Photography's New Materiality

Beyond the Ontology of the Image?

John Lechte

Introduction

I have argued in my book, Genealogy and Ontology of the Western Image (2012), that the image is not an object or thing but is an utter transparency, the ‘presence of the thing in its absence’. I have said, further, that the image today, in the twenty-first century, is not cut off from the image in its theological past (even if the terms of the debate are very different), but is intimately connected to this past, particularly its Byzantine past, where the question of the image centres on whether or not it can circumscribe the divinity of Christ – whether or not, in other words, it can circumscribe the uncircumscribable and allow to appear that which is, in visual terms, forever hidden. In the present context, I would like to extend the thinking on the ontology[1] of the image begun in the book, in order, precisely, to deepen an understanding of the image, both ontologically speaking and perhaps, with the help of Levinas, beyond ontology. A particular reason for this is that in a so-called secular age the apparently transcendent quality of the image is barely accessible. Indeed, so inaccessible is this transcendence that a common way to approach it is to ignore it, and to view the image as an object like any other object (cf. Aumont  1997: 102).

However, as Giorgio Agamben’s work in the political field shows, the denial and repression of transcendence with regard to the human (but I suggest the same applies to the image) leaves us with an ideology of crude materialism – the human, in this way, being reduced to mere aliveness as its essential being, while the image would be confused with what is claimed to be its essentially objective (i.e., material) form. In this sense, what I call the doxa surrounding the image, and the photographic image in particular, is ‘that a photograph is a three dimensional thing, not only a two-dimensional image. As such, photographs exist materially in the world, as chemical deposits on paper’ (Edwards and Hart 2004: 1). Edwards and Hart go on to say that: ‘Photographs are both images and physical objects’ (2004: 1).  On the one hand, our authors want to distinguish the image from its objective incarnation, while, on the other hand, they want to identify the image with its material incarnation – a point exemplified by the sub-title of the book of which Edwards and Hart are the editors, namely, On the Materiality of Images. Edwards and Hart, in their Introduction, give us the doxa’s view of the image as a thing – as when someone says, pointing at a painting, ‘that’s an interesting image’. [2] Let us, though, try to work through this. For if the image is a thing like any other thing, it seems difficult say that the image has any unique status. As an object-thing, the image is just like every other object-thing. In relation to this, the point to make is that the image is not at all an object-thing. And this, indeed, is why we can talk about images as such. What the doxa does do, however, is raise the question of the image’s incarnation, an important issue that I will barely be able to touch upon in this paper.

What I have said of the image, Levinas says of the epiphany of the face, of the absolute Other, of infinity, of the trace (Levinas 1963: 613 and 1990: 211-215, 293). For these (and more) are all instances of immediacy, not mediation, where the image as object is consigned. Not that Levinas would concede that the image is in fact comparable to the epiphany of the face or something as enigmatic as the trace, which is always ultimately the trace of the Other. Even if it is not adequate for Levinas, the question I ask is: to what extent does the movement and dynamic of Levinas’s thought constitute a fruitful basis for an extended meditation on the image, given that, like Levinas, my aim is to show that the image is not an object of knowledge, nor a form of mediation in the commonly accepted sense, nor a simulacrum, as formulations of the 1970s would have it? In this regard, it is also necessary to contemplate a movement ‘beyond’ ontology. I will address these issues, to the extent that space allows, later in the essay.      

 

On the Question: What is an Image?

