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Can We Think Computation in Images or Numbers? Critical Remarks on Vilém Flusser’s Philosophy of Digital Technologies

The article questions Flusser’s concept of the computational universe based on technical images. Emphasizing the role of the calculative, formal consciousness the article suggests a non-representational, non-hermeneutical approach to “calculating machines” as machines that allow to mechanize a certain type of thinking (mathematical thinking). At the same time, the article reformulates Flusser’s search for a new philosophy as a critical intervention into the programmed universe, arguing that this philosophy must not follow its technical logic, but find a way to reflect how different techniques and practices shape the numerical, imaginative and textual consciousness.

Can we think (PDF 411.42 KB)

Raising the Temperature of the Conversation in the 21st Century

The main goal of this presentation was to connect our wireless culture populated by “smart objects” and Flusser’s predictions for a telematics society, as well as to examine the inversions he envisioned in the exchanges between art and science. Seven artists have been included in the slide presentation: Eduardo Kac, a pioneer of Bio Art eroding boundaries between subject and object; Paul Miller, who creates sound pieces from scientific data; Laura Poitras’s documentary films and exhibition about surveillance and the use of remote technologies in war as well as Andrea Fraser’s institutional critique; Giselle Beiguelman articulating the concept of techno-cannibalism; Lucas Bambozzi exploring the invisibility of electronic waves, issues of obsolescence and waste; and the work of Cuban artist Ernesto Oroza’s notion of “technological disobedience”.

The Unassimilable Image

This short essay considers Flusser’s thoughts concerning the relationship between image and language in light of Hubert Damisch’s Theory of /Cloud/. It explores the degrees to which the image—despite a flood of contemporary manifestations particularly of what Flusser called the ‘technical image’—remains resistant to textually based systems of communication and (scientific) knowledge. It proposes a necessary openness to the image where, given the nature of how sense is made regarding the multiple ways it can be approached or ‘read’, provisionality and indeterminacy are essential, positive attributes.

Considering linear perspective as a precursor to the technical image, the paper explores the sense in which the ineffable—seen as intrinsically related to Damisch’s notion of /cloud/—is inseparable from and perhaps essential to the representational systems signified by the camera or the computer. These emerge from a constantly developing ‘net’ of language through which knowledge about the world is defined and acquires its dizzying complexity. This net is regarded as intertwined with, yet of a different order to, the image. Flusser’s technical image locates this concept firmly within a linguistic system but such an image still has echoes of its origins, and is thus open to difference in terms of how it is approached and what can be drawn from it. This is a productive incompleteness. Some of the author’s visual works, which are thoroughly enmeshed with the thoughts that have led to such thinking, are represented and function as asides, responses, or counterbalances to the ideas explored in the text.

The Unassimilable Image (PDF 657.56 KB)

Imagens da Pós-História: um diálogo entre Flusser e Benjamin

This paper intends to establish a dialogue between Vilém Flusser and Walter Benjamin, considering their similarities and their differences. First, this approximation is inscribed in the philosophy of language, in which both authors take the category of “nomination” as a primordial act. Second, their common interest in technology and media, as determining elements in modern society, leads to a fertile and critical discussion towards the concepts of “technological reproducibility” and “technical image”. Finally, and no less important, is the philosophy of history, in which their positions contrast: their concepts of “history” and “post-history” are defined by the opposition between continuity and discontinuity. According to Flusser, history is essentially linear. It starts with the invention of writing and ends with the invention of technical images in post-history, which is essentially discontinuous. Benjamin, on the other hand, declines the concept of history as continuity, and develops a model based upon the principle of “assemblage”, in which history and post-history are simultaneously embraced. Flusser’s concept of post-history, nevertheless, is similar to Benjamin’s concept of history in some aspects, mainly in their common emphasis upon technical images. The crucial difference between them lies in the word “post-history” (Nachgeschichte), or “posterior history”, which in Benjamin does not have the same substantive meaning Flusser gives it, nor does it designate a specific period.

Die Briefe zwischen Vilém Flusser und Felix Philipp Ingold, 1981–1990

This article examines the correspondence between Vilém Flusser and Felix Philipp Ingold, a professor of cultural and social history of Russia, besides being a well-known poet, writer, and translator. In this extensive correspondence (1981–1990), both scholars reflect upon and criticize each other’s work, in a very productive manner. Especially Flusser, who was challenged to be more precise about central terms of his cultural philosophy, and media/communication theory. The article gives an overview of the last topics discussed by them. However, because it could not equality examine all concepts in depth, it focus upon the correspondence that helped Flusser clarify his concept of technical/synthetic image – which remains, nevertheless, an ambivalent term.

