Kember, Sarah J. ‘The Virtual Life of Photography’, Photographies, 1:2, 2008, pp.175 – 203

After more than 150 years, we still do not know what photography is. The reason for this, I suggest, is indeed due to the deployment of a restricted range of disciplinary and conceptual frameworks – but only in part.

Memory constitutes the object, or essence, of photography and intuition constitutes, in Bergson’s formulation, an “empirical” method of aesthetic rather than scientific understanding. [Bergson, Creative Evolution] Intuition, for Bergson, is at odds with the intellect. The intellect blocks our understanding of life and all things that move and change, including, I would add, photography.

We have not understood what photography is, then, because we have relied too much on our intellects, never mind the constraints of specific disciplines.

Applying intuition as a method, rather than “a feeling, an inspiration” or “a disorderly sympathy” [Deleuze], involves the use of certain acts, or rules.

The first of these requires us to distinguish between true and false problems, since false problems obfuscate understanding. Coincidentally, for both Barthes and Bergson, the problem of realism which has so dominated debates on photography and philosophy, respectively, is a false one.

Perhaps as a result of the historical separation between disciplines, it has taken contemporary thinkers a long time to catch up with this argument, and even now it can be said that the arts are predominantly idealist, while the sciences are predominantly realist.

For Barthes, the problem of realism is part of the problem of classification, and classification is always external to the object of photography – “without relation to its essence”.

His search for the essence of this mother supersedes, and overlays, his search for the essence of photography. It leads him to replace photography with the photograph, memory with the memory, virtual existence with actual existence, and ironically, perhaps, (her) life with (his) death.

The second rule of intuition as a method requires us to distinguish between differences in degree, and differences in kind – or between false and true differences. Photographs can only be different in degree, but photography is a difference in kind. What makes it so is the existence, within photography, of memory.

Memory, in the abstract, exists somewhere between the particular subject who remembers, and the particular object that stimulates the remembrance (Proust, and his madeleine). Memory, in the abstract, exists virtually – as a potential and endless reserve of actual memories – but its existence is real.

One of the false problems which dominates debates on photography is the failure to distinguish between virtual memory and actual memories. Photography cannot be equated with, or reduced to, a supply of memories. That is simply how it is marketed. Photography neither fabricates nor fixes memories, and is therefore wrongly judged when it is deemed to be either more, or less, than them. In fact, it is other than them.

[The Winter Garden photograph did not capture or create a memory of Barthes’s mother] What it does is to actualise his memory of her (as an adult, as a parent) through a process, or perhaps a method, that he calls “affect”, and Bergson would call “intuition”. Neither affect nor intuition can be sustained. They do not last long.

Momentarily, they bring the referent, the real, to life, but they do not reside in the image which, by conveying memory into perception (and thus actualising it), simultaneously conveys life into death, movement into stasis. Photographs (analogue or digital) do not move, and are not vital, but photography (analogue or digital) is.

By pursuing a sequence of hermeneutic distinctions, in line with Bergson’s method (photography/photograph; virtual/actual; memory/perception), I will attempt to demonstrate how memory, as an ontology of becoming, constitutes the virtual life of photography, and how intuition enables us, however fleetingly, to connect with it.

Intuition may afford us a privileged access to the ontology of photography, but there are two reasons why it remains relevant to consider photography from the outside. The first is that we cannot help but do this. Our primary mode of understanding is intellectual, not intuitive, and our intellects are dominated by the sense of sight.

The theory of photography as-we-have-known-it has been preoccupied with the conjunction of perception, representation, knowledge, power, and subjectivity which Barthes ultimately assigned, or in fact consigned, to the realm of the studium.

Like Barthes, having distinguished two themes in photography – what he calls studium and punctum, and what I’m referring to as “exteriority” and “interiority” – I will occupy myself first with one, and then the other.

However, the second reason for doing this, beyond that of necessity, has to do with their ultimate, and in fact original, co-existence.

As a medium that is simultaneously technological, social, and economic, photography, like other media (we are dealing here with exteriority, and therefore with differences in degree), can never really be new.

