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Reviewed by: Sarvesh Wahie (University of Jena)
Vilém Flusser’s Consciousness in ‘Understanding Flusser, Understanding Modernism’
Considering the scarceness of Vilém Flusser’s citability, Understanding Flusser, Understanding Modernism is a much-needed current toward reiterating a Flusserian significance in the contemporary philosophical discourses. The reasons for such a scarcity may vary from diversification of philosophical themes to canonical sympathies in specific disciplines, but all variation ultimately condenses down to a simple thesis of Flusser’s own writing elegance. The epilogue to the Volume rightfully calls this elegance “thinking in freestyle.”[i] One may therefore question: How to approach a freestyle thought along disciplined axes? Spontaneously, two possibilities come to mind: Either reading Flusser’s oeuvre ‘for itself’ or interpreting Flusser ‘through’ other thinkers. The editors or the book, Aaron Jaffe, Michael F. Miller, and Rodrigo Martini, seem to subscribe to a rather agnostic approach where a majority of contributions engage handpicked themes from Flusser’s writings. This neither-nor approach diversifies itself into three meta-sections: ‘Processing Flusser’, ‘Flusser’s Expanded’ Modernism, and ‘Flusser’s Toolkit’. This grounds the overarching thesis of the volume: the collection is understood as a regulating principle between straining Flusser’s speculations on the one end and emanating a specific Modernism on the other end[ii]. With an assortment of short, long, provocative, and specialized essays, each of these sections are oriented toward opening up dialogical spaces between the ever-concretizing disposition of Flusser as a media-theorist and the fresh amplitude of him as a prolific Modernist. Going by this editorial introduction to the book, such an agnostic approach seems to be well suited for Flusser’s own writing style because the departing atmosphere for Flusser is neither philosophy, anthropology, physics and biology nor language, media, information, digitalism, existentialism and translation. Quite the reverse, the atmosphere of departure for Flusser has been text, where philosophy, anthropology, physics, biology, language, media, information, digitalism, existentialism, and translation appear as themes. Therefore, the 2021 published essay-collection on Vilém Flusser in the series Understanding Philosophy, Understanding Modernism is undoubtedly a textual atmosphere of conversation between philosophical and Modernist currents colored in Flusserian inks.
The goal of this essay-collection is not a Flusser hagiography or an introduction of kinds. Thus, as mentioned by the editors, one of the striking features of the volume is to treat Flusser as an event, as opposed to a biographical subject[iii]. This stance immediately sets Understanding Flusser, Understanding Modernism apart from other books on Flusser such as Rainer Guldin & Gustav Bernanado’s Vilém Flusser, Ein Leben in der Bodenlosigkeit (2017), Oliver Bidlo’s Vilém Flusser: Einführung (2008), and Nils Röller & Silvia Wagnermaier’s Absolute Vilém Flusser (2003). Such a contrast translates into a reading of Flusser as an occurrence in the prevalent academic discourses. Specifically, these discourses are situated in the scene of German Media-theory, where Flusser arrived with his philosophy of communication (Kommunikologie) and gained a reputation of a prophetic media-theorist. This situatedness of event Flusser in German media theory is the departing atmosphere for the essay-collection. However, Modernism is also explored along with this situation. This is apparent in the structure of the book in the first two sections. Section one processes Flusser in the German media theoretical situatedness and section two introduces an expanded Flusserian view of Modernism. To put it simply, the essay-collection is an account of German media-theoretical handling of event Flusser as received by researchers in the Anglophone world. Therefore, it can be said, that this essay-collection is meant for a reader that desires to be informed about Flusser research on a transnational paradigm. Conversely, the volume also demands the reader to self-study and be familiar with Flusser’s writings because the essays in the collection rarely clarify Flusserian concepts as they work on a discursive plane with them. This verdict does not hold true for the third section of the book entitled ‘Flusser’s Toolkit’ though. This section is dedicated to explicating Flusserian concepts relevant for this book. Thus, on the structural scheme of things, Understanding Flusser, Understanding Modernism suggests also an opening to a reader not familiar with Flusser’s writings.
