Flusser 2013

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Flusser, Vilem. Post-History. Translated by Rodrigo Maltez Novaes. Minneapolis: Univocal, 2013.

The Ground We Tread

"Auschwitz is not a violation of Western models of behavior, it is, on the contrary, the result of the application of such models. Our culture allowed its mystifyin mask to fall at Auschwitz and revealed its real face. The fact of a monster that objectifies man." (7)
"Those who seek to reject their own culture (as Nietzsche did in rejecting Judeo-Christianity), fall victim to madness." (7)
"There is no exit: we are condemned to us our models and to serve such models, even after they have been unmasked, if we wish to continue living. They only alternative would be to commit suicide. That is: we must continue our economic, political, scientific, artistic, philosophic activities despite Auschwitz. We must continue progressing despite everything." (7-8)
"The advantage (if this is an appropriate term) that Auschwitz offers us, is to give us a concrete example of the West's tendency toward the appartus. For the first time in our history it is possible for us to experience oncretely the utopia inherent in our culture. For the first time in our history we have the experience that utopia, no matter in what form, toward which we progress, is the extermination camp." (8)
"In a final analysis such appartus function, all of them, toward the annihilation of all their functionaries, including their programmers. Exactly because they objectify and dehumanize man." (9)
"Thus Western culture reveals itself as a project that seeks to transform itself into an apparatus. What characterizes the West is its capacity for an objectifying transcendence. Such transcendence allows for the transformation of all phenomena, including the human phenomenon, into an object of knowledge and manipulation. The space for such transcendence opened up thanks to Judeo-Christianity and resulted, in the course of our history, in science, technique, and recently in Auschwitz. The ultimate objectification of the Jews into ashes is the ultiate vistory of the spirit of the West." (9)

Our Sky

Our Program

"What characterizes programs is the fact that they are systems in which chance becomes necessity. They are games in which every virtuality, even the least probable, will be realized of necessity if the game is played for a sufficiently long time." (22)
"What seems to be a purpose, and what seems to be a cause are, in fact, only naively interpreted chance occurences." (23)
"In effect, programs seem like purposes if looked at anthropomorphically and they seem like causes if looked at mechanistically. Thus, from a programmatic perspective, finalistic thought is revealed to be an ideology that anthropomorphizes and causal thought an ideology that objectifies. The programmatic perspective seeks to put these ideologies 'within parentheses' and to accept chance as the concrete given structure that it is. The Programmatic perspective is the point of view of the absurd." (23)
"If society's behavior is progressively experienced and interpreted as absurdly programmed by programs without aim or purpose, the problem of freedom, which is the problem of politics, becomes inconceivable. From a programmatic perspective, politics, and therefore history, comes to an end." (24)
"The programmatic image absorbs both preceding images and transforms them. The dificulty with the programmatic image is precisely this 'imperialism': it does not allow any other image to stand alongside it." (24)
"If we continue to think politically, finalistically, if we continue to seek for purposes behind the programs that govern us, we will fall fatal victims to this absurd programming, which precisely predicts just such attempts at 'demythologizing' among its virtualities." (25)
"Apparatus always function increasingly independenly from their programmer's intentions." (25)
"Human programming is itself increasingly programmed by apparatus." (25)
"Apparatus incorporate both programmers and critics progresively. Freedom will die if we continue to think politically and to act according to such thinking." (26)
"In sum: what we must learn is to accept the absurd, if we wish to emancipate ourselves from functionalism. Freedom is conceivable only as an absurd game with apparatus, as a game with programs. It is conceivable only after we have accepted politics and human existence in general to be an absurd game. Whether we continue to be 'men' or become robots depends on how fast we learn to play: we can become players of the game or pieces in it." (26)

Our Work

"The functionary receives symbols, stores symbols, produces symbols and emits symbols. He does it partially via manual methods and partially via cybernetic apparatus ofthe type 'word processors.' His praxis happens within a context referred to as 'the codified world.'" (29)
"For the functionary, the codified world is reality tout court, beacuse it is within it that his career and his life occur. The way in which he manipulates the symbols decides if the apparatus will employ him, if he advances and how he will retire." (31)


