Flusser and Bec 2012

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Flusser, Vilem and Louis Bec. Vampyroteuthis Infernalis. Trans. by Valentine A. Pakis. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2012.


"We are pieces of the same game" (6) -- "We and the vampyroteuthis harbor some of the same deeply ingrained memories, and we are therefore able to recognize in it something of ourselves." (6)

earthworms; bees, ants, distributed colony animals as highest form; vampyroteuthis turned away from this track

comprehending "the basic structure of vampyroteuthic Dasein" (9)

"Certain aspects of human Dasein are evident in this structure, and certain others appear in it utterly distorted. Perhaps then a game can be built out of distorting mirrors that would enable us to recognize the basic structure, distorted and from afar, of our own Dasein. By playing a 'reflective' game of this sort, we should hope to gain a new perspective of ourselves that, though distanced, is not 'transcendent.' It will not be transcendent, that is, because its standpoint will differ from that of science, which would adopt an 'objective' position by floating above the world and looking down upon mankind. On the contrary, our analysis of humans will be made from the perspective of the vampyroteuthis, which coexists with us in the world. It is our co-being (Mit-Sein). What will be presented here is, accordingly, not a scientific treatise but a fable. The human and its vertebrate Dasein are to be criticiezd from the perspective of a mollusk. Like most fables, this one is ostensibly concerned with animals. De te fabular narratur." (9-10)


disgust -- hierarchy of disgust reflects the nature of life (12)

mollusks; "They are ek-centric animals whose bodies incline toward coiling both as a whole and in all their details. Their elan vital, this self-winding achieves dizzying heights in cephalopods, whose bodies coil around themselves to such an extent that head fuses with foot and mouth devours tail." (14)

"Cybernetically speaking, the nervous system of mollusks represents the highest organization of life." (14)

man is in the world -- how can he speak about it?

"Cephalopods are interesting insofar as we recognize ourselives in them, insofar as they are a part of the same stream of life that sweeps us away as well. And science as a whole is interesting insofar as it is an attempt to orient ourselves in the world. It is a mammalian function or, to be mroe precise, a human function much like digestion. The most 'objective' science becomes, the more inhuman. It does not become 'pure' but rather a mania, a distraction away from ourselves. The time has come for us to set aside scientific objectivity in favor of new methods of inquiry. This can be done without, necessarily, having to disclaim the 'objective' knowledge that has already been gained." (17)
"The merging of the head and foot, to repeat, brought about a ninety-degree shift in the symmetrical axis, so that what was once ahead is now below, and what was once behind is now above. The direction of this shift is therefore opposite to that which our own bodies undertook when, leaving the treetops behind for the tundra, we began to walk upright. Our directional shift led to the freeing of our hands and to the opening of our eyes to the horizons. As for cephalopods, their sensory and tactile organs migrated downward. Cephalopods are, then, our antipodes: elevated intelligent abdomens, unelevated brains. Their brain, however, is more complex than ours." (18)

clouds of ink that can "be shaped into sculptures by the 'arms' of the animal" (19); "galdns on the surface of the skin that emit light and others that allow the animal to change color. In short, the digestive system serves purposes far beyond digestion." (19)