The section, Processing Flusser, opens with an import of Flusserian question ‘Does writing have a future?’ into the present day scenario of machine learning and artificial intelligence. The essay ‘Does AI have a future?’ seeks to locate the prominence of AI in Flusser’s writings and with it to analyze the futures invoked in asking this question. The essay posits Flusser’s prophetic writing tone as a function of the implicit temporality of apparatus like linear writing, images, and programs. Thus, from a vantage point of such temporalities the essay argues, one is able to make a prognosis about a future. In the case of this essay, the future is invoked by dealing with the question, whether AI enhances or destroys a historical future. This historical future is by extension Post-history. As propounded by Flusser, with the advent of programming and computers, history calls for a reconsideration of its values: it can no longer be thought of as unidirectional movement of a subject. On the contrary, multidirectional and multidimensional models must be thought in movement. Certainly, an AI, an automation, can do this job of making multi-directional movement faster than humans would do. But, it is not only linear history at stake, AI can be employed in various walks of life, like garden mowing, making business deals, running economy, and even writing poems. Humans can concentrate on something else then – pain and suffering. Thus, the human paradigm features as uncritically alienated in this essay. However, the confident tone that Flusser always broadcasts in his writings appears at the end of the essay as well. A creative dialogical consciousness is suggested as a feature of post-historical apparatus and therefore it promises a potentiality that can be realized in either direction of total control or total freedom. The ideas played out in this essay also function as debate-openers for the entire first section. The later contributors of the essay-collection touch upon these ideas in myriad capacities.
Take, for instance, the second and third essays. If a creative dialogical consciousness correlates to post-historical apparatuses, then it makes sense to question the design and shape of such apparatuses. This question is discussed with Flusser’s philosophy of design in the second essay of the collection, titled ‘Design/Shape’. Design for Flusser is both, process and projection into the future. The essay is in line with the Flusserian argument, but also introduces a thought that Flusser’s Design philosophy is ultimately a philosophy of language. Of course, language is not design, but is Flusser’s ‘model of all models’ that he uses to design his philosophy. Thus, by virtue of a methodological identicalness language becomes a tool for designing the future. As depicted by the essay this identification results not only in designing objects of use and programs after Auschwitz, but also in projecting a new humanness. With this understanding, the essay touches upon a Modernist point-of-view, by locating Flusser’s Design philosophy in the trajectory of an unfinished modernization from Martin Heidegger through Sigfried Giedion and toward Bruno Latour. However, in the limited scope of the essay, this trajectory is not discussed in detail. Nevertheless, the Flusserian idea of designing objects becomes known: A designed object is an object of use (Gebrauchsgegenstand) as opposed to being an object (Gegenstand) that resists communication. Immediately, one can think of guns as objects of ‘use’. The question of an intentional communication remains unanswered in the thesis portrayed in the essay. This thesis moreover stays as simple as it is. Toward the end of the essay, the very attitudes that design objects of use, except featuring a choice of value creation, remain uncommented on a theoretical plane. The third essay picks up this node of designing communication by engaging in dialogues on the plane of video images. The essay mentions Flusser’s famous video collaboration with the artist Fred Forest in 1972-74, in which Flusser appears in the video, philosophizing and attempting dialogues. This essay is a treat for anyone who desires to get informed about various collaborations that Flusser was a part of with other artists, such as from the Fluxus movement. Flusser shared sympathies for creating a participatory art experience, which would also translate to a creative dialogical consciousness. Thus, “dialogical video” as a term came out of Forest’s collaboration with Flusser. This is opposed to Film because a dialogical video involves a telepresence as evinced by Zoom-Meetings or Skype today. Other than exhibiting the term dialogical video, which in fact was coined by Forest, the essay provides a detailed view of Flusser’s engagement with artists, but shies away from describing a sound theoretical intervention.
