Jean-Paul RIOPELLE, L'hommage à Rosa Luxemburg, 1992 (détail) [ * ]

That Meets the Eye ...

Ales ERJAVEC [ # ]


'What Scripture is to the educated, images are to the ignorant, who see through them what they must accept; they read in them what they cannot read in books.' - Gregory the Great

This well-known statement in defense of pictures by the sixth-century pope could be interpreted as a part of the continuing struggle concerning images: throughout the history of the western civilization the issue of vision and images remains a crucial one. On innumerable occasions it has been pointed out that from the time of Ancient Greece images have been of paramount importance in the development of our common culture:

Since the days of Greek philosophy sight has been hailed as the most excellent of the senses. The noblest activity of the mind, theoria, is described in metaphors mostly taken from the visual sphere. ... Sight, in addition to furnishing the analogues for the intellectual upperstructure, has tended to serve as the model of perception in general and thus as a measure of other senses.1  

Various authors stress the importance of vision in Ancient Greece for the development not only of geometry but of theory as well. In other words, western civilization is from its very inception 'stained' by vision and 'ocularcentrism'. The iconoclasm of nascent Christianity attempted to counter this preponderance of vision and of the image; supported by the Hebrew prohibition of making 'graven images', most of the Christian thinkers strove to contain the omnipresent enthusiasm over the specular. Hence, in De idololatria Tertullian (150 or 160 - 220) wrote:

'But when the devil introduced into the world artificers of statues and images, and of every kind of likenesses,' the worship of the false gods and of demons became instantly fixated on them.2  

The reasons for the Christian prohibition or at least criticism of images were foremost that people confuse the representation and its referent and that God cannot be visually represented since he is invisible; by picturing him we reduce him to our own stature. An attempt at his representation can achieve only an image of him as a mortal, as a creature and not as the Creator and is hence an endeavor doomed to failure from its very beginning. Much later a related argument is put forth by Jean Calvin:

We are similar to God only in our souls, and no image can represent him. That is why people who try to represent the essence of God are madmen. For even their souls of little worth cannot be represented.3  

Nonetheless, in this much later period a profound change in relation to images occurs: although the church of the Reformation is emptied of all pictures and all representations (excepting stained glass windows) images, including the holy ones, are nonetheless retained in the privacy of one's home: what is being effected is the Weberian distinction into individuated spheres; pictures cease to be subjected to religious scrutiny and become secular objects of pleasure. At the time of the Reformation the Church doesn't need images to spread the Word; the rise in education has made the claims of Gregory the Great mostly obsolete. The former all-encompassing universe of religion is being separated into individuated social realms, with pictures also leaving the religious domain. Henceforth religion is a matter of the Word and images lead a life that is predominantly their own. In the secular social realm they flourish and become, with the development of technology, an increasingly important part of human society. Although paintings and sculptures form only a segment of the realm of the visual representations, they nonetheless represent an element of continuity in European history, something that is absent from the Hebraic tradition and from most of the Islamic, causing them to have a marginal role therein.

