Flusser Studies 36 – November 2023 / Special Issue: Angenommen. Suppose that. Suponhamos.
Angenommen (Vermutung, jetzt!) /Angenommen – Kurz und gut / Now suppose / Angenommen. Einleitende Bedenken / Angenommen. Einleitung / Suppose that. Preliminary doubts / Suponhamos. Dùvidas preliminaries /Suppose that. Introductory considerations / ...
The first text published here, “Angenommen (Vermutung jetzt!)”, is a German translation of “Now suppose” with an introductory comment by William Hanff. It is possibly one of the seeds from which the other texts we are publishing here originated and at the same time the initial spark for the idea of a special issue about Flusser’s book Angenommen. The Portuguese and the English versions of Angenommen, which consist only of nine scenarios, were not finished. On the other hand, Flusser wrote two German versions, a first incomplete one and a second one with the final twenty-two scenarios. In preparation for the book edition of Angenommen, Flusser wrote several short essays and opening chapters in German, English, and Portuguese, constantly changing the title, the subtitle, and the content. Some of these texts bear an epigraph by Isaac Newton – “Hypotheses non fingo” – some do not. This quote was later included in the first German edition of the book published in 1989. The first two essays of this series are probably “Angenommen” and “Now suppose”. They are longer than most of the following texts and have the same beginning. However, the English version, that is slightly shorter and was most probably written after the German one, introduces on the second page the notion of an armed terrorist running towards the future. In the following versions, this image was moved to the beginning. Two more German versions, “Angenommen. Einleitung” and “Angenommen. Einleitende Bedenken” followed, along with two related English versions, “Suppose that. Preliminary doubts” and “Suppose that. Introductory considerations”, as well as a Portuguese variant, “Suponhamos. Dùvidas preliminaries”. Add to this the short essay “What if? A series of scenarios in search of images” and two other related texts “Randerscheinungen” and “Kurz und gut” which was published in “zeitmitschrift. Journal für Ästhetik & Politik” (7/1, 1990: 16–22). A polyglot parallel reading of all the different variants of the opening chapter and the other related texts that finally led to the publication of Angenommen in 1989 allows a fascinating insight into the hesitations and complexities of Flusser’s self-translating writing process.
Bibliophagus convictus – Relatório 313 sobre o incidente “Caso Alegria” / Bibliophagus convictus – Report 313 on the “Alegria Case” Incident
This fictional work composed of both text and images is based on the short text “Thirteenth Scenario: Chemical Industry” from the series of philosophical fictions What If? (Flusser 2022: 47-49). In his text, Vilém Flusser creates a fantastic insect that feeds on texts, the Bibliophagus convictus. Honoring the fictional endeavor of this philosopher, we seek to expand the original scenario, respecting certain data provided by the author and filling in some gaps left open. In the illustrated part, we present a series of photographs made from three-dimensional representations of the insect in its habitat. These illustrate its reproductive cycle, with the different stages of development of the organism. The literary component aims to reproduce a fictitious official and institutional communication between intelligence services in an autocratic, futuristic society with fascist characteristics.
Bibliophagus convictus / Bibliophagus / Bibliophagus
In this satirical fable, Flusser mocks among other things the growing importance of recycling and the recycling of that which has already been recycled, of plagiarism, the lack of originality and true creativity in the production of books, and the tsunami like character of book publications typical of present-day culture. This phenomenon extends to all other areas of cultural production and consumption. The Bibliophagus is a hybrid insect that lives in hives like bees and feeds only on printed alphanumeric texts that it consumes in paragraphs. It chews them with the help of an acid called “criticasis” that turns into “informasis” when if fuses with the printing ink. This morsel passes through the mouths of all other Bibliophagi who each swallow a small bit of the morsel which is then carried by a “mediator” to all other hives. Soon everyone is duly informed, and the new information leads to a genetic mutation of the species. However, any redundancy in the chewed and swallowed text morsels leads to a cancerous growth that affects each single Bibliophagus and their species as a whole. For this reason, the species has an interest in the generation of texts that do not contain redundancies. In order to survive it must intervene in the process of generating texts. In the brain of a deceased writer, one discovers a Bibliophagus that is still alive. The writer who had the insect placed inside his brain via a trepanation had died of an overdose of “informasis”. The trepanation has already assumed an epidemic character and spread all over the world. The earlier longer Portuguese and English versions “Bibliophagus” are written from the subjective point of view of the writer narrating how he met the insect , whereas the much shorter German variant “Bibliophagus convictus” makes use of a more distanced third person point of view. A corresponding English version has already been published in Flusser Studies 13. The imaginary creature of the Bibliophagus convictus is foreshadowed in Flusser’s “Bichos Series (I-V)” that has also been published in this issue.
