first works, written in Portuguese and published in Brazil. This paper will critically examine its main topics: his definition of speech as an act and language as an expanding human presence in the cosmos; linguistic performance as the most dignifying human characteristic and the identification of reality with language; and finally, the thesis that language creates, shapes and disseminates reality. Starting out from an instrumental definition of language, Flusser is compelled to define the world as secondary in relation to language. This paper tries to examine the underlying tensions or paradoxes of such a position as part of Flusser’s dramatic rhetoric strategy, exploring the dangers of an extremely idealistic position sustaining the project of a linguistic ontology.

Reinterpretação (PDF 225.65 KB)