It was Descartes and the preceding development (or discovery) of perspective that established what Martin Jay has termed 'Cartesian perspectivalism'.4 It is also Descartes who is considered by much of the modern philosophical public opinion to be one of the main culprits of today's preponderance of vision in theory and philosophy. We find such views in Heidegger (in his essay 'The Time of the World Picture' from 1938), in Merleau-Ponty (in the famous essay 'Eye and Mind' from 1961, for example), in Lacan (in the Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis from 1964) and more recently, in Rorty's Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. The basic reproach to Descartes is that the division into the subject and the object, the res cogitans and the res extensa, is invalid. Heidegger correctly detects the roots of the dominance of the picture already present in Hellenistic Greece and hence views Descartes merely as a step in the wrong direction; Merleau-Ponty perceives Cartesius in a similar way: in the 1961 essay he calls his Dioptrics a bible of a thinking which no longer wants to associate with the visible, but is determined to reconstruct it after a model which such thinking itself constructs. Later, in 1971, Jean-François Lyotard publishes his Ph.D. Discours, figure in which he attempts to counter the Freudian trend (primarily represented by Jacques Lacan) of privileging the Symbolic at the expense of the Imaginary. Furthermore he challenges the dominant theoretical approach to images, for he replaces the distinction between the image and the word with the distinction between the figure and the discourse,5 with the two being not distinct (as in the former case) but flexible and interchangeable. But Lyotard here runs counter to the general tendency of the continuing denigration of vision and ocularcentrism, a history well-depicted in Martin Jay's recent book.6 In Lacan it is the level of language, i.e. of the Symbolic, which a human being must attain to enter the intersubjective world of others. If he fails, he remains the prisoner of the Imaginary, of the Mirror Stage, wherein he cannot distinguish between his imaginary corporeal unity (as presented to him in the mirror) and the mental disunity (typical of our mental processes), erroneously presented to us (and in this aided by Descartes) as an 'integrated whole' - as the 'subject'. It is for this reason, as Lacan writes in the Écrits (1966), that the Cartesian subject is the precondition of psychoanalysis.

Cartesian perspectivalism conflates two segments of modern thought: of the subject (and hence of the ocularcentrism of theory carried on from antiquity) and of vision, where perspectivalism purportedly offers a scientific view of our reality. This same perspectivalism grounds what Norman Bryson has called the 'essential copy':7 the belief that a perfect copy of a represented work is possible and that the attainment of such an aim is only a question of discovering the perfect 'technique'. In spite of certain authors pointing to other possibilities (Martin Jay8 and Svetlana Alpers9, being foremost among them), perspectivalism nonetheless remains the dominant visual regime of modernity.


How can we understand the present increased and deepened philosophical critique of the image? Is it formed by coincidence or do deeper reasons underlie its increased presence? A persuasive answer is offered by Thomas Mitchell:

Rorty's determination to 'get the visual, and in particular the mirroring, metaphor out of our speech altogether' echoes Wittgenstein's iconophobia and the general anxiety of linguistic philosophy about visual representation. This anxiety, this need to defend 'our speech' against 'the visual' is, I want to suggest, a sure sign that a pictorial turn is taking place.10  

Mitchell mainly refers here to what he calls linguistic philosophy, but the same observation applies, as Jay persuasively shows in Downcast Eyes, also to post-structuralism, to much of contemporary or recent French philosophy (the traditional and even religious included), and of course to the whole line of thought related to Jewish tradition (Levinas, for example). In other cases (Deleuze & Guattari) it is the primacy ascribed to the Imaginary that somewhat diminishes the critique of ocularcentrism, while in still others it is the body (Luce Irigaray) and the haptic which counter the predominance of the visual. In this latter meaning the visual is perceived not so much in a metaphoric manner but in its relation to sight and its physiological, historical and social determinations.

The cause of the more recent philosophical 'iconoclasm', i.e. the need to purge theory of visual metaphors and ocularcentrism, most probably lies not in theory itself, but elsewhere:

If we ask ourselves why a pictorial turn seems to be happening now, in what is often characterized as a 'postmodern' era, the second half of the twentieth century, we encounter a paradox. On the one hand, it seems overwhelmingly obvious that the era of the video and cybernetic technology, the age of electronic reproduction, has developed new forms of visual simulation and illusionism with unprecedented powers. On the other hand, the fear of the image, the anxiety that the 'power of images' may finally destroy even the creators and manipulators, is as old as image-making itself. Idolatry, iconoclasm, iconophilia, and fetishism are not uniquely 'postmodern' phenomena. What is specific to our moment is exactly this paradox. The fantasy of a pictorial turn, of a culture totally dominated by images, has now become a real technical possibility on a global scale.11  

