The true aesthetic criterion

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Read the attchment page 104 chapter (Exile and Creativity) and write three ideas .

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writings electronic mediations Katherine Hayles Mark Poster Samuel Weber Series Editors 6. Writings Vilém Flusser Andreas Ströhl, Editor 5. Bodies in Technology Don Ihde 4. Cyberculture Pierre Lévy 3. What’s the Matter with the Internet? Mark Poster 2. High Technē: Art and Technology from the Machine Aesthetic to the Posthuman R. L. Rutsky 1. Digital Sensations: Space, Identity, and Embodiment in Virtual Reality Ken Hillis writings V i l é m Andreas Ströhl, Editor e l e c t r o n i c F l u s s e r Translated by Erik Eisel m e d i a t i o n s , University of Minnesota Press v o l u m e 6 Minneapolis / London The publication of this work was subsidized by a grant from inter nationes, Bonn. See pages 219–22 for copyright and previous publication information for specific works. Introduction copyright 2002 by Andreas Ströhl English translation copyright 2002 by the Regents of the University of Minnesota All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher. Published by the University of Minnesota Press 111 Third Avenue South, Suite 290 Minneapolis, MN 55401-2520 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Flusser, Vilém, 1920–1991 [Selections. English. 2002] Writings / Vilém Flusser ; Andreas Ströhl, editor ; translated by Erik Eisel. p. cm. — (Electronic mediations ; v. 6) Includes bibliographical references and index. 1. Philosophy. 2. Communication—Philosophy. I. Ströhl, Andreas. II. Title. III. Series. B1044.F572 E5 2002 193—dc21 2001005960 Printed in the United States of America on acid-free paper The University of Minnesota is an equal-opportunity educator and employer. 12 11 10 09 08 07 06 05 04 03 02 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 Contents Acknowledgments Introduction vii Andreas Ströhl What Is Communication? 3 On the Theory of Communication Line and Surface 8 21 The Codified World 35 Criteria—Crisis—Criticism 42 Habit: The True Aesthetic Criterion Betrayal ix 51 58 The Future of Writing 63 Images in the New Media 70 On the Crisis of Our Models Change of Paradigms 75 85 Taking Up Residence in Homelessness Exile and Creativity 104 A New Imagination 110 91 Mythical, Historical, and Posthistorical Existence Photography and History 126 A Historiography Revised 132 The Vanity of History 138 On the End of History Waiting for Kafka 150 143 117 Orders of Magnitude and Humanism Celebrating Designing Cities Humanizations Essays 160 165 172 181 192 In Search of Meaning (Philosophical Self-portrait) Selected Bibliography 209 Copyright and Original Publication Information Index 227 197 219 Acknowledgments Vilém Flusser´s widow Edith Flusser encouraged me to edit this book, and I thank her most of all. I would also like to thank Andreas MüllerPohle, William Murphy, Mark Poster, Silvia Wagnermaier, Michael Wutz, Siegfried Zielinski, and Jana Vymazalová. Andreas Ströhl June 2001 vii This page intentionally left blank Introduction Andreas Ströhl The new is terrifying. Not because it is this way and not another way, but because it is new.1 Perhaps we are about to remember again the forgotten celebrating. Perhaps we are about to find our way back through the strange detour through telematics to “authentic” being human, which is to say, to celebratory existence for the other, to purposeless play with others and for others.2 Vilém Flusser (1920–91) was a philosopher and writer born in Prague. He held Brazilian citizenship and wrote most of his work in German. This volume of essays makes his work available to an American audience for the first time. With one exception, all the essays and lectures are brief and complete in themselves. Much care went into the selection of these texts and I feel a great sense of responsibility in writing this Introduction. It is important to present this philosopher in the proper light, to present as true a picture of him as possible, and to promote genuine interest in his work. Flusser has already generated considerable interest in the German-speaking world, and this volume will introduce the wideranging yet subtle oeuvre of this extraordinary, unconventional author to a wider audience. The University of Minnesota Press is the first American publisher to honor this inspiring thinker with a comprehensive anthology. Vilém Flusser divides European intellectuals into two camps. One person sees in him a pessimistic, cynical prognosticator of the decline of our writing-based culture and, with it, Western civilization as we know it. ix x Introduction Another sees in him the prophet of a new, posthistorical humanism that will rise up from the present environment of media and communication structures. Flusser himself encouraged both of these views. As a philosopher, media theorist, writer, and journalist, he never wrote in the “academic style” that many might have expected of him. Provocative wordplay, linguistic games using etymology, a language colored by existentialist