The Ground of the Image

The Ground of the Image

Translated by Jeff Fort
John D. Caputo series editor
Copyright Date: 2005
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 176
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  • Book Info
    The Ground of the Image
    Book Description:

    If anything marks the image, it is a deep ambivalence. Denounced as superficial, illusory, and groundless, images are at the same time attributed with exorbitant power and assigned a privileged relation to truth. Mistrusted by philosophy, forbidden and embraced by religions, manipulated as spectacleand proliferated in the media, images never cease to present their multiple aspects, their paradoxes, their flat but receding spaces.What is this power that lies in the depths and recesses of an image-which is always only an impenetrable surface? What secrets are concealed in the ground or in the figures of an image-which never does anything but show just exactly what it is and nothing else? How does the immanence of images open onto their unimaginable others, their imageless origin?In this collection of writings on images and visual art, Jean-Luc Nancy explores such questions through an extraordinary range of references. From Renaissance painting and landscape to photography and video, from the image of Roman death masks to the language of silent film, from Cleopatra to Kant and Heidegger, Nancy pursues a reflection on visuality that goes far beyond the many disciplines with which it intersects. He offers insights into the religious, cultural, political, art historical, and philosophical aspects of the visual relation, treating such vexed problems as the connection between image and violence, the sacred status of images, and, in a profound and important essay, the forbidden representation of the Shoah. In the background of all these investigations lies a preoccupation with finitude, the unsettling forces envisaged by the images that confront us, the limits that bind us to them, the death that stares back at us from their frozen traits and distant intimacies.In these vibrant and complex essays, a central figure in European philosophy continues to work through some of the most important questions of our time. Jean-Luc Nancy is Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the Universit Marc Bloch, Strasbourg. The most recent of his many books to be published in English are A Finite Thinking and Multiple Arts. Jeff Fort has translated works by authors such as Jean Genet, Maurice Blanchot, and Jacques Derrida. He is currently a lecturer in the Department of Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-6025-6
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-ix)
  3. Illustrations
    (pp. x-x)
  4. Note on the Texts
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. 1 The Image—the Distinct
    (pp. 1-14)

    The image is always sacred—if we insist on using this term, which gives rise to so much confusion (but which I will use initially, and provisionally, as a regulative term in order to set into motion the thought I would like to develop here). Indeed, the meaning of the “sacred” never ceases to be confused with that of the “religious.” But religion is the observance of a rite that forms and maintains a bond¹ (with others or with oneself, with nature or with a supernature). Religion in itself is not ordered by the sacred. (Nor is it ordered by...

  6. 2 Image and Violence
    (pp. 15-26)

    Two assertions about images have become very familiar to us. The first is that images are violent: we often speak of being “bombarded by advertising,” and advertising evokes, in the first place, a stream of images. The second is that images of violence, of the ceaseless violence breaking out all over the world, are omnipresent and, simultaneously or by turns, indecent, shocking, necessary, heartrending. These assertions lead very quickly to the elaboration of ethical, legal, and aesthetic demands (and there is also now the specific register belonging to the arts of violence and violence in art), for the purpose of...

  7. 3 Forbidden Representation
    (pp. 27-50)

    (Our question will be: just what is it that “mocks description”? That is, what is it that mocks the type of representation known as “description,” and what other representation takes place in the poem?)

    Oh you, thieves of the authentic hours of death,

    Of the last breaths and of eyelids falling to sleep,

    Be sure of one thing:

    “The angel gathers together

    What you cast away“²

    (And our interpretation shall be: the angel that gathers together these stolen deaths is the poem itself.)

    Concerning the representation of the camps or of the Shoah, one poorly formulated claim continues to circulate...

  8. 4 Uncanny Landscape
    (pp. 51-62)

    Pays, paysan, paysage(country, peasant, landscape): this is like the declension of a word or, rather, of a semanteme that would not be any of these three words, each of which would be one of its cases. There would thus be the case of location (pays), the case of occupation (paysan), and the case of representation (paysage). The location, occupation, and representation of a single reality. This reality would be nothing other than what is indicated by the Latin origin of the wordpays:pacus or pagus, the canton, that is, again—and this time in conformity with the word...

  9. 5 Distinct Oscillation
    (pp. 63-79)

    The difference between text and image is flagrant. The text presents significations, the image presents forms.

    Each one shows something: the same thing and yet a different thing. By showing, each one shows itself, and therefore also shows the other one across from it and facing it. It therefore also shows itself to it: image shows itself to text, which shows itself to image.

    Thus an imaged image and the wordimageshow—in showing each other and showing themselves (to be)—the same thing and yet a different thing. Furthermore: the word “image” shows itself as an image whereas...

  10. 6 Masked Imagination
    (pp. 80-99)

    Between the Renaissance and the nineteenth century, European thought (the world that was in the process of westernizing itself, of imagining itself as “world”) shifted from the painting to the projection screen, from representation to presentation, and from the idea to the image, or, more precisely, from the fantasy or the fantasm to the imagination. We can also say it thus: from ontology to phenomenology, or, therefore, from being to appearing, from form to formation, or from matter to force, from idea to conception, and, to sum it all up in a word: from sight [la vue] to vision. Or,...

  11. 7 Nous Autres
    (pp. 100-107)

    Someone who says “I,” in saying it, distinguishes himself. Indeed, he does nothing other than that: he separates himself, he sets himself apart, he even cuts himself off.I is an other, as Rimbaud said, and this obvious fact precedes any possible feeling of self-estrangement or alienation. Before being an other to oneself (which perhaps the self always also is),Iis an other to every otherI. Iamother than every otherIwho is (who can say “I am”). Through its enunciation, which adheres to the statement it makes and functions as a shifter for its meaning,...

  12. 8 Visitation: Of Christian Painting
    (pp. 108-125)

    Art never commemorates. It is not made to preserve a memory, and whenever it is set to work in a monument, it does not belong to the memorializing aspect of the work. The proof of this, if any were needed, is that there are monuments without art, whereas there is no work of art that is as such a monument. If art in general has any relation to memory, it is to that strange memory that has never been deposited in a remembrance, which is therefore susceptible neither to forgetting nor to memory—for we have never lived it or...

  13. 9 The Sovereign Woman in Painting
    (pp. 126-138)

    What we call Antiquity—that is, the first moment of the sunset pursuing its interminable and hazardous course far out in front of us— had a genius for figures. This period, in which the presence of the gods receded into the distance, becoming—it was said—only images or idols, was admirably adept at representing itself to itself, recounting itself and characterizing itself in exemplary paintings, scenes, and portraits. Among these are Homer, the blind poet, or Alexander cutting the knot, Xerxes and Cato, Athens and Carthage, as well as theagoraor the Roman Legion. At the very least,...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 139-158)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 159-161)