1-1 | Table of Con­tents | http://​dx​.doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​7​7​4​2​/​I​M​A​G​E​.​i​n​a​u​g​u​r​a​l​.​1​-​1.7 | Scrivano PDF


Fab­rizio Scrivano [trans. Lise Hogan] |

On the Undecidability of Images (in communication)

W.J.T. Mitchell sus­tained that one can remain par­a­lyzed in front of an image when this image simul­ta­ne­ous­ly stirs up var­i­ous alter­na­tive read­ings. It has to do with a “sparkling effect” of the mean­ing, mak­ing the image seem like a desir­ing machine, caus­ing the spec­ta­tor to feel inter­ro­gat­ed by the image and thus to find with­in it a desire for autonomous com­mu­ni­ca­tion. With this hypoth­e­sis, Mitchell want­ed to jus­ti­fy the ori­gin and the per­ma­nence of the mag­ic attrib­uted to the image in old and new cul­tures, where these images could be treat­ed as ani­mal objects or voli­tion­al beings, as ven­er­at­ed idols or as fear-inspir­ing amulets. An enor­mous pow­er is attrib­uted to these images, pos­si­bly even greater than what can be con­trolled by observers and the actu­al pro­duc­ers of the images. Cer­tain­ly, there exist a rhetoric and a log­ic of fear, which exceed the ancient rhetoric and log­ic of wonderment.

As Rudolf Arn­heim has often lament­ed, against an intru­sive and unre­strained usage of images, there is actu­al­ly lit­tle train­ing about images, so that the knowl­edge or aware­ness of the effects pro­duced by images in human beings and their world per­cep­tion is, at best, an auto­di­dac­tic expe­ri­ence. In fact, only an edu­cat­ed class has any idea of how images work. Hence there is a gen­er­al impres­sion that images hold a cer­tain pow­er and that they are instru­ments of a pow­er that remains hidden.

Nev­er­the­less, it is hard to deny that, simul­ta­ne­ous­ly, the oppo­site feel­ing is equal­ly wide­spread among the many, that is, that images are the best and most direct way to trans­mit the evi­dence of things and sit­u­a­tions. In oth­er words, that images are a tech­nol­o­gy of dif­fu­sion of the real aspect of real­i­ty (what­ev­er this expres­sion means). In eval­u­at­ing the faith­ful­ness of images, we have always made use of a prin­ci­ple of the like­ness between the image and the direct visu­al expe­ri­ence, which, evi­dent­ly, no longer holds any valid­i­ty, at least since the inven­tion of pho­tog­ra­phy and the prac­tice of mon­tage, which enabled the pro­duc­tion of per­fect­ly con­vinc­ing, yet false, images.

There is no con­tra­dic­tion in this nat­ur­al ambiva­lence of the image, which makes it simul­ta­ne­ous­ly a repos­i­to­ry of secret pow­er and a mir­ror of the real. There is no con­tra­dic­tion since it is well known that real­i­ty is magical!

The truth is that images are at the same time mate­r­i­al real­i­ty and sym­bol­ic real­i­ty: they are per­ceived as things, per­haps as things indi­cat­ing things, while also being per­ceived as signs, as instru­ments of mean­ing. Images are not only used to show or to bring some­thing into evi­dence; they are also often used, if not pre­dom­i­nant­ly, as a lan­guage, as obser­va­tion tools. The dis­tinc­tion between these two usages is not always evident—acknowledging that it is actu­al­ly valid: in fact, the chan­nel through which images are expe­ri­enced, sight (includ­ing the entire appa­ra­tus of sight, from the eyes to the mind) has such an impor­tant impli­ca­tion for the body that, often, the char­ac­ter­is­tics of abstrac­tion of the visu­al func­tion can­not be per­ceived nor com­plete­ly valued.

This state of affairs makes it more dif­fi­cult to under­stand images in the scope of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, because the image always has an ambiva­lent con­tent: it shows things and artic­u­lates mean­ing. For its pur­pos­es, com­mu­ni­ca­tion some­times trades on—not always knowingly—this dou­ble deno­ta­tion or ref­er­ence of the image. This com­pli­cates the whole prob­lem, because it imme­di­ate­ly con­cerns the dis­tinct spheres of the orga­ni­za­tion and the use of knowl­edge; that is, it deeply con­cerns epis­te­mo­log­i­cal con­vic­tions (from hypothe­ses on real­i­ty to the con­sol­i­da­tion of cer­tain­ties) as well as behav­iour (from the emo­tive to the eth­i­cal) incit­ed by the image.

In this prob­lem­at­ic out­look, I would now like to address a hand­ful of ques­tions relat­ed to com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Com­mu­ni­ca­tion is an act or a sta­tus, which, seem­ing­ly, our behav­iour can­not ignore: whether it is active or pas­sive, whether it is inter­pre­ta­tive or delib­er­a­tive, whether it is inter­est­ed or dis­tract­ed, it is so per­va­sive as to result in a per­ma­nent yet cor­ro­sive con­di­tion of expe­ri­ence and knowl­edge.[1] The ques­tions con­cern how, and what, we com­mu­ni­cate through and with the image; whether it might con­tain, retain, or pro­duce some­thing that is per­ti­nent to the field of com­mu­ni­ca­tion; whether the com­mu­nica­tive func­tion of the image in some way alludes or refers to this some­thing. I will not direct­ly for­mu­late these ques­tions because, at this point, I do not think I can pro­vide ade­quate respons­es to those vast prob­lem­at­ic areas in which they are intro­duced. Instead, I pro­pose con­crete cas­es, with­out any ambi­tion of these func­tion­ing as mod­els; I hope these will serve to estab­lish some use­ful inter­ac­tions with the object.

 

The Com­mu­nica­tive Image and the Demon­stra­tive Image

We all real­ize per­fect­ly the fact that a large part of our dis­po­si­tions towards rep­re­sent­ed objects has a phan­tas­magor­i­cal ori­gin. That is, both our men­tal atten­tion and the rep­re­sent­ed object are amenable to the medi­a­tion of the image: in cas­es where it is evi­dent and oth­ers where it is not, we expect the image to be pre­dom­i­nant­ly a medi­um of infor­ma­tion.  This is true even in cas­es where it is oth­er­wise evi­dent that the image has, as its object, itself or its elab­o­ra­tive process, or its result­ing effects. Even with a seri­ous diver­gence regard­ing the lin­guis­tic usage of visu­al forms (if the field of infor­ma­tion and the field of art diverge at all), the cer­tain­ty of the visu­al forms’ occur­rence does not always cor­re­spond to an equal assur­ance of their enjoy­ment; rather, their occur­rence is accom­pa­nied by a sen­sa­tion of being devoid of con­scious means of defence towards them. I would also like to address this inse­cu­ri­ty, hop­ing that it will pro­vide a means, as some­times hap­pens, of not hid­ing behind the shield of some weak certainty.

