Vilém Flusser distinguishes between “traditional imagination” (alte Einbildungskraft or Imagination) and “new imagination” (neue Einbildungskraft, or simply Einbildungskraft). While “traditional imagination” describes the ability to abstract from our four-dimensional lived reality, “new imagination” refers to the potential to concretize something new from the zero-dimensional. Although both result in an image, they are opposed modes of visualization: The rst takes as its starting point sensory perception, the second rational understanding. While traditional imagination produces traditional images, new imagination produces technical images or alternative realities. These two concepts can only be understood as complementary opposites. Flusser sometimes uses “traditional imagination” just to explain what is new about new imagination. So what happens in traditional imagining? First, one must distinguish between oneself and one’s surroundings; one must become a subject in a world that appears before one as an object. In becoming a subject, one alienates oneself from one’s natural environment. In the desire to gain perspective and orient oneself in the world, one loses the world; one has tasted of the tree of knowledge and must leave Paradise forever. What to do in such a predicament? Flusser suggests “intersubjectivization” – that is, bringing one’s fellow humans into the dilemma. To that end, the things one sees must be captured on some material substrate – a cave wall, a piece of paper, a canvas – and coded in such a way that others can decipher it with a minimum of ambiguity. However, one cannot intelligibly code what one has subjectively discerned without taking a distanced view of it: thus one is further alienated, this time from oneself.
On the one hand, the coded representation of our subjective envisionings helps us orient ourselves in a world grown alien. On the other, this representation becomes increasingly significant, sliding itself in front of the world like a screen: although representation is meant to aid communication, it enlarges the gulf of alienation between humans and the reality perceived by their senses. Here Flusser speaks of the dialectic of all mediation, meaning that every medium possesses both communicative and distancing qualities. And so the spiral of alienation continues to turn – at least until new imagination frees us, perhaps, from this curse we have placed upon ourselves.