Vilém Flusser: Bodenlos / Playing against the apparatus

The exhibition “Bodenlos: Vilém Flusser and the Arts” presents the life and thoughts of one of the most acclaimed Prague-born intellectuals of the 20th century through the combination of rare documents and artistic collaborations and inspirations. It aspires to weave the threads of Flusser’s private and professional life, marked by various migrations, with those of his thinking and writing through dialogues, influences and collaborations.
Following presentations at  ZKM Karlsruhe, AdK Berlin and West Den Haag, the next stop of this project took place at GAMU in Prague and was accompanied by the symposium “Playing against the apparatus”.


01 Bodenlos: Vilém Flusser and the Arts

02 PLAYING AGAINST THE APPARATUS. Vilém Flusser’s media and culture philosophy

Vilém Flusser’s home town Prague is also a philosophical topos of his autobiography Bodenlos. This word, which has no direct translation in English, literally indicates that the floor or ground has fallen away, that one is without ground; Flusser recounts “[Bodenlos] refers not only the loss of all models of experience, knowledge and judgement, I realized, but also the loss of the structure connecting these models. Thus we have lost not only all models assigned to ‘Prague’ and considered them from now on as empty forms, but I had also lost the construction (namely the western tradition) supporting the models and subsequently understood they just provided rules for a meaningless game“ (Flusser: Bodenlos).

Bodenlosigkeit (being without firm ground) can be interpreted as a principle connecting Flusser’s philosophy of culture and his understanding of media. The starting point is in both cases a deep crisis of western thought, the “models” that determine our worldview. First, there is Flusser’s existential Bodenlosigkeit, which relativized the “models” of the Enlightenment Humanist tradition he was brought up in and characterized his life in exile after 1939, provoking Flusser to develop his philosophical trope “the freedom of the migrant“. Second, Flusser elaborates a media philosophy, looking into practices and techniques, models, structures and games, things and „non-things“ (Undinge), architectures and tools which shape culture and reality, knowledge and perception. Images, writing, calculation and computation constitute modes of consciousness and reality which can here be described only in relation to other „universes“. The freedom of the migrant seems to originate with the possibility of “jumping” from one universe to another in a radical questioning of all modes and models – in Flusser’s terms, with the ground falling away.

At the end of Flusser’s history of western culture, following the universe of linear writing, we arrive at the universe of computation. Computation is a technology which not only shapes thinking, but rather replaces it, allowing to mechanize (logical-mathematical) thinking. Computation produces “artificial intelligence” which can operate independent of human perception and temporality. Finally, computer technology turns its operators into its “functionaries”, acting within its rules, choosing from a given set of possibilities.

We wish to explore to what extent Flusser’s concept of “playing against the apparatus” is still possible within the universe of computation. Accepting – with Flusser or Friedrich Kittler – technology as a vital part of culture, the question remains how to critically understand computation and the different techniques and practices, tools and artworks which culture consists of. When does the understanding of one’s own condition merely follow technical, economic or political rules, in Flusser’s words “the program of the apparatus” and when or how does it allow for freedom in handling the apparatus? How can we interpret the concept of “the apparatus” in the context of digital technologies? And how can we understand culture not merely in terms of technological determinism but in a critical account of the technical conditions of knowledge, perception and thinking?

April 7th – 8th, 2017
Charles University in Prague, Faculty of Arts and Goethe-Institut
Convened and Moderated by Baruch Gottlieb & Kateřina Krtilová

Lecturers: Kateřina Krtilová (Introduction), Mike Anusas, Anke Finger, Daniel Irrgang, Michal Šimůnek, Tomáš Dvořák, Christoph Ernst (the last two presenters did not wish to have their contributions included)

Organized by: the Research group Media Theory/Philosophy, Charles University Prague.
Partners: Goethe-Institut Tschechien, The Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague (FAMU), The Gallery of the Academy of Performing Arts (GAMU), Kompetenzzentrum Medienanthropologie (KOMA) – Bauhaus Universität Weimar






08 Ulrich Richtmeyer: Compelling Contradictions in Flusser’s Philosophy of Photography

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Flusser’s philosophy of photography argues for a strong difference between traditional pictures and technoimages, especially between drawing and photography. But he also mentions important continuities between them, for example the fact that both compose and organise their visual content in two-dimensionality, which allows for a synoptical overview. The specificity of such a genuine pictorial overview was expressed in the philosophical term “state of affairs”.