In a similar vein, the fourth essay of the collection depicts Flusser’s involvement with the intellectuals in Europe. Specifically, the Ars Electronica Symposium of 1988 in Linz, Austria where media theorists such as Heinz von Foerster, Jean Baudrillard, Freidrich Kittler, Peter Weibel, and Hannes Böhringer each presented their theories. This was an important symposium as far as chalking out contrasts between the perspectives of these theorists is concerned and the essay takes up this job willingly. Staying true to the ethos of the volume, the essay portrays Flusser as an event where perspectives of other theorists intersect. The point of intersection is cybernetics: Flusser perhaps the strongest proponent, Baudrillard the detractor, and others drenched in the cybernetic discourse as shown by the essay. Thus, the essay argues Flusser’s influence in shaping the media theory as one knows it today. It is important to note that this essay also brushes on the questions raised by the first essay of the volume: namely, the creative dialogical consciousness and the post historical apparatus. The essay briefly puts forward the Flusserian concept of gestures as a capacity of impressing information onto objects. This feature brings together, if one wants, the philosophy of design. Since, designing is an activity of processing and projecting, it can be argued that designing memories (also Flusser’s topic at the symposium. In German: Gedächtnisse) at the subatomic level, for instance in computer chips, is an ontology of impressing information onto objects. With this, an undercurrent of modernity comes to the forefront. For Flusser this changes thinking subjects acting on objects by virtue of work to thinking of Projects projecting models/shapes/designs onto objects in order to transform them into objects of use. This is the post historical apparatus, memories to use Flusser’s term, which is programmed by multidirectional designs. To design dialogically or creatively is then to program imaginatively enough to bring about a cybernetics of conversation. For this reason, a programmer for Flusser is no less than an artist, or trickster in his words. In a theoretical discourse of the dialectic between the program and the functionary, Flusser’s theory establishes a sharp contrast because it seeks to theorize the very act of creating a program. However, it is important to note that the act of creating a program cannot be thought of in terms of individual or global for Flusser, because by virtue of its ontological credence designing objects of use is an intersubjective atmosphere. The next essay entitled ‘Flusser in the light of radiation’ explicates this atmosphere with the metaphor of radiation, but still works in the individual and global realms. Not only can programers create computers for communicating between humans and machines, but they can also create self-destructive nuclear weapons. Once again, this essay strikes back with the ethics of programing against the backdrop of Flusser’s essay-series called “Curie’s Children” written for the Artforum magazine from 1986. Apart from interpreting these writings as an apocalyptic warning, the essay introduces Flusserian concept of ‘backlash’ from an unpublished essay that bears the same name. Designing objects of use or tools according to Flusser has the capacity to strike back or backlash at the programer. For instance, the invention of a lever backlashed at the arm to make it function like a lever. Surely, the thesis is contestable, but as a fair warning to a programmer/human, it definitely makes its case. What kind of a human does the post historical radiation enlighten?
‘On being human in the universe of technical images’ is the next essay in the collection that takes up this question and inserts ‘game and play’ as prospective answers. If one thinks of ‘play’ in general, then Freidrich Schiller promptly comes to mind. ‘Game’ thought in linguistic terms summons Ludwig Wittgenstein. The essay considers both of these traditions, but also briefly discusses Flusser’s other influences in Brazil that affected his thought toward writing Ins Universum der technichen Bilder (1985). The essay argues that in his writings Flusser uses ‘game’ as a noun – to look at an object from non-participatory distance – and he uses ‘play’ as a verb – to emphasize a first-person or an involved perspective. The differentiation between game and play, the essay also suggests, is possible in the English language, which perhaps made Flusser use the capacity to chart out a conceptual difference in a short piece called ‘Games’. In ‘Games’ Flusser seeks to define human existence as Homo ludens, which the essay expertly points out is a Flusserian acknowledgement of Johan Huizinga’s conceptualization. For Flusser, the essay shows, Homo ludens is not only involved in playing, but also the very capacity of play is able to differentiate between the player and the game. This is the link to Schiller, where this differentiation results in an aesthetic experience of humanness. The essay further states that experiencing aesthetics of humanness speaks to Flusser because it is rooted in the phenomenological description from the perspective of the player (first-person perspective). The essay is aware of the boldness of this statement and readily mentions that Schiller wrote in a time where a Husserlian Phenomenology was still a century away. Nevertheless, the essay brings to forefront that in order to understand the experience of playing, Phenomenology is categorically crucial to Flusserian thought. Talking about game, the essay describes Flusser’s piece ‘Games’ in detail and firmly concedes that for Flusser there is no outside of a game, but there are open and closed games. Language, for instance, is an open game because it has no fixed ending and it continues to gain and lose components in its movement of play. Chess, on the other hand, is an example of a closed game, because its scope of elements are fixed and it has a definite end. A game then, like most Flusserian concepts, relate to a communicative structure of discourses and dialogues among others like philosophy, anthropology, and translation. Thus, a player is always already rooted in myriad games, playing with and against the program of the game. In further sections of the essay, this ontology of play explores possibilities in designing, projecting, and creating alternative worlds digitally, thereby reinstating the atmosphere of post-history where all objects have disappeared “into whirling particles”[iv] and left the human subject isolated. The future then opens to humans as projects, designing alternative worlds in the universe of technical images.
