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Vilm Flusser and Technics

From Homo Faber to Homo Ludens

Thomas Harders
Student Number: 5751713
Universiteit van Amsterdam

Research Master in Cultural Analysis


August 2010
Supervisor: Joost de Bloois
Contents

Introduction 1

1. Man-World-Technics 8
1.1 Technics as Anthropological Constant I 9
1.2 Excursus: Man and his Conditionality 14
1.3 Technics as Anthropological Constant II 16
1.4 Five Stages of Abstraction 19
1.5 Neg-Entropy 25
1.6 Towards a 'Neg-Anthropology' 30

2. Homo Faber and Machine 33


2.1 Work and Labor 34
2.2 Politics 44
2.3 Agrarian, Industrial and Post-Industrial Society 45
2.4 The Factory 49
2.5 The Machine 51

3. Functionary and Apparatus 56


3.1 Excursus: Heidegger and Technics 57
3.2 Flusser and Nihilism? 61
3.3 The Functionary 65
3.4 Apparatus as Gadget 68
3.5 Apparatus as System 73
3.6 The Programmatic World View 78

4. Homo Ludens and Telematic Society 85


4.1 Towards Immateriality 87
4.2 Towards a Telematic Society 90
4.3. Buber: 'I' and 'You' 97
4.4 Menschwerdung and Future Bodies 100
4.5 Negative Anthropology and Homo Ludens 109

Conclusion 114

Bibliography 119

Appendix Flusser's Life and Work


Introduction

Technik! Nicht nur Bilder, Technik! Ich glaube,


die Geschichte ist die Geschichte der Technik.
Und die Technik ist immateriell. Die Technik
macht keine Objekte.1 (Nchtern 1991: 43)

Craig Venter and his team just created the first self-replicating synthetic life-form
(Venter 2010). In general terms the fast progress especially in the field of the so-called
'converging technologies' (an umbrella term for nano, bio, information technologies
and neuroscience) more than ever before challenges the borders between man and
machine, man and animal, life and death, and in more general terms the dividing line
between nature and culture. These technologies increasingly challenge man's self-
conception and force him to reflect upon the question of how he defines himself in
relation to machine, animal and nature. This 'thread' to man's self-understanding
results in fierce debates in current technology discourses, e.g. concerning the question
whether the human body should be only 'enabled' or even 'enhanced' (including the
question, where enabling ends and enhancement starts)? It seems like man as such is at
stake. In any case, these technological developments not only force man to reflect upon
what being human means, but as he increasingly has the possibilities to design himself
and his environment, he also has the reflect on what being human should mean in
future. Here the re-evaluation of the relation of man and technics is particularly
important. What is man in relation to technics? What would man be without technics?
Would man be without technics? What does this mean for the further development of
man and technics? In other words, the current state of technics and its potential impact
on man and nature show the necessity and urgency for a broad discussion of the
interrelation of man and technics.
The philosopher Vilm Flusser, due to his works on photography, television or
internet, has mainly been received as a media philosopher. However, to label and read
him as such would mean to neglect a large part of his broad work, in which he explores
his various fields of interest in an essayistic manner. In this thesis I want to broaden the

1 Technics! Not only [technical, T.H.] images, technics! I believe, that history is a history of technics.
And technics is immaterial. Technics does not create objects.

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perception of Flusser's work by following his conception of 'Technik' ('technics') in order
to reveal its central role in his work. With regard to current technological developments
and the discourses accompanying them, the question of what Flusser, who died in 1991,
has to offer to these debates arises. Flusser has always been interested in technological
developments and never hesitated to anticipate the near future in his essays. In fact, he
also dared to implement dreamlike, utopian scenarios in his texts, well aware of the fact
that the chances for them to become reality were limited. Still, Flusser was hoping that
his utopian thoughts would provoke discussions and/or inspire his readers to develop
similar ideas, so that an approach in direction of the utopian ideal would become more
likely (1994: 42). Of course, some of Flusser's prediction became true; others did not.
But it is because of his anticipatory skill that his thoughts concerning technics are still
relevant and by no means outdated, even twenty years or more after he wrote them
down.
Actually, before I can describe how I intend to proceed in this thesis, I have to
mention a few particularities concerning Flusser's work and his way of working. First of
all, Flusser never intended to create a coherent theory and preferred to form and express
his thoughts in short essays. His body of work therefore can be understood as a 'cloud of
concepts' which Flusser explores by combining individual concepts in different ways,
exploring different constellations of them, in order to be able to approach them from
different angles. Some of these concepts occur again and again. Therefore, to analyze
the notion of technics in Flusser's work also means to see it in relation these
predominant concepts. Moreover Flusser had a distaste for academic (power-)
structures, which shows in the fact, that he never used footnotes and hardly ever
referred explicitly to his theoretical influences. Furthermore, in his texts he often
borrows terms from other thinkers, but does not necessarily apply them loyal to their
original use. He reads other authors rather playfully, might follow their argumentation
for a while, only in order to reverse it a few sentences later. Flusser loved to trace how
concepts change their meaning within their etymological history, when they travel from
one language to another, when they are approached from one direction or another or
when they fill the gap in one line of argumentation or another. For Flusser scientific

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writing and rhetoric do not exclude each other. In fact, he was especial fond of puns,
which he often used to provoke his readers. Apart from etymological interpretations,
Flusser's approach is often phenomenological. Although he mentions Husserl in
different essays (e.g. Flusser 2002b: 187), his understanding of phenomenology is more
in line with that of Maurice Merleau-Ponty when he describes it as a method, a
prescientific naivety free of objective knowledge in his work Phenomenology of
Perception (1966: 280). When Flusser analyzes an object, he attempts not to think in
disciplines and moreover tries to describe the object with the naivety mentioned above.
For him every essay provides the chance to discover an object (or a concept) anew, even
if it is not the first encounter between him and the object. With that said, to provide a
clear definition of technics appears to be an impossible attempt. Flusser's use of the
word technics is characterized by broadness, ambiguities and contradictions.
Nevertheless, I will demonstrate that Flusser's understanding of technics is also
coherent if the leitmotif behind its use is revealed.
Another particularity with Flusser I have to stress is that he constantly translated
his essays back and forth between the different languages he spoke. Hence, he
published a lot of texts and some books in Portuguese during his time in Brazil. 2 Next to
Portuguese German (he also wrote in English and French) was still his main writing
language and therefore the majority of his books have been published in German and
many only in German. This is also the reason why I will predominantly refer to Flusser's
German works. Therefore I will include Flusser's original quotes in German in the
running text and provide my translation of them in the footnotes. Against the
background of this translational gap, another aim of my thesis is to provide access to
some of Flusser's thoughts to English reading researchers. However, this journey
between languages also creates a translation problem concerning the German term
'Technik'. In English it could be translated with 'technique', 'technics' or even
'technology', as the use of all three terms is often ambivalent. Most likely it would be
translated with the fashionable term 'technology'. For example also Heidegger's essay
Die Frage nach der Technik (1991) has been translated with The Question Concerning
2 I include a short summary of Flusser's life in the appendix with the intention to show the close inter-
relatedness of his biography, his work and his way of working. Actually, one could argue that Flusser
tried to live his theories and likewise implemented his personal experiences in his 'academic' texts.

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Technology, despite the fact that Heidegger starts with an analysis of the Greek term
tchne and in the following tries to reveal the attribute of 'Technik' which is constant in
manual and modern 'Technik' and which he identifies as a mode of 'revealing'. In his
essay Heidegger never uses the expression 'Technologie' (from Greek 'tchne' and 'logia',
meaning the study of technics) but describes technics based on scientific theory as
'moderne Technik', which is still related to its origin tchne. The same is true for Flusser.
He does not use the term 'Technologie' except for very rare occasions when it is directly
linked to 'information technology' like in his work Medienkultur3 (Flusser 2002b: 172ff).
However, even in this context he explicitly refers to 'telematics' as a 'Technik' (145ff). As I
will show in my first chapter, for Flusser like for Heidegger 'Technik' is an
anthropological constant. In his work Technics and Time, 1 (1998), Bernard Stiegler
differentiates the three terms in a way which can be a helpful orientation for our
discussion. According to him technology is the discourse describing and explaining the
evolution of specialized procedures and techniques, arts and trades [...] (94).
Considering tchne and technique he states:
All human action has something to do with tekhn, is after a fashion tekhn. It is no less the
case that in the totality of human action 'techniques' are singled out. These most often
signal specialized skills, not shared by all. [...] A technique is a particular type of skill that is
not indispensable to the humanity of a particular human. This is what implicitly understood
by the term technique. (ibid.)

The German term 'Technik' includes the English terms 'technics' and 'technique' but
can also be used as a synonym to 'technology'. However, in our context the German term
'Technik' is closely related to its origin 'tchne' (or 'tekhn') since Flusser is mainly
interested in the relation of 'Technik' and mankind as such. In order to stress this
vantage point and the idea of 'Technik' as an anthropological constant, I will translate
the German term with the English expression technics even though as soon as
'Technik' becomes the object of scientific analysis, it becomes based on scientific theory,
one could also apply the term 'technology'.
As I already indicated, Flusser approaches the term technics implicitly and
explicitly from different perspectives. For instance, a direct encounter with the word
technics, including an attempt to define it from an anthropological perspective, can be

3 Media Culture

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found in his work Vom Subjekt zum Projekt4 (1994). He takes other, more implicit
approaches in his more media focused works, like for example in Fr eine Philosophie
der Fotografie5 (2006), Ins Universum der Technischen Bilder6 (1999b) or in his anthology
Medienkultur (2002b). To follow the term technics through the different works allows to
identifying constants and dynamics in Flusser's understanding of it. Predominantly,
Flusser moves from (or rather oscillates between) a negative, almost nihilistic
perception of technics (or rather its impact on social structures), to the already
mentioned utopian perspective in his description of the telematic society. However, in
this bipolar constellation the two extremes do not exclude but imply each other (and
therefore in general terms technics as such becomes neutral). The nihilistic abyss serves
as a foundation, as a point of departure for the utopian engagement. In and between
these stages Flusser is never merely interested in technics or technological gadgets. In
his descriptions of tools, machines or apparatuses (as gadgets) he does not provide a
detailed account of their functioning but is rather interested in their impact on man as
such. When he examines the apparatus he is interested in how it works, because he
wants to understand, why people become functionaries and how this process can be
reversed. Thus Flusser is intrigued by technics out of an anthropological curiosity. How
do technics affect man? This becomes very apparent in his rather rough model of 'Five
Stages of Abstraction' (which I will discuss below). In it Flusser does not intend to trace
a history of mankind or media. Instead he focuses on the transitional moments at which
man changes in relation to changing media or technics.
In fact, Flusser's focus of technics in relation to man is reflected in the title of
this thesis. His understanding of technics can only be described if simultaneously the
development from homo faber to homo ludens (including the threatening possibility of
remaining in the stage of the functionary) is considered. I will trace three successions on
Flusser's understanding of technics in this thesis. The first succession is chronologically
and goes from hand and tool, to machine and to apparatus. The second succession
reflects Flusser's view on technics; his rather neutral perception is accompanied by an
oscillation between a negative nihilistic and finally an utopian tone. The third
4 From Subject to Project
5 Towards a Philosophy of Photography
6 Into the Universe of Technical Images

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succession follows the evolution of man in relation to technics: man comes into being as
a homo faber, is degraded to a functionary and thus in Flusser's view has to become a
homo ludens.
Hence in the first chapter, I will focus on the pair hand and tool as impulse for
man's coming into being as a homo faber. With regard to philosophical anthropology, I
discuss technics as an anthropological constant and already relate it to Flusser's model
of 'five stages of abstraction', his understanding of a 'neg-entropy' and 'neg-
anthropology'.
In the second chapter, I will focus on the transitional process in which homo
faber becomes a functionary. As the negative tone in Flusser's description of this process
is closely linked to his negative definition of work and labor (in opposition to technics),
I will start this chapter with an account of Hanna Arendt's distinction between work and
labor before I turn to Flusser's description of the impact of the industrial revolution on
man. After that I want to examine the relation between man and machine in more
detail, also to already introduce Flusser's conception of the apparatus and contrast it to
the machine.
In the third chapter, Flusser's nihilistic tone concerning technics will be very
apparent. In order to emphasize this, I will take a short detour via Martin Heidegger's
understanding of technics (or technology), before I will present Flusser's conception of
apparatus and functionary.
Finally in chapter four, I will show that the pessimistic tone of Flusser provided in
chapter three merely serves as a point of departure for his rather utopian sketch of a
future society, namely the telematic society. In this part of my thesis I will discuss what
Flusser proposes to enable man to regain the power over the apparatus and how by the
same token he can turn from a functionary into a contemplative homo ludens.
In all these stages, no matter how critical his tone, Flusser never directly
criticizes capitalism. He simply bypasses capitalism through his use the terms program
and apparatus. For the functionary it does not make a difference if he is part of the
capitalistic or communistic apparatus. For Flusser administration, bureaucracy,
mechanization and automation are the terms to scrutinize and criticize instead.

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Finally the limited length of this master thesis does not allow to provide an
exhaustive representation of Flusser use of the term technics in relation to his full body
of work. It should rather be understood as the attempt to read Flusser's work from a new
perspective. It is the hopeful effort to provoke new discussions concerning Flusser's
theoretical engagement.

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1. Man-World-Technics

Der Mensch ist, biologisch betrachtet, als ein man-


gelhaft ausgerstetes und angepates Wesen auf die
Bhne der Welt getreten und hat von Anfang an Hil-
fsmittel, Werkzeuge und technische Verfahren zu
seiner Selbstbehauptung und zur Sicherung seiner
Bedrfnisse entwickeln mssen.7 (Blumenberg
2009b: 32ff)

Flusser's already mentioned Vom Subjekt zum Projekt Menschwerdung8 (1994)


includes two of his last larger works. Vom Subjekt zum Projekt was written between the
end of 1988 and mid of 1989. Menschwerdung, started in August 1990, which Flusser in-
tended to become his summa, remained a fragment due to his unexpected death in 1991.
These two works display some of Flusser's latest thoughts and thus shall be taken as a
point of departure for our discussion. The focus will be in particular on Vom Subject
zum Projekt in which Flusser envisions a negative anthropology, a 'neg-anthropology'.
In fact, with chapter titles like Kinder entwerfen9 or Krper entwerfen10 this work
could easily be read as another technics admiring trans-humanistic manifest. Flusser's
rather provocative writing style only supports this impression, especially with state-
ments like the following: Es gibt keinen ersichtliche Grund, warum wir dem genet-
ischen Stammbaum kniend unterworfen sein sollten, statt uns von Ast zu Ast sprin-
gend, die geeigneten Frchte herauszuklauben11 (100). However, one of the main argu-
ments of this paper will be that this would be a wrong reading of Flusser as he himself
denies an over technified future.
Wer den Eindruck gewinnt, hier werde einer technifizierten Zukunft das Wort gesprochen,
hat an der eigentlichen These des Buches vorbeigelesen. Es handelt sich im Gegenteil darum
zu zeigen, da ein 'aufrechtes Leben' den Begriff 'Technik' wird umdenken mssen.12 (131)

7 Seen from a biological perspective, man entered the world stage as an insufficiently equipped and
adapted being and from the very start he had to develop handling aids, tools and technical processes
for his self-assertion and the satisfaction of his needs.
8 From Subject to Project Becoming Human
9 Designing Kids
10 Designing Bodies
11 There is no obvious reason why we should be kneeling down submissively in front of our genetic
family tree instead of jumping from branch to branch in order to pick the appropriate fruits.
12 Who gains the impression here a technolized future is supported misread the basic thesis of this
book. In contrast, it shall show that an upright life requires to re-think the notion of technics.

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Here it becomes clear, that Flusser does not support a technocratic future but rather
points out that we need to re-think our understanding of what technics is and what we
want it to be. How the notion of technics needs to be re-thought shall be one of our
main concerns in this thesis.
In the following, I will start with a discussion of Flusser's very understanding of
the word technics itself. In order to examine the relation of man and technics in Flusser,
I will situate his thoughts in the context of philosophical anthropology. After this first
definition of Flusser's use of the term technics, I will situate it in his model of a media
related human evolution, which could be described as the 'five stages of abstraction'.
The constant in Flusser's thinking that I want to consider next, is the conception of man
as a negative entropic being. By relating our provisional understanding of Flusser's no-
tion of technics to these models and concepts, we also touch on other important con-
cepts like media, information and culture. Thus, I want end the first chapter with a first
glance at Flusser's overarching idea of a negative anthropology.

1.1 Technics as Anthropological Constant I

In Vom Subjekt zum Projekt Flusser introduces his reader to his negative anthro-
pology through the discussion of some external conditions of man: political ones like
the city, the house and the family and biological ones like bodies, sex and children. Each
of which could be claimed by an expert to be his field of expertise: political scientists,
architects, sociologists, biologist, psychologists and pedagogues (1994: 133). However,
since scientific disciplines force phenomena into pre-assembled boxes, according to
Flusser a neg-anthropological way of thinking has to overcome disciplinary boundaries
and to corrupt the ideal of objective knowledge (ibid.). This already indicates that a dis-
cussion of a concept in Flusser's work cannot be linear and disciplinary. It rather has to
follow Flusser's line of argumentation, his sources of inspiration from different discip-
lines, surmount gaps between theoretical fragments and largely abandon the thought of
chronology.

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With the concept technics these difficulties become even more apparent as
Flusser himself argues in the chapter Technik entwerfen ('Designing Technics') in Vom
Subjekt zum Projekt that one cannot be an expert on technics since this topic requires to
be discussed by generalists (like philosophers); at least these researchers should not be
technicians (Flusser 1994: 133ff). This could be read as a first hint that Flusser might
agree with Heidegger's claim that the essence of technics is nothing technical (Heideg-
ger 1991: 5). His explicit and extensive discussion of the notion technics in Technik ent-
werfen shall be our point of departure.
Here Flusser makes clear that technics is of fundamental significance in our 'con-
temporary crisis' and hence should be the first thing considered if we want to overcome
it (Flusser 1994: 134). In the following Flusser's first approach to the notion of 'Technik'
is etymological, but soon he points out that the words art and technics are at the same
time equivalents (in the Greek antiquity) and antipodes (in the modern philological un-
derstanding)(135). In general, so Flusser complains, are the words art and technics
hardly ever used in a clear manner and he concludes that this approach is not very help-
ful for the comprehension of the term technics (ibid.). Instead, he argues, one should
assume that the meaning of the word technics is more or less known so that in the next
step one could try to imagine a world or human existence without technics. Following
Flusser this is exactly what is impossible for us:
Nicht nur wrden wir dann nicht gehen, essen und atmen, denn all dies setzt eine Technik
voraus , sondern wir wrden nicht einmal nicht gehen, nicht essen und nicht atmen denn
dies wrde eine noch ausgebildetere Technik voraussetzen, wie Kafkas Hungerknstler vor
Augen fhrt.13 (136)

The first part of the quote does not categorize technics as something particularly human
since animals also walk, eat, breath and are even able to use tools. However, the second
part indicates exactly this, since it refers to the conscious act of famishing. Flusser
stresses that the word technics is so closely related to man that we could not distance
ourselves from it: Technik und Mensch scheinen einander gegenseitig zu implizieren
[...]. (ibid.) Consequently, Flusser characterizes technics not only as something particu-
larly human but even as a condition for being human and defines it as follows:
13 Not only would we not go, eat and breathe since all this requires technics but we would not even not
go, eat and breath since this would require even more sophisticated technics as Kafka's 'Hunger
Artist' illustrates.

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Falls wir mit 'Mensch' das Gegenberstehen meinen (also 'Subjekt', 'Ek-sistenz'), dann
bedeutet 'Technik' die Einstellung des Gegenberstehens. Anders gesagt, 'Technik' ist das
Substantiv des Verbums 'Mensch' und 'Mensch' das Substantiv des Verbums 'Technik', und
falls man dagegen einwenden wollte, da 'Technik' doch kein Substantiv zu sein scheint, so
liee sich statt dessen auch 'existieren' sagen. Mit dieser Definition von 'Technik' als einem
Synonym von 'existieren' lt sich operieren.14 (Flusser 1994: 136)

In this definition he departs from the reading of the term 'man' (Ek-sistenz15) as a way to
oppose something. His basic assumption therefore is that man does not live in nature
but rather is confronted by it. The transformation from animal to man is marked by
change in perspective: man steps out of nature and takes on a distant position, which at
the same time turns him into a subject in an objective world (Flusser 1999b: 11). Flusser
calls this way of facing the world technics. In other words 'man', 'existence' and 'tech-
nics' become synonyms since man's coming into being, his existence, is directly linked
to technics. With this approach Flusser confirms Arnold Gehlen's claim according to
which technics is not only as old as man, but moreover, is the central characteristic of
man since we could not even be sure that we were dealing with humans if not for the ar-
cheological findings of tools (Gehlen 1957: 7). So, on the one hand, technics stands
between man and world and alienates him from it. On the other hand, man would not
be human without technics. Consequently, technics defines what kind of being man is,
namely a homo faber16 (Flusser 1994: 136).
The 'Einstellung' ('attitude') towards the objective world, as which technics is
defined here, can also be read as 'Einstellung auf' which also means to adjust to some-
thing. Man develops an awareness of the objective environment surrounding him, ad-
justs to it or adjusts it. For instance, as Flusser writes, the man of the stone age existed
through his technical adjustment to stones (137). Thus, from a certain moment in evolu-

14 If 'man' means to stand opposite to something (hence 'subject', 'existence'), 'technics' means the
attitude of how something is faced. In other words 'technics' is the substantive of the verb 'man' and
'man' is the substantive of the verb 'technics', and if one would object that technics does not seem to
be a substantive one could also say 'existing'. With this definition of 'technics' as synonym for
'existing' one can operate.
15 Here he refers to Ek-sistenz as coined by Heidegger in his Humanismusbrief. Heidegger's 'Ek-sistenz'
derives from the Greek word 'ek-stasis' which means 'outside-of-oneself'. In Heidegger's
understanding this term links the ability and necessity of man to relate to his objective world. He is
conditioned (bedingt) by being. In contrast to animals, which do not have a world, man lives in the
world and can therefore be confronted by being (Heidegger 2000).
16 I will discuss Flusser's use of the term homo faber in relation to Hannah Arendt's work The Human
Condition in chapter two in more detail.

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tion onwards, man relies on technics in order to survive. With this approach Flusser ba-
sically follows the tradition of German philosophical anthropology in which technics is
described as ersatz, relief or enhancement of organs (Meyer 1961: 136). Accordingly,
Flusser emphasizes that the existence of tools proves that man has always been aware of
his body's functional poorness and in this sense all of material culture could be under-
stood as an attempt to compensate for this deficit (Flusser 1994: 91). Like Gehlen,
Flusser therefore constitutes man as 'Mngelwesen' (homo inermis); as an incomplete
creature which due to its lack of specialized organs or instincts is not created for any
particular natural habitat and thus has to manipulate this environment according to his
purpose (Gehlen 1957: 8). Flusser argues, that man shapes his physical environment by
projecting his own inferior body functions into it. For example, due to the functional in-
sufficiency of his tooth, man creates a stone knife following the design of a tooth; at the
same time this action reconfirms the fact that his tooth is not as hard-wearing as the
stone knife (Flusser 1994: 139). That is, man not only negates the natural form of the
physical objects surrounding him but through this act he likewise denies his own body,
or as Flussers formulates it:
Das Subjekt 'wei' sich einer objektiven Bedingung unterworfen (dem gegebenen Zahn), es
emprt sich dagegen und in seiner Emprung verneint es auch Objekte von denen es nicht
bedingt wird (zum Beispiel Steine).17 (ibid.)

Here technics, even though defined as existence of man, can be understood as means,
just in the sense in which for Gehlen the Mngelwesen has to apply technics in order to
make nature subservient (Gehlen 1957: 23). It is a one directional process of man against
the objective world.
Technik ist die Einstellung des Subjekts gegen Objekte: der Versuch, Werte (Sollen) zu ob-
jektivieren und Objekte (Sein) zu verwerten und dadurch die Trennung zwischen Subjekt
und Objekt zu berwinden, die Existenz aus ihrer Unterwrfigkeit zu befreien. Es ist daher
lcherlich, wenn sich manche Leute gegen die Vergewaltigung der objektiven Welt durch die
Technik empren: Sie empren sich gegen die spezifisch menschliche Emprung, gegen die
menschliche Existenz, und das heit gegen alle 'Werte'.18 (Flusser 1994: 139ff )

17 The subject 'knows' that it is subject to objective conditions (the given tooth), it revolts against this
fact and in its anger also negates objects which do not condition it (e.g. stones).
18 Technics is the attitude of the subject towards objects: the attempt, to objectify values (how
something should be) and to turn objects (being) into values, to overcome the separation of subject
and object, to free the existence from it's submissiveness. Therefore it is ridiculous if some people
revolt against the rape of the objective world through technics. They revolt against a revolt that is
particularly human, against the human existence and hence against all 'values'.

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In the first part of the quote, the difference between Gehlen's and Flusser's position be-
comes clear: Flusser argues that the subject is conditioned by objects and therefore ma-
nipulating the objective environment only changes his conditionality19, but never sus-
pends it. He is still subject to objects and therefore remains dependent (Flusser 1994:
261). In the second part of the quote, Flusser illustrates why he warns his readers in
Technik entwerfen not to be fooled by what has been written about technics before; es-
pecially by Heidegger (135ff). His formulation, that since technics is the basic condition
of man, it would be ridiculous to complain about the destruction of nature through
technics, aims at Heidegger's conception of modern technics as Ge-stell to which nature
only appears as 'Bestand' ('standing reserve') (Heidegger 1991b: 37). With Flusser's state-
ment a differentiation of the term technics, the tracing of a development with different
stages, the distinction of good and bad actions seems impossible. As we shall see in
chapter two this is not what Flusser has in mind. What he wants to underline here is,
now in line with Heidegger's argumentation in Die Frage nach der Technik, that since
the essence of technics is being itself, man can never master or even overcome technics
(since this would mean, that man is the creator of all being) (38). Accordingly, man can-
not deny or resist technics.
The quote about the conditionality of the subject moreover indicates that for
Flusser technics cannot only be one-directional. Instead, to come back to the example of
the stone tool producing hominids, the possibility of producing tools by hitting stones
onto each other, in its appliance concretized stones and stone tools on the one hand and
the hominids on the other hand (Flusser 1994: 143). First of all, the perception of the
world is affected since this means that stones did not address the hominid as such, be-
fore he realized a function for them. Here we can turn to Heidegger and his claim that
through the use of tools nature as such is discovered in the environment, even though
here nature is defined as products of nature, as something 'in-order-to' (Heidegger
2006: 70). Following Heidegger's terminology a bit further, with the use of the stone as a
hammer or knife the hominid realizes what the stone is handy for, he discovers the
structure of being of the stone as tool and from that moment onwards stones are at
hand (zuhanden) or they are missing when needed for a certain purpose (69). Only
19 This conditionality is going to be discussed in more detail below.

13
when the stones are not functional, not available or objectionable they do turn into
things (Dinge) and become existent (vorhanden) even though, in this case they still
have not fully lost their tool character (Heidegger 2006: 74). Man transforms the objects
to carriers of a certain function and also perceives them as such (Buber 1978: 23ff). This
describes the change in perception of the world resulting from the use of technics.
The statement above not only indicates a change in the perception of the world
but also in self-perception, as Flusser argues next. He basically applies Ernst Kapp's
concept of organ projection20 when he points out that before the hominid simulated a
tooth through a stone, the hominid was not able to understand what a tooth and its
function was (Flusser 1994: 143). Only the use of the stone made him aware of the tooth
and its function. In other words, the use of tools goes along with self-awareness and a
changed awareness of the environment; or as Flusser would formulate it, with the craft-
ing of the stone, man projects his world and himself.
Kurz, betrachtet man die Sache so, dann erscheint die gesamte objektive Welt als eine Projek-
tion aus dem konkreten Steinschlagen als vom Hominiden entworfen und der Hominid
seinerseits als Projektion auf die der Sache gegenberliegenden Seite.21 (ibid.)

This vantage point allows Flusser not only to emphasizes the double change of percep-
tion man experiences through technics but also enables him to stress the conditionality
of the subject by objects.

1.2 Excursus: Man and his Conditionality

As mentioned before, while for Gehlen man has to rule nature and his objective
environment, for Flusser man can only change his conditionality but never suspend it.
This rises the question of what exactly Flusser means with 'conditionality'. In his already
mentioned essay Krper entwerfen he refers to conditionality in more detail. Simultan-

20 In his work Grundlinien einer Philosophie der Technik (Principles of a Philosophy of Technology)
Ernst Kapp assumes that man in all his perception and conception has to depart from his own body.
Therefore with the production of tools man always only projects himself. According to Kapp, mouth
and teeth just as hand and arm form the archetype for a large variety of early tools (Kapp: 1877).
21 In short, seen from this perspective the whole objective world appears as a projection from the act
'hitting a stone' as designed by the hominid and the hominid appears as a projection on the
opposite site of the issue.

14
eously this explanation is a summary of how Hannah Arendt applies the term in her
work The Human Condition (which of course, Flusser does not mention)
Wir sind Subjekte der objektiven Welt, weil wir durch den Krper (dieses Objekt) abhngig
von der Welt sind. Durch unseren Krper sind wir den Bedingungen der objektiven Welt un-
terworfen, nicht nur, weil wir 'Lebensmittel' bentigen, sondern vor allem weil unser Krper
den Gesetzen der objektiven Welt unterworfen ist [...] Als Methode der Befreiung (der Selb-
stvernderung des Menschen) ist Weltvernderung aber auch aus praktischen Grnden
fragwrdig. Die behandelten Objekte werden nmlich selbst wieder zu Bedingungen, und je
mehr wir die Welt manipulieren, desto mehr geraten wir in Abhngigkeit der behandelten
Dinge, des kulturellen Umstands.22 (Flusser 1994: 98)

In fact, we have to differ between 'natural' conditions and man made conditions. For in-
stance, we are conditioned by our metabolism, gravity but also our geographical or cli-
matic situation. With the coming into being of man, he reaches out into the objective
world and also becomes conditioned by the things he himself produces. Arendt fittingly
argues:
In addition to the conditions under which life is given to man on earth, and partly out of
them, men constantly create their own, self-made conditions, which their human origin and
their variability notwithstanding, possess the same conditioning power as natural things.
(Arendt 1998: 9)

According to Arendt every object man touches immediately turns into a condition of
human existence and she hence claims (and Flusser agrees) that humans, no matter
what they do, are always conditioned beings (Arendt 1998: 9). In other words, before
man came into being he was merely conditioned by nature and with his coming into be-
ing, which went along with the manipulation of his objective environment, he addition-
ally became conditioned by his own products, by his culture. As Arendt stresses, human
existence is impossible without the conditionality through a world which was created
and provided with meaning by man because human existence is conditioned existence,
it would be impossible without things, and things would be a heap of unrelated articles,
a non-world, if they were not the conditioners of human existence (9). For Arendt this
conditionality is the essential human characteristic even before rationality or language
(which, as we have seen, is also true for Flusser) and she thus envisions that
22 We are subjects to an objective world because we depend on the world due to our body (this object).
Through our body we are subject to the conditions of the objective world, not only because we need
food but mainly because our body is subject to the laws of the objective world. [...] As a means of
liberation (the self-determined change of man) the alteration of the world is also disputable for
practical reasons. Namely, the formed objects turn themselves into conditions and the more we
manipulate the world, the more we become dependent of the formed objects, the cultural
circumstance.

15
[t]he most radical change in the human condition we can imagine would be an emigration of
men from earth to some other planet. Such an event, no longer totally impossible, would im-
ply that man would have to live under man-made conditions, radically different from those
the earth offers him. (Arendt 1998: 10)

If we now return to Flusser's example of the hominid again, this means, if no stones had
existed around the hominid, he probably would have developed differently. 23 Likewise
he is conditioned by every object or animal that appears in his environment, which al-
lows Flusser to define man also as a 'node of relations':
Menschwerdung ist aus dieser kologischen Sicht das auf einer unwahrscheinlichen Serie
von unwahrscheinlichen Zufllen beruhende berflieen eines Knotens von Beziehungen,
genannt 'Menschenaffe', aus einer Baumkronennische in eine Grasflchennische, wodurch
dieser Beziehungsknoten einige seiner Beziehungen auflst, andere knpft und jetzt besser
'Mensch' genannt wird.24 (Flusser 1994: 211)

These observations show that our current form of being is just one realized option out
of a great field of possibilities. I will look at this idea in more detail in chapter three in
my discussion of 'the programmatic worldview'. At this point it is crucial to understand
that through technics as something which alters man's perception of the world, every
informed object is the result of applied technics, which then also projects onto the sub-
ject. Now we can comprehend Flusser's intention behind the equation of existence and
technics. Technics is to be situated between subject and objective world as a means to
concretize desired possibilities; possibilities in both subject and object.

1.3 Technics as Anthropological Constant II

In conclusion, in Vom Subjekt zum Projekt Flusser's use of the term technics can
be read very variably as surrogate for organs, therewith as the capability to adjust (to)
different environments, as a gesture or, more fundamentally, as human existence.

23 This is also true on a very physical level, as Marcel Mauss describes extensively in his analysis of body
techniques in Les techniques du corps (Mauss 1936). Although, here technique rightly describes an
individual or group dependent refined process (a habitus) which then can become widely
unconscious, e.g. using spoon and fork in a particular way, while technics describes the basic
understanding of a method or process before it is (culturally) refined.
24 From an ecological perspective becoming human signifies the journey of a node of relations called
great ape which is based on a series of unlikely events from a treetop niche to a grassland niche,
through which this node of relations abandons some of his relations and instead ties new ones; which
means from now on its is better to called him human.