  • "The apparent dominant class shall be the prorammers, although an attentive analysis will also reveal that they too are specialized functionaries. The apparatus will form the real dominant class. It will be an inhuman society." (32)
"The programmatic ontology leads to the invention of computers and intelligent instruments, and to the transformation of society into a cybernetic system composed of functionaries and apparatus. For programmers, man is a functionary to be programmed to live in a symbolic context. Man is a being that is to be symbolized, for example, enumerated. Men are so cyphers to be inserted into several formal games, for example statistics or perforated cards." (33)
"What is urgent is to rethink the meaning of the term theory in this new context." (33)
"For the agrarian society, 'theory' was the vision of immutable forms. For the industrial society, 'theory' was the elaboration of ever-new models. In the post-industrial society, 'theory' will very probably be a game strategy." (33-4)

Our Knowledge

"Thus finalistic explanations represent an interruption in the flux of the discourse. And n this sense they are not 'good questions.'" (36)

formal replacing causal xplanations, but even they "are entirely unsatisfactory because they do not reach what interests us existentially" (37)

"scientific knowledge blocks knowledge of any other type. As it translates imperative and optative propositions into epistemological propositions, science reveals itself, within the translated propositions, to be mae up of defective propositions." (39)
"Thus science demonstrates that all evaluative knowledge is pseudo-knowledgE: ideology. Andas it unmasks every extrascientific knowledge to be ideological knowledge, science places itself as the only authority on matters of knowledge today." (39)
"Hence, here is the current situation of knowledge: we know incomparably more than previous generations. The universe of the discourse of science amplifies itself and grows deeper. Our questions are becoming ever more fertile, and they always provoke new questions. The answers that we are getting from such questions are becoming ever less satisfactory, and the universe is becoming ever more exempt of values and causes. Every extrascientific knowlege is unmasked as ideological and science emancipates us from such ideologies. And our existential questions are revealed to be 'bad questions.' There is no more room for wisdom, knowledge progresses absurdly." (41)
"Scientific knowledge has become absurd." (41)
"Scientific 'observations' no longer seek to give meaning to symbol, on the contrary, they seek to symbolize the concrete. Today's science is therefore as typical of a post-industrial society as the Newtonian was for the industrial one and the Aristotelian was for the agrarian one. Science as become a game for programmers and a field of functionalism. Science has become an apparatus." (42)
"And at bottom, that is what we know today: that we can know everything except that which interests us." (42)

Our Health

"solitude of knowledge: a knowledge that is neither recognized nor rcognizable. Thus, if knowledge is not recognized dialogically, if it is not the result of dialogue, and if it does not aim toward the Other, it becomes absurd. As science objectifies man and society, the knowledge that it produces becomes absurd." (47)

Our Communication

"That is: man is a historical being. In other terms: man produces, stores, and transmits new information. He increases the sum of available information. That is what history is. This contradicts the second principle of thermodynamics, which affirms the progresive decrease of the sum of all information within a closed system (the world). History, as a dam for new information, is antinatural." (52)
"Human society reveals itself thus as a communicative fabric in which such discourses and dialogues are dynamically integrated." (52)

"always-precarious balance between dialogue and discourse" (53)

dialogues: circular, networked, theatric, pyramidal, trees, amphitheatric

"predominance of discourses over dialogues" (53)

"The solitude within the mass is a consequence of our growing difficulty to enter into dialogic communication with others. Under the daily bombardment of extremely well distributed discourses we all dispose of the same information, and every dialogic exchange of information is becoming redundant. Our feeling of loneliness is due to our growing incapacity to elaborate new information in dialogue with others. Under the domain of discourses, the social fabric of the West decomposes itself. It urges us, therefore, to analyze such discourses." (53)
"The mass communication apparatus are blackboxes that transcode the messages from the trees of science, of technique, of art, of political science, into extremely simple and poor codes. Thus transcoded, the messages are irradiated toward a space and whoever floats within such a space, if synchroized, tuned and programmed for such, will receive the irradiated messages. 'Mass culture' is the result of this method of discursive communication. The transcoding and irradiation of messages results in the transformation of the original structure: the trees work linearly, the media, multidimensionally. If we admit that linearity is the structure of history, then media present themselves as post-historical communication. They are black-boxes that have history as input and post-history as output. They are programmed to transcode history into post-history, events into programs." (56-7)
"'Democracy,' in the sense of a dialogue that produces informatino that is not elitist, is only possible within the theater. In the sitution of current democracy, it is impossible. The feeling of loneliness in the masses is a consequence of this. Democracy is not in the program." (58)

