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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)

É possível “hackear” a existência?

The purpose of this article is to broaden the application of Flusserian concepts by investigating the figure of the hacker as one who will replace the traditional figure of the revolutionary (as a historical agent). The hacker must be taken as a modus vivendi, a model of a daily practice required under the risk that we may be fully subsumed by the dynamics of the new context of post-historical relations.

Hackear (PDF 212.77 KB)

Estética da Fotografia: um diálogo entre Benjamin e Flusser

This article seeks to establish a dialogue between the philosophical aesthetics of Walter Benjamin and Vilém Flusser, by pointing out the various intersections and resonances relating the two thinkers in their unique vision of the place and role of photography in contemporary culture. For both philosophers, the photographic apparatus in fact operates a fundamental cut, a paradigmatic rupture not only in the universe of images and in terms of a visual ontology, but in our own way of being and being-in-world. It is not just a new image (mechanical, reproducible, multipliable), but a new apparatus, a medium that brings into play a series of perceptual metamorphosis by introducing new ways of feeling and perceiving the world. Therefore, radically transforming our relationship with the visible and its invisible counterpart.

Estética (PDF 363.64 KB)

Flusser an die Schule! Die Essays im Ethikunterricht

Does it make any sense to teach Vilém Flusser’s essays in the advanced courses of a secondary school? While all over Europe school subjects have increasingly been restricted by a formal frame, some precautions have to be taken in the interest of Flusser’s method and message. As a pioneer in the newly established subject of Ethics in the federal state of Hessen/Germany, the author tested the essays without a strict curriculum for more than six years. He gives an overview of general conditions at the school and offers a vivid personal record of his experiences. He then deals with Flusser’s phenomenological style and intellectual challenges for students and teachers alike. As this essay has a practical purpose, too, he shows the crucial points of relating Flusser’s way of thinking. Such training is worth the effort in the political context of 2011, when citizens all over the world are trying to regain some influence on political and economic structures. In the second part, the author presents a dozen of short essays and examines their interrelation, as they share the same subject. They center on Flusser’s well-known conviction that the exilee should consider himself part of an avant-garde. Some useful hints to a sequel or an alternative approach are provided. Excerpts from four student texts have also been included.

An die Schule! (PDF 752.78 KB)

A arte e o vazio da cultura

This essay explores the relation between art and culture by taking into account the profound ambiguity inherent in any artwork. This very ambiguity makes it possible to understand art works as part of a cultural process and as modifiers of this process.

Arte (PDF 194.03 KB)

O belo è elevado, o agradavel é conservador

This essay explores the relation between art and culture by taking into account the profound ambiguity inherent in any artwork. This very ambiguity makes it possible to understand art works as part of a cultural process and as modifiers of this process.

O belo (PDF 193.61 KB)

Golem, Roboter und andere Gebilde. Zu Vilém Flussers Apparatbegriff

This essay attempts a systematic genealogic reconstruction of Flusser’s concept of apparatus from Portuguese texts of the early 1960ies up to the Bochumer Vorlesungen held in the summer of 1991 shortly before Flusser’s death. As with many other instances from Flusser’s work the concept of apparatus is decidedly interdisciplinary in nature, positioning itself on the border of philosophy, sociology, history, literature, the arts, cybernetics and technology. This fundamental ambivalence becomes particularly visible in the use of the German word ‘Apparat’ and its many derivatives, as for instance ‘Verwaltungsapparat’, ‘Fotoapparat’ or ‘Messapparat’, subsuming under the same heading the photographic camera, Kafka’s impenetrable bureaucratic apparatus and the perfectly operating apparatus of Auschwitz. Over the course of many years Flusser combined different textual sources to fashion his view of the apparatus. Many of them stem directly from the history Prague. Apart from Kafka’s novels, Karel Čapeks R.U.R, as well the figure of the Golem as it appears in the legend of Rabbi Löw, would also have to be mentioned. Flusser’s concept of the apparatus is, furthermore, connected to the philosophy of Hannah Arendt, Martin Heidegger and Giorgio Agamben.

Golem (PDF 389.23 KB)

The Camera That Ate Itself

This text starts from Flusser’s description of the camera as an ‘apparatus’. Working with John Hilliard’s series of photographs A Camera Recording Its Own Condition (7 apertures, 10 speeds, 2 mirrors) a number of developments of the idea of the apparatus are made. The text discusses medial will to power, Marxist theories of the machinic, and conceptual art’s exploration of the materiality of informational systems. It draws upon reflexivity in Flusser’s formulation of the apparatus, in cybernetics, and in Foucault’s Nietzschean theories of knowledge.

Camera (PDF 299.96 KB)

Do Funcionário e de suas implicações

This article deals with job affairs and their socio-historical consequences. We will discuss how workers have been turned into a functionaries after the beginning of post-history by analyzing today’s society from the point of view of the relation between work and functioning. We will also discuss the consequences of the modifications that go with the shift into post-history and their epistemological and socio-cultural implications to provide an analysis of Flusser’s thinking on this matter.

Do Funcionário (PDF 162.09 KB)

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