"Thus the whole animal amounts to a centripetal and enclosed whirlpool, a vacuum within its environment that is released as a jet of water to propel it backward. Cephalopods are spiral vortices, and their very breath enhances their mobility." (19)
"If only we could grasp the world with a penis." (20)
"These discolorations are not only reactions to outside stimuli but also expressions of what is taking place within the body, and the meaning of these chromatic expressions is understood by others. The discoloration of the skin is an intraspecific code: Cephalopods 'speak' by changing the color of their skin. Moreover, gelatinous secretions allow the sender of these chromatic messages to become 'invisible' to their receiver, a method of communication that calls to mind aspects of our current media." (21)
"Celphalopods, in short, are screw-like animals that wind themselves around a spiral axis, and several evolutionary 'recapitulations' support this assessment. This is not their essence,' however. Rather, they are animals inclined to coil themselves up only to burst out of their spirality; they are springs that want to e straight lines. This tendency lends them a deflectionary dynamism -- in engineering terms -- that manifests itself as violence and bloodlust. With every step of its evolution, the goal of which has been to straighten out, its focus has shifted further toward the ocean floor and further toward the head, a head that, among higher species, accommodates an unusually complex upper brain." (21)
"For them, coitus is a drama that consists of several acts. These acts involve, among other things, choreographed dances, light shows, chemical orchestrations, and exhibitions of color." (22)
"The animals are predisposed to suicide and cannibalism. If captive in aquaria, they will devour their own tentacles, and they will do so despite being surrounded by crabs and other food. They can live to be eighty years old." (23)
"The vampyroteuthis has forsaken the protection of a shell and can hold itself upright thanks only to the pressuer at the bottom of the sea. The price that humans had to pay is the protection bestowed by the ground, by the floor; its price is banishment into the abyss, to be pressed against the deepest floor of all. We are estranged from the earth, and it from the sky. Analogous alienations." (23)
"We are both banished from much of life's domain: it into the abyss, we onto the surfaces of the continents. We have both lost our original home, the beach, and we both live in constrained situations. We 'ek-sist. As two exposed and threatened pseudopods of life, we are both forced to think -- it as a voracious belly, we as something else. But as what? Perhaps this is for it to answer." (25)
"Both of us resist our exile, our 'constraints,' and yet we are both bilateria. When we oppose something, we do so dialectically: We deny one side from the position of the other. in that we deny our biological condition from opposed sides, we deny one another, and therein lies our correspondence. we encounter one another as mirrors of that which we have denied." (26)

The Vampyroteuthic World

"Organisms are accumulations of suppressed drives, and psychology is the analysis of organisms. This is an extraordinarily rich idea." (27)
"An organism is a stratified memory constructed of superimposed suppressions, somewhat like geological formations. An analysis of these layers -- think of a tree trunk and its rings -- can yield a reconstruction of the phylogenesis and ontogenesis of an organism. The surface layers that envelop an organism accumulate the external and internal influences that have suppressed the organism over the course of tis life, and these layers form what is called character armor. Among humans, these influences are largely cultural and they are sublimated into our musculature. What is known as 'personality' is therefore a matter of muscle creamping and individual posture. The more tense the cramp, the stronger the personality, and the release of a cramp -- be it coincidental or by means of a deliberate massage ('individual psychoanalysis') -- can thus lead to the release and dissolution of one's personality." (27-8)
"An organism, then, is a phenotypic manifestation of these genotypic suppressions. It is a bomb, laden with potential energy, in which the sum of pressures, accumulated over the course of one life and over the course of the entire development of life, has been stored. An organism is a ball of bioenergetic force that explodes when the cramp -- which is life itself -- is released. Reich refers to this explosion as 'orgasm' and to the energy in question as 'orgone'." (28)
"It represents to us an inaccessible and repugnant model and we represent, to it, a model that is broken and obsolete." (30)
"Both the environment and the organism are abstract extrapolations from the actuality of their entwined relations. An organism mirrors its environment; an environment mirros its organisms; and if the arena of their relations is altered in some way, neither the environment nor the organism will be left unchanged." (31)
"Quantitatively and qualitatively, then, the ocean is the seat of life on earth." (32)
"Earth is an aqueous and flowing planet, the only one in the solar system, and it is for this reason that is is able to support life." (33)
"Essentially, life can be regarded as drops of specialized seawater that eventually dissipate into unspecialized seawater." (33)
"The eternal night reverberates with an incessant noise that would be deafening to us." (34)

ocean is 3-dimensional, "without surfaces" (34)