Photography can never really be new, because new technologies do not necessarily create new uses; quantitative changes do not necessarily produce qualitative changes of equal extent.

There is no cause and effect of digitisation. Thinking in terms of cause and effect is part of the false evolution of photography.

The other part is thinking in terms of endpoints. Photography does not culminate in anything, including the variously named phenomenon of ubiquitous computing (or ambient intelligence, pervasive computing, intelligent media) – even if its invisibility as a technology is being enhanced.

Strictly speaking, Bolter and Grusin’s concept of remediation reduces the designation of new media to an oxymoron. There are no new media without old media: remediation is the structural condition of all media.

The idea, for example, that the code, the algorithm or the pixel has “substituted” for the image – rather than engaged in a relationship of continuity and transformation with it – is technologically deterministic, and entirely false. It is false in that it divides the technological aspect of the medium from all others. It is also false in that it equates technological convergence with revolutionary progress towards an ultimate goal. [Citing Manovich]

Photographs, like the forms of artificial intelligence and artificial life, have the capacity to appear relatively autonomous, animated and agential. They can seem life-like in a way that the introduction of digital photo frames is presently only hinting at, and there is no reason why they should not correspond to the criteria for life established within the field of artificial life: self-organisation, self-replication, evolution, autonomy, and emergence [Boden].

Photographs can never become life-like, but photography already is. It is not (techno)science or the intellect that reveals this to us, but intuition as a method, and as a biological, not a psychological, tendency […]

Intuition brings us into direct contact “or community” with the object.

The intellectual tendency constitutes an evolutionary divergence from the intuitive tendency, especially, perhaps, in humans. Its purpose is to know and represent, in order to act and intervene in the material world. This is a world that the intellect perceives to be divided spatially into discrete entities or things, which may succeed each other, but do not in themselves change. From an intellectual point of view, the material world, reality itself, is inert.

This, for Bergson, is a fundamental misconception. Contrary to being inert, reality is a continuous process of becoming. The intellect, as it culminates in science, cannot know or represent reality as movement (or time). It can only misrepresent it as stasis (or space). It does this on the basis of evidence provided by the primary sense of sight, and although the knowledge it produces is, strictly speaking, inaccurate, it is nevertheless useful.

By conceiving only of things, and the relations between things, we are able to manipulate them, adapt them, and control them – albeit at the cost of imagining ourselves to be separate, or distinct from them. If intuition is a kind of bond that connects us to reality, “intelligence is essentially external; it makes us regard reality as something other than our life, as something hostile that we may overcome”.

Photographs are part of that attitude to reality when they are used, or utilised, as intellectual artefacts.

But as Barthes demonstrated in his discussion of the studium and punctum, photographs are always, potentially, more than that. They can provoke, be disturbed by, a very different attitude. Both are integral to photography.

Intuition is akin to instinct, and in evolutionary terms it is actually instinct from which the intellect has diverged. Instinct is the unconscious bond with reality that provokes bodily action and reaction in all animals, but perhaps least of all in humans.


Tactile Looking


Olin, Margaret. ‘Tactile Looking’ Touching Photographs (London: University of Chicago Press, 2012) 1-21


Photographs are visible, but photography is not only a “visual” practice.


There is a tension between looking and touching; the two activities seem to alternate like a blinking eye, as though we cannot do both at the same time. Many of us are blind to what touches us most nearly.


Walter Benjamin knew that as a mode of perception, distraction involves touch. It pertains especially to architecture, appropriated through vision and touch, “noticing the object in an incidental fashion.” But photographs are the architecture of a mostly paper environment made up of newspapers, flyers, posters, and screens, and distraction pertains to them,too, even when we fall in love with them.

Like architecture, the medium of photography to a large extent, and in a variety of ways, engages the tactile sense.

The word photograph, meaning “light-writing,” evokes both vision and touch, and in exploiting the slippage between two parts of its name, photography gains power as a relational art, its meaning determined not only by what it looks like but also by the relationship we are invited to have with it.

Distraction does not make for a perception of something as less real. In fact, while the details may diminish, the representation viewed distractedly may impart an enhanced sense of presence.

