Vilém Flusser’s Brazilian Vampyroteuthis Infernalis

The Czech-Brazilian philosopher Vilém Flusser is the author of Vampyroteuthis infernalis, a book originally published in German in 1987 and rewritten in Brazilian Portuguese afterwards. However, each language has different contents, since Flusser was not able to only translate but to create different versions of his own work. And in the Brazilian Vampyroteuthis Infernalis, we will find a fable about an abyssal mollusk that, still under its particular conditions, is so close to man and his issues. Using biological, philosophical, sociological and anthropological metaphors, the author will show to the reader how this animal appears as an alter and as a self to the humankind.

In the first chapters, Flusser describes the molluscan class Cephalopoda and the biological characteristics of Vampyroteuthis infernalis, many times making comparisons with man. For instance, both have lost their stability during evolution. Humans when they started to walk on two legs; Vampyroteuthis when they lost their shell. The price paid by man was his loss of ground and by the mollusk was its exile in the abyss. Another example is that, according to Flusser, the most evolved part of the Vampyroteuthis’ brain is the same as the human’s. And though our origins are different, Vampyroteuthis think the same way we do — even we do not admit that. But, in the end, we are “opposed spirits who deny the same ‘world’”.

And this world is the abyss, a place that can be seen as the great ocean, the habitat that is the center of the Earth, full of life — most of them unknown -, shining their lights in the deep darkness, where the pressure and the freezing low temperatures could kill one man in terror. A paradise or an inferno, depending on the point of view. For that reason, Flusser proposes that, in order to “discover” Vampyroteuthis, one must get used to something that is not usual, once we cannot inhabit the uninhabitable.

Once we face Vampyroteuthis, we can suffer a shocking recognition. As the author explains, this could happen because we would have in our own hands and before our eyes an existence comparable to ours, though we would be defying a different world. Vampyroteuthis’ universe is comprehended with eight tentacles and not only two hands. It is not an apparent world as ours, but it needs luminous organs to be seen. In our world, where everything appears to our eyes, the appearances can be deceiving. In Vampyroteuthis’ world, where it is always night, the animal brightens things so it can truly see them.

Despite man and Vampyroteuthis share Earth as the same home, they do not face it the same way. Flusser believes man wants to travel through the world, while Vampyroteuthis wants to incorporate it. Man loves the world, although he fights against it. Vampyroteuthis hates it, although it also enjoys it. And it does that by touching in the dark, sexually. In its tentacles are located the penis and the clitoris and, by this way, it knows the world. Therefore, Vampyroteuthis’ philosophy ultimate keyword is sex.

With this method, it creates its art and culture, such as man stores his information in books, pictures, buildings and instruments. Human’s hands mold culture, informing objects, while the mollusk uses its tentacles to touch the dark. Like man, Vampyroteuthis will discover that the purpose of its culture is making it forget, through the orgasm, that one day it will die.

If man’s art is the gesture where he imprints his experience in the object, in order to take place, immortalize himself, Vampyroteuthis’ art depends on the other. It is an sculptor and a writer of the other. It is during the violation of the other that it releases itself. It needs this conversation, the feedback. It needs to modify and inform the other, impose a determined information, knowledge, behavior and sensation. The Vampyroteuthis’ art is totalitarian, because its raw material is the society and its creativity and its search for immortality is the hate for the other.

In spite of being abyssal, it is not difficult to meet Vampyroteuthis: three were found in the Chinese sea, as Flusser tells by the end of the book. Every expedition, no matter which “specialization”, they all will in the end find Vampyroteuthis. It inhabits all depths and man inhabits it. And the meeting is the inevitable ending of every human exploration, because, in Flusser’s words, “the only theme of man is man”. So Vampyroteuthis will emerge as “death of God” in theological texts, as Nazism in psychosociology. And in all other abysses, its emergences will have the same effect as a bomb, since it will explode every time it is taken away from its high pressure.

For that reason, the observer watches frightened the animal swimming inside a tank, because he knows what will happen in case the glass breaks. And he doesn’t know how to react, how to deal with such existence like Vampyroteuthis’. He is both fascinated, both scared. Vampyroteuthis appears as our own mirror, where the aspects are inverted, but we can still assimilate and, this way, Flusser’s book remains with the purpose of a fable: a narrative one contemplates, recognizes and alters himself.

Originally published at on May 29, 2015.

Written by

Brazilian journalist, MA in Semiotics and PhD candidate in Visual Arts. Head of innovation and futurism at UP Lab. Cyberpunk enthusiast and researcher.

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