The current theoretical iconophobia and the concurrent preponderance of images - what Mitchell calls, paraphrasing Rorty's 'linguistic turn', the 'pictorial turn' - could be interpreted as a continuation of centuries-old iconoclastic debates and iconodulic practices. Although it would be difficult to oppose such an observation, it offers no more than a comparison which somewhat relativizes current theoretical debates and cultural phenomena. The historical parallel nonetheless sheds some light on the current situation: it proves again that pictures affect emotions and thwart understanding and therefore provoke a widespread theoretical critique:

The image is the sign that pretends not to be a sign, masquerading as (or, for the believer, actually achieving) natural immediacy and presence. The word is its 'other', the artificial, arbitrary production of human will that disrupts natural presence by introducing unnatural elements into the world - time, consciousness, history, and the alienating intervention of symbolic mediation.12  

The search for the causes of the current debates as they arise from the concurrent social, and especially, cultural situation, seems to be more pertinent than a generalizing comparison of past debates about images and ocularcentrism with the present ones, for it goes without saying that the present situation and the related theoretical discussions are intimately tied to the enormous technological advancements of the last hundred years or more and, especially, of the last few decades.

It is not my aim to raise the subject of the vast territories of technology. I would like instead to focus on a few theoretical hypotheses which attempt to discern the 'logic' of the current events.

It was probably the early Jean Baudrillard who was the first to develop analytically a relatively coherent theory of the contemporary society of the image. His ideas from the seventies concerning the economy of the sign, hyperreality and especially those about the simulacrum, revealed the emerging specular world. They were foreshadowed by Guy Debord in the sixties when the latter criticized the 'society of the spectacle'. The critique of the image, linked to the concurrent critique of the consumer society, runs deeper: we find an early criticism of mass and consumer culture in the pre-war essays of Theodor Adorno and, of course, in his post-war theories, in Herbert Marcuse and in numerous other authors. Needless to say, it was the 'culture industry' of the sixties with its predominantly visual nature that caused the philosophical critique of this emerging phenomenon. In those times the classical (or, to be more exact, the 'modern' and 'modernist') distinction into elite art and mass (and traditional) culture persisted still largely unscathed. The global changes effected by the new technological advancements originating from or being ever more widely disseminated at the beginning of our century (photography, cinema, the radio receiver and, later, the portable radio receiver), were supplemented by a new technical mean, the potential of which its creators were well aware: the television.13 It is unnecessary to recount the events that followed: the slow but profound changes effected by television concerning the spread of information, the creation (and fabrication) thereof included, the proliferation of video technology, the aestheticization of everyday life and hence of the urban environment (at least in the First World) - the technical advances enabling new and more perfected and aestheticized advertisements, everyday objects, etc. The 'society of the spectacle' has changed from that of the sixties of which Debord spoke and which was really just its nascent stage, into what appears today to be its fully developed phase. It is this profusion of the visual, the 'pictorial', and the overabundance of media culture, which is often seen as an argument for establishing a radical break between modernity and postmodernity. But is modernity phenomenologically really that different from postmodernity?