Our Rhythm

supermarkets vs cinema -- queue to get out, queue to get in

"Whoever wishes to escape is obliged to queue at the narrow slots that serve as exits, and to pay a ransom. The supermarket is a prison, the most private of all spaces. It does not serve for dialogic exchanges, but imposes discursively, imperatively, a specific behavior of consumption upon the receivers of its messages. ... The supermarket is an appartus that simulates the republic in order to seduce its receivers so that they may be manipulated as consuming objects." (60)
"The cinema is a basilica without windows, a cave. It is the black uterus, the Great Mother that generates and devours. Within it shadows appear. The Platonic myth of the cave describes it, and Plato could be considered as the first film critic. Before the shadows appear on the screen, the darkness and silence of the cinema reigns. Thus the cinema creates the illusion of being a contemplative space, dedicated to 'theory' (from 'theorein' -- to contemplate). The cinema creates the illusion of being a theater. But this is a fraud. The cinema is not a theatrc structure: in it there is no stage from which the emitter confronts the receiver." (61)
"The fraudulent message cannot be eliminated at the cinema by viewers, no matter how many. If the whole cinema were destroyed, the fraudulent message would continue to be transmitted untouched in several cinemas fo the same type. The amphitheatric apparatus, of which the cinema is an antenna, would remain undamaged. The viewers know therefore that the cinema is a space that excludes every revolutionary action and behave accordingly." (63)

want to be deceived

"With effect: this desire to be deceived is the consensus of mass society. If such a consensus did not exist, then the apparatus-like totalitarianism that is readying would not be comprehensible." (63)
"It is therefore not correct to state that cinema is an alienating instrument. The cinema, as all of our media, produces myths thanks to a conscious collusion between the emitters and receivers of its messages. There is nothing to de-mystify in this case." (64)
"The supermarket and the cinema form the two wings of a fan that instigates in the mass the movement of progress. In the cinema the mass is programmed for consumer behavior at the supermarket, and from the supermarket the mass is free to re-program itself at the cinema." (64)
"Mass culture is only explainable through its input and output, through the programs that are fed into it and the behavior that results from this." (65)
"Films are the result of a game with history, played out within the black-boxes of the cinematographic apparatus that seek to program the masses. And the supermarkets are the places where such programs become behavior. Which means that the rhythm of mass society is the manifestation of 'the eternal recurrence fo the same as will to power' in an anti-Nietzschean sense." (65)
"In mass society there is no elite, only specialists. We are all pieces in a game, inside which we oscillate rhythmically." (65)
"The supermarket and the cinema are wings of just one of the many fans that blow on us, of just one of the many windmills that turn over our heads. This turning, which is gradually more autonomous, grinds us all into amorphous flour. Every attempt to rebel againstt he windmills is Quixotic. The only hope in such a situation is to become conscious of the absurd stupidity of the automatic rotation that propels us. The awareness of the fact that behind the rotation, nothing 'hides,' literally. That it is the absurd rotation that is the reality of apparatus. With such awareness we may at least be propelled centrifugally out of functionalism toward nothingness." (66)

Our Dwelling

"The recodification fo our world by apparatus has made our world strange to us. We are uprooted, because the ground in which our roots rest has suffered a tectonic tremor. This allows us to assume a distanced and critical position in relation to our world. The world has become strange, it no longer deserves trust, and as foreigners in the world we may critique it. But as Kant used to say, critique or doubt, is not a dwelling. The reason for our critique is the longing we feel. Due to our radical alienation, we are reactionaries, anti-reformists: we no longer dwell." (68)
"The face of the future has traces of our past. And that is the real reason why we, the 'bourgeois,' are on the move. We are running away from our past. Our past chases us. The waves of babies with sick bellies that spring from the uteruses of the young women of color propel us toward progress." (69)