And, along with distracted viewing, the sense of presence can lead to mistakes, like the mistakes we make when confused by the presence of our lover. There inattention and the attendant careless errors are not at stake, but rather the heightened attention that produces heightened mistakes.

The significance of tactile looking, mistaken or not, is that is is more act than reading, it produces more than it understands. In contrast, readings aimed at understanding rely on a visual conception of looking.


The notion of touch as a conduit to reality survives in metaphoric expressions of ordinary language that invoke touch to convey a sense of validation, evidence, and proof. A “touch” is a metonymic part: a little bit of something, just a trace, is a touch of it.

Batchen, Geoffrey. ‘Ere the Substance Fade: Photography and hair jewellery’ Photographs Objects Histories: On the materiality of images ed. by Elizabeth Edwards and Janice Hart (London: Routledge, 2004) 32-46


[On a photo-locket]

Designed to be touched, this object touches back, casually grazing the pores of my skin with its textured surfaces. In this mutual stroking of the flesh, object and image come together as one; I behold the thingness of the visual, the tooth of its grain, even as I encounter the visuality of the tactile, the piercing force of its perception.

Organised around a canon of presumed masters and masterworks, with originality, uniqueness and aesthetic innovation as its principle tropes, photography’s art history has tended to ignore ordinary, commercial photographic practices, of which photo-jewellery is certainly one.


[…] it is tempting […] to abandon the discipline of photo-history altogether and adopt in its place the methods and concerns of material culture, a mode of analysis that exlicitly addresses itself to the social meanings of artefacts.

[Batchen wants] to resist this temptation, however, and instead keep working towards changing photography’s history from within. Otherwise the genre of photographic jewellery will continue to be left out of photographic histories, finding itself confined to the relative ghettos of social history or cultural anthropology, or lost in a vast continuum of related, but non-photographic, representational practices. I want, in contrast, to concentrate on the particularities of my locket’s ‘photographicness’.

Savedoff, Barbara E. ‘Transforming Media: Painting, Photography and Digital Imagery’ Transforming Images: How Photography Complicates the Picture (New York: Cornell University Press, 2000) 185-209


[on painting and photography] the relations between these two media have undergone important changes, from the time of photography’s first struggle to define itself against painting, to the present time, when with the help of digital technology, photography again finds itself moving closer to painting.


Maynard describes how technologies can generally be understood as amplifiers of our powers of locomotion, of communication, or of production, among others, but he points out that while a given technology will amplify certain of our powers, it will, typically, suppress others.

Maynard describes photography as a technology that enhances our powers of depiction and detection, and he calls on us to investigate the suppressions to which photography may be subject.


New technologies alter, rather than simply extend, the resources of art.

The development of a new medium can change the way we see and use older media, and can thus change our readings of works produced in those older media. Once beliefs and practices have altered, artists may find that certain types of effects can no longer be obtained.

Now that we’ve done all that stuff that you can see in history-of-photography books, now that we’ve become obsessed with re-creating that past over and over again – how can we turn around, to look at and move into the future?

via Conscientious Extended | Photography After Photography? (A Provocation).

Lomax, Yve. ‘Future Politics/The Line in the Middle’ Writing the Image (London: I.B.Tauris, 2000) 39-53


I, like many others, have searched for a point of certainty. yes, I hoped to find it and I was innocent or arrogant enough to think that I could find it, but I could never have found it. But still I searched. I journeyed. I felt that whilst it remained missing I too would be missing something.

At times I felt keen: I was a sleuth; I observed and took note. I felt confident that I was on the right track. I had my theories. At other times, however, I felt a wretched creature, ridden with guilt and an overwhelming sense of inadequacy. I was all over the place. I felt scattered.


I searched through books. I wrote many lines. I scratched around. I chased after words. I tried to pin down concepts, but butterflies in the wind, they remained only metaphors. One metaphor only left to another: I was never to find their roots.


Was the very possibility of reaching the point of the missing term excluded from the start? Had the missing term ever existed before its barring? The bar, I feared, concealed nothing at all. The prohibition was a fraudulent frontier which only simulated a territory beyond. It was that signifier of lack, that mark of absence, which constituted the ‘presence’ of the missing term.