An affirmative answer to this question appears to be also related to the question of the subject: if the subject is unitary, if it is the Cartesian subject, then the postmodern subject appears resolutely not to be that. It seems instead to be the disseminated ego, to be what Althusser has presented as the consequence of the designation of the individual as a subject, of the 'appellation en sujet', and hence as the effect of the Imaginary (or the ideological in Althusserian terms). I say 'it appears', since to refer to the 'split' subject we do not have to refer to postmodern theory at all, but can simply revert to the so-called 'modern' one, something that is witnessed by Heidegger for example, who as early as in his Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics (1929) warned against confusing Dasein with an anthropo-psychological description of human 'lived states' and 'faculties'14, and against considering Dasein as the 'subject'. Moreover, we can refer to Freud's own theory, which certainly belongs to the age of modernism, to find the roots of the 'postmodern' denigration of the subject. The same also applies to the so-called post-structuralism, for is it not true that it is, together with deconstruction, a typically modernist endeavor? In other words, aren't many of the great philosophical texts of our century actually a continuous critique of the Cartesian subject - in spite of this being the presumed kernel of modernity? If this is so, wouldn't it be correct to assume that the break between modernity and postmodernity is not so profound as has been often claimed and that it is somewhat erroneous to refer to postmodernity as a distinct socio-historical entity with a historic stature equal to that of modernity? If we understand postmodernity as the latest stage of modernity and postmodernism as that cultural period of modernity coming after modernism, I think we are better positioned to explain the current events. The former claim, albeit fashionable, obscures, I believe, the real issues not only of postmodernism, and of modernism, but of contemporary visual culture as well. Here lies the real issue at hand, and therefore it is not coincidental that the entire discussion concerning postmodernity was from its inception tied to culture and art. Before I explain my position I would like to offer a very condensed summary of those aspects of Fredric Jameson's views concerning postmodernism which I find useful in what I intend to say.


Jameson's basic and well-known contention (presented first in the article 'Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism' published in New Left Review in 1984) is that capitalism is an all-encompassing universe; as he put it recently, 'it seems to be easier for us today to imagine the thoroughgoing deterioration of the earth and of nature than the breakdown of late capitalism'.15 According to Jameson realism corresponds to market capitalism, modernism to the monopoly stage (imperialism), and postmodernism to multinational capital.16 Jameson observes that postmodernism

only clocks the variations themselves, and knows only too well that the contents are just more images. In modernism ... some residual zones of 'nature' or 'being,' of the old, the older, the archaic, still subsist; culture can still do something to that nature and work at transforming that 'referent.' Postmodernism is what you have when the modernization process is complete and nature is gone for good.17  

One of the basic features that Jameson discerns in this tripartite scheme is the change concerning the sign: in realism the sign and the referent are still connected; in modernism they are disjoined, while in postmodernism,

reification penetrates the sign itself and disjoins the signifier from the signified. Now reference and reality disappear altogether, and even meaning - the signified - is problematized. We are left with that pure and random play of signifiers that we call postmodernism.18  

Jean Baudrillard stresses that the emerging contemporary 'simulation' endangers the very distinction between truth and reality: '[S]imulation threatens the difference between  true  and  false , between  real  and  imaginary .'19 And Baudrillard continues:

All of Western faith and good faith was engaged in this wager on representation: that a sign could refer to the depth of meaning, that a sign could exchange for meaning and that something could guarantee this exchange - God, of course. But what if God himself can be simulated, that is to say, reduced to the signs which attest his existence? Then the whole system becomes weightless; it is no longer anything but a gigantic simulacrum: not unreal, but a simulacrum, never again exchanging for what is real, but exchanging in itself, in an uninterrupted circuit without reference or circumference.20  

As we can see, Baudrillard's theory of the simulacra is rather similar to Jameson's interpretation of some of the features of postmodernism (not to mention some of Michel Foucault's contentions concerning representation in the Order of Things (1966)). Baudrillard also stresses that the link between the sign and the referent has been severed, moreover, that the simulacra create their own reality, one which then serves as the referent for reality itself. What simulacrum in the present specular society means can be illustrated by the case of 'Bonanza', the well-known American TV series from the sixties. The series which ran for years, took place around Virginia City in the Sierra Nevada mountains (on the border between California and Nevada). For the series the TV company had to build a fictitious ranch, a fictitious town, etc. - the usual set. In the sixties the series was so well received that recently an attempt to resurrect and continue it has been made. Basically, the series is known to the majority of middle-aged Americans. Now, driving in those hills today one encounters an 'Old West' town called 'Bonanza'. The tourists, especially those from abroad, when arriving at the settlement which is conveniently located on the main tourist road, believe that it is actually the original town on the basis of which the TV series was made.

