Posted by: glue | March 19, 2010

The Experienced Image

The experiment conducted in this blog is guided by the work of two graduate seminars, one focusing on image “expression,” and the other on image “experience.”  The category “Seminar” holds excerpts from email responses to student posts made during the semester. The seminar on The Experienced Image began with Blanchot’s The Writing of the Disaster in the Theory slot of its CATTt.

The structure Blanchot offers is:  a childhood incident, associated with a new


awareness, a shift in relationship or stance, consciousness in short, plus the memory of it (that it is remembered).  The function of the primal scene is that it puts you into the exchange relationship with  the disaster, and formats or attunes the figure that emerges necessarily  from the juxtaposition.  You need to discover/create the figure, by  deciding which attributes of the two documentations (the scene/the disaster) correspond.

The disaster in WotD is the Holocaust.  Blanchot cited a Holocaust survivor as saying that we cannot know, but we must remember.  Claude Lanzmann, who made the documentary film Shoah, insisted that it was obscene to try to explain the Holocaust.   Adorno declared that after Auschwitz there could be no poetry.  The ethical caveats are the fear that to put a disaster into art beautifies, aestheticizes, and so obliterates the horror and with it the responsibility.  This fear was the source of much of the criticism of Spielberg’s film, Schindler’s List.  The category that has emerged as a way to respect these concerns is that of testimony, with a prototype being Celan’s poetry.  Celan was a camp survivor.  Our issue, the one imposed by selecting Blanchot, concerns the condition of bystanders.

Blanchot explicitly rejected Sartre’s call for activism, for artists and intellectuals to abandon the aesthetic or formal (poetic) aspect of art and use their craft as polemics, in the explicit service of a cause (What is Literature).  Blanchot, in contrast, wondered what relationship with disaster art in its own terms proposes, in the heart of its formal aesthetic character, according to its own mode of experience.   The project he models is ethical, outlining a reflexive charge.  When you see the disaster elsewhere, the imperative is to prepare yourself: what would I do (what is that for me)?  This is an ancient genre, central to ancient wisdom:  Shipwreck with spectator (there is a book reviewing the history of this figure).  Blanchot gives us his insight into how wisdom works.  The decision you make on the occasion of a present disaster (always a surprise) has been prepared in advance, in this primal scene of your entry into consciousness. This point is important for our adaptation of the template to our own project.

We are not expected to imitate Blanchot’s conclusion, what he decided or retrospectively how he understood his own stance in the world, but rather the making of the decision, and the subsequent position that it entails.  It is not that at age seven Blanchot worked out an explicit philosophy, but that affectively and hence in his being he became oriented in a certain way, “turned” (vert) in a certain direction or entered into a trajectory or path.  Our blog should be the writing of this turn in our own case (its discovery/invention).  It is middle voice:  it happens in the blogging.

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