The lecture argues that this contradiction in Flusser’s media history can be seen as a precise description of pictorial qualities, which are also mentioned in the work of philosophers like Wittgenstein, art historians like Max Imdahl or artists like Josef Albers. In this context the lecture ultimately professes the continuities between drawing and photography (or technoimages).

Ulrich Richtmeyer’s lecture was part of the accompanying program of the exhibition “Bodenlos. Vilém Flusser and the Arts” at GAMU.

09 Bodenlosigkeit / um weiterzublättern

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das erste wirkliche Nichtmehrbuch

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Dieter Jung: Lebenszeichen von Vilém Flusser, 2015. Multi-media hologram, 58 x 42,5 x 26 cm

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Es hat Zeiten gegeben, in denen die Stimmung der Bodenlosigkeit

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alle kulturellen Artikulationen beherrschte - zum Beispiel

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die Zeit der ausgehenden Antike, die des ausgehenden Mittelalters

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und die Jetztzeit. Es sind Zeiten des Umbruchs.

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In solchen Artikulationen der Bodenlosigkeit

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(zum Beispiel den Filmen Bergmans) erkennt man sich selbst

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zwar gut, aber zugleich dienen diese Artikulationen

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auch dem Zweck, die eigene Lage zu verdecken.

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Sobald nämlich die Bodenlosigkeit ein öffentliches Thema wird,

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ist sie es nicht mehr. Sie ist eine Erfahrung der Einsamkeit

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und zerfließt, wenn öffentlich besprochen, zu leerem Gerede.

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Sie ist grundsätzlich antikulturell und kann daher nicht

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zu Kulturformen erstarren. Man kann die Erfahrung der Bodenlosigkeit

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in Literatur, Philosophie und Kunst nicht niederschlagen,

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ohne sie zu verfälschen. Man kann nur versuchen,

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sie in diesen Formen zu umschreiben, sie einzukreisen und so einzufangen.

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Oder aber man kann versuchen, sie direkt zu bezeugen,

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indem man autobiographisch seine eigene Lage schildert,

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in der Hoffnung, daß sich in der Schilderung andere erkennen.

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Das eigene Leben wird dann sozusagen zu einem Laboratorium

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für andere, um die Lage der Bodenlosigkeit von außen

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erkennen zu können. Jeder kennt die Bodenlosigkeit

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aus eigener Erfahrung. Wenn er vorgibt, sie nicht zu kennen,

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dann nur, weil es ihm gelungen ist, sie immer wieder zu verdrängen:

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ein Erfolg, der in vieler Hinsicht sehr zweifelhaft ist.

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Aber es gibt Menschen, für die Bodenlosigkeit die Stimmung ist,

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in der sie sich sozusagen objektiv befinden. Menschen,

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die jeden Boden unter den Füßen verloren haben,

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entweder weil sie durch äußere Faktoren aus dem Schoß

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der sie bergenden Wirklichkeit verstoßen wurden oder

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weil sie bewußt diese als Trug erkannte Wirklichkeit verließen.

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Solche Menschen können als Laboratorien für andere dienen.

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Sie existieren sozusagen intensiver, falls man unter »Existenz«

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ein Leben in der Bodenlosigkeit verstehen will.

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Eine in diesem Sinn intensive Existenz sei nun geschildert.

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10 Partners of the Project

11 Credits

Photo: Oskar Helcel (Lectures), Lenka Střeláková (Presentation)
Video – Camera / Sound / Editing: Radim Labuda
Online Presentation Concept, Editing and Realization: Lenka Střeláková
Typesetting using the beta version of the program Jednoznakovky.exe © Matěj Šenkyřík
Translation: Vít Bohal
Published: 8. 11. 2017