Readings, and Related Inspirations

Benjamin and Flusser – a new approach


As a lover of different approaches, I have decided to take a completely different angle with this blog post. Instead of the traditional response, which is largely what my last response was, see Hill, Blair & Selfe², this time I am approaching the response by diving right into the key terms and making some connections.

Vilem Flusser’s 1993 article “The Future of Writing” poses some interesting arguments about the place that writing takes in human history. Therefore, I will start this discussion with the first key term, and then make connections to others from there.

Historical Consciousness: The discussion of historical consciousness is introduced to us by Flusser. Flusser claims that humanity had no historical consciousness before developing the written word. He claims that man was alienated by his own idolatry, his making a producing of images to represent reality, and that he needed to develop a system of writing because “writing, historical consciousness, linear rational thought were invented to save mankind from ‘ideologies,’ from hallucinatory imagination” (301). A few paragraphs later, Flusser then claims that we may have come into some kind of post-historical consciousness age with the advent of photographs, and one can only assume that he also means film.

This point can be further illustrated by several pictorial depictions (photographs included) of Flusser, who apparently was rather fond of wearing more than one set of spectacles at once.

I include these photos and drawings of Flusser because they lend some additional visual weight to my next key term:

Authenticity: Benjamin, in his article “The Work of Art in the Age of Production,” spends some time in discussion about the varying degrees of authenticity, which are becoming further complicated given additional modes of production. In section IV, he opens with the idea of “the fabric of tradition,” which has apparently kept humanity in some kind of art stronghold involving the important elements of space and place. Before mechanical reproduction, art was bound to place. One needed to travel to a particular place to see a particular piece of artwork. Or, if we argue that a landscape is also a piece of art, one needed to travel to a particular space to see the landscape in question. With the advent of photography, what Benjamin calls ‘process reproduction’, the need to link an image with its place or space in, or on the planet is no longer a requirement. Add to this the print, or ‘technical reproduction,’ and one need no longer leave the house in order to see any image one may choose to purchase cheaply to hang over the mantel.

With the advent of digital, I can call up any of the above images of Flusser, make prints, and hang them where I please. How does multi-specked Flusser fit into our historical context in this context?

Based on these two important ideas introduced by Flusser and Benjamin, we can examine the visual world from an enormous number of angles. Depending on which angle we look from, and what kinds of new reproduction technologies have been developed since these articles, the discussion about authenticity and its implications on our historical consciousness are necessary. As I did last time, I would like to pose several questions that came up as I did the reading.

  1. Based on a combination of both readings, can we assume that the authors might agree with the following statement: ‘reproduction obscures ‘truth’ (little t)’?
  2. What might Benjamin make of the digital reproduction – and what might he say about the ‘studio audience’ used in many episodic comedy television shows that developed after his article was written?
  3. Can there be levels of ‘the fabric of tradition’? For example, ‘where’ I saw a film, or ‘when’ – if I saw a photograph in a gallery during its debut, does that add a different level of ‘tradition’ in art as Benjamin discusses it here?

2 thoughts on “Benjamin and Flusser – a new approach

  1. Valerie, you make the note in the first part of your post that “. . .Flusser then claims that we may have come into some kind of post-historical consciousness age with the advent of photographs, and one can only assume that he also means film.”

    I think you’re referring to the quote on pages 301-302 that says, “But almost immediately a new kind of image, the photograph, was invented, which began to threaten the supremacy of writing and it now looks as if the days of historical, rational, conceptual thinking were numbered, and as if we were approaching a new type of magico-mythical age, a post-historical image culture.”

    As I was read Flusser, I had a difficult time deciding if he was referring to film/TV or computers.

    Although he only mentions television and movies after his quote in pages 301-302, a page later (303), he begins talking about the future of writing and how we’re moving toward a culture where texts go in and images go out: “It will be a sort of black box which has texts for input and images for output. All texts will flow into that box (news about event,s theoretical comments thereon, scientific papers, poetry, philosophical speculations), and they will come out again as images (film, TV programs, photographic pictures): which is to say that history will flow into the box, and that it will come out of it under the form of myth and magic.”

    This “black box,” which he doesn’t REALLY explain could certainly be a television–especially when you consider that so many people consume their media (and their “consciousness” of the world) from watching it.

    He’s writing this in 1993 (or at least that’s when it’s published), which makes me wonder if he might also be referencing the internet. Granted, the internet was still growing at this time, but it fits. Text goes in (programming code that has no images), it’s stored as 1s and 0s, and then it’s represented on a screen as an image.

    It’s interesting to think about it anyway…

  2. I think Flusser wrote it in the eighties.

    I also think Flusser was on to something with his predictions/warnings of what writing might become in relationship to techno-imagaes.

    Think of the Selfe and Selfe article as an example of the first potentiality, “…an unmasking of the ideologies hiding behind a technical progress become autonomous of human decisions.”

    Alternatively, think of the scholarship on social networking and communication theory that is underpins platforms like Facebook as “…pretexts for technical imagination( a planning for that progress).”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s