Vilém Flusser was born in a city that was once considered a heterotopia of the magical. In Prague Castle district’s Golden Lane – also known as the Street of Alchemists, in Czech Zlatá ulicka – legend has it that there alchemists sought the philosopher’s stone under the supervision of the emperor in the sixteenth century. Four years before Flusser was born, Franz Kafka, who lies near Flusser in Prague’s Jewish cemetery, was drawn to work there in his sister’s house in the Street of Alchemists. But all the creative enchantment of those days was abruptly dispelled by the German occupiers, whose only aim was to do harm. Flusser ed Prague. His traveling library would later include magical works by Giordano Bruno and Jakob Böhme, ethnological works comparing the cultures of magic and the Enlightenment, and Carlo Mongardini’s work Il magico e il moderno [The Magical and the Modern] (1983).
Flusser was not a magical thinker in the traditional sense; his thinking was not prelogical or alogical. However, he did sometimes execute “multilogical” (in the words of Siegfried Zielinski) maneuvers, magic tricks, even “etymological finagling [Etymogeleien],” as his friend Jürgen Link called this in a letter (correspondence of May 25, 1987). Flusser’s public appearances were “happenings” (mystical-magical), not “events” (linear-processual). Which brings us to linear writing, which, as a medium, is primarily rational and postmagical in structure. Flusser’s writing, however, was “urged on by a daemon” (correspondence with David Flusser, March 5, 1959), though he also described excesses of rationality: “Some things in my environment make me uneasy.” (Dinge und Undinge, 1993, p. 7; translated from the German)
In contrast to writing, traditional images constitute a “magical way of being” (Medienkultur, 1997, p. 24; translated from the German); “[e]very image is is strongly magically loaded” (“Television Image and Political Space in the Light of the Romanian Revolution,” in: “We Shall Survive in the Memory of Others,” p. 17). Traditional images are part of the order of cyclical things (such as sowing and reaping). Magic, for Flusser, is the technology appropriate to this natural repetition. That was six thousand years ago; the invention of writing created the historical consciousness that now opposes images – in philosophical iconoclasm, beginning with Plato, but also in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Yet magical consciousness has not been outgrown; the “victory of texts over images – of science over magic – is […] far from what we might consider complete” (Medienkultur, p. 27; translated from the German).