“Textolatry,” the worship of texts, is a polemical term that squares off against idolatry, the worship of images: at issue is the battle between script and images, “of historical consciousness against magic” (Towards a Philosophy of Photography, 1984, p. 8). In the Middle Ages, the text-venerating Christians attacked the image-venerating pagans; later it was text-oriented Marxism against image-fixated fascism (“On Technical Images, Chance, Consciousness and the Individual,” in: “We Shall Survive in the Memory of Others,” 2010, p. 27). Texts and images are dialectically linked; the evolution from image to text is like the optical illusion of the ambiguous image: “Texts do not mean the world, but the images which they tear up. […] The purpose of texts is to explain images, to transcode image elements and ideas into concepts.Texts are me- ta-codes of images.” (Towards a Philosophy of Photography, p. 8). However, when this enlightening quality of texts turns into text-worship, images and texts become almost indistinguishable because they are overvalued ideologically. Further, linear scripts lose their dual function as both a mediator “between man and image” (ibid., p. 9) providing orientation and a medium of visualization when humans begin to live “as a function of [their] texts” (ibid.).
Vilém Flusser’s theory of text is always also a critique of the text and the image, based on a plea for transparency. Both texts and images are (abstractive) forms of imagination. Texts can render images “transparent to the real world again” (“Eine neue Einbildungskraft,” in: Bohn, Bildlichkeit, 1990, p. 119; translated from the German). When texts and images do a “somersault” (Abbild – Vorbild, 1990, p. 12; translated from the German) and are “turned upside down” (ibid., p. 14; translated from the German) to become textolatry or iconolatry, they lose their transparency and their power of imagination and visualization. Seen in this way, Flusser’s reflections are also variations on or alternatives to contemporary debates on the visual dimensions of writing and the tension between image and text. His thoughts also recall experiments in which image and text become connective instead of vying for dominance – such as the textual/pictorial bimedia art practices of Rolf Dieter Brinkmann, W.G. Sebald, and Alexander Kluge, the photographic images of Jeff Wall, or the comics of ChrisWare. In these examples, the trap of textolatry and iconolatry is avoided by fluid transitions from image to text and a proximity to the emblematic: intertextual and interpictorial relationships appear in dialogue – dialogue that fosters visualization, imagination, and transparency; in montages that are always also de-montages.