The true aesthetic criterion Read the attchment page 104 chapter (Exile and Creativity) and write three ideas . writings electronic mediations Katherine Ha

The true aesthetic criterion Read the attchment page 104 chapter (Exile and Creativity) and write three ideas . writings
electronic mediations
Katherine Hayles
Mark Poster
Samuel Weber
Series Editors
6. Writings
Vilém Flusser
Andreas Ströhl, Editor
5. Bodies in Technology
Don Ihde
4. Cyberculture
Pierre Lévy
3. What’s the Matter with the Internet?
Mark Poster
2. High Technē: Art and Technology
from the Machine Aesthetic to the Posthuman
R. L. Rutsky
1. Digital Sensations: Space, Identity, and
Embodiment in Virtual Reality
Ken Hillis
V i l é m
Andreas Ströhl, Editor
e l e c t r o n i c
F l u s s e r
Translated by Erik Eisel
m e d i a t i o n s ,
University of Minnesota Press
v o l u m e
Minneapolis / London
The publication of this work was subsidized by a grant from inter nationes, Bonn.
See pages 219–22 for copyright and previous publication information for specific
Introduction copyright 2002 by Andreas Ströhl
English translation copyright 2002 by the Regents of the University of Minnesota
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a
retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of
the publisher.
Published by the University of Minnesota Press
111 Third Avenue South, Suite 290
Minneapolis, MN 55401-2520
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Flusser, Vilém, 1920–1991
[Selections. English. 2002]
Writings / Vilém Flusser ; Andreas Ströhl, editor ; translated by Erik Eisel.
cm. — (Electronic mediations ; v. 6)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
1. Philosophy. 2. Communication—Philosophy. I. Ströhl, Andreas.
II. Title. III. Series.
B1044.F572 E5 2002
Printed in the United States of America on acid-free paper
The University of Minnesota is an equal-opportunity educator and employer.
12 11 10 09 08 07 06 05 04 03 02
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
Andreas Ströhl
What Is Communication?
On the Theory of Communication
Line and Surface
The Codified World
Habit: The True Aesthetic Criterion
The Future of Writing
Images in the New Media
On the Crisis of Our Models
Change of Paradigms
Taking Up Residence in Homelessness
Exile and Creativity
A New Imagination
Mythical, Historical, and Posthistorical Existence
Photography and History
A Historiography Revised
The Vanity of History
On the End of History
Waiting for Kafka
Orders of Magnitude and Humanism
Designing Cities
In Search of Meaning (Philosophical Self-portrait)
Selected Bibliography
Copyright and Original Publication Information
Vilém Flusser´s widow Edith Flusser encouraged me to edit this book,
and I thank her most of all. I would also like to thank Andreas MüllerPohle, William Murphy, Mark Poster, Silvia Wagnermaier, Michael Wutz,
Siegfried Zielinski, and Jana Vymazalová.
Andreas Ströhl
June 2001
This page intentionally left blank
Andreas Ströhl
The new is terrifying. Not because it is this way and not another way, but because it is new.1
Perhaps we are about to remember again the forgotten celebrating. Perhaps we
are about to find our way back through the strange detour through telematics to
“authentic” being human, which is to say, to celebratory existence for the other,
to purposeless play with others and for others.2
Vilém Flusser (1920–91) was a philosopher and writer born in Prague.
He held Brazilian citizenship and wrote most of his work in German.
This volume of essays makes his work available to an American audience for the first time. With one exception, all the essays and lectures are
brief and complete in themselves. Much care went into the selection of
these texts and I feel a great sense of responsibility in writing this Introduction. It is important to present this philosopher in the proper light,
to present as true a picture of him as possible, and to promote genuine
interest in his work. Flusser has already generated considerable interest
in the German-speaking world, and this volume will introduce the wideranging yet subtle oeuvre of this extraordinary, unconventional author
to a wider audience. The University of Minnesota Press is the first American publisher to honor this inspiring thinker with a comprehensive
Vilém Flusser divides European intellectuals into two camps. One person sees in him a pessimistic, cynical prognosticator of the decline of our
writing-based culture and, with it, Western civilization as we know it.