There­fore, I would begin by show­ing the pos­si­bil­i­ty of col­li­sion between the area of the pro­duc­tion of images that seek to inform, and that of images that ques­tion their own vis­i­bil­i­ty; we could name these the func­tion­al and the artis­tic areas. Let’s try to imag­ine, for a sec­ond, what would be the capac­i­ty to effec­tive­ly ori­ent one­self with a pub­lic wash­room sign, which, instead of the typ­i­cal man/woman sign, used Mar­cel Duchamp’s 1917 image of a Uri­nal.

 

Might a woman mis­tak­en­ly enter into a place marked with a male object of use, or would she inter­pret the uri­nal as an icon that indi­cates the species by the gen­der? To start, we might ask: what is it that makes us under­stand that the sign actu­al­ly indi­cates the pres­ence of a wash­room and that it is not just anoth­er of so many vul­gar repro­duc­tions hang­ing on a wall?

These are pos­si­bly ill-placed ques­tions, but an even­tu­al answer con­verges toward a sin­gle point: under­stand­ing to what mea­sure a cer­tain com­pe­tence con­cern­ing the ori­gin (the source) of the sign might influ­ence or some­how relate to the com­mu­nica­tive func­tion. Or bet­ter still, under­stand­ing whether this com­pe­tence is nec­es­sary to the under­stand­ing of the sign. This is an impor­tant ques­tion both in the infor­ma­tive cir­cuit, espe­cial­ly con­cern­ing authen­tic­i­ty, and in the artis­tic cir­cuit, espe­cial­ly con­cern­ing orig­i­nal­i­ty, state­ment, or tem­po­ral arrangement.

Still on the sub­ject of wash­rooms, I would like to show below, a few alter­na­tives to the fig­ur­al indi­ca­tion of the space that are not prob­lem­at­ic. The first is con­ven­tion­al, yet not deprived of a decid­ed­ly plas­tic (though not aes­thet­ic) mean­ing that guar­an­tees its recognisability:

The styl­iza­tion of the fig­ures allows us to grasp the mean­ing with­out too much deduc­tive rea­son­ing. There is no need to fig­ure out the tran­si­tions between sign and mean­ing, and the image-place asso­ci­a­tion is quite automatic.

On the oth­er hand, the des­ig­na­tion in this next label is strong­ly metonymic instead of plastic:

It relies on log­ic of iden­ti­fi­ca­tion that allo­cates the image to a genre and the rhetor­i­cal process of des­ig­na­tion is cer­tain­ly more evi­dent to those who per­form it. In oth­er words, in this image, I have to per­form a con­cep­tu­al con­nec­tion between what is indi­cat­ed in a syn­thet­ic and unam­bigu­ous man­ner and the per­sons who are des­ig­nat­ed in the space behind the door.

When append­ed on a door, both labels sim­ply indi­cate that behind the door there are toi­lets, for men as for women: I do not know whether there will be any fur­ther sep­a­ra­tion of spaces or whether the same space is meant for the use of both gen­ders. More­over, in the sec­ond case, we could per­force imag­ine that the wash­room is reserved for pipe-smok­ing women, but how can we decide whether the “high-heeled shoes” sym­bol pre­cedes and includes the “pipe smok­er” sym­bol? In effect, I could think that it is a wash­room des­ig­nat­ed for trans­ves­tites, that is, men (who smoke pipes and we know that women do not smoke pipes!) who dress as women (in high heels): a hard­ly plau­si­ble inter­pre­ta­tion, yet not impos­si­ble. If, along­side this door, there were oth­er doors with sim­i­lar labels but com­bined dif­fer­ent­ly, for exam­ple, a pipe with men’s shoes and high-heeled shoes with lip­stick, then this hypoth­e­sis would be more ten­able. But then, why would we patron­ize a place that presents such com­pli­cat­ed gen­der signs?

One more image, plas­ti­cal­ly effec­tive and direct, yet a bit con­fus­ing, could be this one:

It is sim­ple enough, yet we can­not help but won­der what is sig­ni­fied by the dupli­ca­tion of the styl­ized male fig­ure: two toi­lets? Men accom­pa­nied by men? Wait in line? I'll repeat it in case you didn’t get it the first time?

We nor­mal­ly ignore these small per­plex­i­ties of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, but their exis­tence demon­strates an impor­tant point: the image con­tains a hid­den residue. The image is a screen where the prac­tice of indi­cat­ing occurs by acti­vat­ing a rela­tion­ship between sign and mean­ing, but it is also some­thing that stands in front of, and stands for, an object. At the same time, an image is a thing and seman­tics about things (sim­i­lar­ly to words).

That the per­cep­tion of the image has an unex­plained and inex­plic­a­ble residue in the actu­al moment of it is sensed and in the moment of it is elab­o­rat­ed on, appears to be a proven fact. What is less clear is why this hap­pens. We could put for­ward at least two hypotheses:

a) the first is that this kind of “mute,” unex­pressed, mean­ing­less residue is some­thing that the per­ceiv­er needs, prac­ti­cal­ly as a means to find com­fort in the exis­tence of some ele­ment of mate­r­i­al real­i­ty in the image. It is as if a sort of island devoid of any mean­ing were pro­duced in the act of per­cep­tion itself that would allow us to sep­a­rate what is nec­es­sary to artic­u­late lin­guis­ti­cal­ly from that which, instead, should not be artic­u­lat­ed but instead giv­en to ensure a ground­ed judgement;

b) the sec­ond hypoth­e­sis is that this residue forms an inti­mate part of the nature of the image, that is, it is some­thing that can­not be omit­ted so that the image may be tru­ly what it is.

In the first case, it would be a ques­tion of a sort of cog­ni­tive mode, which could also be con­sid­ered as an epis­te­mo­log­i­cal pre­con­cep­tion that can under­stand or man­i­fest the act of con­scious­ness only as the expla­na­tion of an inde­pen­dent real­i­ty, which must always and only be inter­pret­ed. Rather, in the sec­ond case, there is some­thing dif­fer­ent from the mean­ing, some­thing that goes in a dif­fer­ent direc­tion from the index­i­cal and gener­i­cal sign func­tion, a quid requir­ing a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent read­ing or open to a total­ly dif­fer­ent expe­ri­ence. In both cas­es there is space for a sort of dou­ble val­ue or a dou­ble scope of the image.