Translations and Transcriptions from Bielicky’s Recordings with Flusser in Summer 1991

In August 1991, Michael Bielicky brought his video camera with him to spend a few days in Robion with Vilém Flusser and Edith Flusser. The resulting intimate video recordings would be among the last made with Flusser before he died. Beside formal interviews, Bielicky filmed Flusser giving an anthropological sightseeing tour of the area around his home, in addition to a somewhat awkward visit from some television producers. Though Bielicky’s trip was supported by the German television channel WDR, only one part of the video recordings was ever shown on television—the scenes in which Flusser speaks from a window of his house about the prospects for Europe after the fall of the Soviet Union. The rest of the footage was edited into “Vilém Flussers Fluss” (Vilém Flusser’s Flow) released on video by 235 Media Verlag Köln. 

Recordings (PDF 245.65 KB)

Vilém Flussers Bild-Theorie. Zur Philosophie des technischen Bildes ausgehend von der Fotografie

Towards a Philosophy of Photography presents all aspects of Flusser’s theory of technical images as well as the images’ ambivalence and paradoxes: the relation of writing and image from a historical and a post-historical perspective, the definition of technical images as images of concepts and as products of the (here: photographic) apparatus. The starting point of this approach to the photographic image is meta-theoretical: Flusser’s philosophical method oscillates between ‘telling stories’, a philosophical argumentation in the tradition of phenomenology, language philosophy and structuralism, a specific use of metaphors – and often together with Flusser’s own reflections of his ‘stories’, of ‘method’ and ‘metaphors’. This article explores Flusser’s philosophy as a field of intertwined ‘layers’ of argumentation that overlap in Flusser’s search for a new philosophy, corresponding with the new kind of images he proposes: a new philosophy in or through images. From this perspective, the shift from writing to image is accomplished by a shift from meta-theory to a ‘dia’ philosophy (Dieter Mersch), referring to the ‘metaphorological’ dimension of Flusser’s texts and his ‘gestures’.

Bild-Theorie (PDF 358.3 KB)

Bazin, Flusser y la Estética de la fotografia / Bazin, Flusser and the Aesthetics of Photography

Both the film theoretician Bazin and the philosopher of photography Flusser follow a well-known tradition according to which aesthetic experience belongs in the realm of the extraordinary. In this way, that which makes a photograph an aesthetic object is its link to the extraordinary. Nevertheless, Flusser deals with photography within the frame of a general theory concerning technical images. Such images have, according to him, a quantitative structure. Consequently, the extraordinary character of photography would vary in a quantitative way. Furthermore, again according to Flusser, there is a reversal of meaning taking place within the realm of technical images: the technical image is existentially meaningful in itself, not because of what it represents. So, in the case of photography the meaning vector does not point to the world but to the image itself: the image is real, not its object. Of course, this idea implies a complete break with Bazin’s ontology of the photographic image. According to Bazin the image and its object share the same nature, the way a fingerprint does. Photographs, furthermore, awaken our admiration for the object, and are mostly used only for that.

Estética (PDF 189.55 KB)
Aesthetics (PDF 213.6 KB)

Über Fotografie schreiben. Vilém Flusser, Roland Barthes, Jacques Derrida

The paper explores how concepts of writing (“Schrift” or “écriture”), photography (as a “technical image”) and ideology are related in the works of Vilém Flusser, Roland Barthes and Jacques Derrida. A comparison of these three authors reveals both fundamental parallels and significant differences, depending on the interest, scope and line of the various argumentations, which are to be investigated.

Über Fotografie (PDF 174.03 KB)

O vídeo como representação da vida: por prisioneiros do Carandiru

This article is based on the 2006 Masters Thesis by the author, presented to the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais to obtain the Masters Degree in Social Communication. It analyzes the consequences of the production of technical images for the knowledge of daily life, understood as "life-world," a concept developed by Schütz and Luckmann. Although Flusser argues that technical images possess the potential to transform knowledge (epistemology) as well as models of behavior (ethics) and experience (aesthetics) in daily life, technical images are analyzed here from the epistemological point of view. The analysis of spatial, temporal and social arrangements made by Schütz's approach to social science allows the identification of immutable aspects of existence. These aspects are then applied to the life-world construed intersubjectively by the prisoners of the Carandiru’s prison in São Paulo, as well as described in images and utterings made by two prisoners, during one night in a prison cell.