From now on nothing remains independent  of its representation within representation. Nothing comes before, everything comes after. We are living in a ‘post-‘ world, a world without a solid centre or fixed reference point: a world without origin. The presence of a point of certainty has ceased to shine.

The means no longer follows a line which comes between – in the middle of – two fixed points or poles. We fear there is no beginning, no end.

No longer can we assume a linearity which brings the future straight into perspective. History is going nowhere; it has ceased to march to the same tune.

From now on nothing remains natural beyond the frame. Every exit from the frame is already framed; the outside is already inside.

We are living in an artificial world, a most unauthentic world. The nature of truth is in the end constituted by fiction. Metaphor has no true and literal origin. The world has become wholly one sided. Nothing remains genuine. Images of images. The copies endlessly flow. We have lost a world where we can truly tell the difference between the original and the copy.


Who amongst us can say, with all certainty, that the image is a surface, a front or facade, beyond which there is a higher or deeper level?


History no longer advances along a straightforward line, yet are we doomed to return to the circle?

Without beginning or end, the line in the middle remains open to breaking into and becoming other lines. No, not a question of fragmentation, of a whole which has been shattered to bits; rather, a question of the movement of lines which by way of breaking constantly make another line.


Searching for the whole, or the essences of things, has always sent me around in circles. The difference between either/or has always trapped me in a vicious circle.


A ‘thing’ only becomes a thing by way of its involvement with other things: a moving map with many entrances and exits. We can only ever know something partially. We can never stand apart: we too play a part.

Uncertain parts are not hidden secrets awaiting discovery, nor are they underlying essences which require revelation or liberation, nor are they mysteries, ‘irrational forces’, in need of the correct interpretation. On the contrary: they are the multiplicity of lines into which a partial line is capable of breaking.

An involvement is such a multiplicity.


Are we to say that time always follows a straightforward line? One, two, three: there is no absolute time. Time also also warps. [sic] Think of how it stretches. Time isn’t a single one line. The motion, the flow, of time isn’t always the same.

History is always in motion. Mutation. History is always altering its direction; it is made up of many different speeds. History no longer advances along a progressive line; it no longer follows a linear line which adds up to a ‘better time’.

The historical subject no longer works.


It may be said that the future is indeterminate, but this isn’t to assume that it doesn’t exist, that it is lacking: it is to say that the future doesn’t ‘naturally’ or ‘numerically’ follow on from the present. It isn’t to assume that anything goes, that all is arbitrary. I am thinking that the future is also a fiction: something which is made, fabricated, calculated and broken. The vision of the future isn’t necessarily in sight.


Perhaps the world has no image, least of all as a ball. To say this, however, isn’t to assume that images play no part. Indeed, it isn’t to say that they bear no relation to reality whatsoever, that they have drifting off in a nebulous state. Far from it. Images play a crucial part. Images do affect. They form many different involvements which the photograph forms. Images do change the world. A question of their partiality.

All those films, videos and photographs are never simply windows on the world or mirrors of the soul. Yes, think of when the image ceases to oscillate between the two poles of objective representation and subjective expression. The documentary image has no more a direct link to the real hard stuff than does the expressionistic image has to the sensitivity of the soul. It isn’t a question of a just link; it’s just a question of the absence of a link.

Images don’t stand between us and reality. the image is neither a divide nor a link. Images are not substitutes which stand in for things in their absence. Images are not substitutes for a ‘living memory’, and neither are words.


The gallery, the cinema, the book, the visual image, the photograph, the concept or the media: these are not closed spaces or containers with definite insides and outsides. Open rings. Which is to say that it is never a question of locating an alternative space. There is no other space which remains untouched, least of all what is named, beyond the frame, nature.



Agamben, Giorgio. ‘Desiring’ Profanations translated by Jeff Fort (New York: Zone Books, 2010) 53-54


We are unable to put our desires in language because we have imagined them. In reality the crypt contains only images, like a picture book for children who do not yet know how to read, like the Imagerie l’Epinal of an illiterate people. The body of desires is an image. And what is unavowable in desire is the image we have made of it for ourselves.