brushstrokes, and his phenomenological method of questioning both annoyed and confused the academic world. In addition, Flusser reworded his most important issues in unique ways, producing countless variations of the same arguments. He developed ideas through repetition and, for the most part, with essays in different languages. The concentrated yet often laconic sentences represent new ideas that he himself, as much as his reader or his audience, wanted to hear. Each essay is literally an attempt to philosophize ex nihilo. One thus observes a philosopher thinking, the disadvantage of this method being that Flusser’s lectures and writings contain themes that intersect with each other in a more consequential way than is usually the case for other thinkers. Flusser saw himself as an Old European, especially when he was in Brazil. He often suffered at the hands of academic circles that dismissed him. On a personal level, his success in the 1980s was therefore all the more overwhelming for him. It did not matter that success was at first limited to a relatively small circle of intellectuals, most of whom were artists. Tragically, it would not be until his death in 1991 that a larger audience would know this unconventional thinker. Today, his extraordinary influence on developments in the arts and European media studies is unquestioned. His relevance as a European philosopher is just now being discovered. For a number of reasons, reaction to Flusser has been ambivalent. Whereas his later work is available only in German—if at all—his early work was published in Portuguese only. Moreover, Flusser’s characteristically equivocal means of expression literally fosters misunderstandings. It is not easy to catalogue Flusser within the canon of contemporary media theorists and philosophers. Except for rare points of contact, his texts have less in common with those of Marshall McLuhan or Jean Baudrillard than with those of Edmund Husserl or Martin Buber. Flusser remained an outsider, never becoming part of an accepted history of philosophy.3 In addition, he never created a complete philosophical system. Instead, he preferred mastering the small form. His essays formulated the same ques- Introduction xi tions in continually new variations. His thematic concerns are woven together like threads, which in the end form a complete network of texts. This method of hesitant questionings and playful appropriations is clearly dialogic. It shapes Flusser’s texts to such a degree that it is possible, while reading his work, to believe that one actually hears Flusser’s voice or that one is carrying on a conversation with him. From Old Central Europe to Cyberspace Vilém Flusser was born May 12, 1920, in Prague, the capital of Czechoslovakia. The unique dynamics of Prague’s cultural and intellectual life in the 1920s and 1930s was a result of the productive yet competitive interaction of the three cultures that shaped it: Czech, Jewish, and German. Like the other sons of assimilated Jewish intellectuals, Flusser grew up with Czech and German, becoming equally proficient in both. He acquired a comprehensive humanistic education, which included Latin and Greek as well as a complete introduction to philosophy. The fertile intellectual ground of this unique Central European and Jewish cultural environment would shape his thinking and his personality till the end of his life. When he first emigrated to Brazil, it was a strange and exotic world that presented itself as a vision of the New World. Flusser would remain an Old European in the best sense of the word, despite the strong cultural influences of Brazil.4 Flusser hardly ever mentions other thinkers explicitly. Every once in a while, however, we find references to Hannah Arendt, Martin Buber, Edmund Husserl, Franz Kafka, Franz Werfel, and Ludwig Wittgenstein.5 We occasionally find traces of Thomas Kuhn and Marshall McLuhan. Beyond this, the influence of Albert Einstein and Werner Heisenberg is perceptible. The greatest influence on his philosophical temperament is his compatriot Edmund Husserl, who was born in 1859 in the Moravian city of Prossnitz (Prostĕjov) and died in 1938. Like Flusser, he was a Germanspeaking Czechoslovak Jew. As a philosopher, Husserl is considered the father of phenomenology, which still dominates Central European philosophical thought. Flusser made Husserl’s method of phenomenological reduction, which depended on the bracketing of prejudices from reflection on the life-world, into an analytic instrument of his own making. His intellectual debt to Husserl’s phenomenology gave Flusser privileged insights and points of view. These, in turn, made him radically different from the popular media theorists of the 1970s and 1980s, who were more oriented toward poststructuralism and Marxism. The phenomenological method enabled Flusser to recognize a certain “apparatus-operator xii Introduction complex” (Apparat-Operator Komplex) as the motivating force (movens) behind all contemporary social and technological change. In his Kommunikologie (Communicology), Flusser demonstrates the manner in which “the apparatus-operator complex devours texts, to spit them out again as techno-images.” 