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Fantasia essata: Behind Flusser’s Theory of Imagination

In several texts Flusser refers to a fantasia essata, an “exact imagination,” attributing this concept to Leonardo da Vinci: a non-arbitrary use of imagination, a dialogue between experience and reason by investigating improbable but possible scenarios. However, Leonardo never used this phrase: it was Goethe who first wrote of an exakte sinnliche Phantasie. This article aims, on the one hand, to reconstruct a genealogy of fantasia essata, and on the other, to investigate the affinity between this exact imagination and Flusser’s notion of Einbildungskraft. Although the expression exakte Phantasie does not date back to the Renaissance, it was used by Cassirer to explain Leonardo’s peculiar imaginative approach to science. The success of this concept is linked to the rediscovery of the dynamic epistemology of Renaissance Humanism (Grassi) before modern exact sciences excluded imagination and locked art in museums. Some mid-20th century thinkers, such as Santillana and Ferreira da Silva, who are likely to be Flusser’s sources, used this concept to think of a productive and operational imagination that could bridge the gap between art and science. This debate could shed new light on Flusser’s theory of second-order imagination, which he also defined as conceptual, reflexive, and philosophical imagination.

Fantasia essata (PDF 361.7 KB)

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.”

Novel (PDF 195.15 KB)
Roman (PDF 225.18 KB)

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.

Bichos I-V (PDF 192.63 KB)
Beasts I–V (PDF 131.96 KB)
Tiere I-V (PDF 252.6 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)