This brings us to another point made by Jameson:

[T]his whole global, yet American, postmodern culture is the internal and superstructural expression of a whole new wave of American military and economic domination throughout the world.21  

As Jameson mentions elsewhere, postmodernism is the first cultural dominant originating in the US. It is also the first to be veritably global and to be totally dominated by the market. Aestheticization effected by postmodernism is dialectically related to the loss of the referent and to the break of the link between the signified and the signifier. As he states, in the passage already quoted, in modernism

some residual zones of 'nature' or 'being,' of the old, the older, the archaic, still subsist; culture can still do something to that nature and work at transforming that 'referent.' Postmodernism is what you have when the modernization process is complete and nature is gone for good.

In other words, in modernism nature was still referred to, although in absentia; in postmodernism nature is gone, the visual effects, the Spielbergian simulacra of the Jurassic Park have conquered reality. The difference between our 'lived' reality and that shown on screen is no longer referred to as 'fiction', this has now been reduced to a signifier for a certain kind of literature only. This course of events signifies also that 'art' and 'literature' have lost much of their 'existential' function which was their essential feature in the modernist past and which assigned to art and the artist the romanticist prerogatives. (To put it differently they have, as the 'cultural dominant', ceased to exist as 'art' and 'literature' as we have hitherto known them.)

One could say here that in the pre-modern past art also played a very insignificant role and was viewed and valued accordingly. The opposite claim could be that then too, art was crucial for the human existence, but that it simply existed under various guises, none of them designating it explicitly as 'art'. I believe the latter claim to be fallacious, i.e., I believe that the attainment of the Symbolic intersubjectivity via the Imaginary can be reached by various means, art understood in the modern manner being only one among them. It may hence be that art today is also simply losing that special social place and role which it possessed in modernist times. Or, contrarily, it could also be, as Jameson claims, that in postmodernism art has not yet succeeded in offering what he calls 'cognitive mapping': a symbolic placement of ourselves into this new reality of multinational capital. The absence of such a mapping causes, in his view, the schizophrenic nature of much of postmodern art and the situation in which 'we seem to be increasingly incapable of fashioning representations of our current experience.'22  


We can now return to the previous topic, i.e. that of culture and art in postmodernism. It seems rather obvious that postmodern art is less and less art and more and more 'culture', i.e., that rather neutral entity with no special qualitative prerogatives. This culture is moreover increasingly international, a feature related to the rapid technological advancements engendered within 'late capitalism'. Within such a cultural framework the previous modernist art (elite art) seems to have lost not only its place on the market of symbolic goods, but also most of its previous ('modernist') existential function: of showing or telling the hidden truth, of establishing a bond between the author and his or her audience via the artwork. But, then, hasn't that been a process already typical of modernism itself? Haven't modernist neoavant-gardes frantically attempted to destroy the last remnants of artistic rules and of the depth of meaning and to replace them with the sheer surfaces of objecthood and thinghood? Hasn't such a trend inconspicuously denigrated not only the linguistic means as the vehicle of meaning ('literature') but also facilitated if not even engendered the relative randomness of theoretical reflection upon the visual arts? Hasn't this been hailed as artistic 'freedom', 'expression', 'experiment', and 'novelty'? Can't we therefore say that the demise of modernism is of its own doing? True, it coincided with the enormous technological developments which enabled Heidegger's die Technik to become not only intertwined but almost indistinguishable from art. To discern this change it suffices to compare our distinction between Kraftwerk and Kunstwerk and Heidegger's.23 Ours has probably almost disappeared - not because a hydroelectric plant would have essentially changed in the meantime, but because in the meantime technology has so altered our perception of what an artwork is. Moreover, art and artists have succeeded in persuading us that practically anything can be designated as an artwork, a view possessing its philosophical equivalent in the institutional theory of art. Let me stress again that all these events were characteristic of modernism, so that postmodernism is in this respect merely its historical continuation (and perhaps limit). To determine who the artistic 'culprits' of such a change have been it suffices to examine the visual artists who have easily passed from designation as modernists into that of postmodernists: Marcel Duchamp, Andy Warhol, Joseph Beuys, the surrealists. In the ideas and works of these artists we find traits typical for modernism and postmodernism: subjective detachment, play with materials and objects, with die Technik (Duchamp), an insistence on establishing a void between one's subjectivity and that of the public (to render works opaque to meaning), to juxtapose incongruous materials and elements, the avoidance of depth in painting, etc.

