Thuistezien 162 — 30.01.2021

PD Dr. Peter Mahr
Vilém Flusser Symposium

‘Vilém Flusser is the lion who had the zebra in front of him, but he didn’t bite’. Peter Mahr is a lecturer of philosophy and aesthetics in Vienna, Austria. As part of the 2015 symposium ‘Synthetic Thinking’, he particularly examines the aesthetic and phenomenological part of Flusser’s writing and thinking. In his small treatise ‘Toward a Phenomenology of Television’, Flusser discusses phenomenology as a philosophical method that can be applied to stimulate innovation and art. Specifically, an art that is dialogical and interactive. Phenomenology is a way of observing phenomena and drawing their essence from the specific perception and perspective. As a scientific attitude, even contingent facts can have an essence in that they may be grasped purely from their phenomena. Any sound is sound in general. Any material thing is a thing at all. Therefore even instances can be developed into ideas.

Television and television art, then, are the perfect medium in which this practice can be carried out. Not just as a method of communication, but of actively conveying, appropriating and transforming images; producing new perceptions. One can wonder in how far television doesn’t pose limitations. After all, there might well be phenomena too large or small, or too rapidly moving, to capture on tv, like a window in a house also only provides restricted views. To understand tv as a means to make the categories of perception more flexible, it must become a form of perception that liberates us from the model of a traditional window and generates freedom. If this would be achieved, new essences of things could be discovered and a new pure reason could be possible.

In employing the phenomenological method one uses perception as a conscious intervention into the phenomena. What does this mean practically? Tv producers make us subject of categories manipulated onto perception, creating a broader spectrum of perception. It makes us become capable of entering dialogues anew. Using a multicultural variety or resources, Nam June Paik’s ‘participation tv’ is an inevitable demonstration of this. Through tv, sounds are made visible and images audible. However, it is peculiar that Flusser almost does not refer to or engage with Nam June Paik’s works, that in his time enjoyed a lot of popularity. Flusser didn’t bite. The same applies to Flusser’s engagement with academic phenomenology. He plays around with terminology of Husserl, Heidegger and Sartre, but he never names them. It seems he wants to transgress phenomenology into a phenomenology of its own – to be a performance of its own theory of fleeting images and freedom. As such, ‘The phenomenological practice is ridiculous initially’. Comparably, if you want to know what television is: just put it on.

Text: Yael Keijzer