Week 7 – Taking up Residence in Homelessness

Vilém Flusser

As suggested in the previous block, I started reading Vilem Flusser writings and started with the book “writings” and the chapters “”Taking up residence in homelessness” and “Exile and Creativity”.

The first writing begins talking about how he feels “homeless” because there are “so many homes in him”:

“In short, I am homeless, because there are so many homelands that make home in me. This fact of life is expressed daily in my work. I feel at home in at least four languages. I sense a necessity and a certain amount of pressure to translate and retranslate everything that still needs to be written.” Flusser, p.91.

The language, as part of the cultural structure, is how he relates to his different homes. He describes it to be a burden, but he also says that finds interpersonal communications exciting, maybe due to the fact that he has the tendency to hover over different positions.

I have also had the same tendency to move and hover over different positions, and so I would say most of the ones that move outside of one culture into another that speaks a different language. In the current times, I think that technology allows us to hover more, from one article to another, one new hit on the radio to an old classic from your previous home.

Then on the next page (p.92) Flusser starts making a differentiation between “home” and a “home”. He reminds us that for the longest time of human existence, mankind has lived in a “home”, and not possessed it. So, the notion of owning a home is a function of agriculture and cattle breeding.

He then says that in the post-industrial societies, the uncounted emigrants do not recognize themselves as outsiders, but as pioneers of the future, and should not be considered “pitiful victims in need of aid.”

“For emigration is a creative activity, but also entails suffering. “

Who loses its home suffers, and them Flusser describes our connections to our homelands in a fascinating way: he says we are connected to it by many threads, and most of them are secret in our unconscious minds. If they are destroyed or torn, the experience is similar to a painful surgical incision. He was expelled from Prague, and he experiences his world as collapsing and that the treads that were holding him there, were “amputated”.

I think this is a very strong word to describe his experience, an amputation, such a brutal act and out of control. Still, in pain, he realized that now he had hard-earned freedom, but “freedom from what”?

“We are all like this, nomads who have surfaced after having experienced a breakdown of a settled form of existence.” (Flusser, p. 93)

He then goes saying that every home blinds us, and, in that sense, every home is the same. He describes these changes as splitting a Gordian knot. He split one Gordian knot after the other, first in Prague, then in London, and São Paulo. He says that the first times were hard, but the subsequent ones were easier.

The desire for home chains us to people and things, and here we can question our freedom again. Flusser did not have friends in Prague anymore since all died at the war, but after leaving São Paulo, he felt for them, and it was harder to break this Gordian knot, as they were alive. Therefore, these two experiences contradict each other.

I feel that the longer I stay in one place, the harder to leave it is, because you connect and reattach these treads. We rebuild relationships and to leave again, is to break the Gordian knot again. Even though I do it without thinking twice, it is painful, as Flusser describes. It is a pain that reoccurs, but not at the same intensity every time, as the facts happening around you a the time will also influence the way you are going to relate to it.

On page 95, Flusser describes the first Homeland as the one we are born in and have chosen it. The second one was from the hard-earned freedom, and now, by free will, we are bound to the new neighbors. These ties are not less emotional and stronger than the first ones.

This explains the freedom when one does not cut relations, but weaving these connections with them. “The migrant does not become free by denying his lost home, but by overcoming it.” (Flusser, p. 95)

I have seen people trying to deny the “lost home/culture”, and reject the language and the ways, and I find this rejection of your own history a lack of self-stem, as this use this denial as a mechanism to be accepted in the new culture.

Then, he starts talking about how sociologists describe that these secret codes of home can be learned. But he says that the reality is different:

“The secret codes of home are not made by conscious rules, but rather spun from unconscious habits.” (Flusser, p. 95)

It is a habit because no one is aware of it. If there is awareness, its rules are not sacred anymore, but banal. So, for the native, he is ugly as he shows this banality. His immigration causes a polemical dialogue between the ugly stranger and the beautiful native. (Flusser, p. 95)

On the next page he describes his move to Brazil and historical facts on how Brazil was created and developed as a country. Brazil was then a mixture of cultures, having emancipated the slaves and with there was hope for it to be a home for a future society free of prejudice when Flusser moved there. But his reactions changed after the military coup, and he understood it not as an intervention, but as a manifestation of a Brazilian homeland itself. This caused disappointment because he could see the difference in colonization in comparison to the United States, as an example, because the new arrivals were not seen as “ugly strangers”, but rather as “partners in life”.

“Thus I recognized what makes patriotism (whether local or national) so devastating: it anoints the human ties that bind and thus neglects the ties that we accept freely; it privileges family ties to elective affinities, the real or imagined biological relations to those of friendship and love. I fell into a fever of freedom: I was free to choose my neighbor.” (Flusser, p. 98)

Having in mind that Brazil had the same close-mindedness, fanaticism, and patriotic prejudices that existed in European homeland, he left for Provence. He was right, and this showed in the future history of Brazil, he would be even more disappointed if he had seen it.

So, freedom for Flusser is to be responsible for our neighbors and we can move homes, change, but we still need to live in a house no matter where. Without a home, we die, as a home is how we find ourselves in the world, it is primary.

“Everyone’s home is thought pretty by its resident, precisely because he is used to it.” (Flusser, p. 100)

This demonstrates the cycle of aesthetics: ugly-beautiful-pretty-ugly. Natives confuse home with a home. They think their homes are pretty, therefore they confuse prettiness with beauty. They are not open to the ugliness that confronts them and could be transformed into beauty.

“More than anything, patriotism is a symptom of an aesthetic disease. (Flusser, p. 100)”

This is what is so catastrophic about habit. People consider beautiful even the ugly, not recognizing the rough edges and injustices that happen in places.

Flusser finished the chapter talking about how to overcome these prejudices, and what is the secret of being the “Other”. How to overcome your own prejudices and your neighbors’? I think what he was suggesting is that migrants have to make an effort to create beauty out of ugliness. Migrants are the “consciousness of the migrants and a messenger of the future.”

This text was written out of a lecture that he has given in Germany. It was very relevant to me, as a Migrant such as himself, but I went the opposite way. He migrated from Europe to Brazil, and I did from Brazil to Europe. It was fascinating to me the way he describes the connections as Gordian knots and the illusion of home that we all have at a certain level. When you move, you are forced to break these knots, and I can relate to the pain, and every time I leave is the same. But, just as Flusser, made a decision, from my freedom, to break these knots. Not everyone is capable of that, to see the illusion of what home is and to separate the connection between the idea of House and Home.

I will use these text as a reference to create more images towards my project, with the idea of home and connections.

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