When we ask the question, ‘what?’ – as in: ‘what is an Image?’ – the call for an enumeration of qualities is implied, an object, or thing, of some kind is presupposed. ‘What?’ is a call for analysis over synthesis, of parts over the whole, of an epistemological over an ontological approach. [3] Moreover, this same question, posits the subject-object relation, which is constitutive, as Heidegger and others have said, of epistemology itself. What is more, however, is that such a positing implies that a given subject confronts an object, whereas, clearly, it is not necessarily the case that the subject is prior to the object. [4] ‘What is an image?’, then, asks: what sort of a thing is an image? – and: ‘how can we get to know it?’ But if an image is not the sort of thing one can ‘know’, a very different dynamic is in play. What, indeed, if an image (or images), in being utterly transparent, is not available for analysis? What if the image, being prior to subjectivity were at least partially constitutive of subjectivity and epistemology? We have to be open to these possibilities. For it may be, for instance, that the image exists only at the level of what is equivalent to the enactment of language – to the énonciation in Benveniste’s sense, where pronouns, for example, only have meaning at the moment of the enactment of the discourse in which they occur (Benveniste 1966: 252). The objectification of language, studied at the level of énoncés as already completed language acts is often the way of linguistics. [5]  Because, as I shall propose, the image essentially exists at the level of énonciation and is, as we indicated, utterly transparent, Maurice Blanchot is able to say: ‘When there is nothing, the image finds in this nothing its necessary condition, but then it disappears’ (Blanchot 1982: 254). It is thus this ‘nothing’ of the image that evokes its transparency in a manner analogous to an énonciation, where its essential being is not open to analysis. This is to imply that the image as commonly understood – the image as object – is not the image as such.

Analysis as it is often practised by the objectifying gaze of the philosopher and the art historian is not adequate to the task of grasping the ontology of the image. An example from cinema can serve to illustrate this. Thus, in his re-make of Dennis Hopper’s 1968 film about New Yorkgangs, Colors, film maker, Cory Arcangel, reduces the movie in question to its colour data. The screen, as a result, does not show figures acting out a scenario, but vertical lines of changing colours – the colours of which (one presumes it is being suggested)  the film is composed. [6]

It might be thought that this is an extreme example, but its purpose is to show that, essentially, analysis is not concerned with the ‘surface’ of things. Rather, analysis is concerned with ‘what’ the object is beneath the surface of things, founded as it is on the appearance-reality opposition.  A strictly analytical approach, then, begins to resemble the unconcern for meaning found in information theory, where what is at issue is the probability that input into a channel will equal output. Information becomes a strictly physical process unaffected by context. Meaning, by contrast, introduces an element of synthesis (a knot to be unravelled), something in need of analysis, so that features can be revealed that are independent of any context. [7] Speaking analytically, then, objects are matter; matter is energy; energy is light. D.H. Lawrence gives a partial version of this equation:

we realise finally that matter is only a form of energy, whatever that may be, in the same instant matter rises up and hits us over the head and makes us realize that it exists absolutely, since it is compact energy itself. Cézanne felt it in paint, when he felt for the apple’ (in Davies (1973) cited in Bann 1989: 73).

Analysis, then, inaugurates a spiral that seems to end in a nothingness (a perfect simplicity) that is unalysable: every identity is actually something other than identity. 

For Freud, as we know, this was the dream’s navel, a navel that has no (accessible) meaning. And, according to Heidegger, the earliest use of the word, ‘analysis’ is to be found in Homer, where it means ‘the unravelling of a woven fabric into its component parts’ (Heidegger  2001: 114). [8] It thus evokes the notion of text.  From this, we should not assume that a text is essentially what calls for analysis. For the weaving of a text and the constitution of a knot of meanings – its being a synthesis – would seem equally appropriate.

Of further note with regard to the example taken from the Odyssey is that Odysseus returns home, to what is familiar, to the order of the same – which Levinas interprets as an allegory of Western knowledge. Western knowledge renders what is other the same. All knowledge thus becomes a ‘returning home’ to, or a re-cognition of, that which can be integrated into the order of things. 

