Vilém Flusser’s relatively few and apparently isolated writings on music appear to be significant in both content and position for his wider thought. His strong personal interest in music is demonstrated by the fact that he wrote jazz reviews in London in his early life (Wagnermeier and Röller, absolute Vilém Flusser, 2003, p. 29), as well as the correspondence with his daughter Dinah Flusser which testifies to Flusser’s musical tastes: According to Dinah Flusser, her father “enjoyed listening to baroque music and Indian ragas” but was “also interested in modern electronic music” (Dinah Flusser, 2011, quoted in: Goh, “Zeichen, Symbol, Symptom,” in: Zeitschrift für Semiotik, vol. 34, nos. 1–2, 2012, p. 127; translated from the German).
Many themes which occur in Flusser’s early writings on or mentioning music – Língua e Realidade [Language and Reality] (1963), A História do Diabo (1965; published in English as The History of the Devil, 2014), the lecture manuscripts “Na Musica” [On Music] and “Na Musica Moderna” [On Modern Music] (both 1965) – reoccur with shifted emphasis in his later German works on music, most notably in “Die Geste des Musikhörens” [The Gesture of Listening to Music] (in: Gesten, 1991) and “Kammermusik” (in: //Ins Universum der technischen Bilder//, 1985; English edition: “Chamber Music,” in: Into the Universe of Technical Images, 2011).
Flusser refers to music in its etymology as musiké techné, the art of the muses, as the Greek art “par excellence” (“Na Musica,” p. 1). Particularly present in earlier works is an idea of music as the articulation of pure thought, pure beauty, will (with reference to Friedrich Nietzsche and Arthur Schopenhauer), as well as reality (ibid., p. 6). His “map of languages” (Língua a Realidade, 2010, p. 216) shows a spectrum between “inauthentic silence” and “authentic silence” in both the visual arts and music. References to the musicality of languages in Bodenlos [No Firm Ground] (Bodenlos, 1992, p. 88) and in the unpublished manuscript Melodie der Sprachen [Melody of Languages] attest to a strong emphasis on both the musical dimension of language and the interlinking with its semantic content and cultural specificity. The fundamental relationship between music and mathematics is repeatedly emphasized with reference to Pythagoras. The act of listening to music as a “body position” (Körperstellung) and a form of “acoustic massage” is given the privileged place of overcoming the Hegelian “unhappy consciousness,” an “ecstatic gesture” of “absolute experience” which avoids the contradiction between subject and object and establishes a pure relation in the field of “mathesis universalis” (“Die Geste des Musikhörens,” pp. 201–202; translated from the German). Music also appears as a social model, both as a reflection of current cultural climate (“Na Musica Moderna,” p. 3) and as a metaphor for a future telematic society (“Chamber Music,” pp. 161–162) in which music and imagination (Einbildungskraft) are inseparable (ibid., p. 166).
Original article by Annie Goh