By stressing similarities between modernism and postmodernism I want to show that postmodernism isn't such a break as is often claimed and that it actually represents a rather straightforward continuation of trends inherent within modernism. Differences also exist, foremost among them being the radical reorientation to visual culture. It is the 'industrial' or mass aspect of culture that has since permeated the world. The culture industry has furthermore increasingly become the visual culture industry, with music and other media lending a helping hand. Today it could be furthermore claimed that we are already entering the next stage which extends beyond the visual and which is increasingly multimedial and multisensory. Nonetheless the image still remains the main vehicle of communication. The reasons for such a course of events are clear: the image (supported by sound) is perceptually more easily accessible (images 'speak for themselves', meaning that they are also very persuasive); it is also technically simple to transmit them. It is also costly; the industry hence requires a large market, preferably a world one.

The predominance of the image, or the 'pictorial turn', helps to explain the recent 'linguistic turn' in philosophy and in theory in general. Furthermore this predominance seemingly signals something else: the failure of the word. It has been often said that the Reformation caused not only the secularisation of images but also their preponderance in society as such. Modernism itself was nonetheless basically dependent upon ideological, political and literary discourses.24 In postmodernism literature is rapidly drifting to the backstage, with the centerstage being spectacularly illuminated by visual culture. Moreover, this centerstage turns to be not only a stage, but the world: in public space as such aestheticization is omnipresent. But then, couldn't we also justly claim that the current 'pictorial turn' may be just a supplement to the continuation of the social and historical role of the word? That what is happening may be but the benign proliferation of visual culture in a world in which it has been, not long ago, rather marginal? Moreover, that the image is currently, by supplementing the word, actually widening (and not undermining) the existing realm of the signs? This would be unproblematically so if only the images didn't possess that peculiar power to act upon our senses, upon our emotions, in short, to persuade us in a non-reflective way, a feature of theirs which was at the root of much of the historical iconoclasm. Images prevent totalization. 'The attempt to  express universal ideas  in pictorial form, warns Lessing, produces only the grotesque forms of allegory.'25  

In this respect images are non-modernist, for modernism was, with its accentuation of discourse, just that: an attempt at totalization. Generalizing and totalizing are inherent to rational linguistic discourse. Modernist visual art inherently demanded a totalizing discursive foundation - something that postmodern art and culture can do without. In this respect much of postmodernism appears as a non- if not an anti-Enlightenment cultural trend, for reason is basically dependent upon rational and hence totalizing discourse. The current technical innovations of course concern more than just images; they also concern text or, rather, sound. It is sound which is the invisible supplement and the auxiliary vehicle of meaning for the moving image. (It is the caption (or title) which is its equivalent in the case of the static image.) Images entertain, but so did mass culture in modernism, it was merely that nobody then (except perhaps sociologists) took it seriously enough to pay it any theoretical attention. In those times 'pulp fiction' and the emergent mass media played the role of 'culture' for enormous segments of society. Their role was in this respect no different from the technologically advanced specular culture of the present time. What is different is the scope of current changes and the causes underlying them: as Jameson points out, postmodernism is the first global cultural dominant to emerge from the US. (It was in the American culture that Adorno's and Marcuse's critiques of consumer culture found their prime target.) The increased commodification of postmodern culture is one of its prime movers, a feature that makes it, from a modernist viewpoint, instantly suspect. I see today no good reason for such a view, for why allow for the broadening of culture and aestheticization and avoid commodification as if it necessarily entails the end of all resistance? Postmodern art and culture are not just aestheticized objects and images. Besides, according to some, postmodernism has already succeeded in avoiding some of the pitfalls of commodification, for it is supposedly radical and conservative, avant-garde and incorporated in the same breath,26 and hence far from being essentially different from past art.


