User Tools

Site Tools



The speculum is Vilém Flusser’s model for translation. The repeated mirroring of a language in foreign languages, which he reflects on in his philosophy of language as “illusion that overcomes illusions” (“Minkoffs Spiegel,” in: Lob der Oberflächlichkeit, 1993, p. 227; translated from the German), is only available as a three-pack: a philosophical instrument, in which all manner of philosophical systems reflect and speculate; a political instrument, in which the self recognizes itself in the other; and an optical instrument, which reflects (on) reality in a hall of mirrors. It is a surface that casts back upon the human gaze a medium that instantly takes the viewer out of him- or herself; alienation, “[t]he delusional, illusory […] is in its nature” (ibid.; translated from the German).

At the focal point lies the turning of the mirror, a critique of language as knowledge gained, the result of re- and back-translation into original circumstances or languages through an act of mirroring. Flusser’s own experience as a man without a homeland, forced to reinvent himself in a foreign frame and language, reemerges in the etymological roots of “reflection,” or, in Portuguese, reflexão, both from the Latin reflectere: “to bend or turn back.” His phrase “Everyone who reflects is interested in the mirror” (“Do Espelho,” in: Estado de São Paulo, no. 489, August 6, 1966, p. 4; Do Espelho, 1966, p. 1; translated from the Portuguese) points to the poetic origins of thought ex nihilo, projected out of nothing. Silver nitrate, without which there can be no mirror image, is Flusser’s synonym for poetry since nothingness lurks behind the glass as well.

The mirror itself is an invitation to reflect by changing one’s standpoint; it transposes the sides of the same vista that it obstructs for any viewer standing behind it. Flusser’s preferred mirror model, loosely adapted from Ludwig Wittgenstein, is two mirrors hanging opposite one another in an empty room. Flusser sees video as a technological mirror and repeatedly describes it as a typically philosophical instrument: Unlike normal mirrors, it has a modifiable memory, does not transpose right and left, and allows one to view oneself from the standpoint of another.

That the mirror is a profoundly anthropological medium whose origin lies in the gaze of the other becomes clear when the gaze meets the black, the salty film of tears in front of the eye’s black fundus, which separates nothingness from the abyss. In the pupil of the other, one encounters one’s little puppet (from the Latin pupilla, little doll), one’s own reflection in miniature. The mirror model is embedded in this reciprocal reflection of the one in the body of the other that turns both into learners – into pupils.

Original article by Tom Fecht

You could leave a comment if you were logged in.
mirror.txt · Last modified: 2021/11/05 17:47 (external edit)