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On Doubt

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On Doubt
by Vilém Flusser
Translated by Rodrigo Maltez Novaes
Edited by Siegfried Zielinski
September 15th, 2014
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An attempt to overcome the Cartesian method through an existential analysis of language.

In On Doubt, Vilém Flusser refines Martin Heidegger’s famous declaration that “language is the dwelling of Being.” for Flusser, “the word is the dwelling of being,” because in fact, in the beginning, there was the word.

On Doubt is a treatise on the human intellect, its relation to language, and the reality-forming discourses that subsequently emerge. For Flusser, the faith that the Modern Age places in Cartesian doubt plays a similar role that the faith in God played in previous eras – a faith that needs to be challenged. Descartes doubts the world through his proposition cogito ergo sum, but leaves doubt itself untouched as indubitable and imperious. His cogito ergo sum may have proved to the Western intellect that thoughts exist, but it did not prove the existence of that which thinks: one can eliminate thinking and yet continue being.

Therefore, should we not doubt doubt itself? Should doubt be allowed to remain indubitable? Should we not attempt to go beyond this last step of Cartesian doubt and look for a new faith? The 20th century has seen many attempts to overcome Cartesian doubt in its search for new faiths, however, this doubt of doubt has instead generated a complete loss of faith, which the West experiences as existential nihilism. Hence, the emergent emptying of values and climate of absurdity that results from such extreme doubt. Everything loses its meaning. Can this climate be overcome? Will the West survive the Modern Age?

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.

Forum for Modern Language Studies: (2015) 51 On Doubt

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Details Paperback | 100 pages | 4.9 x 7.625" | Letterpress Cover | Cover Design by Jason Wagner