Vilém Flusser’s thinking is fundamentally informed by philosophical existentialism (Karl Jaspers, Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus) and existential philosophy (Martin Heidegger). At the same time, his work springs from the tragic experience of exile. Like other Jewish philosophers of the twentieth century (Hannah Arendt, Max Horkheimer, Theodor W. Adorno, and others), Flusser placed the Holocaust at the center of his thinking and treated the expulsion of the Jews as one of the major features of that thinking. His autobiography, Bodenlos [No Firm Ground] (1992), is an avowal of existentialism’s insights in relation to the loss of all ties, the utter absurdity of what had taken place, the thoughts of suicide, and the need to decide between engagement and disengagement.
Flusser’s 1967 essay collection Da Religiosidade [On Religiosity] contains thematic intimations of all these problems, and the brief autobiographical sketch “Em Busca de Significado” (1969), published in English in 2002 as “In Search of Meaning (Philosophical Self-Portrait),” touches on the very early existential influence of José Ortega y Gasset and of Franz Kafka, who, like Flusser in his book The History of the Devil (2014), sought to reach God by way of Satan (Da Religiosidade, 1967, p. 53). Flusser’s existentialist worldview is also underscored by his highlighting of post-history as “an existence in a world of absurd chance” (Nachgeschichte, 1993, p. 195; translated from the German)*.
Throughout his life Flusser remained a thinker of the absurd; of doubt; of the impossibility and, therefore, the dignity of freedom (Bodenlos, 1992, p. 190); of the religiousness which arises, he says, from the lack of firm ground (Bodenlosigkeit) (ibid., p. 10); and of the anchorlessness that, according to his theory of writing, is characteristic of the telematic society. The continuing retreat of the hand – the transition from things (forms) to nonthings (information) – is a further indication of the existential content of Flusserian thought.
* Editorial note: This passage does not exist in the English edition.