Vilém Flusser contrasts an era of cultural change – in the view of an architect, the homeless future that is dawning, with its newly emerging mobility – with two extreme models of nomadic cultures, which he updates with contemporary verbal images: first, the monstrous, fascistoid, tapestry-hung tent of Genghis Khan, signifying power and world domination; and second, the unprepossessing tent of Jacob, whose thin walls are able to catch the wind, making it the simple tent’s cocreator and source of inspiration.
For the tent’s inhabitants, wind is transformed into spiritual energy (ruach, pneuma, spiritus). The tent becomes a medium, the wind an inspiring call. The tent’s inhabitants become hearers and respondents, taking responsibility for what they hear, for the message. What the two extreme tent images have in common is the permeability of their cloth walls, their potential to be put up and taken down quickly, and their portability, as opposed to the immobile stone walls of houses up to now.
The adoption of the Genghis Khan model on a global scale has already begun – for example, in the construction of gigantic tentlike hangars. But Flusser’s hopes rest on the continued existence of the much more unassuming model of Jacob, describing its inspirational, communicative power with the familiar Biblical words of the enraptured Gentile prophet: “How goodly are your tents, Jacob” (The Freedom of the Migrant, 2003, pp. 59, 64).
This tent model is found throughout human history: beginning with the nest-like treetop tents of prehumans (archaic) and continuing to the telematic society, in which material and immaterial cables are knotted into tentlike gathering places (utopian). Between the linking of the archaic and the utopian, the two “tent extremes” of Genghis Khan and Jacob stand out as stimulating, illuminating models (or verbal images) of the contemporary situation of cultural upheaval. Flusser says that with the help of the desert wind, Jacob’s tent conveys a “message that underpins our culture” (ibid., p. 64) and that calls out to be decoded.
Original article by Irmgard Zepf