16
Flusser's comprehension of technics combines all mentioned characteristics. As some-
thing between man and objective environment it inscribes itself into neural structures
and cognitive processes, it affects the way in which the environment is perceived and
generates certain functional gestures in relation to different objects and different ends.
Andr Leroi-Gourhan describes technics as a common syntax between gesture and tool,
which at the same time constitutes operational restrictiveness and freedom which is in-
scribed into memory and thus generated between brain and material world (Leroi-
Gourhan 1980). This description roughly sums up Flusser's ideas but also points to a
willfully created gap in his argumentation, namely concerning the notions of language
and culture. Flusser does not define man as animal rationale and while his approach
seems co-evolutionary (in cultural and neuronal development) he is not interested in
when man develops self-consciousness or at least consciousness.
Nevertheless, he stresses that such a development is closely related to the object-
ive conditionality in which man lives. He makes this clear in Menschwerdung where he
plays with two meanings of the German term 'begreifen'; here similar to 'grasping' (1994:
234). First of all, as the act of taking something from the ground in order to feel/touch
the object and secondly as understanding that object. Combined the two meanings of
'grasping' signify a moment of abstraction in which an object is taken out of its context
and translated into a concept.
Das ist es, was die Worte 'begreifen' und 'Begriff' bedeuten, wenn man sie beim Wort nimmt:
eine Serie von Handlungen, die das Herauslsen des Behandelten aus seinem Kontext sind.
Jeder Begriff mu abstrakt sein, weil ja alles Begriffene, um begriffen zu sein, herausgezo-
gen, abstrahiert wurde.25 (ibid.)

In this action Flusser stresses the feedback loop between eye, hand and brain, which
also implies a neuro-plasticity (especially synaptic plasticity) of giving form and being
formed as describe by Catherine Malabou in her work What should we do with our
brain? (2003: 13) For him, through action (or 'grasping') the brain is specialized and this
specialization provokes particular actions.

25 This is what the words 'to grasp' and 'term' mean if understood literally: a succession of actions
which are the 'taking out of context' of the object dealt with. Every term has to be abstract, since
everything that was grasped, in order to be grasped (understood), had to be taken out of context and
abstracted.

17
Dabei gibt es eine Feedback-Schleife: Die Hnde leiten die Augen und das Gehirn an, sich
im Dienst der Hnde zu spezialisieren, und die Augen und das Gehirn leiten die Hnde an,
so und nicht anders zu handeln.26 (Flusser 1994: 193)
After man understands the object he can shape it and give it the form his 'mind' ('Geist')
envisions (Flusser 2002a: 15). This idea can already be found in Ernst Cassirer's essay
Form und Technik27 from 1930, where he claims that all forms of intellectual coping with
reality are bound to this double act of grasping (26). The second grasping allows man to
give the object a meaning and a function (or neglect it as not useful). Thus Cassirer
points out that objects are never mere things (Dinge) but are only identified if they can
be identified for something, in-order-to (37ff). This corresponds to Flusser's notion of
Menschwerdung ('coming into being of man'), which is characterized as the moment in
which man identifies objects that did not address him before and therefore gains addi-
tional degrees of freedom of how to face the objective environment (Flusser 1994). It
furthermore denotes that there is no information in the world as a constant but what
becomes informative depends on man and his relation to his objective environment.
Martin Buber, who was a big influence to Flusser's thinking as we shall see in chapter
four, emphasizes that while also animals use objects in-order-to, man distances himself
from the objects by providing them with an own being (1978: 22). The object keeps the
information of its function (its in-order-to) and waits from that moment onwards for
man to use it (ibid.). For Buber this is the essence of technics; a being distances a pre-
sent object from itself by providing it with its own functional essence which it then
keeps28 (ibid.).
Becoming human therefore starts with the upright walk, which freed the hands
in order to grasp (and the mouth in order to speak). For Flusser the constitution of our
hands directly shapes our thinking, which leads him to the conclusion that if we want to
comprehend our way of thinking, we have to examine our hands (Flusser 1997: 50). As
his main focus here lies on the relation of subject and object, language is downgraded to
just another mode of adjustment, which allows man to use concrete environmental con-

26 Thus there is a feedback loop: The hands encourage the eyes and the brain to specialize for the
service of the hands and the eyes and the brain encourage the hand to act in a particular and no other
way.
27 Form and Technology
28 The two instances of distancing and informing, which are crucial to Flusser's work, shall be
discussed in the following paragraphs, especially in relation to Flusser's conception of 'entropy'.

18
ditions, namely in this case air waves (Flusser 1994: 137). This way technics (as some-
thing inscribed into organic and non-organic objects, which Flusser calls information)
also becomes the foundation of culture. Culture is generated through technics and is
thus neglected. Nevertheless, language, information and culture occupy a central posi-
tion in Flusser's thinking and also have to be considered in the discussion of technics.

1.4 Five Stages of Abstraction

As already indicated above, the notion Mngelwesen does not only signify the
functional inferiority of the human body but also its lack of instincts. This lack, how-
ever, provides man with additional degrees of freedom both in perceiving and acting in
his world. Flusser thus argues in Menschwerdung (1994):
Wir knnen uns auf Instinkte weit weniger verlassen als Anthropoiden, wir 'wittern' weniger
gut als Affen. Zahlreichen lebensgefhrlichen Situationen sind wir im Vergleich zu unseren
tierischen Ahnen schutzlos ausgeliefert. Das zeigt, was 'Unabhngigkeit' bedeutet: das Zer-
schneiden von Fden, die uns mit unserer Lebenswelt verbinden und uns gestatten, mit ihr
mitzuschwingen. Und es zeigt auch, was 'Instinkt' meint: die Fhigkeit, mit der Lebenswelt
mitzuschwingen. Zweifellos liee sich also ein Standpunkt vertreten, wonach Menschwer-
dung jener Proze ist, dank dessen wir von der Lebenswelt immer unabhngiger werden
[...].29 (266)

Becoming human therefore also means to cut the direct connection to the lifeworld, to
become 'independent'. However, this additional freedom has to be paid for with the loss
of orientation and meaning. Meaning then has to be generated and inscribed in organic
and non-organic objects; it has to be generated as culture (Flusser 1999b:12). This is
already contained in Gehlen's description of the Mngelwesen but becomes even more
obvious in Hans Blumenberg's anthropological approach to rhetoric in which he takes
Gehlen's assumptions as point of departure but focuses more on the loss of orientation.
According to him, the Mngelwesen man is abandoned by nature and is now plagued
with instincts which no longer fulfill any function and which he cannot comprehend

29 We can rely on our instincts far less than the anthropoids, we 'scent' less good than apes. In
countless perilous situations we are, in comparison to our ancestors, defenseless. This shows what
'independence' means: the cutting of the threads that connect us to our lifeworld which allow us blend
with it. This also shows what 'instinct' means: the ability to blend well with the lifeworld. Without
doubt we could describe the process of becoming human as one in which we become more and more
independent from our lifeworld.

19
(2009a: 406). Man can no longer perceive the world in an unmediated way, can never
gain all information needed and still is urged to make decisions. Blumenberg claims
that our perception of the world, our conception of values and our actions are based on
a rhetoric consensus, which hence becomes the central anthropological constant, even
before the existence of language (Heidenreich 2005: 79). As we have seen, Flusser in-
stead describes technics as the anthropological constant.30 However, he also provides a
model in which technics becomes an engine for a dynamic development. Here it simul-
taneously functions as reason and the compensation for the loss of the direct perception
of the world. This model could therefore be understood as being media based. In vari-
ous works Flusser proposes to conceptualize the evolutionary history of human kind as
a successive movement from concrete to abstract. At the same time this development is
one in which man is increasingly alienated from nature.
Das Modell ist eine aus fnf Stufen bestehende Leiter. Die Menschheit ist diese Leiter Schritt
fr Schritt aus dem Konkreten hinaus in immer hhere Abstraktionen emporgeklommen:
ein Modell der Kulturgeschichte und der Entfremdung des Menschen vom Konkreten.31
(Flusser 1999b: 10)

While Blumenberg sees rhetoric as a constant medium between man and world, Flusser
draws a progressive model in which every attempt to regain access to the concrete res-
ults in an additional level of abstraction, without the chance to experience the original
concreteness ever again. This model not only allows to identify the above discussed
point of coming into being of man through technics but moreover also shows, as we
shall see, why Flusser is not interested in the concrete development of consciousness.

30 In his introduction to Flusser Oliver Bidlo's reading of Flusser's conceptualization of language comes
very close to Blumenberg's approach: Weil Flusser den Menschen zunchst von Sprache trennt
der Mensch erfindet sie ja erst, um seiner sinnlosen Grundsituation zu entgehen , kann Sinn und
Bedeutung im Nachhinein als durch Sprache zu Erlangendes eingefhrt werden. [...] Sprache ist bei
Flusser dergestalt eine Erfindung des Menschen, um der existentiellen Not bzw. der Angst vor dem
Tod zu entkommen. Und erst diese Tat der Erfindung, die Verneinung der Entropie und der
Mendelschen Gesetze, kann nach Flusser 'als das fr Menschen kennzeichnende Merkmal
angesehen werden. (Bidlo 2008: 82)
(Since Flusser firstly separates language from man man invents language post priori in order to
escape his natural conditionality meaning can be introduced post priori as something created
through language (...) This way language is for Flusser an invention of man, to escape the existential
suffering, or fear of death. And only through this invention, the negation of entropy and Mendel's
laws, language according to Flusser be seen as feature essential for man.)
31 The model is a ladder consisting of five steps. On this ladder man kind climbed step by step from the
concrete to ever higher abstraction: a model of cultural history and the alienation of man from the
concrete.

20
In this five staged model we move from a four dimensional existence within
nature to the zero dimensional state of the digital age. From the very moment of the
transition from animal to man, man is separated from the unintelligible world through
tools, magical images, linear texts and technical images (Flusser 1999b: 11ff). At the first
stage the 'natural man' ('Naturmensch') (which following the argumentation above is of
course a contradiction in itself) lives in a four dimensional time-space continuum which
addresses animal and 'natural man' alike. It is the stage of 'concrete experience' (Flusser
1999b: 10). The second stage, which Flusser situates between 2.000.000 and 40.000 years
ago, man faces an objective environment, in which he can grasp (again as picking up
and understanding) and craft objects, which then result for example in stone knifes
(10ff). Obviously this is exactly the moment in which man as a homo faber comes into
existence. However, at the next stage man develops an imaginary two-dimensional zone
of intermediation, which affects his view on the objective world. This is the stage of 'tra-
ditional images', like for example cave paintings (11). After this, around 4.000 years ago,
man introduced another degree of abstraction, namely 'linear texts'. According to
Flusser this is the stage of understanding and narrating, and since texts provoke a linear
way of thinking, including time as a progression of events, this is also the 'historical
stage' (ibid.). Finally, with regard to the last stage Flusser explains:
Die Texte haben sich jngst als unzulnglich erwiesen. Sie erlauben keine weiteren Bildver-
mittlungen mehr, sie sind unanschaulich geworden. Und sie zerfallen zu Punktelementen,
welche gerafft werden mssen.32 (ibid.)

The texts have become too abstract to communicate what was presented with the tradi-
tional images. Due to science the reality the texts describe falls into pieces. In order to
make texts imaginable again these pieces have to be gathered through calculation and
computation. It is the stage of 'technical images' (Flusser 1999b: 11).
Interestingly enough, again like in Technik entwerfen and in contrast to Blumen-
berg's model, there is no room for (spoken) language as such. We move directly from
the two dimensional stage of traditional images to the one-dimensional stage of linear
texts. While Flusser also identifies language as the premier instrument for the construc-
tion of meaning in some of his works (e.g. cf. Flusser 2007: 10), here it is not considered,

32 Lately text have proven insufficient. They no longer allow a mediation of images, they have become
obscure/abstract. Here 'unansehnlich' can also mean 'dowdy'.

21
since spoken language is not bound to objects and does not need a graspable medium
(except for air waves). Flusser focuses on media, on objects that are manipulated to carry
information, because this information can be seen. As we shall see below, the process of
informing is central to this model. At the same time, from this perspective it is not be-
neficial to distinguish media and technics as both change the way the world is perceived
(and how we reach out for the world; directly or via symbols).
Of course, Flusser is fully aware of how constructed and simplified such a model
is and in fact, the single stages not only overlap but also exist simultaneously. The reason
why he nonetheless formulates these rigid stages is that he intends to show how differ-
ent technics or media alter our perception of the world and ourselves and that therefore
technical images must not be mistaken for traditional images (Flusser 1999b: 12). In this
respect his aim is similar to that of Marshall McLuhan who creates a model consisting of
the four stages oral tribe culture, manuscript culture, Gutenberg galaxy and the elec-
tronic age and who argues:
[I]f a new technology extends one or more of our senses outside us into the social world,
then new ratios among all of our senses will occur in that particular culture. It is comparable
to what happens when a new note is added to a melody. And when the sense ratios alter in
any culture then what had appeared lucid before may suddenly become opaque, and what
had been vague or opaque will become translucent. (McLuhan 1962: 41)

Accordingly, for Flusser not the stages themselves are the most significant but what hap-
pens in the transitional areas between them. Thus he explains, between stages one and
two man differs from animal because he has hands with which he is reaching for the
world in an act (Flusser 1999b: 12). As already mentioned above, this action is a 'grasp-
ing' in a sense that man reaches out for an object, which then allows him to 'understand'
it after thorough examination. At the same time, with this act the lifeworld is separated
in (following the Cartesian model) understood objects and understanding subjects.
Die Handlung abstrahiert das Subjekt aus der Lebenswelt, klammert es aus ihr aus, und was
brigbleibt, ist das dreidimensionale Universum der zu fassenden Gegenstnde, der zu lsen
Probleme. Dieses Universum der Objekte kann nun vom Subjekt umgeformt, 'informiert'
werden. Kultur ist die Folge.33 (Flusser 1999b:12)

33 The act abstracts the subject from its lifeworld, excludes it from it and what remains is the three
dimensional universe of objects to be grasped and problems to be solved. This universe of objects can
be re-shaped by the subject, it can be informed. The outcome is culture.

22
The subject faces an objective environment that it can grasp and 'inform'. Technics al-
lows man to inform the environment, which then informs him. Through this use of the
verb 'to inform' as to bring in shape (from the Latin 'informare') or to inscribe informa-
tion onto an object, Flusser makes a clear separation of object as such and medium diffi-
cult. Every object can become a medium. Technics is the understanding of how objects
can be informed (also incorporating gestures). Technics thus provides also the founda-
tion for culture, which in this sense could be understood as memorized technics and the
maintenance and development of its heritage. In any way, this usage of the term 'to in-
form', in which technics and culture are combined, allows a different perspective on a
biological and cultural co-evolution, since technics is never one directional; as a trace it
always informs object and subject.
Between stages two and three, Flusser argues, the hands rely on a coordination
based on the information gathered by the eyes. This is the field of theory and praxis; the
object can be examined before it is shaped. Moreover, the eyes can capture an object be-
fore the hands can grip and act against it. They can foresee and imagine an action
(Flusser 1999b: 12ff). This imagination can be displayed on a surface, in traditional im-
ages. The images provide the viewer with meaning that is re-confirmed through the ad-
equate action. This process is circular and Flusser calls it 'magic' ('magisch') (13). Here it
becomes clear, that in this model it is difficult to speculate about consciousness, as it
would (like language) violate the separation of the different stages. Flusser's focus lies
on how the change of perception materializes and how the materialization of it changes
perception. Flusser continues, very phenomenologically, by claiming that images are not
'comprehensible' ('fassbar') since they are two-dimensional and do not contain any
depth. To make the images understandable imagination has to be translated into terms
that can explain the images (ibid.). As already mentioned, for Flusser the linearity of
texts coincides with a certain way of thinking in which time is seen as a progression of
events, namely a historical thinking. Concurrently, the one-dimensional lines of texts
follow certain rules, which we though could mediate what the world is like. However,
Flusser remarks:

23
[...] wir beginnen erst in jngster Zeit festzustellen, da wir diese Regeln nicht etwa im Um-
stand 'entdecken' (zum Beispiel in Form von Naturgesetzen), sondern da sie von unseren
wissenschaftlichen Texten selbst hineingetragen wurden.34 (14)

Actually, scientific texts do not reveal the true nature of the world but impose their
models onto it. As models are abstract, we can no longer imagine the meaning of the
texts. As a result, we do not trust the text anymore. They fall into small pieces, which
then have to be calculated and 're-gathered'.
We reached the last zero dimensional stage of technical images at which science
has penetrated the material world to such an extent that it crumbles into a 'universe of
dots' ('Punktuniversum'). In his model Flusser uses this metaphor to describe the essen-
tial character of technical images. At the same time it is true on a larger scale, since
these dots could be interpreted for example as pixels, bits, genes, neurons, atoms or
quarks. This zero dimensional stage is the end of the progression, since at this point no
level of higher abstraction is possible (Flusser 1994: 22). On the contrary, as Flusser envi-
sions, at this stage we have the chance to move back to the concrete. We can assemble
the dots in totally new ways through which the notions of tchne and ars are fused
again.
Wir sind daran, eine Bewutseinsebene zu erklimmen, auf welcher das Erforschen der tiefe-
ren Zusammenhnge, das Erklren, Aufzhlen, Erzhlen, Berechnen, kurz das historische,
wissenschaftliche, textuell lineare Denken von einer neuen, 'oberflchlichen' Denkart ver-
drngt wird. Und daher hat es fr uns jeden Sinn verloren, zwischen Eingebildetem, zwi-
schen Fiktivem und 'Realem' unterscheiden zu wollen. Das abstrakte Punktuniversum, aus
dem wir hervortauchen, hat uns gezeigt, da alles Nichteingebildete ein Nichts ist. Daher
haben wir die Kriterien 'wahr/falsch', 'echt/knstlich' oder 'wirklich/scheinbar' aufgeben
mssen, um statt dessen das Kriterium 'konkret/abstrakt' anzuwenden.35 (44)

Hence, Flusser not only aims to underline the change in social structures resulting from
the introduction of new media, like the McLuhan quote suggested, but, in line with the
understanding of technics discussed in the beginning of this chapter, he wants to show
how our very being-in-the-world is changed. He stresses: Was sich gegenwrtig
34 [...] we only start to understand, that we do not discover these rules in the particular circumstance
(e.g. in shape of laws of nature) but that instead they were imposed through scientific texts.
35 We are about to enter a level of consciousness at which the research of deeper coherency, the
explaining, counting, telling, calculating, in short the historic, scientific, textual linear thinking is
replace by a new more superficial way of thinking. And therefore for us it makes no longer sense, to
distinguish between imagined, between fiction and 'reality'. The abstract universe of dots from which
we emerge showed us that everything that is not imagined is a nothingness. Hence we had to abandon
the criteria 'true/fake', 'real/artificial' or 'actual/apparent', in order to apply the criteria
'concrete/abstract'.

24
vollzieht ist eine Mutation unserer Erlebnisse, Erkenntnisse, Werte und Handlungen,
eine Mutation unseres In-der-Welt-Seins36 (Flusser 1999b: 9).
This becomes clearer, if we continue to trace the idea, that the 'dots', which
Flusser identifies as the basic entity of our age do not necessarily have to be understood
as pixels. Then we realize that we, in very general terms, rely on buttons to face a world
in which objects have become too large or small for our hands, which once were the ba-
sic instruments to grasp something. Flusser argues that we now mainly approach the
world with our fingertips (28ff). The buttons and the instruments they handle, mediate
between us and our world concerning vision and touch. Again, media and technics over-
lap insofar as they inform objects and subjects (a fact that has to be focused on in the
discussion about apparatuses). Therefore Flusser's description of man as a being strug-
gling against the loss of information shall be discussed next.

1.5 Neg-Entropy

For Flusser man is a 'neg-entropic37 being'. According to his interpretation of the


second law of thermodynamics, all information is subject to a process of decay, however
man counteracts this process by producing, processing and memorizing information
(Flusser 1999b: 22). At this point it is important to notice that on the one hand, Flusser
uses the term 'information' in a rather specific way as directly related to language and
code, on the other hand, again he understands 'to in-form' as in the Latin origin of the
word, namely as 'to shape something'. He states this very explicitly in his essay On
Memory (Electronic or Otherwise):

36 What happens right now is the mutation of our experiences, insights, values and actions, a mutation
of our being-in-the-world.
37 A term first introduced by the Austrian physicist Erwin Schrdinger in his work What is Life? where
he writes about 'entropy': We now recognize this fundamental law of physics to be just the natural
tendency of things to approach the chaotic state (the same tendency that the books of the library or
the piles of papers and manuscripts on a writing desk display) unless we obviate it. (Schrdinger
1967: 73) As the opposite to this state, neg-entropy, can also be relate to Niklas Luhmann's systems
theory in which move towards society differentiation and a reduction of complexity (Luhmann 1998:
144ff ), a connection that shall become relevant in the next chapter.

25
When people started to build a cultural memory [...] they used two types of memory sup-
ports, or objects that store information. The first was airwaves in vocalization, the second
was stones, bones and other hard objects. (Flusser 1990: 397)

While language is not included in Flusser's model of 'five stages of abstraction', here the
technical processes described before are accompanied by it. Since the focus lies not only
on the relation between single subject and objective world. Instead, the significance
shifts to a social realm in which man preserves this information, not only in tools 38 (or
objects) but additionally, in an inter-subjective manner. With this approach Flusser
adds the symbolic, inter-subjective, social layer to material culture. Here he is especially
interested in the combined memory function of language and material objects (Flusser
1999: 398). He argues that while a stone knife can carry the information of 'how to cut'
for thousands of years, language transported by air waves has to be perceived immedi-
ately, otherwise the information is lost (197). But also material carriers of the informa-
tion lose the information while they are used according to that very information: the
knife not only keeps information on 'how to cut' but is also used for cutting (Flusser
1990: 197). Therefore man invents material memory supports whose only functionality is
to carry particular (symbolic) information. Nevertheless, although the information is
not worn off in function, these materials are still object to entropy(197ff).
In other words, Flusser describes the struggle against the loss of information as
the central human task and informing becomes the central human attribute. With re-
gard to what has been discussed above, this process can also be comprehended as the
struggle against the loss of knowledge of how to perceive, handle and face the environ-
ment (how to survive despite the loss of instincts)39 on the one hand. On the other
hand, like argued with Blumenberg, it is also the struggle against man's own meaning-
lessness. This way technics and information do not exclude each other as that central,
constituting moment of man and Flusser confirms this parallel:

38 Even though at one point Flusser excludes tools from this process: Denn ein Werkzeug ist kraft
seines ontologischen Status kein Gegenstand, der 'in-formiert' werden mu. Es ist ein Gegenstand,
der dazu dient, andere Gegenstnde in Form zu bringen. (Flusser 1997: 67)
(Because a tool is, due to its ontological status, not an object that has to be 'in-formed'. It is an
object which serves to bring other objects into the right form.)
39 Flusser also refers to other possible memory supports which allow to perceive technics as the
method of applying and saving information: There may have been other memory supports in use,
like body gestures, but these will not be considered here. (Flusser 1990: 397)

26
[...] der Mensch ist ein Wesen, das gegen die sture Tendenz des Universums zur Desinforma-
tion engagiert ist. Seit der Mensch seine Hand gegen die ihn angehende Lebenswelt aus-
streckte, um sie aufzuhalten, versucht er, auf seinen Umstand Informationen zu drcken.
Seine Antwort auf den 'Wrmetod' und den Tod schlechthin ist: 'informieren'.40 (Flusser
1999b: 23)

As argued before, technics would then determine which objects are informed in what
way. The result of the informing through technics over time can be called culture
(Flusser 1997: 224).
Actually, Flusser describes this process in terms of a circle of 'nature-culture-
waste-nature', stressing that now the objects carry the information longer than before,
which paradoxically does not result in more culture but more waste:
In seinem Engagement gegen den vitisen Zirkel 'Natur-Kultur-Abfall-Natur', in seinem En-
gagement gegen diesen Informationszerfall, greift nun der Mensch zu immer dauerhafteren
Informationsunterlagen, zum Beispiel zu Plastikflaschen statt zu Glasflaschen. Perverser-
weise staut sich dadurch aber der vitise Zirkel nicht in der Kultur, im 'Gedchtnis', sondern
im Abfall, im 'Vergessen'.41 (Flusser 1999b: 119)

Thus, man's attempt against entropy is currently inefficient, since the informed object's
are only temporarily integrated into human memory, into culture, before they lose part
of their information, become waste and are forgotten (or remembered because of the
environmental problems they cause).
Since this progression has become problematic, Flusser argues, that currently we
witness a shift in importance from material information carriers to pure information, to
programs and to software (Flusser 2002b: 185). Material things are no longer of value,
instead the programs that control the machines which produce commodities are valu-
able (186). This process includes, on both symbolic and the concrete level, the informa-
tion of organic and non-organic objects alike. In fact, Flusser suggests that the differ-
ence between learned and inherited information and between symbolic and material
information is increasingly blurred.
Die dieses Modell [das lineare Kulturmodell] sttzende Anthropologie ist ins Wanken gera-
ten, weil die neueren Erkenntnisse der Neurophysiologie eine klare Unterscheidung zwi-
schen ererbten und erworbenen Informationen nicht mehr erlauben. Die Hardware 'Gehirn'

40 [...] man is a being which counters the stubborn tendency of the universe to des-inform. Ever since
man held his hand against the lifeword which addresses him, he tries to press information upon his
circumstances. His reply to the heat death and death in general: 'informing'.
41 With his commitment against the vicious circle 'nature-culture-garbage-nature', with his
commitment against the dissolution of information, man now reaches out for ever more durable
information carriers, for example for plastic bottles instead of glass bottles. Paradoxically, this vicious
circle does not accumulate in culture, in the 'memory', but in garbage, in oblivion.

27
und die 'Software' Daten verzahnen sich, so da man bei der Datenverarbeitung (bei den
'mentalen Prozessen') nicht mehr klar angeben kann, was daran genetisch und was kulturell
ist.42 (Flusser 1997: 225)

The plasticity of the brain allows us to comprehend symbolic information as translated


into concrete material condition. Flusser points out that the internal organization of the
brain changes according to the information it receives and without the information it
would degenerate (Flusser 1999b: 99). This example not only illustrates the blurred line
between inherited and created information but also demonstrates why by informing his
objective environment through technics, man also informs the organic structure of his
brain and thus himself. What is true for the structure of the brain is also true in more
general terms: Flusser's understanding of 'information' and 'media' does not necessarily
allow to distinguish between artificially and naturally informed 'media', which becomes
apparent in On Memory (electronic and otherwise) (1990) where he states that biomass
consists of tiny drops in which information is encoded (397). This would mean that
also nature informs its 'objects'. In fact, Flusser's work allows us to differentiate here.
Wiewohl diese allem Objektiven innewohnende Tendenz zur Entropie sich immer wieder
umstlpt und zufllig zu unwahrscheinlichen Situationen fhren kann (in der Natur entste-
hen immer wieder Informationen wie Spiralnebel oder menschliche Gehirne), ist jedoch von
der Geste des Informierens zu sagen, da darin die Absicht eines Subjekts zum Ausdruck
kommt, die objektive Tendenz zur Entropie zu verneinen.43 (Flusser 2002a: 15ff )

The 'gesture of informing' is thus the active intentional intervention of man into the
mostly circular process of informing and dis-informing of nature.
As indicated before, for Flusser biological evolution is a conglomerate of coincid-
ences. Thus, nature has the potential to create very unlikely situations and objects
(Flusser 1994: 12), however, in order to do so, to use Flusser's metaphor, it has to 'roll the
dices' ('wrfeln') (Flusser 1999b: 30ff). Also many of man's informing gestures start off
co-incidentally, culture and technics enable him to imagine and calculate unlikely situ-

42 The anthropology supporting this model [the linear model of culture] has been unhinged, since
newer insights of neuro-physiology no longer allow a clear distinction between inherited and learned
information. The 'hardware' brain and the 'software' are interconnected, so that concerning data
processing (in mental processes) one can no longer clearly indicate what is genetic and what is
cultural.
43 Although the tendency towards entropy which is immanent to everything objective, again and again
reverses and coincidentally leads to unlikely situations (in nature again and again information like
spiral nebulae and human brains come into being), concerning the gesture of informing we have to
say that therein the intention of a subject is expressed, to negate the objective tendency towards
entropy.

28
ations and objects (Flusser 1999b: 32ff). Hence, man artificially (and intentionally)
speeds up the natural process in which new information is generated (and tries to elim-
inate the coincidental aspects through technics and technology). Of course, like indic-
ated above, against the background of the plasticity of the brain, technical/cultural
evolution also has a significant impact on biological evolution and one could argue, that
from the moment man manipulated his objective world, man also affected his own bio-
logical evolution (and e.g. call it cultural-biological co-evolution). In dem Mae, in
dem der Mensch die Natur in Kultur verwandelt, verwandelt er sich selber.44 (Flusser
1997: 224) The important point here is that in this context technics has to be understood
as the willful production of unlikely information, as the development of programs
(Flusser 1993a: 99).
While the intentional production of unlikely information can be described a con-
stant in technics, a certain development can be recognized in terms of which materials
are informed (and accessible) in which way. The sophistication of technics allows man
to reach 'further' into nature and to inform his objects more effectively, so that the in-
formation stays longer. Of course the reason for this development is mainly to be found
in the combination of technics, science and the question, how objects can be analyzed
and what we want them to be. According to Flusser, the main question here is how the
subject knows what the objects surrounding it should be like. He argues, before-hand
man worked empirically following values, however, this method did not reveal what ob-
jects really were, since it was not scientific (Flusser 1994: 141). However, now man applies
scientific models.
Modelle mssen auf wissenschaftliche Theorien beruhen, wobei 'Theorie' eben nicht mehr
die griechische Schau der Werte, sondern im Gegenteil ein provisorisches Aufdecken der
Struktur des Seins bedeutet.45 (ibid.)

Models no longer respond to Platonic ideas but rather follow different fashions (Moden)
which can only reveal a provisional structure of being in general. Instead, through the
means of science (and enlightenment) we can master this objective world (142).

44 In as much as man transforms nature into culture, he transforms himself.


45 Models have to be based on scientific theories, however, theory no longer means the Greek revealing
of values but in contrast a provisional uncovering of the structure of being.

29
Seit der industriellen Revolution sind die Modelle manipulierbare und stndig verbesserbare
Formen. Seit Kant hat sich die moderne Philosophie, mit Marx und Nietzsche als zentralen
Figuren, mit der Manipulierbarkeit der Modelle befat.46 (Flusser 1993a: 70)

At the same time scientific models now allow technics to grind the objects into their
smallest entities, the already mentioned 'Punktuniversum' and to use these entities as
building blocks. At this point the information strategies of nature are copied. The wide
understanding of the term technics, as something particular human which informs ob-
ject and subject becomes problematic with regard to nature, which on the one hand also
provides information (shapes our neural connections) and at the same time, with the
use of nature's information strategies, the line between technics and nature is blurred,
nature becomes cultural and culture natural.
Especially due to scientific analysis and its fragmentation of the objective world,
man has the chance to re-assemble and re-design his environment anew. He can re-
structure his conditionality, change his way of being in the world and seeing the world.
With the outline of Flusser's understanding of man-world-technics in mind I therefore
now want to briefly introduce his conception of his negative anthropology, in which he
basically explores these assumptions.

1.6 Towards a 'Neg-Anthropology'

According to Flusser in modern times people trusted in the solidity of things


(Flusser 1994: 11), due to science this trust is lost. Science allowes man to analyze and
break down his objective world into the smallest parts which, however, does not provide
him with any solid ground but with nothingness and meaninglessness.
Das numerische Denken ist im Verlauf der Neuzeit immer tiefer in die Dinge vorgedrungen,
aber statt auf einen Grund zu stoen, hat es die Dinge zu Nebelschwaden aufgelst, die im
Nichts schweben.47 (ibid.)

46 Ever since the industrial revolution models are forms which are manipulable and can be constantly
improved. Since Kant philosophy, with Marx and Nietzsche as central figures, was concerned with the
manipulability of models.
47 In the course of modern times numerical thinking entered deeper into things, but instead of hitting
on a ground, it dissolved things into wafts of mist which are floating in nothingness.

30
Additionally, not only the objective world is affected by this scientific development but
also man himself. Flusser argues, that due to the change from alphabetic to numeric
thinking with the beginning of modern times man successively lost his trust in the
solidity of things but also in the 'solidity' of the subject: Fr das numerische Denken
sind Welt und Mensch punktuell, mosaikartig, ein 'Zersetzen und Zusammensetzen'.
(Flusser 1994: 15) With progress in science the subject has become its own object and
Flusser therefore argues that man has become calculable not only in physical and
physiological terms but also from a mental, social or even cultural perspective (17).
Hence, the man as subject dissolves into different relations.
Als Objekt des Kalkulierens zerfliet der Mensch in sich einander berschneidende Netze
von physiologischen, psychischen, sozialen und kulturellen Relationen; und der Mensch als
Subjekt des Kalkulierens lst sich selbst auf. Das ist der berchtigte 'Tod des Humanismus'. 48
(ibid.)