All the mys­tique about the image, that is all the dis­cours­es that have attrib­uted cer­tain virtues to the image have only high­light­ed this dual­i­ty, by high­light­ing the per­cep­tion of this residue that we are talk­ing about: mag­ic, with the attri­bu­tion of effec­tive grounds for the image; ven­er­a­tion, with the ana­gog­i­cal dri­ve towards the rep­re­sent­ed object; and also icon­o­clasm, with the pro­hi­bi­tion of cap­tur­ing the soul with­in the form, all appear as ways of sig­ni­fy­ing that, at the moment when the image estab­lish­es a dura­tion (a tem­po­ral exten­sion char­ac­ter­ized by such a high lev­el of fix­i­ty as to rec­og­nize the per­ma­nence of an object), it also reveals (in the actu­al­ized con­text of the image) the pres­ence of a redun­dant, uncon­trolled real­i­ty, at least not belong­ing to the same order as the visu­al form.

Out­side of a clear­ly meta­phys­i­cal dimen­sion, the per­cep­tion of a residue can also be inter­pret­ed as the prod­uct of the dif­fer­ence between spo­ken and visu­al lan­guages: if in the for­mer, the pri­ma­ry func­tion is nam­ing and in the lat­ter, it is pre-emi­nent­ly dis­play, then we should sup­pose that ver­bal lan­guage sig­ni­fies, while the image demon­strates: but while it is very clear that the sig­ni­fy­ing of some­thing occurs with­in the lim­its of a sys­tem (be it a lan­guage or a code), for which this some­thing is a dis­crete object of the sys­tem, it is cer­tain­ly less evi­dent that the object shown by the image is some­thing, which is dis­crete in a sys­tem of images. It is as if the abstract graph­ic ele­ments of writ­ing and the equal­ly abstract pho­net­ic ele­ments of speech were per­fect­ly grasped (per­ceived) by users as essences that can­not be reduced to the objects for which they appear to stand, while visu­al forms (lines, colours, etc.) would be in greater con­ti­nu­ity with the rep­re­sent­ed world, as if they were made of the same mate­r­i­al. It is clear that this dif­fer­en­ti­a­tion, although it is described a bit coarse­ly at this point, is a fair­ly wide­spread misapprehension.

What this mis­ap­pre­hen­sion espe­cial­ly con­ceals, or at least, what it does not allow us to clar­i­fy, is the fact that ver­bal lan­guage and the image have a com­mon ori­gin in the act, which does not explain any­thing about their nature, form, and struc­ture. But at least it helps us to under­stand that lan­guage and image acquire mean­ing even at the moment in which they are under­stood, accept­ed, and enjoyed as an act, as a behav­iour, as an action; which sim­ply means the mean­ing is not only in the sig­ni­fi­ca­tion, but also in the behav­iour of signs in a con­text where strong­ly het­ero­ge­neous ele­ments inter­act: per­sons, instru­ments, envi­ron­ment. This is a sen­so­r­i­al dimen­sion, the scope of which is prop­er­ly mea­sured in the qual­i­ty of the exchange, that is, in com­mu­ni­ca­tion and in the ulti­mate analy­sis, deal­ing with an exchange of mean­ing­ful and sym­bol­ic val­ues, in a rhetor­i­cal sphere.

But let’s go back to the case that was ini­tial­ly pro­posed and name­ly, to the ques­tion of whether, and in what way, the sig­nalling of the pres­ence of a toi­let behind a door or around a bend, through the repro­duc­tion of Duchamp's Uri­nal, could cor­rect­ly trans­mit the infor­ma­tion “the wash­room is here.” In the case of the plaque dis­play­ing the artis­tic object, we could say that the con­tent of the image is not exhaust­ed by what we under­stand per­cep­tion to be. To those who pos­sess an ade­quate his­tor­i­cal-artis­tic com­pe­tence, the “Duchamp shape” would prob­a­bly be under­stood before the wash­room mark­er; while those who lack this com­pe­tence, that is, those who do not rec­og­nize Duchamp, would pri­mar­i­ly per­ceive a strange and unusu­al sign as opposed to typ­i­cal ones that might even appear too explic­it for indi­cat­ing the pres­ence of a toilet.

The dif­fer­ence between the two appre­hen­sions of the image is that the artis­ti­cal­ly com­pe­tent view­er grasps the metaphor­i­cal aspect of the sign, while the incom­pe­tent one does not grasp the metaphor, though he might under­stand the mes­sage “the wash­room is here.” The lat­ter may miss anoth­er lev­el of mean­ing that may not be in the struc­ture of the image, but rather in its use. I have not hap­haz­ard­ly cho­sen the Duchamp exam­ple: it is well known that the aim of this idle art (which is prac­ti­cal­ly an oxy­moron) was to dis­place the per­cep­tion and the expec­ta­tion of the view­er by propos­ing for the viewer’s con­tem­pla­tion an object of much more pro­sa­ic use than the strict­ly artis­tic one. I can­not reflect here on the var­i­ous posi­tions that crit­i­cism has assumed con­cern­ing the oper­a­tion of this artist, whether it is a ges­ture or a com­po­si­tion,[2] but I can only empha­size the inten­tion of elic­it­ing the begin­nings of a dia­logue by the mere pre­sen­ta­tion of the object, as petu­lant and irrev­er­ent as this dia­logue might be, due to cir­cu­lat­ing pre­cepts about the sta­tus of the fig­u­ra­tive arts; a dia­logue undoubt­ed­ly based on the act of ren­der­ing the object unrec­og­niz­able, estranged, irrel­e­vant in cer­tain famil­iar con­di­tions of vis­i­bil­i­ty and expos­abil­i­ty. The recy­cled use of this image as an indi­ca­tor can­not but appear charged with irony yet, I repeat, the inter­est­ing fact is that, in such a case, the mes­sage to be com­mu­ni­cat­ed main­tains its pri­ma­ry effect even though large parts or lay­ers of mean­ing may not be com­plete­ly under­stood. In what sense, then, can we speak here of residue? Can we con­sid­er as such that which the incom­pe­tent view­er is miss­ing, that is, that com­plex lev­el of rep­re­sen­ta­tion that makes the mes­sage iron­ic as well as amus­ing? And if so, then in what way does this residue con­tin­ue to be present, to form part of the image, even in the case where it is not under­stood, and there­fore not actu­al­ly communicated.

