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Andreas Ströhl Editor
Translated by Erik Eisel
Volume: 6
Copyright Date: 2002
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 272
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Vilém Flusser’s innovative writings theorize—and ultimately embrace—the epochal shift that humanity is undergoing from what he termed "linear thinking" (based on writing) toward a new form of multidimensional, visual thinking embodied by digital culture. For Flusser, these new modes and technologies of communication make possible a society (the "telematic" society) in which dialogue between people becomes the supreme value.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-9151-7
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. ix-2)
    Andreas Ströhl

    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...

  5. What Is Communication?
    (pp. 3-7)

    Human communication is an artificial process. It relies on artistic techniques, on inventions, on tools and instruments, that is, on symbols ordered into codes. People do not make themselves understood through “natural” means. When speaking, “natural” tones do not come out as in a bird’s song, and writing is not a “natural” gesture like a dance of bees. Consequently, communications theory is not a natural science, but rather is concerned with the human being’s unnatural aspects. It is one of the disciplines that were once called the “human sciences.” It is concerned with the human being’s unnatural aspects. The American...

  6. On the Theory of Communication
    (pp. 8-20)

    The termcommunicationcan be defined in a wide and in a strict sense. The wide sense is: a process by which a system is changed by another system. The strict sense is: a process by which a system is changed by another system in such a way that the sum of information is greater at the end of the process than at its beginning. The wide sense thus covers two types of communication: the “natural” one, which is entropic, because it obeys the second law of thermodynamics, and the “cultural“ one, which overcompensates entropy. It is true that there...

  7. Line and Surface
    (pp. 21-34)

    Surfaces are becoming ever more important in our surroundings. For instance, TV screens, posters, the pages of illustrated magazines. In the past, these surfaces were rarer. Photographs, paintings, carpets,vitreaux, cave paintings surrounded men in the past, but these surfaces did not offer themselves either in the quantity or with the degree of importance of the surfaces that now surround us. Therefore, it was formerly not so urgent as it is today to try to understand the role surfaces play in human life. In the past, there existed another problem of far greater significance: to try to understand what lines...

  8. The Codified World
    (pp. 35-41)

    The revolution in the world of communications whose witness and victim we are influences our lives more than we usually tend to recognize. We know, for example, the consequences that television, advertising, and film can have. What is meant here is much more radical. The present reflections will propose that the meaning of the world in general and of life in the world transforms itself under the pressure of this revolution in communications.

    If we compare our situation with the one that existed before the Second World War, we are impressed by the relative colorlessness of the time before the...

  9. Criteria—Crisis—Criticism
    (pp. 42-50)

    The Greek verbkrineincorresponds to English “to divide,” “to separate,” or “to break.” We recognize this verb in nouns such ascriterion, crisis, criticism, or criminality. If we translate it with the words “to judge,” “to decide,” or “to perpetrate,” rather than with the words “to divide,” “to separate,” or “to break,” we come closer to its true meaning. It signifies an action that splits oneness, breaks it down, breaks in half: it casts doubt on oneness. This is not a comfortable doubt, but rather the sort of doubt that makes judgments, decisions, and perpetrates crimes. At this meeting,...

  10. Habit: The True Aesthetic Criterion
    (pp. 51-57)

    In fact, this statement is nothing but a translation of the second law of thermodynamics into English. It states that novelty is an improbable inversion of the general tendency toward ever greater probability, and that it is “terrifying” precisely because it is an inversion. But implicitly it also states that whatever is new must of necessity grow old (return to the general tendency toward becoming ever more probable). However, if the statement just quoted were nothing but a translation from mathematics into English (one among numerous possible translations of the second law), it would be of limited interest. The statement...

  11. Betrayal
    (pp. 58-62)

    This is a strong word. So are most of its synonyms, such astreachery or deception. But there is a near synonym that is less strong, namely,divulgence. To divulgemeans, of course, to betray a secret. But the word is used to mean something like publication. The purpose of this essay is to consider the connotation of treachery hidden within the concept of publication. In this age of media culture it might not be wise to repress this hidden meaning.

    An apparently harmless example might illustrate this purpose. A scientist publishes an article in a magazine destined for the...

  12. The Future of Writing
    (pp. 63-69)

    This essay will not consider the problems concerning the future of teaching the art of writing in the face of the growing importance of nonliterate messages in our surroundings, although those problems will become ever more important both in the so-called developed countries and in societies where illiteracy is still widespread. Instead, it proposes to consider a tendency that underlies those problems: namely, the tendency away from linear codes such as writing and toward two-dimensional codes such as photographs, films, and TV, a tendency that may be observed if one glances even superficially at the codified world that surrounds us....