This 'death of humanism' navigates our contemporary society into a 'big nothingness' in
which neither our material environment nor the human any longer have a hard core
(Flusser 2006: 45). Additionally, man can no longer refer to any external, transcendental
meaning; he has lost his faith through scientific doubt and it is also through science,
that man has lost his trust in his material environment but also in all meaning and val-
ues. In this, apparently unfavorable situation for man, Flusser does not see reasons for
nihilistic pessimism but instead stressed the chances these circumstances provide.
Es ist zwar richtig, da mit dem Einsetzen des numerischen Denkens ein Schritt zur Zerset-
zung der Dinge und des Menschen zu 'nichts' getan wird. Aber ebenso richtig ist, da damit
das Feld fr das Projizieren alternativer Welten und Menschen frei wird. Gegenwrtig sind
die meisten von uns von den Auflsungssymptomen beeindruckt. Alles um uns herum
Umwelt, Gesellschaft, Bewutsein und damit alles ins uns Werte, Bedeutungen, Ent-
scheidungen ist dabei zu zerfallen. Aber es gibt ebenso viele Symptome fr ein beginnen-
des Projizieren von Alternativen.49 (18)

As already pointed out with regard to 'five stages of abstraction', there is no higher level
of abstraction, instead we have to start to 'concretize'. We have to stop arguing, that the
numeric thinking is not adequate for a description of the world, alternatively Flusser
48 As an object of calculation man dissolves into overlapping networks of physiological, mental, social
and cultural relations; and man as subject of calculating dissolves himself. This is the infamous 'death
of humanism'.
49 A new 'post-humanistic', 'post-modern' anthropology is in the making. After we enlightened ourselves
as nothingness in nothingness as a node of relations which are not connected by anything it is
now that we can begin to negate this nothingness. Such a negative anthropology ('neg-anthropology')
is not only a theoretical philosophical way of seeing (a negative faith) but first and foremost a praxis.

31
emphasis, the structure of the world has to be changed according to numerical thinking
(Flusser 1994: 16). Simultaneously, he points out that such a turn of the epistemological
problem has to abandon the thought of a world that exists independently from thinking
(ibid.). He claims that this would allow for a new anthropology that is based on a nega-
tion of the current nothingness:
Eine neue, post-humanistische, 'post-moderne' Anthropologie befindet sich im Entstehen.
Nachdem wir uns als ein Nichts im Nichts aufgeklrt haben als Knoten vernetzter Relatio-
nen, die nichts verbindet , knnen wir berhaupt erst beginnen, dieses Nichts zu vernei-
nen. Eine derartige negative Anthropologie ('Neg-Anthropologie') ist nicht etwa nur eine
theoretische philosophische Sicht (ein negativer Glaube), sondern vor allem eine Praxis.
(18ff )

Since technics is located between man and the world that conditions him as the mo-
ment in which both man and world are projected out of technics, Flusser sees a range of
opportunities for the 'node of relations' called man. This also means that it is no longer
beneficial to ask who somebody is, but instead we have to ask how the knowledge net-
work the person is embedded in is knitted and how that network relates to other net-
works (Flusser 1994: 36). However, this 'node of relations' is also still conditioned by its
objective environment and therefore also the way in which man informs and is informed
(by) its objective environment has to be taken into account in an analysis of a possible
neg-anthropology. Before I want to return to the question of what a neg-anthropological
praxis could look like, I thus want to explore how man's conditionality was altered
through technics in more detail. In the following chapters I will therefore focus on the
dynamics in the relation of man and technics. In order to illustrate these changes in
how man informs his environment and is shaped through technics I will relate technics
to the concepts of 'work' and 'homo faber', because, as we shall see, a negative anthropo-
logy requires man to become a homo faber.

32
2. Homo Faber and Machine

In der Tat wird gegenwrtig die Arbeit im klassischen


und modernen Sinn durch das Funktionieren er-
setzt. [...] Diese absurde Geste kann nicht ohne eine
Betrachtung der Maschine verstanden werden, denn
tatschlich funktioniert man als Funktion einer Ma-
schine, die als Funktion des Funktionrs funktio-
niert, der wiederum als Funktion eines Apparates
funktioniert.50 (Flusser 1997: 24)

In the first chapter I discussed Flusser's explicit understanding of the word tech-
nics and the relation between man, technics and the world. Technics was identified as a
central anthropological constant that, however, also functions as an engine for dynamics
in human evolution. With the use and information of the first objects, man slowly alien-
ates himself from nature and becomes a homo faber. From this moment onwards tech-
nics constantly determines how man perceives and confronts the objective environment
that conditions him. It determines how man informs this objective environment and
thus how he is retroactively informed. Therefore Flusser argues, that the history of man
can also be understood in terms of man and his relation to the means that allow to in-
form his environment which again are not mere means as they also constitute man. He
situates hand, tool, machine and apparatus in the center of this evolution of man.51
(Flusser 2002b: 166) All of these means are designed to support man in the struggle
against entropy. Nevertheless, their output differs radically.
Since hand and tool have been discussed implicitly above, the focus here shall re-
main on the machine and the apparatus, as it is with them that technics seemingly no
longer only informs according to man's desire but develops an autonomous dynamic.
While so far technics, as constant of man, has been presented positively or at least neut-
50 In deed, currently work in the classical and modern sense is replaced by functioning. [...] This absurd
gesture cannot be understood without considering the machine, since actually one functions as
function of a machine which functions as a function of the functionary which in turn functions as
function of an apparatus.
51 Even though this progression refers to the information of physical objects it is partly intertwined
with the symbolic realm described in 'Five Stages of Abstraction'. The stilus (a tool) allows man to
scribe (from the Latin 'scribere') symbols into clay or marble (Flusser 2002a: 16ff ). The printing press
(machine) enables man to inform in great quantities and varieties. Flusser even describes it as a core
for industrial revolution (Flusser 2002a: 53). The last stage of abstraction, the stage of techno
images, would not occur without the apparatus. At this point symbolic and physical information
have become inseparably fused.

33
rally, the discussion of machine and apparatus will allow to reveal a more negative and
even nihilistic description of technics in Flusser's work. Although, as became clear un-
der in the previous chapter, the current state of technics did not encourage Flusser to
advocate a nihilistic pessimism, the traces of it in his conception of technics cannot be
denied. In order to capture this perceptive change of technics towards the negative in
the 20th century, I want to start this chapter with a discussion of Hannah Arendt dis-
tinction between 'labor', 'work' and 'action'. A conception which had a deep impact on
Flusser and his rather negative perception of the notions machine and apparatus and
which at the same time serves as a point of departure for his utopian vision of a future
society. In other words, the introduction of these concepts allows us to follow Flusser's
description of man from his coming into being as object informing homo faber, via his
current state as a functionary, to his hopeful vision of a homo ludens in the telematic so-
ciety. We can thus take up the discussion of chapter one, in which technics was identi-
fied as a way of perceiving and informing, and examine how this process of informing
progresses and therefore changes the relation between man, technics and the world.

2.1 Work and Labor

In her work The Human Condition (1998) Hannah Arendt differentiates three
kinds of human activity. 'Labor' corresponds to the the biological process of the human
body, whose spontaneous growth, metabolism, and eventual decay are bound to the vi-
tal necessities produced and fed into the life process (7). In other words, labor is the
struggle for survival and constitutes a continuous circular process, which does not result
in a product. In contrast to labor, 'work' is the activity which corresponds to the unnat-
uralness of human existence [...] (ibid.); it is the activity through which man creates the
durable objective world around him. Finally, 'action' is the part of the 'vita activa' that
goes on directly between men without the intermediary of things or matter and there-
fore corresponds to the human condition of plurality (ibid.). Action thus is closely re-
lated to communication in the broadest sense.

34
With regard to the previous chapter and especially the conception of man as a
neg-entropic being, particularly Arendt's notion of work is interesting, since work pro-
duces the sheer unending variety of things whose sum total constitutes the human arti-
fice (Arendt 1998: 136). While labor is focused on guaranteeing man's bare survival,
work is primarily concerned with the production of information or durable traces. What
has been described as a struggle against entropy by means of technics here seems to be
replaced by work.
The durability of the human artifice is not absolute; the use we make of it, even though we
do not consume it, uses it up. The life process which permeates our whole being invades it,
too, and if we do not use the things of the world, they also will eventually decay, return into
the over-all natural process from which they were drawn and against which they were erec-
ted. (ibid.)

On the one hand, the human artifice is object to entropy and on the other hand, as
Arendt stresses, the things of the world have the function of stabilizing human life
(137). Thus, to switch to Flusser's terminology again, durable informed objects provide
man with meaning and orientation. In this engagement for meaning the creator of the
human artifice, homo faber, according to Arendt destroys nature whereas the animal
laborans remains the servant of nature and the earth; only homo faber conducts him-
self as lord and master of the whole earth (139). This conception also contains the idea
that animals labor (which brings the slaves in ancient Greece closer to animals than to
man). In fact, the animal laborans is more animal than man since following Arendt's
train of thought man only comes into being when he starts to manipulate the objective
world around him, namely when he becomes a homo faber. Arendt writes that without
being at home in the midst of things whose durability makes them fit for use and for
erecting a world whose very permanence stands in direct contrast to life, this life would
never be human (135). This statement supports Flusser's understanding of technics as
the existence of man, since man came into being through technics when he started to
grasp and manipulate his objective world.
At the same time the similarity between Arendt and Flusser, between the notion
'technics' and 'work' forces us to examine Flusser's understanding of work in more de-
tail. Is it congruent with Arendt's use of the term?

35
In his essay Jenseits der Maschinen52 (1997) Flusser blurs the line between
Arendt's terms labor and work. He argues very peremptorily against the idea that man
works53 just like animals in order to satisfy his needs (20). According to him animals do
not work, as they only satisfy their needs and do not change their world through this
process. Humans instead, do not only take on the amount of calories that allows them to
survive but still work after the satisfaction of their biological needs (20ff). In order to
reach this surplus they change the material world around them (through technics, e.g.
by creating tools or inventing agriculture). From this vantage point it becomes very diffi-
cult to distinguish labor and work, as only technics (to dry fruits, smoke ham, create
tools) and the durable information of objects allows man to gain a surplus (of storable
food and other objects).
This merging of the two terms is partly intended, as we shall see below, and par-
tially a translational problem, since in his definition of work Flusser relates the German
term Arbeit to Arendt's term work even though she translates 'work' with 'herstellen' and
'labor' with 'arbeiten' (Arendt 1960: 76ff). Demnach ist Arbeiten eine Geste, ein
widernatrlicher Ausdruck des Versuchs, Werte zu verwirklichen und Wirklichkeiten
zu verwerten.54 (Flusser 1997: 21) In this quote 'Arbeit' clearly refers to 'work'. The same
seems to be true in Flusser's work Menschwerdung (1994) where he states that the mo-
ment man came into being he started to grasp the objects on the ground around him, he
started to work (244). This statement underpins the assumption that Flusser's under-
standing of work coincides with that of Arendt. This would mean that also work and
technics coincide.
In fact, the contrary is true. Flusser opposes the two notions and claims, that
technics is an intention, which is directed against work, and not only labor. From the
very moment of coming into being man uses technics against the conditionality which
forces him to work.
52 Beyond the Machines
53 Here we encounter the problem that Flusser only refers to the English version of Arendt's work.
While he at one point tries to translate the notion 'labor' with 'arbeiten'/'leiden' ('suffering') and work
with wirken (to take an effect), he mostly uses the German expression 'Arbeit' as a translation for
both terms. Furthermore Flusser also describes work as a gesture (Flusser 1997: 24), which he defines
as every motion of the body that expresses an intention (Flusser 1997: 7).
54 Accordingly work is a gesture, an unnatural expression of the attempt to realize values and to
dispose reality.

36
Technik ist eine gegen das Arbeiten gerichtete Absicht, und 'Homo Faber' ist nicht ein Arbei-
ter, sondern einer, der der Arbeit sehr genau zusieht. 'Homo-Faber' ist ein Techniker, also
eher ein Arbeit-geber als ein Arbeitnehmer. Er ist ein Subjekt, welches versucht, sich aus der
Arbeit herauszuziehen: sich aus der Doppelschraube der Arbeit herauszuwinden, in eine et-
was aufrechtere Stellung. Menschwerdung dank Herauswindung aus der Arbeit, dank Tech-
nik. Das ist Antimarxismus.55 (Flusser 1994: 244)

Other than for Marx and Engels, for Flusser work is not the positive metabolism
between man and nature or a creative process that leads to alienation only in form of
capitalistic wage work (Marx 2005: 192ff). Instead, for him, work is a repetitive action,
which follows the double action of grasping. It is redundant and for this reason man has
tried to avoid and abandon work.
Flusser follows Kapp's idea of organ projection to stress that man created levers
('artificial limbs') in order to make his work easier (Flusser 1994: 244). In fact, he argues
that all machines are complex variations of these levers and man himself turns into a
henchman or into a machine by using these levers (245). In this context technics is the
moment in which a model is envisioned; the best and repeatable way to achieve an in-
tended goal under stable external conditions. What starts with the intention to ease or
prevent work, with the application and repetition of the model turns into work again.
Thus technics is the insight that should abandon work, but which, as long as totally
automatic machines do not free man from work, at worst provokes and at best only
transforms it.56 It is this process of working that turns man into a lever and therefore
Flusser argues, that as long as man works, he will never fully become human (244). In
fact, he provides a concise illustration of the relation of technics and work with his de-
scription of the human hand and the act of grasping.
Sobald die Hand etwas begriffen hat, mu sie sich so weit wie mglich daraus zurckziehen
und alles weitere Handeln knstlichen Hnden, listigen Prothesen berlassen, wenn es ihr
darum geht, menschlich zu werden. Eine tatschlich menschlich gewordene Hand arbeitet
nicht, sondern sie begreift, um nicht arbeiten zu mssen.57 (246)

55 Technics is a tendency against work, and 'homo faber' is not a worker but somebody who observes
work very thoroughly. 'homo faber' is a technician, thus rather an employer than an employee. He is a
subject which tries to retreat from work: to extricate from the double screw of work into a more
upright position. Becoming human thanks to the extrication from work through technics. That is
anti-Marxism.
56 With this position Flusser opposes Arendt's statement that technology was never intended to ease
labor and erect human artifice but served exclusively in an altogether non-practical search for
useless knowledge (Arendt 1998: 289).

37
Here we can already recognize, that Flusser's conception of work is negative: with tech-
nics man comes into being and it is also technics (through the double instance of grasp-
ing) which eases labor and work. In other words, man's main achievement is this very
grasping that allows him to create models of how to face the objective environment that
conditions him.
At this point I want to take a short detour via Friedrich Engels' understanding of
work58 in his short but concise work Der Anteil der Arbeit an der Menschwerdung des Af-
fen59 (1946) in order to make Flusser's distinction between work and technics in relation
to man's coming into being clearer. Very close to the approach of philosophical anthro-
pology to technics, Engels identifies work as the basic condition of human life and de-
scribes the feedback mechanisms between work and the (ape/human) body (7). Also for
Engels, the liberation of the hand is an important step towards becoming human. How-
ever, for him this progress is not related to technics but to work. The free hand is the
product of work and work the product of the free hand (ibid.). Work as such evolves
with the creation of the first tools (11) and eventually allows the development of lan-
guage (8). Consequently, Engels conceptializes work and language as the crucial forces
for the transformation from ape brain to human brain (9). Thus he directly relates the
evolution of man to work, which, according to him, also allowed man to utilize fire and
to move to colder climate zones, where he found new fields of work (14). In other words,
Engels' description of work as a human constant, with regard to its impact for man,
could substitute Flusser's notion of technics. At the same time, it allows us to see, why
Flusser relates the coming into being of man to technics and not to work. Engels de-
scribes work as a systematic repetitive action, which over time results in man's biologic-
al evolution (15). With this description Engels is certainly right, but for Flusser not the
repetitive action is significant, but the insightful moment in which man understands a
process or material and envisions a model according to which, under the same condi-
tions, this process can be repeated. At the same time Flusser insists, that man has to be

57 As soon as the hand has grasped something, it has to retreat as far as possible form it and leave all
further action to artificial hands, cunning prostheses if becoming human is concerned. A hand that
has really become human, does not work, it grasps in order to not to have to work.
58 The German term 'Arbeit' has been translated with 'labor', however, in Arendt's understanding here
we are dealing with 'work'.
59 (The Part Played by Labor in Man's Transion from Ape to Man)

38
freed from the mechanic and repetitive application of these models in terms of work.
Technics therefore becomes a creative insight. Technik ist angewandtes Begreifen.60
(Flusser 1994: 246)
Like in the first chapter, here again technics is conceived as a way of facing the
world results in models or programs, which eventually should free man from work. Thus
work (and labor) is conceived by Flusser as a merely technical problem and simultan-
eously emphasis that who has to work how depends on technical models.
Anders gesagt, Arbeit ist ein technisches Problem, und es ist im Begriff, technisch gelst
(aufgelst) zu werden. Wer arbeitet (ob Ochsen, Sklaven oder Maschinen) und wie gearbei-
tet wird, ist in den Modellen der Technik vorgesehen. Modelle entwerfen ist spezifisch
menschlich, aber Arbeiten ist unmenschlich. Wenn Menschen arbeiten, dann weil die tech-
nischen Modelle nicht richtig entworfen wurden. Die Modelle sind so zu entwerfen, da Ar-
beit fr Menschen unntig und uninteressant werde.61 (148)

Put differently, we have to design future technics in such a way, that man no longer has
to engage in repetitive work but can focus on the informative moment of grasping.
As I already indicated above Flusser intentionally blurs the line between work
and labor. Consequently, his criticism aims at work and labor. Labor as punishment for
the fall of mankind (as passive suffering), just like work as human virtue as something
active and positive (like in the Renaissance) has to be abandoned. In other words, while
Arendt only criticizes a theoretical glorification of labor in the modern age which res-
ulted in a factual transformation of the whole of society into a laboring society (Arendt
1998: 4), Flusser declares all kinds of work (Arbeit, meaning labor and work) to be inhu-
mane and moreover stresses that we can no longer discern the two concepts of work and
labor (Flusser 1994: 150). Instead, he proposes to introduce a third notion, namely 'to
operate'. According to him, this term would combine active work and passive labor
(150). Technics as a comprehending way of facing the objective environment already
holds the possibility for man to abandon labor and work entirely. Therefore a feature of
technics is the tendency towards automation.

60 Technics is practical understanding [grasping, T.H.].


61 In other words, labor is a technical problem and it is about to be solved (dissolved) technically. Who
labors (oxen, slaves, machines) and how they work is arranged in the models of technics. Designing
models is particularly human, working, however, is inhuman. If human work it is because the
technical models have not been designed right. The models have to be designed in a way so that work
becomes unnecessary and uninteresting for humans.

39
Also Arendt observes this tendency and states, the advent of automation [...] in a
few decades probably will empty the factories and liberate mankind from its oldest and
most natural burden, the burden of laboring and the bondage to necessity (Arendt
1998: 4). While she formulates these sentences with unease, it seems that Flusser with
his claim for the abandonment of work and labor in mind should be happy about this
trend. However, as I will show in my discussion of the apparatus in the next chapter,
Flusser rejects an automation process in which man is not freed from work and labor
but rather serves as a mechanized functionary for machines and apparatuses. He would
therefore share the criticism communicated by Arendt in her description of this social
transformation process.
The last stage of laboring society, the society of jobholders, demands of its members a sheer
automatic functioning, as though individual life had actually been submerged in the over-all
life process of the species and the only active decision still required of the individual were to
let go, so to speak, to abandon his individuality, the still individually sensed pain and trouble
of living, and acquiesce in a daze, 'tranquilized,' functional type of behavior. [...] It is quite
conceivable that the modern age which began with such an unprecedented and promising
outburst of human activity may end in the deadliest, most sterile passivity history has ever
known. (322)

Still, although Flusser's unease in this situation may evolve from similar reasons as
Arendt's, he proposes a very different solution to the problem.
For Arendt this 'outburst of human creativity' is strongly related to the fact, that
in the modern age the 'vita contemplativa' is replaced by the 'vita activa' of homo faber
who due to Cartesian universal doubt no longer believes that truth whether based on
sense perception or on reason or on belief in divine revelation, [...] will appear of its own
accord (276), but instead, following the idea that man can only know what man himself
made, started to conduct experiments.
It was not reason but a man-made instrument, the telescope, which actually changed the
physical world view; it was not contemplation, observation, and speculation which led to the
new knowledge, but the active stepping in of homo faber, of making and fabrication. In oth-
er words, man had been deceived so long as he trusted that reality and truth would reveal
themselves to his senses and to his reason if only he remained true to what he saw with the
eyes of body and mind. (274)

Consequently, the defeat of homo faber by the animals laborans which itself becomes
dispensable through fully automatically operating machines for her constitutes the ut-
most negative development, since man no longer experiences and recognizes the world

40
through active work, but rather becomes a producer of tools and machines in order to
produce and maintain other tools and machines; again a tendency that also Flusser ob-
serves with discomfort.
Das ist die Situation der industriellen Gesellschaft von heute: ihre Aufmerksamkeit wird
durch das Herstellen von Werkzeugen und von Werkzeugen fr Werkzeuge in Bann gehal-
ten, und der ursprngliche Gegenstand der Geste des Machens bleibt vergessen.62 (Flusser
1997: 67)

Nevertheless, Flusser also understands this process as a chance for mankind. From his
vantage point the aim cannot be to mechanize labor for the sake of work and an active
life. Instead, he claims, all 'operari' have to be transferred to machines since freedom
can only be encountered in the absence of action and suffering: Daher ist es die
Aufgabe der neuen Technik, alle Arbeit, alles Tun und Leiden, alle Operationen auf
Maschinen abzuschieben, denn nicht Wirklichkeit, sondern Mglichkeit ist das Feld der
Freiheit.63 (Flusser 1994: 151) Freedom means to play with models and even though ma-
chines now labor and work faster and better than man, man is still unable to abandon
himself as subject of objects, he cannot free himself from the 'fall of man'; he wants to
work. He refuses to let machines do the work and hence he refuses to be free. Neverthe-
less Flusser stresses, we can no longer hang on to a vita activa (154).
Instead of a vita activa Flusser envisions a contemplative homo ludens. As quoted
above, for Flusser the creation of models is essentially human. Operation, however,
means a concretion of possibilities. In this instance of choice all other potentialities and
possibilities are lost. Hence, Flusser claims that operation has to be replaced by projec-
tion (ibid.). Here he agrees with an instance in Arendt when she describes that homo
faber himself could encounter a moment of contemplation when he only regarded the
eidos, the eternal shape of a product in his mind instead of spoiling it with the produc-
tion of an inferior object (Arendt 1998: 304). However, apart from the fact that in this
moment homo faber is no longer homo faber, whereas this understanding of contem-
plation only denies the reification of the divine idea, Flusser also refuses the concretion
of the subject.
62 This is this situation of today's industrial society: it's attention is absorbed by the production of tools
and of tools for tools and the original object of making remains forgotten.
63 Therefore it is the task of new technics to push all work, all action and suffering to the machines as
not actuality but possibility constitutes the realm for freedom.

41
For Flusser, reality is a hypothesis, which is actualized through an experiment,
which is work. As soon as we no longer perceive actuality (as the outcome of reality
through work) as a given, we also can no longer perceive us as given. Then it becomes
clear, that the act of freedom lies not in labor/work but in the play with possibilities;
freedom lies in technics itself (Flusser 1994: 155). Flusser envisions contemplation not as
a meditation in solitude which then allows men gain knowledge of the divine forms but
rather as an experiment with possibilities which is playful and in which the subject
abandons itself (ibid.). Instead of becoming the functionaries of machines through the
automation process, Flusser proposes a child like existence.64
Wenn der Ernst des Lebens beginnt (also die Arbeit als Tun und Leiden), dann muss die Hei-
terkeit aufgegeben werden. [...] In der Arbeit erst erfahren wir uns als Subjekte, und daher ist
das spielerische Dasein nicht als Selbstvergessenheit, sondern als vorsubjektives Stadium zu
sehen.65 (157)

In other words, the playful self-forgetting existence is normally only granted to children,
with one exception: the artist. Flusser especially refers to the poet.
Die Poesie stellt spielerisch (ludisch, kombinatorisch) Modelle aus sich heraus, welche mit-
tels Arbeit (Mimesis der Poesis) als Wirklichkeiten hergestellt werden. Anders gesagt, in der
Poesie stellt sich heraus, was in Wirklichkeit mittels Arbeit hergestellt werden soll, das 'Sol-
len', die Werte.66 (158)

Here Flusser reads poiesis (against Aristotle and Arendt) not as a making for a certain
end, but rather from the perspective of poetry, which does not produce something in
the sense of labor or work.67 It merely generates the models which dictate the automatic
machines how to labor/work, how to imitate the model.
According to Flusser, it is only with the invention of the computer that this con-
templative play becomes possible for the masses, as soon as labor and work are fully
transferred to machines. The contemplative play with computers results in models (soft-
ware) which then can be realized by automatic machines (ibid.). For Flusser our attitude
towards the machines surrounding us, implies the question of whether we become

64 The playful existence of the homo ludens shall be discussed in more detail in chapter four.
65 When the earnestness of life begins (thus work/labor as action and suffering), cheerfulness has to be
abandoned. [...] It is only through work that we experience ourselves as subjects and therefore playful
existence has to be seen not as self-forgetfullness but as pre-subjective stage.
66 Poetry produces, in a playful way (ludic, combinatory) models, which become actuality through work
(as mimesis of poiesis). In other words, what shall be produced in actuality through work, the 'ought'
of values, becomes apparent in poetry.
67 Also Heidegger in The question concerning Technology describes poiesis as poetics and with it draws
a connection between technics and art, since both are way of revealing (Heidegger 1991: 34ff ).

42
homines ludentes and emancipate us from the machines or we are degraded to
programers who operate in function of the apparatuses (Flusser 1994: 157). Due to the
automation process more and more people work in the tertiary sector. Work as such has
become impossible; we only have the choice between playing and functioning. Kurz,
jenseits der Maschinen gibt es nichts zu tun, denn die Arbeit im klassischen und mod-
ernen Sinn ist absurd geworden. Wo der Apparat sich installiert, bleibt nichts mehr
brig als zu funktionieren.68 (Flusser 1997: 29)
With this comment it becomes clear, that even though Arendt calls for a vita ac-
tiva and Flusser for a vita contemplativa their positions still contain some similarities. In
fact, when Arendt envisions an active life which is grounded on political plurality and
which constitutes itself through communication among equals, she basically describes
what Flusser has in mind too, with his vision of a telematic society, which is based on
dialogue. As we shall see in the third chapter, Flusser's model of a future society is based
on inter-subjective consensus and while this approach contains Arendt's ideal of plural-
ity, Flusser rejects politics as a means to form this utopian society, since politics has be-
come part of the apparatus. For Flusser politics is dead, as I shortly want to illustrate in
the next part, before we take a closer look at the transformation process towards auto-
mation and its consequences for man.
To sum up, Flusser takes inspiration from Arendt's discussion of work and labor.
Man only comes into being when he starts working and thus makes the transition from
animal laborans to homo faber. Simultaneously from the very moment of coming into
being man also tries to avoid work through technics, a possibility that is inherent in
technics from the very beginning. The essential human attribute is not the repetitive
and redundant work, but creation of models, that guide the information process. Actu-
ally, the only reason, why man still works is, that the design of technics and the automa-
tion process has not been perfected yet. In the long run, however, work and labor have
to be abandoned and the homo faber has to become a homo ludens, without becoming
a functionary that is.

68 In short, beyond the machines there is nothing to do anymore since work in the classical and
modern sense has become absurd. Where the apparatus installs itself, there is nothing left but to
function.

43
2.2 Politics

Despite the differences between Flusser's and Arendt's different solutions to


counter the social transformation process, Flusser's understanding of politics in general
terms is closely related to that of Arendt and her reading of Plato. Therefore, I want to
add a brief discussion of Flusser's notion of politics, also in order to anticipate some
thoughts that are significant in relation to Flusser's sketch of the telematic society.
For Arendt in modern society the active life is endangered because jobholders
only produce tools and machines for the production of other tools and machines, they
no longer produce a unique product that they offer on the agora. While, as I described
above, also Flusser criticizes this technocratic automation process, he first and foremost
relates the 'dead of politics' (Flusser 1993a: 207) to communication structures and me-
dia.
For him politics is directly linked to the existence of a public and a private realm.
The political life is characterized by an oscillating motion between the two realms.
Informationen werden im ffentlichen Raum erworben, im Privatraum gelagert und prozes-
siert, zu neuen Informationen verarbeitet, um dann publiziert, das heit im ffentlichen
Raum ausgestellt und ihrerseits abgeholt zu werden.69 (ibid.)

In this illustration politics is understood as a neg-entropic tendency, which results in an


increase in information. In fact, here Flusser's vague use of the term information beco-
mes rather obvious. He applies to word for material information, for instance pots that
are brought to the market (206) but to also immaterial information when he claims that
politics is dead because with the coming into being of electronic media public and pri-
vate realm have ceased to exist (Flusser 1993a: 207). Already the newspaper started a de-
velopment, which animated people to stay at home in order to inform themselves. Ac-
cording to Flusser the old communication structure with the agora in its center lead to
group formations like people and states. The new communication channels fragment
society into lonely particles which only leave their houses for the spectacles 70 that attract
them (208). For Flusser the massification process is accelerated by television and its one
way broad casting channels. These communicative structures allow for no political life.
69 Information is gained in public space, stored and processed, converted into new information in order
to be published, which means to be exhibited in public space and being collected.

44
Politics is dead, but Flusser does not regret it: Der Tod der Politik ist kein Grund zum
verzweifeln. Begraben will ich sie und nicht sie preisen. An ihre Stelle kann eine neue,
vernetzte Intersubjektivitt treten.71 (Flusser 1993a: 210)
As I will illustrate in my discussion of the telematic society, politics has been in-
cluded into the programs of the apparatus. Flusser attempts to replace politics just like
humanism with inter-subjective consent and the Jewish-Christian virtue of 'loving your
neighbor'. In order to do so, not the political actors have to be changed but the inform-
ative structures of society. The question remains, how did we reach this state? At which
point did politics die and in how far is the death of politics linked to the changing rela-
tion of man and technics? In order to explore these questions I will now turn to Flusser's
depiction of the transition from agrarian to industrial and post-industrial society, before
I turn to the machines.

2.3 Agrarian, Industrial and Post-Industrial Society

In his essay Unsere Arbeit72 (1993a) Flusser attempts to roughly distinguish the
transition between agrarian, industrial and post-industrial society. As mentioned earli-
er, for Flusser all revolutions are technical revolutions and hence, the observation of the
changing production processes allows him to reconstruct the relation of man and world
through technics. Here the focus lies not so much on the media aspect, which consti-
tutes an important factor in Flusser's view on politics, but rather again on the change
between the constellation of work, labor and action in relation to hand, tool, machine
and apparatus.

70 Here we could also turn to Guy Debord's analysis of the mass, its solitary individuals and the
spectacle. However, other than Flusser Debord next to technology identifies capitalism as a catalyst
for the fragmentation of society: The reigning economic system is founded on isolation; at the same
time it is a circular process designed to produce isolation. Isolation underpins technology, and
technology in its turn; all goods proposed by the spectacular system from cars to televisions, also
serve as weapons for that system as it strives to reinforce the isolation of the lonely crowd. (Debord 1995: 22)
71 The death of politics is no reason for despair. I want to bury her, not praise her. A new networked
inter-subjective can take her place.
72 Our Work

45
Flusser locates the basic difference between agriculture and industry in that the
former cultivates, whereas the later 'rapes' nature (Flusser 1993a: 28). The same negative
expression can be found in Vom Subjekt zum Projekt, however, there he fortifies the
conception of technics as anthropological constant and therefore debilitates all com-
plains about the 'rape' of nature through technics (Flusser 1994: 139). In Unsere Arbeit
he maintains this negative tone towards industrial technics and states that the farmer
has to wait and hope that the plants grow to his benefit, for him reality is a creature he
has to care for (Flusser 1993a: 28). In contrast to that, the engineer encounters nature as
raw material which has to be shaped in his approval. Fr den Ingenieur ist sie [die
Wirklichkeit] ein zu hmmerndes, zu verbrennendes, zu vergasendes Material. 73
(Flusser 1993a: 28) With the term 'gasify' Flusser sets a clear relation between adminis-
trative technocracy and holocaust and therefore seems to navigate close to the nihilistic
technics understanding of Heidegger when the latter equalizes industrial agriculture
and the production of bombs (Heidegger 1994: 27).
The similarities and differences between Flusser's and Heidegger's conception of
technics shall be taken into consideration in the discussion of the term 'apparatus'. Here
it is especially significant to recognize the change in attitude towards the objective en-
vironment in the different historic periods, which affect the way in which man informs
his material environment. Flusser observes the following progression: in antiquity and
the middle ages man follows eternal forms; in other words in his work he realizes certain
values and attempts to make the world how 'it ought to be' (Flusser 1997: 19). He acts
bona fide. During modern times man acts epistemological, scientific, experimentally
and theoretically (20). Eternal forms no longer guide his action but rather by the models
he himself designs and thus he acts 'without faith' (Flusser 1993a: 28ff). Currently, our
action is guided by doubt. We act functionally, efficiently and strategically (Flusser 1997:
20).
This development, according to Flusser, can be related to a change in how we
question reality. Whrend der ersten Phase herrschen die zweckorientierten Fragen
('wozu?'), whrend der zweiten Phase herrschen die kausalen Fragen ('warum?') und

73 For the engineer it is [reality] a material to be hammered, to be burned, to be gasified.

46
whrend der dritten Phase die formalen Fragen ('wie?').74 (Flusser 1997: 20) Flusser
claims that this model is also applicable to the transition from pre-industrial (agrarian)
to industrial and from industrial to post-industrial society and describes that before the
industrial revolution models were ideals, which people tried to reproduce in the process
of information.
Der Schuster hatte ein Bild des idealen Schuhs im Kopf und versuchte, mit den ihm zur Ver-
fgung stehenden Werkzeugen das Leder zu zwingen, sich nach diesem Vorbild zu formen.
Sein Ziel war, einen idealen Schuh zu erzeugen.75 (Flusser 1993a: 70)

With the emergence of science however, the models can be manipulated and improved.
They are object to constant change (ibid.). In this context Flusser also refers to a new po-
sitioning of the models, since before the industrial revolution the craftsman had the
model, the ideal form 'in his head' which is no longer true for industrial and post-indus-
trial 'worker'.
Der Industriearbeiter empfngt es in Gestalt eines Werkzeugs, das vom Werkzeugmacher auf
der Grundlage von Berechnungen und Zeichnungen des Ingenieurs hergestellt wurde. Die
Gegenrevolution der Chips verschiebt die Modelle aus den sthlernen Werkzeugen ins Pro-
gramm der intelligenten Werkzeuge [...].76 (ibid.)