Historically, the work of Timothy Reiss has suggested that the an ‘analytico-referential’ paradigm comes to take precedence during the European Renaissance and, subsequently, in modernity, where thought comes to organise the world, whereas prior to this, the world was the basis of the organisation of thought within a paradigm that Reiss calls ‘patterned thinking’, thinking based in images (see Reiss 1982 and Lechte 2012: 48-51). In this regard too, the world of the book is an analytical world, in which, as Gregory Ulmer (1989) says, the development of the Greek alphabet becomes the mainstay of modern literacy (1989: 70-71). Walter Ong, citing the work of Kerckhove (1981), points out that ‘more than other writing systems, the completely phonetic alphabet favors left-hemisphere activity in the brain, and thus on neurophysiological grounds fosters abstract, analytic thought’ (Ong 1997: 91). Of all alphabets that of the Greeks is closest to being a pure code – that is, to being a system of elements in which the relation to what is signified is totally arbitrary. A code is thus an analytical device in the sense that it is entirely abstract (without context) and in itself meaningless. 

To say, then, that the image, in contrast to the alphabet, is based in ‘patterning’, is to contrast it to analytical thought, and throws up the issue of how the image can be thought without it being entirely betrayed. For, either we are in the domain of ‘patterning’, or we are in the realm of the alphabet (analysis). It is possible – albeit a little speculatively – to say that the emerging dominance of writing and literature in the Renaissance and beyond is at the same time parallel to the fading of the influence of the image as image. Henceforth, there will be a repression of the image, as endeavours take place to turn it into an object – hence into an analytically founded text. 

The image, then, is not an object of knowledge, any more than it is an empirical object. This means that, while the imaged is present and can be analysed the image as such never is, as it is absolutely invisible. When Sartre talks about the image of his friend, Pierre, he is talking about the presence in his absence of Pierre himself. In his analysis, Sartre is in fact analysing Pierre’s features, but he could be analysing the mode of incarnation of Pierre as image – in a photograph or a painting, for example – where materiality is at issue (Sartre 2004: 22).


The Image is not a Concept

In a key passage for our purposes, an historian of antiquity (particularly the Roman period), points to the way the image as such – in this case the image as sacred -- arises in antiquity:

antiquity offered a world of sacred images. It was for instance, not always possible to differentiate the deity from his or her statue. In Greek language this gives rise to the interesting ambiguity that, for example, ‘Artemis’ can mean equally the goddess herself or an image of her (Elsner 2007:11).

The treatment of the statue as equivalent to the treatment of the god is similar to what happens in both Greek and Byzantine culture. Vernant (2011) argues that ‘archaic’ Greece did not have a concept of the image or of the figurative, which only became extant with Plato, but that this did not at all preclude the image from working as effigy, apparition and double (see 2011: 407). The point here is that the enactment of theoria, as the viewing of the object, is not essential to the nature and working of the image. [9]

Statues might be dressed, paraded, washed, fed, and worshipped; they were imagined to have volition and magical power (oracular, talismanic, healing, or malevolent); and more important statues were even capable of intervening in legal problems or power politics – by granting sanctuary, for instance (Elsner 2007: 11-12).

In the confrontation with the sacred image, the image ‘looks back’ at the viewer, has an impact on the viewer – to the point, perhaps, where in contemporary terms, the image is in part constitutive of the viewer. Thus, Elsner, writes that:

Viewing the sacred is a process of divesting the spectator of all the social and discursive elements which distinguish his subjectivity from that of the god into whose space the viewer will come. In the reciprocal gaze of the divine confrontation, there is a form of visuality in which the image does not just look back at the viewer, but in which the viewer has specifically made the journey in order that the image should look back (2007: 23. Elsner’s emphasis).