At this point into the reading of the book, one may surely question the coherency of Flusser’s references and influences. Seasoned readers of Flusserian thought already know Flusser’s reluctance on citing or quoting his sources. One may also see that Flusser writes from his own experience or from a first person perspective. This, of course, is not always true. But, on several occasions, Flusser clearly remarks that subjects and objects are extrapolations or abstractions elevated from a field of concrete relations. Does this make a case for Flusser’s phenomenological praxis? “Flusser’s Philosophical Backgrounds,” the next essay in the collection, surely makes a ground for Flusser’s phenomenological orientation. The essay concretely not only mentions Edmund Husserl and Martin Heidegger as phenomenologists to Flusser’s inspirations, but also contested phenomenologists such as Martin Buber and José Ortega y Gasset. Other than these thinkers, Ludwig Wittgenstein and Franz Kafka make for pivotal changes in Flusserian thought as shown by the essay.
Considering the background of the radical contention between media-theory and phenomenology in the German academia[v], reading Flusser as a phenomenologist is a venture doomed to isolation. On the one hand, media theorists have welcomed Flusser prophetically as the deciding element in shaping the future of media theory in general – the Ars Electronica Symposium is a good example in this regard. On the other hand, Flusser has been dubbed as a phenomenographist by key phenomenologists[vi] in Germany. For the context, Phenomenology literally orients itself to the ‘logic of the phenomenon’ in question and Phenomenography is a mere ‘description’ of any phenomenon. The eighth essay in the collection, ‘Vilém Flusser’s Quasi-Phenomenology’, however responds to this debate and agrees on reading Flusser both as a genuine phenomenologist and as a phenomenographer, but rejects reading Flusser as a media-theorist as half-truth. The essay splits Flusser’s oeuvre into phenomenographic writings such as Gestures and Things and Non-Things and phenomenological writings such as Kommunikologie (communicology). The reasons for this split, as argued by the essay, is Flusser’s inability to break the dialectics of thesis and anti-thesis in order to reach at a universal synthesis. A universal synthesis is claimed by the essay to be prevalent in Flusser’s philosophy of communication. Despite engaging with Flusserian brand of Phenomenology at an intricate level, the essay does not comment of the debate between media theory and phenomenology, where the point of contention is essentially regarding the quality of experience – mediated experience (reading books, watching television, scrolling social media etc.) as opposed to immediate experience (writing books, painting images, programming computers etc.). Flusser, surely talks about both of these experiences. An open question that arises then: What is a phenomenology of mediation?