"To converse with the vampyroteuthis is to plunge into the uncustomary, and it is precisely into the uncustomary that one must dive in order to apprehend anything of the customary. Custom is a shroud that conceals everything. Not without first encountering the uncustomary will we be able to recognize what is customary and, more importantly, to change it. Such is the impulse behind our conversation with the vampyroteuthis." (35-6)
"Reality is neither the organism nor the environment, neither the subject nor the object, neither the ego nor the nonego, but rather the concurrennce of both. It is absurd to envisage an objectless subject or a subjectless object, a world without me and a me without the world. Da-Sein means 'being in the world. If things were to change, it would not be because I have changed myself or because the world has changed itself but quite the contrary: the concrete 'ego-world' relationship has changed, and this change has revealed itself phenomenally as changes both within myself and in the world outside. This will have to be kept in mind if we want to come closer to vampyroteuthic Dasein." (36)
"The evolutionary act of walking upright, that is, could be responsible not only for our epistemology but also for our ethics and aesthetics." (37)

bipedal walking, swinging arms, helps divide time into three regions: the present we bump against as we walk; the past we've passed by; the future we're heading toward

"The vampyroteuthis that we encounter is not the vampyroteuthic Dasein but rather an object to our eyes and hands. And yet we are able to recognize in this object, at least to some degree, something of our own Dasein. Insofar as we recognize ourselves -- and therefore also what is not ourselves -- we will be able to reconstruct its Dasein and bein to see with its eyes and grasp with its tentacles. This attempt to cross from our world into its is, admittedly, a 'metaphorical' enterprise, but it is not 'transcendental.' We are not attempting to vault out of the world but to relocate into another's. Our concern is not with a 'theory' but with a 'fable,' with leaving the real world for a fabulous one." (38)
"The world that humans comprehend is firm (like the branches that we had originally held). We have to 'undergo' it -- perambulate it -- in order to grasp it, for the ten fingers of our 'grasping' hands are the limbs of a bygone locomotive organ. the vampyroteuthis, on the contrary, takes hold of the world with eight tentacles, surrounding its mouth, that originally served to direct streams of food toward the digestive tract. The world grasped by the vampyroteuthis is a fluid, centripetal whirlpool. It takes hold of it in order to discern its flowing particularities. Its tentacles, analogous to our hands, are digestive organs. Whereas our method of comprehension is active -- we perambulate a static and established world -- its method is passive and impassioned: it takes in a world that is rushing past it. We comprehend what we happen upon, and it comprehends what happens upon it. Whereas we have 'problems,' things in our way. it has 'impressions.' Its method of comprehension is impressionistic." (39)
"If 'culture' is to be understood as the manipulation of the world on the part of a subject, then 'culture' is a predetermined aspect of both the vampyroteuthic and the human evolutionary agenda. Yet these two cultures are incomparable. For us, objects are problems -- obstacles -- that we handle simply to move out of our way. Culture is therefore, for us, an activity aimed against stationary objects, a deliverance from established things (from natural laws). For the vampyroteuthis, on the other hand ,objects are free-floating entities in a current of water that happen to tumble upon it. It sucks them in to incorporate them. Culture is therefore, for it, an act of discriminating between digestible entities, that is, a critique of impressions. Culture is not, for it, an undertaking against the world but rather a discriminating and critical injection of the world into the bosom of the subject." (39)
"We humans, therefore, are born Platonists who can contrive of our Kant only after a great deal of critical thinking. We instinctively presuppose that there are realities behind appearances and it is only with a critique of pure reason that we come to realize the inaccessibility of such realities. The vampyroteuthis is a born Kantian whose Plato comes later." (40)
"Rather, the vampyroteuthis became an impassioned subject whose objective antipode is actively rushing toward it to be passionately enjoyed. As the vampyroteuthis became more and more volatile -- demonic, even -- its molluscal passivity was not converted into activity but rather into passion. The objective world did not become, for it, a sphere of activity but one of experience." (41)
"When it soars, it does not do so from a surface into space, as we do, but rather it shoots into volume. Its soaring is not a breakthrough from a plane into the third dimension, as ours is. It bores through watery volumes like a screw." (42)
"For it, space is not a lethargic and passive expanse supported by a Cartesian endoskeleton. It is rather a realm of coiled tension, laden with energy, that has been banished from its snail shell. Its geometry therefore corresponds to what we call dynamics. According to its thinking, for instance, the shortest distance between two points is not a straight line but a coil spring that, when fully compressed, brings two points together. Where the world is constituted in such a way -- as a dynamic conglomerate -- there can be no triangles. Theory, in the sense of the Platonic contemplation of eternal forms, is unimaginable to it. Assailing it from all around, the world astonishes the vampyroteuthis again and again by the mutability and plasticity of its impressions. In short, vampyroteuthic theory is not contemplative but orgasmic -- not philosophical tranquility but philosophical frenzy." (42)

