Auschwitz as Philosophical Device: An Adornian Heritage in Flusser’s Thought?
This essay traces the use of “Auschwitz” as a philosophical device in Vilém Flusser’s thought, from History of the Devil and The Last Judgement, to Posthistory and his later media theory. Throughout Flusser’s oeuvre, the Nazi regime and the brutality of the concentration camps (condensed in the figure of Auschwitz) articulates for Flusser the relationship between progress and Western culture. Taking a detour into Adorno’s own theorization of “Auschwitz” – and especially his maxim that “to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric” – the essay investigates how modern thought has interpreted Auschwitz not as a glitch in the fabric of modernity, but as a programmed step in the march of progress toward hell. After meeting Adorno, Flusser’s thought on Auschwitz matured and he developed his theory of modernity considering the event of the Holocaust as something integrated in the “program” of Western civilization. Flusser often applies an almost cybernetic conception of the operation of a computer system to understand the functioning of our present reified societies, Auschwitz being a paradigm of the transformation of institutions into “apparatuses” and the metamorphosis of human beings into “functionaries” by means of an automatically playing program.