Vilém Flusser’s thinking has never explored the banality of a world that is smooth. It has been applied to a grainy, unstable universe, among labyrinths of information networks, complex systems of knowledge, and impenetrable gray zones, and the pitfalls presented by objects. According to his thinking, the slightest roughness or turbulence is a subject with its own phenomena, through which the world can be projected.
That unique capacity, together with the magical quality of interpretation, inevitably means it inhabits the realms of the image. It moves through the appearances of the image, creating new ones. Because the image – picture, video, photograph, digital image, or hologram – presents not only a chemical, physical, and digital “roughness,” but, above all, a metaphorical world open to many different modes of exploration. Vilém Flusser thoroughly understood that world; he did not cut or exclude it, but was its most passionate innovator and investigator. That is why these images occupy two spaces in his work. One concerns their immaterial materiality, and the other, more deeply buried and more fascinating, is the source of his thought and his writing.
I leave to those more highly qualified than I the task of making a more elegant, more profound study of these subjects. I can simply record the ways in which, in the course of our discussions, images were read, deciphered, manipulated, blended, maltreated, and caressed… How they were the object of close attention and wide-ranging investigations of the nature of their constituent elements, and of their poetic, ideological, political, and epistemological aspects… How the technical processes involved were surgically dissected. Because it was essential to understand all the articulations at work in the technical imagination that had been evolving since the dawn of time, from one civilization to the next, and which Vilém Flusser considered a major eld of intellectual endeavor.
I remember a wonderful visit to Venice, when Venetian painting, both in its formal aspects and for the softness of its light, was discussed late into the night. I can still recall that discussion about the fragmentation of a gold mosaic sky, seen as a pixelated constellation.
But I should prefer to describe that other aspect; namely, the action of the image as one of the sources of Flusser’s thought. How are we to describe that curious, disconcerting ability that consists of constructing highly sophisticated conceptual systems, and which has the power to concentrate their meaning in one dazzling image. How are we to investigate the decisive role of that proliferation of images – always inventive, deliberately offbeat and expressive, mischievous fancies, lush visions of a storyteller – which make some of his texts sparkle like works of philosophical fiction. Vilém Flusser believed that philosophy was no longer practiced in writing, but via the image. He knew that the power of the image is not only enhanced by rigorous foundations of thought, but profits from the forceful effects of its polysemy. Because he knew that it was only images that could bring logic and the imagination closely together in one metalanguage.
When Angenommen [Suppose That] (1989) was published, it was suggested that one of my images be used on the cover. Vilém chose a digital cloud, suffused with a dreamlike animality. And during the complicated process of modeling it, suddenly fascinated by what was happening on my screen, he said: “At last I can see mathematical thought expressed in an image.”
Editorial note: Originally written as a presentation for the “Supposé/Angenommen – network/réseau des amis de Vilém Flusser,” held in French on March 21, 1992, during a meeting in Strasbourg. The participants were given a German version of the manuscript. The text published here is a translation of the French original.
Original article by Louis Bec in Flusseriana