Vampyroteuthic Culture

"If we -- moentarily leaving aside the soul -- were to replace the term 'reflection' with 'philosophizing,' then we would have to concede that, no less than we could, the vampyroteuthis could not survive without philosophy." (46)
"To reflect as a human, in the end, is to wield a knife, and the stone knives of the Paleolithic era -- the earliest human instruments -- indicate when it was that we began to reflect." (47)
"Since we can no longera pprehend model-less phenomena, we therefore brandish the scalpel of reason simply to tailor phenomena to our models. Human reflection, in other words, is the act of constricting the feedback loop between models and phenomena." (47)

logic of sex governs syntax of vampyroteuthis language (48)

"If, while philosophizing, the vampyroteuthis is able to abstract these sexual rules from phenomena -- if it manages ot practice pure science -- ten it will behold the structure of pure sex. This theoretical insight causes it to climax." (48)

vampyroteuthis dialogue -- human history can only be comprehended through (in)formed objects; "is not properly intersubjective" (50)

"At the heart of [vampyroteuthic conception of] this history lies a process of storing intersubjectively communicated information, and therefore the central question concerns the intersubjective media by which information is transmitted. These media are glands: vampyroteuthic history is a glndular history, a history of secretions." (50-51)
"This gland is an empistemological organ; it converts mental impressions into processed bits of data that can be communicated later on." (51)

"ephemerality of the sepia cloud" (52)

"The underlying purpose of all vampyroteuthic communication is to deceive the other in order to devour it. Its is a culture of deceit, pretense, and falsehood. Broadly speaking, one could even call it a culture of art." (52-3)
"The vampyroteuthis is a mythomaniacal deceiver. For it, the opposite of truth is not falsehood but dishonesty. Whereas we philosophize in order to proceed from falsehood to truth, it philosophizes in order to lie ever more completely. As it seems, these two philosophical conventions are worlds apart." (53)

Dasein of vampyroteuthis: orgasm; natural state of human is rather hatred; "By overcoming its animality, therefore, the vampyroteuthis learns to hate; by overcoming ours, we learn to love." (59)

"In this regard we should not forget that the vampyroteuthis stands on its head: its hell isour heaven, its heaven our hell. For us, its murderous and suicidal anarchy would be an inferna society, and yet, to it, such anarchy represents an inaccessible heaven of freedom. Loving and socialist collaborations and cohabitations represents, to us, an inaccessible and heavenly Utopia, a messianic state of being, to it nothing more than a hellish anthill." (59-60)
"The vampyroteuthis is the reverse side of our Geist, and if we could encounter both sides simuiltaneously, the question of heaven and hell, of good and evil, would be no more." (60)

memory is the problem of art: how to overcome mortality?

humans do so by making objects

"From the perspective of the vampyroteuthis, all of this has the look of a laughable error. How foolish can humans be to entrust their acquired information to lifeless objects such as paper or stone? It is well known, after all, that these objects re subject to the second law of thermodynamics, that they will decay and necessarily be forgotten. In the vampyroteuthic abyss, where all is strewn with sedimentation and bathed in fluidity, the unreliable impermanence of lifeless objects is far more obious than it is on the relatively dead surfaces of the continents, where sun-bleached bones can endure for millennia. And yet the laughable error that is human art should ot simply be laughed at -- assuming the vampyroetuthis is capable of laughter -- but scrutinized as well." (61-2)
"IT is not the case that we first experience or think something and, subsequently, scour the vicinity for an object with which to record it. Rather, it is already as sculptors, filmmakers, authors -- as artists -- that we begin to experience and think. Material, lifeless objects (stones, bones, letters, numbers, musical notes) shape all of human experience and thought." (62)
"The result of this is a work ethic that threatens (sic!) to turn objects not into communicative media but into the opposite, namely, barriers that restrict human communication. The creation of communicative barriers is, in the end, the laughable error upon which all of human art is based. Thanks to the perspective of the vampyroteuthis, it has finally come to our attention." (6+3)

