Flusser, Vilem - Writings (Electronic Mediations)

Notes - Garnet Hertz
Updated 08 June 2006

General Thoughts

Somewhat posthumanesque and dystopian, but at times brilliant and clever.


[3] {communication, human, artificial, nature, communication theory, theory, writing, code, speak, gesture, science, unnatural, natural, system} Human communication is an artificial process. It relies on artistic techniques, on inventions, on tools and instruments, that is, on symbols ordered into codes. People do not make themselves understoord through "natural" means. When speaking, "natural" tones do not come out as in a bird's song, and writing is not a "natural" gesture like a dance of bees. Consequently, communications theory is not a natural science, but rather is concerned with the human being's unnatural aspects.

[8] {communication, theory, communication theory, definition, system, wide, strict, change, beginning, end, information} The term communication can be defined in a wide and in a strict sense. The wide sense is: a process by which a system is changed by another system. The strict sense is: a process by which a system is changed by another system in such a way that the sum of information is greater at the end of the process than at its beginning.

[12] {media change, change, skeuomorph, history, logic, code, metacode, old, new} ...the convention that establishes a code must be prior to the code both historically and logically. Therefore, it must be stated in a previous code (a "metacode" of the new one).

[15] {code, visual, vision, auditory, audio, speech, audiovisual, TV, television} ...the present situation is domainated by three codes only: a visual one (the Latin alphabet), an auditory one (spoken language, especially English), and an advanced audiovisual one (television). There are, of course, numerous other codes by which men communicate, advanced ones such as computer codes, traditional ones such as painting, and immemorial ones such as the codes of myth. But the three codes mentioned seem to characterize the present.

[15] {media, media theory, McLuhan, codes, communication, message, symbol, structure, technological determinism, physicality, artifact, media technology, linear, surface, space, alphabet, painting, theater, architecture, television, TV, diachronicity, diachronical, synchronicity, synchronical} The physical property of symbols influences decisively the structure of the codes. It is influenced more by this than by the criterion of meaning. The structure of a message reflects the physical character of its symbols more than the structure of the universe it communicates. This explains the famous sentence "The medium is the message." We can distinguish, grosso modo, ["roughly"] three types of structures: those that order the symbols in linear sequences (the diachronical ones); those that order them in surfaces (the plain synchronical ones); and those that order them in space (the tridimensional synchronical ones). Examples of the first type are spoken languages and alphabets; of the second type, Chinese writing and painting; of the third type, theater and architecture. The tree types can be combined variously, the structure of TV, for example, being a complex combination of diachronicity and plain synchronicity.

[16] {media, media theory, translation, message, time, book, film, newspaper, telvision, TV, diachronical, synchronical} The effect of the structure on the message concerns the problem of translation. Can one translate a book into a film, or a newspaper article into a TV program? The problem is that diachronical messages use a different type of time from synchronical ones.

[35] {revolution, communication}

[36] {code, system, symbols, symbol, communication, communication theory, media theory, meaning, alien, alienation, gap} A code is a system of symbols. Its purpose is to make communication between people possible. Because symbols are a phenomena that replace ("stand for") other symbols, communication is a substitute: it replaces the experience of "that which it intends." People bust make themselves understandable through codes, because they have lost direct contact with the meaning of symbols. Man is an "alienated" animal, who must create symbols and order them in codes if he wants to bridge the gap between himself and the "world." He must attempt to "mediate." He must attempt to give the "world" meaning.

[43] {criticism, history, photography, technology, science, critical thinking, apparatus, painting, crisis} If we consider how the criticism of images has been elaborated during the course of our history, then critical thinking cannot be applied to photography or other technical images, because these images are based on science and technology -- produced by apparatuses -- and are therefore themselves based on critical thinking. Photo criticism, including the criticism of other technical images, is therefore essentially a critique of critical thinking. Technical images force critical thinking to turn against itself. If people believe they can critique photography the way they critique traditional images (paintings, mosaic, or stained-glass windows), then they are mistaken... In short, my thesis is: critical thinking is presently experiencing its own crisis, because it does not possess the appropriate criteria allowing it to critique its own products.

[54] {basic law of communication, communication, law, communication theory, information, information theory, theory, inverse, redundancy, pretty, beauty, art} If one applies the basic law of communication, which states that information and communication are inversely proportional, one may measure how much a specific work communicates: the better it communicates (the more redundancies it contains), the less it informs. In other terms: the easier it is to decipher a work of art, the prettier it is, and therefore the more successful. Thus one may measure (although indirectly) the sliding of a work from beauty toward prettiness by the success of that work. The less it disturbs habit, the prettier it becomes.

[56] {pretty, ugly, beautiful, kitch, diagram} [Figure 8 diagram of pretty, ugly, beautiful, and kitch.]

[79] {interdisciplinarity, new media, art, science, scientists, artists, theory, practice, experimentation, collaboration, philosophy, philosopher} One of the purposes of the present essay is to propose a collaboration between philosophers and those who experiment with the new media.

[87] {postmodernism, subject, object} We postmoderns are no longer subjects of a given objective world but projects for alternative objectified projections.

[132] {historiography, gap, splice, cut, edit, film} Narrative is no longer the model for historical events. That is film. From this point on, one can speed up events, watch them in slow motion, and work them into flashbacks. Most important, however, one can cut the tape of Western history and splice it back together. I propose cutting out the twelve hundred hears between A.D. 200 and A.D. 1400, then replacing the cuttings with two hundred newly composed years. Then, I would show the remastered film in the theaters of the cultural elite -- with the hope of constructing a more lucid and entertaining plot for the film. Indeed, the cuttings that will be thrown away contain a number of confusing scenes and subplots that unnecessarily detract from the film's central theme. Undeniably, the film also contains beautiful scenes that the film critics will miss. The film critics will miss characters, such as Charlamagne and Dante, and they will regret the fact that scenarios, such as Córdoba and Cluny, were cut out. Nevertheless, creative activity consists of cutting out superfluous material. Ockham (one of the characters who did not make the cut) cleverly made this point: "entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem." ["entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity." Compare this essay to Foucault, linear narrative of history, or to other themes within historiography. Make sure to take this quote in context - read end of essay.]

[137] {historiography, gap, splice, cut, edit, film} Thanks to our revision, the film Western History has become consistent, intellectually satisfying, and aesthetically pleasing. Inconsistent, illogical, and unpleasant elements have been edited. Still, the question remains whether the inconsistent, the illogical, and the unpleasant, in short, the absurd, are not in fact essential to the film. Or whether the absurdity of history is not in fact a reason for hope: the hope that all rational "prospectives" must fail. [Compare this essay to Foucault, linear narrative of history, or to other themes within historiography.]

[144] {history, science, thermodynamics, entropy, natural history, narrative, law, algorithm, equation} There is a relatively simple equation, namely, the second law of thermodynamics. It tells the complete, huge story of natural history. This law encompasses all past, present, and future processes. It is a marvelous narrative. Short and compact, it narrates all the short and long stories. It is possible to formulate this short algorithm in different ways.


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