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.