In other words, first the models are contained in the tools and machines, which are de-
signed by engineers according to scientific theory. This is already the moment at which
man no longer crafts his unique product and brings it to the market in order to compare
it to other products and with this inspiration improves his own product at home (the os-
cillation between public and private space). Now the engineers calculate how the
product can be improved and the former craftsman merely applies the results of the en-
gineers calculation.
However, Flusser observes another transformative step, in which the models are
still inherent to tools and machines but no longer in their very form; they become in-
formation in programs, which means that a machine can function according to different
models and constantly be provided with new models. Die Gegenreformation der Chips
74 During the first phase purposeful questions ('What for?') dominate, during the second phase causal
questions ('Why?') and during the third phase formal questions ('How?') dominate.
75 The cobber had an image of the ideal shoe in his head and tried to force the leather to shape with the
available tools according to this ideal. His aim was to produce a perfect shoe.
76 The industrial worker receives it [the model, T.H.] in the form of a tool, which was designed by a tool
maker on the basis of calculations and drawings of an engineer. The counter revolution of [micro,
T.H.] chips pushed the models from the steel tools to into the program of the intelligent tools [...].

47
verwandelt Modelle in Informationen. Dadurch verschiebt sich das Interesse der philo-
sophischen Denkens auf strukturale und logische Fragen, statt 'kritisch' wird es 'analyt-
isch'.77 (ibid.) In this sense we have lost our ability for critical thinking.
Moreover, Flusser points out, that the industrial revolution changes not only the
relation between man and his conception of the world but also the very status of man in
the world. Before machines were the variable and humans were the constant. Man
found himself in the middle of tools which were at hand when needed. When a tool
broke, it could be replaced by another tool. During the industrial revolution this rela-
tion changes. Now the big, heavy and expensive machines are placed in the middle of
the factory space and humans are surrounding them. When a man gets sick, another
man can replace him. The machines have become the constant and man the variable
(Flusser 1997: 27). In fact, the machines not only are placed in the center the factory but
also in the center of the human domain. The interconnected assembly of machines
forms industrial areas that are attracting human settlement from which humans are ap-
proaching and leaving the machines in rhythmical intervals. The machines determine
the very human infrastructure (Flusser 2002b: 168).
As this description already suggests that for Flusser not the capitalist owns the
factory but rather that the factory owns man in general terms who merely acts in its
function (Flusser 1991: 19ff). In other words, during the industrial revolution what is
characteristic for the post-industrial society already begins to show, namely that man
becomes a functionary in a complex operative system. That we actually move towards an
apparatus society becomes apparent for Flusser with regard to what man actually does as
his profession in the different societal forms.
Danach gab es in der Agrargesellschaft einige wenige Handwerker und Verwalter, die Mehr-
zahl war in der Landwirtschaft ttig. In der Industriegesellschaft gab es einige wenige Bauern
und Verwalter, die Mehrzahl war in der Industrie ttig. Und in der nachindustriellen Gesell-
schaft wird es einige wenige Bauern und Arbeiter geben, die Mehrzahl wird in der Verwal-
tung funktionieren.78 (Flusser 1993a: 29)

77 The counter reformation of [micro, T.H.] chips converted models into information. Thereby the
interest in philosophic thinking shifts to structural and logical questions, instead of being critical it
becomes analytical.
78 According to that there were a few craftsmen and administrators in agricultural society, the majority
worked in agriculture. In industrial society there were a few farmers and administrators, the majority
worked in the industry. And in the post-industrial society there are going to be few farmers and
workers, the majority is going function in the administration.

48
In post-industrial society the majority of people do no longer work (or labor), they func-
tion as administrators. Thus also their thinking and action is dominated by the adminis-
trative mode (Flusser 1993a: 29). The functionary no longer informs objects according to
values or models but instead generates and processes symbols (30).
In order to emphasize the difference between worker and functionary Flusser
points out that to live for the worker means to look at his work. During the industrial re-
volution, however, he starts to feel partly betrayed since he does not receive the added
value, the surplus of his work and therefore demands a fair division of goods. In this
sense the worker is still revolutionary (31). For the functionary, on the contrary, to live
means to be served by the apparatus (ibid.). The former models have become fragmen-
ted functions; the single functionary can no longer understand the complex mode of
functioning of the apparatus and therefore also all values disappear from the sight of the
functionary (ibid.). The functionary merely fulfills the tasks assigned to him, asks
'How?', not 'Why?' and this is why politics becomes impossible. Der Funktionr ist
formal. In der nachindustriellen Gesellschaft werden Konservativismus und Revolution
(rechts und links) jeden Sinn verlieren. Die Politik ist zu Ende.79 (ibid.) With this de-
scription we can understand, why for Flusser in contrast to Arendt, we cannot return to
politics, especially since we cannot overcome the apparatus but rather have to form a
symbiosis with it (Flusser 2002b: 168). What kind of symbiosis this would be, becomes
clearer in Flusser's essay Die Fabrik80 (2002b).

2.4 The Factory

In this text Flusser not only describes the transition from machine to apparatus
in more detail but also envisions what future factories81 could look like. It allows us to
take another vantage point on the transformation process from industrial to post-
industrial society. At the same time it gives a first impression of Flusser's vision of the
homo ludens which replaces the homo faber and constitutes a central moment in
79 The functionary is formal. In post-industrial society conservatism and revolution (right and left) are
losing all meaning. Politics is over.
80 The Factory

49
Flusser's design of the telematic society.
First of all, Flusser refers to contemporary factories and claims that they are going
to vanish, since the apparatus (as device) allows man (just the like the hands and tools
of pre-hsitoric man) to communicate and fabricate everywhere (Flusser 2002b: 169). In
other words, man no longer surrounds machines as a replaceable variable. However, as
indicated above this development involves some dangers as well.
Der Fabrikant von Faustkeilen, Tpfen und Schuhen mute, um Werkzeuge zu verwenden,
diese Informationen empirisch erwerben. Maschinen erforderten nicht nur empirische, son-
dern auch theoretische Informationserwerbung [...]. Apparate erfordern einen noch weit ab-
strakteren Lernproze und das Ausarbeiten bisher nicht allgemein zugnglicher Diszipli-
nen. Die telematische Vernetzung von Menschen mit Apparaten und daher das Verschwin-
den der Fabrik (besser gesagt: das Immaterialisieren des Fabrik) setzt voraus, da alle Men-
schen kompetent dafr werden. Und diese Voraussetzung ist nicht gegeben.82 (ibid.)

We function in function of the apparatus because we are not competent for its use. The
problem of ignorance (or indifference) towards the functioning of the apparatus shall be
discussed below, here I want to focus on the conception of homo faber and homo ludens
in relation to the new 'factory' Flusser envisions. He stresses that future factories have to
resemble schools, they have to be places (geographical or virtual) where man learns how
the apparatus (here a technical device rather than a system) works, so that these
apparatuses can inform the objective world; they can work and labor (170). In this
factory man learns from and together with the apparatus. However, also the apparatus
'learns', since the outcome of the playful process are new programs.
So again, work and labor have to be left to the machines and the apparatus.
However, it becomes clear that the playful vita contemplativa still requires an active
engagement with the apparatus and does not signify bare passivity. In contrast to our
81 For Flusser, since technics always informs objects (or symbols), the factory as any place of human
production in the broad sense, is where different forms of humans are 'produced' and hence for him
the factory is also the place to look at in order to gain any information of future forms of man.
Fabriken sind Orte, an denen immer neue Menschenformen hergestellt werden: zuerst der
Handmenschen, dann der Werkzeugmensch, dann der Maschinenmensch und schlielich der
Apparatmensch. Wie gesagt: Das ist die Geschichte der Menschheit. (Flusser 2002b: 166)
(Factories are places in which new forms of man are produced: first of all the hand-man, then the
tool-man, then the machine-man and eventually the apparatus man. As said before: that is the
history of mankind.)
82 The fabricant of bifaces, pots and shoes had, in order to use tools, to gain this information
empirically. Machines not only require empirical information but also theoretical information [...].
Apparatuses require a far more abstract process of learning and the elaboration of disciplines which
are not generally accessible yet. The telematic linking of man and apparatuses and thus the vanishing
of the factory (better: the immaterialization of the factory) requires all humans to become competent
for it. And these requirements are not met.

50
current relation to the apparatuses around us, the new factory will create an
environment destined to encourage the interest in apparatuses. At the same time in this
place theory and praxis merge.
Wir haben daher bei der Fabrik der Zukunft eher an wissenschaftliche Laboratorien,
Kunstakademien und an Bibliotheken und Diskotheken zu denken als an die gegenwrtigen
Fabriken. Und den Apparatmenschen der Zukunft haben wir uns eher als einen Akademiker
denn als einen Handwerker, Arbeiter oder Ingenieur vorzustellen.83 (Flusser 2002b: 170)

As a result of this thinking, school (in the sense of schol for leisure) can no longer be
the opposite of the factory as the place for work and labor (aschola). Flusser assumes
that the factory will become the new classroom.
Sobald aber Apparate die Maschinen verdrngen, wird ersichtlich, da die Fabrik nichts
anderes ist als angewendete Schule und Schule nichts anderes als Fabrikation von
erworbenen Informationen. Und in diesem Augenblick erst gewinnt der Begriff homo faber
seine volle Wrde. (ibid.)

In this quote, Flusser still applies the notion 'homo faber' and not 'homo ludens'.
However, Flusser also demands that the homo faber has to become a homo sapiens
sapiens through the insight that fabricating is equal to learning, since it also means to
gain, produce and process information (171). In this sense homo faber still has to
abandon labor and become a homo ludens. Consequently, this statement does not
contradict a playful contemplative engagement against entropy. Nevertheless, how
Flusser defines and distinguishes the notions 'machine' and 'apparatus' remained
unclear so far and shall therefore examined next.

2.5 The Machine

In my introduction I underlined that Flusser's preferred form of writing is the


essay and that therefore his terminology first and foremost serves the line of
argumentation in a particular text and does not necessarily blend into an overarching
theoretical system. This is also true for the term 'machine' which Flusser defines and
uses in various ways in which, however, philosophical anthropology and Marxism play a

83 Therefore if we think of future factories, we have to think of scientific laboratories, art academies
and libraries and discotheques rather than of current factories. And we have to imagine the
apparatus-man of the future as an academic rather than a craftsman, worker or engineer.

51
central role. Moreover a clean separation of the terms 'tool' and 'machine' and 'machine'
and 'apparatus' becomes difficult as soon as Flusser's overall use of the words is taken
into account. Nevertheless, the particularities associated with them in his works can be
examined.
Like I already indicated in my discussion of Flusser's conception of 'work', he
conceives machines just like tools as 'organ projections', as simulations of the human
body, and presents the example of a lever (which could also be categorized as a tool),
which imitates the human arm (Flusser 1993b: 47). Like Don Ihde claims in his
phenomenological analysis of technical devices that their use is always accompanied by
an 'amplification-reduction-structure' (Ihde 1979: 28), Flusser underlines, that the lever
(the machine) potentiates one function of the arm but neglects all other functions
(Flusser 1993b: 47). In this sense the machine is more powerful but has less degrees of
freedom than the arm. Both tools and machines take objects out of nature and inform
them (in a struggle against entropy) in such a way that they assume an unnatural and
unlikely shape and become cultural (Flusser 2006: 23). Tools and machines allow man to
reach 'deeper and faster' into nature to inform the objects in a more radical and durable
manner, a process Flusser calls work (24).
Accordingly, with regard to the conditionality of the human Flusser defines
'machines' as follows:
Maschinen sind Gegenstnde, die hergestellt werden, um den Widerstand der Welt zu
besiegen, auf den die Arbeit stt. Dazu sind sie 'gut'. Der palolithische Pfeil ist dazu gut,
ein Rentier zu tten, der neolithische Pflug ist dazu gut, die Erde zu bearbeiten, und die
klassische Windmhle dazu, das Getreide in Mehl zu verwandeln, denn das Rentier mu
gettet werden, die Erde bearbeitet und das Getreide zu Mehl gemahlen werden. Kein
Problem bei alledem: die Maschinen sind gemacht, um Probleme zu lsen, nicht um andere
Probleme aufzuwerfen.84 (Flusser 1997: 24)

Here machines are produced 'in-order-to', namely in order to help man to cope with his
objective conditionality. They allow man to solve specific problems and to make
labor/work easier and in this sense tools and machines cannot be distinguished.
However, Flusser identifies a point in time when the essential characteristic of machines
84 Machines are objects which are produced to break the resistance of the world which is encountered
by work. This is what they are 'good' for. The paleolithic arrows is good for killing reindeer, the
neolithic plow is good for work the soil and the classical windmill for turning grains into flour,
because the reindeer has to be killed, the soil has to be work and the grains have to be grinned to flour.
No problem with all of that: machines are made to solve problems, not to create problems.

52
changes, namely in modernity when the machines become 'problematic' (in the sense of
'interesting') for two reasons (Flusser 1997: 24). Firstly, the shift to causal questions leads
to the development of machines for scientific research. They are still 'good' as a means
to an end but the end has changed. Flusser refers to the example of the telescope which
allows man to see the mountains on the moon but which is not in the same sense
necessary as the grinding of grains (25). Secondly, Flusser reasons in modern times the
machines themselve became object to scientific research (ibid.). Moreover, in modernity
machines become instruments for and objects of scientific research. Flusser describes
this ontological shift of machines as follows: Kurz gesagt, whrend der Neuzeit werden
die Maschinen problematisch, weil sie die Frage der Wertes aufwerfen, anstatt einen
Wert zu verwirklichen.85 (ibid.) Machines no longer only inform objects, they
increasingly inform man about objects and allow him to doubt the objects that surround
him. While this conception still does not allow to distinguish thoroughly between tools
and machines (not to mention media), it shows that for Flusser the amalgamation of
tools or machines and science changes their ontological status. Maschinen sind
Werkzeuge, die nach wissenschaftlichen Theorien entworfen und hergestellt wurden,
und sie sind daher tchtiger, schneller und teurer geworden. 86 (Flusser 2002b: 166) In
this quote Flusser relates machines in particular to the industrial revolution when
machines became bigger, faster and more expensive and as a consequence gathered man
around them.
As mentioned before, Flusser stresses that in the context of the industrial
revolution the question of 'Who should own the machines?' is misleading since
capitalist and proletarian alike are 'owned' by the machine and hence the question
rather has to be 'Whether there exists somebody or something beyond the machines?'
(Flusser 1997: 27). This moment, when the relatively intelligent humans become the
slaves of the relatively dull machines (Flusser 1993: 48), brings up another important
assumption of Flusser. In the first chapter we found out that technics is something
between subject and object, which affects both. Consequently, with regard to machines

85 In short: during modern times machines become problematic since they question values instead of
realizing values.
86 Machines are tools which are designed and produced according to scientific theories and therefore
they have become strenuous, faster and more expensive.

53
Flusser underlines their design always reflects on man. In other words, they influence
man's self- and world-conception and his way of being in the world. Flusser underlines
that this backlash has to be taken into consideration in the design of future machines.
Folglich muss bei jedem knftigen Maschinenbau dieses Zurckschlagen des Hebels auf uns
mit bercksichtigt werden. Es geht nicht an, Maschinen nur mit Rcksicht auf konomie
und kologie zu bauen. [...] Eine schwierige Aufgabe, wenn man in Betracht zieht, da ge-
genwrtig die meisten Maschinen von 'intelligenten Maschinen' gebaut werden und da wir
selbst dabei nur sozusagen vom Horizont her zuschauen, um gelegentlich einzugreifen.87
(Flusser 1993b: 49)

In fact, here Flusser agrees with Arendt's concern quoted above, namely that man
becomes a mere producer of tools and machines that produce other tools and machines.
Hence, our current machines and how we relate to them makes us to mere observers. So
what could a future machine look like for Flusser?
As a playful example of an effective design for a future machine Flusser points to
the cow, which according to him has a lot of advantages over contemporary machines.
For instance, it reproduces itself automatically towards the end of its productive
existence, at this moment its 'hardware' in form of meat and leather can be exploited
while the unusable parts, due to the entropic tendency, quickly become part of nature
again and do not result in waste (Flusser 2000a: 44). This rather unconventional
application of the term machine has two implications: on the one hand, it exposes
(current) machines as a reduction of functional complexity. The machine takes a single
process of a complex system of processes, imitates and potentiates it and thereby
outbalances the system. On the other hand this description anticipates current
developments in the broad field of life sciences. It suggests that future machines could
be organic.
Flusser recognizes another outstanding benefit of this new 'machine' in the fact
that the acquirer is not bound to passive use, but in contrast buys a prototype which he
can re-design in a playful way, e.g. through cross-breeding (45). With this approach
Flusser hints at a possibility to decentralize technical progress (which so far is ruled by
the apparatus) in a creative way. At the same time, as the quote below shows, this

87 Consequently, with every design of future machines this backlash of the lever onto us has to be
considered. It will not work to build machines only with regard to economy and ecology. [...] A
difficult task if we consider that currently the most machines are built by 'intelligent machines' and
we, as it were, only watch from the horizon in order to intervene every now and then.

54
description anticipates Flusser's idea of a telematic society and of the homo ludens.
Wir knnen einen zuknftigen Zustand ahnen, in dem der technologische Fortschritt kein
Privileg einiger, vom Verwaltungsapparat angestellter Spezialisten sein wird, sondern ein
Spiel, an dem die 'Massen' aktiv teilnehmen: Prototypen frei zu variieren.88 (Flusser 2000a:
45ff )

Here we already encounter a essential idea of Flusser's telematic society: technological


progress is so crucial to man's evolution that not a bureaucratic apparatus and its
experts should decide over it; instead it has to be defined by a creative collective.
However the machine 'cow' also already contains a problem, which is symptomatic for
the apparatus: the machine is structurally a very complex system while functionally it is
very easy to handle. In other words, the owner of the machine no longer really
understands how the machine works and hence, has to contact a specialized expert
when it breaks down (44). This statement also suggests that the expert is so specialized
that he is not competent for the larger system in which the single machine plays only a
small role (for example the veterinarian is not an expert in agriculture or economics). In
fact, Flusser stresses that this is one of the main reasons, why machines are not
understood by the functionary; they are not seen as part of a larger entity.
Tatschlich mndet die industrielle Revolution sehr schnell in Ballungen von Maschinen
ein, die sychronisiert und als komplexe Rckkoppelungen zusammengeschaltet sind, in
'Apparate' also, und der Apparat zeigt sehr schnell, da man die Maschine neu denken mu.
Das 19. Jahrhundert und die erste Hlfte des 20. Jahrhunderts waren optimistisch, denn sie
haben sich geweigert, die Maschine im Begriff des Apparats auf radikale Weise neu zu
denken [...].89 (Flusser 1997: 26)

During the industrial revolution the status of machines fundamentally changes as they
are embedded into complex networks which are based on the flow of goods and capital.
While the single machine could still be comprehended by the individual worker, the
new apparatus is to complex and large to see through. However, also the single machine
can no longer be understood if it is not see in the context of the apparatus.

88 We can imagine a future condition in which technological progress is not a privilege to a few
specialists employed by the administrative apparatus, but rather a play at which the 'masses' can
participate: to variate prototypes freely.
89 In fact the industrial revolution results very quickly in agglomerations of machines which are
synchronized and interconnected as complex feedback systems, hence as apparatuses, and the
apparatus shows very quickly that one has to re-think the machine. The 19th century and the first half
of the 20th century were optimistic because they refused to radically re-think the machines in terms of
the apparatus [...].

55
3. Functionary and Apparatus

Die Funktion der Apparate ist keine des Geistes, son-


dern eine automatische Bewegung. Notwendig ist
nicht, was beabsichtigt ist, sondern was im Pro-
gramm enthalten ist. Die apparatische Funktion ist
einen untermenschliche, dumme Bewegung. Das ist
das Frchterliche.90 (Flusser 1993a: 101)

In the period before and during the industrial revolution man's relation to
technics and his world fundamentally changes. Scientific curiosity allows man to
analyze his objective environment more thoroughly than ever before. Simultaneously
also machines become object of this curiosity and rise to a new constant whereas man
becomes degraded to a replaceable attachment. Science also results in an increasing
complexity of the single machines on the one hand, and an increasing complexity of the
interrelatedness of these machines in an overarching system on the other hand. While
the first complexity provokes a development in which man increasingly loses his insight
of how the machines that surround him function, together with the second complexity,
it effects that man no longer owns the machines but instead acts in function of the
machines.
These tendencies, which for Flusser begin to show on the verge to the industrial
revolution, become even more apparent in the transition from industrial to post-
industrial society. While Flusser's conception of industrialization is rather negative and
he would most likely share Arendt's concern that in it the homo faber is thrown back
into the existence of an animal laborans, which is mainly concerned with it's bare
survival, another aspect is more important. Namely, that in post-industrial society less
and less people actually work; instead now they function. In fact, Flusser's negative
conception of industrialization is increasingly accompanied by a nihilistic undertone
the more he approaches the post-industrial society.
Therefore, before I turn to the discussion of Flusser's conception of apparatus
and functionary, I want to shortly focus on the nihilistic perception of technics

90 The function of the apparatuses is not based on the mind, it is an automatic movement. Necessary is
not what is intended but what is contained in the program. The function of the apparatus is a
subhuman and stupid action. That is what is so terrible about it.

56
predominant especially in Germany during and after Word War II. In this respect
Heidegger's already mentioned essay Die Frage nach der Technik represents a concise
example of the mood at the time and at the same time bears some important similarities
and differences to Flusser's further engagement with technics.

3.1 Excursus: Heidegger and Technics

The notion of technics in focus here is shaped through the technical


mobilization during the two world wars and especially through the dropping of the
atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. While technics at any time serves as a
means to create and destroy, Karl Jasper claims that with the atomic bomb suddenly the
possibility of total destruction of all life on earth is at hand (1958: 259). These
circumstances force man to re-think his relation to technology. At the same time, it is
particularly striking that here we witness a tendency in which technics with its
attributes of reproducibility and repeatability (as culture) is exactly not characterized as
something essential human but rather as opposed to anything human.91 In fact, here all
human acts are characterized by uniqueness, irreplaceability and non-transferability
(Meyer 1961: 149) which stands in sharp contrast to man's reality in which he becomes
part of a technical collective and can be replaced randomly. He is no longer perceived as
a free individual but rather as a particular case of the general which functions as the
means to a larger end. Consequently, the individual human being loses its significance
and therewith what makes it human (Meyer 1961: 149).
Philosophers like Ernst Jnger and Martin Heidegger described technics as an
essential element of nihilism, which, according to their understanding, was already

91 In fact, as Hannah Arendt argued, this is due to the fact that work (the homo faber) is replaced by
labor (the animal laborans). Whereas animals also labor, the manipulation of durable objects makes
man man. However, the products that result from this process become more and more goods to be
consumed and the process in which they are produced equals rather labor and its biological circles
than work. This of course, becomes especially clear in war times, when the products are consumed
immediately after their production (like bombs). Arendt writes: The point is that nothing can be
mechanized more easily and less artificially than the rhythm of the labor process, which in its turn
corresponds to the equally automatic repetitive rhythm of the life process and its metabolism with
nature. (Arendt 1998: 146)

57
apparent in the 'battle of material' ('Materialschlacht') of World War I and which after
World War II became the normal state (Morat 2007: 457). Hence, Jnger and Heidegger
generalized World War II as the result of that very nihilism and by the same token
relativized their own role in the Third Reich (444). As already mentioned before, for this
strategy Heidegger did also not hesitate to compare the murderous war machinery to
machines of agricultural production. Despite the questionable intentions behind these
demonstrations, Heidegger's contact with technics allows to clarify a general critical
attitude towards technics predominant especially in post-war Germany.92
In his essay Die Frage nach der Technik Heidegger makes clear that for him
technics is nothing technical at all (Heidegger 1991: 6). He is not satisfied by the
characterization of technics as means to an (human) end since he intends to grasp the
essence of technics. According to him, technics in general, just like modern technics, is
a kind of revealing ('ent-bergen') (14). In contrast to the revealing of manual technics,
the revealing of modern technics has to be understood as a challenge to nature in which
it becomes the source of energy, which can be extracted and saved. In other words,
nature becomes mere 'standing reserve' ('Bestand'), which is not only to be
comprehended in the sense of a reserve but rather as the way in which man perceives
nature. Alles wird zum Material des sich durchsetzenden Herstellens. Die Erde und
ihre Atmosphre wird zum Rohstoff. Der Mensch wird zum Menschenmaterial, das auf
die vorgesetzten Ziele angesetzt wird.93 (Heidegger 2003: 266)
In this description man is the functionary of technics, but does no longer count
as a subject. Through massification, organization and 'gleichschaltung' man is turned
into a easily replaceable cogwheel of a large machine which is performing an over-
exploitation of nature. Heidegger calls this challenging manner of revealing 'enframing'
('Ge-stell') (Heidegger 1991: 21). For him not man's conception of nature through the
enframing, which leads to the destruction of nature is dangerous but far more generally,
enframing blocks the access to truth (27) which, Heidegger is afraid, could result in a

92 Of course, this critical attitude was not shared everywhere. It is, for instance, not true for machine
praising communism during the same time. Moreover, considerable parts of the German population
might not have shared this attitude while they were witnessing the German 'economic miracle' and
the refreshed trust in progress which accompanied it.
93 Everything becomes material of the prevailing production. Earth and its atmosphere becomes raw
material. Man becomes 'man-material' which is put to preset goals.

58
condition where man no longer has access to the original mode of revealing and thus
can no longer experience a more original truth (Heidegger 1991: 28). Because man
encounters unconcealed things everywhere he is no longer capable of perceiving things
differently than through the challenging revealing of the enframing. In this perceptive
process the impact of the enframing is missed which bears the danger that man falls
victim to the illusion that technics is a mere means at his disposal.
Gem dieser Verstellung der Gefahr durch das Bestellen des Ge-stells sieht es immer noch
und wieder so aus, als sei die Technik ein Mittel in der Hand des Menschen. In Wahrheit aber
ist jetzt das Wesen des Menschen dahin bestellt, dem Wesen der Technik an die Hand zu
gehen.94 (37)

Thus technics is not only the anthropological constant and the compensation for man's
alienation from nature. The very moment man understands technics as a means his
vision of the essence of technics is blocked, so he can not notice the potential danger
inherent. Accordingly, Heidegger emphasizes that technics is not to be comprehended
as an instrument or tool but in fact, it rather follows its own principles and dynamics
(Morat 2007: 467). Modern technics not only prevents man from noticing the true
essence of nature but also of his own essence; it leads him into a 'Seinsvergessenheit' so
that he can not recognize the truth of his own being as soon as he only acts as a
functionary of technics. Technics threatens man in his being.
Sobald das Unverborgene nicht einmal mehr als Gegenstand, sondern ausschlielich als
Bestand den Menschen angeht und der Mensch innerhalb des Gegenstandslosen nur noch
Besteller des Bestandes ist, geht der Mensch am uersten Rand des Absturzes, dorthin
nmlich, wo er selber nur noch als Bestand genommen werden soll.95 (Heidegger 1991: 26)

During World War II Heidegger and also Jnger assumed that nihilism would result in a
cathartic effect through which man would become aware of the essence of modern
technics. Their supposition was that being could only clear itself after the climax of the
outmost Seinsvergessenheit had been reached (Heidegger 2003: 207). After the war,
however, they had to admit that this cathartic moment had not arrived (Morat 2007:
444). Instead they saw nihilism live on in the administrative machinery and in the
94 According to the blockage of danger through the ordering of the enframing it still and always again
looks like technology were a means in the hands of man. In truth however, no being of man is ordered
so that it is at hand to the essence of technology.
95 As soon as what is unconcealed no longer addresses man even as object, but exclusively as standing-
reserve, and man within objectlessness is nothing but the orderer of the standing-reserve, then he
comes to the very brink of a precipitous fall; that is, he comes to the point where he himself will have
to be taken as standing-reserve.

59
general mechanization of society and therefore, the question of how to face technics
derived from these circumstances. Here again very close to Flusser, Heidegger states
that man cannot simply overcome technics since technics constitutes a part of being.
Wenn das Wesen der Technik, das Gestell als die Gefahr im Sein, das Sein selbst ist, dann
lt sich die Technik niemals durch ein blo auf sich gestelltes menschliches Tun meistern,
weder positiv noch negativ. Die Technik, deren Wesen das Sein selbst ist, lt sich durch den
Menschen niemals berwinden. Das hiee doch, der Mensch sei der Herr des Seins. 96
(Heidegger 1991: 38).

Consequently, with the progress in technical development, the improvement of technics


man does not overcome his dependency on technics but solely changes it (or in Flusser's
or Arendt's words, this way man does not overcome his conditionality). Heidegger
concludes, that in this situation it is not expedient to ask what we should do. Following
him, since thinking is true action, the question has to be: 'How do we have to think?'
(40) By the means of language, since without language action lacks any dimension in
which it can function (Heidegger 1991: 40), man has to recognize the remedy within the
danger, which is the essence of the enframing.
[...] in allem Verstellen des Gestells lichtet sich der Lichtblick von Welt, blitzt Wahrheit des
Seins. Dann nmlich, wenn das Gestell sich in seinem Wesen als die Gefahr lichtet, d.h. als
das Rettende. Im Gestell ist, obzwar verschleiert, noch Blick, kein blindes Geschick im Sinne
eines vllig verhangenen Verhngnisses.97 (45)

The threat that derives from the enframing opens the possibility for man to identify the
truth of his own being, of course, without being able to overcome technics.
In conclusion, Heidegger describes modern technics as a threat to man since it is
nihilistic and leads to self-forgetfulness. Technics destroys nature and hence the
foundation for the survival of mankind. As I have stressed before, Flusser refuses this
depiction of technics as a hazard to man and nature. Technics for him is neutral in the
sense that without it man would not have become man. Nevertheless, Heidegger's
approach contains certain assumptions which already came up in relation to Flusser's
account of the machines of the industrial age and which are also important for his

96 If the essence of technology, the enframing as the danger in being, is being itself, then technology can
never be mastered through mere solely human action, neither positive nor negative. Technology
whose essence is being itself can never be overcome by man. This would mean, man were master of
being.
97 [...] in all the blocking of the enframing clears a bright spot, flashes truth of being. Then, when
enframing clears its being as the danger, that means the saving. In the enframing, there is even
though disguisedly, still sight, no blind destiny in the sense of a fully dull fatality.

60
conception of the apparatus. For the discussion of Flusser's conception of the apparatus
it seems beneficial to keep a few similarities (despite all differences) in mind.
First of all, in the course of industrialization and massification, the individual
becomes a replaceable object. Apart from that, technics as a way of revealing determines
how we perceive the world. Modern technics, which is based on science (technology),
contains the danger that nature and man are merely perceived as standing reserve, as
Bestand. Here the main threat occurs when man understands technics as a means at his
disposal and therefore does not recognize the way in which it reveals the word to him
and how it affects him. Additionally, modern technics, on the one hand, generates its
own dynamics and on the other hand, is part of being and as such cannot be overcome
by man. Instead man has to search for the remedy where the danger occurs. Technics
therefore should not be abandoned but rather approached anew through thinking it
anew. While Heidegger focuses on thinking in a close relation to language to face
technics, Flusser is more open and also interested in codes and informativeness in
general terms.

