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Immanuel Kant

In the complex web of influences on the development of Vilém Flusser’s thinking, the role played by Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) is most difficult to understand. Kant is not one of the philosophers cited most often by Flusser – in fact, his name is rarely mentioned by the Czech-Brazilian philosopher, although he was influenced by German and Austrian philosophy. Yet in a letter written to the poet Paulo Leminski Flusser refers to Kant as someone he “wished he could agree with” (correspondence with Paulo Leminski, September 20, 1964; translated from the Portuguese). This statement shows Flusser’s awareness that Kant’s systematic and elegant reasoning engenders a desire in the reader to believe that Kant actually is right: that the incredible complexity of his philosophy could actually be commensurate with the reality of the facts – a desire that would be frustrated over and over again, as it seems to be suggested by Flusser. One can refer to two sections for practical examples of Flusser’s fundamental attitude towards Kant: one paragraph from Língua e Realidade [Language and Reality] (1963) and another quotation taken from a later lecture named “Hearing Aids” (German manuscript: “Hoerapparate”; abridged and revised in: Angenommen, 1989).

In the above-mentioned paragraph in Língua e Realidade, after introducing his hypothesis that language corresponds to reality, Flusser claims that the plurality of languages necessarily corresponds to a plurality of realities. Considering this, Kant’s transcendental philosophy is mentioned not only to apply it to the class of synthetic languages in general, but, more specifically, to the particularities of German grammar: “As a matter of fact, if there were only one language, we would all, naturally, be Kantian (that is, if this one language were German or any German-related language).” (Língua e Realidade, 2004, p. 51; translated from the Portuguese)

In the other example, when discussing the mechanism of our auditory perception, Flusser refers to the Kantian discussion of “schematism,” which mediates our sensory perceptions via concepts, filtering the predominantly acoustic material so that it becomes intelligible: “The world is conceived as programmed noise. Therefore, sounds between the world and us must be organized. Hearing aid. The problem is that it is an invisible apparatus, whose purpose or origin we are unaware of. Sometimes it seems the apparatus is part of the world itself; at others, it seems it is part of ourselves, as if it were a consequence of our ear’s structure. Dear old Kant racked his brains to try to solve the problem, but he failed.” (Ficções Filosóficas, 1999, p. 64; translated from the Portuguese).

Original article by Rodrigo Duarte

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