Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Vilem Flusser / Television image and political space in the light of the Romanian Revolution

--> April 7th 1990 Kunsthalle, Budapest
I believe that whatever happened in Romania merits philosophical reflection. Of course it is too early, we do not have the necessary distance, but still something seems to have happened there, it is called here a revolution. I think that is a wrong term, because revolution is a political category and it doesn’t look to me that what happened over there is political at all. Now whatever happened there may, in the future be interpreted as a turning point. It may be that what French and American philosophers used to call post-history. Post-histoire has found its first, or almost first, expression in that small country, off Broadway if I may say so. Imagine for a moment, and this is why I accepted the invitation to come here to this meeting, imagine for an instant that such a thing should happen, let’s say in the United States or even in Western Europe. Imagine for an instant that television in the United States would take over and I think you would have imagined the end of history, the end of what we are used to call history. Now of course it happened all away in Romania, where nobody cares about, but imagine for a moment that it happens in what we are used to call the centres of decision, even in Moscow. I will submit to you the hypothesis that a new situation in the image culture is about to happen, but in order to sustain such an hypothesis I will have to give you a few theoretical concepts..

We have at least two possibilities to face our world. One is through image and another is through linear writing. Originally man was immersed in his circumstance. Now when Homo Sapiens came about he made a step back from this circumstance, what Heidegger calls ein Schritt zuruck, and he tries to look at the circumstance from a subjective distance and the result was an image. Now the image transforms the world into a scene. Through Image the world has a scenic character, it shows contexts, what Wittgenstein calls Sachverhalte, what Heidegger calls Verhältnisse. Bezüge. The world seen through imagination is a context wherein things relate to each other. Now this has a magical character. Every image is strongly magically loaded. When the first images were made, let’s say at Lascaux, they were meant to orient people in the world, for instance they were meant to show how to hunt oxen or ponies. And when people were exposed to these images they probably danced, they made ritual happenings. And then they went out to hunt the animal. It is absolutely impossible to see the image outside magic… there is a voodoo character in every image. I told you that the image had the purpose to orient people from outside in the world in which they are thrown. An image is the possibility for me to step out from the world and see it from outside. So they are sorts of maps, mediation or as you say here media, which is a barbarian way to use latin. So they are mediations, they mean the world. But by meaning the world they also hide it. This is an inner dialectics of every mediation.
For those who speak German it becomes very clear: Bilder verstellen was sie vorstellen, sie stellen sich vor dass was sie vorstellen sollen. Now this inner dialectics which is responsible for the fact that images hide the world, is the reason for a very profound alienation. Images are meant for people to orient themselves in the world, but when they become very strong, people use their experience in the world to orient themselves in the image. The image becomes the concrete reality and the world is only a pretext. Now this inversion of the relationship between the world of experience and the world of imagination, this is called by the prophets idolatry. This is the reason why Plato wanted to prohibit art and images in the Republic. Images are anti-republican, anti-political. The purpose of image in this stage is to hide what happens. When this idolatry, this curious sort of paganism, against which not only Jewish prophets, but also the pre-Socratic philosophers argued. When this became too dense linear writing was invented. The purpose of linear writing was to open up the images by explaining them and thus open up a vision of the experienced world. Now let me open up the difference between a scenic and a processual vision. In the scene things happen; everything is a happening. In the linear, processual world nothing happens; everything is an event. The difference between an happening and an event is that the happening is the result of chance, of accident. It is an accident which becomes necessary. ..
The world of happening is a chaotic world but everything repeats itself in that chaotic world. But in the event of history, in the vision of the world as a process, nothing ever repeats itself, everything is an event which has causes and will have effects. It is a world which can be rationally explained. To give you an example, for instance, the coronation of a king is a happening, it is the result of some accident, the old king dies, it happens all the time, Le Roi est mort. Vive le Roi and it is always something festive and magical. Now the discussion of the law in parliament is not a happening it is an event. It has causes and it will have effects and it is done in order to have effects. The consciousness which corresponds to image is called the magical, mythical consciousness. And the consciousness that corresponds to linear writing, to this processual vision is called political consciousness. Television cannot be like any other image, a political thing, it is anti-political by its very structure. And political consciousness is always directed against the image
Now as you know Western history begins with linear writing for the simple fact that before the invention of linear writing there was no history, there were no events, everything only happened. And with the invention of linear writing events were created, but of course images didn’t give up, as the linear writing advanced against images in order to explain them away, the images infiltrated themselves into the texts and they began to illustrate the texts. The dynamics of western civilization, this inattention within western civilization, the tremendously so explosive and so dangerous for other civilizations, is the fact that image and text, imagination and conceptual thinking, magic and politics are always in conflict with us. Now during most of Western history this was a very creative process, imagination became ever more conceptual, and conceptual thinking ever more imaginative. But with the invention of print, with Gutenberg, this changed. Images were eliminated from our culture; they were enclosed into glorified ghettoes called museums or academies and the situation was dominated by writing. The triumph of linear writing was the Enlightenment, C18, and this was also the moment of the most developed political thinking. But as rational thought, political and scientific thought advanced, its message became ever less and less imaginable. You can see that with science, that science projects a vision of the