its art i sex -- "whereas we have to struggle against the stubbornness of our materials, it has to struggle against the stubbornness of its fellow vampyroteuthes. Just as our artists carve marble, vampyroteuthic artists carve the brains of their audience. Their art is not objective but intersubjective: it is not in artifacts but in the memories of others that it hopes to become immortal." (63-4)

"Having lost faith in material objects as artificial memories, we have begun to fashion new material communication. These new communicative media may not be bioluminescent organs, but they are similarly electromagnetic. A vampyroteuthis revolution is underway." (65)
"Modern industrial technology did not entail -- as did premodern art -- the impression of information upon objects by artists; rather, it entailed the processing of potential information by engineers, who designed tools and machines, and then the impression of this information upon objects by these very tools and machines." (66)
"By making this shift away from objects, humans became more vampyroeuthic, and the Information Age began to dawn." (66)
"Te vampyroteuthis is a mollusk of such complexity taht it managed to appropriate, by developing a skull, an evolutionary strategy of vertebrtes. We are vertebrtes of such complexity that we managed to appropriate, by developing an immaterial art, an evolutionary strategy of mollusks. As our interest in objects began to wane, we created media that have enabled us to rape human brains, forcing them to store immaterial information. We have bult chromatophores of our own -- televisions, videos, and computer monitors that display synthetic images -- with whose help broadcasters of information can mendaciously seduce their audiences. In time, this communicative strategy will surely come to be known as 'art' (assuming that the term will not have lost its currency)." (67)
"We are becoming increasingly vampyroteuthic." (67)

Its Emergence

"Down below, all superficial categories converge and intertwine to the extent that it seems pointless to insist upon clear disciplinary boundaries. Sooner or later -- alone or with others -- each of these expeditions will encounter the vampyroteuthis, for its habitat is not only the depths of something like the South China Sea but also, and perhaps even more so, the depths within ourselves. These two depths, in other words, can be distinguished from one another only when regarded superficially." (69)
"Thus the world, into which my existence has been cast, has the character of a mirror. Everything in the world has an opposite side, dependent on one's vantage point, and this bilateral symmetry can itself be perceived from different points of view. It can be understood, for instance, by the fact that we are bilateria, reatures organized according to a longitudinal axis, or by the fact that organisms mirror their environments and environments their organisms. Either way, the reflective nature of the world -- its 'yes/no' structure -- is irrefutable." (70)
"the vampyroteuthis is discovered in antipodes, at the point where submergences into the deep become emergences from it." (70)
"Whenever we submerge toward it, with the hope of releasing its pressure, we do so as it attempts to suck us into itself, our diving bells and other cautionary measures notwithstanding. Whenever we attempt to humanize it, we do so as it attempts to vampyroteuthize us. Whenever theologians raise the diabolical to the level of the divine, or cyberneticians raise automated feedback to the level of unanimous verdicts, or logicians raise mechanical symbols to the level of truth tables, or Freudians raise repression to the level of consciousness -- they each do so as the vampyroteuthis endeavors by means of the Nazis or a thermonuclear device, to sink us into its abyss. By attempting to liberate it from its pressure, we will be crushed." (71)
"In this light, we should be somewhat wary of those who condemn surfaces in their pursuit of the depths. Though they allege to be seeking what is human in the vampyroteuthis, it is more likely that they will discover what is vampyroteuthic in themselves." (71-2)