3.2 Flusser and Nihilism?

Even though Flusser's apparatus is closely linked to machines and the


information of the material world, he first and foremost constitutes it as operating on a
symbolic (administrative) level. As I already described with reference to his five stages
of abstraction, after the division of the world into objects and subjects through the use
of tools, traditional images, linear writing and technical images situate themselves
between man and world. Accordingly, Flusser speaks of 'existence' in terms of a
'confronting' ('Gegenberstehen') which amounts to alienation. Der Mensch 'ek-
sistiert', das heit, die Welt ist ihm unmittelbar nicht zugnglich, so da Bilder sie ihm
vorstellbar machen sollen.98 (Flusser 2006: 9) The Mngelwesen man with its lack of
instincts can only access the world via images and symbols. It has to rely on them and in

98 The human exists, that means, for him the world is not directly accessible, so that images make it
imaginable to him.

61
that sense becomes dependent. For the biggest part of human history media provided
man with 'truth', or at least with meaning. Through it man managed to locate himself in
the world. In fact, here Flusser does not share Heidegger's concern that we lose access to
an original way of revealing which does not result in mere standing reserve, but
nevertheless criticizes that we do not reflect about the different ways in which technics
and technology reveal to the world to us. This is especially true for the complex
apparatus.
After traditional images and linear writing, technical images, starting with
photographs (Flusser 2006: 13ff), become more and more dominant as science in
combination with technics has disassembled reality into tiny particles which man can
no longer see with his bare eyes or grasp with his hands (Flusser 1999b: 21). He needs
apparatuses, which allow him to imagine the newly discovered fragments and their
relations. As a result, we live in a world of technical images99 with which we attempt to
re-assemble the nothingness science has lead us into.
Wir leben in einer eingebildeten Welt der technischen Bilder, und wir erleben, erkennen,
werten und handeln immer hufiger in Funktion dieser Bilder. Wir verdanken diese Bilder
einer Technik, welche aus wissenschaftlichen Theorien stammt Theorien, die uns
unabweisbar belehren, da 'in Wirklichkeit' alles ein zerfallender Punktschwarm ist, eine
ghnende Leere. Die Wissenschaft und die aus ihr hervorgegangene Technik, diese
Triumphe der westlichen Zivilisation, haben einerseits die objektive Welt um uns herum in
ein Nichts zerrieben und uns andererseits in eine Welt der Einbildung gebadet. 100 (Flusser
1999b: 45)

For Heidegger the main danger inherent in technics is that man no longer recognizes

99 Flusser also defines the term 'techno images' rather broadly as surfaces whose symbols refer to the
symbols of linear writing, e.g. also a x-ray photograph is a techno image (Flusser 2007: 139ff ). Of
course, these images could also be the displays of complex machines and thus here the line between
physical and symbolic information is blurred. Don Ihde differs between embodiment relations in
which human and instrument form a unity that opposes the world and hermeneutic relations in
which the human has to face an instrument-world unity; he has to read the instrument's
representation of the world (Ihde 1979: 37). The instrument translates it's irritations into texts
(binary code) which are then translated into techno images. In fact, Flusser would not separate the
human from the instrument-world complex, since man programs and is programed by the
instrument (apparatus). Still, it is important to recognize the inter-connectedness between human,
apparatus and machine.
100 We live in an imagined world of technical images, and we experience, recognize, value and act more
and more in function of these images. We owe these images to technics which derive from scientific
theories - theories which irrefutable teach us that 'in reality' everything is a crumbling 'swarm of dots',
a big emptiness. Science and the technology which emerged from it, these triumphs of western
civilization, on the one hand have ground the objective world surrounding us into a nothingness and
on the other hand wrapped us in a world of imagination

62
the essence of technics and its impact. For Flusser man is manipulated by technical
images, which he looks at and has to look at superficially (since otherwise they crumble
into pixels). Simultaneously, this changes the way the world is perceived as Flusser
demonstrates with reference to the relation between photographer and camera
(apparatus) in Fr eine Philosophie der Fotografie (Towards a Philosophy of
Photography). Sein Interesse ist auf den Apparat konzentriert, die Welt dient ihm nur
Vorwand fr die Verwirklichung von Apparatmglichkeiten.101 (Flusser 2006: 25) Man
loses his sight of the world and instead he is only interested in the projections of the
apparatuses (which itself he cannot comprehend, as it is a 'black box') (Flusser 2006:
30). However, these projections do not provide any solid ground or a fixed core to grasp.
After the faith in religions, also the faith in the meaning based on science turns out to
be a meander.
Es stellt sich jetzt heraus, da die Zeichen der Welt nichts bedeuten. Da sie einen Haufen
von zusammenhangslosen Elementen bilden. Und da die Zusammenhnge, welche das
historische Bewutsein in diesem Haufen hineingelesen hat, von diesem Bewutsein selbst
textartig erzeugt wurden. Die Welt ist bedeutungslos geworden, und das Bewutsein hat
dort nichts zu suchen, da es nichts als zusammenhangslose Elemente finden knnte. 102
(Flusser 1999b: 51)

Disoriented man faces the accumulation of particles his world has turned into.
However, not only his world, also his own body and his self dissolves. Like Heidegger
saw the danger of man being degraded to Bestand, for Flusser, through science and
technics, at the latest with the invention of photography, the subject can be calculated,
manipulated and even simulated.
Mit der Fotografie wird die Trennung zwischen Subjekt/Objekt (Krper/Geist)
berwunden: Der Geist wird zum Objekt technischer Manipulation und daher simulierbar.
Alle mentalen Funktionen, angefangen von der Wahrnehmung bis zur Entscheidung
(knstliche Intelligenz), werden von jetzt an objektivierbar, und das heit vom Menschen
auf andere Objekte bertragbar.103 (Flusser 1994: 19)

101 His interest is focused on the apparatus, the world merely serves as an excuse for the realization of
possibilities contained in the apparatus.
102 Now it turns out that the symbols of the world do not mean anything. That they form a pile of
unrelated elements. And that the relations which the historic consciousness read into that pile, was
produced through texts by this consciousness itself. The world has become meaningless and the
consciousness does not have any business there anymore since it could only find unrelated elements.
103 With photography the division between 'subject/object' (body/mind) is overcome: The mind becomes
object of technical manipulation and can therefore be simulated. All mental processes, starting with
perception up to decision making ('artificial intelligence'), can now be turned into an object and this
means: transferable from the human to other objects.

63
As Hans-Martin Schnherr phrased it, man becomes object to physiologic,
psychological, social and cultural analysis and calculation and is replaced by machines,
which take over his specific abilities and exceed him in terms of precision, pace and
reliability of the action (Schnherr 1989: 231). Coevally the subject is produced in the
machines to which it is affiliated and which enforce their own dynamics (Schnherr:
231). Likewise Flusser:
Als Objekt des Kalkulierens zerfliet der Mensch in sich einander berschneidende Netze
von physiologischen, psychischen, sozialen und kulturellen Relationen; und der Mensch als
Subjekt des Kalkulierens lst sich selbst auf. Das ist der berchtigte 'Tod des Humanismus'. 104
(Flusser 1994: 17)

Here, again Flusser's description of man as 'node of relations' is implied. For Flusser
man has reached the highest point of abstraction and thus the greatest alienation from
the world. Science has crumbled the objective world into bits, pixels, atoms, genes and
the like. The attempts in search for an immanent meaning of the world have only
revealed its lack of meaning.
In other words, even though Flusser distances himself from a nihilistic
pessimism (18), it becomes obvious that a nihilistic view on technics serves as a point of
departure for his utopian sketch of a future society and the new anthropology it
requires. Only when the world and subject have crumbled to little pieces and all values
have been exposed as constructs, man receives the chance to re-assemble (to concretize)
them anew and with the greatest freedom. However, in order to be able to move towards
that utopian form of society, we cannot simply operate in function of apparatuses but
have to rethink technics through an understanding of their way of operating. Therefore,
now I want to focus on the functionary, the apparatus as a gadget and as system before
integrate these concepts into the larger realm of a programmatic worldview.

104 As an object of calculation man dissolves into overlapping networks of physiologic, psychic, social
and cultural relations; and man as subject of calculation dissolves himself. This is the infamous 'death
of humanism'.

64
3.3 The Functionary

In chapter two we saw that technical innovations always affect man. In the case of
the apparatus, this is especially true since labor, work and action in Arendt's sense, are
replaced by functioning. All former work can be programed and controlled by the
apparatus (Flusser 2006: 28). In general terms, concerning the conception of the
functionary and apparatus105, Flusser takes great inspiration from Arendt and especially
from her work Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil.
In the preface of the German edition of the book, Arendt claims that Eichmann
did not intend to become a villain, in fact according to her, he did not have any motives
at all, except for his career advancement (Arendt 1964: 16). Eichmann simply never
reflected on what he did and for Arendt this was one lesson to be learned from the
lawsuit she witnessed, namely that such an indifference and ignorance could result in
more harm than all evil drives of man together (ibid.). Arendt underlines the fact that
Eichmann only acted as a small entity of big apparatus, could not reduce his guilt, since
otherwise legal practice would become impossible. This is actually Arendt's main
concern in the preface; it still has to be possible to judge the individuals that commit
'administrative massacres' and additionally one has to refuse their excuse that they, as
functionary, only functioned in a way in which anybody else could (and probably would)
have functioned (16ff).
We can now turn to Flusser's essay La Banalit du Mal106 (1975) in order to see
how Flusser takes up Arendt's thoughts and develops his earliest conception of the
functionary of the apparatus. In this essay he claims that the functionary is no human in
the traditional sense, since he has no values, he does not work and does not even live for
something but in function of the apparatus (3). Flusser extends Arendt's statement and
underlines that the functionary is neither evil nor good in any ethical sense but always
only banal (4). The tone of the essay from 1975 seems to reflect a certain pessimism
when Flusser predicts that Eichmann has to be seen as the future human (4). He
furthermore bemoans that the future will neither leave any room for contemplation nor
105 Rainer Guldin discusses Flusser's possible sources of inspiration for the conception of 'the apparatus'
in his essay Golem, Roboter und andere Gebilde (Guldin 2009b).
106 The Banality of Evil

65
for action but only for circular functioning (Flusser 1975: 4). As we can see, in this essay
Flusser has not yet developed his positive vision of a 'contemplative homo ludens'.
In the same essay, Flusser also describes the functionary as an administrator of
symbols who can only improve his position within the apparatus by adapting more and
more to its functions (Guldin 2009b: 10). In fact, this is the only aim of the functionary
(as Arendt explained with regard to Eichmann); he wants improve his position within
the apparatus, he wants to be 'fed' by the apparatus. This also implies, that the
functionary is no longer interested in the change of a 'concrete world' (he is no homo
faber). His reality is the symbolic, codified world of the apparatus since his career and
his life depend on how well he functions in its program (Flusser 1993a: 30). Accordingly,
for him symbols do not only refer to a concrete reality but are his reality. Symbole sind
fr ihn nicht Phnomene, die andere Phnomene bedeuten, sondern Symbole sind der
Stoff, der seine Wirklichkeit ausmacht. Jede andere Ontologie wre aus seiner Sicht
'wirklichkeitsfremd'.107 (30ff) In this sense man has reached the highest point of
alienation from the world.
By the same token, the functionary can only process data which according to his
program is classified as information. As an administrator he does no longer see the
human who applies for a new passport at his institution, instead this human becomes a
number in his field of duty (30) and thus is degraded to a standing reserve in
Heidegger's sense. In fact, even direct human interaction is dominated by the
uninformative (very likely) formalized language of the apparatus. Flusser presents the
example of a cashier in a bank. He argues that sometimes we would not use the
automated teller machine but instead approach the cashier at the counter. He continues
by stressing, that if we broke the conventions and asked that cashier about his name, if
he was married and whether he had kids, he would simply categorize us as 'mad'. The
cashier has become an imitation of the more effective working automated teller
machine and in this sense, he is no longer human (Flusser 1991b: 39).
The same example illustrates one of Flussers main concerns regarding the
apparatus. Namely, that due to the communicative structures, which are predetermined
107 For him symbols are not phenomena that stand for other phenomena, but phenomena are the
material which amounts to his reality. From his perspective every other ontology would be out of
touch with reality.

66
by the apparatus, real information exchange between individuals is transformed into
likely and thus entropic gossip. Since, according to Flusser, even the programers of the
apparatuses by now only act as replaceable functionaries of a larger apparatus which
strives towards automation (Flusser 1993a: 32), it becomes difficult to imagine a real
solution to a scenario in which humans function fully in function of an autonomous
apparatus. As indicated with reference to Arendt, for different reasons for Flusser this
solution cannot be political. First of all because the functionary no longer asks Why?
but only How?; he acts formal not ethical.
Fr den Funktionr ist das Recht kein ethisches, sondern ein funktionelles, quantifizierbares
Urteil. Der Funktionr ist formal. In der nachindustriellen Gesellschaft werden
Konservatismus und Revolution (rechts und links) jeden Sinn verlieren. Die Politik ist zu
Ende.108 (Flusser 1993a: 31)

Another reason derives from a rather cybernetic consideration:


Falls Politik jenes Gebiet ist, in dem es um Werte geht, dann sind gut programmierte
Maschinen bessere Politiker als Menschen. Und falls Politik jenes Gebiet ist, in dem
Entscheidungen gefllt werden und Macht ausgebt wird, dann sind Maschinen besser
Politiker als Menschen, weil sie nach klaren Werten, also besser als wir entscheiden. Politik
ist knftig Maschinen zu berlassen.109 (223)

Even though, at first glance, this proposal sounds like now machines should even take
over the political and ethical realm, Flusser's thought here is that the programming of
these machines, which can only work with clear definitions, will force us to reflect on
the values that motivate us more thoroughly than before. Furthermore it implies, that
the process of programming cannot be left to technicians (as they also only ask 'How?'
not 'Why?') but needs to be based on a larger consensus (Flusser 1999b: 85). Who ever
programs the machines that take over important decisions must have criticized existing
power structures in a very precise way beforehand (Flusser 1993a: 223). Accordingly
Flusser stresses: Wenn wir eine nderung unserer Lage beabsichtigen, dann knnen
wir nicht politisch handeln, sondern wir mssen kybernetische Spielstrategien

108 For the functionary law is not an ethical, but a functional, quantifiable judgment. The functionary is
formal. In post-industrial society conservatism and revolution (right and left) are going to loose all
meaning. Politics has come to an end.
109 If politics is the realm which is about values, then good programed machines are better politicians
than humans. And if politics is the realm in which decisions are made and power is exercised,
machines are better politicians as humans, because they decide according to clear values, thus better
than we. In future politics has to be left to machines.

67
anwenden.110 (Flusser 1993a: 67) In order to understand the relation between man and
apparatus in more detail, the apparatus as gadget and as system shall be discussed next.

3.4 Apparatus as Gadget

Flusser's already mentioned work Fr eine Philosophie der Fotografie (2006)


provides us with an extensive discussion of the notion 'apparatus' as a whole but also
contains the danger of misunderstanding his conception of the term: because he mainly
focuses on the camera as apparatus and in particular because his provocative tone can
be missed and his statement in the last chapter of the book ignored. With regard to his
apparatus centered definition of photography, he reminds his reader:
Die vorgeschlagene Definition hat fr die Philosophie den seltsamen Vorteil, nicht
angenommen werden zu knnen. Man ist herausgefordert, zu zeigen, da sie falsch ist, da
sie den Menschen als freien Agenten ausklammert. Sie reizt zum Widerspruch und der
Widerspruch, die Dialektik, ist eine der Sprungfedern des Philosophierens.111 (69)

That his use of apparatus does not carry positive connotations becomes clear, when
Flusser criticizes that apparatuses everywhere program our lives in a stubborn
automated manner and through them our thoughts, feelings, desires and actions are
'robotized' (72). While during the course of the book Flusser creates the impression that
the playful photographer who tries to exhaust the program of the apparatus is the
human ideal to strive for, again in the last chapter he reveals that this is not the case.
[...] sie [die Fotografen] erzeugen wertlose Dinge. Und dem zum Trotz halten sie ihre
Ttigkeit fr alles andere als absurd und meinen, frei zu handeln.112 (ibid.)
Consequently, Flusser's conception of the apparatus in Fr eine Philosophie der
Fotografie, which can be read from a narrow media-theoretical perspective even though
Flusser does not use the word medium, has to be situated into the broader realm of his

110 If we aim for a change of our situation, we cannot act politically, we have to apply cybernetic game
strategies.
111 For philosophy this definition has the strange advantage, namely that it cannot be accepted. One is
challenged to show that it is wrong, since it excludes man as a free agent. It provokes disagreement
and disagreement is a scroll spring for philosophy.
112 They [photographers] create worthless things. And nevertheless they do not understand their action
as everything but absurd but think to act freely.

68
general use of the term.
As already mentioned, Flusser's procedural method in Fr eine Philosophie der
Fotografie consist of an analysis of the technical device camera, its in- and output and
the way it is used by the photographer. Simultaneously, Flusser claims that this
technical device can be seen as a blueprint to all other apparatuses; like large
administrative apparatuses or small micro chips (Flusser 2006: 20). Flusser understands
apparatuses, just like machines of the industrial age, as products of applied scientific
theory. However, at the same time apparatuses already point towards a post-industrial
society, as more and more people no longer work but are employed in the tertiary sector
(23). While, as Flusser argues, the main category of industrial society was work, for the
analysis of the post-industrial society we have to apply a new category, namely
'information' (24). In his already discussed essay Die Fabrik, Flusser makes his
distinction between tools, machines and apparatuses clearer. Werkzeuge sind
empirische, Maschinen sind mechanische und Apparate neurophysiologische Hand-
und Krpersimulationen.113 (Flusser 2002b: 167) In other words, here again Flusser
applies Kapp's concept of organ projection and accordingly also in Fr eine Philosophie
der Fotografie defines the camera as a toy which simulates thinking by generating,
combining and processing symbols (Flusser 2006: 75). However, he likewise underlines,
that the apparatus simulates a specific kind of thinking, namely numeric thinking (29).
He identifies this as a main reason for the incompetence of man towards the
apparatuses.
Apparate sind Black Boxes, die das Denken im Sinne eines Kombinationsspiels mit
zahlenhnlichen Symbolen simulieren und dabei dieses Denken so mechanisieren, da
knftige Menschen dafr immer weniger kompetent werden und es immer mehr den
Apparaten berlassen mssen. (30)

Since this numeric thinking is so effective, the apparatus can perform all kinds of tasks,
which used to be called work (or labor). Hence, Flusser declares that the photographer
is no homo faber but rather a homo ludens who is freed from work by intelligent tools.
However, the critical passages initially quoted indicate that this homo ludens is not yet
the ideal contemplative homo faber to strive for.

113 Tools are empirical, machines are mechanical and apparatuses neuro-physiological hand and body
simulations.

69
The main threat posed by Heidegger's Gestell is also apparent in Flussers
apparatus, namely that man no longer realizes that his only way of being-in-the-world is
through the reality provided by the apparatus. 114 The functionary (here homo ludens)
lives his unpolitical life as long as the apparatus works smoothly. It is only in the case of
a dysfunction that he turns towards it. To illustrate this, Flusser uses the example of a
film projector, which is reminiscent of Plato's cave allegory.
Sie [die Funktionre, T.H.] wenden sich dem Apparat nur dann zu, wenn er schlecht
funktioniert, zum Beispiel, wenn die Schatten an der Wand zu hpfen beginnen statt zu
gleiten, wie sie sollen. Sie tuen es verrgert darber, dass der Trug aufgedeckt wurde. Ein
unglaubliches Verhalten. Wie knnen Menschen in einem so hohen Ausma mit den sie
verdinglichen Apparaten kollaborieren? Das ist die angesichts von Auschwitz zu stellende
Frage, hier allerdings in einer weit weniger grauenhaften Stimmung.115 (Flusser 1993a: 53)

The functionaries are upset that the illusion is destroyed in front of their eyes and this is
exactly the problem of the homo ludens contoured in Fr eine Philosophie der
Fotografie.
The photographer concentrates on the outside shell of the apparatus. He lives in
the illusion that he controls the apparatus by controlling its out- and input and through
challenging its program by trying to produce unlikely informative photographs; a
paradox since every realized photograph is already implied as a possibility in the
program of the apparatus (Flusser 2006: 24). Within the realm of the program of the
apparatus the photographer can gain a certain competence, but when he succeeds in
producing unlikely results, these results are taken up by a meta-program which
programs the apparatus, namely the photo industry (28). In other words, we can observe
a reciprocal relationship, which Flusser calls the apparatus-operator-complex (Flusser
2007: 150ff).
Zwar tut der Apparat, was der Fotograf will, aber der Fotograf kann nur wollen, was der
Apparat kann. Alle vom Fotografen erzeugten Bilder mssen daher im Programm des
Apparates stehen und sind [...] 'voraussehbare', uninformative Bilder.116 (Flusser 1999b: 25)

114 Even though Heidegger focuses on industrial machinery while Flusser is concerned with media.
115 They [the functionaries, T.H.]only turn towards the apparatus when it does not work smoothly, for
example, when the shadows on the wall start bouncing - instead of sliding as they should. They do it
annoyed about the fact that the deceit has been revealed. An incredible behavior. How can humans
cooperate to such an extend with the apparatuses that objectify them? With regard to Auschwitz this
is the question which has to be posed, here, however, in a far less cruel atmosphere.
116 Even though the apparatus does what the photographer wants, the photographer can only want what
the apparatus can do. All photographs created by the photographer have to be contained in program
of the apparatus and are [...] 'foreseeable' un-informative images.

70
The apparatus provides the operator with an finite but incredibly large number of
possibilities to realize through its program which creates the illusion of freedom and
competence. It furthermore is equipped with a feedback mechanism, which allows it to
inscribe new unlikely results into its program via a meta-program to make them likely in
future. This is also the reason why there are no individualized, personal apparatuses and
the question 'Who owns the machines?' has lost its meaning, as the owner of the
physical apparatus remains a functionary as long as he has not programed the gadget's
program.
Zwar sind viele Apparate harte Gegenstnde [...]. Aber nicht diese Hrte ist es, die sie zum
Spielen befhigt, nicht das Holz des Schachbretts und der Schachfiguren ermglichen das
Spielen, sondern die Regeln des Spiels, das Schachprogramm.117 (Flusser 2006: 28)

The power shifts from owner to programer. Simultaneously every program is programed
by a meta-program, which is again programed by a meta-program and all functionaries
and programs function within these programs (ibid.), a fact which shall be considered
in the discussion on the apparatus as a system.
Still, the main loss of man's control over his technical environment starts with
the fact that the apparatus is a black box. The functionary is ignorant of how it really
works and moreover he does not realized which danger this attitude contains. In his
work Nachgeschichte118 (1993a) Flusser displays his critical attitude towards the little
technical gadgets, which surround us more explicitly.
Das uns umgebende dumme Zeug programmiert uns zur Abhngigkeit von ihm, und zwar
im doppelten Sinne. Wir sind programmiert, ohne das dumme Zeug nicht leben zu knnen
und wir sind programmiert, die Dummheit dieses Zeugs nicht wahrzunehmen. [...] Die erste
Abhngigkeit bewirkt, da nicht nur unser geistiges Niveau, sondern unsere ganze Lebens-
weise, unsere tglichen Gesten beinahe schimpansisch aussehen. [...] Die zweite Abhngig-
keit bewirkt, da wir Klgeres, Ernsteres, Tieferes nicht ins Auge fassen knnen.119 (97)

Man is increasingly conditioned by things, which he no longer directly creates but


which are created by other intelligent tools and machines. He depends more and more

117 Indeed many apparatuses are hard objects [...]. But it is not this hardness which enables them to
play; not the wood of the chess board and the chess figures allow for playing but the rules of the game,
the chess program.
118 Post History
119 The stupid stuff which surrounds us programs us into a dependence, namely in a twofold sense. We
are programed so that we cannot live without the stupid stuff and we are programed not to recognize
the stupidity of this stuff. [...] The first dependence causes, that not only our intellectual level, but our
whole way of life, our daily gesture look chimpanzee like. [...] The second dependence causes that we
cannot envisage something more smart, serious, profound.

71
on these gadgets but does no longer understand how they work. He cannot 'grasp' them
anymore since their technical mechanism is hidden in small electronic circuit boards.
In the last sentence of the quote, in which Flusser claims that our disability to
understands the permittivity of the gadgets that surround us simultaneously results in a
disability to understand more profound things, he moves close to Heidegger's line of
argumentation in Die Frage nach der Technik, when the latter claims that the
challenging revealing of the Gestell bares the possibility of blocking man's access to
other forms of revealing and therewith to a more original truth. Even more threatening
appears the fact that man does not want to question how these gadgets work but only
wants them to run smoothly.
In the quote above, again the separation of tool, machine and apparatus seems
difficult. Especially because Flusser's claim that apparatuses produces symbols and not
something to consume in the traditional sense has to be questioned. The function of
tools can be followed via the technical images they produce and conversely and likewise
they work according to the symbolic program of apparatuses. Actually Flusser himself
blurs the line between tool and apparatus when he talks about 'intelligent tools' and he
also makes clear that the apparatus as technical device is inter-connected to apparatuses
at large, as systems.
'Intelligente Werkzeuge' sind Instrumente, die mit Miniaturgedchtnissen und -program-
men ausgestattet sind, welche selbstttig spezifische Aufgaben ausfhren. [...] Diese Werk-
zeuge, die nicht etwas anti-apparatisch, sondern selbst Apparate sind, die innerhalb der rie-
sigen Apparate funktionieren, werden zusehends kleiner, zahlreicher, billiger und intelligen-
ter. Aus der Industrie strmen sie in die ffentliche und private Verwaltung und von dort in
den Wohnraum und in die Kche.120 (Flusser 1993a: 69)

During the industrial revolution humans surrounded the large, heavy and expensive
machines. Man went to work and came home after work. This division between public
and private is abandoned through the small and functional apparatuses which enter the
private realm and everywhere where the small apparatuses gain ground the scene is
'apparatized' through a meta-program which means that also the apparatus as at large
gains ground (ibid.). The development not only challenges the dichotomy of public and

120 'Intelligent tools' are instruments which are equipped with mini-memories and -programs which
autonomously carry out specific tasks. [...] These tools which are not anti-apparatus-like, but are
apparatuses themselves which function within huge apparatuses, become noticeably smaller, more
numerous, cheaper and more intelligent. From industry they flow into public and private
administrations and from there into the living space and the kitchen.

72
private but also results in a fragmentation of society, as we shall see in the discussion of
the telematic society. Before, however, it is important to understand the relation
between apparatus as gadget and system.

3.5 Apparatus as System

Ever since his coming into being in form of a homo faber man struggled against
entropy. He created unlikely situations, informed his objective environment and added
additional symbolic layers of meaning; he became a cultural being. Simultaneously, as
pointed out before, for Flusser, the elementary human attribute is his ability to grasp his
objective environment, which allows him to develop models according to which he can
inform it. However, from the very moment of the coming into being of homo faber, man
also uses technics as a way of facing the world in order to ease or avoid the information
process itself; he attempts to refrain from work but simultaneously intents to produce
unlikely neg-entropic situations. For this reason, he creates tools and machines. The
apparatus represents the next step in this progression. At the same time, the apparatus
constitutes not just one more step in a progression which started with the tool and ends
with automation. Instead, it incorporates tools and machines. The small gadgets just
like machines are now equipped with mini-memories and programs, the separation
between tools, machines and apparatus becomes questionable. They all share a
common feature, namely that they do no longer display their technical or electronic
core. Thus, Flusser distinguishes between 'transparent' machines and 'intransparent'
apparatuses (Flusser 1999b: 42). These 'transparent' machines are increasingly replaced
by 'in-transparent' apparatuses. Their opaqueness also derives from their complexity 121
on the structural side, in contrast to the simplicity on their functional side. It results in
man's incompetence to understand the technical/electronic inside of the apparatuses he
uses. Moreover, as we have seen, due to the apparatus easy applicability, man does no

121 Concerning the apparatus as technical device 'complex' here cannot mean 'unpredictable' and while
the single parts and their feedback mechanisms of the apparatus as a system might actually lead to
unpredictable situations, as we shall see, Flusser's concern is that, as soon as these apparatuses work
right, they produce redundancy and entropy.

73
longer want to comprehend how the apparatuses work as long as their program runs
smoothly. For Flusser, this lack of curiosity is directly related to the dominance of
technical images, since they need to be looked at superficially, as they dissolve into
pixels under closer observation, which according to him leads to a general disdain of
profoundness (Flusser 1999b: 42). Flusser recognizes a danger in the fact that man not
only does not understand how the apparatus works, but by the same token does not
realize how he is programed or informed through codes. How for Flusser material and
immaterial layer overlap becomes clear, when he underlines that the repertoire of codes
encompasses various symbols, like tools on the material side or dreams on the
immaterial side (Flusser 2007: 332). Although with regard to the predominance of
technical images Flusser most notably refers to immaterial symbols, the immediate
inter-connection with the material realm becomes clear in one of Flusser's examples.
Influenced by the political circumstances of the cold war, Flusser argues that the
president of the USA seemingly has the choice to press different buttons, however,
which button he presses in which situation is programed by the apparatus and thus his
free decision is an illusion (Flusser 1999b: 79). According to Flusser, the President of the
USA would first push a button, which allows him to see Russian missiles over Alaska on
a screen, as a reaction he would then press another button which starts his missiles
(ibid.). The decision has already been made by the apparatus and thus Flusser
underlines that it is no longer important which individual holds the 'power' since they
function within the program of the apparatus, even though they might claim that they
have the power to make decisions (80). Thus man has been implemented into the
program of the apparatus.
In contrast to cultural critics like Adorno and Horkheimer who claimed that the
talk about technics' own logic only serves as a means to conceal predominant rule and
power structures (1968: 130), Flusser stresses that the apparatuses are no longer ruled by
humans (Flusser 1999b: 77). As stated before, Blumenberg claims that man is
overburdened by an overabundance of information and nevertheless has to make
decisions. These decisions are negotiated with the means of rhetoric. Flusser argues that
whenever the complexity of a system is too overwhelming, man develops certain

74
strategies (programs) which allows him to make decisions and act (Flusser 2007: 332).
As the apparatus simulates a certain kind of thinking, namely mathematical thinking,
and outclasses man in this field, it is not surprising that the apparatuses increasingly
decide for man and hence become autonomous.
Like I argued above, man's main attempt ever since he came into being, is to
create informative situations with the least amount of work as such. In fact, as Flusser
claims, with the apparatus it has become incredibly easy for man to create unlikely
situations by dictating (pro-graming) it the intended form for an object. He can then
stop the apparatus at the point where the intended unlikely coincidence has been
realized (Flusser 1999b: 82). This progress seemingly provides man with new freedom,
since he does not have to work anymore but instead can, via keystroke, let the apparatus
work for him. The apparatus automatically produces unlikely coincidences, which in
nature (by rolling the dices) would have occurred only after a very long period of time ,
le.g. the human brain (81). However, Flusser warns, that because the apparatuses have
become too fast and complex for man, he increasingly lacks the ability to stop them at
the 'right' coincidence.
Die Zahl der automatisch hergestellten Zuflle und ihre sich berstrzende
Aufeinanderfolge bersteigen die menschliche Fhigkeit, sie zu berblicken. Dadurch
verliert sich die Mglichkeit, den Apparat beim gewnschten Zufall zu stoppen. Das
Programm wird unabhngig von menschlicher Absicht, es wird 'autonom' und rollt weiter,
bis sich alle Zuflle verwirklicht haben, auch jene, die der Mensch ursprnglich gerade
verhten wollte.122 (82)

As an example for such an unintended realization of an unlikely coincidence Flusser


again refers to the nuclear arms race during the cold war (24) and furthermore
emphasizes that with every new generation of apparatuses the human intention is less
recognizable in their programs (83). Man no longer dictates the meaning of the
technical game of dices, instead, all coincidences which can be realized technically will
be realized.
Wir frchten und dies mit vollem Recht , da von niemandem beabsichtigte, aber im Pro-
gramm enthaltene Mglichkeiten notwendigerweise verwirklicht werden. Das ist am Beispiel

122 The number of automatically produced coincidences and their precipitous succession exceeds the
human capability to still overview them. Therefore the possibility to stop the apparatus at the right
coincidence is lost. The program becomes independent from human intention, it becomes
autonomous and 'moves on', until all coincidences are realized, also exactly those, man originally
wanted to avoid.

75
der sogenannten atomaren Gefahr am klarsten zu erkennen.[...] Es wre sinnlos gewesen, die
Entdeckung unterbinden zu wollen. Die Erzeugung von Atomwaffen war im Programm der
modernen Technik enthalten. Die Versuche, diese Erzeugung zu hemmen oder zu stoppen,
sind gescheitert. Der Atomkrieg ist im Programm der militrischen Apparate inbegriffen,
wenn auch nicht in der Absicht der sich fr Programmierer haltenden Funktionre. Er wird
an einem gegebenen Punkt notwendigerweise Wirklichkeit werden. Man kann einzig den
gegebenen Punkt zu verzgern versuchen. Dasselbe gilt fr alle brigen uns bedrohenden
Gefahren.123 (Flusser 1993a: 99ff )

This statement implies that the nuclear arms race is not so much a technical problem,
but rather a problem of communication and power structures. Technics is neutral and
its use has to be negotiated; it should be based on a broad consensus. In this particular
case, because of the lack of diplomatic communication, the USA and the USSR built
atomic bombs instead of agreeing on a peaceful use of atomic power only.
Technics is the moment in which a model is abstracted from nature, which then
can be repeated under stable conditions again and again. It is this moment of insight
which allows man to change the perspective on his conditionality. Due to the change of
the relation of technics to its environment (other technics or materials, geographic and
climate conditions), this moment is followed by technical evolution as Bernard Stiegler
describes: A technical system constitutes a temporal unity. It is a stabilization of
technical evolution around a point of equilibrium, concretized by a particular
technology [...] (1998: 31). A very significant factor for this evolution however, is the
social (political) consensus upon the use and cultivation of discovered technics (with
regards to which advantages this technics provides). With apparatuses this negotiation
about what is needed or wanted is carried out within the 'political' realm or on the
market and every response is implemented into the program of the apparatus, which
creates another program.
Since the unlikely situations are inscribed in the apparatuses program and man
no longer controls these programs, the apparatuses now automatically produce likely
situations (Flusser 1999b: 84). In other words, who knows the programs of the

123 We are afraid and this rightly so that options are necessarily put into practice which nobody
intended but which were included in the program. This becomes the most obvious in the example of
the so called atomic threat. [...] It would have been pointless to want to prevent this discovery. The
production of atomic weapons was contained in program of modern technics/technology. Attempts to
hamper or stop this production have failed. Atomic warfare is included in the program of the military
apparatuses even if not in the intention of the functionaries who think that they are programers. In a
given moment it [atomic warfare] will necessarily become reality. One can only try to delay this
moment. Actually, this is true for all dangers that threaten us.