A Foray into the Worlds of Imaginary Animals and Humans
This essay places Flusser’s What if? (2022) and his experiments with Louis Bec’s Institut Scientifique de Recherche Paranaturaliste (Scientific Institute of Paranaturalist Research – I.S.R.P.), in conver-sation with Joan Fontcuberta’s Fauna exhibit (1985-89). It understands both Flusser’s and Fontcuberta’s experiments as being line with the modernist obsession with fake sciences, especially the pataphysical work of Alfred Jarry. The essay argues that the strangeness in Flusser’s What if? comes from a particular form of reversing the focus of scientific investigation, forcing readers to look inward to the role of scientific writing, and the scientist, and their role in framing the truths they claim to find.
Genocide and a Tapeworm. Flusser’s Post-Catastrophic Fabulism
This article examines Flusser’s use of fables in What If? and Vampyroteuthis Infernalis as a response to the groundlessness of catastrophic events such as the Holocaust. It begins with Flusser’s seemingly grotesque joke about mass death in What If? as an opening to a discussion of Flusser’s distinctive combination of brutal realism and playful creativity. By comparing Flusser’s work with other scholars responding to the horrors of the twentieth century, such as Benjamin, Adorno, and Arendt, this article argues that Flusser’s fabulist writing provides a form of writing and thinking that allows horror to viscerally impact its reader without offering a false sense of mastery or certainty. Drawing insight from On Doubt and Groundless, this article situates fables within Flusser’s broader oeuvre. It distinguishes fables from the mythological approaches found in other Brazilian writings grappling with the limits of comprehension, such as Lévi-Strauss and Viveiros de Castro’s (post)structuralist anthropologies and Ferreira da Silva’s philosophy of mythology. Through these distinctions, Flusser’s fabulist writings are portrayed as a unique endeavour to confront groundlessness with humility, seriousness, and creativity.
Bichos I-V / Beasts I-V / Tiere I-V
In the short series Beast I-V published in the column “Posto Zero” of the Brazilian newspaper Folha de São Paulo from March 22 to March 28, 1972, Flusser uses animals to discuss such diverse subjects as science fiction, logic, alien life, post-humanism, and anthropocentrism. These early texts anticipate the imaginary creature of the Bibliophagus convictus. The first text, “Ants,” deals with human loneliness on Earth and our attempt to communicate with other beings in the universe, as well as our inability to communicate with the species on our own planet. The central idea in “Chimps” is that a chimpanzee caged in a zoo could be seen as both an image of our animal past and of our post-human future. The third, “Unicorns”, discusses the incapacity of logic to deal with an imaginary animal like the unicorn, even though it needs it to exemplify the notion that something is without any sense. In the fourth, “The Seven-Headed Beast,” Flusser proposes that science fiction adopts a strategy that pursues the unlikely, yet possible. The final text, “People,” deals with anthropocentrism arguing that we only see ourselves as different from other animals because we separate anthropology from zoology. For Flusser, each species is a culminating point in evolution, even though each one belongs to a branch that has a different goal. This idea foreshadows the book Vampyroteuthis infernalis that was published fifteen years later.