Another sees in him the prophet of a new, posthistorical humanism that
will rise up from the present environment of media and communication structures.
Flusser himself encouraged both of these views. As a philosopher,
media theorist, writer, and journalist, he never wrote in the “academic
style” that many might have expected of him. Provocative wordplay, linguistic games using etymology, a language colored by existentialist brushstrokes, and his phenomenological method of questioning both annoyed
and confused the academic world.
In addition, Flusser reworded his most important issues in unique
ways, producing countless variations of the same arguments. He developed ideas through repetition and, for the most part, with essays in different languages. The concentrated yet often laconic sentences represent
new ideas that he himself, as much as his reader or his audience, wanted
to hear. Each essay is literally an attempt to philosophize ex nihilo. One
thus observes a philosopher thinking, the disadvantage of this method
being that Flusser’s lectures and writings contain themes that intersect
with each other in a more consequential way than is usually the case for
other thinkers.
Flusser saw himself as an Old European, especially when he was in
Brazil. He often suffered at the hands of academic circles that dismissed
him. On a personal level, his success in the 1980s was therefore all the
more overwhelming for him. It did not matter that success was at first
limited to a relatively small circle of intellectuals, most of whom were
artists. Tragically, it would not be until his death in 1991 that a larger audience would know this unconventional thinker. Today, his extraordinary influence on developments in the arts and European media studies is
unquestioned. His relevance as a European philosopher is just now being
For a number of reasons, reaction to Flusser has been ambivalent.
Whereas his later work is available only in German—if at all—his early
work was published in Portuguese only. Moreover, Flusser’s characteristically equivocal means of expression literally fosters misunderstandings. It
is not easy to catalogue Flusser within the canon of contemporary media
theorists and philosophers. Except for rare points of contact, his texts
have less in common with those of Marshall McLuhan or Jean Baudrillard
than with those of Edmund Husserl or Martin Buber. Flusser remained
an outsider, never becoming part of an accepted history of philosophy.3 In
addition, he never created a complete philosophical system. Instead, he
preferred mastering the small form. His essays formulated the same ques-
tions in continually new variations. His thematic concerns are woven together like threads, which in the end form a complete network of texts.
This method of hesitant questionings and playful appropriations is clearly dialogic. It shapes Flusser’s texts to such a degree that it is possible,
while reading his work, to believe that one actually hears Flusser’s voice or
that one is carrying on a conversation with him.
From Old Central Europe to Cyberspace
Vilém Flusser was born May 12, 1920, in Prague, the capital of Czechoslovakia. The unique dynamics of Prague’s cultural and intellectual life
in the 1920s and 1930s was a result of the productive yet competitive interaction of the three cultures that shaped it: Czech, Jewish, and German.
Like the other sons of assimilated Jewish intellectuals, Flusser grew up
with Czech and German, becoming equally proficient in both. He acquired a comprehensive humanistic education, which included Latin and
Greek as well as a complete introduction to philosophy. The fertile intellectual ground of this unique Central European and Jewish cultural environment would shape his thinking and his personality till the end of his
life. When he first emigrated to Brazil, it was a strange and exotic world
that presented itself as a vision of the New World. Flusser would remain
an Old European in the best sense of the word, despite the strong cultural influences of Brazil.4
Flusser hardly ever mentions other thinkers explicitly. Every once in a
while, however, we find references to Hannah Arendt, Martin Buber, Edmund Husserl, Franz Kafka, Franz Werfel, and Ludwig Wittgenstein.5 We
occasionally find traces of Thomas Kuhn and Marshall McLuhan. Beyond
this, the influence of Albert Einstein and Werner Heisenberg is perceptible.
The greatest influence on his philosophical temperament is his compatriot Edmund Husserl, who was born in 1859 in the Moravian city of
Prossnitz (Prostĕjov) and died in 1938. Like Flusser, he was a Germanspeaking Czechoslovak Jew. As a philosopher, Husserl is considered the
father of phenomenology, which still dominates Central European philosophical thought. Flusser made Husserl’s method of phenomenological
reduction, which depended on the bracketing of prejudices from reflection on the life-world, into an analytic instrument of his own making.
