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Reversing the vectors of meaning. The diagrammatic language of Vilém Flusser

According to his own cultural analysis, Flusser was a man of yesterday. He, who wrote nearly every day of his life, was himself subject to the “textolatry” of modernity. A modernity, though, which would soon shift into a new epoch which Flusser and others had given similar names: post-histoire, post- modernity, information or telematic society. In this new situation, according to Flusser, written text would become a marginal code, soon to be superseded by the “technical image” as universal means of communication and information storage. Thus, Flusser described authors like himself, which would stay engaged with text, as “the new illiterates” of the upcoming age. But although Flusser was a man of the written word, I will argue that there was at least one type of sign system with which he also operated frequently and which can be linked to his image heuristics: the diagram. Scattered over his manuscripts, letters and notes, over 160 diagrammatic sketches can be found in the Vilém Flusser Archive. Compared to the thousands of documents in the archive, this seems to be a small number. But his diagrammatic sketches are not only interesting considering the nearly exclusively textual character of Flusser’s legacy; they can also be described as Flusserian technical images. According to the semiotic definition of the diagram by Charles S. Peirce, diagrammatic signs constitute a specific subclass of the icon: A diagram resembles its object not by visual but structural similarity. By drawing a diagram, one proposes a hypothesis about the structure of its object, thus manifesting an abstract concept as a concrete sign. Here we come close to Flusser’s notion of technical images as projections of abstract models. Following up on this comparison, the paper pleas for a non-trivial relation between Flusser’s heuristic of the technical image and his diagrammatic practice.

Reversing (PDF 1.13 MB)

Libertad y poshistoria en la filosofía de la fotografie de Vilém Flusser

The object of this research is to trace Flusser’s thoughts on freedom and history as they appear in his philosophy of photography. The investigation focusses on the function of the author of the photograph in relation to apparatuses and programs. It extends, as I will try to show, to the activity of the spectator and of everyone who interacts with images. I follow Flusser’s methodology, which is to relate the philosophy of photography to the theory of games. And that's why I speak about the player, the toy and the game involved in photography. I think Flusser's main inspiration was Wittgenstein of the Tractactus and his theory of the emancipation of meaning from truth or factual falsity. Here I find the ontological key to his philosophy of photography as a philosophy of freedom.

Libertad y poshistoria (PDF 280.38 KB)

Rethinking Interology with Flusser

Motivated as much by a deep concern with the rapidly evolving human condition as by intellectual curiosity, this article reveals the problem-driven and futurological nature of Flusserian interology [Deleuze]. It proposes that compared to traditional ontology, the notion of interality and the dynamics of interology offer us a more adequate way of thinking through our situation in the here and now and in the immediate future. The secondary motive is to turn Flusser’s media philosophy into a pointillist verbal art, a techno-ethics, and an intertopia befitting the digital era.

Rethinking Interology (PDF 465.71 KB)

Flusser et les photographes, les photographes et Flusser / Flusser and photographers, photographers and Flusser / Flusser e os fotógrafos, os fotógrafos e Flusser

The concept of experimental photography has rarely been defined, nor has it been the subject of much research in studies of contemporary photography. Vilém Flusser is one of the few writers who, in his book Towards a Philosophy of Photography, proposed a definition of experimental photography as “playing against the apparatus”, i.e. the practice of some photographers who do not abide by the rules of photography and perturb the standard operations of the apparatus by playing against the camera. Aside from this conceptual definition, Flusser himself gave few examples of this practice, principally Andreas Müller-Pohle and Joan Fontcuberta. While expanding this definition, this essay sheds light on contemporary photographers whose work can be qualified as experimental in this respect. Some deconstruct the camera, reinventing it or photographing without a lens (pinhole) or even without a camera (photograms). Some undo the image creation process, playing with time, with light, with the chemical development process or with image printing. And some redefine the author-photographer, erasing him or giving him a different role in the photographic process. Contemporary experimental photography is not a school, nor a movement, but simply a current, a moment between the decline of traditional documentary analog photography and the rise of digital photography.

Flusser e os fotógrafos (PDF 370.15 KB)

The Free Will Impasse

This essay discusses the concepts of entropy and negentropy used by Vilém Flusser in his philosophy of photography to delineate connections between science and art. If the act of finding order within chaos has always been a quality specific to human beings, the overwhelming role machines hold in our society casts shadows on human agency. Since the Enlightenment, humankind has carried on a regimentation of nature with the goal of finding a way of theorizing everything within it. In the same way, empirical sciences have studied and portrayed the world of phenomena according to the laws of the moment. Shifting from prejudice to prejudice, however, they have never succeeded in finding an all-inclusive theory. Their way of systematization was adapted to all other areas of life, imposing itself through the norms of capitalism and production, leaving little space for human beings. In this scenario, human beings become puppets or tools. In this context, the arts are called upon to develop viable strategies to counteract the overwhelming power of social and technological control.