76
apparatuses can predict their action (Flusser 1999b: 23). With the automation of the
apparatuses, not only dangerous situations for man like nuclear warfare evolve, but
moreover neg-entropy turns into entropy.
Jeder Fernsehzuschauer kann mehr oder weniger das Programm der nchsten Woche
voraussehen. Das heit mit anderen Worten: Die von Apparaten programmgem erzeugten
Bilder sind zwar vom Universum her gesehen unwahrscheinlich (es wrde Jahrbillionen
dauern, bis eine Fotografie 'von selbst' und ohne Apparat entstnde), vom Standpunkt des
Empfngers sind sie jedoch wahrscheinlich, das heit wenig informativ.124 (24)

Even though the apparatuses are interconnected via complex feedback loops, they do
not yet run the same programs. We still experience translational gaps between the
apparatuses (and also between functionary and apparatus), which can lead to
unexpected informative situations. However, Flusser states (also regarding US
capitalism and USSR communism), that the different current programs show a tendency
to synthesize themselves to a 'cosmic meta-program', which for him is indicated in the
formation of mass-culture.125 (83) For the same reason Flusser does never directly
criticizes capitalism: in communist just like in capitalist societies man become
cogwheels of a big machinery, regardless of their ideological system they turn into
replaceable functionaries. The process in which these different programs start to merge
is accelerated the more, the better the functionaries function in function of the
apparatus' program - and the less they recognize it themselves.
Die Apparate funktionieren immer unabhngiger von den 'Motiven' und immer mehr in
Funktion ihrer Programme. Diese Programme werden immer fter von zum Programmieren
programmierten Apparaten entworfen. Die Programme werden von Motiven immer
autonomer. Die menschlichen Programmatoren sind immer hufiger selbst programmiert
worden, um zu programmieren.126 (Flusser 1993a: 26ff)

124 Every TV viewer can more or less predict the program for the following week. In other words this
means: The images produced by the apparatus according to it's program are unlikely from the
perspective of the universe (it would take trillions of years for a photograph to come into being by
'itself' and without apparatus), from the perspective of the receiver, however, they are like and
therefore little informative.
125 In fact, Flusser never explicitly relates these tendencies to capitalism. Capitalism constitutes just one
(even though a quite dominate one) program of the apparatus, e.g. just like politics. At the same
time this description shows, that for Flusser considerations like that of Hans Jonas in his work The
Imperative of Responsibility: In Search of Ethics for the Technological Age of whether communism or
capitalism is better equipped to face the thread of irresponsible handling of technology, is
misleading (Jonas 1984: 256).
126 The apparatuses work more and more independently from the 'motives' and more and more in
function of their programs. These programs are increasingly created by apparatuses which were
programed to program. The programs are becoming increasingly autonomous from motives.
Programers have been increasingly programed themselves in order to program.

77
Man has maneuvered himself into a seemingly hopeless situation, as he as an individual
functionary has definitely lost the control over the rational apparatus with its memory
which exceeds the competence of the human brain (Flusser 1999b: 84). Even though in
Flusser the individual faces technics powerlessly, as we shall see in the following chapter,
he still perceives society as a whole as an able opponent to the apparatus; it is merely a
problem of communication structure (Flusser 1999b: 85). In fact, as stated before, this
problem cannot be solved on the political level but has to be left to the study of complex
systems, namely cybernetics (Flusser 1975: 3). Since the analytic category shifted from
work to information, the question has not to be what we do, but which kind of
information do we produce. The dichotomy of redundancy and variance has to become
the leading analytical instrument.

3.6 The Programmatic Worldview

The apparatus as a gadget and as a system to a large extend share the same
characteristics, of which the most obvious is that they operate according to programs.
Flusser envisions an open-ended cascade effect; every program is programed by a meta-
program which again is programed by another meta program (Flusser 2006: 28). In
other words, in order to understand how the apparatus in general operates, one has to
analyze its programs and what Flusser calls the programmatic worldview.
Flusser delivers a quite extensive but general description of 'the program' in his
essay Unser Programm127 (1993a) where he contrasts the programmatic worldview to the
traditional religious ('finalistic') and the natural scientific ('causal') worldview. He
claims that whereas the first assumes that the world and human life are subject to a
concealed intention, to fate, the latter in contrast identifies a cause for every effect and
hence the world and human lives are seen as a succession of causal chains. Flusser
argues that both of these worldviews have become untenable and are now replaced by a
'programmatic' worldview, which is based on chance (23). He then describes what this
shift in world view means for different academic disciplines, of which his statement

127 Our Program

78
about anthropology is especially interesting with regard to the discussion in the first
chapter and Flusser's approach of an neg-anthropology.
Die finalistische Anthropologie sieht im Menschen das hchste Lebewesen, denn er steht
vorlufig dem Ziel der biologischen Entwicklung am nchsten. Die kausale Anthropologie
sieht im Menschen eine der jngsten Spezies der Suger, ein Glied der evolutionren Kausal-
kette, welches neue Spezies verursachen wird. Die programmatische Anthropologie sieht im
Menschen eine der mglichen Varianten der allen Lebewesen gemeinsamen genetischen In-
formation, eine 'Spielart'.128 (Flusser 1993a: 23)

Similar his comment on the impact of the programmatic view for ethnology: Die
programmatische Ethnologie sieht im menschlichen Verhalten zufllige
Manifestationen von Anlagen, die im Menschen und seiner Umwelt vorhanden
waren.129 (ibid.)
Hence, every current state is the result of a complex combination of coincidences
which cannot be reduced to a causal chain and which also could have evolved
differently; it is contingent.130 This also mirrors Flusser's conception of man as a node of
relations, which is based on coincidences. If the progression of coincidences had been
different, the node of relations called man would have been extinct or existed in a
different form. Put differently, if the hominid had not left the trees and started to walk
upright, or if he had not found the right materials to build tools, he probably would not
have become 'human'. Flusser here recognizes the coincidental realization of potentials,
which results in programs. Das Charakteristische an Programmen ist, da Zufall in
Notwendigkeit umschlgt, da auch die unwahrscheinlichsten Mglichkeiten mit der
Zeit verwirklicht werden mssen.131 (24) In other words, through program structures
which appeared extremely unlikely from a vantage point in the past, e.g. the human
brain, become likely through the (here genetic) program in the present. As stated
before, technics then can be understood as the incidental speeding up of this process in
128 Finalistic anthropology perceives man as the highest living being, because momentarily he is closest
to the goal of biological development. Causal anthropology perceives man as the youngest species of
mammals, a link in the evolutionary chain which will produce new species. The programmatic
anthropology perceives man as one possible variation of the genetic information which all living
beings hold, a 'version'.
129 Programmatic ethnology sees in human action a random manifestation of options which are
immanent to man and his environment.
130 A helpful discussion of the term 'contingency' can be found in Niklas Luhmann's work Soziale
Systeme (Social Systems) (Luhmann 1984).
131 The characteristic note to programs is that coincidence turns into necessity, that also the most
unlikely possibilities must become true over time.

79
which coincidences result in unlikely situations which are translated into programs and
which hence become likely. The hominid by accident or through organ projection
discovered what the stone was 'good for', which programed him in a way, so that he
from that moment onwards perceived and used the stone accordingly. Hence, the
programmatic worldview reveals that man and his current state are not the result of his
intentional action but rather a conglomeration of coincidences. From this perspective
intentional action appears to be absurd.
Das programmatische Weltbild ist ein aus der Stimmung der Absurditt geborenes Weltbild.
Aber es ist ein gegenwrtig unumgngliches Weltbild. Alle Natur- und Kulturwissenschaften
deuten darauf hin, da jeder finalistische oder kausale Erklrungsversuch zum scheitern
verdammt ist [...].132 (Flusser 1993a: 25)

For Flusser, this transition from causal to programmatic worldview coincides with the
end of history, the decreasing importance of linear writing and its substitution of it
through alphanumeric code of the technical images. We can no longer structure the
world according to linear cause and effect sequences but are now facing innumerable
dimensions (26). The absurdity of our condition becomes clearer if we turn to another
approach to this issue.
Although it does not completely coincide with Flusser's use of terms (like 'system
or 'program'), with regard to Niklas Luhmann' systems theoretical approach to technics
we can argue that technics is a potentiation of the evolutionary mechanism. 133
(Luhmann 1998: 517) Technics excludes external factors of a complex world and
potentiates a particular mechanism. Therefore, the creation of programs Flusser
describes is in Luhmann's terms a reduction of complexity134 which, however, as also

132 The programmatic worldview is a worldview born out of a atmosphere of absurdity. But it is a
worldview which is currently inevitable. Natural sciences and cultural studies indicate that every
finalistic or causal attempt of explaining is doomed to failure.
133 Here Luhmann's ideas concerning technics shall merely allow to gain a better understanding of
Flusser's conception of apparatus and program, but also of technics in general. I will not provide a
detailed discussion of similarities and differences in Luhmann's and Flusser's theories. For a
introductory comparison between Flusser's conception of subject and society and Luhmann's
Systems Theory see Phillip H. Gochenour's essay Masks and Dances (Gochenour 2005).
134 This simplification, however, can result in structural complexity throughout differentiation. For
instance, the hominid, by accident or intentionally, selects the stone and applies certain technique
to use and craft the stone. He excludes other materials and potential techniques. Within the process
of technical evolution the hominid develops a vast range of tools and applications based on a
particular kind of stone which then results in an ever increasing application of these tools, which
again affects the social organization (e.g. some members of the group became specialist in the
production or use of a certain kind of tool).

80
Flusser points out, can result in complexity again through differentiation and
specialization (Flusser 1994: 90). For Luhmann technics or technology is a working
simplification which does not recreate nature's complexity135 but always only leads to a
momentary equilibrium (Luhmann 1998: 524ff). Technical forms (Flusser's programs)
have to exclude external impacts. Over time, they have to generate a system in clear
contrast to an environment (Luhmann 1998: 528). As technics never recreates the
complexity of nature, it always 'artificially' outbalances the current equilibrium. 136 Even
though nature itself maintains the status of equilibrium of its elements only until one or
more elements outbalance that state and enforce a new equilibrium, the coincidences
which lead to a certain equilibrium, occur much slower than the intentional unlikely
coincidences generated through technics. Obviously, man's intentional production of
unlikely situations is accompanied by unintended coincidences. However, due to the
complexity of nature and the interconnectedness of its elements, the 'problems' caused
by the application of a particular technology can occur distant from it in space and time
and result in a 'cascade of disturbances' and it is only now through science and
technology that we start to recognize this interconnectedness (531).
Consequently, the programmatic thinking depicted by Flusser stresses
coincidence and contingency. It allows man for the first time to see his disability to
predict the results of his action in a larger time frame. Man is overwhelmed by the
information he has to handle in order to make decisions and thus more and more has to
rely on computer's calculating power to provide him with the 'right' answers.137 He has to
take this step in order to avoid a powerlessness, which makes acting in general terms
impossible.
The technics man applies now, has a bigger and longer impact on nature than
135 Although with fast developing 'converging technologies', biologic complexity is not necessarily
reduced anymore, e.g. Craig Venter and his team just successfully created the first self-replicating
synthetic bacteria cell (J. Craig Venter Institute 2010). Nevertheless, it still breaks the equilibrium of
a complex larger system, we might call nature. Luhmann accordingly also argues, that technics
becomes a 'second nature', since on everyday life base nobody any longer understands how technics
works and moreover he points out that it becomes impossible to differ between a genetically
modified organisms and others (Luhmann 1998: 523).
136 Of course, with regard to Flusser's formulation of man as 'node of relations', also man has to be
perceived as such a momentary equilibrium of different impacts.
137 At this point we could also refer back to the first chapter and Hans Blumenberg as for him man also
faces an overabundance of information but is nevertheless able to make decisions due to rhetorical
negotiation.

81
ever before and thus Hans Jonas stresses that never before an ethics had to deal with
decisions and actions which might result in the extinction of the human race (1984: 28).
He underlines the increasing divide between predictability and technical knowledge
and therefore suggests that Kant's categorical imperative should be reformulated so that
every action of man has to be in accordance with the possibility of permanent human
life on earth (Jonas 1984: 36).
From a programmatic worldview this not only sounds naive but also contains the
possibility that man becomes unable to decide and act. With Jonas' categorical
imperative, the question of what man can know about his action becomes crucial, and
simultaneously, it illustrates the paradox man faces. Even though scientific and
technological programs allow man the simulation of models and the formulation of
predictions more precisely and foresighted than ever before, they are still reduction of
an increasingly complex and durable impact of current technics. The paradox then is,
that in order to be competent for decisions making, man cannot apply ethics base on
reason but has to rely on technics and science again. Still, as it represents just one
coincidence in a web of interrelated coincidences, a 'good' action might have a negative
impact (on man, animals, the planet) over a longer period of time and vice versa.138
Flusser points to this paradox with regard to political decision-making.
Das Paradoxe ist, da wir lernen mssen, unpolitisch zu denken - und dabei lernen, da
Politik ein absurdes Spiel ist , um wieder politisch leben zu knnen. Ob wir dieses erlernen,
wird entscheiden, ob wir 'Menschen' bleiben oder Roboter werden.139 (Flusser 1993a: 27)

Even though science and technology in many fields allow us to make precise
predictions, the increasing interrelations of elements now contain an element of
unpredictability.
As I indicated before, Flusser's main concern is the combination of program and
apparatus, since the apparatus realizes all the possibilities of his program automatically
without the consideration of human intention. Moreover; every disturbance is
integrated into the apparatus' program and represents a further step in direction of a

138 From this perspective one could even argue, that the program, which allowed the development of
the first tools already included the very unlikely possibility of the invention of the atomic bomb.
139 The paradox is that in order to live politically again, we have to learn to think unpolitically and to
learn that politics is an absurd game. Whether or not we are able to learn this, will determine, if we
stay 'humans' or become robots.

82
cosmic meta-program. Flusser's description of the apparatus' program again has a very
nihilistic undertone, which does not seem to leave any room for human autonomy. In
fact, the ideal of free decision-making is challenged by a negative determinism. Like
Friedrich Drrenmatt illustrates in his famous play Die Physiker (The Physicists) when
his character Einstein realizes that free decision making is an illusion and that what
once was thought cannot be taken back (Drrenmatt 1998: 85), Flusser argues the
discovery of nuclear energy was included in the program of modern physics and thus to
suppress this discovery would have been useless (Flusser 1993a: 100). Again, he
generalizes this statement and claims that the same is true for atomic war and all other
dangers we currently face.
Alle [Gefahren] sind sie Mglichkeiten, die von niemanden beabsichtigt sind und sich doch
zufllig an einem gegebenen Punkt verwirklichen mssen wie die Bevlkerungsexplosion,
die Umweltverschmutzung, die Erschpfung der Rohstoffe, die totale Robotisierung der
Menschheit. Sie alle sind in den gegenwrtigen Programmen enthalten, und diese Program-
me sind im Programm der westlichen Kultur schon immer enthalten gewesen. Uns bleibt,
diese gefhrlichen Verwirklichungen zu verzgern. Denn wollte man sie verhten, mte
man versuchen, das gesamte Programm unserer Kultur und damit uns selbst aus der Welt
zu schaffen.140 (Flusser 1993a: 100)

Man can only delay the devastating realization of coincidences of the apparatus' pro-
grams, since he cannot program 'counter-programs' but only sabotage the apparatus
and thus Flusser claims: Das Zgern ist die einzige Mglichkeit, gegenwrtig fr die
Freiheit einzustehen und der Dummheit zu widerstehen.141 (101) In this deterministic
view man has definitely lost power over the programs and can only delay his 'destiny'
but not avoid it. As a result of this consideration, Flusser points out that within such a
programmatic worldview there is no place for freedom (25).

Contrary to this Luhmann stresses, that the finding of forms (programs) which
eventually become accepted does not follow the rational logic of technics but mainly
correlates with the usage of technics within a social environment (Luhmann 1998: 523).
He claims that technical evolution only starts with the embedding of a technical innov-

140 All [dangers] are possibilities which nobody intents to realize but still at a certain moment have to be
realized like the population explosion, the pollution of the environment, the depletion of
commodities, the total robotization of mankind. They all are contained in the contemporary
programs and the programs have always been contained in the program of western civilization. We
can only delay these dangerous realizations. Because if one wanted to prevent them, one had to try to
eliminate the whole program of our culture and therefore ourselves from earth.
141 Momentarily hesitation is the only possibility to stand up for freedom and to resist stupidity.

83
ation into a natural or social environment, wherein the evolutionary process remains
unpredictable (Luhmann 1998: 529). What is at stake with the exclusion of human in-
tention in the apparatuses' programs (which is only possible since functionary function
in accordance to that program) is exactly the human impact on technical evolution. In
contrast to Flusser's attitude above, and even though so far social dynamics were not
considered in his conception of technics, this social consensus on the use and develop-
ment of certain technics is what his utopian vision of a telematic society grounds on.
Hence, what we witness in Flusser's transition from apparatus to telematic society an
oscillation between nihilistic pessimism and euphoric utopianism.

84
4. Homo Ludens and Telematic Society

Es geht um eine Kulturrevolution, deren Reichweite


und Konsequenzen wir erst zu ahnen beginnen. Da
der Mensch in Unterschied zu den brigen Lebewe-
sen vor allem aufgrund erworbener und weniger auf-
grund genetisch ererbter Informationen lebt, hat die
Struktur der Informationstrger einen entscheiden-
den Einflu auf unsere Lebensform. [...] Was sich
gegenwrtig vollzieht, ist eine Mutation unserer Er-
lebnisse, Erkenntnisse, Werte und Handlungen, eine
Mutation unseres In-der-Welt-Seins.142 (Flusser
1999b: 9)

The nihilistic understanding of technics in Jnger's and Heidegger's thinking


constitutes man as increasingly mechanized and replaceable part of a mass. He becomes
a cogwheel in a big machine, which strives towards autonomy. The 'uniqueness' and
irreplaceability of human action is incrementally lost. Action as well as interpersonal
communication is subject to a strong formalization process. As we have seen, also
Hannah Arendt with her description of functionary and apparatus presents man as
unpolitical stooge who indifferently participates in 'administrative massacres'.
Flusser uses these reflections as a point of departure for his own conception of
apparatus and functionary. For him the apparatus not only constitutes itself in large
administrative bureaucratic institutions but also in form of small technical gadgets, like
the camera. Both have in common, that due to their structural complexity, man can no
longer understand how they work. He has to function according to their programs and
these programs proceed towards synchronization and automation. Since the program is
based on rational mathematical operations and additionally computers outplay man's
calculating power, man is less and less able to inscribe his intentions into the apparatus'
program. On the contrary, the program determines him, so that he, in a desperate
attempt, tries to simulate the programs way of thinking. Hence he has to witness how
more and more unintended coincidences are realized through the 'narrow-minded'

142 It is about a cultural revolution whose scope and consequences we only start to sense. Since man in
contrast to all other creatures primarily lives because of learned/gained and less because of genetic
patrimonial information, the structure of the information carriers has a decisive impact on our life
form. What is happening at this present time, is a mutation of our experiences, knowledge, values and
actions, a mutation of our being-in-the-world.

85
programs of the apparatus. At the same time these coincidences are inscribed in the
programs and can therefore be expected; in this sense they are not informative any
longer. Moreover, man has lost work as a fundamental category of life. Most people no
longer work143 in the sense that they inform material objects and thus create values (the
process which originally brought man into being as a homo faber). Instead, the
functionary sits isolated in front of his small technical gadget and manipulates symbols
according to the apparatus' program.
This summary of Flusser's thoughts gives rise to several inconvenient questions,
such as: 'What is man's role in relation to current technics?', 'How can we handle
technics, if it not only exceeds our physical abilities but also increasingly what has been
seen as a fundamental human attribute, namely human thought?' And consequently: 'If
we cannot overcome technics, like Heidegger suggests, how can we still make the
apparatus work for us, instead of becoming its slaves?' These are some of the questions
Flusser himself tries to answer with his conception of a telematic society. In fact,
whenever Flusser writes about 'telematics', he explicitly calls it a 'Technik' (Flusser
2002b: 145ff). Hence, as stressed before, for him the solution to our current crisis cannot
be an abandonment of technics. Alternatively, the question of how man can emancipate
from the apparatus has to be approached via a collective reconsideration of what
technics is and can be. Since our current 'crisis' is closely related to the coming into
being of the apparatus, this is where Flusser detects a need for action, in order to change
the hegemonic relation of man and technics.
In this chapter, before I will discuss the conception of a telematic society, I first of
all intend to give some thought to Flusser's focus on 'immateriality'. While the existence
of the apparatus as a main 'thread' for man on his transition from homo faber to homo
ludens can be declared to be the most significant reason for this change of perspective,
143 Of course, this statement is primarily true for industrialized western countries. On the other hand
also people who still inform there objective environment with their own hands are most likely doing
so in function of an apparatus and not in order to bring their crafted goods to the market, the agora
in order to present them to others. Heidegger illustrates this with regard to industry in The Question
Concerning Technology: Der Forstwart, der im Wald das geschlagene Holz vermit und dem
Anschein nach wie sein Grovater in der gleichen Weise dieselben Waldwege begeht, ist heute von
der Holzverwertungsindustrie bestellt, ob er es wei oder nicht. (Heidegger 1991: 17)
(The forester who measures the felled timber in the woods and who to all appearances walks the
forest path in the same way his grandfather did, is today ordered by the industry that produces
commercial woods, whether he knows it or not.)

86
several other reasons are presented by Flusser himself. As Flusser shows, this
idealization of the immaterial also has consequences for the subject and its body. His
ideas concerning these issues, as well as the depiction of the telematic society in general
terms, could easily be read as a technics admiring post humanists approach. A short
discussion of the influence of Martin Buber's conception of inter-subjectivity in
Flusser's work shall allow to see why this would be a wrong reading. It furthermore
reveals why Flusser rejects a hollow humanism and suggests a revitalization of the
Jewish-Christian ideal of 'love thy neighbor'. Finally, these considerations reveal why
Flusser's ideal human to strive for is the contemplative homo ludens, which at the same
time illustrates again how Flusser's negative anthropology has to be contextualized.

4.1 Towards Immateriality

For the most part of man's history, his struggle against entropy was based on the
information of material objects. However, in his vision of a telematic society Flusser's
focus shifts towards the 'immaterial'. Considering the fact that this is the field of
operation of the hegemonic apparatus and its program this appears only logical. As I
have demonstrated, Flusser mainly focuses on two abstract models to capture the
evolutionary history of mankind. One centers on the 'means', which allow man to grasp
and manipulate the physical world that conditions him. The other is more concerned
with what is located between man and world; what compensates for his loss of instincts
but also alienates man from his world. The first is the progression of hand, tool,
machine and apparatus. The second the increasing abstraction that evolved when man
became a subject in an objective world and continues with traditional images, linear
writing and finally technical images.
While these two models and their different stages develop in parallels, overlap
and condition each other, it is only with the apparatus that they coincide and merge
again. The apparatus dominates the production of material and immaterial
information. In other words, at the present moment the telematic society represents the

87
endpoint of these two progressions since on the one hand, there is no higher level of
abstraction and on the other hand, material information was included into the meta-
program of the apparatus but moreover relies on the technical precision of the
apparatus as gadget. While this is certainly the main reason for Flusser's focus on techno
images and immaterial information in his telematic society, he himself mentions several
other reasons for our averseness to material things.
In his struggle against entropy, man discovers materials which allow him to store
information a lot longer than with the materials he used before. For instance he uses
plastic bottles instead of glass bottles (Flusser 1999b: 119). However, as cited before,
Flusser claims that this development does not result in an increase of culture but in
garbage. The bottles lose part of their information in cultural process and after that
keep the status of garbage for a long time before they dissolve into nature again (Flusser
1999b: 120). Flusser believes, that in telematic society this problem can be solved, as
information is becoming immaterial and does not accumulate as garbage but as culture.
In fact, Flusser suggests, that in the telematic society we will have to learn how to forget
since all information will be stored in artificial memories.
Da man ber Informationen verfgen wird, die in knstlichen Gedchtnissen gelagert sind,
wird man das Interesse am Sammeln von in Objekten gelagerten Informationen (von
Schuhen, Khlschrnken, Autos) verlieren. Dadurch wird sich der Abfall verringern, und
Kitsch wird unntig werden. Das ist die 'nach-industrielle Gesellschaft'.144 (Flusser 1993a:
237)

At the same time he underlines that the lack of raw materials or environmental
pollution are not the main reasons for the tendency towards immateriality (Flusser
1999b: 145). He observes a more fundamental change in preferences and argues that
while during the last stage of modernity giantism was admired, now, also because of the
discovery of the atom and its power, tininess becomes the ideal to strive for (144). Of
course, here he is also influenced by the quick development of computers and technical
devices, which become smaller and smarter (145). Thus he reasons that material things
are increasingly replaced by immaterial information.
Die harten Dinge in unserer Umwelt beginnen, von weichen Undingen verdrngt zu werden:

144 Since one will possess information which are stored in artificial memories, one will lose interest in
the collection of information which are stored in objects (shoes, fridges, cars). Through this garbage
will decrease and kitsch become unnecessary.

88
hardware von Software. Die Dinge ziehen sich aus dem Zentrum des Interesses zurck, es
konzentriert sich auf Informationen.145 (Flusser 2002b: 185)

While hardware is now less important than software, Flusser relates this antipathy to
material things also to the overabundance of industrially manufactured products, which
become cheaper and cheaper while the only thing of value is now the program which
controls the apparatuses (186). With this statement we return to the difference between
Flusser and Marx, which I already described in chapter two, namely that for Flusser not
the owner of the machine but its programer is in power.
At the same time Flusser underlines that the information of material objects in
general terms will not lose its meaning completely, since information rely on a material
base no matter in what form.
Zwar besagt das Wort 'Information' 'Formation in' Dingen. Informationen verlangen nach
dinglichen Unterlagen, nach Kathodenrhren, nach Chips, nach Strahlen. Aber die
Hardware wird immer billiger, die Software immer teurer. Obwohl die dinglichen Reste, die
den neuen Informationen noch anhaften, vorlufig unvermeidlich sind, sind sie bereits
verchtlich.146 (187)

This quote makes clear, that the necessity of material information carriers is exactly
what increases man's distaste for material things. It is the struggle against the
conditionality in Arendt's sense, which we already encountered in chapter one. Man
cannot avoid materiality completely and thus remains conditioned. Following Flusser,
this even results in the contempt of the own body (Flusser 1999b: 149). However, the
important insight here is that man tries to ignore this fact and a fortiori turns towards
immaterial information.
Ein bichen Hardware braucht er. Aber das ist nicht mehr das Interessante. Es ist nicht mehr
das Interessante, ein Haus zu haben und ein Auto zu haben und ein Bankkonto zu haben,
obwohl das Bankkonto schon ziemlich 'soft' ist. Das Interessante ist doch jetzt, etwas zu
erleben, etwas zu genieen, etwas zu lernen, etwas zu machen.147 (Nchtern 1991: 45)

145 The hard things in our environment start to be replaced by soft 'un-things'; hardware by software.
The things withdraw from the center of attention, it concentrates on information.
146 Indeed the word 'information' means the 'formation in' things. Information require material
substratum, cathode tubes, chips, rays. But hardware becomes constantly cheaper, software
constantly more expensive. Although, the material leftovers which are still attached to the new
information are temporarily unavoidable, they are already despicable.
147 He needs a little bit of hardware. But it is no longer the interesting part. It is no longer interesting to
have a house and to have a car and to have a bank account, even thought the bank account is already
quite 'soft'. It is interesting now, to experience something, to enjoy something, to learn something, to
do something.

89
The information of material objects loses its importance which, as mentioned before,
can also be observed with regard to the shift in professions; less and less people work
and therefore the homo faber (if at all) can only be found in the realm of art. Instead,
employees function in the tertiary sector (Flusser 2002b: 186). Moreover, in post-
industrial society the information of material objects will no longer be first-order
interest, it will be left to machines. Instead, the creation of informative models and
programs will be man's main concern and therefore Flusser stresses:
Nicht Arbeit und Praxis, sondern Betrachtung und Theorie werden sein konkretes Leben
charakterisieren. Nicht Arbeiter, Homo Faber, sondern Spieler mit Formen, Homo Ludens,
ist der Mensch der undinglichen Zukunft.148 (188)

However, as we have seen, this transition from homo faber (the informer of objects) to
homo ludens (the player with symbols) does not proceed automatically. In fact, there is
the chance that man never reaches the status of a contemplative homo faber but
remains a functionary to the apparatus' program; unless, he succeeds in changing his
relation to technics that is. This change has to be based on a societal transformation,
which can only take place within the realm of the apparatus. This is why the activity of
homo faber, the information of the material can no longer be our main concern.

4.2 Towards a Telematic Society

In the apparatus society functionaries communicate corresponding to the


programs of apparatuses. Even everyday communication is increasingly formalized. The
functionary is an isolated receiver of information. We are facing the difference between
community and mass, which manifests itself through contrasting communication
structures. In fact, these structures and the balance between discourse and dialogue in a
society are Flusser's main concerns here. For him, every discourse has to rely on
dialogues and thus dialogue and discourse form a reciprocal relation. A democratic
society requires a balance between dialogue and discourse and if one of the two

148 Not work and praxis but contemplation and theory are going to characterize his concrete life. Not
worker, homo faber but player with forms, homo ludens is the human of the immaterial future.

90
dominates, according to Flusser, society as such is at risk (Flusser 1999b: 45). Mainly
with regard to TV stations, Flusser underlines that society's current communication
structures lead from centralized bundles to the isolated individuals of the mass, which
results in a fragmentation of society (Flusser 1999b: 68). With references to the Latin
word 'fasces'149 ('bundle') Flusser calls the contemporary structure of society fascistic;
not for ideological but for technical reasons (ibid.). In this society the individual is
degraded to a mere receiver of information. Because of this fascistic structure all the
individuals hold the same information, which makes the inter-subjective generation of
new information increasingly difficult and according to Flusser, this is the reason why
we feel solitary (45). Obviously, these isolated individuals cannot challenge the
structure of the apparatus and therefore Flusser claims that it is only possible to
transform our current society into a 'humane' society if the fascistic structures are
recognized and abandoned (70).
The technology that allows such a restructuring, as Flusser suggests, is
telematics, a neologism originally deriving from the words 'telecommunication' and
'informatics' (86). What telematics means for Flusser is better illustrated in his own
interpretation of the syllables.
Das Wort enthlt die Vorsilbe 'tele-' und die Nachsilbe '-matik'. Die Vorsilbe meint das
Nherbringen von Entferntem, wie etwa aus Teleskop oder Telefon ersichtlich. Die Nachsilbe
verweist auf das Wort 'Automat', das etwa 'Selbstbewegung' bedeutet. Daher kann das Wort
'Telematik' als eine Technik zum selbstbewegtem Nherrcken vom Entferntem gedeutet
werden.150 (Flusser 2002b: 145)

Hence, for Flusser telematics has to bring the solitary humans closer together again. In
other words, with his vision of a telematic society, he intends to reverse the process of
massification and isolation, also because for him this is the only chance for man to
oppose the hegemony of the apparatus. Technics not only has to be faced by thinking it
differently like Heidegger suggests, it has to be re-thought collectively. Still, Flusser also

149 With the use of the word 'faces' Flusser exclusively addresses the communication structure of society
(with reference to radio and TV) but obviously also enjoys the overabundance of meaning the word
holds if related to fascism. Flusser does not refer to the symbolism of the fasces in the Roman
Empire or their quality as a weapon.
150 The word contains the prefix 'tele-' and the suffix '-matic'. The prefix means to bring distant things
nearer, like evident in telescope and telephone. The suffix refers to the word 'automat' which more or
less means 'automotive'. Therefore the word telematic can be interpreted as a technics/technology of
automatically bringing something distant closer together.

91
alerts his readers that the transformation of communication structures has to happen as
fast as possible since otherwise man, due to the trend of the apparatus towards
automation, man could miss the moment at which this transformation is still
manageable.
Denn so wie die telematischen Gadgets jetzt verwendet werden, erzeugen sie ein kosmisches
leeres Gerede und Geplapper, eine Flut von banalen technischen Bildern, welche daran sind,
alle Lcken zwischen den vereinsamten und zerstreuten tastendrckenden
Massenmenschen definitiv zu verkleben.151 (Flusser 1999b: 94)

With this statement Flusser points out that the technical structure for a telematic
society already exists, but as I stressed with Luhmann in the previous chapter, technical
evolutions largely depends on sociocultural dynamics. In this moment the
anthropological constants rhetoric (for Blumenberg) and technics (for Flusser)
coincide. Man comes into being with a badly equipped body and a lack of instincts; he is
under-determined. The 'revealing' which is technics allows man to perceive his material
environment in a new way, but this moment is also accompanied by the social
negotiation of what this revealing means for the group; how it should be applied and
cultivated. We saw a negative outcome of such a negotiation (or the lack of negotiation)
in the previous chapter and are about to see Flusser's sketch of what a positive result of
such a negotiation could look like. Technical evolution depends on social structures and
in current society man is programed by the apparatus to use his telematic gadgets only
in a particular way, namely for his distraction and not to use them as media for
dialogues. This is only possible because man does not and does not want to understand
his 'black boxes' anymore (92). Man wants to be distracted, so he does not have to
collect, process and pass on information himself (ibid.).
It is exactly this passive attitude, which allows the apparatus to implement the
functionary into his program and to create a circular feedback loop, which is likely and
therefore entropic. For Flusser the perfection of the feedback loop simultaneously
represents the end of history. The linearity of history is converted into the circularity of
technical images. Die technischen Bilder bersetzen historische Ereignisse in ewig

151 Like the telematic gadgets are used at the moment, they create a cosmic empty chitchat and babble,
a flood of banal technical images which are about to definitely glue up all the opening between the
lonely and confused button pushing mass humans.