Ironically enough, playing on post-historical consciousness where it focuses on other things such as pain and suffering, the next essay in the collection invokes Georg W.F. Hegel’s dialectics of an unhappy consciousness into ‘Processing Flusser’. The essay however argues that Flusser posits the figure of a Migrant against the Hegelian unhappy consciousness to overcome the dialectics of losing/finding oneself and finding/losing the world. A migrant, in analysis of the essay, projects herself into the uncertain future openly. The logic of this act is then not to find oneself or the world, but to find home. The essays further quotes Flusser in commenting on Hegel, where he suggests that without a home a self would be unconscious and therefore home (also dwelling in Flusser) is primary to self-consciousness and world-consciousness. Surely, this can be interpreted as being-in-the-world, but the essay does not go along this Heideggerian terrain. Instead, the essay explores Flusserian irony as a gesture of freedom. Irony for Flusser is sort of rising-above contingence and moving away from irony is engaging contingence in order to change it. Both these acts, engagement and disengagement, result in freedom for Flusser. Teleological, if one so desires, irony is itself ironical. The essay further sees potential in this kind of irony as a mode of criticism in a post-historical scenario, because Flusserian irony suggests a free being-in-the-world, which is always already capacitated to critique various determinisms or searches for freedom. A similar point is made again by the next essay entitled ‘Vampyroteuthis infernalis as Media Theory’. For the context, Vampyroteuthis infernalis, originally written in German and published in 1987, is undoubtedly Flusser’s weirdest book. It seeks to describe humanness in mode of a fable by means of an inversion from the perspective of a deep-sea organism called The Vampire Squid from Hell (Vampyroteuthis infernalis). The essay comments on media theories by stating that they must confront their “inner Hegel”[vii] This inner Hegel is another name for determinisms and searches of freedoms. In the scope of the essay, determinisms such as Darwinism are discussed. The Vampire Squid (Vampy) then becomes a metaphor for a new kind or Flusserian media theory where the human project is posited as free and is required to design inter-subjective communicative apparatus. Thus, Flusser’s goal, as interpreted by the essay, is to review mediated immediacy of technology through the fable of Vampy. This translates into reviewing projects like designing a residue-free communication, total coordination in dialogue, and unison in conversations. It is precisely these kind of projects that the essay identifies not only as vampyroteuthic, but also as third kind of super-organisms like de-individualized anthills or swarm of bees. The danger posed then is clear: The movement of technology toward becoming immediate or residue-free. To the essay, this danger is of media-literate super-fascist regimes and in doing so, the essay has transformed the inner Hegel into a super-Hegel. The last essay of the section also echoes this danger with its references to the Covid-19 outbreak in the contemporary world. As such, the questions concerning freedom remain unresolved.
In a nutshell, the first section ‘Processing Flusser’ is more of an unpacking of event Flusser than a processing. Since a plethora of themes is exploded under the common denominator of post-history, a concrete processed Flusser still manages to escape a formal vantage point. Perhaps, providing such a vantage point was not the intention of the section in the first place. Perhaps, all the essays in the section feature as a multidirectional standpoint. Nevertheless, it remains unpacking of event Flusser because at least three mutually exclusive currents can be summarized from the section: media theory, phenomenology, and critical media theory. Media theory and phenomenology already show indifference on the quality of experience and a critical media theory does not speak of phenomenology at all. Hence, these three currents lie unpacked on the table for the reader to decide herself on weaving a process out of them.
On such considerations, a reader not familiar with Flusser’s Philosophy is definitely out of the scope of the volume. The section ‘Flusser’s expanded Modernism’ makes this issue even more complicated. As a Flusserian reader, one is compelled to go back to Flusserian writings in order to make sense of the essays in this section. For instance, both the essays ‘“Naked little spasms of the self ” In search of an authentic gesture in posthistorical times’ and ‘The ‘Pataphysical Span: Alfred Jarry and Vilém Flusser’, work with the Flusserian concept of Gestures and even employ similar quotes from Flusser’s writings to comment on Modernity but miss out on a phenomenological relevance of the theme. Phenomenology as a term is mentioned in various contexts in these two essays, but a theoretical working out of the concept Gesture in attunement with phenomenology is not to be read. Hence, a reader wonders what statements like “a phenomenology of phenomenology”[viii] and “historical stages of phenomenological consciousness”[ix] actually seek to deliver. Partly this confusion is a result of using the English translation of Gestures as the reference text for these essays. In the English version, Gestures (2014) the opening text of the book, where Flusser’s seeks to contrast attunement with gestures in order to define them, ‘attunement’ has been replaced by ‘affect’[x]. In the German version Gesten, Versuch einer Phänomenologie (1991) attunement is called ‚Gestimmtheit‘(a mood, in which a person/thing positions themselves – attunement). The Spanish translation, Los Gestos (1994) uses ‘acordamiento’[xi] (accord/agreement). Flusser’s own English variant was ‘sentimentality’[xii]. The translator of the English version mentions Flusser’s variant and also acknowledges that ‘attunement’ has already appeared as a word in translation for German philosophy in English to emphasize the idea of intentionality (directedness of consciousness) in Husserlian Phenomenology. Yet, ‘affect’ is preferred over ‘attunement’, so that it opens the scope of Flusser’s theory across various disciplines and with that, the word is supposed to retain the quality of uniting the internal and external worlds. Of course, the German writing can also not be considered as the so-called original text because Flusser himself wrote the text in French and during the first publication of the book in 1991, it was translated into German with the title ‘Geste und Gestimmtheit. Einübung in die Phänomenologie der Gesten’. Keeping this in mind, it cannot be argued if ‘affect’ as translation of ‘Gestimmtheit’ is correct or not. But, what can be argued is how much the translation affects the relevance of Phenomenology in Flusser’s theory of gestures. In the mentioned essay Flusser argues, Gestures are bodily movements that express an intention[xiii] and goes on to revise the definition by introducing a symbolic communication[xiv] to gestures. Now, if gestures are to express an intention, it is necessary that the mode of expression be attuned to the symbolic intention a gesture communicates. A simple gesture of an eye contact made by a person wearing spectacles can bring out the difference between ‘affect’ and ‘attunement’. If my spectacles merely affect my intention to make an eye contact, it would mean that my glasses affect my eyes in a way that helps me make an eye contact. As such, the affect my glasses have on my eyes link the inner intention of looking the other person into the eyes and the outer objectivity of an eye contact. Phenomenologically, if ‘affect’ is understood as ‘affection’ (Affektion) it would make a direct reference to Husserlian Phenomenology and Gestures would be understood as intentional acts. However, my spectacles do not merely affect my eyes; the affect is encoded in a specific intentionality that lets me see the world according to the strength of my eyes in the first place. This means that my glasses feature the same nature of intentionality that I would be directed toward without glasses (that is if my eyes were not weak) – making an eye contact. Hence, an attunement, so that my glasses work in accordance with the strength of my eyes, is primary to express an intention in my gesture of an eye contact. If the glasses are not attuned, I must forget about an eye contact because the world would appear in a haze of colors[xv]. Both the mentioned essays in the collection Understanding Flusser, Understanding Modernism do not engage with this difference of translations and hence spin-off at the tangent of interpreting Flusser’s theory of gestures in the light speculative journalism and negentropic movement in post-history. As such, these essays call for a closer reviewing of Flusser’s concept of Gesture.
On the contrary, the collection also features essays that comment on a phenomenological relevance of Flusser’s philosophy. Take, for instance, the essays titled ‘An Intersubjective Style’, ‘Flusser’s New Weird’, and ‘A Philosophy of Refraction’. Each of these essays not only grounds phenomenology in Flusser’s writings, but also comments on how Modernism can be understood through Flusser’s spectacles. “Flusser understood intersubjectivity to be both the substrate and goal of Edmund Husserl’s phenomenology”[xvi], immediately clarifies that Flusser sees the ground of concrete relations as being intersubjective and thereby critiques the technological tendency of media becoming objective. Such a reference speaks volume for the debate if Flusser at all can be considered as phenomenologist. The most controversial work from Flusser, Vampyroteuthis infernalis that has unbearable fixation for the entire volume is also contested to be phenomenological in nature. “The important thing for Flusser is that the cephalopod’s message is intentional: it is preceded by an experience; the creature’s attitude, reaction, or concept of that experience; the desire to transmit that information; and finally the information’s encoding and transmission via chromatophoric inscription on the skin.”[xvii] Of course, from a phenomenological view, it can be argued, if at all ‘other’s’ experience as one’s own can be spoken of when the other is not located in an immediate proximity. Vampy dwells the oceanic depths where an immediate experience for a human phenomenologist is impossible. Nevertheless, the following quotation makes this argument debatable. “Heidegger not only provides some of the conceptual raw material for Flusser’s fable, as it rests heavily on the notion of Dasein, but Flusser also takes up ideas from Heidegger’s metaphysics that address the question of whether or not we, as humans, can transpose our being onto the place of another.”[xviii] On such grounds, cutting into Flusser’s work with phenomenology, may not necessarily prove Flusser to be a “phenomenologist”[xix] but Flusser’s writings can definitely provide a discourse for Phenomenology to consider media technologies in the Lifeworld. Among others, these mentioned essays speak of Husserl, Heidegger, Gasset, and Buber – a valid contribution of the book to the contemporary academic discourse that perhaps results in understanding Flusser’s Modernism.