Here again it is clear that the image is something that, analytically, cannot entirely be fathomed. The closest we can get is to say that it is an invisible otherness that cannot be contained within a concept. This quasi defiance of the concept is not just an occurrence in relation to the effigy and apparition, as was the case in Ancient Greece, but is the same across the ages. This is part of the ontology of the image.[10] The image, then, is essentially non-conceptual. It is not the object of any mode of theoria: ‘theoria, which from Plato to the church fathers means contemplation, meditation, vision’ (Elsner 2007: 24). The image is an invisibility – or at least is ‘independent of visibility’ – as Marie-José Mondzain shows in the context of Byzantine culture. Mondzain summarises this point as follows:

In sum, the natural image allows a founding definition of the image radically independent of visibility. To be seen is not the point of the image, and visibility does not belong to its essential definition. The gap which necessarily separates every model from its expression in signs is not its purpose (ressort), for, moreover, neither expressivity nor the sign make up its definition. Being at one with the economic figure of the procession of the divine, it is the latter’s manifestation and distribution, firstly, in the invisible figure of similitude, then in the deployment of carnal visibility. Thus, the icon, an image of an image, would also not be expressive, signifying or referential. It will not come to be inscribed in the space of a gap, but will incarnate withdrawal itself. It is in the withdrawal of the figure that is effected a transformation of the flesh which becomes body in the natural image. It is the natural image which designates the icon, not the reverse (Mondzain 2005: 80-81. Mondzain’s emphasis, trans modified).

The image, Mondzain adds, is ‘acheiropoietic’ (2005: 84): untouched by human hand (from: acheiropoietos) – i.e., the image is not a production of any kind and is thus not marked by this. Or rather, if it is ‘produced’, the producer is guided by an external power. Clearly, this is the opposite of the way the image is approached today, with disciplines such as semiotics, media and cinema studies wanting to show how the image is marked by its production, that it is the image as object that we see, not necessarily the thing itself. Significantly, the term, acheiropoietos, appears in Barthes’s Camera Lucida (1993: 82), in order to indicate that, for him, the photograph is not an index of its production, but rather puts us in touch with the imaged because it (the photograph) is an ‘evidential force’. 

In keeping with the logic of acheiropoietos, the ‘natural’ image is the image in its absolute transparency and invisibility. The only way that the working of its power can be perceived is via the icon. The icon is, in a certain sense, the incarnation, as relative similitude, of the image. Christ thus occupies the place of the natural image. His divinity can only be contained in the natural image, which is invisible, not in the icon as such. In a certain sense, therefore, the iconoclasts were concerned that people were venerating icons rather than images. Here, let it not be forgotten that the divine and the infinite are always in a transductive relation in the sense that the presence of one is nothing without the presence of the other. So, if the image makes the divine present in a certain way, it would also make the infinite present. 

 

The Image and Trace: The Approach of Levinas

If we approach the image in terms of the notion of trace as developed in Emmanuel Levinas’s philosophy, there are a number of issues that must be addressed. Not the least of these is the fact that Levinas often speaks as though for him also, the image is an object. In this regard, the image in relation to the famous idea of the fact of the Other, is understood as ‘plasticity’ or as a ‘mask’ that hides the Other’s otherness. It is only when we examine carefully what Levinas means by ‘trace’ that a connection can be made with the image, as I have outlined it. We must also confront another issue, however, if Levinas is to provide any insight with regard to the image that is not an object or plasticity. It is that Levinas argues that if one is to avoid reducing otherness to the order of the same – if one, in other words, is truly to avoid objectifying otherness – an ontological approach, too, must be avoided. Although this thesis is most fully developed in Totality and Infinity and Otherwise than Being, a clear summary statement is given in the philosopher’s essay on the trace:

Western philosophy coincides with the unveiling of the Other where the Other, in manifesting itself as being, loses its alterity. Philosophy suffers, since its infancy, from a horror of the Other which remains Other, from an insurmountable allergy.  It is for this reason that it is essentially a philosophy of being and that the comprehension of the other is its last word and the fundamental structure of man. It is for this reason also that it becomes a philosophy of immanence and of autonomy, or atheism. The God of philosophers, from Aristotle to Leibnitz, passing by the God of the Scholastiques, is a god adequate to reason, a god understood who would not know how to trouble the autonomy of consciousness, the latter finding itself by way of all its adventures returning to itself like Ulysses who, through all his peregrinations, only goes towards his native island (Levinas 1963 : 607).