A Modest Proposal for the Saponification of Fats: On the Role of Satire in Vilém Flusser’s Work
The starting point of this essay is an interview with Andreas Müller-Pohle and Volker Rapsch (August 1988), in which Flusser defined his writing style as satirical and Vampyroteuthis infernalis as a satirical text. In the interview, Flusser also speaks of academic seriousness as a role to be played, questioning simple notions of authorial objectivity. Flusser’s comment has far reaching consequences for the interpretation of his other writings and raises a series of questions: Was he trying to influence the reception of his new book Angenommen that would be published only one year later, or did he want to reorient the way his books were being read in Germany at the time? Is there an ironical, fabulatory undertone in all his writings even those considered to be straightforward comments on communication and media theory? The first part of the essay discusses some elements of Flusser’s use of satire and compares his short satirical text “Verseifung” (Saponification) with Jonathan Swift’s “Modest Proposal”. The second part deals with Flusser’s satirical use of animal characters (ants, unicorns, the taenia solium, and the imaginary hybrid creature Bibliophagus convictus) in his philosophical fables and their relationship to the Vampyroteuthis infernalis.
Sabonetes / Verseifung von Fetten / Saponification des graisses / Saponification of Fats
In the early 1980s, Flusser wrote a Portuguese, a German, and a French version of “Saponification”, in which he combined a satire of a totalitarian political ideology with a satire of pseudo-scientificity. The narrator is a fictional Commissioner from the Planning Department of Justice writing on behalf of the Minister of Justice in Mexico City on March 7, 2001. The addressee is the Laboratory of Organic Chemistry in the Global Institute for Technological Research. They are all functionaries in an anonymous political superapparatus. The political ideology which in this future dystopia has conquered the whole world is vaguely Marxist. As the narrator points out, the differences between the industrialized western world and the poorer parts of the globe need a quick effective global response in order to achieve a fair distribution of the goods. In attempting to quantify the inter-worldly and inner-worldly relationships a single parameter has been chosen: the amount of fat stored in the human body. In the first of the four worlds that make up the international situation, one can make out a secondary tendency to lose weight, which, however, cannot override the basic tendency towards obesity. The second world is in a transitional stage between lack of fat and obesity. In the third world, the majority of the bodies stores only the minimum of fat which is needed for their functioning on the lowest level. And finally in the fourth, the bodies are skeletal and do not dispose of the necessary energy for any movement. The international trade relations cannot be used as a model for a global redistribution of fat. The excess fat of the first world is undigestible, the second world only focuses on the absorption of fat from the third and fourth world and the excess of fat of the third world is drained by the fat bodies located there. This basically means that there is no actual fat to be redistributed and that the whole argumentation is to no avail. Despite this, the narrator suggests a series of possible but ultimately useless solutions leading the whole argumentation ad absurdum.
Perspectivação e temporalidades (cosmo)técnicas (imaginativas): o livro-roteiro Angenommen como a culminação da escritura flusseriana / Perspectivation and (Cosmo)technical (Imaginative) Temporalities ...
This paper analyzes key passages of Vilém Flusser’s Angenommen from the point of view of the functioning of his writing. Starting out from the Flusserian theory of techno-imagination, the notion of anthropophagy (Oswald de Andrade), the concept of techno-diversity proposed by Yuk Hui and the Nietzschean doctrine of the eternal return the article proposes that the Angenommen constitutes a fundamental contribution to the problem of the destiny of philosophy. The text fits into a tradition of texts that proposes an intimate relationship between the eternal return, ghostliness, revolution, technique, and possibilities/potentialities. From Leibniz, to Benjamin, as well as Nietzsche and Blanqui, the idea of a possible world focused on the significance of temporality in Modernity. Angenommen institutes a circularity, a potential eternal return in the singular events that go beyond the circularity of past and future history based on the fictional hesitation of (un)probable possibilities. The apparent quasi-dialectical movement of the book proves to be a hellish circle from which there is no way out. The paradox at the heart of the work is that the freedom of imagination of (un)probable heterochronotopic scenarios is constrained by the instinctual repetition of anti-entropic principles. The (im)probably (im)possible phantasmagories replicate, as philosofictions, reality as a trauma.