Our Shrinking

"In the program of the intelligent instruments, models are neither immutable ideals, nor improvable forms. They are tiny 'imprints.' Models no longer come from the transcendental (from the Realm of Ideas, from God), nor are they 'inventions' of genial men (technicians, scientists, politicians, philosophers, artists). Theya re the result of minute combinations of 'bits' done by programmers, system analysts and other similar anonymous functionaries. Such models evoke neither divine images nor visions inspired by mosaics. Or even better, they evoke ideograms that work. Such models have an unsophisticated Oriental characters." (79)
"The counter-revolution of 'chips' has a Confucian character. It seeks to transform society into a mosaic with its ideographic programs, to be programmed by strategies of the game 'go.' It seeks to transform man into a competent functionary and society into an administrative society. It seeks to Mandainize society." (80)
"Never before has man ceased to be the 'measure of all things' so radically as with miniaturization. In miniaturization, man becomes a particle, 'information data,' 'bit,' or worthless entity." (80)
"Every model is 'good' because it does not seek to adapt to the phenomenon: it seeks to grasp it. Hence the elasticity of models makes it so taht they are no longer experienced as violations of man." (81)
"Ideal models were values. When the Industrial REvolution transformed ideal models into forms, it provoked the 'crisis of values.' The counter-revolution of 'chips' covercame the crisis of values. Once it transformed the models of forms into information, it turnd them imperceptible. Values disappeared from humanity's field o vision. What remains are no longer imperative functions. The microprograms undo the myth of models as they annihilate values. Thus, the shrinkage of models is dehumanizing. It devalues life. Life within a miniaturized context is absurd." (82)

Our Clothes

"a system of uniforms for those who refuse to walk uniformed" (85)

"The scene is proof that to refuse authority does not imply the emancipation of man. Invisible programmers now occupy the place of authority. The pyramid of fashion has been substituted by the amphitheater of fashion. This totalitarianism of multiform uniformity allows the programmers to choose between the available uniforms. The crisis of authority has not led to the emancipation of society, but as it allows for an apparent freedom of choice, it has led to the cybernetic totalitarianism programmed by apparatus." (86)
"Every heresy, including the anti-appartus one, is automatically retrieved in order to serve the functioning of the program. And everywhere, the retrieval method is free choice: the program makes available to every heretic an appropriate uniform. There is everywhere a multiform automatic totalitarianism." (87)
"What may be observed in Washington Square is free choice in action: programmed multiform totalitarianism. Because what is observed are not 'originals' but stereotypes of absent and inaccessible prototypes. What is observed, is a collage, or programmed chaos." (87)

"The political question is answered cybernetically." (90)

Our Images

"The surfaces that surround us shine with color because above all they irradiate messages. The majority of the messages that inform us about the world and our situation within it is currently irradiated by the surfaces that surround us." (91)
"The dominant media are now the images and no longer the texts. A powerful counter-revolution of images against text is underway. However, it is necessary to discern that in this counter-revolution, it is a case of an entirely different type of image that never existed before. The images that program us are post-alphabetic and not pre-alphabetic, as are the images of the past." (92)
"Images must be explained or told, because as with every mediation between man and the world, they are subjected to an internal dialectic. They represent the world to man but simultaneously interpose themselves between man and the world. As far as they represent the world, they are like maps; instruments for orientation in the world. As far as they interpose themselves between man and the world, they are like screens, like coverings of the world. Writing was invented when the concealing and alienating function of images threatened to overshadow the orienting function. Or when images threatened to transform men into its instruments instead of serving as instruments for men." (92-3)
"The first scribes were iconoclasts. They sought to break and pierce the image that had become opaque, in order to turn them once again transparent for the world. So that the images could once again serve as maps, instead of being 'worshipped'. The scribes' revolutionary engagement is clearly seen in Plato and the prophets: they demythologized images." (93)
"For image-consciousness the world is a context of scenes: it is experienced and known via bi-dimensional mediations or surfaces. For textual-consciousness the world is a context of processes: it is experienced and known via the mediation of lines." (93)
"Texts, as all other mediation, including images, obey an internal dialectic. They represent the world and conceal the world, they are instruments to orient but form opaque walls in libraries. They de-alienate and alienate man. Man may forget the orienting function of texts, which is their intended aim, and may start to act in function of them. This inversion of the relation 'text-man,' such 'textolatry,' characterizes our history in its last stages. Political ideologies are examples of this type of madness." (94-5)
"Technical images are essentially different form traditional images. Traditional images are produced by men and technical images by apparatus." (95)
"Apparatus are black boxes that are programmed to devour symptoms of scenes and to spew out these symptoms in the form of images. Apparatus transcode symptoms into images. The apparatus' program derives from texts: for example from chemical and optical equations. So that apparatus transcode symptoms into images in function of texts. They are boxes that devour history and spew out post-history." (96)
"It is not that history has stopped 'developing.' On the contrary: it turns faster than before, because it is being sucked into the apparatus. Events precipitate themselves toward the apparatus with accelerated speed, because they are being sucked and partially provoked by the apparatus. All of history, politics, art, science and technique are thus motivated by the apparatus, in order to be transcoded into their opposite: into a televised program. The apparatus has become the aim of history. It has become a dam for linearly progressive time. The fullness of times. History transcoded into program becomes eternally repetitive." (97)