To unveil the Other, to render it present as an object for philosophy (as Western philosophy has attempted to do), to make it part of a philosophy of being (= ontology) is, Levinas claims, to obliterate its otherness as otherness, difference as difference. Even ontology, in short, turns out to be a process of objectification that renders the Other part of the order of the same. 

What Levinas shows, indeed, is that any ontological approach to the image has to be more subtle than has yet been evidenced by the history of Western philosophy – including Heidegger’s philosophy. For my part this entails that any clear-cut statement as to what the image is must be avoided with, instead, ‘a gesturing towards’ the image being the way to do justice to the image as such.

The notion of Desire as Levinas delineates it offers a first step towards the notion of image that I want to pursue here. Desire, irreducible to need, is essentially insatiable and renders the self empty, inconsequential and ‘compromises the sovereign identification of the Self’ (1963: 612) vis-`a-vis the Other. My desire ‘is’ thus radically other to the extent that the ‘epiphany’ of the Other’s face becomes an experience of the immediacy of a ‘visitation’ (1963: 613). This immediacy I attribute to the image, but which Levinas withholds from the image that he characterises as a ‘plasticity’, which evokes mediation: ‘Whereas the phenomenon is already an image, a captive manifestation of its plastic and mute form, the epiphany of the face is alive’. (1963 : 613). As a plasticity, the image also for Levinas evokes the mask. Thus the image of the face is essentially a mask of the face, the tool of a persona that is always implicated in a representation. Here, Levinas is very close to treating the image in terms of the doxa as an object. I suggest, however, that the image is more in keeping with what Levinas before Derrida calls ‘trace’.

Here we find that the trace has two aspects: there is the trace understood in common sense, or in terms of the doxa, as an object in space. This is then the trace, or traces, of the classic detective story – or even of semiotics [11]-- where it has a spatial incarnation. Psychoanalysis is also included here to the extent that a trace is treated as a manipulable physical entity. 

The trace of which Levinas speaks is one where there is no intention involved. It is the trace of the Other that the Other does not present to me but which constitutes a meagre incarnation. The trace of the Other, Levinas says, is like the trace one leaves in attempting to cover up one’s traces – a trace one leaves absolutely despite oneself, a trace that is an immediacy and cannot be represented. This is a trace that is essentially not part of the finite world, where it would be integrated into a totality. Rather, it gives rise to an infinity that stands out from the world, much like, I would say, a ghost or an apparition – entities of which we would say that they are decidedly not of this world.  The trace, then, is the mode of the Other’s abiding presence without this meaning that the Other is simply present, in the world.[12] But the real force of Levinas’s insight with regard to the image, beyond any issue of plasticity in this world  is captured in the following statement: ‘To be the image of God does not signify to be the icon of God, but to be found in His trace’ (Levinas 1963: 623). The basis of this insight, then, is that the true image is not at all an object in the world, finitely circumscribed by a totality, but is rather implicated in the play of the infinite where the absolute Other finds its mode of presence.

By following Levinas’s critique of ontology in the use of the terms, ‘trace’ and ‘differance’, Jacques Derrida, in his seminal work, Of Gramatology (1976), gestures toward the idea that analysis is essentially stymied by the impossibility to establish an origin: ‘The trace is in fact the absolute origin of sense in general. Which amounts to saying once again that there is no absolute origin of sense in general. The trace is the differance which opens appearance (l’apparaître) and signification (Derrida 1976: 65; Derrida’s emphasis ). [13] Here again, trace would be evocative of the image. For, while the image gives rise to that which appears, it does not appear as such. Or, in Derrida’s words, we can ‘call trace that which does not let itself be summed up in the simplicity of a present (Derrida 1976: 66. Derrida’s emphasis). Like the trace, like time, like infinity and all those entities which never appear as such, the image, too, is not present.

