Thursday, February 09, 2006

Bodies, Images, Production (2)

In trying to write up a response to the quotes below, I found that I would keep veering off course and down tangents, which clarified for me (a) that I don't know exactly what I think or how I feel about the issues addressed, (b) I have yet to totally grasp all the issues addressed, and (c) I have bitten off more than I can chew for a single blog entry!

But I will try to sketch out some observations about what I've been thinking and how my readings have spurred it. One of the things that both Burch (on cinema or "chronophotography") and Willemen (on digital media) both assert, rightly enough, is that technologies are the result of material, economic circumstances and are driven by ideological ends. Burch, however, acknowledges a variegated set of aims and consequences for the cinema and its social roles, and while image technologies may be entrenched in ideology, they operate in a lot of different ways. They are not necessarily determined and by extension damned by the ideology from which they have come. On the other hand, Willemen seems very flatly pessimistic, predisposed against new media precisely because of their alleged "authoritarianism" (this pessimism seems to me an unusual characteristic for Willemen: he's one of the film scholars whose work I most admire). To this, at this early stage, I would simply like to say that, for all of Willemen's misgivings about the loss of photography's indexical integrity (misgivings I share), at the same time we have no more recourse to an indexical image's own authority. It is possible--I won't say it is guaranteed--that collective faith in the photograph's indexicality will be shattered. Images will no longer have authority: they will be assertions. There are both very good and very bad implications for this development.

If images, including photographic ones, act only as icons in our future, our thirst for "likenesses" may atrophy, and we may stop thinking about representation and only think about presentation. (A radical possibility: people can potentially attach to every image, once we come to think of every image as a presentation, the issues of precisely what is being presented, why, by whom, and how. No more "it's just a picture--it shows the truth!") The image, as J-L Nancy puts it, is sacred precisely because it's something apart from us. If it's something apart then it is something we look rather than "enter into." We're not connected to images: we exist with them, and with them before us.

I find Schefer much more difficult to understand than Nancy; and I don't think he and Nancy are employing quite the same meanings for the word "sacred." But even so, it seems as though Schefer is arguing that Uccello's painting is fascinating because it offers no distinction for the body in the visual plane--it is in fact treated as a plane in itself, offering only what is immediately invisible, subject to 'discoloration' if the painter or the image so demands it. Which puts the great Uccello into a fascinating place with respect to "presentation" even though he lived in Renaissance Florence, and was a figure in the larger milieu that so deeply shaped our great Western perspectival-humanist-representational visual regime.

Perhaps more on the subject in the near future ...

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