User Tools

Site Tools


Letter (of the Alphabet)

Vilém Flusser’s thinking on media theory is structured along media caesuras and edits: caesuras, because every media innovation produces a techno-anthropological state, and edits, because every caesura reedits human reality on various planes. The letter with which the alphabet begins, is a special caesura for Flusser because it is the link between pretechnical images and technical – which for Flusser always means “programmed” – images, whose codification is initially achieved by means of line-like texts. However, before texts can produce meaning through arbitrary sequences of letters, there have to be letters. The letter reorders the world because at least its origins lie in the world of pretechnical images and scenes.

Flusser points out that the letters would originally have signified objects (alpha/aleph means ox, beta/beth means house, gamma/gimel means camel). In this sense, they are in the tradition of pictograms, ideograms, and hieroglyphs. Then they emancipated themselves from objects and signified “specific sounds of spoken languages” (Kommunikologie, 1996, p. 84; translated from the German). The auditory translation of experienced reality anchors the letter in the concrete world, but at the same time it emancipates it from it. A letter can represent more than one sound (for example, the “e” in the German noun Weg [way] is distinct from the “e” in the adjective weg [away]).

The letter is thus the most important element of culture; it points to direct experience while at the same time, by means of symbolism, for example, on the alphanumeric keyboard, it anticipates science and abstraction via numbers. The letter is the medium that is both a real-world code and an alphanumeric one (Does Writing Have a Future?, 2011, p. 23). The letter is thus also the supreme achievement of (physical) intelligence, whose linear order is replaced by artificial operations, that is, operations calculated by machines.

Original article by Oliver Fahle

You could leave a comment if you were logged in.
letter_alphabet.txt · Last modified: 2021/11/05 17:47 by