Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared?
Our greatest adversaries now threaten us only with their disappearance.
THE GREAT DISAPPEARANCE IS NOT, then, simply that of the virtual transmutation of things, of the mise en abyme of reality, but that of the diversion of the subject of infinity, of a serial pulverization of consciousness into all the interstices of reality. We might say, at a pinch, that consciousness (the will, freedom) is everywhere; it merges with teh course of things and, as a result, becomes superfluous. This is the analysis Cardinal Ratzinger (the Pope) himself made of religion: a religion which accommodates to the world, which attunes itself to the (politcal, social) world, becomes superfluous. It is for the same reason — because it became increasingly merged with objective banality — that art, ceasing to be different from life, has become superfluous.
TO ILLUSTRATE THIS TRANSITION to the hegemonic, there is no finer analogy that that of the photograph that has become digital, being liberated at a single stroke from both the negative and the real world. And the consequences of both of these are incalculable, though on different scales, of course. This marks the end of the singular presence of the object, since it may not be digitally constructed. and the end of the singular moment of the photographic act, since the image can now be immediately erased or reconstructed. And the end of the irrefutable testimony of the negative. Both the timelag and distance disappear at the same time, and with them that blank between object and image that was the negative. The traditional photograph is an image produced by the world, which, thanks to the medium of film, still involves a dimension of representation. The digital image is an image that comes straight out of the screen and becomes submerged in the mass of all the other images from screens. It is of the order of flow, and is a prisoner to the automatic operation of the camera. When calculation and the digital win out over form, when software wins out over the eye, can we still speak of photography?
THIS IS NOT MERELY AN EPISODE in the history of technology: with this turn to the digital, the whole of analog photography, the image in its entirety—conceived as the convergence of the light from the object with the light from the gaze—is sacrificed, is doomed forever. As digitalization advances, soon there will no longer be any film, any light-sensitive surface onto which things inscribed themselves negatively. There will only be an image software package, a digital effect running to the billionth of a pixel and, at the same time, unprecedented ease of picture-taking, of image-playback and of the photosynthesis’ of anything whatever. Metaphorically, the sophistication of the play of presence and absence, of appearance and disappearance—all the sophistication of the photographic act—disappears with the coming of the digital (the photographic act causes the object in its ‘reality’ to vanish for a moment; there is nothing of the sort in the virtual image, nor its digital capture—not to mention the magic of the image’s emergence as it is developed).
It is the world and our vision of the world that is changed by this.
THE ULTIMATE VIOLENCE DONE TO THE IMAGE is the violence of CGI—computer-generated image—which emerges ex nihilo from numerical calculation and the computer.
This puts an end even to the imagining of the image, to its fundamental ‘illusion’ since, in computer generation, the referent no longer exists and there is no place even for the real to ‘take place’, being immediately produced by Virtual Reality.
Digital production erases the image as analogon; it erases the real as something capable of being ‘imagined’. The photographic act, this moment of disappearance of bother the subject and the object in the same instantaneous confrontation—the shutter release abolishing the world and the gaze for a moment, a syncope, a petite mort that triggers the machinic performance of the image—disappears in the digital, numerical processing.
All this leads inevitably to the death of photography as an original medium. With the analog image it is the essence of photography that disappears. That image still attested tot he live presence of a subject to an object—one last reprieve from the dissemination and the digital tidal wave that lies in store for us.
The problem of reference was already an almost insoluble one: how is it with the real? How is it with representation? But when, with the Virtual, the referent disappears, when it disappears into the technical programming of the image, when there is no longer the situation of the real world set over against a light-sensitive film (it is the same with language, which is like the sensitive film of ideas), then there is, ultimately, no possible representation any more.
THERE IS GREAT AFFECTION in ascribing meaning to the photographic image. To do so is to make objects strike a pose. And things themselves begin to pose in the light of meaning as soon as they feel a subject’s gaze upon them.
HAVE WE NOT ALWAYS had the deep-seated phantasy of a world that would go on without us? The poetic temptation to see the world in our absence, from of any human, all-too-human will? The intense pleasure of poetic language lies in seeing language operating on its own, in its materiality and literality, without transiting through meaning—this is what fascinates us.
SERIALITY IS SOMETHING almost inevitable in photography, for the reason that the camera (especially the digital camera) tends towards the infinite exploitation of its possibilites. For lack of an intuiting of the detail of the world, for want of fully plumbing its meaning and exhausting its appearances, the serial digital image fills the void by self-multiplication. In the limit case which is our present condition, we arrive an an unstoppable series of shots […] ‘thematic’ sequences, which illustrate the same event ad nauseam, which think they are accumulating, but are, in fact, canceling each other out, till they reach the zero degree of information. [postform proliferation; macros]
THE OPPOSITE PERSPECTIVE would be photography in its pure abstraction—cosa mentale—envisioning an already photographed world in ones head [phi; pataphysics]—without there being any need to materialize it in actual shots—by imagining the world precisely as the lens transforms it. The inner ecstasy of photography, as it were.