The current critique of the 'society of the spectacle' as the latest stage of modernity coincides with a similar critique of postmodernism, since the latter is predominantly visual. It is a culture in which images and pictures are not only intertwined but readily interchangeable. There have been attempts to theorize these recent changes,27 but the dissemination and decentering of these changes has so far mostly resisted them. Due to ambiguities arising from the recent conflation of elite art and mass culture or, rather, their transformation into a different, more omnipresent cultural environment within which art is rapidly losing its previous existential nature and acquiring a self-referentiality that delimits it from any kind of transfer of subjectivity, it appears as if modernist art has been unwarrantedly replaced by its simulacrum. I have tried to show that such a process was inherent to modernism itself and that the recent rise of visual and media culture is not only an event occurring within culture per se, but also within technology and the market forces associated with it. I also pointed out that the 'image' and 'ocularcentrism' have a long history within our civilization. Whereas important differences exist between modernism and postmodernism, the two should, I believe, nonetheless be viewed as a part of the same global historical process and era. The renewed theoretical iconoclasm will not diminish the social, political and emotional impact of the image, it will simply allow it to exist and function unreflected. Also, the reduction of the current culture, based on recent technological advancements, to the image alone (while forgetting the equally important, albeit less perceptible presence of the sound and the text or even tactile and spatial features of various works), is an unjustified oversimplification.

The current images, supplemented with sound, offer no adequate theoretical correlate. In the modernist past textual discourse, be it that of theory or of the 'overdeveloped critical activity',28 was the final point of reference in which non-discursive representations or symbolizations found their reflexive confirmation, evaluation and hence a means of inclusion into the realm of 'art'. Such a 'translation' (of a picture, piece of music, dance, etc.) into a text elevated them onto the level of the privileged modernist form of symbolization - that of linguistic discourse. Especially because of their ephemeral nature the current moving pictures usually avoid textual fixation. Even when they allow for it, this in itself has no great impact, for the theoretical reflection is being transmogrified into a fleeting activity with no great social consequences. Also, since they predominantly refer not to an existentially experienced reality but to a hyperreality offered by the entertainment industry, the need to theorize upon them, except in a very generalized sense, hardly ever arises. This need is further diminished by the contemporary suspicion regarding totalizing discourse. The more recent interactive technologies replace the recent rather distinct opposition between the word and the image with an increasingly disseminated field of various sensory data which are offered for our consumption. While a large segment of the entertainment industry offers hyperreality only to attract the necessary attention and feed the Imaginary with new sensory data, what could have been called 'authentic art' with its disintegrated links between the referent, the signifier and the signified, more profoundly reflects a newly constructed social reality. Whereas such art can claim to be 'authentic', the severance of the signifying chain nonetheless thwarts discursive fixation and totalization, hence in this respect placing such art in a rather similar position to that of the products of the entertainment industry.

For art to effect a role similar to the one it held in modernism, a new 'cognitive mapping' is a necessary precondition. Whether this aim will be attained by art, current culture (or something else) still remains to be seen. Another question, perhaps even more pertinent, is to what extent a mapping such as the one we have known under modernism is actually possible. And furthermore, can art under the present circumstances offer a mapping that can be discursively articulated? What seems almost certain is that art today is and probably will remain profoundly different from that of the recent past. But then, such a contention would also have been justified when comparing, for example, the art of modernism and that of realism.