The Secret of the Image

 

In the the­o­ret­i­cal writ­ings of Cesare Bran­di, we can find a few obser­va­tions about this dual­i­ty on which I am focus­ing, between the image as pres­ence and as mean­ing.[3] They may only be a few sen­tences, but they are inci­sive and strate­gic in the econ­o­my of the Bran­di­an pre­sen­ta­tion, and hence they are graced with cer­tain bril­liance. For exam­ple, on the first page of Seg­no e immag­ine (Sign and Image), we can read this obser­va­tion, “between the sign and the image, there is no het­ero­gene­ity as there is between phe­nom­e­non and cat­e­go­ry; sign and image are, at the source, the same thing that con­scious­ness directs in two dif­fer­ent direc­tions” (13). The image is mir­ror-like and due to this char­ac­ter­is­tic, it achieves a fig­u­ra­tive mode; on the oth­er hand, the sign involves the cog­ni­tive con­tent, it indi­cates a seman­tic val­ue: image and sign are thus two diverg­ing modal­i­ties of rep­re­sen­ta­tion (which Bran­di under­stood as an act of con­scious­ness), inas­much as the first attrib­ut­es to its object the empir­i­cal char­ac­ter­is­tic of being present and “avail­able” (under­lined in the text, per­haps a con­ces­sion to vorhan­den?), while the sec­ond dis­so­ci­ates the form from the design, that is, it does not val­ue the pres­ence of the sign as vehi­cle, it does not con­sid­er the cur­rent expe­ri­ence sig­nif­i­cant for the expla­na­tion of the meaning.

Bran­di claims that these two direc­tions of con­scious­ness (I could also call these fields of rep­re­sen­ta­tion) must remain sep­a­rate because only in this way does civ­i­liza­tion reg­is­ter a con­crete progress (which, we sup­pose, con­sists of an enhance­ment of self-con­scious­ness, of expe­ri­ences, and of the lan­guages used in depic­tion or expres­sion). This posi­tion close­ly resem­bles that labo­ri­ous task of sep­a­ra­tion per­formed by Kon­rad Fiedler between fig­u­ra­tive arts and the oth­er spir­i­tu­al spheres that require skill, atten­tion, and thought. By attribut­ing to the artis­tic activ­i­ty a high­ly pecu­liar capac­i­ty for the devel­op­ment of con­scious­ness, and by per­sis­tent­ly sep­a­rat­ing it from any oth­er process of rep­re­sen­ta­tion, Fiedler actu­al­ly seems to be attribut­ing to art a real and prop­er cog­ni­tive val­ue, by iden­ti­fy­ing a par­tic­u­lar field for a fig­ur­al, or more fit­ting­ly, a visu­al knowl­edge.[4] This is some­thing that Bran­di does not appear to con­sid­er appro­pri­ate, and not only for rea­sons of ter­mi­nol­o­gy. But aside from the divi­sion of the domains of the rep­re­sen­ta­tion­al activ­i­ty, and despite this sub­stan­tial dif­fer­ence and the diver­si­ty of out­comes, the two authors set off ana­log­i­cal­ly, tak­ing into account the prop­er rela­tion­ship between tools and their modal­i­ty, from a deep reflec­tion on ver­bal lan­guage and ulti­mate­ly on the prob­lem of the artic­u­la­tion of mean­ing in a spe­cif­ic language.

This removed any abstrac­tion from its hori­zon of mean­ing, at least in Sign and Image, or rather, until the dom­i­nant crit­i­cal require­ment became to track the means by which the image pre­sent­ed itself total­ly as a fig­ure, abstrac­tion here mean­ing the way in which the fig­ure is, or becomes, a sign, that which attrib­ut­es mean­ing. Towards the end of the essay, in the pages ded­i­cat­ed to Abstrac­tism, Bran­di writes in ref­er­ence to Bur­ri that by posi­tion­ing him­self on the side of the sign rather than that of the image in com­mu­ni­ca­tion, in the direct trade between the work and the spec­ta­tor, he pos­tu­lates much of his jus­ti­fi­ca­tion his­tor­i­cal­ly as much as aes­thet­i­cal­ly (83-4). It is the word “com­mu­ni­ca­tion,” briefly defined as a “com­mer­cial trade” between the con­sumer and the object (there­by sug­gest­ing a mean­ing that seeks to under­score com­mod­i­fy­ing trends and allud­ing to fetishis­tic dri­ves), that appears to shine a light: the exchange occur­ring between the view­er and the work of art, to be inter­pret­ed per­haps as the fact that some­thing is tak­en from the art­work, is the result of the func­tion of the sign. Since the sign does not present its vehic­u­lar form but mere­ly the sug­ges­tion of its ref­er­ent, the view­er expe­ri­ence is not accom­plished in the pres­ence of the object, but rather in the demar­ca­tion of its absence. For this rea­son, the image-sign is mere­ly com­mu­ni­ca­tion, it is not a stand-alone item but a means.

Brandi’s clear rejec­tion of a semi­otics that echoes a need for “com­mu­ni­ca­tion to the bit­ter end” now more than ever appears to be a qua­si-hero­ic attempt at main­tain­ing, in the area of sen­so­ry expe­ri­ence, some­thing that the ancients would have called secret. A dimen­sion of the art­work that risks being com­plete­ly lost in our dense cul­ture of com­mu­nica­tive exchanges, if it is not already com­plete­ly lost. And this is, I believe, one of the most sig­nif­i­cant and orig­i­nal fea­tures of the Bran­di­an reflection.

Indeed, what else could be some­thing that appears lin­guis­ti­cal­ly artic­u­lat­ed yet is devoid of a sig­nif­i­cant func­tion; some­thing that marks a pres­ence yet leaves us dis­con­cert­ed, if not a secret? And it is this ques­tion that directs Brandi’s the­o­ret­i­cal work toward his Gen­er­al The­o­ry of Crit­i­cism that will seek to estab­lish in the ref­er­ent the rela­tion­ship between art­work and real­i­ty: the con­cept of pre­sent­ness (astan­za) used in this essay seeks to deter­mine a site of expe­ri­ence (con­scious­ness) that is clear­ly dis­tinct both from that pos­si­ble sphere of a mere­ly empir­i­cal pres­ence (fla­grancy), and from its con­jec­tur­al and mean­ing­ful forms (semi­o­sis). And since pre­sent­ness man­i­fests itself only with art, and in art, there is no doubt that Bran­di is indeed search­ing for a dimen­sion of mean­ing­ful­ness for the artis­tic expe­ri­ence (102). But for Bran­di, the mean­ing of the artis­tic expe­ri­ence is not to be con­fused with the sig­ni­fied, in what­ev­er form it may be pro­duced: in fact, the mean­ing of art relates more to mat­ters of per­cep­tion than to those of semi­o­sis. The sec­ond part of Gen­er­al The­o­ry of Crit­i­cism leaves no doubt as to the fact that access to pre­sent­ness is pos­si­ble through the sens­es, or at least, through the var­i­ous types of “given­ness”: pre­sent­ness is not real­ized out­side of per­cep­tion; pre­sent­ness is not a hal­lu­ci­na­tion, but rather, it is a dis­con­nect­ed and autonomous per­cep­tion in respect to the rep­re­sen­ta­tive function.