Our Game

"Social problems no longer present themselves in the form of: what are the forces that move society? Nor in the form of: what are the purposes that move society? But in the form of: why are the strategies that are at play?" (99-100)

filmmaking as methodical doubt (101)

filmmaker as God (102) -- filmmaker's "post-historical transcendence"

  • "It is true that he plays with history and that he splices and glues it, but history, as raw material, offers resistance to his manipulating gesture. It imposes its own game rules. The important thing to grasp in this is not the classic resistance that every object offers, or its 'perfidy.' THe important thing is not the resistance offered to the filmmaker by the actors, scriptwriters, and light technicians. The resistance that counts here is of a new type. As he manipulates the filmstrip, the filmmaker must take into consideration the structure of the apparatus in function of which he is operating. He must consider the technical, financial, ideological and 'aesthetic' demands of the apparatus, in sum: its program. The filmmaker produces programs in function of meta-progerams." In that he distinguishes himself from God. In that he is a programmed programmer, a played player. He transcends history, but transcends it in function of programmed events. He is a functionary, he is not emancipated." (103)
"All the programmers, futurologists, apparatchiks, researches of public opinion, marketing executives, ministers for planning etc., execute similar gestures. For all of them, events and history are nothing more than raw material to be manipulated with a splicer and glue. All of them aim to transform history into program. All of them are restricted to specific game rules, and they formulate their strategies in function of these. All of them function." (103)
"To live comes to mean to be part of absurd games. Every question in relation to the meaning of games becomes metaphysics in the pejorative sense. To want to know if this or that televised program is 'live' or videotaped, or if the character on the screen is a politician or an actor representing a politician, becomes an 'empty' question. In face of every program, the question that emerges is not: 'how real is it?' but 'how does it function?' The question of reality and falsity becomes a question in relation to the produced effect. What interests us in programs is not input but the output." (105)
"We are chess players who are aware that it is a game, but for whom to live means to play chess." (105-6)

Our Diversion

"What characterizes mass culture is not consumption, but its opposite: the refuse or trash." (110)
"Entertainment is the accumulation of sensations to be eliminated undigested. Once 'world' and 'I' are put into parentheses, sensation passes without obstacles. There is neither something to be digested nor an interiority to digest it. There is neither intestine nor the necessity of an intestine. What are left are mouths to swallow the sensation and anuses to eliminate it. Mass society is a society of channels that are more primitive than worms: in worms there are digestive functions. The 'worm-like' feeling, by which we are sometimes taken over, is an optimistic sensation. Concrete sensationalism is more primate than worms." (110)
"This allows for the apparatus that program us to use us as feedback. They can feed us with sensations that have already been eliminated since we do not notice that we have eaten them in the past. Every sensation is concrete, therefore always new. We are channels for eternal repetition." (110-111)
"That is why the apparatus are obliged to employ extreme entertainment methods. They hammer our unhappy consciousness day and night with a bombardment of sensations. And they manage to divert us with all of this only because we collaborate with them. We want to be entertained and we demand ever more intense entertainment, because we cannot stand to be confronted with our unhappy consciousness." (112)
"We continue to be convinced that tree are rights such as freedom, justice, and human dignity. But we have learned the hard way that every attempt to realize such rights leads to the opposite of what was intended. That it leads to slavery, injustice, and indignity." (112)
"We are counter revolutionaries, we seek diversions because we are conscious that every future revolution will have the same effect as past ones: slavery, injustice, and indignity." (113)
"Our human relations entertain us. We are incapable of seriousness, because what we want is the concrete sensation in exchange for the symbolic games of which we take part. Since these games no longer mean the concrete sensation, then it no longer has meaning. We live absurdly." (113-4)
"Apparatus have codified the world in order to entertain us. They have turned the world 'spectacular.' They are now seeking to sensationalize our own death. They have already sensationalized the deaths of others. They have overcome mourning. They have turned the death of others into kitsch. They will turn our own death into kitsch. Once this has been reached, we will have been reprogrammed. Our unhappy consciousness will finally rest. Programmed life hall be totally entertaining. This is the aim of the programs with which we are collaborating." (114)

