Becoming human is the sophisticated appropriation of the world in which we live. We order the chaos of the world to banish fear – fear of senselessness, of decay, of forgetting. This sort of distancing gesture is an attempt to simplify the complexity that exists and confronts us directly. Yet the codified patterns, the specific techniques with which we grasp the world, strike back and produce reflections; they lose their communicating role as media and distort access to the world. In this way the order falls apart again, as Vilém Flusser pointed out already in 1957: chaos has not been banished, it has only “been delayed by one step” (Das zwanzigste Jahrhundert , 1957, p. 117; translated from the German). This new disorder will be reordered when the previous world order steps down. For Flusser, this constitutes the dynamics of the history of human culture: it is a “series of setbacks” and a “paradigm shift after every setback” (Menschwerdung, 1994, p. 253; translated from the German). This metaphor of epochal structures, this scenario of the oscillating cultural functions of communicative codes, is a clearly recognizable pattern of thinking that runs through Flusser’s work, and in very different associations reveals a formal consciousness which illustrates by making distinctions as it were.
Flusser’s play with abstraction lies in its continually adapting, bobbing and weaving attitude to the world, which at first brackets out the human subject and confronts the instrumental objects, then imagines these in areas of images, explains these in turn in linearly progressing texts, and finally computes their now calculable point elements (Lob der Oberflächlichkeit, 1993, pp. 10–11). Through the model-like subtraction of certainties in space-time dimensions of erratically dominant bearers of information, Flusser draws attention to the structural otherness of the numerically generated images that shape our culture today, and their influence on categories that need to be rethought as well as on new forms of joint action – to the potential of consciously negating nothingness.