world that is perfectly conceivable but totally unimaginable. So that in the C19 the world is becoming less and less imaginable and this is the real reason why photography was invented. The political characteristic of linear writing before the invention of newspapers is that you write in private and then you publish in the open space. If you want to get the message you have to go in the open space, get the text and take it home in order to read it. Now these dialectics between private creation and publication, this is the dialectics of politics. Politics is the distinction between a private space and a public space, an οκος and an agora, a domus and a forum. Now this pendulum use- I go out from the private to the public space in order to get the information, I take the information from the public space and take it home in order to elaborate on it and store it away, this is the dynamics of political consciousness. Hegel used to call it the unhappy consciousness because he said, when I leave home to conquer the world I lose myself and when I go home in order to find myself again, I lose the world and this pendulum, is political consciousness and political consciousness is always unhappy, there can be no political paradise because political consciousness is an unhappy consciousness, every consciousness is unhappy, if you want to be happy it doesn’t help you to have consciousness, an earth worm I think is happy. Now if you take this into account, please consider what is happening to images. The images are no longer published, they are elaborated in a private place and they go directly to the other private place, the sender is private and the receiver is private and the public space has become unnecessary, redundant. There is no use for a forum any longer, because everything goes directly from the private place to the private place, where the public space, the political space used to lie now there are visible or invisible cables. Now I do not say that the same is not true of writing. Newspapers for instance are distributed through the private space even newspapers can be anti-political. ..The information revolution, the term is correct, the impact of the information revolution is that if you want to be informed you have to stay home, you go to the public space, you lose information. Now let me go back to photography. Photography was invented in order to render imaginable the events around us, not only the political events but also the scientific, the technological events. History advanced linearly, but photographs transcended history and they froze the events into happenings. They took the events out of their context they transcoded them into happenings and then they went back to history and they could be used as a sort of memory of history. Now this is called documentation. Images were used to document historical events. It wasn’t so easy. The problem of subjectivity came into it. Photography was invented to give an objective image, but since the camera is coded, it is even less objective than a painting, still the ideal was that there is history and then there is a photographer and he steps back from history into something which we might call mystical transcendence and out of this mystical transcendence a photograph.. there is a problem, the moment you step back from politics into image you can have no point of view. The political point of view is lost because the moment you get out from politics you can see that every event has many possible points of view, none of it is correct and what you can do is multiply points of view, you dance around the event, and the more you collect points of view the better is your image. So that a photographer who dances around event looking at the people with a camera, there are dancers they are Husserlian people, they try to be phenomenological, of course they can’t succeed, because you know image makers do not think, you know they cannot think. Thinking is anti-image. Now they dance around it, and by dancing, by collecting points of view, they destroy ideology – which is the insistence of one point of view- you hear political people speaking, they say my point of view is the right one, and yours is the wrong one, but if you listen to a photographer he will say every point of view is the same, the problem is how many points of view I can collect. All these ideas aside, the idea was that the image should document politics, but in the first half of the C20 and even stronger after the second war, this relationship began to change, all of a sudden politics was made in order to get into an image. The purpose of politics, and so far nobody knew the purpose of politics, progress is not a purpose, progress is a method, but where do we advance at? What do you mean we advance? We don’t know where. All of a sudden we discovered where. We advanced to an image. Everything wanted to be photographed and filmed and taken in a video. The purpose of everything, like a wedding, the purpose of marrying was to be photographed. The purpose of going on the moon was so that Mr. Nixon could appear on television and see how people walked on the moon. The purpose of Arab hijackers of airplanes was to be taken on television. So all of a sudden people discovered what politics is about, politics is aimed at being taken, aufgenommen, in an image. And this created a curious phenomenon, events began to accelerate, they roared toward the image, one event followed another, because every event wanted to be taken in an image. There were the people with the film cameras and there were the photographers and there were the people standing there with the video cameras and all history roared towards them and said please take me, please put me into the image. It is curious why should we do that? What happened in Romania, there is another inversion, if I am right it is the image which now causes the event. What I am saying is terribly frightening. I don’t know whether you share my..
I don’t know if we are aware when we speak about post-history, whether we are aware of the terror we are speaking about. Imagine magic. We saw yesterday and this morning, I think all of us don’t want to see the face of Mr. Ceaucescu ever again in our life. So what we saw the images yesterday and today was highly aesthetic
… it is the purpose of theatre, I think it was Lessing who said the purpose of theatre is Mitgleid und Furcht zu erwachen, to provoke sympathy and fright. So that happened. You ask whether those bodies are real or not which we saw, whether the water in Timișoara was really poisoned or not, that’s a bad metaphysical question .. the real experience is in the image, what happened behind the image is no use to us. Political reasoning is no longer valid. There is no reality behind the image. There are realities in the image. What is now happening in Romania cannot be history, it is something else. Political reasoning does not apply to it. It is the result of magic. It is a sort of technical voodoo. How can we judge it if we do not have the criteria for it? We do not have a philosophy of post-history. We do not yet have a philosophy of an image in power.

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