Thus, the idea of main­tain­ing an inti­ma­cy, a sort of exclu­sive prox­im­i­ty with the thing just to estab­lish a secret con­nec­tion with the object that is being per­cep­tive­ly expe­ri­enced, is a rather par­tic­u­lar fea­ture of Bran­di, but it is not com­plete­ly iso­lat­ed even though it has, and has had, dif­fer­ent faces, and has elicit­ed, and con­tin­ues to elic­it, so many dif­fer­ent atti­tudes. First, there was and there is (also out­side of moder­ni­ty, as we now assume this to be) a wide­spread notion that moder­ni­ty, with its sci­ence, its tech­nol­o­gy, with its con­sis­tent­ly applied knowl­edge, and with its obses­sive prax­is, end­ed up depriv­ing human beings of the hid­den dimen­sion of the expe­ri­ence, to the point of ren­der­ing it uncer­tain or even impos­si­ble.[5] I would evoke the dis­con­so­late mood of a sculp­tor such as Arturo Mar­ti­ni who, while per­haps mourn­ing its dis­ap­pear­ance, attempt­ed on var­i­ous occa­sions to recap­ture in art (and in life) the secret that is con­cealed in things.[6] Attribut­ing the blame to the grow­ing intru­sive­ness of means of com­mu­ni­ca­tion for seiz­ing the full mean­ing of art, Mar­ti­ni, in La scul­tura lin­gua mor­ta (Sculp­ture as dead lan­guage), while report­ing the cause of a wide­spread aban­don­ment of the art, urged a prox­im­i­ty with the mys­tery of the object, some­thing oth­er than the explana­to­ry evi­dence of the form, which too often appeared to him as vol­ume with­out plas­tic sense. Else­where, he also said that for the ancients, space was also com­posed of a fourth dimen­sion: mys­tery.[7] Or I could even evoke Ita­lo Calvino’s obser­va­tions about the Tro­jan Col­umn: a work enveloped in so much mys­tery, but the great­est, accord­ing to the author, is that it is not absolute­ly under­stand­able or imag­in­able to whom is des­tined such pre­ci­sion of illus­trat­ed nar­ra­tion.[8] It is impos­si­ble to see from below, it is too far to be seen by any sur­round­ing build­ing, noth­ing seems to allow a con­tin­u­ous read­ing of the sto­ry that is sculpt­ed into it. Whom or what does it serve, then, Calvi­no wonders.

If these kinds of doubts, express­ing a cer­tain anx­i­ety more than a real and prop­er ques­tion await­ing a response, have some­thing in com­mon, it appears to be in the sense of an inex­plic­a­bil­i­ty pro­duced by the prox­im­i­ty between the image and the thing. In a 1973 essay ded­i­cat­ed to René Magritte, Ceci n'est pas une pipe, Michel Fou­cault reestab­lished the dis­tance between the state­ment and paint­ing as it unfold­ed; paint­ing (not only Magritte’s, but all the oth­ers that dis­so­ci­ate the rep­re­sen­ta­tive fig­ure from the form, delib­er­ate­ly relin­quish­ing the mimet­ic rela­tion­ship of the image), with the inten­tion of scrupu­lous­ly, cru­el­ly sep­a­rat­ing the graph­ic ele­ment from the plas­tic ele­ment, with the aim of break­ing the ancient con­vic­tion that like­ness is suf­fi­cient for explain­ing the image. Accord­ing to Fou­cault, this belief derived from the fact that, with­out much dis­cus­sion, with­out much care for the many unsta­ble ele­ments that are con­tin­u­al­ly repro­duced in the two diver­gent and com­ple­men­tary sys­tems of writ­ing and draw­ing, the dimen­sion of dif­fer­ence (with respect to the thing) had been assigned to the first, while the dimen­sion of like­ness was assigned to the sec­ond. But I will not linger over that essay which sees in Magritte’s oper­a­tion an open chal­lenge to the rigid­i­ty of these two sys­tems, to show how lit­tle is need­ed (entrust­ing the writ­ing with a con­tra­dic­to­ry mean­ing from the image that it pre­sum­ably cap­tions) to pro­duce a dis­tress­ing short circuit.

Rather, I would like to evoke an episode of epis­te­mo­log­i­cal cri­sis that per­sist­ed through­out the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry, the expe­ri­ence of which is evi­denced in Brandi’s oppo­si­tion of sign-image. In short, to con­clude (tem­porar­i­ly, of course) on this aspect, I pro­pose this obser­va­tion: we have no actu­al ver­bal lin­guis­tic code that would per­mit us to express the sig­nif­i­cance of the dis­crete in the sphere of visu­al per­cep­tion. When we speak with some­one, our atten­tion to the words and their recep­tion is con­stant­ly dis­placed between a pos­i­tive (recog­ni­tion of an iden­ti­ty) and neg­a­tive (recog­ni­tion of a dif­fer­ence) assim­i­la­tion: “he said mon­ey, not hon­ey,” “he said exhaust­ed, not just tired,” also reflex­ive­ly “I said dis­turb­ing, not upset­ting,” are sen­tences that we quick­ly elab­o­rate to trace the word back to the sys­tem (in the seman­tic domain, obvi­ous­ly): that is, the speci­fici­ty of the cir­cum­stance. All this had been denied in the plas­tic arts, and it is not too bold to say that what has so often been iden­ti­fied as “dis­so­lu­tion” in the arts is none oth­er than the attempt to free the image, the visu­al expe­ri­ence, from the objects.

