Date of Degree

2-2016

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Art History

Advisor(s)

Anna Chave

Committee Members

Maria Antonella Pelizzari

David Joselit

Alexander R. Galloway

Subject Categories

Theory and Criticism

Keywords

Photography, Technical Images, Vilém Flusser, Apparatus, Brazil, Theory

Abstract

Despite accelerated changes in the way we create, view, and experience photographs, critics and scholars in North America continue to read and assign an accepted canon of photography theory, often predicated on old concepts and technologies. This dissertation seeks to remedy that situation. It focuses on the work of Czech-Brazilian philosopher Vilém Flusser (1920-1991), author of such books as Towards a Philosophy of Photography (1983), Into the Universe of Technical Images (1985), and Does Writing Have a Future? (1987), which develop a theory of technical images that reaches beyond photography to include film, television, video, computer, and satellite images. Rather than reading images textually, Flusser employed philosophy and information theory to consider the apparatuses of image making and the screens through which we communicate. Born in Prague in 1920 and forced to flee Europe in 1939, Flusser spent thirty-two years in Brazil before returning to Europe. He was a philosopher, yet practically an autodidact. His entire family was killed in the holocaust and he became a proponent of migration and wrote in multiple languages: German, Portuguese, French, and English. Moreover, Flusser was writing at a moment when digitization and biotechnology were both emerging and these overlap in books like Vampyroteuthis infernalis (1983) and his “Curie’s Children” column for Artforum magazine (1986-1991). This dissertation will examine Flusser’s thought from its roots in European thinkers like Husserl, Heidegger, Wittgenstein and Kafka, to its place alongside contemporary theorists and media philosophers such as Marshall McLuhan, Friedrich Kittler, Jean Baudrillard, Paul Virilio, Donna Haraway, Alexander R. Galloway, and François Laruelle. Not only this does this dissertation introduce Flusser into the U.S. conversation on photography history and theory, it coincides with renewed interest in other artists and theorists from the seventies and eighties whose work, rather than becoming “obsolete,” like early versions of technology, aids us in thinking about images and culture today.

 
 

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