The term apparatus, and the investigation of its underlying general concepts, permeates both directly and indirectly Vilém Flusser’s entire oeuvre. It is perhaps the most recurrent concept in his thought. The first use of the term in his texts dates from the manuscript of his first monograph, Das zwanzigste Jahrhundert [The Twentieth Century] (1957, p. 122), and the genealogy of the term in Flusser’s intellectual universe can be clearly traced as a confluence between elements from works by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, José Ortega y Gasset, Martin Heidegger, and Franz Kafka.
Within Flusser’s work, the meaning of the term apparatus underwent several mutations throughout the four main phases of his literary production. In the 1950s the concept emerged first as an amalgam between the image of the alchemical homunculus of Goethe’s Faust II and Ortega y Gasset’s concept of technical apparatus; during this phase, the apparatus thus emerged as ontologically distinct from humanity. In the 1960s the apparatus became fused with cybernetics theory. Flusser also compared it to Friedrich Nietzsche’s Übermensch (A História do Diabo,1965, p. 131) and stated that the apparatus is not res extensa (Até a Terceira e Quarta Geração, 1965, p. 311). In the late 1970s Flusser established the concept of apparatus within his emerging communications theory, and it became entwined with the concepts of post-history, technical images, and technical imagination (Mutations in Human Relations, 1977/1978, published as Kommunikologie, 1996; Pós-História, 1983). In the 1980s the apparatus took on an organic form in the image of the vampyroteuthis infernalis (Vampyroteuthis Infernalis, 2011) and subsequently after it became a black box (Towards a Philosophy of Photography, 1984; Into the Universe of Technical Images, 2011).
In a general sense, the final version of Flusser’s apparatus, in its sociopolitical and philosophical dimensions, does not have a hard core and does not function in a linear, historical fashion. Instead, it functions automatically without aim, postindustrially, according to a program (post historically), constantly metamorphosing via a feedback loop between apparatus and functionaries of the apparatus. Vilém Flusser’s concept of apparatus therefore posits the degree of importance of the apparatus upon the types of ontological relations that we establish with it, both as a model and an instrument.