92
wiederholbare Projektionen.152 (Flusser 1999b: 65) Within this feedback loop man
becomes a perfect part of the apparatus; now he only desires what the apparatus
provides and the apparatus only provides what the functionary desires.
Die Bilder werden dann immer das gleiche zeigen und die Menschen immer das gleiche
gezeigt bekommen wollen. Der Mantel der ewigen und unendlichen Langeweile wird sich
ber die Gesellschaft breiten. Sie wird in Entropie verfallen [...].153 (66)

In such an apparatus society the functionary not only lives in a 'happy coma' (Flusser
1999b: 73) but also has fully lost his ambition to create unlikely informative situations,
to challenge entropy. He no longer shapes his objective environment as a homo faber
but he also no longer acts in the way desired by Arendt. The synchronized individuals
do no longer share the plurality that for Arendt forms the foundation of political life and
which, as she stresses, only derives from the sharing of a common human world with
others who look at it from different perspectives which then enables us to see reality in
the round and to develop a shared common sense and without which we are each
driven back on our own subjective experience, in which only our feelings, wants, and
desires have reality (Arendt 1998: xiii). In the fascistic society of techno images Flusser
sees emerging, not only these different perspectives on the world are lost; the individual
does not even fall back onto his subjective experience, since it is programed through the
meta-program of the apparatus.
Nevertheless, because of the trend towards an autonomous meta-program,
criticizing its bundles as cultural critics do cannot challenge the apparatus' hegemony.
Sie [die Kulturkritiker, T.H.] versuchen nmlich, die ausstrahlenden Zentren zu kritisieren,
um sie zu ndern oder abzuschaffen. Aber das revolutionre Engagement hat nicht in den
Zentren, sondern in den dummen telematischen Gadgets anzusetzen.154 (Flusser 1999b: 94)

The functionary has to focus on the back box he holds in his hands. He has to
understand the potentials of the technical gadgets that he uses so indifferently, only
with interest in their output and not their way of working. Since for Flusser a change in

152 The technical images translate historic events into eternally repeatable projections.
153 The images will be showing the same all the time and human will want to be shown the same all the
time. A coat of eternal and infinitive boredom will spread over society. It will fall victim to entropy
[...].
154 They [the cultural critics, T.H.] in fact try to criticize the broadcasting centers in order to change or
abandon them. However, the revolutionary engagement has to be applied not at the centers but at the
stupid telematic gadgets.

93
social structures is always based on technical revolution, we first and foremost have to
re-think technics, even before we consider values. Infolgedessen mssen wir uns, wenn
wir uns fr eine menschenwrdige Gesellschaft engagieren, mit den neuen Techniken
auseinandersetzen und nicht mit hohen Werten.155 (Flusser 1999b: 70)
In order to change society and free man from his subordination from the
apparatus we have to re-organize its 'circuit diagram'. However, Flusser also claims that
this re-organization process already has to follow dialogic consent; the functionaries
ought to have the desire for change, they have to feel the urge to break the feedback loop
of the apparatus and wake from their 'happy comas' (72). In this sense technical and
social evolution mutually affect each other. In fact, Flusser is optimistic that the will for
change exists, since he observes that people are starting to get bored by the redundant
techno images and therefore could become interested in neg-entropic inter-subjective
communication again (74). Since the technology for such a re-organization already
exists, for Flusser the most crucial point is to include all members of society in the
consent and take the responsibility out of the hands of technicians and engineers. Um
die technische zu einer politischen Frage zu machen, mu man sie aus der Hand der
Techniker reien. Die Technik ist gegenwrtig eine zu ernste Sache, um Technikern
berlassen werden zu knnen.156 (72) Under these circumstances Flusser argues that the
fascist centralized net can be re-structured to a network that could be called
'democratic' and which could lead to a cosmic dialogue (ibid.).
In order to provide a model for the telematic society, Flusser again turns to
Kapp's concept of organ projection and envisions the telematic society as a 'cosmic
brain'; a decentralized network that would allow man to concentrate on his main
attribute, namely the intentional creation of information.
Dann erst nmlich wrden sie [die Medien, T.H.] Menschen mit Menschen verbinden, etwa
wie die Nervenstrnge die Nervenzellen miteinander verbinden. Und dank dieser
Verbindungen wrde die Gesellschaft immer neue Informationen erzeugen. Das wre eine
Gesellschaftsstruktur, die wohl am besten ein 'kosmisches Hirn' zu nennen sein mte. Es
wre eine menschenwrdige (humane) Gesellschaft, denn die dem Menschen eigene Wrde
ist ja, Informationen zu erzeugen, weiterzugeben und zu speichern.157 (75ff )

155 Therefore, if we engage in a humane society we have to look into technics and not into high values.
156 To turn the technical into a political question, it has to be taken out of the hands of technicians.
Momentarily technics is a thing to serious to be left to technicians.

94
This nonhierarchical structure would automatically produce unexpected and therefore
informative situations and at the same time allow man to re-gain control of the
apparatus' program and to stop it from creating unintended situations, like e.g. the
dropping of atomic bombs. Hence Flusser formulates: Die Gesellschaft als Ganzes soll
die Apparate als Ganzes programmieren, sie automatisch unwahrscheinliche
Situationen herstellen lassen und sie bei den gewnschten Situationen stoppen. 158
(Flusser 1999b: 85) Flusser believes that this more 'democratic' organization of
information is possible and with it the step from a 'programed democracy' to
'democratic programming' (ibid.). Again, the change cannot be enforced politically but
must be based on a consent of mature people and their will the re-structure society
through technics. However, Flusser also warns that the (calculating) competence of the
apparatus might excel even the competence of human society as a whole (ibid.). In that
case man would eventually loose his impact on the development of technics completely.
However, in case man would succeed in his struggle against the apparatus,
Flusser draws a rather euphoric picture that deserves to be quoted extensively.
Eine derart miteinander durch Bilder hindurch dialogisierende Gesellschaft wre eine
Gesellschaft von Knstlern. Sie wrde, dialogisch, unvorhergesehene und unvorhersehbare
Situationen in Bilder setzen. Es wre eine Gesellschaft von Spielern, welche Zug um
Gegenzug im Wechselspiel immer neue Relationen herstellen wrde. Eine Gesellschaft von
'Homines ludentes', in der sich dem menschlichen Dasein ungeahnte Horizonte ffnen.
Aber das ist nicht alles. Dank des schpferischen Spiels und Gegenspiels wrde ein
Konsensus entstehen, welcher der Gesellschaft erlaubte, die Apparate vermittels der Bilder
und durch sie hindurch zu programmieren. Die Apparate wrden dann dieser allgemeinen
menschlichen Absicht dienen, das heit: den Menschen von der Arbeit emanzipieren und
ihn fr ein Spiel mit allen anderen Menschen befreien, in welchem immer neue
Informationen hergestellt und immer neue Abenteuer erlebt werden knnen.159 (93)

157 Only then they [media, T.H.] would connect humans with humans, just like nerve cords connect
nerve cells with each other. Due to these connections society would permanently produce new
information. This would be a societal structure which would probably best have to be called 'cosmic
brain'. It would be a humane society, because mans own dignity is to produce, pass on and store
information.
158 Society as a whole should program the apparatuses as a whole, make them produce unlikely
situations and stop at the desired situation.
159 A society which 'dialogized' through images in such a way, would be a society of artists. It would
dialogically translate unexpected and unpredictable situations into images. It would be a society of
players which move by move in a interplay create always new information. A society of 'homines
ludentes' in which undreamt of horizon would open for the human being. But that is not all. Thanks
to the creative play and interplay a consensus would evolve, which would allow society to program the
apparatuses with and through images. The apparatuses then would serve this general human
intention, that means: to emancipate man from work and to free him for a game with all other
humans in which ever new information could be produced and ever new adventures could be
experienced.

95
In this scenario man frees himself from work and engages in a playful activity with all
other members of society. Of course, in this moment one could point out that it is naive
to imagine a society without power structures and group formations, but for Flusser the
biggest thread to mankind is the apparatus and not its functionaries. Quite close to
Heidegger, for Flusser the greatest danger for man lies in the fact, that he does not
realize (or want to realize) how machine and apparatus determine his self-perception
and his perception or even experience of the world. The quote above also illustrates, that
Flusser's 'homines ludentes' act via interconnected screens and thus one could argue,
that Flusser foresaw and demanded the development of the world wide web. At the
same time, in this sketch of a telematic society Flusser asks for more.
I argued before, in Flusser the line between tool, machine and apparatus is
constantly blurred and hence the programing of the apparatus also impacts material
information. Moreover, in chapter one I pointed out that in Flusser the line between
material and immaterial information is often blurred. This is also true because we
cannot even perceive objects like, for instance genes, atoms, neurons without
apparatuses. Flusser for instance poses the question if quarks are really particles of this
world or merely symbols, signs within arithmetical thinking (Flusser 2002b: 208). I do
not intend to proceed in a discussion about the real and the virtual here, but I want to
stress that for Flusser, while the history of man is a history of increasing abstraction,
with the invention of the computer we can re-assemble the tiniest particles of our world
in many ways. We can project things and experience them. Computation allows the
playful exploration of possibilities without them necessarily becoming reality. Here
Flusser is especially interested in holograms, since he assumes that at some point the
hologram (or a virtual world) will be more concrete than the 'real' world (199). However,
he also mentions gene technology which allows man to create new life forms (211).
Most of these processes are developed and controlled on screens, and the
conversion of what is designed on screen and what accordingly is produced by a

96
machine is constantly improving.160 Flusser saw the chance that everything that could be
computed on screen, could also be produced in real life in which case material and
immaterial information completely merge and with them theory and praxis, technics
and philosophy (Flusser 2002b: 211). Consequently, even though Flusser's telematic
society is mainly concerned with communication structures, to exclusively discuss it in
this respect, e.g. with regard to the internet only, would mean to reduce his anticipatory
ideas. One could argue that Flusser partly foresaw what the world wide web is today, but
with his telematic society he also had other technical developments in mind. Man is a
node of (not only communicative and social) relations and he increasingly has the
opportunity to design the different relational fields that condition him. In the 'universe
of dots' not only bits have to be considered but also genes, neurons, atoms or quarks.
Hence, with his discussion of technical images Flusser also considers the world as such
and the more important it appears to challenge the apparatus with a new humane
structure of society. In order to understand how the social structure in the telematic
society is envisioned by Flusser, I want one of Flusser's main influences in the respect:
Martin Buber's understanding of the relation of 'I' and 'You'.

4.3 Buber: 'I' and 'You'

The telematic society outlined by Flusser sets its main goal in the production of
amounts of informative situations never witnessed before. At the push of a button,
made possible by artificial intelligence (no matter how we define it), man already is and
will be even more so in future able to 'grasp' and 'reveal' things he could not have
imagined before (Flusser 1999b: 139). Like the production of the first stone tools, this is
going to change man's perception of the world, how he informs it and how he is
informed. While this description could also be understood as primarily presenting a
160 To illustrate the connection between virtual models and their implementation into the 'real' world
one could refer to the latest version of affordable 3d-printer sets like they are sold by
'MakerBotIndustries' (http://www.makerbot.com/). This example is especially fitting with regard to
the telematic society, since the company also runs a online platform on which printing models can
be up- and downloaded, exchanged and altered (http://www.thingiverse.com/).

97
dialogue between man and apparatus, a lonely individual in front of his terminal,
Flusser aims at a society based on human dialogues in which the 'I' constitutes itself
through being called 'you' (or thou) by somebody else. A conception, which Flusser
borrows from the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber.
For Buber the coming into being of man is fundamentally based on two
developments. On the one hand, the use of technics, which allowed man to shape his
objective environment and on the other hand the interaction in a group which allowed
him to recognized himself (Buber 1985: 245). According to Buber also society at large
should be grounded on small organic communities, which provide the room to
constitute the 'I' through being called 'you'. Consequently, Buber argues that a
community cannot consist of individuals, but only of small and smallest collectives
(256). In fact, this is the reason, why Buber (like Flusser) describes our current situation
as a crisis. In contemporary society, so Buber claims, man does not take responsibility
anymore but wants to function as a little wheel in a large collective machinery in which
the essentially human, the relation between two human beings, is lost (249). Man no
longer knows the meaning of the word 'community' and Buber also blames centralized
politics, which absorb even the last autonomous organic community (249f). Now
humans only live next to each other, not with each other anymore. As Buber
emphasizes, real life between humans does not take place in an abstract state, but where
people share a place, functions, feelings and thoughts, namely in the community (270).
One example of an organic society in Buber's sense are the kibbutzim (300ff).
While so far, for Flusser becoming human was related to technics and the
production of information. Under the impressions of the apparatus' increasing
tendency towards autonomy and the hegemony of mass society, interpersonal relation
becomes an essential ingredient in his telematic society, in a twofold way.
On the one hand, dialogical communication structures allow man to break the
feedback loop of the apparatus' program, to create informative situations and to decide
as a group how the program of the apparatus shall be re-programed and for which
purpose. Regaining the power from the apparatus is one aspect. On the other hand,
Flusser saw in the upcoming information technologies the potential to challenge the

98
mass of isolated individuals with interpersonal relations of a new quality. However, like
mentioned above, for Buber like for Flusser this transformation of society cannot be
enforced through the apparatus of politics but has to derive from the people's will. If a
change is desired, telematics provides the technical infrastructure to effectuate it.
Simultaneously, through a change in self-perception, this process also contains the
chance of a new ethics (which would not be universal or absolute).
This becomes clear, if we recall Flusser's conception of the self or the 'I'. He
claims, man does not have a 'hard core' but is rather constituted as a node of relations.
Even though, with regard to his conditionality and technics, this node consists of all
kinds of relations (metabolic, chemical, physical), here Flusser refers to social relations.
He argues:
'Ich' ist der Name, der konvergierende Beziehungen bezeichnet, und wenn alle Beziehungen,
eine nach der anderen, abgezogen werden, dann bleibt kein 'Ich' brig. Anders gesagt: 'Ich'
meint, da andere 'Du' dazu sagen.161 (Flusser 2002b: 146)

As a result, it does not make sense to analyse 'who we are' as such, the question rather
has to be 'In which relational network is somebody embedded?'. In telematic society
therefore the focus shifts from 'I' to the relation between 'I' and 'You'. The 'I' is a
constantly moving node in a net of inter-subjective relations (Flusser 1994: 14) and
hence, for Flusser not this shifting node but the relations themselves are concrete.
Das Konkrete ist als ein Netz von Beziehungen anzusehen, und die Fden dieses Netzes
verknoten sich, ohne etwas Konkretes zu verbinden. Konkret sind einzig die Beziehungen
selbst, wohingegen alles Bezogene oder In-Beziehung-Stehende (alle Objekte und Subjekte
der Beziehungen) Abstraktionen sind.162 (49)

A new ethics, therefore would not be based on abstract humanism but on the Jewish-
Christian ideal of 'love of neighbor' which is based on 'nearness'.163
Hence, Flusser describes that telematics could provide the technical
infrastructure that allows humans who are spatially and chronologically separated to
come together and realize each other in this relation (Flusser 2002b: 147). The notion of

161 'I' is the name which signifies converging relations and if all relations, one after the other are
removed, no 'I' is left. In other words 'I' means that others say 'you' to it.
162 The substantial has to be seen as a web of relations and the strings of this web form nodes without
relation anything substantial. Substantial are only the relations themselves whereas all related and all
being-in-relation (all objects and subjects of the relations) are abstractions.
163 Of course, here one could still doubt if screen-to-screen relations are comparable to face-to-face
relations.

99
'nearness' therefore should not be comprehended in spatial or temporal terms, but as a
function of the number and intensity of relations between humans and Flusser argues,
the stronger our relations to somebody, no matter how distant that someone is, the
nearer we are to that person (Flusser 2002b: 146). Increased nearness, Flusser states, is
accompanied by increased responsibility for the other person164 (147) and he
consequently requests: [W]e have to open ourselves to each other; we have to recognize
ourselves within others and recognize them as our 'others'. We must 'love our
neighbors'. (Flusser 1990: 398) This focus on relations, as Flusser underlines, does not
result in the dissolving of identity. On the contrary, it allows the unfolding of identity
since we only are if we are with or for others or as Flusser formulates it: 'Ich' ist, zu dem
jemand 'du' zu sagen.165 (102) The moment the individual realizes that and how these
relations constitute his identity, it can perceive identity as a field of possibilities, as a
playful experiment. In other words, telematics encourages man's transformation from
subject to project.

4.4 Menschwerdung and Future Bodies

So far my description of the telematic society could still create the impression,
that this future society is mainly 'virtual' and therefore Flusser primarily focuses on
media related issues. In this paragraph I want to show, that Flusser's telematics society
has to be seen from a broader perspective. Even though on a mental level telematics
might allow to proceed from subject to project quite easily, social relations represent
only one dimension of the node of relations called man; he remains physically
conditioned, as subject to an objective world. This fact stands in sharp contrast to the
rest of man's future telematic environment, as in telematic society the information of

164 In fact, if we consider the current form of the world wide web this statement creates certain
problems, as people can take on different identities and play different roles. The will to take
responsibility seems to be strongly related to trust in a person. But if man does not have a fixed core
and if we focus on the relation, we cannot feel deceived in a sense that another person withholds his
'true self'. The relation is a playful trying out of selves which do not exist in the same form outside of
this relation.
165 'I' is to say 'you' to somebody.

100
material objects is left to the machines of the apparatus which runs on a program
determined (in the ideal case) by the human community.
As described in the beginning of this chapter, Flusser observes, that man
develops an antipathy of material things since they condition him. This antipathy of
material things obviously also includes the human body, which as Flusser stresses, is
going to be the 'kill-joy' ('Spielverderber') in the telematic society (Flusser 1999b: 144). In
other words, in Flusser's view the human body is eventually going to be perceived as
nothing but a burden (159ff). Hence, in his essay Krper entwerfen (designing bodies) he
proposes that man should stop focusing on informing his material environment in
which he indulged ever since he came into being as a homo faber. Instead, so Flusser
proposes, man should challenge his conditionality and consider a possible manipulation
of his own body (Flusser 1994: 98). Man has to focus on the Mngelwesen man itself.
I already illustrated in the discussion on Flusser's 'programmatic world view', the
human body, just as man as such, for him is the result of a long succession of unlikely
coincidences in which man at some point intervened through technics. At this point we
can also refer back to the first chapter and the discussion on Flusser's use of the term
'grasping', which made man aware of his bodily deficiencies and initiated a biological-
cultural co-evolution. As we have seen, this vantage point allows Flusser to present all
material culture as the attempt of man to create an extended artificial body. In this
sense there is no natural human body and therefore, as Flusser underlines, man's
discontent with the current tendencies towards alternative bodies already should have
evolved with the coming into being of the biface (96).
From the very moment of his coming into being man effected his own
development. In a rather simplifying manner Flusser states that the node of relations,
which used to be called 'great ape' accidentally cut some strings in the network that
conditioned him, more or less intentionally wove some new relations and now has to be
called 'man' (211). However, this node of relations called man in Flusser is never simply
man as such but instead becoming human has to be seen as a permanent and ongoing
process. A process that is concerned with the production of information and can
withstand entropy.
'Menschwerdung' ist, unter einem solchen Blick, ein unabgeschlossener und vielleicht nicht

101
abschliebarer Vorgang, und 'Mensch' nicht der Name eines Zustandes (etwa einer Spezies
von Sugern), sondern eines nie zu erreichenden Horizonts, eines Grenzwertes. 166 (Flusser
1994: 177)

'Man' is more the direction of a development than a certain condition and for the same
reason we could argue, that man has to be defined in relation to technics. Like we came
to understand, since technics is defined as the existence of man and man only came into
being through technics, Flusser denies a strict refusal of technical progress. However, we
also saw that for him every technical development retroactively affects man and he even
argues that every backlash changes man so fundamentally that we cannot even perceive
his history as a continuum (252). The apparatus, which turns man into a functionary, is a
good example of why, as Flusser warns, new machines have to be developed under the
impression of this fact and as quoted before, for the same reason he stresses that it is
not sufficient to create machines only with regard to economy and ecology (Flusser
1993b: 49). So is this also true for the design of future bodies?
Since the creation of unforeseen 'immaterial' information becomes the human
attribute in the telematic society, the future body should not be designed as the body of
a material informing homo faber but has to be the body of an information-processing
homo ludens. Accordingly Flusser claims, that for most creatures the nervous system is
just one organ among others whereas with the human at some point the whole body
started to function for the nervous system and therefore this reversed relation of
nervous system and the rest of the body has to be considered in the design of future
bodies (Flusser 1994: 94).
Das Nervensystem als eigenstndige Struktur nimmt wahr, um Daten zu Informationen zu
prozessieren, diese zu speichern und weiterzugeben. Insoweit der Krper dem
Nervensystem dient, zielt er letztlich darauf ab, die Summe der Informationen in der Welt
zu vergrern. [...] Es sollte sich um Krper handeln, welche dem Zentralnervensystem bei
seinem Engagement fr Informationsvergrerung dienen.167 (95)

In other words, for Flusser future bodies should be designed in such a way, that they
create the least possible disturbance for the activity of the brain.
166 From such a point of view 'becoming human' is an uncompleted and maybe not completable process
and 'man' is not the name of a status (like a species of mammals) but of a horizon never to be
reached, a threshold value.
167 The nervous system as self-contained structure perceives in order to process data into information,
to save them and pass them on. In as far as the body serves the nervous system, it ultimately aims at
increasing the amount of information in the world. [...] It should be bodies which support the central
nervous system in its commitment for the increase of information.

102
As the main problem with current bodies he identifies the discrepancy between
the body's structural complexity and its functional simplicity (Flusser 1994: 90ff). He
returns to the example of the hominid's tooth, which is structurally complex but
functionally inferior to the stone knife (91). Because of this structural complexity, the
human body breaks down and ages. Already in the first chapter it became clear, that it is
technics that makes man aware of the inferiority of his body. While the stone made the
hominid realize the weakness of his tooth, Flusser argues that the scientific instruments
now reveal the limitations of man's senses (ibid.). With regard to technical
developments Flusser concludes: Der menschliche Organismus in seiner funktionellen
Armut ist nicht mehr adquat fr unser berleben. Wir sind gezwungen alternative
Krper zu entwerfen.168 (Flusser 1994: 91)
Departing from the assumption that our organism and especially our central
nervous systems holds undreamed of potentials, as the human body in its current form
only presents the one option out of many that coincidentally became true (91ff), Flusser
suggests not to hesitate to integrate better sense organs from other animals into the
human body (95). As illustrated above all his considerations center around a potential
increase of 'information' through an improved relation between central nervous system
and the rest of the body. The idea that technical innovation always affects our self-
perception and our perception of the world, which is already immanent to the idea of
organ projection, becomes very apparent in Flusser's description of the telematic
society, which again he illustrates as a 'cosmic super brain'. On the other hand, he
relates the brain and the central nervous system he relates (in a way reminiscent of
Descartes) to the computer and binary code.
Punktfrmige Reize werden von Nervenfasern empfangen, und zwar nach einem 'digitalen'
Prinzip: Jeder einzelne Reiz wird entweder aufgenommen oder abgewiesen ('1 - 0'). Die
aufgenommenen Reize werden im Zentralnervensystem elektromagnetisch und chemisch
prozessiert und ergeben auf nicht vllig durchschaubare Weise die Wahrnehmung der
ausgedehnten Dinge. Die Reize sind die Daten, aus denen die ausgedehnten Dinge
komputiert sind. Die wahrgenommene Welt ist eine Projektion der Datenprozessierung.169

168 The human organism is no longer adequate for our survival. We are forced to design alternative
bodies.
169 Point-shaped stimuli are received by nerve fibers, namely according to a digital principal: every single
stimulus is either received or rejected ('1 0'). The received stimuli are processed electromagnetically
and chemically in the central nervous system and result in an not fully transparent manner in the
perception of the extended things. The stimuli are data, out of which the extended things are
computed. The perceived world is a projection of that data procession.

103
(Flusser 1994: 13)

For Flusser perception is based on a 'computation' process because of this similarity


between brain and computer, the idea of the co-existence, interaction or even a
coalescence of human and artificial intelligence is crucial and hence Flusser points to
the potential coupling of nervous systems and 'wet' computers.170 (101)
Although in his reflection on a future body Flusser underlines the importance of
the central nervous system by referring to the homunculus man as a possible design
(182) and by the assumption that our bodies are generally going to 'shrink' (Flusser 1999:
144ff), he likewise stresses, that it does not matter what the future bodywill look like
since the important thing is, that through art we have the chance to abandon our
animalistic features (Flusser 1994: 102). Not the future body is of importance but the act
of designing it.
At this point it becomes clear, that Flusser's main impetus derives from his
interest in the new ways of thinking and perceiving that would accompany new bodies.
Hence, Flusser's ideal of a future human body is not grounded on performance
enhancement, that is, enhancement as means to an end, e.g. to be a more effective
employee, but on the contrary a playful experiment for the sake of unexpected
information. Therefore he stresses that the old design rule 'form follows function' has to
be reversed. The created forms result a posteriori in different functions (101). In this
scenario the body would become the field for experiments.
Obviously, this proposal seems to be difficult to legitimize from an ethical
viewpoint and moreover it appears to represent a post-humanistic, technology adoring
position. However, with regard to what has been discussed in the previous chapters and

170 Momentarily we witness an approximation of terms, which are used to describe process in fields as
diverse as informatics, neuro sciences or genetic engineering or in general in what is referred to as
'converging technologies'. For instance, computer scientist Pierre Baldi outlines the similarities
between genomes and computer programs: To a certain extent, it is useful to think of genomes in
terms of a computer metaphor. A genome can be viewed as a formidable computer program written
using the four-letter alphabet of DNA. [...] The computer unit that reads such a program and
executes it is the cell. In a biological system, however, it is almost impossible to keep a clean
separation between software and hardware. In fact, the execution of the software modifies the
computer used to read it, and vice versa. (Baldi 2002: 34) At the same time, here Flusser's use of the
term information is interesting since, as Baldi stresses, especially in the context of bioengineering it
becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish 'hardware' from 'software' and it is therefore more
useful to speak of 'wetware' (Baldi 2002: 34).

104
also in context of the telematic society, these suggestions also have to be understood as a
reaction to the constant improvement of the apparatuses and their programs. Referring
to 'Moore's Law'171 trans-humanist Ray Kurzweil states that
[...] it is reasonable to expect the hardware that can emulate human-brain functionality to
be available for approximately one thousand dollars by around 2020. [...] By 2050, one
thousand dollars of computing will exceed the processing power of all human brains on
Earth. (Kurzweil 2006: 127)

Put differently, we are forced to reflect on technical developments that challenge the
status of human intelligence. The professor for computer science Pierre Baldi even
suggests that [o]ne day it [human intelligence, T.H.] might be viewed as a historically
interesting, albeit peripheral, special case of machine intelligence. (Baldi 2002: 113) In
consequence, Flusser is right to claim that we are forced to consider the design of
alternative bodies. Furthermore, these considerations only support the discomfort we
already saw emerging from Flusser's depiction of the relation between functionary and
apparatus and thus also in Krper entwerfen Flusser considers a negative scenario in
which man transfers all decision making processes to artificial intelligences, experiences
his environment merely under constant influence of drugs and becomes a passive
'couch potato' (Flusser 1994: 97).
Flusser's enthusiasm for new technical developments has to be situated in the
context of his sketch of a telematic society. In doing so, one could critically ask if current
technics discourses contrast the intentions communicated with his understanding of a
design of new bodies. For example, one could argue that Ritalin or Prozac, transcranial
magnetic stimulation or brain machine interfaces mainly to center around ideal of a
performance society. It also rises the question of who does research in new technologies
for which reason?172 For example, technologies developed especially for modern warfare
only leave the general public with the choice of how and if to use a new gadget in civil
171 The assumption of co-founder of Intel Gordon Moore that calculating power of processors doubles
every twelve months two years (Kurzweil 2006: 56). Pierre Baldi points out that Moore's law for the
internet is 'doubling every six month.' (Baldi 2002: 99) At the same time he emphasizes the impact
of this development since it is not only changing how we do things; it is changing who we are and
how we view ourselves in the universe. Information technologies and biotechnologies are in the
process of uncovering a new world. (Baldi 2002: 99)
172 Here especially the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is a good example. The
DARPA does and funds research in various fields, among the brain-computer and brain-machine
interfaces, mainly for military use. On their website the agency provides information concerning
research programs and funding opportunities (www.darpa.mil).

105
life while they have no say in the research and development process itself and therefore
the social evolution of technics described by Luhmann is by-passed (like in other fields
of research as well). In fact, from this perspective Flusser could even be read as an
advocate of the precautionary principle173, insofar as it follows the maxim of improving
the interaction between scientific discourse and the general public. Momentarily within
the apparatus technical development is pressed forward by technicians, people who ask
'how?', not 'why?'.
Even though Flusser's rather trans-humanist suggestions in Krper entwerfen
widely neglects a discussion of ethical and social implications, with regard to his vision
of a telematic society he can still be clearly distinguished from trans-humanism and
from statements like the following of cybernetics professor Kevin Warwick who claims
that
[...] it doesnt mean that everyone has to become a cyborg. If you are happy with your state as
a human then so be it, you can remain as you are. But be warned just as we humans split
from our chimpanzee cousins years ago, so cyborgs will split from humans. Those who
remain as humans are likely to become a sub-species. They will, effectively, be the
chimpanzees of the future. (2002: 4)

Although Flusser would agree to Warwick's claim, that we have to become 'cyborgs'
(without using that term), the competitive environment and inequality immanent to
Warwick's scenario goes fundamentally against Flusser's telematic ideal of dialogue and
consensus. Flusser's vision of an alternative human body is first and foremost driven by
his interest a new mentality through an altered biological framework and the potential
new way's of thinking accompanied by it (which would also change the way in that our
physical environment is informed). However, at the same time, it is a negation of the
nihilistic nothingness man finds himself in and finally it is also an answer to the ever-
improving calculating power and efficiency of apparatuses and their programs.
Still Flusser does not approve of a mere increase of the calculating power of the
173 Franc Mali describes the precautionary principle as a particularly intriguing policy approach that
seeks to identify the early warning signs and the unintended consequences of scientific and
technological progress (Mali 2009: 54), but also stresses its attempt to encourage public debates
where scientific discourse does not reach the general public (55ff ). The precautionary principle is
furthermore concerned with the ethical impact of unscrupulous privatization and
commercialization of emerging technologies (54) and seeks to replace narrow and discipline-based
concepts with more ones that are trans-disciplinary (57). In sum the precautionary principle is
fundamentally based on dialogue between scientific disciplines and scientists and laymen and
therefore also meets Flusser's demand not to leave technical developments to technicians.

106
human brain. A condition for an enhancement or re-designing of the human body has
to be embedded in a social context, in which man does not merely simulate his
machines and apparatuses. Flusser makes this very clear in a conversation with Thomas
Knfel when he states:
Die Wrde des Computers ist sehr schnell digital zu rechnen. Wenn ein Mensch das auch
tut, ist es seiner unwrdig, denn er kann die Wrde des Computers nicht erreichen. Er
imitiert nur den Computer [...] die Maschine entscheidet sich bei jedem Schachzug eine
Million mal und sie entscheidet sich weit besser als ich, ab dem Moment ist es des Menschen
unwrdig sich zu entscheiden!174 (Knfel 1991: 2)

In fact, Flusser plays with the meaning of 'dignity' and uses it more like an ability that is
particular to something or someone. Simultaneously, also in this statement we discover
traces of the Mngelwesen man which is confronted with the insufficiency of his body
through the superiority of the apparatus. Flusser even argues that as soon as the
computer can accomplish a task faster and better than man, this task becomes
'dishonorable' ('unwrdig') for a human, since for this moment onwards man merely
poorly imitates the apparatus but cannot beat its performance. In consequence, even
free decisions become dishonorable for man as the title of the dialog Es ist gegenwrtig
unwrdig frei zu sein ('Currently it is dishonorable to be free') suggests. Actually, Flusser
only discusses the subject of mans freedom in relation to decision-making, which I
already touch with regard to Hans Jonas claim for a new categorical imperative,
marginally. In Ins Universum der technischen Bilder he provokingly concludes that
human decisions will not be needed any longer in future, they will be rather perceived
as a disturbance in the flow of computational decision-making (Flusser 1999b: 134).
Nevertheless, he claims that man will still hold the power to veto the decisions of the
apparatus, since it is collectively programed and the members of the telematic society
still decide what the apparatus can decide (ibid.).
Here a close reading of Flusser and a discussion of his ideas in relation to the
complex concepts of freedom and autonomy would exceed the scope of this thesis.
Instead I want to stress Flusser's argument, that a task becomes dishonorable for man,

174 The dignity of the computer is to calculate digitally fast. If a human does the same it is dishonorable
since he cannot reach the dignity of the computer. He imitates the computer [...] the machine decides
with every gambit a million times and far better than I, from this moment on it is dishonorable for
man to decide.