The Blind­ness of Writing

 

If, dur­ing the last cen­tu­ry, fig­u­ra­tive art has sought in plas­tic art a prop­er artic­u­la­tion of sense and mean­ing to the point of con­struct­ing one or var­i­ous lan­guages to coor­di­nate the rela­tion­ship between fig­u­ra­tive image and imag­i­na­tion; to the point of involv­ing a ges­tur­al, bod­i­ly, or kinet­ic ref­er­ence in the visu­al gram­mar; to the point of becom­ing com­plete­ly unrec­og­niz­able, no longer anal­o­gous to the world and even less to itself; if all this has occurred in the world of visu­al arts, how­ev­er, a sim­i­lar process has also been per­formed in the lit­er­ary field. Per­haps more spo­rad­i­cal­ly, per­haps less-clear­ly man­i­fest­ed, but cer­tain­ly with the same break­ing force and the same capac­i­ty of estrange­ment. It may seem that the two areas, the lit­er­ary and the fig­u­ra­tive, show weak points of con­ver­gence, but for both, the issue at stake is rep­re­sen­ta­tion, that is, how sign and image relate to each oth­er. There­fore, what I will talk about could also be tak­en as a reverse exam­ple, a sort of photonegative.

Among the var­i­ous cas­es that can be recalled, I will men­tion one here that char­ac­ter­izes itself as being a the­o­ret­i­cal per­spec­tive crit­i­cal­ly con­flu­ent with lit­er­a­ture; indeed, it is quite sim­i­lar to the work of Bran­di and more­over, it is chrono­log­i­cal­ly par­al­lel to it. In L'entretien infi­ni (1969), Mau­rice Blan­chot, among the many ques­tions asked in this com­plex and artic­u­lat­ed text—essentially ded­i­cat­ed to delin­eat­ing the dis­con­ti­nu­ities and rup­tures that char­ac­ter­ize the lit­er­ary expe­ri­ence, a struc­tur­al, rather than for­mal, dis­con­ti­nu­ity capa­ble of involv­ing the pro­duc­tion, as much as the enjoy­ment, and the art­work itself—, I would even say that under­ly­ing the dis­course of the essay, he pre­sent­ed a rad­i­cal cri­tique of the pro­gram­mat­ic and sub­stan­tive course of devel­op­ment in the mod­ern nov­el: that of think­ing about nar­ra­tion as a kind of dia­logue with vis­i­bil­i­ty, with the visu­al expe­ri­ence, and essen­tial­ly with the image. Accord­ing to Blan­chot, this was a way to ensure a hori­zon of mean­ing, per­haps of coher­ence, of verisimil­i­tude, of sim­i­lar­i­ty with the rep­re­sent­ed world, in the sto­ry. The knowl­edge to be devel­oped in a long-last­ing envi­ron­ment (Blan­chot con­trast­ed this with the night, dark­ness, blind­ness) is only capa­ble, in his view, of inhibit­ing any expe­ri­ence that could place man on the lim­it of the mys­tery. I can only remem­ber his rea­son­ing on the con­cept of atten­tion: there is a per­son­al one that is assessed accord­ing to the rela­tion­ship estab­lished with the object, focus­ing on it and refer­ring all mean­ing to it (it is anoth­er way of talk­ing about know­ing through prin­ci­ples of objec­tiv­i­ty and truth) and hence, des­tined to be an instru­ment, a means of jux­ta­po­si­tion, an appa­ra­tus of trans­paren­cy; there is also an imper­son­al atten­tion, open to the occur­rence of the unknown, to the mys­tery that is per­pet­u­at­ed by nev­er cross­ing the thresh­old of the know­able (anoth­er way of talk­ing about the expe­ri­ence of non-thought) and des­tined to become a hab­it­able space, although with­out ref­er­ence and with­out cen­tre, and there­fore unsta­ble and uncer­tain, a com­plete­ly opaque matter.

First of all, it is the prin­ci­ple of sim­i­lar­i­ty that is at stake, the one on which is based the pos­si­bil­i­ty of recog­ni­tion, the pos­si­bil­i­ty of estab­lish­ing a true rela­tion­ship among the ele­ments involved in the rep­re­sen­ta­tion. When Blan­chot, quot­ing Mal­lar­mé in the sub­ti­tle, refers to writ­ing as a fool­ish game, he engages its most pow­er­ful impli­ca­tion: the lack of mean­ing is not a defect of the dis­course but its objec­tive; not for the sake of para­dox or con­tra­dic­tion, but rather for the fact that writ­ing acquires its great­est mean­ing when it does not direct the sign toward a search for sig­ni­fi­ca­tion, toward the cog­ni­tive res­o­lu­tion of lan­guage, but rather, toward the affir­ma­tion of a per­ma­nence, of an exis­tence that does not require being explained so much as being experienced.

There is anoth­er con­se­quence worth not­ing: nar­rat­ing, includ­ing through images, is no longer the pro­duc­tion of dis­course as nar­ra­tive; at the moment where nar­ra­tion waives the task of serv­ing as a suture between the expe­ri­ence and the world, the art­work los­es its val­ue as a doc­u­ment, as a doc­u­men­tary col­lec­tion of expe­ri­ence because the only pos­si­ble expe­ri­ence is only, and already, all in the text. More than retrac­ing the dimen­sion of absence to which the book and the art­work refer (Blan­chot is look­ing par­tic­u­lar­ly to com­bat­ing the exte­ri­or­i­ty that pro­duces lim­i­ta­tions and the enclo­sure of the book with­in the lim­its of the intel­li­gi­bil­i­ty of the sto­ry), it would be bet­ter to jux­ta­pose anoth­er essay to this read­ing, name­ly, Le plaisir du texte, writ­ten in 1973 by Roland Barthes. This essay also seeks the mean­ing of the lit­er­ary expe­ri­ence in the cracks, in the coarse­ness, in the dif­fi­cul­ty pro­duced by the read­ing, all dis­con­tin­u­ances that abol­ish the dis­tance between the act and its com­pre­hen­sion, between read­ing time and his­tor­i­cal time. What is sig­nif­i­cance? It is sen­su­al­ly-pro­duced mean­ing, affirms Barthes: plea­sure and enjoy­ment appear to abol­ish the dis­tance from the nar­rat­ed objects or rather, that dis­tance that is pro­duced at the moment in which the word makes itself vis­i­ble, and the read­ing is trans­formed into an image. And togeth­er, they do away with that need for con­sis­ten­cy that appears to char­ac­ter­ize writ­ing: this is a very abstract place to mark the expe­ri­ence, a place where any plas­tic tie between sign and ref­er­ent are abol­ished, a place made pos­si­ble by the fact that all the mean­ing is estab­lished as it extends and explores the space that it takes up; yet, the need to see in it some­thing that would emerge only and con­stant­ly in the mark­ing of its absence is nev­er exhaust­ed. In oth­er words, Barthes seems to deny the trans­paren­cy of the means and to resolve the ten­sion of the mean­ing with­in an obfus­cat­ing experience.