His intellectual debt to Husserl’s phenomenology gave Flusser privileged
insights and points of view. These, in turn, made him radically different
from the popular media theorists of the 1970s and 1980s, who were more
oriented toward poststructuralism and Marxism. The phenomenological method enabled Flusser to recognize a certain “apparatus-operator
complex” (Apparat-Operator Komplex) as the motivating force (movens)
behind all contemporary social and technological change.
In his Kommunikologie (Communicology), Flusser demonstrates the
manner in which “the apparatus-operator complex devours texts, to
spit them out again as techno-images.” 6 Flusser asks how this complex
changes our interaction with the world when it transforms texts, such as
history, into techno-images, such as television programs, and thus impedes our perception of texts: “If, however, every historical action feeds
the apparatus-operator complex, then history literally proceeds toward
its end.” 7
“Complex” signifies in this instance that there is no substantial reason
for differentiating between the apparatus and the operator of the apparatus. This interpretive position comes from a phenomenological perspective:8 the apparatus functions only in terms of the function of the operator, just as the operator functions only in terms of the function of the
apparatus. Both exist only through their relationship to each other. Each
makes the other’s existence possible, and each defines the other. Flusser
treated this “indivisible oneness” 9 as a “black box”:
It’s a matter of drawing up theories and explanations, ideologies and
dogmas as images, and that means, not being procedural, onedimensional, linear, but rather wanting to grasp things as structure,
multidimensional, pictorial; not being history-minded about scenes,
but rather reflecting about processes in a phenomenological manner;
not seeing a method in history, to see how scenes could be changed,
but rather seeing how a process can be changed, from the outside,
from below, from above, which is to say from an extrahistorical perspective. Fundamentally, it’s an attempt to codify the world in such a
manner that it can be described cybernetically in all of its inexplicable
complexity and is thus given meaning.10
The phenomenological character of Marshall McLuhan’s conception
of media has perhaps been given too little attention. In this approach, the
media become an extension of the body’s organs and, thus, a sort of irreplaceable prosthesis.11 This way of thinking is comparable to Flusser’s, in
that it bases itself in a reductive method that brackets off all contingencies. In addition, the phenomenological influence is operative in Paul
Virilio’s thought.12 Still, McLuhan did not influence Flusser directly.
There is no evidence in Flusser’s work that other contemporary media
theorists influenced him. Perhaps it is an idle question to ask about any
evidence of influence. McLuhan and Flusser could have just as simply
been led to the same conclusions by following similar logical steps. It is
important to recognize, however, that this is Flusser’s only point of contact with contemporary media theory. And, even in this case, we can observe Flusser develop his ideas by following the strictest phenomenological methods.13
Works in the natural sciences always were at the top of Flusser’s extensive reading list, and he was well informed about contemporary developments. A number of hypotheses borrowed from the sphere of natural
history are recognizable in his philosophical texts. For instance, he constantly returns to the second law of thermodynamics, according to which
the universe tends toward entropy and the unimpeded loss of information. More important, Werner Heisenberg’s quantum theories left their
imprint on Flusser’s pattern of thought, for they are also the basis for
Thomas Kuhn’s reflections on the paradigm shift in the natural sciences.14
Thomas Kuhn’s hypothesis of the paradigm shift describes a process in
which a quantity of existing problems within one discursive model turns
into a qualitatively new model. This hypothesis served repeatedly as a
metaphor for Flusser’s description of technological revolutions. These
revolutions led to new forms of consciousness through the creation of
new codes and thus had an immediate impact on the agenda and content
of human history:15
In the same manner that the alphabet was directed against pictograms, so digital codes currently direct themselves against letters, to
overtake them. In the same manner that a form of thinking based on
writing opposed itself to magic and myth (pictorial thinking), so a
new form of thinking based on digital codes directs itself against procedural, “progressive” ideologies, to replace them with structural,
systems-based, cybernetic modes of thought. . . . This can no longer be
thought dialectically, but rather through Kuhn’s notion of “paradigm”: no more a synthesis of opposites, but rather a sudden, almost
incomprehensible leap from one level to another.16
Cybernetic thinking links Flusser in a characteristic way to Ludwig
Wittgenstein’s philosophy in Tractatus Logico-philosophicus: “The world
is the totality of the facts, not of things. . . . What is the case—a fact—is
the existence of states of affairs. A state of affairs (a state of things) is a
combination of objects (things).”17 Relations, not things, are real; dialogues, not the men themselves, are relevant; the Self is a node in an entire network of connections. Flusser juxtaposes the traditional notion of
a world that contains “hard” objects and subjects to his own concept in
which only the relations between subjects and other subjects are concrete. Man is an interpolation, something like a node in a network of
interactions and possibilities.