107
as soon as a machine or apparatus excels his ability. This statement has to be understood
as a claim for creativity, against mechanical and redundant action. It reflects Flusser's
negative definition of work and here also his already mentioned example of the bank
employee as a poor simulation of the ATM comes to mind again. We realize that Flusser
does not approve of an enhancement of human nervous system if results in a mere
imitation of machines and apparatuses and only perfects man in his role of a
functionary. This becomes also very clear in Flusser's discussion of electronic memories
in On Memory where he emphasizes the already mentioned 'amplification-reduction-
structure' of technics described by Don Ihde and the mirroring relation between body
and technics presented by Ernst Kapp.
Electronic memories are simulations, within inanimate objects, of the memory functions of
the human brain. Simulation here means an imitation that exaggerates a few aspects of the
original while disregarding all the other aspects. (Flusser 1990: 399)

As an example Flusser points out, that electronic memories store information faster and
better than human memories and hence man should not attempt to simulate these
features but instead focus on the processing of information, which for Flusser is
tantamount to creativity (ibid.). If we abolish the ideal of flawless storage and repetition
of data, Flusser states we may expect a veritable explosion of human creativity once we
have freed ourselves from all mechanized aspects of thinking (ibid.). In this sense
Flusser can be read in line with Catharine Malabou (2003) who demands, with regard to
the plasticity of the brain, that we 'design' our brains without following the maxim of
mechanical effectiveness for a meritocracy under the label 'flexibility', but instead
according to an understanding of plasticity which allows for a free creative process.
Of course, with increasing approximation and connection of brain and computer
(e.g. in form of invasive and non-invasive brain-computer interfaces), electronic
memory and creativity do not necessarily exclude each other, but with Flusser we have
to keep in mind, that whether the conversion of man and computer results in humans
that are computerized or computers that are humanized (functionary or homo ludens),
is decided within the social evolution of technical developments.

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4.5 Negative Anthropology and Homo Ludens

Most part of the paper explored what for Vilm Flusser man is in relation to
technics as a constant and what man is in relation to technics in different historical
stages. The blueprint of a telematic society is concerned with the future relation of man
and technics and since technics was defined as the existence of man in the beginning of
this thesis, this blueprint is concerned with the future of man as such. Now I therefore
want to come back to Flusser's idea of an 'neg-anthropology', embed it into the
telematic society and relate it to his ideal future man, the homo ludens.
In chapter one I portrait Flusser's negative anthropology as a praxis, which allows
us to negate the nihilistic nothingness that emerge through scientific doubt and
mathematical thought (Flusser 1994: 17). For Flusser scientific and technical
development not only lead to the 'death of god' as Nietzsche so famously phrased it
(Nietzsche 1993), moreover the dissolution of subject and object into an abstract
Punktuniversum, to use the term we already encountered in the first chapter, is
accompanied by a general loss of faith along which all values and meanings become
questionable.175 (26) However, for Flusser this hopeless situation does not only represent
a problem, since it also holds the possibility for a 'fresh start'. For him the biggest
setback in this situation is that, despite the fact that we have lost our faith, we still
'bend' over physical objects and 'bend' before sublime gods; we still attempt to work and
believe (30). He complains, that although the world around us has crumbled to pieces,
we still try to hold on to something and we still do not find the encourage to live what
he calls an 'upright life'176(27) This 'upright life' requires the abandonment of all
conventional backing, like values and beliefs or any fixed vantage point (31). In fact, the
seemingly forlorn situation we are currently facing provides us with the perfect point of

175 In this respect Flusser can be read along with Nietzsche's 'Umwertung aller Werte' ('revaluing of all
values'), which he also directly refers to. In Nietzsche's progression spirit becomes camel, camel lion
and eventually lion a child (Nietzsche 1993).
176 The metaphor of an 'upright life' ('aufrechtes Leben') is directly linked to man's transition from
crawling on all fours to walking upright. Apart from the fact that the bending posture also indicates
submissiveness whereas standing seems to be associated with strength and autonomy, Flusser
especially likes this metaphor for another reason. He emphasizes that for man the adventure of
adopting an upright walk (and thereby changing his environmental conditionality) was comparably
dangerous and hopeless as the transformative process we are confronted with right now (Flusser
1994: 27ff).

109
departure for such an adventure.
Actually, this is the very moment when Flusser's nihilistic undertone becomes
rather euphoric. Man has faced nothingness and understood that he just as his objective
environment is a node of relations or a cluster of particles. With such an understanding
man can now actively manipulate the relational web he is embedded in. He understands
technics as something between object and subject that if applied projects onto both and
which he therefore can use as a positive way of re-designing not only himself but also of
altering his perceptional framework of the world. This radical understanding of man as
a node of relations also affects the understanding of the self, since the focus shifts from
something like a fix core to the relations that constitute the node. The exploration of
relational possibilities is no process characterized by isolation but instead this
projection out of the nothingness is directly connected to idea of the dialogic network,
which I described with regard to the telematic society. Flusser describes this field of
relations as the foundation for the common projection in other fields.
Aus dieser verzweifelten Notlage (aus diesem Glaubensverlust) beginnen wir also zu
projizieren wobei 'wir' nicht als eine Gruppe von Individuen, sondern als ein vernetzter
Dialog zu sehen ist. Da wir uns nicht mehr identifizieren knnen, beginnen wir uns als
Knotenpunkte eines dialogischen Netzes und dieses intersubjektive Netz als ein
Relationsfeld hinzunehmen, von dem aus auf andere Felder Projektionen entworfen werden,
wobei sich hinterrcks diese Felder wieder mit dem projektierenden vernetzen. 177 (Flusser
1994: 26)

Since this act of projecting has to be understood as collective process within the
telematic society, I want to turn to it for a moment in order to describe the homo ludens
in the context of this future society.
Flusser argues that the telematic society constitutes itself as a 'mosaic of
intentions', which then result in a momentary meta-intention (Flusser 1999b: 101). For
the same reason he underlines in Vom Subjekt zum Projekt Flusser, that the outcome of
such a non-hierarchical negotiation is difficult to predict (and therefore informative)
and the same is true for the development of technics which are also bound to this
process.

177 Due to this desperate distress (due to this loss of faith) we begin to project in which 'we' has not to
be perceived as a group of individuals but as a networked dialogue. Since we can no longer identify
ourselves, we start to accept ourselves as nodes in a dialogical web and this inter-subjective we as a
relational field from which projection in other fields can be designed, whereupon these fields again
connect with the projecting field.

110
Welche Existenz aus dieser Technik emportauchen wird, ist schon deshalb noch nicht
abzusehen, weil es bei dieser Technik kein Subjekt gibt (keinen Autor), sondern nur ein
vernetztes Projizieren, so da das Wort 'Existenz' eine Bedeutung gewinnt, die wir erst zu
ahnen beginnen. Wir werden anders 'da sein'.178 (1994: 144)

The question than is, how will this universal negotiation proceed, which criteria, values,
ethics will it follow? This question is of course rhetorical, since I already stated above,
the big chance in our current situation is that values and beliefs have been revealed to
be constructs. We have to abandon all conventions and open ourselves for a game with
possibilities. Hence the creation of future technics and man should neither follow
criteria like efficiency or profit maximization nor universal values, but instead, so
Flusser claims, has to be created in a dialogue based parlor game (Flusser 1999b: 102).
Flusser envisions a game that is open to changing rules (ibid.) and which
constitutes itself as a methodical search for new information, and the generation of new
information represents its only purpose (103). He refers to a game of chess in which,
even though one player wins and one loses, the process of the game, (the unforeseen
situations and problems that have to be solve) is actually the interesting part (110).
Furthermore he stresses, that while one person can also play a game of chess against
itself and create unforeseen situations, the 'game competence' and informativeness of
the situations created doubles when a second player gets involved (ibid.). In other words
in telematic society, the creative process of developing new models will not be lead by a
few 'big man' who indulge in contemplation (113), but instead many (or even all) players
will take part in the game and the result, as Flusser expects, will be a drastic gain in
competence for the game and hence in informative situations (110). As Flusser imagines
humans in front of computer screens who are connected to all other humans, again the
result of this game will not be objects but rather messages that encourage all other
humans to use them in order to produce new information (113). The outcome should be
new models that steer the information processes of machines and apparatuses.
With this short description of the telematic game in mind, we can now approach
the individual player, namely the contemplative homo ludens. Since the future human
no longer informs objects, but instead is a player with symbols, he is neither homo faber
178 Which existence will arise from this technics cannot be foreseen since this technics does not have a
subject (an author), but only a networked projecting so that the term 'existence' gains a new meaning,
which we only start to sense. We will 'be there' differently.

111
nor animal laborans. However, here the more crucial distinction is that of functionary
and homo faber, since in a way the functionary could also be perceived as a player with
symbols. However, as I showed in my discussion of Heidegger's and Jnger's
understanding of the relation of man and technics (or apparatus), the functionary is a
replaceable, unpolitical, mechanically acting part of a big machine. He is
'gleichgeschaltet'.
In contrast, man as homo ludens, even though according to Flusser he has no
'hard core' (Flusser 1999b: 100), remains a unique node concerning the information he
bundles and his location in the relational web (ibid.). He will forget himself in the
playful process of creation he participates in, which however, does not mean that man
will lose himself, but on the contrary, again with regard to Buber, Flusser claims that he
will 'find' himself in the game with others (Flusser 1999b: 114). Still, this identification
with others does not lead to group formations; to fascistic structures, to bundles, it
remains a decentralized network. Moreover, even though it is not regulated by politics
or universal ethics, the individual players are still lead by 'micro ethics', which
constitute themselves in the relations to other players and results in responsibility. The
political apparatus is replaced by community-like charity. Buber 's interpretation of the
Jewish-Christian ideal of charity supersedes a universal humanism. At the same time
this homo ludens is contemplative in the sense, that he neither offers his goods at the
market nor does he indulge in political discussion, instead he operates from his screen
but at the same time is in touch with every other player. Obviously, this shift still bears
huge ethical implications. Nevertheless it needs to be seen as an act against the
domination of the apparatuses and its program. At the same time, as shown above, the
rapid improvement of calculating power of the apparatuses rises inconvenient but
crucial questions about man's dignity and autonomy.
Finally, Flusser's approach of a programmatic worldview has to be taken into
account. In it technics becomes the intervention in or speeding up of coincidental
progressions; only small changes in the environment that conditions us, would have
lead to very different or no live forms. Our existence is contingent and therefore
according to Flusser, technics should not be concerned with 'what is', which we no

112
longer believe in, but has to deal with what 'ought to be' (Flusser 1994: 145). According
to him, future technics will be freed from all ontological (real/fictive) and
epistemological categories (right/wrong) (Flusser 1994: 145) and therefore the opposed
notions of tchne and ars are going to merge again. Technics will be similar to art and
therefor it will be guided by aesthetics.
In diesem Sinn wird sie ungefhr das sein, was in der Neuzeit 'Kunst' genannt wurde und
Nietzsches Satz 'Kunst ist besser als Wahrheit' wird berhaupt erst jene radikale Bedeutung
gewinnen, die in ihm gemeint ist. Die neuzeitliche Trennung von Technik und Kunst, von
'harter' und 'weicher' Kultur, wird sinnlos, nicht etwa weil Technik und Kunst einander ber-
schneiden, sondern weil sie ihre vormoderne Synonymitt wiedererlangen werden. 179 (Flus-
ser 1994: 145)

From this perspective the homo ludens can only perceive himself as a coincidental
moment in a long succession of coincidences of a relational web. Through technics he
can intentionally influence this relational web and therefore himself. However, even
with his analytic computers he might never be able to foresee all possible coincidences.
This is the reason, why such decisions have to be based on a strong social consensus a
consensus guided by the aspiration for new informative situations and aesthetics in
which man frees himself from the status of a mere machine imitating functionary.

179 In this sense it will be more or less what in modern times was called 'art' and Nietzsche's phrase 'art
is better than truth' will only gain the radical meaning that is meant with it. The modern division of
technics and art, of 'hard' and 'soft' culture, becomes absurd, not because technics and art overlap but
because they will re-gain their pre-modern synonymy.

113
Conclusion

In my thesis I followed Vilm Flusser's conception of 'technics' throughout his


work. As concepts are dynamic, I chose to relate, compare and contrast 'technics' to
other concepts on the way. My intention in this approach was not only to show that
'technics' occupies an important position in Flusser's 'cloud of concepts', I also intended
to illustrate that despite Flusser's varied use of the term, certain constants can be
revealed. I wanted to trance his oscillation between pessimism and optimism
concerning technics, also to reveal that technics as such for Flusser is neutral. Apart
from that, I tried to provide an alternative reading of Flusser, which intentionally
neglects his ideas on media and communication as far as possible. Hence, my aim was
also to broaden the view on Flusser's work and to make his thoughts available to English
reading researchers.
So what is Vilm Flusser's understanding of technics? I want to use the following
paragraphs to quickly recapitulate the content of the different chapters before I try to
draw potential connections between Flusser's understanding of technics and current
technological developments and discourses.
In the first chapter I showed that for Flusser technics is tantamount to the
existence of man. Man only comes into being through technics and this process is
accompanied by his alienation from nature. Technics therefore is to be located between
man and nature, also in the sense that it alters man's perception of his objective
environment. It allows for man's coming into being as a homo faber who grasps and
informs the objects around him. In this context technics also becomes an action against
entropy. Thus man is a neg-entropic being.
In the second chapter, we saw that even though Flusser's conceptions of technics
and work at times seem to overlap, Flusser also draws a clear distinction between the
two notions and even opposes them. Technics becomes a moment of understanding and
insight, a revealing in Heidegger's sense, while work is the repetitive and redundant
action that conditions man. With this argumentation Arendt's distinction between
labor and work is neutralized; for Flusser both of these actions carry a negative

114
connotation and in consequence have to be abandoned. At this point we already learned
that for Flusser man cannot remain in the state of a homo faber; he has to stop working
and has to start becoming a player with symbols, a homo ludens. On the one hand, for
Flusser this development is unavoidable anyway, since technics strives towards
automation. On the other hand, man does not automatically become a homo ludens in
a positive sense. He faces the danger of becoming subordinated to machines and
apparatuses. All revolutions are technical revolutions and I showed that Flusser
describes the impact of the industrial revolution and the machine in a rather negative
way. During the industrial revolution the relation between man (as constant) and the
machine (as variable) is reversed. Man becomes the slave of the machine. The
automation process does not free man from work but degrades him to a tiny cogwheel
in a machinery. This subordination of man reaches an even more drastic level, when
machines become inter-related within the apparatus. At this moment man
fundamentally loses his ability to understand the machine, since he does not realize
that it now has to be seen in context of the apparatus.
As I have shown in chapter three, Flusser's pessimistic, nihilistic view reaches it's
climax in his description of apparatus and functionary. Science and arithmetic thinking
have dissolved the objective world but also the subject. Man lives in a Punktuniversum
and hence has nothing to hold onto anymore. He does no longer inform objects and
creates values like the homo faber did. In fact, most people do not work anymore, but
they also do not act in Arendt's sense. They have not become 'homines ludentes' but
instead turned into functionaries who act according to the program of the apparatus.
Flusser observes that the existence of the functionary is directly related to the
complexity of the apparatus; as gadget and as system. The functionary no longer
understands how these back boxes work but moreover does also not attempt to
understand his situation. The society Flusser portraits is a mass society, consisting of
solitary individuals which can no longer exchange and create information, since they are
all obeying the same program; they are 'gleichgeschaltet'. Despite this negative
description of the social outcome of technical developments, Flusser does not condemn
technics as such but instead describes it also as a possible cure for man's crisis.

115
In the last chapter, I discussed Flusser's rather utopian blueprint of a telematic
society. Like I argued before, the single solitary individual does no longer understand
the complex apparatus and for Flusser the main problem in this situation is the fascistic
communicative structure of current societies. He proposes telematics as an answer to
this problem, since it allows the functionary to connect to other individuals and
simultaneously to challenge the apparatus and its redundant programs. In this moment
technics is neutral, it can provide the foundation for a fascistic as well as for dialogic
society. We observe a recursive relation: technics is a moment of insight; how this
insight is used depends of sociocultural processes and at the same time sociocultural
processes are determined by technics. Most importantly therefore society as such has to
want the emancipation from the apparatus. At the same time this process cannot be
started through politics, which has become part of the apparatus; the people themselves
have to focus on the gadgets they hold their hands, understand their potential and use
them accordingly. If they succeed, Flusser draws the euphoric picture of a society whose
members create informative and unexpected situations in a collective game and
simultaneously program the apparatus. These homines ludentes understand themselves
as embedded in overlapping relational fields of possibilities. They find themselves in
others and furthermore understand themselves no longer as subjects but as projects.
The objective environment has crumbled into bits, pixels, atoms, neurons or genes and
therefore more than ever before man has the opportunity to design the conditional node
of relations he is embedded in. As technical inventions always retroactively affect man,
this new creative freedom will also fundamentally affect man's self perception and his
perception of his environment. Therefore it is important to point out again that these
processes are the result of a dialogic consensus of the members of the telematic society.
In fact, Flusser's broader understanding of man as a 'node of relations' illustrates that
interpreting Flusser's blueprint of a telematic society exclusively from a media
perspective is not enough. These media increasingly determine the material processes
they only seem to signify on a symbolic level. Also with regard to progress in the field of
converging technologies, Flusser is right not to limit his understanding of 'projecting' to
pixels and holograms but instead to link them to a potential re-design of man's material

116
conditionality. At the same time, the better the models which simulate concrete
conditions and the better the technics to convert them, the more the line between 'real'
and 'virtual', 'true' and 'fake', 'phenomenon' and 'idea' or 'essence' blurs. This is also the
reason why tchne and ars become synonyms again.
In other words, Flusser's broadly formulated terms reflect the dissolving of bi-
polar pairs of opposites and moreover the boarders between disciplines. For example
Flusser's broad conception of a term like 'information' seems to have reflected findings
in neuro-science very early on. And again, it is Flusser's anticipatory skill due to which
his conception of technics is still relevant today. I only want to name a few examples.
First of all, his telematic society has to be perceived as the blueprint of a society which
stands in sharp contrast to our current performance society. Even though Flusser does
not mention capitalism as a negative impact on social structures (since also the
functionary in a communistic apparatus is still a functionary), he certainly attacks
mechanical thinking and pure effectiveness. In this context research in direction of
neuro-enhancement or brain-computer and brain-machine interfaces has to be
considered, especially if it first and foremost is carried out in order to make man a better
functionary in the performance society or a better soldier in the battlefields around the
world. This example, relates to another of Flusser's ideas, namely that because technics
is so fundamental in what kind of being man is and becomes, the process in which
technics is applied to models has to be shared by as many people as possible, it cannot
be left to engineers. This could be understood as a claim for a merge of academic
disciplines (e.g. philosophy and engineering sciences). However, even more it is the
request to make the solitary individuals of the mass competent for and interested in
technics and technology again. First of all in order to realize how the apparatus turns
them into functionaries and moreover in order to build the foundation for a more social
and humane society. Like I argued before, Flusser's connection of technical and social
evolution could also be interpreted as something like the precautionary principle, which
seeks to bridge the gap between technical discourse and society at large.
Additionally, Flusser's more trans-humanistic considerations point to some
crucial challenges for man as such, namely how man handles the fact that according to

117
Moore's Law computers will outperform the calculating power of the human brain in
the near future. Here the Mngelwesen faces no longer only the mechanical superiority
of machines but also the calculating ('thinking'?) powers of apparatuses. Flusser's
argument that a task, which is performed by a human becomes dishonorable for him as
soon as it is better performed by a machine, blends into these considerations and
illustrates how man, through his functioning and working, does not utilize his (creative)
potentials, which seems especially drastic as we slowly make progress in understanding
the human brain and its plasticity and can now, like Catharine Malabou argues, create
our brain (2003). In this context it is important to stress one more time that whenever
Flusser reflects on technics, he is concerned with man and what being human means.
Therefore if we re-think technics in the way Flusser suggests, we also have to rethink
'work' and the way in which we face the world in everyday life.
Finally, of course this thesis did not examine Flusser's understanding of technics
exhaustively, his considerations still provoke more interesting questions and problems.
His often fuzzy terms can be at the same time difficult and inspiring to work with.
Hence, for the future it seems essential, to approach Flusser's work from a broader
angle; one that is not focused exclusively on his ideas concerning media. Instead, his
concise, insightful, provocative and often humorous essays should be read as open-
minded as they were written.

118
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Appendix

Flusser's Life and Work


If one had to characterize Flusser's life with one word, it would probably have to
be the word nomadic. Throughout his life Flusser traveled geographically, between
cultures, theories and the languages he spoke. For him, knowledge was in constant flux
which is also the reason why he often re-wrote essays and translated them back and
forth between the languages Portuguese, English, French and German. His style is an
excursive flow of often phenomenological and etymological based analysis which most
of the time lacks footnotes and bibliographical references. In general terms, Flusser's
way of life, his personal experience, his way of thinking and writing are closely
intertwined and have to be looked at as a whole. Thus, I want give short overview of his
life and his way of working.
The title of Vilm Flusser's philosophical autobiography is Bodenlos, which in his
context should not only means literally 'bottomless' but also 'uprooted'. 'Bodenlos' with
regard to Flusser's life means without stable foundations, without fixed values to hold
on to; it is a synonym for a nomadic life, a life, which becomes absurd (Flusser 1999a: 9).
Vilm Flusser was born on May 12th 1920 as a child of a Jewish academic family. His
father had studied mathematics and physics in Vienna and Prague and started to teach
at different institutes, among them the Czech, the German University and German
Commercial Academy (Flusser 1995: 13ff). His wife, Melitta Basch, came from a rich
aristocratic family and thus Vilm grew up in a bourgeois home (Flusser 1995: 17). In
Bodenlos Flusser portraits his youth as quite exiting as he witnessed the vibrant
amalgam of Jewish, Czech and German culture typical for the Prague of that time. For
Flusser the attempt to label somebody from Prague as Jewish, Czech or German made
no sense; Prague's inhabitants where 'Prager,' which means they automatically
combined all three cultures. This explains the deep mistrust against all forms of
nationalism, which Flusser felt throughout his life.
Meanwhile Flusser found this environment highly inspiring. In 1938 he started to
study philosophy in Prague, which, however, he had to abandon when he was forced to
flee from the invading Nazis in 1939. Many Jews in Prague resisted leaving their city,
amongst them also Flusser's parents and relatives. Flusser himself decided to escape to
London together with the family of his later wife Edith Barth. Obviously, this was a very
crucial and difficult moment in Flusser's life as he had to leave behind his family,
relatives and friends. As he writes in Bodenlos, when he saw their faces for the last time,
he saw death masks. For him they had become ghosts just like he turned into a ghost for
them. Flusser states that in this very moment his family and friends had died for him
(Flusser 1999a: 28). In fact, the young Flusser not only had to leave behind most of what
constituted identity for him but in addition, he was very aware of the threatening fact
that he could be killed by the Nazis any time soon:
Alles was man vorher als wirklich angesehen hatte, (Familie, Freunde, Schule, Philosophie,
Kunst, Zukunftsplne, kurz: Prag), mute als leerer Schein durchblickt, und die
Wahrscheinlichkeit, in naher Zukunft ermordet zu werden, mute als das alles
berschattende Faktum angenommen werden.180 (Flusser 1999a: 24)

Reality had become a questionable succession of coincidences and life therefore had
become a game, especially because in this absurd situation also reason had lost its
foundation forever. Under these circumstances rational thinking had lost its
applicability (Flusser 1999a: 24).
His stay London was dominated by these two experiences: the loss of meaning
and all values on the one hand and a new sense of freedom that derived from it on the
other hand. When reality becomes a game that can be observed from a distance,
everything becomes possible and there is nothing to be afraid of (Flusser 1999a: 32).
Flusser even describes this new feeling as an enthusiasm, which he had to hide from his
social environment:
Vor allem mute man versuchen, eine neue Begeisterung zu verstecken, die in einem
aufkam: die Begeisterung fr das spielerische Zusehen. Man mute verbergen, da man
nichts mehr ernst nahm und da dieses Nicht-Ernstnehmen zwar alle Werte zersetzte, aber
in einem begeisternden Sinn des Wortes. [...] Alles war gleichgltig, also gleichwertig, und
infolgedessen verdient alles, mit dem gleichen Interesse behandelt zu werden. Die Nazis
180 Everything that was perceived as real before (Family, Friends, School, Philosophy, Art, Plans for the
Future, in short: Prague), had to be seen as an empty illusion and the possibility to be murderer in the
near future had to be accepted as a all overshadowing fact.
waren ebenso interessant wie die Ameisen, die Nuklearphysik ebenso interessant wie das
englische Mittelalter, die eigene Zukunft ebenso interessant wie die Zukunft der
Krebsforschung.181 (Flusser 1999a: 35)

The loss of all values allowed Flusser to take on a radical new perspective in which
everything could be perceived impartially with the same interest. In this condition
Flusser continued his studies at the London School of Economics and Political Science,
however, only for one semester. After the first air raids on London in 1940 the fear of a
possible Nazi invasion of Great Britain intensified and Gustav Barth decided that they
had to take flight again. After a short period in Cornwall they received visas for Brazil
and left the country with a ship from Southampton (Guldin 2009: 19). When they finally
arrived in Rio de Janeiro Flusser received the message that his father had been killed in
the concentration camp Buchenwald on the 18. June 1940 (Flusser 1995: 15). Three years
later, in 1943, Flusser's mother Mellita and his younger sister Ludovika died in
Auschwitz (Guldin 2009: 20).
Flusser was not only uprooted geographically and culturally but more
importantly had lost his whole family. Under these circumstances the first years in Rio
and So Paulo were extremely difficult for him and he often contemplated suicide.
Already in 1941 Edith's parents and her sister emigrated to the United States. Meanwhile
Vilm and Edith decided to live in So Paulo, got married and soon Edith became
pregnant with their first child Dinah (Guldin 2009: 20). During the day Flusser worked
to earn his living and during the night he read philosophical books, which he received
from Alex Bloch, another Jewish exile from Prague, who owned a bookstore (Guldin
2009: 20ff). For several years Flusser fought against depression, which evolved around
the central question of how one could live after 1945, a thought which he later should
incorporate in his term 'Nachgeschichte' ('post history'). This term should not be

181 Above all one had to try to hide the emerging enthusiasm: the enthusiasm for playful observation.
One had to hide that one no longer took anything seriously and that this not-taking-seriously
corroded all values but in an inspiring way. [...] Everything was indifferent, thus of the same value and
therefore everything deserves to be handled with the same amount of attention. The Nazis were as
interesting as ants, nuclear physics as interesting as the British Middle Ages, ones own future as
interesting as the future of cancer research.
mistaken with Francis Fukuyama's 'end of history'; it rather expresses a feeling captured
in Adorno's famous line that writing a poem after Auschwitz is barbaric [my
translation, T.H.] (Adorno 1955: 342) as Flusser's explanation in a interview with Klaus
Nchtern makes clear:
Mein Begriff von Nachgeschichte hat jedoch eine ganz andere Wurzel. Im Jahre 1945 stellte
sich die Frage: Kann man leben? Ich habe lange Zeit eine Liste gefhrt, auf der ich
Argumente pro und kontra Selbstmord aufgefhrt habe. Ich habe mich nicht umgebracht.
Aber nachdem man sich entschlossen hat, da man sich nicht umbringen kann, weil man
zufllig nicht in Auschwitz war, stellt sich die Frage, wie kann man berhaupt noch etwas
machen? Die Geschichte war zu Ende, Auschwitz kann nicht mehr bertroffen werden. Es
war alles zu Ende. Infolgedessen war doch eigentlich alles berlegen, alles Handeln, jede Tat
und jedes Leiden nachgeschichtlich.182 (Nchtern 1991: 35ff)

Even though Flusser resisted the temptation to commit suicide he still faced the
question of how to live and how to construct any meaning for himself. After Auschwitz
no other event could be relevant anymore as Flusser stresses in the same discussion:
Wenn Sie im Flu der Ereignisse schwimmen, dann knnen Katastrophen stattfinden. Wenn
Sie aus dem Flu der Ereignisse herausgeschleudert wurden, was geht Sie das an? Ich bin
herausgeschleudert worden.183 (Nchtern 1991: 39)

This statement again explains what is meant with the notion 'Bodenlos', namely not only
being uprooted from one's own country and culture. 'Bodenlos' has to be seen against
the background of Auschwitz as the ultimate prove of failure of western culture.
According to Flusser, Auschwitz always has been a possibility contained the program of
occidental culture and hence, the question is: 'How can we live in a culture like that?'
(Flusser 1993a: 12) Under these circumstances and with this pessimistic, nearly nihilistic
view on culture, life, as Flusser himself argues, becomes absurd (Flusser 1999a: 9). This
is what he wants to express with the term 'Bodenlos'.
Maybe also the struggle with the above-mentioned question prevented Flusser

182 My concept of 'Nachgeschichte' has a whole different origin. In 1945 one questioned posed itself: Can
one live? For a long time I kept a list on which I had listed arguments for and against suicide. I did not
kill myself. But after one decided that one can not kill oneself, because incidentally one was not in
Auschwitz, the question arises: How can one do anything at all anymore? History had come to an
end, Auschwitz can not be exceeded. Everything was over. Accordingly, all thinking, all action, every
act and all suffering was post historic.
183 As long as you are within the stream of events, catastrophes can take place. If you are expelled from
the stream of events, why should it concern you? I was expelled.
for a long time to integrate and engage in Brazilian society and culture. In the 1950's his
situation slowly began to change when he finally, through Vincente Ferreira da Silva, his
wife Dora, Milton Vargas and Samson Flexor, found Brazilians to exchange his thoughts
with and through them got access to the intellectual community of So Paulo (Guldin
2009: 21). Later the terrace of Flusser's house became a constant meeting point for these
intellectuals, his students, the friends of his children as well as writers and philosophers.
They all gathered here to discuss all kinds of themes. In fact, Bodenlos is not a
autobiography in the narrow sense since a big part of is dedicated to people Flusser
exchanged thoughts with. The structure of Bodenlos indicates that for Flusser identity
was largely constituted in dialogical relations. A view that he stresses in many of his
works. With reference to the thinking of Martin Buber Flusser argues that 'I' can only
exist in relation to 'you'. We are but nodes in a relational network (Flusser 1999b: 100).
We are mother, daughter, friend, colleague or teacher. These relations fundamentally
describe who we are and at the same time reveal that there cannot be an 'I' if this 'I' is
not addressed with 'you' by somebody else. We need this confirming momentum. [...]
we have to open ourselves up to each other; we have to recognize ourselves within others
and recognize them as our 'others'. We must 'love our neighbors'. (Flusser 1990: 398)
Logically, Flusser's philosophical autobiography does not proceed in a purely
chronological way but instead consist largely of Flusser's portraits of his most important
conversational partners, their main points of agreement and disagreement. This
approach allows seeing who Vilm Flusser was in relation to some of his most important
theoretical interlocutors. Without doubt, this way of approaching the own biography
also reveals that the relation of written and spoken language (and dialogues) took a
central position in Flusser's life.
The acquaintance with the So Paulo intellectuals not only gave Flusser a new
perspective on Brazilian society and allowed him to engage in it (when he started to
write in Portuguese for newspapers) but also opened new job opportunities: he soon
started to teach at the University of So Paulo and later even received a position for
communication studies at the FAAP (Fundao Armando Alvares Penteado) which he
kept till 1972 (Guldin 2009: 21). Nevertheless, he never got use to the academic struggle
for power and the rigidness of disciplinary thinking. He not only preferred to write
essays to academic papers but moreover described his way of living as essayistic.
Wer in Essayform lebt (das heit, nicht nur Essays schreibt, sondern fr wen das Leben ein
Essay ist, um Essays zu schreiben), wei, da die Frage, worber man schreiben kann und
soll, sich nur negativ stellt. Im Essay-Universum ist berhaupt alles Thema, und es folgt
daraus, in diesem Embarras de reichesses whlen zu mssen.184 (Flusser 199a: 92)

This explains the richness and broadness of Flusser's thinking and similarly also why he
could not adapt to the structures of the University. While on the career level things went
well for Flusser, the military dictatorship in Brazil started to worry him and he observed
with disappointment how all institutions became a more and more technocratic part of
the military apparatus (Guldin 2009: 23). In 1972 the Flussers finally moved back to
Europe. The first few years were dominated by traveling and moreover Flusser created a
network of friends and supporters. Eventually in 1980, he and his wife bough a house in
Ribion (Gf. Guldin 2009: 25), southern France where, however, they only spent half of
the year, as Flusser was overwhelmed with invitation to give presentation, join
symposiums and discussions. During this period he got especially known as a media
theorist. In 1991 he returned to his home city Prague to give a talk at the local Goethe
Institute, on the way back he died in an car accident.
In order to understand Flusser's work and thinking one has to keep his biography
in mind. The escape from Prague, the loss of his family and home (Heimat), Auschwitz,
life in strange countries and cultures turned Flusser into nomad; socially, culturally,
geographically, in his use of language, in his thinking. The loss of all values made him
free to approach the topics of his concern playfully from very different angles. Very
different theorists and thinkers influenced his thinking. His life as his writing
proceeded in essay form. The attitude expressed in his writing varies from nihilistic and
pessimistic description to utopian projections.

184 Who lives in an essayistic way (which means, not only writes essays, but for whom life is an essay, in
order to write essays), knows that the question of what one could and should write about only poses
itself negatively. in the essay universe everything is relevant topic and therefore one has to choose in
this 'Embarras de reichesses'.