Free Will (PDF 555.52 KB)

Até a terceira e a quarta geração: a experiência do holocausto como fundamento das teorias de Vilém Flusser / Unto the Third and Fourth Generation. The Experience of the Holocaust as the Basis of Vilém Flusser’s Philosophy / Do třetího i čtvrtého pokolení

This essay focuses on the fundamental significance of the Holocaust in Vilém Flusser’s life and thinking. In his still unpublished Até a terceira e a quarta geração (Unto the Third and Fourth Generation) written in the early 1960ies, the problem of Nazism is explicitly thematized and linked to the development of Western society. The abandonment of a religious view of the world in the Renaissance led to the loss of a grounding sense of reality, which was filled up by science (the new religion) and later on by nationalism. These developments eventually led to the First and the Second World War, as well as to Auschwitz and Adolf Eichmann as the ideal representatives of the apparatus and the functionary.

Della banalità del male (traduzione di Francesco Emilio Restuccia)

In this article, published in 1969, Flusser rethinks the concept of the banality of evil, which Hannah Arendt developed in her book Eichman in Jerusalem, in the chapter “A Report on the Banality of Evil” (1963). Unlike Arendt, Flusser is more interested in the trivial evil: the one produced by those who need to live with an apparatus (e.g. a factory or a school), even if they are responsible and well-educated. And given that nowadays, we increasingly cannot live without the apparatus, we should rather try to understand how we can be free with them.

Che cosa legittima la fotografia? La produzione di un incontro tra Flusser e Vaccari

This paper describes the meeting between Flusser and the Italian artist and theorist Franco Vaccari in 1985 and 1987, and focuses on the philosophical, epistemological, and ethical basis of photography. The text is linked to the interview with Angelo Schwarz and the pictures at the end of this issue (Flusser in Italy). “What legitimates photography?” was a question proposed in the context of the symposium Torino Fotografia 1985. Today, the question is asked to address the “encounter” between Vilém Flusser and the artist Franco Vaccari. The latter is followed by a magnifying lens looking at the documentation of the real meeting between the two in 1985, but without the intention of finding the “proof.” While for Flusser, the invention of photography points to the beginning of a Post-Historical era in which he examines concepts of freedom and responsibility by combining the notion of the apparatus with the experience of exile, Vaccari activates the apparatus, and at the same time, lets his work be activated by it. In this way, the responsibility belongs to the apparatus itself, and the concept of freedom becomes a modus vivendi in which the photographer uses the apparatus to create meanings and “has a chance to discover what he didn’t know.” This process is weaved in the essay with interventions by Roberta Valtorta, who offers a socio-political overview of the photography context in Italy, and Franco Vaccari, who carefully thinks about an open answer for what can legitimize photography, as well as a related essay by Angelo Schwarz, the original author of the question which gives the title to this essay. The question of the legitimization of photography unravels through a methodology that explores what photography “becomes” by calling attention to the “subjects” of photography—or, as Ariella Azoulay defined, “the citizens of photography.”

Vilém Flusser’s Theories of Photography and Technical Images in a U.S. Art Historical Context

In the field of U.S. art history, the photography specialization is fairly new and the discourse is dominated by a handful of voices like Walter Benjamin and Roland Barthes, while Vilém Flusser has been virtually ignored. This essay examines the trilogy of “technical image” texts Flusser wrote in the 1980s—Towards  a Philosophy of Photography (1983), Into the Universe of Technical Images (1985), and Does Writing Have a Future? (1987)—and beyond these, locating the seeds of Flusser’s “photophilosophy” in his use of information and communications theory to develop concepts like “image,” “apparatus,” “program,” and “information.” It considers the U.S. art historical bias toward writers like Jean Baudrillard, Paul Virilio, and the “control society” ethos of Gilles Deleuze and Flusser’s proposal that technical images and photography criticism could provide models for creative disruption of apparatus and finally, “human freedom.” Placed in the current moment, with its crises of environment, technology, economy, and geopolitics, this essay considers Flusser’s writing as a form of ethics and politics in which photography serves as a model for thinking about history, culture, revolution, and consciousness.

“The Lens is to Blame”: Three Remarks on Black Boxes, Digital Humanities, and The Necessities of Vilém Flusser’s “New Humanism”

This paper offers a brief exploration of Vilém Flusser’s proposed yet undeveloped concept of “new humanism” and argues for the centrality of the concept for a distinct ethical-political track that winds its way through all of his writings on communication, media, and technology, in addition to his explicit references to exile and nationalism. Because changing technologies circumscribe the field of possibility for human activity, the analysis of technology then becomes a matter of anthropology. By placing these questions at the center of his inquiries into communications and media, Flusser re-conceives the human subject itself, ensuring that his “new humanism” is not a return to any established version, but will reckon with the fact that technological development prompts changes in the definitions of the human itself. I also consider his demand for a new humanism an exemplary case for a relation to the master terms of the Enlightenment and humanistic investigation in the digital age, which persists after digitality even as they are recoded.

The Lens (PDF 288.12 KB)

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