In a syncretic yet original manner, Flusser relates Husserl, Buber, and
Wittgenstein to contemporary theories in the natural sciences to build
a unique, posthistorical communications philosophy. Flusser’s view of
communications and its parameters might at first glance seem scientific
and unemotional. However, his analysis of radical cultural changes
shows his deep passion for what he called the “project for humanization.” In his eyes, Homo sapiens sapiens is far from being perfect, or at
the end of his biological, spiritual, cultural, or social development. The
final purpose of the human race is a leisurely life of contemplation and
celebration, in a society that delegates work to machines and enables its
members to live a cheerful life of playful and creative communication.
Flusser was interested in the creation of specific communicative and
technological conditions for a society of free, independent, and responsible citizens.
In light of Husserl’s notion of the life-world as a network of concrete
intentionalities, Flusser foresees the coming technological implementation of a telematic culture that will establish a “relationship of mutual
respect” (Anerkennungsverhältnis) among individuals. In many ways,
Flusser radicalized Daniel Bell’s thesis concerning the creation of a postindustrial society, but at the same time he removed many of its ideological tendencies.18 He brings the techniques of phenomenological reduction to bear on the human situation, which, he believes, is in need of
technological progress. The “Enlightenment project,” aiming for the
human emancipation from restrictions of all kinds, begun in the eighteenth century by philosophers such as Locke, Hume, Rousseau, and
Kant and an unfinished project to this very day, runs parallel to developments in technology, for all revolutions are technological revolutions,
and they help realize the project for humanization:
A telematized society will be exactly that network of pure relationships that Husserl defines as the concrete structure of the social phenomenon. . . . We can see, then, in what sense it may be said that
Husserl has done away with humanism. Instead of the individual man
being the supreme value, it is now the dialogue between men that becomes the supreme value, or what Martin Buber, whose thought was
profoundly influenced by Husserl, called the “dialogical life” (das dialogische Leben).19
Martin Buber, a religious scholar and Jewish ethicist, was born in 1878
in Vienna and died in 1965 in Jerusalem. He developed a concept of
human existence based on dialogue: “Man becomes I through Thou.”20
The dialogue between men, the “medium of the Thou for all beings,” was
for Buber a metaphor for the relationship between God and man: “The
extended lines of this relationship cut through the eternal Thou. Every
individual Thou is a window to Him. . . . The worldly Thou . . . completes
itself finally in the direct relationship with the Thou that cannot become
It due to its very existence.”21
Only by carefully reading between the lines does it become clear how
Flusser, despite being in complete agreement with Buber, subtly secularizes the transcendental teleology of Buber’s thought and unobtrusively
empties it of all metaphoricalness:
I believe that what differentiates our culture from others is the experience of the sacred in man. We can express this in at least two different
ways. Either God is experienceable as man, as an Other, who says
“Thou” to us and whom we also address in this manner, or man is the
only image of God that we possess.22
Flusser ostensibly agrees with Buber’s existential interpretation of
dialogue, and he makes a direct appeal to the Jewish tradition and Buber’s
transcendental intentions. Meanwhile, he introduces his own subtle
Naturally, Buber’s book A Dialogical Life should be considered a theological work; it does not speak “of ” God, but rather “to” God, and it
does this in that it speaks to us. It therefore can be said that the JudeoChristian tradition breaks through to our present time not as theology, but rather as a search for intrahuman relationships. In this sense,
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