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Vilém Flusser
Translated by Nancy Ann Roth
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Throughout his career, the influential new media theorist Vilém Flusser kept the idea of gesture in mind: that people express their being in the world through a sweeping range of movements. He reconsiders familiar actions-from speaking and painting to smoking and telephoning-in terms of particular movement, opening a surprising new perspective on the ways we share and preserve meaning. A gesture may or may not be linked to specialized apparatus, though its form crucially affects the person who makes it.

    These essays, published here as a collection in English for the first time, were written over roughly a half century and reflect both an eclectic array of interests and a durable commitment to phenomenological thought. Defining gesture as "a movement of the body or of a tool attached to the body for which there is no satisfactory causal explanation," Flusser moves around the topic from diverse points of view, angles, and distances: at times he zooms in on a modest, ordinary movement such as taking a photograph, shaving, or listening to music; at others, he pulls back to look at something as vast and varied as human "making," embracing everything from the fashioning of simple tools to mass manufacturing. But whatever the gesture, Flusser analyzes it as the expression of a particular form of consciousness, that is, as a particular relationship between the world and the one who gestures.

    eISBN: 978-1-4529-4188-2
    Subjects: Art & Art History, Philosophy, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Translator’s Preface
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. Gesture and Affect: The Practice of a Phenomenology of Gestures
    (pp. 1-9)

    As a matter of courtesy, as well as for other reasons, a writer should define his concepts. In this essay, I will do this for the concept of “gesture” but not for that of “affect.”¹ I hope that the reader will excuse this impropriety. My plan is to feign ignorance of the meaning ofaffectand, by observing gestures, try to discover what people mean by this word. It is a kind of phenomenological effort, through the observation of gestures, to takeaffectby surprise.

    I will start by attempting, for the remainder of this essay, to define the word...

  5. Beyond Machines (but still within the Phenomenology of Gestures)
    (pp. 10-18)

    Work presumes that the world is not as it should be and that it can be changed. Such hypotheses present problems. Ontology is concerned with problems of the way the world is, deontology with the way it should be, and methodology with the means of changing it. These problems are intertwined. We cannot know that the world is not as it should be without knowing how it is, nor can we know that the world is as it is without knowing how it should be. We cannot know that the world is not as it should be without knowing that...

  6. The Gesture of Writing
    (pp. 19-25)

    It is about bringing material to a surface (e.g., chalk to a blackboard) to construct forms (e.g., letters). So it would seem to be about a constructive gesture:con-struction= connecting different structures (e.g., chalk and board) to form a new structure (letters). But that is an error. Writing does not mean bringing material to a surface but scratching at a surface, and the Greek verbgrapheinproves it. Appearances are deceiving in this case. Several thousand years ago, people began to etch into the surfaces of Mesopotamian bricks with pointed sticks, and according to tradition, this is the origin...

  7. The Gesture of Speaking
    (pp. 26-31)

    The complicated organs in and around the mouth, such as tongue, gums, and lips, move so as to cause the surrounding air to oscillate in ways that have been codified into systems called “language”— wouldthatbe the gesture of speaking? Are there really specific organs that are “used” for speaking, just as, say, the stomach is used for digestion? Or is it rather like using a fountain pen to write, namely, that these organs developed the function of speech in the course of human evolution? Is the creation of linguistic convention based on organs of speech, or did these...

  8. The Gesture of Making
    (pp. 32-47)

    The symmetry of our hands is such that the left hand must be turned in a fourth dimension for it to coincide with the right hand. Because this dimension is not actually accessible to hands, they are condemned to forever mirror each other. We can of course imagine their congruence, achieved through a complex manipulation with gloves or through animation. But the excitement it produces is so strong as to approach philosophical delirium. For the symmetrical relationship between our two hands is among the conditions of being human, and when we imagine the hands being congruent, we imagine having overstepped...

  9. The Gesture of Loving
    (pp. 48-54)

    A phenomenology of the gesture of loving must negotiate two dangers, sensationalism and prudery. They probably cannot be avoided. In any case, they immediately immerse the inquiry in an atmosphere that is unique to this gesture. For they show that what conceals this gesture from view is not a cover woven from habit, as is the case for most other gestures, but from repression. We don’t pay attention to most gestures because we don’t pay attention to what is familiar, and so when we concentrate on them, they seem new and surprising. But we don’t see the gesture of loving...

  10. The Gesture of Destroying
    (pp. 55-60)

    Gestures are movements of the body that express being. The gesticulating person’s way of being in the world can be read in them. And in fact, that is possible because the gesticulating person is sure that he is making the movements of his own free will, although he knows that they are, like all movements, conditioned. He is not satisfied with reasons (causal explanations). Even if I could know everything about what makes me smoke a pipe, I would [not]¹ be persuaded to chew gum instead. If I ask why I smoke a pipe, I am not asking for reasons...

  11. The Gesture of Painting
    (pp. 61-71)

    If you watch a painter at work, you seem to be watching a process in which various bodies (that of the painter, his tools, the pigments, and the canvas) move in some fundamentally obscure way that “results” in a painting. Still, you don’t have the feeling of having understood the process. And so, behind the observed movement, you project a further, invisible movement of an invisible body, perhaps the “painter’s intention” or his “idea of the painting to be painted.” From such an approach to painting, which can serve as an example of the occidental approach to the world, come...