  13. Images in the New Media
    (pp. 70-74)

    Among other things, an image is a message. It has a sender and it searches for an addressee. This search is a question of its portability. Images are surfaces. How does one transport surfaces? It all depends on the physical bodies on whose surfaces the images are affixed. If these bodies are the walls in a cave (as in Lascaux), they are not portable. In cases such as these, the addressees must be transported to the pictures. There are more convenient and more portable physical bodies to which images can be affixed, such as wooden boards and framed canvases. In...

  14. On the Crisis of Our Models (Theoretical Considerations and a Practical Proposal)
    (pp. 75-84)

    The motive of this essay is the suspicion that some new media of communication might offer possibilities for the elaboration of new types of models. This suspicion was provoked by some experiments with videotapes and films now in progress. This essay is therefore addressed to both theoretical thinkers and those who experiment with the new media. It will be structured as follows: A. It will consider some aspects of the present crisis of models; B. It will submit a rudimentary proposal for the elaboration of a model of the human body through the TV medium; C. It will criticize the...

  15. Change of Paradigms
    (pp. 85-90)

    The division of the history of the West into antiquity, the Middle Ages, and modernity is questionable, but nevertheless not arbitrary. In these cases, the issue was a change of paradigms, involving changes in living, feeling, and thinking, changes obvious not only to us, at our historical distance, but also to those affected by them.

    Equally dubious, but still not arbitrary, is the present talk about “post-modernism” and/or “posthistory.” This lecture has the intention of confirming that we too can and must note a profound change in our modes of living and thinking up to now and in our feelings...

  16. Taking Up Residence in Homelessness
    (pp. 91-103)

    It goes against my own nature, but, having been seduced by my own topic, “Home and Homelessness,” I now intend to make the secret of my homelessness a little clearer. I was born a citizen of Prague, and it seems that my ancestors lived more than a thousand years in the Golden City. I am a Jew, and the saying “Next year in Jerusalem” has been with me since my youth. For decades, I was involved in an experiment to synthesize Brazilian culture from a larger mix of Western European, Eastern European, African, East Asian, and Indian cultural phenomena. I...

  17. Exile and Creativity
    (pp. 104-109)

    This essay will explore neither the existential nor the religious connotations of the concept of the termexile. However, we should keep in the back of our mind the Christian story of man’s expulsion from Paradise and his entrance into the world, the Jewish mystic’s story of the exile of divine spirit in the world, and the existentialist story of man as a stranger in the world. All of these stories should be kept in the back of our mind without being verbalized. For the intention here is to interpret the exile situation as a challenge to creative activity.


  18. A New Imagination
    (pp. 110-116)

    Man’s unique ability to create images for himself and for others has been a theme of philosophical and theological speculation at least since Plato. This ability seems truly unique to man, because none of the species preceding him seem to have created anything comparable to images such as the cave paintings in Dordogne. In this tradition, speculative thinking on this human ability has been grouped around the termsimaginationorvisualization: it is often taken as a given, as a fact. One assumes that something like “powers of imagination” actually exists, and then one attempts to come to terms with...

  19. Mythical, Historical, and Posthistorical Existence
    (pp. 117-125)

    The Brazilian situation is extraordinarily instructive for Europeans. The European situation presents us with layers stacked on top of each other; but the Brazilian situation presents the same layers resting side by side: the layer of magic and myth, the layer of historical consciousness and action, and the layer of programmatic and systems-analytical thought and behavior. Consequently, the Brazilian situation enlightens the European about European history: There, his own history is spread out before him on a horizontal axis. Prehistoric Europe is present in Brazil. There, the historical phase of Europe is in the highest gear. At the same time,...

  20. Photography and History
    (pp. 126-131)

    We should differentiate between prehistoric, historical, and posthistorical images, and we should consider the photograph to be the first posthistorical image. Prehistoric images are those that were produced before the invention of linear writing. Historical images are those that contradict linear texts either directly or indirectly. Posthistorical images are those that set linear texts into the image. This differentiation is intended (among other things) to divide image thinking from writing thinking as clearly as possible.

    Prehistoric images (from cave paintings to protohistorical wall paintings) are maps that enable their addressees to orient themselves in their environment. Their producers have stepped...

  21. A Historiography Revised
    (pp. 132-137)

    Narrative is no longer the model for historical events. That is film. From this point on, one can speed up events, watch them in slow motion, and work them into flashbacks. Most important, however, one can cut the tape of Western history and splice it back together. I propose cutting out the twelve hundred years between A.D. 200 and A.D. 1400, then replacing the cuttings with two hundred newly composed years. Then, I would show the remastered film in the theaters of the cultural elite—with the hope of constructing a more lucid and entertaining plot for the film.


