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The History of the Devil

2014
Author:

Vilém Flusser
Translated by Rodrigo Maltez Novaes
Edited by Siegfried Zielinski
Distributed for Univocal Publishing 

The History of the Devil

A fascinating exploration into the early work of the celebrated philosopher of media culture and technology, Vilém Flusser

Considered by many to be his first significant work, Vilém Flusser’s The History of the Devil frames the human situation from a pseudo-religious point of view. Flusser provocatively leads the reader through an existential exploration of nothingness as the bedrock of reality, where “phenomenon” and “transcendence,” “Devil” and “God” become fused and confused.

In 1939, a young Vilém Flusser faced the Nazi invasion of his hometown of Prague. He escaped with his wife to Brazil, taking with him only two books: a small Jewish prayer book and Goethe’s Faust. Twenty-six years later, in 1965, Flusser would publish The History of the Devil, and it is the essence of those two books that haunts his own. From that time his life as a philosopher was born. While Flusser would later garner attention in Europe and elsewhere as a thinker of media culture, The History of the Devil is considered by many to be his first significant work, containing nascent forms of the main themes that would come to preoccupy him over the following decades.

In The History of the Devil, Flusser frames the human situation from a pseudo-religious point of view. The phenomenal world, or “reality” in a general sense, is identified as the “Devil,” and that which transcends phenomena, or the philosophers’ and theologians’ “reality,” is identified as “God.” Referencing Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus in its structure, Flusser provocatively leads the reader through an existential exploration of nothingness as the bedrock of reality, where “phenomenon” and “transcendence,” “Devil” and “God” become fused and confused. So radically confused, in fact, that Flusser suggests we abandon the quotation marks from the terms “Devil” and “God.” At this moment of abysmal confusion, and of the downfall of all values, we must make the existential decisions that give direction to our lives.

The History of the Devil

Vilém Flusser (1920–1991) is increasingly recognized as one of the most influential thinkers of digital and global culture.

Rodrigo Maltez Novaes is a translator and research fellow at the Vilém Flusser Archive.

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