However, the essay ‘On Synthesis and Synthetic Reality’ argues that the entirety of Flusser’s work cannot simply be called Modernist or Post-Modernist because similar to the contradictions and similarities between the two positions Flusser’s writings feature a self-contradictory style of thinking. This self-contradictory nature has been described by illustrating the concepts of Synthesis and Synthetic reality – both that run through the length of Flusser’s work. Synthesis, close to etymological sense for Flusser, is way of bringing differences and contradictions between various philosophical positions into a kind of amalgamation – a Modernist penchant for unity. Synthetic Reality, according to the essay, first appeared to describe the notion of technical images – a post-Modernist confession toward the artificiality of reality. Both synthesis and synthetic reality imply a mutual-inclusion of Sinngebung[xx] (sense giving) by virtue of Flusserian concept of projecting models onto the world. Thus, the essay argues, Flusser shares a similarity with Slavoj Žižek’s philosophy because both positions describe all reality as virtual. This sets Flusser immediately apart from Jean Baudrillard, for whom reality is hidden by simulation. This notion is again clarified in ‘Surface and Simulation Vilém Flusser and Jean Baudrillard’ in the toolkit section, where Flusser is posited as a phenomenologist as opposed to Baudrillard’s disposition as a post-structuralist. This piece also features Flusser’s direct remark on Baudrillard from an unpublished interview where Flusser holds the concept of simulation for a nonsensical proposition because of the lack of availability of an ontological tool to differentiate simulation from non-simulation. Despite this remark, Flusser agrees on a differentiation between concentricity and abstractness[xxi]. Thus, one may think of concentricity as a Modernist affinity toward unification and abstractness as a post-Modernist assertion of artificiality. Yes, Flusserian thought feature both of these positions, which by extension also bring out the difference between phenomenological concrete relations and media theoretical abstractness.
Conclusively, it can be said that section two and three of Understanding Flusser, Understanding Modernism make for a more engaged reading of the research on Flusser’s work. Section two, ‘Flusser’s Expanded Modernism’, also illustrates Flusser’s works in literary heritage of Modernism relating it to the likes of H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, and Jules Verne. This has not been discussed in the scope of this review, but as such, they surely open new paradigms of Flusser-research in literary studies. In line with this assertion, the epilogue, ‘Between Languages and Without Discipline: A Twentieth-Century Intellect Drafted for the Twenty-First Century’ illustrates five non-disciplinary aspects into uncovering Flusser’s Modernism. The fall of classical Modernism and humanism (Eurocentric) after the Auschwitz, result in ‘No Fatherland’, ‘No Mother Tongue’, ‘Dialogical existence’, ‘Thinking in Freestyle’, and ‘Philosophy in Motion’[xxii]. Taken together with Phenomenology, Media-theory, and Literary studies all these aspects may be seen as the departing atmosphere of an expanded Modernism that the book desires to communicate. Over-simply put, after the fall of classical Modernism, Flusser’s consciousness synthesizes a project of humanity in a Post/Modern synthetic reality.
Understanding Flusser, Understanding Modernism is definitely a keystone for a scholar who desires to deepen the arc of disciplined and non-disciplined research. Nevertheless, this deepening requires reviewing and self-study of the positions engaged in this book because ultimately the collection is not open to a reader not familiar with Flusserian consciousness.
[i] Siegfried Zielinski. 2021. “Between Languages and Without Discipline: A Twentieth-Century Intellect Drafted for the Twenty-First Century”, translation Daniel Raschke. In: Understanding Flusser, Understanding Modernism, edited by Aaron Jaffe, Michael F. Miller, and Rodrigo Martini, 323, USA: Bloomsbury Publishing.
