The mosaic is where Vilém Flusser locates the starting point for a medium in which instruments and figures of thought are able to achieve their full effect: an information bank intrinsically endowed with the function of mediating between the world and humanity, characterized just as much by the freezing of information in objects as by the contingent way in which that information can be deciphered and assimilated into life. Flusser stresses the necessity of deconstructing idolatry, ritual, and myth in order to break free of the programming effected by the information conveyed through images. In a mosaic, this can be done by removing stones. These can then be repositioned in accordance with an aesthetic, epistemological, and ethical intention, giving form to surfaces that represent the world.
With a quotation from the seventh of Rainer Maria Rilke’s Duino Elegies (German original 1923) – there was an undated German edition in his travelling library – Flusser highlights the significance of emptiness and the spaces between: “Every leaden return of the world has them, the disinherited, who no longer possess the bygone and do not yet possess the next.” (Rilke, quoted in: Flusser, “Filosofia da Línguagem,” in: Revista do Departamento de Humanidades, vol. 2, 1966, p. 202; translated from the German).
When the thought pattern in the mosaic turns to things beyond the picture plane, such as languages, values, or politics, a subversive momentum builds in the figure, feeding off the gaps or emptinesses between the individual mosaic tiles, regardless of what is directly visible. The dialogical potential in the gaps, in the emptiness and the spaces between, is something we can play with. Flusser takes advantage of this opportunity – for example, for a theory of translation (“Para umaTeoria daTradução,” in: Revista Bra- Brasileira de Filosofia, vol. 19, no. 73, 1969, pp. 20–21): He links Portuguese and painting to the question of a possible metalanguage into which both of them could be transferred, making reference, in that constellation, to the language of geometry. No hierarchies are created in a mosaic; rather, compositions and entry points take shape, to be discovered and reworked in a context of many and varied cognitive interests.
Are Flusser’s essays a written mosaic? A single text can grant entry to his thinking. The work of reconstruction from the archives, from the biography mirrored in them, and from emptiness – from lack of firm ground (Bodenlosigkeit) – remains a challenge.
Original article by Lothar Hartmann