To communicate one’s desires to someone without images is brutal. To communicate one’s images without one’s desires is tedious (like recounting one’s dreams or one’s travels). But both are easy to do. To communicate the imagined desires and the desired images, on the other hand, is a more difficult task.

Judgement Day


Agamben, Giorgio. ‘Judgement Day’ Profanations translated by Jeff Fort (New York: Zone Books, 2010) 23-27


What quality fascinates and entrances me in the photographs I love? I believe it is this: for me, photography in some way captures the Last Judgement; it represents the world as it appears on the last day. the Day of Wrath.


[Agamben discusses the daguerreotype Boulevard du Temple the first photograph with a human figure.]


I believe there is a secret relationship between gesture and photography. The power of the gesture to summon and sum up entire orders of angelic powers resides in the photographic lens and has its locus, its opportune moment, in photography.


But there is another aspect of the photographs I love that I am compelled to mention. It has to do with a certain exigency: the subject shown in the photo demands something from us. The concept of exigency is particularly important and must not be confused with factual necessity. Even if the person photographed is completely forgotten today, even if his or her name has been erased forever from human memory – or, indeed, precisely because of this – that person and that face demand their name; they demand not to be forgotten.


Benjamin must have had something like this in mind when, referring to the photographs of David Octavius Hill, he wrote that the image of the fishwife gives rise to an exigency, a demand for the name of that woman who was once alive.

It is partly because they could not bear this mute apostrophe that the viewers of the first daguerreotypes had to turn away – they felt they were being watched by the people portrayed.

Dondero once expressed reservations about two photographers he admired; Henri Cartier-Bresson and Sebastiao Sagado. In the first he saw an excess of aesthetic perfection. He opposed both of them with his own conception of the human face as a story to be told or a geography to be explored.

I feel the same way: the photographic exigency that interpellates us has nothing aesthetic about it. It is, rather, a demand for attention.

The photograph is always more than an image: it is the site of a gap, a sublime breach between the sensible and the intelligible, between copy and reality, between a memory and a hope.


[To Proust] On the back of the photograph, Auber wrote, by way of dedication (and in English): Look at my face: my name is Might Have Been; I am also called No More, Too Late, Farewell. A pretentious dedication, certainly, but it perfectly expresses the exigency that animates every photograph and grasps the real that is always in the process of being lost, in order to render it possible once again.

Photography demands that we remember all this, and photographs testify to all those lost names, like a Book of Life that the new angel of the apocalypse – the angel of photography – holds in his hands at the end of all days, that is, every day.

Flusser, Vilem. ‘The Codified World’ Writings translated by Andreas Ströhl (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002) 35-41

[originally published in 1978]


If we compare our situation with the one that existed before the Second World War, we are impressed by the relative colorlessness of the time before the war.
Our environment is filled with color, which, day and night, in public and in private, sometimes loud and sometimes quiet, demands our attention.
This explosion of colors means something. We are exposed to a constant stream of colors. We are programmed by colors. They are an aspect of the codified world in which we have to live.
Colors are the manner in which surfaces appear to us. Thus if a ignificant number of the messages programmed for us appear in color, it means that surfaces have become important as carriers of message. Walls, screens, paper surfaces, plastic, aluminium, glass, textiles, and so on have become important “media”.
The situation before the war was relatively colourless because at that time, surfaces played a smaller role in communication. Lines dominated: letters and numbers, which were ordered in rows.
[…] the current explosion in colors points to an increase in the importance of two-dimensional codes. Or vice-versa: one dimensional codes like the alphabet now begin losing importance.
It would be unfortunate if we wanted to think of our situation as a return to illiteracy. The images that program us are not really the kind that dominated before the invention of printing.
[…] premodern images are the products of skilled hand-workers (“works-of-art”), and postmodern images are the products of technology. One can recognize a scientific theory at work behind the programmed images, but the same is not necessarily true for the premodern images.
Premodern man lived in a world of images, which meant the “world”. We live in a world of images, which theories regarding the “world” hope to symbolize.
A code is a system of symbols. Its purpose is to make communication between people possible.

