The Old Testament injunction against images is issued by a God who says of himself, “I am that I am” (Exodus 3:13–16). This God expresses himself in thunder and lightning, but also in language. Man and God thus share a medium through which they can address each other. In this medium, the absolute can also be called into question: for example, the sounds used to say “God” are also used to identify other objects. The phonetic components of the word “God” are also found in the word “dog.” God is thus subject to humans’ linguistic improvisation, yet at the same time everything becomes divine through language, for it sanctifies everything that can be said. Thoughts such as these, elaborated by the historian of religion Gershom Scholem in his studies on Jewish mysticism, “impregnated” Vilém Flusser’s thinking, providing him with a background against which to conceptualize sign processes in the variety of their materialities.
The aurally perceptible sign constitutes a difference between the Jewish tradition, the tradition of Jerusalem, and the Greek tradition, Athenian thought, whose gods were made visible as statues. The Old Testament God is a God who speaks and writes; he is aurally and visually perceptible in letters, despite his prohibition of images. Language and writing contain an incommunicable component in which God’s omnipotence conceals itself from humanity’s machinations. What the secularized thinker Flusser inherits from this tradition is the element of the incomplete inferability of language and writing. That Flusser conceives both sign systems as expressions of human capability does not stand in opposition to the hope that these signs will enable the formulation of utopia. But for Flusser, these utopias are no longer messianic. Rather than waiting for the help of a transcendental principle, they nurture the hope – Auschwitz and Hiroshima notwithstanding – that humans, by taking a dialogical stance, will become more human with the help of technology.