The Freedom of the Migrant: Objections to Nationalism (Vilém Flusser, 2013)

Vilém Flusser (1920 - 1991)
Vilém Flusser (1920 – 1991)

Vilém Flusser, a philosopher and communication theorist born in Prague in 1920, spent most of his life in exile. In 1940 he reached London on the run from the Nazis, from there he went to São Paulo after only a short time to settle in France in the early 1970s. He never saw his native city of Prague, which he wanted to visit after more than 40 years in exile. On the way there he died in 1991 in a traffic accident near the German-Czech border.

The University of Illinois Press has reissued the texts it published for the first time in 1994 under the title “Freedom of the migrant”. In this book, Flusser deals with national languages, advocates a philosophy of emigration, thinks about caravans and guest workers, and raises the question of whether there is still a French nation. The articles, manuscripts and essays, which usually have only a few pages, are always original. There is almost always a trace of irony in them, and sometimes more than a trace, such as in the text about the “caravan”, whose “industrial character” proves “that it is good for driving” while “its kitsch character” …] good for living “.

If Flusser has to criticize, he does not skimp on clear words. “There is no herb against cretinism”, it says once, another time “If I voluntarily submit to a bond to death out of a hot love for my fatherland, then I am a criminal and a fool”; and his verdict “Patriotism is the biggest mess” is refreshing given the ubiquitous homeland confession.

However, not all texts are convincing on every point. For example, one does not have to agree with his view that “people in the full sense of the word” and “displaced” are synonymous “or” that tourism plays a role in the present day that roughly corresponds to the role that theory has in classical antiquity “played.

The positive assessment of exile, homelessness and immigrants is one of Flusser’s many original ideas. It is “an advantage not to have a home,” he says provocatively, claiming that the “uncounted millions of migrants”, of whom he is rightly counted himself, that “foreign workers, displaced persons, refugees” are not very outsider, but even more “outpost of a new future,” no “pitiable victims who should be helped to regain their lost homeland,” but “models to be followed with sufficient daring”. Because, according to Flusser, migration is a “creative activity”. But, and of course he does not fail to recognize this, he had to experience it himself for many years, “it is also a suffering”. Therefore, he concludes, “only the displaced, the migrants, but not the expellees, the retarded, can think of such thoughts.”

If homelessness means freedom and creativity to him, he associates homeland – and here one is ready to follow him – with “narrow-mindedness, fanaticism and patriotic prejudices”. It is nothing more than “the sacralization of banalem”, which blinds “those who are entangled in it”. Only after this entanglement has been overcome will “free judgment, decision and action” become possible. “I was,” he explains, “thrown into my first home by my birth without being asked whether I liked it. The bonds that bound me there to my fellow men were largely put on me . “ Completely different things are possible in exile: “In my freedom that I have now attained, it is I myself who spins his bonds with his fellow human beings, in cooperation with them.” So he finally comes to a positively connoted concept of home: “For me, ‘home’ is people for whom I am responsible.”

The essays on exile and migration collected in the volume are worth reading almost without exception. However, they do not represent a “philosophy of emigration”, as Flusser knows of course. “But,” he says in one of the texts, “it should be written.” This work is still to be done. Flusser himself never came to it.

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