Saturday, 15 December 2012

time travel// parallel photography

one moment /// many points of view
reversed panopticon
the crowd executes the sovereign
a revolutionary device

“The idea is a monad. The being that enters into it, with its past and subsequent history, brings – concealed in its own form – an indistinct abbreviation of the rest of the world of ideas, just as, according to Leibniz’s Discourse on Metaphysics (1686) , every single monad contains, in an indistinct way, all the others… The idea is a monad – that means briefly: every idea contains the image of the world. The purpose of the representation of the idea is nothing less than an abbreviated outline of this image of the world.”
Benjamin encapsulates his monadological theory in a famous astronomical metaphor: “Ideas are to objects as constellations are to stars”. The constellation becomes Benjamin’s term for the configuration or network of ideas that create, so to speak, a holographic image (an “abbreviation”) of the world in its entirety. His subsequent career was to be devoted to mapping such constellations. 
The constellation became the “dialectical image”, a view of history reachable only from a particular perspective, in much the same way that a stellar constellation such as Orion can take the form we see, only when viewed from our own planet at this particular time (since its stars are actually unrelated, lying at very different distances from Earth, and are all in motion with respect to each other). The image is “dialectical” in the sense of our engagement with it: we actively bring it into being, and the knowledge it produces can bring about change. Despite the apparent idealism of Benjamin’s theory, the constellation or dialectical image remains an abbreviation of objective fact and historical truth. Leibniz had already expressed something like this in Monadology (1714): "And just as the same town when seen from different sides will seem quite different, and as it were multiplied perspectivally, the same thing happens here: because of the infinite multitude of simple substances it is as if there were as many different universes; but they are all perspectives on the same one, according to the different point of view of each monad."

Benjamin Arcades    Y PHOTOGRAPHY / 689

It was the pantograph, whose principle is equally at work in the physiognotrace, that undertook to transcribe automatically a linear scheme originally traced on paper to a plaster mass, as required by the process of photosculpture­. Serving as model in this process were 24 simultaneous views taken from different sides. Gautier forsees no threat to sculpture from this process. What can prevent the sculptor from artistically enlivening the mechanically produced figure and its ground? “But there is more: for all its extravagance, the century remains economical. Pure art seems to it something expensive. With the cheekiness of a parvenu, it sometimes dares to haggle over masterworks. It is terrifeied of marble and bronze.. But photosculpture is not so daunting as statuary… Photosculpture is used to modest proportions and is content with a set of shelves for pedestal, happy to have faithfully reproduced a beloved countenance.. It does not disdain an overcoat, and is not embarrasses by crinolines; it accepts nature and the world as they are. Its sincerity accommodates everything, and though its plaster casts of stearin can be transposed into marble, into terracotta, into alabaster, or bronze… it never asks, in return for its work, what its elder sister would demand in payment; it requsests only the cost of materials.’ Theophile Gautier / Photosculpture: 42 Boulevard de L’Etoile 

The Seven Old Men

To Victor Hugo

Teeming, swarming city, city full of dreams,
Where specters in broad day accost the passer-by!
Everywhere mysteries flow like the sap in a tree
Through the narrow canals of the mighty giant.

One morning, while in a gloomy street the houses,
Whose height was increased by the mist, simulated
The quais of a swollen river, and while
— A setting that was like the actor's soul —

A dirty yellow fog inundated all space,
I was following, steeling my nerves like a hero,
Arid arguing with my already weary soul,
A squalid street shaken by the heavy dump-carts.

Suddenly an old man whose tattered yellow clothes
Were of the same color as the rainy heavens,
And whose aspect would have brought him showers of alms
If his eyes had not gleamed with so much wickedness,

Appeared to me. One would have said his eyes were drenched
With gall; his look sharpened the winter's chill,
And his long shaggy beard, like that of Judas,
Projected from his chin as stiffly as a sword.

He was not bent over, but broken; his back-bone
Made with his legs a perfect right angle,
So that his stick, completing the picture,
Gave him the appearance and clumsy gait

Of a lame quadruped or a three-legged Jew.
He went hobbling along in the snow and the mud
As if he were crushing the dead under his shoes;
Hostile, rather than indifferent to the world,

His likeness followed him: beard, eye, back, stick, tatters,
No mark distinguished this centenarian twin,
Who came from the same hell, and these baroque specters
Were walking with the same gait toward an unknown goal.

Of what infamous plot was I then the object,
Or what evil chance humiliated me thus?
For I counted seven times in as many minutes
That sinister old man who multiplied himself!

Let him who laughs at my disquietude,
And who is not seized with a fraternal shudder,
Realize that in spite of such decrepitude
Those hideous monsters had an eternal look!

Could I, without dying, have regarded the eighth,
Unrelenting Sosia, ironic and fatal,
Disgusting Phoenix, son and father of himself?
— But I turned my back on that hellish procession.

Exasperated like a drunk who sees double,
I went home; I locked the door, terrified,
Chilled to the bone and ill, my mind fevered, confused,
Hurt by that mysterious and absurd happening!

Vainly my reason tried to take the helm;
The frolicsome tempest baffled all its efforts,
And my soul, old sailing barge without masts,
Kept dancing, dancing, on a monstrous, shoreless sea!

— William Aggeler, The Flowers of Evil (Fresno, CA: Academy Library Guild, 1954)

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