The term pós-história, “post-history,” appears in Vilém Flusser’s work as early as 1966 in an article titled “Do Programa” [On the Program] for the Brazilian newspaper O Diário. Flusser’s concept of post-history is in essence a critique of the apparatus as the aesthetic, ethical, and epistemological model of present times.
His initial investigation of the concept and use of the term is a reference to Roderick Seidenberg’s Post-Historic Man (1950), Hendrik de Man’s Vermassung und Kulturverfall [Massification and Cultural Decay] (1951), and Arnold Gehlen’s Über kulturelle Kristallisation [On Cultural Crys- tallization] (1961). However, Flusser’s use of the term is a slight departure from these texts, and is more akin to a warning about the hidden dangers in cybernetic theory when applied to the socio-political sphere. The cybernetic shift from hierarchical, linear processes to integrated, horizontal ones may seem desirable to many contemporary theoreticians, but Flusser cautions against the hidden parallels he identifies between cybernetics and the eschatology of Hegelian and Marxian theories of history and post-history: a critique which is in fact prefigured in Friedrich Nietzsche’s Thus Spake Zarathustra (German original 1883–1891), as the concept of “the last man” (der letzte Mensch).
In his reflections on Gehlen’s essay and the concept of the crystallization of culture, where there are no more surprises, Flusser meshes it with cybernetics and therefore suggests that our times could be characterized by the term “program.” In suggesting this shift in worldview he then poses a provocative question: If I function within a predictable programmed reality, can I rebel? And how can I do it? But the answer is bleak: The essence of freedom is unpredictability; once co-opted and objectified by apparatuses and their programs, however, all that is left for us is a life of bored contentment within the nauseating technical paradise of a predictable eternal return of the same.
In 1983 Flusser published in Brazil a book of twenty-one essays titled Pós-História (published in English as Post-History, 2013), and in his reworking of the concept of post-history in this later period, he links it to a shift in code structures: from one-dimensional, linear, alphabetic writing to zero-dimensional, nonlinear, pixelated technical images. Post-history is therefore entwined in his oeuvre with the concepts apparatus, technical images, technical imagination, and zero-dimensionality.