  12. The Gesture of Photographing
    (pp. 72-85)

    There is no doubt that the invention of photography should be called revolutionary, for it is a method that seeks to fix subjects that exist in four-dimensional time and space onto a two-dimensional surface. This method is revolutionary in that it, in contrast to painting, permits the subjects themselves to be imprinted on a surface. A photograph is a kind of “fingerprint” that the subject leaves on a surface, and not a depiction, as in painting. The subject is thecauseof the photograph and themeaningof painting. The photographic revolution reverses the traditional relationship between a concrete phenomenon...

  13. The Gesture of Filming
    (pp. 86-90)

    In investigating the gesture of filming just after that of photographing, I face a methodological problem: I have the opportunity to observe photographers far more often than I do filmmakers. I can make a photograph myself, if necessary, but have hardly ever even held a film camera in my hands. Conversely, I have looked at films far more attentively. I have been intellectually engaged with certain individual films and believe that film must be regarded as the contemporary artistic medium par excellence. Because many share my position as a photographic amateur and critical receiver of film, I will make a...

  14. The Gesture of Turning a Mask Around
    (pp. 91-97)

    A whole range of gestures are connected with masks, for example, the gesture of mask design, the one of choosing among available masks, the one of masking, of wearing the mask, and of taking the mask off (and indeed of taking someone else’s mask off as well as one’s own). Each one of these gestures deserves to be studied carefully because masks are materializations of the roles we play to one another, and at the same time of the roles we play to ourselves (because we see ourselves mirrored in others). And yet, in comparison to turning the mask over...

  15. The Gesture of Planting
    (pp. 98-104)

    Contrary to superficial first impressions, we are dealing here with an unnatural gesture, “perverse” in a radical sense: for in it, being turns into its opposite. This perversity, and the way the so-called ecological movement has inverted it, effectively demands that we consider this gesture just after having examined the gesture of turning a mask around. The thesis I want to advance here is that the ecologists’ standpoint is the same one as the one from which one turns a mask around: a standpoint outside history.

    As with most of the gestures we encounter daily, there is no appropriate strategy...

  16. The Gesture of Shaving
    (pp. 105-110)

    A barber’s tools are gardener’s tools in miniature, and so a barber’s gestures can be compared with those of a gardener. When you do this, certain questions arise that could, under close examination, press deeply into the existential problems of the present time. For example, is gardening a type of cosmetic care, a beautification of an extended human skin, or is it the other way around—are cosmetics a kind of gardening, an artistry applied to human beings’ natural environment? In other words, is grass a kind of beard or a beard a kind of grass (in the understanding that...

  17. The Gesture of Listening to Music
    (pp. 111-117)

    The gesture of the seer has been so thoroughly stylized through myth and tradition that every day and everywhere, in television and in advertisements, we can watch it becoming a pose. The pose of the statesman, gazing with determination at the stars, for example. The gesture of thinking has, by way of Rodin, become a cliché. The gesture of the listener, conversely, does not seem to have been stereotyped in the same way, although it is related to seeing and thinking inasmuch as it involves not a movement but a positioning of the body. Looking back at medieval iconography with...

  18. The Gesture of Smoking a Pipe
    (pp. 118-134)

    Pipe smokers differ most fundamentally from those who do not smoke pipes in their extraordinary dependence on pockets. At a minimum, one is needed for the tobacco pouch, one for the pipe, one for the lighter, one for the tool for cleaning the bowl, and one for the wire to clean the stem. But it is good to have additional reserve pockets, for example, for a second pipe, for matchboxes, and for wires of varying strength and flexibility. The pockets cannot have just any shape and cannot be situated just anywhere. The tobacco pouch, for example, should be in a...

  19. The Gesture of Telephoning
    (pp. 135-141)

    Its appearance has changed frequently in the course of its history and can serve as an illustration of the way design has developed. But despite the difference between a telephone mounted on the wall, with its iron crank, and the row of colored plastic telephones on the manager’s desk (to say nothing of the red telephone), it has undergone only one functional modification in its long history: automation. The telephone has retained an archaic, paleotechnical character in comparison to the discursive mass media. This matters to an understanding of our current state of communications. One of the possible definitions of...

  20. The Gesture of Video
    (pp. 142-146)

    According to the hypothesis under examination here, the observation of gestures allows us to “decipher” the way we exist in the world. One of the implications of this hypothesis is that modifications we can observe in our gestures allow us to “read” the existential changes we are currently undergoing. Another implication is that whenever gestures appear that have never been seen before, we have the key to decoding a new form of existence. The gesture involved in manipulating a video camera represents in part a change to a traditional gesture. According to the hypothesis just presented, then, one way of...

  21. The Gesture of Searching
    (pp. 147-160)

    Our gestures are changing. We are in crisis. The following essay, which also serves as the last chapter of our attempt at a phenomenology of gestures, will claim that our crisis is basically a crisis in knowledge,¹ a crisis in our “gesture of searching.” Visual evidence does not support this thesis. On the contrary, it appears that the gestures of researchers in laboratories, in libraries, in classrooms, are more or less the same as they were a hundred years ago, although other gestures, such as those of dancing, sitting down, or eating, are structured differently. The thesis presented here claims...

  22. Appendix: Toward a General Theory of Gestures
    (pp. 161-176)
  23. Translator’s Notes
    (pp. 177-180)
  24. Index
    (pp. 181-194)
  25. Back Matter
    (pp. 195-195)