[ii] ———. 2021. “Introduction” In: Understanding Flusser, Understanding Modernism, edited by Aaron Jaffe, Michael F. Miller, and Rodrigo Martini, 9, USA: Bloomsbury Publishing.
[iii] Ibid., 7.
[iv] Nancy Roth. 2021. “Games and Play On Being Human in the Universe of Technical Images”, Ibid,. 64.
[v] Friedrich A. Kittler. “Phänomenologie versus Medienwissenschaft”, Accessed May 20, 2022. http://hydra.humanities.uci.edu/kittler/istambul.html
[vi] Andreas Max Ströhl. 2021.” Vilém Flusser’s Quasi-Phenomenology”, In: Understanding Flusser, Understanding Modernism, edited by Aaron Jaffe, Michael F. Miller, and Rodrigo Martini, 79, USA: Bloomsbury Publishing.
[vii] Geoffrey Winthrop-Young. 2021. “Vampyroteuthis Infernalis as Media Theory”, Ibid,. 98.
[viii] Judith Roof. 2021. “The ‘Pataphysical Span Alfred Jarry and Vilém Flusser”, Ibid,.148.
[ix] Ibid,. 146.
[x] Nancy Roth. 2014. “Gestures and Affect the Practice of Phenomenology of Gestures”, In: Vilém Flusser. 2014 “Gestures”, translated by Nancy Roth, 1- 9, USA: University of Minnesota Press.
[xi] Claudio Gancho. 1994. “Gesto y acordiamento Ejercitación en la fenomenología de los gestos”, In: Vilém Flusser. 1994. “Los Gestos: fenomenología y comunicación”, translated by Claudio Gancho, 7-18, Spain: Herder.
[xii] Nancy Roth. 2014. “Translator’s Notes”, In: Vilém Flusser. 2014 “Gestures”, translated by Nancy Roth, 178, USA: University of Minnesota Press.
[xiii] Vilém Flusser. 1994. “Geste und Gestimmtheit Einübung in die Phänomenologie der Gesten”, In: Flusser. 1994. “Gesten Versuch einer Phänomenologie”, 7, Germany: Fischer Taschenbuch Verlag.
[xiv] Ibid,. 11.
[xv] See: “Die Frage lautet nicht, ob das Darstellen einer Stimmung lügnerisch ist, und noch weniger, ob eine dargestellte Stimmung wahrheitsfähig ist, sondern ob sie den Betrachter berührt.” Ibid,. 14.
See also: “The question is not whether the representation of a state of mind is false, still less whether a represented state of mind has the capacity to be true. Rather, it concerns whether the observer is touched.” In: Nancy Roth. 2014. “Gestures and Affect the Practice of Phenomenology of Gestures”, In: Vilém Flusser. 2014 “Gestures”, translated by Nancy Roth, 6, USA: University of Minnesota Press.
[xvi] Frances McDonald. 2021. “An Intersubjective Style”, In: Understanding Flusser, Understanding Modernism, edited by Aaron Jaffe, Michael F. Miller, and Rodrigo Martini, 123, USA: Bloomsbury Publishing.
[xvii] Keith Leslie Johnson. 2021. “Flusser’s New Weird”, Ibid,. 154.
[xviii] David Bering-Porter. 2021. “A Philosophy of Refraction Vilém Flusser’s Speculative Biology and the Study of Paramedia”, Ibid,. 166.
[xix] See: “Without hesitation, Edith Flusser replied that Vilem had always considered himself a phenomenologist more than anything else.” Andreas Max Ströhl. 2021. “Vilém Flusser’s Quasi-Phenomenology”, Ibid,. 77.
[xx] Rainer Guldin. 2021. “On Synthesis and Synthetic Reality Post/Modernism in Flusser’s Thinking”, Ibid,. 199.
[xxi] Thomas Tooley. 2021. “Surface and Simulation Vilém Flusser and Jean Baudrillard”, Ibid,. 300.
[xxii] Siegfried Zielinski. 2021. “Between Languages and Without Discipline: A Twentieth-Century Intellect Drafted for the Twenty-First Century”, translation Daniel Raschke. Ibid. 314 – 328.