Vilém Flusser's key words, compiled from book and magazine publications, lectures, and interviews. Edited by Andreas Müller-Pohle and Bernd Neubauer

Apparatus: A toy that simulates thought and is so complex that the person playing with it cannot comprehend it; its game consists of combinations of symbols contained in its program; while fully automated apparatuses have no need of human intervention, many apparatuses require humans as players and functionaries.

Artists: They work obliviously to reprocess the information deposited within themselves and present it in new form to society as "works": they publish them. They emerge from themselves and enter the "work."

Automation: A self-driven computing of chance from which human initiative has been excluded, and an interruption of this process in informative situations intended by humans.

Code: A system of symbols. Its purpose is to render communication between humans possible. Because symbols are phenomena that substitute for ("signify") other phenomena, the communication itself is a substitution: it substitutes for the experience of that which it "means."

Creative game: The "I," which after eidetic reduction (as well as neurophysiological, psychological, and informatic analysis) has proven to be an abstract concept – a nothing – will realize itself in the creative game. The playing human of the future will find himself in the other through the creative game.

Creativity: The production of previously non-existent information. All new items of information are based on preceding ones, and they are "new" because they restructure the preceding items and/or insert foreign informational elements ("noises") into them.

Dialogue/Discourse: In a dialogue, various available pieces of information are synthesized to become new information; this process may occur within a single memory ("inner dialogue"). In a discourse the information produced by dialogue is distributed.

Existence: "Existence" is an attitude, not a point of view; it is, in fact, the attitude of negation. We have the ability to withdraw from our condition (to "ex-ist") because we can take a negative attitude towards it. Such a withdrawal from the living world creates an imagined world, and makes the withdrawn existence into a subject of imaginings.

Functionary: The functionary dominates the apparatus through controlling its exterior (input and output), and is in turn dominated by the opacity of its interior. In other words, functionaries are people who dominate a game for which they are not competent. Kafka.

Habit: The aesthetic equivalent of that which is known in physics as "entropy"; the basic category in aesthetics. "Aesthetic" means "experienceable," and "habit" is anaesthesia: we do not perceive what we are accustomed to. Accordingly, habit as the basic category of aesthetics is a measure of experience, of perception, and of being perceived: the more unusual, the more perceptible (shocking), and the older, the less experienceable.

History: An unequivocal process, pointing to the future, which proceeds from images in order to explicate that which is implicated in them. It is a process that explains and narrates the contents of images, and unfolds the possibilities hidden in those contents.

I: The so-called "I" is a point of intersection in a network of dialogically flowing information and a storehouse for processed information (both inherited and, to a much greater extent, acquired information). Unforeseen, improbable computations – new information – originate at this point of intersection. – "I" is the sum of all actions realized through my possibilities ("res gestae").

Ideology: "Ideology" means to favor one point of view above all others and to adhere to this point of view. The ideologue sees the world from a single point of view, can thus "explain" it and attempt to "change" it. The photographer, on the other hand, has numerous, equally legitimate points of view at his disposal. His goal is not to "explain" the world but to "record" it from ever different points of view. We should not be deceived, however, by the photographer's freedom from ideology. The ideology is still present, no longer in the photographer but hidden in the camera.

Imagination (old/new): A term which today has a totally different, even opposite meaning. The "old imagination" is the ability to make images of (external or "internal") circumstances, and the converse ability to recognize these circumstances in the images. In other words: the ability to encode phenomena in two-dimensional symbols and to read these symbols. – The "new imagination" ("Einbildung") means the transcoding of algorithms into images, i.e., the translating of numbers into lines, surfaces, and henceforth into bodies and animated bodies. The new imaginists are people who attempt to turn automatic apparatuses against automation.

Information: "Probable" and "improbable" are informational terms, whereby "information" can be defined as an improbable situation: the more improbable, the more informative.

Magic: The universe of traditional images, as yet unclouded by texts, is a world of magical circumstances; a world of eternal recurrence in which everything lends meaning to everything else and everything signifies everything else: a world full of meanings, full of "gods."

