Danger

28Nov11

Cadava, Eduardo. ‘Danger’ Words of Light: Theses on the Photography of History (Chichester: Princeton University Press, 1997) 47-59

p.47

It is because the question of reproducibility extends far beyond the realm of art that it raises the possibility of the democratization of death. Not only does technical reproducibility change our relation to death, but the incursion of the technical media into our everyday life introduces us into what Jünger calls, speaking of technology in general, “a space of absolute danger” [In Of Danger]

This danger can be registered, according to Benjamin, in the reproducibility that transforms us into a recording apparatus.

p.49

The techniques of reproduction, Benjamin suggests, disperse the unique occurrence of the artwork into a mass whose reproduction sets it into circulation and motion. No longer to be understood in terms of the traditional values of singularity and originality, this mass artwork now belongs to a network of unforseeably mediated relations that, encountering a recording apparatus, comes to itself as a reproduced mass.

What links the artwork to the masses – or the making of films to the formation of masses – is that both have their origins in techniques of reproduction. They are both produced, that is, according to the structure and operation of technological reproduction.

pp.49-50

Benjamin’s interest in the production techniques of film and photography corresponds to his conviction that what takes place on a film set or in a photography studio is related, if not identical, to what takes place outside this same set or studio: the emergence or mobilization of images.

p.50

Jünger reads the pervasive violence of technology in the transformation of humanity into a new type of technologized, functionalistic human beings. The features of this transformation, he suggests, are legible in the increasing uniformity of social life, the technologizing of the everyday world, and the growing militarization of society.

For [Jünger], war not only names the central experience of modernity; it also plays an essential role in our understanding of technological reproduction in general and of photography in particular.

p.51

Pointing to the mass of archival photographic material given to us by the war, Jünger evokes the relation that for him exists between war and photography. We could even say that, for this aesthetician of war, there can be no war without photography.

Like the camera flash that enables the emergence of an image, German and English bombers dropped incendiaries both to trace bombing areas and to light up nocturnal targets.

To say that there would be no war without the production of images is to say that there could be no war without the flash of the camera. In the experience of the German light-wars, the technology of warfare comes together with the techniques of perception.

p.52

Linking war to photography and weapons to images, Jünger argues that modern technological warfare gives birth to a specifically modern form of perception organized around the experience of danger and shock.

Identifying the contemporary zone of danger with the realm of technology in general, he claims that a modern type is arising in response to “the increased incursion of danger into daily life”., whose aim is to develop an anesthetized relation to danger: “If one were to try to describe the ‘type’ that is emerging today, one could say that its most striking characteristic is the possession of a ‘second’ consciousness. This second, colder consciousness is indicated by the ever more marked ability to see oneself as an object.” [from Photography and the ‘Second Consciousness’]

p.53

The technologies of perception, Jünger suggests, facilitate the reproduction of a kind of accord or consensus among the masses. This consensus signals the objectification of our views of the world, our transformation into things that can no longer experience pain.

Like the artificial eye of the camera, whose gaze stands “outside the zone of sensibility”, our manner of seeing neutralizes what it sees and thereby brings it under the understanding of photography. If photography is indeed a “revolutionary” fact, it is because it has turned the entirety of the world into a photographable object.

For Jünger, however, the technical media and photography are also a means of disciplining the masses.

In particular, the disciplinary function of the technical media works to distract or disperse the masses – to take them away from themselves in order to prevent them from experiencing pain directly.

The numbing effect of the media is linked in Benjamin and Kracauer to the distraction and dispersion that characterize our response to film.

p.55

[…] in an age whose signature is total reproducibility, Jünger tries to envision an idea of a modern community, a return to the logic of togetherness inscribed within the values of Gemeinschaft that, remaining faithful to the new demands of this technological era, can be mobilized in order to give direction and form to the contemporary masses.

For Benjamin, it is precisely this mobilization – one that, expressing the truth of the masses, gives them a figure or form – that lies behind the fascist mobilization of masses.

p.56

What makes a mass masslike, Benjamin explains, are the techniques of reproduction and photography that enable a mass to see itself in the face – to see itself looking at itself – as if it were looking in a mirror. If fascism works to allow the masses to view themselves according to the laws of self-reflection, if it wishes to give a face to the masses by means of the media, Benjamin claims the masses can never be given a face.

The contrast between Jünger and Benjamin here could hardly be more striking. If Benjamin notes that Baudelaire’s mass has neither a face nor a gaze with which it might see itself looking at itself, it is because he wishes to write against the fascist formation of masses. He wants to interrupt a mobilization of film and photography whose aim would be to give the dispersed and distracted masses not only a face but also a form and a voice.

p.57

Although we could say that there are many relays between Jünger’s thoughts on photography and those of Benjamin – they each claim that the experience of photography involves an encounter with danger and shock, that technology in general has brought us nearer to death, that every document of civilization is touched by a certain barbarism – Benjamin meets Jünger’s desire for total mobilization with an insistence on immobilization, his desire for expression with an interest in what remains expressionless, his wish for community with the dispersion of community, the aura with the aura’s disintegration, and the giving of a face with what never has a face.

pp.57-58

That fascism names the filmic and photographic mobilization of the identificatory mechanisms of the masses means that there can be no politicization of the human face that does not belong to an ideological combat zone.

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