Con­clu­sion: Fal­la­cious Modelization?

Per­haps we have strayed a bit too much or too quick­ly from our start­ing state­ment, and so we must return with­out hes­i­ta­tion to the prob­lem of what and how we com­mu­ni­cate through the image.

On clos­er inspec­tion, the var­i­ous posi­tions con­sid­ered above appear to con­verge in a neg­a­tive response to the sim­ple fact that “through the image,” we go some­where: if the visu­al-relat­ed expe­ri­ence has no pri­ma­ry func­tion as a com­mu­nica­tive vehi­cle, if it is not the form of some­thing out­side of itself, the image can­not be thought of as a conveyance—independently dom­i­nat­ing the spa­tial or tem­po­ral expanse. If it is a place, then it must in some mea­sure con­sist of filled and emp­ty spaces (it is this ascer­tain­ment about the text that direct­ed Blan­chot and Barthes). Just like a body whose integri­ty in parts and har­mo­ny, if it exists, is only rarely per­cep­ti­ble as a whole: we more eas­i­ly feel parts of the body, now a fin­ger, now a foot, some­times some­thing inside. In oth­er words, the whole image is nev­er to be tak­en at the lev­el of phe­nom­e­non: it may be a prod­uct of sen­so­r­i­al respons­es trac­ing back to the phe­nom­e­non; pre­cise­ly because it is pos­si­ble to move with­in those respons­es, it is equal­ly pos­si­ble to design a unique dimen­sion for them, but only their dis­con­ti­nu­ity allows us to imag­ine a continuity.

If this total­i­ty of full­ness and empti­ness is the struc­ture of the image, what is the point of ask­ing our­selves what it com­mu­ni­cates? Maybe some­thing can be con­veyed through it? Or per­haps only the filled spaces can be respon­si­ble for this trans­fer? Can this even­tu­al­ly occur with­out con­fus­ing the trans­ferred object with the trans­fer­ring object? Would the recip­i­ent dis­cern a pos­si­ble overlap?

I am delib­er­ate­ly skirt­ing ques­tions that bor­der on the absurd; they are as such because they exac­er­bate a state of con­fu­sion in respect to the object, so that no one could say what it is made of, or whether it is com­pa­ra­ble to mat­ter. And this is exact­ly what has been at stake from the begin­ning: on what do we base the real­i­ty prin­ci­ple? The attempt to under­stand what hap­pens when the image in a Duchamp piece is used to indi­cate some­thing that the art­work negates as its own con­tent, could be addressed again at this point. Cer­tain­ly, the fact that an image may have dif­fer­ent lev­els of real­i­ty is incon­sis­tent with the idea that every thing, to be real, must also be unique and monodimensional.

Vilém Flusser repeat­ed­ly pro­posed the idea that our behav­iour toward the mat­ter has under­gone a pro­found alter­ation in the last cen­tu­ry.[9] The author argues that the notion that man be relat­ed to the sub­ject through a process of abstrac­tion capa­ble of pro­duc­ing either forms or out­lines, or any­thing else, is rapid­ly dis­si­pat­ing; per­haps spurred by the means of pro­duc­tion, per­haps by the instru­ments of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, it is increas­ing­ly the case that the prod­uct of abstrac­tion itself is per­ceived as mat­ter. The fact is that we are wit­ness­ing a curi­ous phe­nom­e­non of inver­sion where­by pro­duc­ing an abstrac­tion no longer means pro­ceed­ing from the con­crete to the intan­gi­ble, but rather, from the intan­gi­ble to the thing. Thus, the activ­i­ty of rep­re­sen­ta­tion seems to have become a fill­ing activ­i­ty of the tan­gi­ble rather than that of form­ing the intan­gi­ble. The aim of the sym­bol­ic action is more that of giv­ing shape to forms than that of shap­ing bodies.

But if this obser­va­tion were fea­si­ble, then we could say that the for­ma­tion of mean­ing is no longer to be found in the com­po­si­tion of an abstract sys­tem capa­ble of per­form­ing an explana­to­ry action with­in its own bound­aries, but rather in the com­po­si­tion of the mat­ter entrust­ed with the whole expe­ri­ence. This posi­tion appears very inter­est­ing to me: because it allows a glimpse into what is involved in the pro­duc­tion of images aimed at con­vey­ing a mes­sage, even one as sim­ple as “there is a wash­room here.” In a way, it involves the pro­duc­tion of reality.

I would like to illus­trate this con­di­tion with an episode of what we might call a news report about infor­ma­tion. A few years ago, a video was cir­cu­lat­ed, and some frames from it were pub­lished in sev­er­al news­pa­pers, doc­u­ment­ing a seri­ous tragedy that occurred in the occu­pied Pales­tin­ian ter­ri­to­ries. In the video, we could see a man and a young boy seek­ing shel­ter from an intense burst of bul­lets; then the boy appears to lose con­scious­ness. The video report explained that when a shootout broke out in the streets between sol­diers and the mili­tia, the man and the child were caught in the cross­fire: a bul­let fired by an Israeli sol­der had struck the Pales­tin­ian boy, killing him. The sequence was par­tic­u­lar­ly dis­tress­ing because it showed the fear, the strug­gle, the despair, and the help­less­ness. In the days fol­low­ing the dis­tri­b­u­tion of the report, cer­tain sources began to deny its verac­i­ty, claim­ing that the video was staged and that it was a fraud. The non-verac­i­ty con­cerned its con­tent: the boy was not real­ly dead, but had hap­pi­ly sur­vived although wound­ed. This anti-the­sis appar­ent­ly tried to soft­en the emo­tion­al impact of the con­tent of the video and led to the for­mu­la­tion of the fol­low­ing argu­ment by the view­er:  since the video is said to show the killing of a boy dur­ing a fire fight in which he had been invol­un­tar­i­ly involved, but we know that he did not die, then the whole video is also a fraud. This is an obvi­ous fal­la­cy; and while the user may under­stand that his con­clu­sion on the fal­si­ty of the video is unjus­ti­fied, any pro­duced emo­tion is irre­triev­ably destroyed. In short, we are dis­cussing the verac­i­ty of show­ing. This is not a pipe, just like This is not a mur­der. But the impor­tant fact, which can pro­voke embar­rass­ment, is not so much the ques­tion­ing of the verac­i­ty of the scene as the fact that the con­tro­ver­sy over the mean­ing (what it shows) also puts into ques­tion the verac­i­ty of the video itself; that is, judg­ing whether it is accept­able that a child be involved in a shootout ties in with the real­i­ty of the effect that this indi­vid­ual case has pro­duced. Hence, we might think that the exem­plary use of the image is still some­what ambigu­ous, despite the assured foun­da­tion effect of the real. But this also shows that the image is assigned a pres­ence that goes beyond the description.