Suponhamos: cenários para uma ética flusseriana / Suppose that: Scenarios for a Flusserian Ethics
This essay focuses on the formal aspects of Flusser’s Angenommen. The first part provides the general outline of the book and the second discusses its relationship to other initiatives by Flusser, both authorial (Vampyroteuthis Infernalis) and collaborative (Joan Fontcuberta’s plants, Louis Bec’s sulfanogrades and Guimarães Rosa’s garças). The third part discusses the ethical dimension of the book especially Flusser’s notion of engagement. The idea is to associate the positions of the two main characters, the terrorist and the futurologist, with Flusser’s own situation when he decided to leave Brazil and return to Europe in the early 1970s. Flusser rejects engagement (the terrorist) and scientific theory (the futurologist), but also seems to suggest that the third position – that of the artist –, the ideal synthesis, is not yet given. The artist’s situation has no place, it is improbable, but it is not utopian - without topos. Utopia is next to science fiction. It is a projection of an imaginary world that does not serve as knowledge. Flusser’s focus, in Angenommen and other works is on the improbability of love, or, as he points out in a letter to Mira Schendel, on aisthesis as a method of political criticism. Flusser's ethics have not yet reached the present.
The Fantastic & Fictionalism in Flusser’s “Now Suppose”
In his essay “Now Suppose”, Vilém Flusser proposes two methods that can be used to anticipate future events: an analogue approach of “standing-on-tip-toes” to evaluate broader trends and possibilities, and a digital approach of “finger-tips-at-terminals” utilizing probabilistic technology for future prediction. This essay explores the use of different technologies, such as scientific lab equipment, big-data algorithms, and digital production tools, as examples of these ‘Futurizing Instruments.’ Flusser’s concept is related to Hans Vaihinger’s fictionalism and Tzvetan Todorov's study of the fantastic, as both provide insights into the role of imagination and uncertainty in anticipating future events. Connected to Flusser’s philosophy of photography and the concept of the technical apparatus this essay proposes a history of media technologies in ancient ritual, art, theater, cinema, and computer media, back into Magic/Ritual – and their potential for both entertainment and future anticipation. Incorporating ideas from Flusser’s other two essays “The Novel Called ‘Science’” and its parallel with the movement through the fantastic by way of fictionalism, and “Gestures on Videotape (for Fred Forest)” describing the validity of using video (and possibly even some fantastical or science fiction elements) to reinforce the material and theoretical concepts – portions of “Now Suppose” are reimagined and presented as video and film scripts, particularly his concept of a ‘terrorist jumping from a monitor’. Flusser explores the use of video as a medium to communicate concrete phenomena and theoretical concepts. This approach requires a balance between scientific fictionalism and literary fantasy.
The Novel Called “Science” / Der Roman der Wissenschaft
In these two essays that were originally written for the French journal Crises, Flusser discusses the relationship between science and fiction. Both texts are preceded by an epigraph that reappears in Angenommen (1989), Isaac Newton’s “Hypotheses non fingo.” This means that they were probably written in the late 1980s within the context of Angenommen. The history of science can be conceived as a powerful drama, an irresistible constantly swelling river flowing towards the all-encompassing ocean of knowledge. But this history can also be described as a series of answers to fundamental questions: what for, why and how. It has become increasingly clear that the only important questions are not final or causal questions, but formal questions. The universe of scientific discourse is a fiction, a game, which is ultimately an absurd game. “Newton was still able to say that he did not invent his hypotheses freely. Such metaphysical faith in a concrete reality which sustains science has become untenable ever since Kant. […] An inversion of the vectors of significance is in the making: no longer does scientific discourse mean the world, but the concrete world now means the universe of formal discourse. […] Such a view shows science to be a novel in two different meanings of that term: Its history is a novel of questioning, and its result is the transformation of concrete reality into science fiction.”