Phenomenology: The phenomenological is a specific view of things which aims at revealing aspects hidden from usual viewpoints by habit. It requires leisure ("époche") in order to exclude preconceptions about the thing under consideration. If we look at the things around us using this method, we can classify them in three groups (though this classification will always remain precarious). Firstly, things behind which human designs are concealed: the "produced" things, which in their entirety could be called "culture." Secondly, things behind which such designs cannot be discovered: the "given" things, which in their entirety could be called "nature." And thirdly, things in which the viewer recognizes himself because they offer him no resistance (and are thus not genuine "things") but rather seek to recognize the viewer themselves: the "others," which in their entirety could be called "society."

Photograph: An image of a magical scene, automatically and necessarily produced and distributed by a programmed apparatus in the course of a game depending on chance, and whose symbols make the viewer receptive to an improbable behavior.

Photo criticism: The question to be asked is: How far has the photographer succeeded in submitting the camera program to his own intentions, and by what methods? And: How far has the camera succeeded in deflecting the photographer's intentions, and by what methods?

Photographic gesture: A gesture of hunting, where the photographer and the camera unite to become a single, indivisible function. The gesture seeks new situations, never before seen; it seeks what is improbable; it seeks information. The structure of the gesture is quantal: it is one of doubt composed of point-like hesitations and point-like decisions. It is a typically post-industrial gesture: it is post-ideological and programmed, and it takes information to be "real" in itself, and not the meaning of that information.

Picture: A significant surface. In most cases, it signifies something "out there," and is meant to render that thing imaginable for us, by abstracting it, by reducing its four dimensions of space-plus-time to the two dimensions of the plane.

Project: In view of our increasingly dismembered world we are no longer subjects of objects but projects for alternatives. Existence has turned inside out like a glove, and it is no longer imperative to free oneself from conditions, but rather to realize oneself through the realization of possibilities. However one may express this idea, the result is the same: we have technologies at our command which enable us, by means of increasingly better condensation (definition), to concretize our number-encoded projects (intentions, dreams) into ever more perfect form.

Prototype/Reproduction: Prototypes ("Vorbilder") are representations of possibilities to be realized (they point towards concretion). – Reproductions ("Abbilder") are experiences from which the depth of space (the "object-like"), the flow of time (the "fugitive"), and the directly unconveyable (the "subject-like") have been abstracted and only the two-dimensionality retained (they point towards abstraction).

Reality: What we perceive as reality is a tiny detail from the field of possibilities surging around us which our nervous system has realized through computation. If all reality is a computation from possibilities, then "reality" is a threshold value.

Society: From the standpoint of communication, every social structure can be seen as an interplay of discourse and dialogue. Because society, viewed in this light, is a web whose function is to produce and pass on information so that it can be stored in memories.

Science: Science no longer seeks to explain phenomena and arrive at any kind of reality; rather, it now seeks to classify phenomena according to preconceived models. This, however, is what we would call "art" according to our traditional categories.

Telematics: The technology that enables the present discursive circuit diagram for technical images to be converted into one that is dialogic. In telematic dialogues, human and "artificial" memories exchange information, out of which new information is synthesized and then stored in artificial memories. The actual purpose behind telematics is to make ourselves immortal. For in telematics one becomes aware that freedom does not consist in mere producing information but also in preserving this information from natural entropy; that we create in order not to die.

Texts: Linear texts (especially the alphabet) were invented so as to replace the magical with a historical consciousness and behavior. Texts roll images out into lines, scenes into processes, and rearrange the things they mean into progressive causal chains so that they are able to serve as a model for rational recognition and action (towards the production of progressively improvable works).

Traditional/technical images: The essential difference is that the new image is rooted in a scientific theory and is produced by apparatuses. Traditional images are views of objects, technical images are computations of concepts; the former are reproductions of scenes, the latter of calculations.

First published in European Photography 50, vol. 13, nr. 2, 1992
© European Photography, Göttingen/Berlin, 1992


Biography Glossar Glossary Edition Flusser Flusser Info