“But then the question ‘What is a book?’ will
never be answered.” (Ficções Filosóficas, 1998, p.
123; translated from the Portuguese) This is how
Vilém Flusser engages us to think about books,
but without exactly explaining what constitutes
this object that supports his “metafiction.” The
concept of the book has two opposing connotations:
as thing and as non-thing. By claiming that
books are “mute, harmless, and obedient things,
which, if and when used, become invitations to
embark on adventures, but when left alone, are
mere wall decorations” (ibid.; translated from
the Portuguese), Flusser introduces this dual
nature of the book.
By papering the walls with their spines, in a library
books create the deceptive impression of
a safe haven. However, when a book is manipulated
– that is, holding it in the hand, turning it
over, and flicking through its pages – paradoxically,
it ceases to be manipulated, because it
encounters us and we recognize ourselves in it.
“[I]t is my ‘other’” (ibid., p. 124; translated from
the Portuguese), says Flusser. From this point of
view, humans and books are alike because they
are conundrums but can be deciphered, yet differ
in the sense that “[h]umans are open and must
be closed so they can be manipulated; books are
closed and must be manipulated so that they can
be opened” (ibid., p. 127; translated from the Portuguese).
In Does Writing Have a Future? (2011), the book is also presented as an intermediary between the forest, which produces the material for the paper, and artificial intelligence. We are bookworms and thus books are our nourishment. The actions of grasping, turning, opening the book, and leafing through its pages – as opposed to the possibilities offered by technical images and artificial memories – represent the synthesis of Flusser’s ideas on refusing to replace the book and the disappearance of writing that this would entrain. These actions also make it clear that a new (post-historical) consciousness has emerged, along with the fear that this new consciousness will deprive us of our critical faculty.
Original article by Luciano Guimarães in Flusseriana