Our Wait

"In the industrial society time is a straight line: a sequence of events that flows univocally, and that never repeats. No day is a repetition of the previous one, every harvest is singular and if there is life after death, it will be different from the one we know. Linear time i'historical:' it progresses toward the new. It comes from the past and demands the future. AS it flows, it drags things with it. Every lost moment is definitely an opportunity lost forever. Every moment urges. Every act is irreparable. It will be the cause of unpredictable but necessary effects, that is irrevocable. Nothing is, everything becomes. That is why there is no present. The present is nothing more than a point without dimension on the straight line of time. It has already passed as it happened. It is the time of historical life, and its model is the one of causality." (119)
"In the post-industrial society time is an abyss: a vortex in the present that sucks everything. The present is the totality of the real. In it all virtualities are realized." (119)

post-industrial -- "Wherever we look, there, the future is. There is no more progress, or Avant-garde. Every act is a gesture through which I reach for the future in order to present it. No matter in which direction I act. And there is no past as in the linear model: what happens is not he yesterday but the tomorrow. The past is nothing but an aspect of the present. Things that have been presented are stored in the present." (120)

"Hence, the post-industrial model of time has the following dynamic: wherever I am, there, the present is. I am a vortex that sucks in the future in order to present it and transform it into the past. I am the abyss into which time precipitates itself. I am the vacuity. And I experience such vacuity that I am when nothingness presents itself during the intervals in my functionality." (120)

"Boredom is the demystification of the apparatus." (121)

Our Dread

"Every intelligent action today is a strategy of delay in the face of the stupidity of progress. Not only of this progress, but also of every progress. Because every progress is the realization of a program, which seeks the end of the game. Delay and hesitancy are the only methods in order to postpone the end of the game: so neither Cesar nor Spartacus, but Fabius Cunctator." (128)

Our Inebriation

"Drugs are a medium for overcoming cultural mediation in order to reach immediate experience. Drugas are the mediation of the immediate." (132)

Our School

"In Platonic terms: the school, originally a place for philosophy, became, in modern society, a place for active life and will become in the future the place for the economic slavery of the eternal return. According to the restructuring of the school, everyone shall become slaves and totalitarian society will have been established." (146)
"Thus the school of the future will not be able to cover-up this openness toward beauty within any of the disciplines that it irradiates without running the risk of its own entropy, and it will not be able to allow for this openness without running the risk of its own overcoming by man." (147)
"The original unity of truth, good and beauty become reestablished by the apparatus, but this time under the form of 'know-how,' of technology. With this strategy, the apparatus aim to recover the creative dimension of man, which threatens them. The school of the future should be an institute of technology; creativity at the service of apparatus." (148)

Our Relations

"No matter what I am, I am in relation to any other, and if I assume myself as 'I,' I do it because some random other calls me 'you.' … If, thanks to an effort of abstraction, i mange to 'suspend' every definition, I will not have discovered any 'absolute' nucleus that I could call 'the essence of myself' ('soul,' 'identity'), but I will have discovered that the term 'I' designates a type of imaginary hook, upon which hang the relations that I am. I will discover that once there elations that attach me to the social net are abstracted, I am strictly nothing." (152)


"To rupture the alienated symbolization and return to the concrete experience of our own death in the Other. To return, in sum, to being Human." (167)