“Gestures are movements of the body that express being. The gesticulating person’s way of being in the world can be read in them […].” (Gesten, 1991, p. 79; translated from the German).
Gestures are actions through which attitudes can be perceived, and each is possessed of a structure specifc to it, which expresses “a way of being” (ibid., p. 39; translated from the German). The gesture of photographing, for example, expresses doubt and self-determination. “This new attitude to life, of being not subjects, but projects, is expressed in our gestures.” (“Fotografieren als Lebenseinstellung,” in: Standpunkte, 1998, p. 179; translated from the German) But gestures also have an effect on humanity’s being-in-the-world: “The gesture […] produces […] consciousness […].” (Does Writing Have a Future, 2011, p. 7) In the manuscript Das Abstraktionsspiel [The Abstraction Game], Vilém Flusser shows how the succession of cultural- technological gestures has led to quite varied modes of being.
“Gesture” is the general, higher-order, overarching term for a large number of human behaviors, including those of communication. Flusser therefore seeks to “classify communication theory […] under a general theory of gestures” (“Für eine allgemeine Theorie der Gesten,” in: Gesten, p. 218; translated from the German).
A gesture expresses an intention. It does not always have a causal explanation, but it can certainly be described phenomenologically in terms of its relational connections. A “phenomenology of human gestures” (Into the Universe of Technical Images, 2011, p. 153) leads to the contextualization of human actions and desirings. Humans realize their full potential in their gestures, and one’s gestures, taken in sum, may be equated with oneself. “We are gestures. And as such we encounter events, we encounter the world in which we gesticulate, which gesticulates through us, and which we ‘mean.’” (Gesten, p.97; translated from the German)
“We begin to grasp the world as the world in which we live, in which we move, which deals with us and is dealt with by us; and we begin to grasp human beings, including their manipulation of objects, as a pantomime of this world around us. We no longer believe that we make gestures, but that we are gestures.” (ibid., p. 210; translated from the German)
In the video The Gestures of the Professor made by Fred Forest (1972) Vilém Flusser specifies the human gesture „as a motion of the body which articulates an interiority which is conditioned by forces“ (07:15). These forces can be, for example, physiological, psychological or sociological. This objectively seen conditioning of the gesture is opposed by the subjective perception that the own gesture is free and an articulation of the free will. „The gesture is an articulation of the specific character of human being. It articulates, it expresses, it publishes what is (…) called the dialectics of human being“ (09:12).
Flusser subdivides into 4 categories of gestures (10:42):
- The gesture of work: characterized by the fact that the gesture is changed by the obstacle and the obstacle is changed by the gesture (example: gesture of writing).
- The gesture of communication: A gesture, which tries to bridge a void between individuals.
- The „ritual“: A sacred gesture, which expresses an interiority towards nothing, a void.
- The fortuitous gesture, „the act gratuit“, a completely disorganized and undeliberate, spontaneous gesture.