Because symbols are phenomena that replace (“stand for”) other symbols, comunication is a substitute: it replaces the experience of “that which it intends”.


People must make themselves understandable through codes, because they have lost direct contact with the meaning of symbols. Man is an “alienated” animal, who must create symbols and order them in codes  if he wants to bridge the gap between himself and the “world”. He must attempt to “mediate.” He must attempt to give the “world” meaning.

Whenever one discovers code, one can infer human presence. [Flusser describes stones and bear bones scattered around 2 million year old anthropoid skeletons] For these circles are codes, the bones and stones are symbols, and the anthropoid was a man. For he was “alienated” (insane) enough to have given the world a meaning. Although we have lost the key to these codes – we do not know what these circles mean – we know that we are dealing with codes: we recognize the meaning-giving intention, the “artistic” in them.

Later codes, such as cave drawings, can be deciphered with less effort – because we use similar codes.

Symbols that consist of two-dimensional codes, as is the case in Lascaux, signify the “world” in that they reduce the four-dimensional situations of time and space to scenes. In that they “imagine” them. Taken literally, “imagination” means: the ability to reduce the world of situations to scenes. And vice-versa: to decipher the scenes as substitutes for situations, to make “maps”and to read them – including the “maps” that designate desired situations, for example,a future hunt (Lascaux) or gadgets to be built (blueprints).

An image is a surface whose meaning is suspended in a moment: It “synchronizes” the situations that it represents as a scene. But, after this moment of suspension, the eye has to wander around the image, to receive its meaning as it is. It has to “diachonize synchronicity.” {Flusser provides a drawing as an example]

For people programmed by images, time flows through the world the way the eye wanders across the image: it diachronizes, it orders things into positions. It is the time of the return from day to night to day, of sowing to reaping to sowing, of birth to death to rebirth, and magic is the technique that is called for in this experience of time. It orders all things in the manner of which they relate to each other within the cycle of time.
The world, the world of images, the “imaginary world” thus codified, possesses the same form of being as that of our ancestors who were programmed and cultivated for untold centuries: for them, the “world” consisted of a bunch of “scenes” that demanded magical attunement.
And then we came to an eruption, a revolution with such violent consequences that we are still breathless when we consider the event that took place six thousand years ago.
[Flusser provides a drawing to illustrate the turn from drawing to writing]
The invention of writing consisted not so very much in the invention of new symbols, but rather in the unrolling of the image into rows (“lines”). We say that with this event prehistory ends and history in the true sense begins.
Texts are a development from images and their symbols do not directly signify something concrete, but rather images.
Texts are one step further away from concrete experience than images, and “conceptualizing” is an additional symptom of being one step further away than “imagining”.
If one wants to decipher (“read”) a text, one must let the eye glide along the line. Not until the end of the line does one receive the message, and then one must attempt to bring it together, to synthesize it.
Linear codes demand a synchronization of their diachronicity. They demand progressive reception. And the result is a new experience of time, that is,linear time, a stream of unstoppable progress, of dramatic unrepeatability, of framing: in short, history.
The dialectic between surface and line, between image and concept began as a battle, and it was not until later that texts sucked up images.
Our ignorance about the new codes is not surprising. After the invention of printing, centuries passed before writers learned that writing means storytelling. At first they only documented and described scenes.
It will take just as long before we comprehend the virtualities of techno-codes, before we learn what photography, filming,videomaking, or analog programming signifies.
It will take a long time before we achieve a posthistorical consciousness; but we recognize that we are close to taking the next decisive step, either stepping back from texts or all the way past them.
Writing is a step away from images, because it allows images to dissolve into concepts.
A photograph is not an image of the facts at hand, as was the case with the traditional image, but rather the image of a series of concepts, which the photographer has come up with in the scene that signifies the facts at hand.
Not only can the camera not exist without texts (for example, chemical formulas), but the photographer must first imagine, then understand, to be able to “techno-imagine.”
With this step backwards out of the text and into the techno-image, a new degree of alienation has been reached: the “belief in texts” – in explanations, in theories, in ideologies – is lost, because texts are now recognized as “mediations,” just as images were once upon a time.
The revolutionary originality of techno-images is not that they move themselves, that they are “audiovisual,” that they shine in light of the cathode ray, and so on, but they are “models,” the image of a concept of a scene.
That is a “crisis,” because the reaching beyond texts disempowers old programs, such as politics, philosophy, and science, but does not replace them with new programs.
There are no parallels in the past that allow us to learn how to use techno-codes, for example, when they manifest themselves as an explosion of colors. But we have to learn it; otherwise we are condemned to endure a meaningless existence in a techno-imaginary codified world that has become meaningless.