1. Hans Jonas, The Phenomenon of Life. Toward a Philosophical Biology (New York: Harper & Row, 1966), p. 135.

2. Moshe Barasch, Icon. Studies in the History of an Idea (New York: New York U.P., 1992), p. 111.

3. Quoted in Sergiusz Michalski, The Reformation and the Visual Arts (London: Routledge, 1993), p. 62.

4. Martin Jay, 'Scopic regimes of Modernity', Force Fields (London: Routledge, 1993), p. 115.

5. Cf. Jean-François Lyotard, Discours, figure (Paris: Klincksieck, 1971).

6. Martin Jay, Downcast Eyes. The Denigration of Vision in Twentieth-Century French Thought (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993).

7. Norman Bryson, Vision and Painting. Logic of the Gaze (New Haven: Yale U.P., 1983).

8. Cf. 'Scopic Regimes of Modernity'.

9. Cf. Svetlana Alpers, The Art of Describing (London: Penguin, 1983).

10. W.J.T. Mitchell, Picture Theory (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1994), pp. 12-13.

11. Ibid., p. 15.

12. W.J.T. Mitchell, Iconology. Image, Text, Ideology (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1986), p. 43.

13. ' As soon as television receivers can be made and sold, the public will eagerly buy them in tremendous quantities,  [says in December 1944] Mr. Carmine [of Philco Corporation].' Scientific American, December 1994, p. 10.

14. See Jean-Luc Nancy, Ego sum (Paris: Aubier-Flammarion, 1979), pp. 12-13.

15. Fredric Jameson, The Seeds of Time (New York: Columbia U.P., 1994), p. xii.

16. See Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (London: Verso, 1991), pp.35-6.

17. Ibid., p. ix. Since Jameson is not very clear about the nature of this 'nature', I should perhaps point out that we should view nature not only as a 'referent' which is of course culturally mediated but, moreover, also as that culture which has been transmogrified into 'nature'. What this signifies can be illustrated for example by Susan Buck-Morss's observation that, '[b]y the twentieth century, Benjamin was saying, the  new nature  of industrial culture had generated all the mythic power for a  universal symbolism '. - Susan Buck-Morss, The Dialectics of Seeing. Walter Benjamin and the Arcades Project (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1991), p. 255.

18. Jameson, Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, p. 96.

19. Jean Baudrillard, 'Simulacra and Simulations' (1981), in: Selected Writings, ed. and intr. by Mark Poster, (Cambridge: Verso, 1988), p. 168.

20. Ibid., p. 170.

21. Jameson, Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, p. 5.

22. Ibid., p. 21. It is fairly obvious that Jameson is here somewhat clandestinely following Georg Lukács's theory from the History and Class Consciousness (1924), for 'cognitive mapping' could also be understood as synonymous with 'class consciousness'.

23. 'What the river [Rhine] is now, namely, a water-power-supplier, derives from the essence of the power station. In order that we may even remotely consider the monstrousness that reigns here, let us ponder for a moment the contrast that is spoken by the two titles:  The Rhine,  as dammed up into the power works [Kraftwerk], and  The Rhine,  as uttered by the art work [Kunstwerk], in Hölderlin's hymn by that name. But, it will be replied, the Rhine is still a river in the landscape, is it not? Perhaps. But how? In no other way than as an object on call for inspection by a tour group ordered there by the vacation industry.' - Martin Heidegger, 'The Question Concerning Technology' (1953), Basic Writings, ed. by David Farrell Krell, (San Francisco: Harper, 1977), p. 297.

24. This was probably even more so in the former socialist countries where literature was art par excellence.

25. Mitchell, Iconology. Image, Text, Ideology, p. 41.

26. Cf. Terry Eagleton, The Ideology of the Aesthetic (Oxford: Blackwell, 1990), esp. p. 373 et passim.

27. See for example Scott Lash, Sociology of Postmodernism (London: Routledge, 1990), where the author applies Lyotard's distinction of the discourse and figure to modernism and postmodernism, with the former privileging the discursive and the latter the figurative (and hence also the image).

28. Marion Praz, Mnemosyne. The Parallel Between Literature and the Visual Arts (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1974), p. 216.

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