Translation is of pivotal importance in Vilém Flusser’s life and work: a philosophical concept, a critical and creative principle, and a metaphor for an existence without firm ground between languages, cultures, and disciplines. Translation is a special way of thinking, of writing, and of living. Flusser’s nomadic life between two continents was an existence “in translation.” He wrote nearly all his texts in two or more of the languages he wrote in – Portuguese, German, English, and French – and constantly translated and retranslated himself. In so doing, he was pursuing a variety of goals. Multiple self-translations allowed him to multiply his perspectives on a subject, since each leap into a new language also required the selection of a new, original standpoint. Translation can also be a way to test the coherence and consistency of a text. In the process of retranslation, the final version – which is, in effect, also the preliminary version – is rendered back into the language of the first text, which allows a further critical comparison.
The continuous process of rewriting by translating – the point of which, for Flusser, was not only the alterative factor but also the cumulative, both the rewriting and the rewriting – can be continued ad libitum. Just as there is no definitive, final version in Flusser’s understanding of translation, there is also no notion of an original version from which all translations are derived. Moreover, in the game of translation and retranslation, the relationship between two languages can be inverted at will. One can translate a French text into English and then back into French, or one can simply reverse the entire process. The concept of translation does away with clear hierarchies and the idea of a progressive linearity; their place is taken by the principle of reversibility. The line is bent into a circle. These are precisely the characteristics that make translation a concept that can be applied to the fields of philosophy and history as well.