6 Flusser asks how this complex changes our interaction with the world when it transforms texts, such as history, into techno-images, such as television programs, and thus impedes our perception of texts: “If, however, every historical action feeds the apparatus-operator complex, then history literally proceeds toward its end.” 7 “Complex” signifies in this instance that there is no substantial reason for differentiating between the apparatus and the operator of the apparatus. This interpretive position comes from a phenomenological perspective:8 the apparatus functions only in terms of the function of the operator, just as the operator functions only in terms of the function of the apparatus. Both exist only through their relationship to each other. Each makes the other’s existence possible, and each defines the other. Flusser treated this “indivisible oneness” 9 as a “black box”: It’s a matter of drawing up theories and explanations, ideologies and dogmas as images, and that means, not being procedural, onedimensional, linear, but rather wanting to grasp things as structure, multidimensional, pictorial; not being history-minded about scenes, but rather reflecting about processes in a phenomenological manner; not seeing a method in history, to see how scenes could be changed, but rather seeing how a process can be changed, from the outside, from below, from above, which is to say from an extrahistorical perspective. Fundamentally, it’s an attempt to codify the world in such a manner that it can be described cybernetically in all of its inexplicable complexity and is thus given meaning.10 The phenomenological character of Marshall McLuhan’s conception of media has perhaps been given too little attention. In this approach, the media become an extension of the body’s organs and, thus, a sort of irreplaceable prosthesis.11 This way of thinking is comparable to Flusser’s, in that it bases itself in a reductive method that brackets off all contingencies. In addition, the phenomenological influence is operative in Paul Virilio’s thought.12 Still, McLuhan did not influence Flusser directly. There is no evidence in Flusser’s work that other contemporary media theorists influenced him. Perhaps it is an idle question to ask about any evidence of influence. McLuhan and Flusser could have just as simply Introduction xiii been led to the same conclusions by following similar logical steps. It is important to recognize, however, that this is Flusser’s only point of contact with contemporary media theory. And, even in this case, we can observe Flusser develop his ideas by following the strictest phenomenological methods.13 Works in the natural sciences always were at the top of Flusser’s extensive reading list, and he was well informed about contemporary developments. A number of hypotheses borrowed from the sphere of natural history are recognizable in his philosophical texts. For instance, he constantly returns to the second law of thermodynamics, according to which the universe tends toward entropy and the unimpeded loss of information. More important, Werner Heisenberg’s quantum theories left their imprint on Flusser’s pattern of thought, for they are also the basis for Thomas Kuhn’s reflections on the paradigm shift in the natural sciences.14 Thomas Kuhn’s hypothesis of the paradigm shift describes a process in which a quantity of existing problems within one discursive model turns into a qualitatively new model. This hypothesis served repeatedly as a metaphor for Flusser’s description of technological revolutions. These revolutions led to new forms of consciousness through the creation of new codes and thus had an immediate impact on the agenda and content of human history:15 In the same manner that the alphabet was directed against pictograms, so digital codes currently direct themselves against letters, to overtake them. In the same manner that a form of thinking based on writing opposed itself to magic and myth (pictorial thinking), so a new form of thinking based on digital codes directs itself against procedural, “progressive” ideologies, to replace them with structural, systems-based, cybernetic modes of thought. . . . This can no longer be thought dialectically, but rather through Kuhn’s notion of “paradigm”: no more a synthesis of opposites, but rather a sudden, almost incomprehensible leap from one level to another.16 Cybernetic thinking links Flusser in a characteristic way to Ludwig Wittgenstein’s philosophy in Tractatus Logico-philosophicus: “The world is the totality of the facts, not of things. . . . What is the case—a fact—is the existence of states of affairs. A state of affairs (a state of things) is a combination of objects (things).”17 Relations, not things, are real; dialogues, not the men themselves, are relevant; the Self is a node in an entire network of connections. Flusser juxtaposes the traditional notion of a world that contains “hard” objects and subjects to his own concept in xiv Introduction which only the relations between subjects and