 

Beyond a Productivist Metaphysic

Following Levinas and after him, Derrida, we can thus avoid approaching the image as the outcome of a technology or of a human intention or social conditions or, indeed, as an artistic expression. The contexts enumerated imply that an image is essentially produced, that it is therefore an object, the nature of which is determined by a mode of production. Beginning with the Latin ‘pictūra’, meaning ‘the art of painting’ and coming to the fore in the Renaissance with the theory of perspective developed by Alberti (1404-1472) and moving through to the nineteenth century, where the closest German word for image, namely, Bild, evokes the idea of picture, or tableau, we have the clear evolution of the image as the outcome of production. As Rudolph Gashé notes, in citing Jean Beaufret:

It is important to recall here, as Beaufret has pointed out, that the meaning of Kantian imagination rather than drawing on the semantics of the Latin imago, which according to Thomas Aquinas is believed to originate in the verb imitari, draws on the German meaning of Bild in Einbildungskraft [= imagination]. Beaufret notes that Bild is closer in its meaning to painting, tableau, or scene, than to image’ (Gashé 1990: 98).

And Johannes Giesinger notes that it was in the nineteenth century that Bild ‘gained its specific meaning’ as pictorial object (Giesinger 2012: 2 ).[14]

The key point here, which can only be touched on, is that Bild thus gives to the image an objective status, beginning with the imagination, Bild is then reproduced in the work of art or any other objective form. In other words, such an interpretation of Bild, consolidates the status of the image in modernity’s terms as a mediating object. It is, then, precisely this version of the image – the image as the outcome of a productivist metaphysic – a version that, in any event, can only be known, or theorised a posteriori, that this essay has endeavoured to contest.

References

Aumont, Jacques (1997) The Image, trans. Claire Pajackowska,London: The British Film  Institute.

Bann, Stephen (1989) The True Vine: On Visual Representation and the Western Tradition, Princeton:PrincetonUniversity Press.

Barber, Charles. 2002. Figure and Likeness; On the Limits of Representation in Byzantine Iconoclasm, Princeton andOxford:PrincetonUniversity Press.

Barthes, Roland (1993) Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, trans. Richard Howard London: Vintage.

Belting, Hans. (1996 {1990}). Likeness and Presence: A History of the Image Before the Era of Art, trans. Edmund Jephcott,Chicago andLondon: The University ofChicago Press. Paperback edition.

Benveniste, Émile (1966) Problèmes de linguistique générale I, Paris: Gallimard.

Blanchot, Maurice (1982) The Space of Literature trans. Ann Smock,Lincoln andLondon, Uni ofNebraska Press.

Derrida, Jacques (1976) Of Grammatology, trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak,Baltimore andLondon: TheJohnsHopkinsUniversity Press.

Davies, J.V., ed. (1973), Lawrence on Hardy and Painting,London: Heinemann Educational.

Eco, Umberto (1984) The Name of the Rose, trans William Weaver,San Diago,New York,London: Harcourt Brace & Company.

Elsner, Jaś (2007) Roman Eyes: Visuality &Subjectivity in Art and Text, Princeton andOxford:PrincetonUniversity Press.

Edwards, Elizabethand Hart, Janice, eds, (2004) Photographs, Objects, Histories: On the Materiality of Images,New York: Routledge.

Gashé, Rudolph (1990) ‘Some Reflections on the Notion of Hypotyposis in Kant’, Argumentation, 4: 1, 85-100.

Giesinger, Johannes (2012) ‘Liberal Education/Bildung: Arguments For and Against

Seminar at the Catholic University of Louvain (17 October), available at:   

http://www.erziehungsphilosophie.ch/vortraege/Giesinger_Bildung_Leuven.pdf

Accessed 13 January 2013.

Hayles, N. Katherine (1999) How We Became Posthuman: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature and Informatics,Chicago:University ofChicago Press.

