Prague, a city whose genius loci springs from its medieval traditions of magicians and alchemists, and its multicultural Czech-German-Jewish atmosphere of the early twentieth century, is intimately connected with Vilém Flusser: he was born there and it is his final resting place. Flusser was born in 1920 into a Prague family of Jewish intellectuals. In 1939, shortly after the country was occupied by the Nazis, Flusser sensed the approaching danger and left Prague and his family, relinquishing his social position and a promising career. None of his immediate family members survived the war, and the contact with his home city was severed for decades. Flusser’s professional homecoming began in June 1991 with the writing of a letter, which he sent to the Czech social-cultural magazine Revue PROSTOR (“Návrat domů,” in: Revue PROSTOR, no. 16, 1991, pp. 167–168). He described it as “knocking on the door of home” – the knock of someone who may still have had the key in his pocket, but the lock had been replaced in the meantime. This person stands in front of the door, “hoping that someone would open it for him.” The letter was followed by further publications in Czech journals and invitations to lecture. On November 27, 1991, one day after his lecture at the Goethe-Institut in Prague, the philosopher died in a car accident. Two days later he was buried in the New Jewish Cemetery in Prague.
Flusser spoke of his deep ties to Prague, his lost home, in his philosophical biography Bodenlos [No Firm Ground] (1992). He had to turn the rootlessness (and absurdity) of his life into an advantage to survive the “roots amputation.” He transformed his experience creatively into concepts of nomadism, human freedom (freedom from something versus freedom to do something), and aesthetic judgment (habit as an aesthetic criterion). His experience also intensified Flusser’s “existential attitude” to the world (to settle in homelessness). His writings acquired the urgency and intensity of a testimony. Flusser was able to transform mere descriptions of his life history into allegorical interpretations and even human destiny’s universal recognition (from “I am a Prague jew” to “I am a human”). Thus, the tragedy of the car accident near Flusser’s hometown should be interpreted in terms of his writings, within the tension between chance and faith, as every human’s life story ends by returning home.
Original article by Jana Horáková