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State of Affairs

Vilém Flusser’s use of the word Sachverhalt, “state of affairs,” is inspired by his intensive study of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1921-1922). Like Wittgenstein, Flusser at first uses the term interchangeably with its synonym Sachlage, and associates both with physical reality as a “concrete state of affairs” (Medienkultur, 1997, p. 25; translated from the German). Only as scenes on the screen are they visible: “An image is a surface […]. It ‘synchronizes’ the state of affairs it signifies as scene.” (ibid., p. 24; translated from the German) Imagination is thus “the ability to reduce the world of states of affairs to scenes” (ibid.; translated from the German).

The glossary in Flusser’s book on photography is more precise, defining Sachverhalt (translated there as “situation”) as “a configuration where it is the relation between the elements, and not the elements themselves, which has meaning” (Towards a Philosophy of Photography, 1984, p. 61). This places the accent on the obstinacy of the image. Instead of following representational relationships, the image itself is perpetually producing intrapictorial connections: “Images don’t show matter; they show what matters.” (Into the Universe of Technical Images,2011,p.11) Thissyn- optic quality has a heuristic effect, since the images “still show relationships among things that no one would otherwise suspect” (ibid.). Wittgenstein wrote about representational form in similar terms: “The fact that the elements of a picture are related to one another in a determinate way represents that things are related to one another in the same way.” (Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, 2014, p. 10).

Flusser calls “[s]ymbols that are linked to content […] codes” (Into the Universe of Technical Images, p. 12). The term calls attention to a media specificity that applies equally to traditional and technical images, and that partly negates the difference between their respective ways of imagining: imagination (Imagination) and new imagination (Einbildungskraft). Images are not windows; they are “surfaces that translate everything into states of things” (Towards a Philosophy of Photography, p. 16). Here Flusser names an effect of two-dimensionality that enables the production of the new by means of relationships between things on a surface: “The act of photography […] is a hunt for new states of things […] for the improbable, for information” (ibid., p. 39); “new, informative states of things” (ibid., p. 59) are the result of a genuinely pictorial synoptics that constantly eludes describability.

Original article by Ulrich Richtmeyer

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state_affairs.txt · Last modified: 2021/11/05 17:47 (external edit)