Heidegger, Martin (2001) Zollikon Seminars, trans. Franz Mayr and Richard Askay, Evanston, Illinois: Northwwater University Press.

Homer (1991) The Illiad, trans. Robert Fitzgerald,Oxford:OxfordUniversity Press.

Kerckhove, Derrick de (1981) ‘Oral Poetry: Some Linguistic and Typological Considerations’, in Benjamin A. Stolz and Richard S. Shannon, eds, Oral Literature and the Formula, Ann Arbor, Mich: Centree for the Coodination of Ancient and Modern Studies, 73-106.

Kristeva, Julia (1984) Revolution in Poetic Language, trans. Margaret Waller,New York:ColumbiaUniversity Press.

Lechte, John (2012) Genealogy and Ontology of the Western Image and its Digital Future,New York andLondon: Routledge.

Levinas, Emmanuel (1990) Totalité et infini : Essai sur l’extériorité, Paris : Livre de poche.

Manghani, Sunil (2012) Image Studies: Theory and Practice, Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.

Manghani, Sunil; Piper, Arthur and Simons, Jon, eds (2006) Images: A Reader,London,Thousand Oaks,New Delhi: Sage.

Mondzain, Marie-José. 2005. Image, Icon, Economy: The Byzantine Origins of the Contemporary Imaginary, trans. RicoFrances, Stanford:StanfordUniversity Press.

Ong, Walter J. 1997. Orality and Literacy: The Technologising of the Word,London andNew York: Routledge.

Reiss, Timothy J. (1982) The Discourse of Modernism,Ithaca andLondon:CornellUniversity Press.

Sartre, Jean-Paul (2004). The Imaginary: A Phenomenological Psychology of the Imagination, trans. Jonathan Webber,London andNew York: Routledge.

Scheid, John and Svenbro, Jesper (2001) The Craft of Zeus, trans carol Volk, Harvard: Harvard University Press.

Simondon, Gilles (1989)  L’individuation psychique et collective, Aubier

Ulmer, Gregory (1989), Teletheory: Grammatology in the Age of Video,New York andLondon: Routledge.

Vernant, Jean-Pierre (2011) ‘Semblances of Pandora: Imitation and Identity’, trans. Froma Zeitlin, Critical Inquiry, 37: 3 (Spring), 404-418. 

 

Footnotes

  1. As we shall see later, however, even ontology may not be adequate for approaching the image. back
  2.  

  3. Another set of editors confirm the doxa with regard to the image when they refer to the ‘study of images’ and say that ‘in so far as images are objects of study and enquiry ..’ (Manghi, Piper and Simons 2006: 1). Ironically, in the multitude of works on the image what is precisely never brought to presence is – the image. back
  4.  

  5. In his recent book on the image, Sunil Manghani (2012) reiterates, unreflectively, the question, ‘what?’ with regard to the image: ‘At the heart of the book are two deceptively simple questions: (1) What is an image? And (2) How do images differ from words?’ (2012: xxii).   back
  6.  

  7. In different ways, the work of both Gilles Simondon (1989) and Julia Kristeva (1984) has shown the erroneousness of the positing of a subject prior to its objects. back
  8.  

  9. It might be objected that the whole of literature is effectively consolidated at the level of the énoncé, something implied by the fact that it is essentially available for scholarly attention. However, to read a text in terms of its meaning and not simply in terms of its objective qualities (énoncé) is to read at the level of énonciation. The same also applies to works of art: they can be treated as objects (énoncés) to be studied, or as that with which a living relation is maintained – the level of énonciation. back
  10.  

  11. Information on this is available at:  http://www.moma.org/explore/multimedia/audios/34/809, viewed 10 January 2013. This work by Arcangel is also on long term loan at the Tate Modern, London. For an explanatory note by curator, Stuart Comer, go to:  http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks?rid=7627&ws=date&wv=grid, viewed 10 January 2013. back
  12.  

