For Vilém Flusser, human progress can be partially read as the construction of the faculty of imagination. We can imagine that at the beginning of human history, the hands follow the eyes since vision gives instructions. The interaction between hands and eyes progresses in order to surpass this primitive mode. The limitation of vision is that it can only (1) speculate from the surface but not from within (phenomenal); (2) maintain itself during a limited period of time (ephemeral); (3) give us a partial picture (subjective). The limits of vision demand supports; that is, when the hands – according to Flusser – “make and decipher images” (Imagination, n.d., p. 4). The emergence of primitive forms of writing introduced artificial images and reconstructed the faculty of imagination. History is a history of such making and deciphering of images: object – pictogram – alphabetical writing – technical images (digital). In this process, the images move towards their concreteness, and constantly reinscribe such making into imagination. As Flusser says, “one must step back from the objects and deeper into subjectivity, into ‘transcendence’” (ibid., p. 1).
We could say that for Flusser, images such as drawings, writings, and technical images constitute the condition of possibility for the third synthesis described by Immanuel Kant in his Critique of Pure Reason (German original 1781): recognition (along with apprehension, recollection). Vision needs an ideality as support which negates the above three limits. Contrary to Martin Heidegger’s emphasis on time in Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics (German original 1929), Flusser brings images back to Einbildungskraft, imagination. Imagination is not only a temporal process, but also a cognitive function that constantly and consciously integrates images other than those from vision into its operation. Viewing the potential of digital images in the 1980s, Flusser nevertheless showed his disappointment – since we have not yet learned (1) how to use our new imagination and (2) how to decipher technical images on the screen. This observation remains something to be examined today.
Original article by Yuk Hui