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William A. Hanff

William A. Hanff is Assistant Professor of Media Theory, Film, Journalism, Digital Documentary and Media Relations at the University of the District of Columbia in Washington D.C.  He has  also been a visiting professor at the University of Maryland

Articles of William A. Hanff

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.

Fictionalism (PDF 311.95 KB)

Fiktions des Wissenschaft – Is Science Fiction Translatable? or is Translation a Science Fiction?

Vilém Flusser’s 1988 short essay Science Fiction explores two strategies of science and fiction as science, and provides clues to his process of translating and retranslating his own work. Flusser explains two different praxes that lead to an essential paradox, and that this two-sided approach is equivalent to Leonardo da Vinci’s fantasia essata, an ‘exacting fantasy’. For Flusser, Science Fiction is a ‘Technik’ in the truest sense of the word, and his theory and praxis of science fiction can be applied to his use of translation. While he allows for an ‘inexactitude’ in science, science fiction and translation – an ‘Ungenauigkeit’ that allows a space for exploration – he still engaged in translation, using this practice throughout his career. It is odd then, that he did not take the time to translate and reevaluate his 1988 lecture Science Fiction. Both translation and science fiction can exist as a kind of Technofantasy as proposed by Don Ihde, but one where Flusser’s two fiction-in-science strategies to approaching truth (“Wahrheit”) in science (“Wissenschaft”) are analogous to Hans Vaihinger’s two categories of fictions: ‘figments’ as imaginary fantasy, and ‘fictions’ as falsifiable conjecture. Both allow for a more nuanced sliding suspension of disbelief that is liminal and active in the human practice of finding meaning in information. This is not a subliminal hidden individual practice, nor is it hyper-liminal collective-unconscious of an overall audience knowledge – but both. This double-edged practice is baked into how narrative and scientific method’s dialectic have evolved and replicated across history particularly through translation. Using both Vaihinger’s Philosophy of ‘As-If’ and Ihde’s conceptions of Postphenomenology this research seeks approaches to translation and science fictions in Flusser’s works. It will then reconnect to the original 1988 essay linking Flusser’s ideas of science fiction and translation and the struggle with translating thought, science and fictions.

Fiktions (PDF 150.16 KB)

Science Fiction / Science Fiction

Near the end of his career, Vilém Flusser delivered an address to an informal group in Vienna called the “TV Club Wien”. Like many of Flusser’s lectures, it was preserved in the typed notes he used for its delivery.  In this short, but remarkable lecture, Flusser expands on many of the ideas that he had set forward earlier in A Dúvida (On Doubt) and Die Schrift. Hat Schreiben Zukunft? (Does Writing Have a Future?). Flusser considers both science and fiction to be texts in the creation of ideas. He points out that many scientific texts show far more imagination than what is frequently called science fiction. In this lecture, Flusser contrasts two different epistemologies: one that moves closer and closer to truth by “falsification”, by being less and less improbable; the other, moves closer and closer to absurdity and gnosis, while remaining phenomenologically disciplined, is more and more improbable. As an example of the first, Flusser gives the contemporary scientific method. As an example of the second, he gives Leonardo da Vinci’s fantasia essata, an exacting fantasy. Flusser does not believe these to be at odds, any more than he does not believe science and fiction to be at odds.  He concludes with the idea that these come together best in computer codes, and possibly in synthetic images, which result from scientific research. Another of Flusser’s later essays, “On Memory (Electronic or Otherwise)”, also began as a lecture presentation. His “Science Fiction” was not published and remained untranslated, but should prove to be an insight into Flusser’s creative thinking on the topic. Special thanks to Siegfried Zielinski and Daniel Irrgang at the Vilém Flusser Archive in Berlin.

Science Fiction (PDF 166.31 KB)
Science Fiction (PDF 113.21 KB)

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