  13. Katherine Hayles amplifies what is at issue here. She writes, in relation toShannonand Wiener’s theory: ‘Note that the theory is formulated entirely without reference to what information means. Only the probabilities of message elements enter into the equations. Why divorce information from meaning? Shannon and Wiener wanted information to have a stable value as it moved from one context to another. If it was tied to meaning, it would potentially have to change values every time it was embedded in a new context, because context affects meaning’ (Hayles 1999: 53). back
  14.  

  15. While we know that Penelope unravelled her weaving in order to avoid having to choose, the question remains as to the need to unravel, as in analysis. What constitutes the drive to analyse? In their work, The Craft of Zeus (2001), Scheid and Svenbro point out that, unlike sacrifice, where ‘to divide is to unite’, weaving ‘unites what must be united. To weave is to unite, to interlace, to bind: the act is so straightforward that it requires no explanation’ (2001: 10). back
  16.  

  17. In a vein similar to Elsner, Vernant remarks (1996, 380) that, in the Illiad, in making an offering to Athena’s statue in her tomb, Hecabe  ignores the fact that it is a statue with which she is dealing and acts as though Athena herself were entirely present. Thus, as the epic has it, Hecabe goes to her chamber where her robes are kept and selects ‘her loveliest robe, most ample, most luxurious in brocade, and glittering like starlight under all. This offering she carried to Athena with a long line of women in her train. Athena’s shrine was opened ...  Now all crying loud stretched out their arms in prayer, while Theano with grace took up the robe to place it on fair-haired Athena’s knees’ (Homer Illiad 1991, Bk VI, 295-300; 302-305). back
  18. For his part, Hans Belting (1996) argues that it is only with the Reformation that the objectification of images arose along with the era of art, and that before this there is the ‘era of images’, where the prototype is present in an image – or rather, where there is no difference between prototype and image. While this view has been challenged by a number of commentators, including Elsner (2007: 51n.7) and Barber (2002), it is notable that no one disputes the fact that, as we have seen in Elsner, prior to the Reformation, prototype and image can coincide, whereas afterwards this is not the case. The real debate, however, is in fact about whether there was art criticism prior to the modern era (Barber argues that there was)  and whether there are still images in the classical (or true?) sense in the modern era. With regard to the latter, I argue that there are.   

     

  19. In other words, it is not at all a matter of an historicist approach to the image, where the nature of the image would be relative to a specific historical context, but of the essential nature of the image, whether or not this is rendered extant. back
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  21. This is illustrated in Umberto Eco’s novel, The Name of the Rose  (1984), when, in 1327 before the common sense notion of trace was prevalent, the hero, William, is able to give the exact location of the prized horse gone missing, ‘Brunellus’. This he does by interpreting traces. Thus, William points out to his companion, Adso, that: ‘At the crossroads, on the still-fresh snow, a horse’s footprints stood out very neatly, heading for the path to our left. Neatly spaced, those marks said that the hoof was small and round, and the gallop quite regular’ (1984: 4). As we shall see, the Levinasian trace is one beyond that outlined by William. back
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  23. As Levinas writes the Other’s presence, ‘consists in coming towards us, to make an entrance. It is what can announce itself thus: the phenomenon as the apparaition of the Other is also the face’ (613). Again: ‘the epiphany of the face is a visitation’. (613) back
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  25. Later Derrida will explicitly link the notion of ‘trace’ to Levinas’s thought: ‘I relate this concept of trace to what is at the centre of the latest work of Emmanuel Levinas and his critique of ontology’ (Derrida 1976: 70, Derrida’s emphasis). It will be necessary to reconsider the notion of the ontology of the image in this light.  back
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  27. Giesinger also evokes – perhaps against the nineteenth century meaning of Bild -- Meister Eckhart’s notion of the ‘human being as an image of God (imago Dei; Gottes Ebenbild)’ (Giesinger 2012: 2), a notion that implies that the image and the imaged are one. back
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