Final­ly, I hope that this arti­cle has shown that dou­ble­ness that can be a source of ambi­gu­i­ty, and that is cer­tain­ly a cause of unde­cid­abil­i­ty, and hence, that of sens­ing images as nar­ra­tion as much as some­thing capa­ble of pro­duc­ing a pres­ence. But I fear the con­se­quences of deny­ing that the image can assume the respon­si­bil­i­ty of being a con­sti­tu­tive form of absence, that is, a ref­er­ence to an abstract and intan­gi­ble process, because it would mean remov­ing from the fig­u­ra­tive any intel­li­gence, includ­ing any intel­li­gence that detects the secret, and sur­ren­der­ing to the idio­cy of a world flood­ed with images. And that is some­thing that, as shown by the images below, we can­not afford.

Ref­er­ences

Agam­ben, Gior­gio. Infanzia e sto­ria, Dis­truzione dell'esperienza e orig­ine del­la sto­ria.

Tori­no: Ein­au­di, 1978.

Arn­heim, Rudolf. Thoughts on art edu­ca­tion. Los Ange­les: Get­ty Cen­tre for Education

in The Arts, 1989.

Barthes, Roland. Le plaisir du texte. Paris: Edi­tions du Seuil, 1973.

Blan­chot, Mau­rice. L'entretien infi­ni. Fran­cia: Gal­li­mard, 1969.

Bran­di, Rudolf. Seg­no e immag­ine. 1960. Paler­mo: Aes­thet­i­ca, 2001.

---. Teo­ria gen­erale del­la crit­i­ca. 1964. Roma: Ed. Riu­ni­ti, 1998.

Calvi­no, Ita­lo. “La colon­na tra­iana rac­con­ta­ta.” Collezione di sab­bia. Milano:

Garzan­ti, 1984. 95-101.

Fiedler, Kon­rad. Schriften zur Kun­st. München: Fink, 1991.

Flusser, Vilém. La cul­tura dei media. Milano: Bruno Mon­dadori, 2004.

---. Medi­enkul­tur. Frankfurt/Main: Fis­ch­er, 2007.

Fou­cault, Michel. “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” Octo­ber (1976): 6-21.

Mar­ti­ni, Arturo. Col­lo­qui sul­la scul­tura 1944-45. Ed. Gino Scarpa and Nico Stringa.

Tre­vi­so: Cano­va, 1997.

---. La scul­tura lin­gua mor­ta. Verona: Offic­i­na Bod­i­ni, 1948.

---. Le let­tere 1909-1947. Ed. Natale Maz­zolà. Firen­ze: Val­lec­chi, 1967.

Mitchell, W.J.T. “What do Pic­tures ‘Real­ly’ Want?” Octo­ber 77 (1996): 71-82.

Pernio­la, Mario. Con­tro la comu­ni­cazione. Tori­no: Ein­au­di, 2004.

---. Mira­coli e trau­mi del­la comu­ni­cazione. Tori­no: Ein­au­di, 2009.

Image Notes

Image One: “Duchamp’s Uri­nal.” Blog. art​news​blog​.com/​2​0​0​4​/​1​2​/​d​u​c​h​a​m​p​s​-​u​r​i​n​a​l​.​htm. art​news​blog​.com, 1 Dec. 2004. Web. 8 Dec. 2010.

Image Two: Buho. Blog. buhosong​.blogspot​.com. Buho’s Songs, 21 Feb., 2007. Web. 8 Dec. 2010.

Image Three: lin​guatec​.it/​i​m​a​g​e​s​/​f​u​n​/​w​c​.​jpg. Web. 8 Dec. 2010.

Image Four: Scar­let­ti­nas. Blog. scar​let​ti​nas​.splin​der​.com/​a​r​c​h​i​v​e​/​2​0​0​8​-09. Tres­pass, 15 Sept. 2008. Web. 8 Dec. 2010.

Image Five: “Remem­ber­ing Muham­mad al-Dur­ra.” Blog. fisan​.word​press​.com/​2​0​0​7​/03. Try to find the light. 18 Mar. 2007. Web. 8 Dec. 2010.

End­notes

[1] See Perniola.

[2] See Octavio Paz’s essay Aparen­cia desnu­da: la obra de Mar­cel Duchamp (1973) and  Jean-François Lyotard’s arti­cle in Les trans­for­ma­teurs Duchamp (1977).

[3] Cesare Bran­di (1906-1988) was an art his­to­ri­an and the­o­rist who found­ed in 1939 the Isti­tu­to Cen­trale del Restau­ro, the first and most impor­tant learn­ing and research cen­tre for the con­ser­va­tion of artis­tic her­itage. The first twen­ty years of the insti­tute were syn­the­sized in a 1963 essay of great rel­e­vance, The­o­ry of Restora­tion (tran. from La teo­ria del restau­ro, by C. Rock­well and D. Bell, Firen­ze, Nar­di­ni, 2005), which was trans­lat­ed into sev­er­al lan­guages. Bran­di posit­ed restora­tion as a nec­es­sary oper­a­tion for the aes­thet­ic recog­ni­tion of the work of art, since the oper­a­tion on the phys­i­cal sub­stance allowed an inter­pre­ta­tion and an out­line of its gen­er­a­tional tran­si­tion. How­ev­er, the essays to which I refer here have not been translated.

[4] See par­tic­u­lar­ly Fiedler’s essay Über den Ursprung der künt­lerischen tätigkeit.

[5] On the end of expe­ri­ence, see also Agamben.

[6] For exam­ple, in a 1926 let­ter to Francesco Messi­na: “Mys­tery, that is what is miss­ing in our whole life—there is no longer any dan­ger to things, there are no longer rob­bers in the streets, and even women no longer have any mys­tery of mod­esty,” 193.

[7] See Col­lo­qui sul­la scul­tura 1944-45.

[8] See La colon­na tra­iana rac­con­ta­ta (1980).

[9] The writ­ings of Flusser on the new media that have emerged over two decades. See also the essays Das Und­ing I and Das Und­ing II (1993) in: Filosofia del design, Milano: Bruno Mon­dadori, 2003.


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