1 minute read

History of Media

VilÉm Flusser

The work of Vilém Flusser, which has begun to be translated into English in the last decade, is destined to have a major impact on media history. Exiled from his native Prague in 1939, Flusser turned his exile in Brazil and later in France into the grounds of a radical philosophy of freedom. Linking information theory with phenomenology, Flusser argues that pre-history's image-based media were mythic in tone and magical in orientation. They intended to control the world by picturing it. The invention of the alphabet created a new mode of control: lineal, causal, and ultimately scientific. In the invention of photography, he sees the return of the mythic image, but this time an image not of the world but of texts. Rather than image the world, film, television, photography, and computer-generated imaging depict scientific knowledge, philosophical arguments, political beliefs, and commercial messages.

Since writing marks the beginning of history, the technical image marks its end. The post-historical image is programmed by the texts that precede it, and in turn programs its end users. Every new image is a step toward the exhaustion of information, understood as the improbability of a given message in a particular system. Every new photograph both exhausts the stock of possible photographs still to be taken and adds to the assimilative power of the photographic apparatus. The task of photographers, and by extension all who work in the technical media, is to work at the level of information, program, code, and apparatus to increase the level of improbability. As writing loses its centrality, humanity loses the historical consciousness of linear causality. The resultant universe is entropic in information theory and absurd in phenomenological thought. The task, then, of experimentation in media and of media history alike is to create meaning in the face of randomness and freedom in the face of its necessity.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Mathematics to Methanal trimerHistory of Media - Periodization, Technology And The "general Accident", Historical And Technological Media, Ubiquitous Media, Current Studies In Media History