  22. The Vanity of History
    (pp. 138-142)

    Few of the things that surround us are inherited. Few have been delivered to us by the stream of generations, carrying their stamp. Instead, most carry the stamp of novelty. The novelty of things that surround us differentiates our surroundings from previous surroundings in a characteristic manner. In earlier times (and by this I mean all epochs that I know of), things were handed down from the father to the son, they were amassed in family chests and in the attics of homes in villages and towns, and they filled living rooms and bedrooms. The farmer stepped across fields tilled...

  23. On the End of History
    (pp. 143-149)

    Whoever speaks of the end of history should be able to explain what he means when he is speaking about history. But, this is fundamentally impossible. It is unfair to expect a clear definition of the concept of history from historians and posthistorians. The explanation for this is the double meaning of the concept and the difficulty involved in disentangling these two meanings. In the first sense, the word means a process, a course of events. In the second sense, it means a narrative. On the surface, these appear to be completely different meanings; yet, has there ever been a...

  24. Waiting for Kafka
    (pp. 150-159)

    A literary work is the expression of an intellect. It is the linguistic form an intellect takes. Through this realization, an intellect participates in a general discussion. Thus, a literary work participates in the great conversation that we—roughly put—call “civilization.” As an essential part of this conversation, the literary work has two fundamental aspects: it puts an end to previous conversation and calls the next one into existence.

    In the first case, it is an answer; in the second case, a provocation. There are two fundamental possibilities in the evaluation of a literary work: we can try to...

  25. Orders of Magnitude and Humanism
    (pp. 160-164)

    “Man is the measure of all things.” That was easy for the ancients to say. Then everything in the world could indeed be measured in centimeters, hours, dollars (or the contemporary equivalents thereof). What was not measurable thus was unmeasurable. For example, the sea was wide without measure and the grain of sand small without measure because it was uncomfortable to apply the above-mentioned units of measurement to them. They were outstanding things; they stood outside of the human norm. Things that were big without measure had to be worshiped; things that were small without measure could be held in...

  26. Celebrating
    (pp. 165-171)

    In the Platonic model, the main emphasis was leisure(schole): it is the goal of life, the seat of wisdom. Moreover, it appears that we are making great strides toward reaching this goal. Unemployment is gaining ground, because automatic machines are taking charge of the transformative gestures that were previously carried out by humans. The division of labor is increasingly a question that must be addressed to those who program these robots. It is becoming less a political question and more a question of calculating. In this manner, the question of life during leisure time has become a very pressing...

  27. Designing Cities
    (pp. 172-180)

    Meant here is not the glistening city of Le Corbusier, for which Brazil is the strikingly gray and terrible counterargument. Meant here is the rejection of civilized life in favor of another, an alternative. We were thrown into civilization: we are bourgeois(citoyens), civilians, without anyone asking us for our permission. But, as soon as we become conscious of the fact that we are not individuals (not civil subjects), with one stroke we are no longer bourgeois identifiable by a passport. As a result of this situation of being expatriates, we are able to design alternative cities. That is what...

  28. Humanizations
    (pp. 181-191)

    The fact that today the human genus (“Homo”) is represented by only one human species (“Homo sapiens sapiens”) is curious. It is worthy of attention, and it should be kept in mind while we consider everything that concerns the human. So important is this fact that we should dedicate an essay to it. You might object that there is a second human species (the Abominable Snowman, whose taxonomic classification I unfortunately do not know). I will throw your objection back at you, because this species has not been scientifically verified (“yeti” is not a recognized zoological classification). We do not...

  29. Essays
    (pp. 192-196)

    The problem I want to discuss is one that is certainly experienced by everyone whose goal is to write about an “erudite” topic. And it is this: Should I formulate my thoughts in an academic style (that is, depersonalized), or should I make use of a lively style (that is, my own)? The decision will profoundly affect the work to be done. And it is not a decision with regard to form only. It also has to do with content. There does not exist one idea that can be articulated in two ways. Two different sentences are two different thoughts....

  30. In Search of Meaning (Philosophical Self-portrait)
    (pp. 197-208)

    (1)Curriculum vitae. I was born on May 12, 1920, in Prague. I studied philosophy at Charles University Prague and the London School of Economics. I am a visiting professor of the philosophy of science at the Polytechnical School of the University of São Paulo and full professor of the theory of communication and art communication at the Communications and Humanities School of the Armando Àlvarez Foundation. I am a member of the Brazilian Institute of Philosophy, where I am the director of lectures. I contribute to a number of Brazilian and foreign periodicals, such asO Estado de São...

  31. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 209-218)
  32. Copyright and Original Publication Information
    (pp. 219-226)
  33. Index
    (pp. 227-230)
  34. Back Matter
    (pp. 231-231)