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.