other subjects are concrete. Man is an interpolation, something like a node in a network of interactions and possibilities. In a syncretic yet original manner, Flusser relates Husserl, Buber, and Wittgenstein to contemporary theories in the natural sciences to build a unique, posthistorical communications philosophy. Flusser’s view of communications and its parameters might at first glance seem scientific and unemotional. However, his analysis of radical cultural changes shows his deep passion for what he called the “project for humanization.” In his eyes, Homo sapiens sapiens is far from being perfect, or at the end of his biological, spiritual, cultural, or social development. The final purpose of the human race is a leisurely life of contemplation and celebration, in a society that delegates work to machines and enables its members to live a cheerful life of playful and creative communication. Flusser was interested in the creation of specific communicative and technological conditions for a society of free, independent, and responsible citizens. In light of Husserl’s notion of the life-world as a network of concrete intentionalities, Flusser foresees the coming technological implementation of a telematic culture that will establish a “relationship of mutual respect” (Anerkennungsverhältnis) among individuals. In many ways, Flusser radicalized Daniel Bell’s thesis concerning the creation of a postindustrial society, but at the same time he removed many of its ideological tendencies.18 He brings the techniques of phenomenological reduction to bear on the human situation, which, he believes, is in need of technological progress. The “Enlightenment project,” aiming for the human emancipation from restrictions of all kinds, begun in the eighteenth century by philosophers such as Locke, Hume, Rousseau, and Kant and an unfinished project to this very day, runs parallel to developments in technology, for all revolutions are technological revolutions, and they help realize the project for humanization: A telematized society will be exactly that network of pure relationships that Husserl defines as the concrete structure of the social phenomenon. . . . We can see, then, in what sense it may be said that Husserl has done away with humanism. Instead of the individual man being the supreme value, it is now the dialogue between men that becomes the supreme value, or what Martin Buber, whose thought was profoundly influenced by Husserl, called the “dialogical life” (das dialogische Leben).19 Introduction xv Martin Buber, a religious scholar and Jewish ethicist, was born in 1878 in Vienna and died in 1965 in Jerusalem. He developed a concept of human existence based on dialogue: “Man becomes I through Thou.”20 The dialogue between men, the “medium of the Thou for all beings,” was for Buber a metaphor for the relationship between God and man: “The extended lines of this relationship cut through the eternal Thou. Every individual Thou is a window to Him. . . . The worldly Thou . . . completes itself finally in the direct relationship with the Thou that cannot become It due to its very existence.”21 Only by carefully reading between the lines does it become clear how Flusser, despite being in complete agreement with Buber, subtly secularizes the transcendental teleology of Buber’s thought and unobtrusively empties it of all metaphoricalness: I believe that what differentiates our culture from others is the experience of the sacred in man. We can express this in at least two different ways. Either God is experienceable as man, as an Other, who says “Thou” to us and whom we also address in this manner, or man is the only image of God that we possess.22 Flusser ostensibly agrees with Buber’s existential interpretation of dialogue, and he makes a direct appeal to the Jewish tradition and Buber’s transcendental intentions. Meanwhile, he introduces his own subtle reinterpretation: Naturally, Buber’s book A Dialogical Life should be considered a theological work; it does not speak “of ” God, but rather “to” God, and it does this in that it speaks to us. It therefore can be said that the JudeoChristian tradition breaks through to our present time not as theology, but rather as a search for intrahuman relationships. In this sense, ev ...
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Habit: The true aesthetic criterion.
The idea that new things scare every individual because they are new and unusual is
something I have actually never given thought about. It is true because one is often comfortable
with what they know. However, in my opinion, it is not always fear that invades someone’s mind
when a new thing is introduced. Sometimes it is curiosity. In such a situation, some will dive into
exploring the new thing wholly and even forget everything else. This is often times if the thing is
seemingly harmless. Bu if the situation is like that of Russell’s example, a cow with the head of a
horse, it is going to inspire terror.
In the case of art, I find it true that the terror of facing the new to be tr...

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