Flusser, Vilem. ‘Photography and History’ Writings translated by Andreas Ströhl (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002) 126-131

[originally published in 1989]


We should differentiate between prehistoric, historical, and posthistorical images, and we should consider the photograph to be the first posthistorical image.

Prehistoric images are those that were produced before the invention of linear writing. Historical images are those that contradict linear texts either directly or indirectly. Posthistorical images are those that set linear texts into the image.


Historical images are manifestations by means of which the imagination defends itself against the linear conception of the world that wants to explain it away.

Even images that appear independent of texts, such as church windows,columns, or oil paintings, can be understood as illuminations of this type: they originate in historical consciousness, but oppose it with imaginative consciousness.

This dialectic, by means of which images become more conceptual and texts more and more imaginative, is the dynamic of history. This dialectic is interrupted thanks to the invention of letterpress printing. Texts get out of hand and images – as “art” – are expelled from everyday life.

From this point on all models of perception and behavior can be found in texts. As models of experience created for an elite, images become increasingly difficult to decode. Which is to say, culture is divided into two unequal branches.

The text branch drives history forward up to the industrial revolution and beyond, and the image branch threatens to wither, despite the fact that it has been transfigured by the Benjaminian aura.

This was the cultural situation about 150 years ago. Photography was invented to bring pictures back into everyday life, to bring perceptions and the behavior depending on them back to experience. To do this, the new images had to retain certain characteristics of printed texts. Like texts, they had to become mechanically producible, reproducible, and distributable, and their value had to be contained in the information that they carried rather than in their material base.


The division of culture into a scientific-technical culture and an artistic culture has been overcome thanks to photography: scientific perception and technical behavior can be experienced in the image.

Nevertheless the image has remained an image. Structurally speaking, it is antihistorical. We do not experience our environment through images as a process, but as a sequence of scenes.

Certainly, the photograph has succeeded in carrying the image into history; but, in doing so, it has interrupted the stream of history. Photographs are dams placed in the way of the stream of history, jamming historical happenings. Thus the photograph can be considered the first posthistorical image.

The historic-procedural (progressive) consciousness had begun to exhaust itself long before the invention of the photograph.


Since this time, most of the models of perception and behavior have been coded numerically, and we owe the photographic apparatus to the behavior coded this way. Numeric thought is timeless, because it perceives the environment as a mass of particles in which clusters form, either accidentally or intentionally.


Of course, there is a fundamental tendency toward becoming continually formless, and this tendency toward entropy can be used as a measure of time. Photographs are intentionally  produced, negatively entropic clusters. Negative entropy can be called “information.” From the perspective of formal consciousness, photographs are information intentionally produced from a swarm of isolated possibilities. Thus, photographs differ in principle from prehistoric images. Prehistoric images are worldviews (copies of the environment). Photographs are computed possibilities (models, projections onto the environment).

In photographs, the calculation of dot elements (such as molecules in silver compounds) and the computation of these elements into images are also apparent. They are not actually surfaces (like the prehistoric and historical surfaces), but rather mosaics.

Thus to be more exact in speaking about photographs, we should not say imagination, but rather visualization. For imagination is the ability to step back from the environment and to create an image of it. In comparison, visualization refers to the ability to turn a swarm of possibilities into an image.

Most of us (including most photographers) are still caught up in historical, progressive, enlightened consciousness. Thus, photographs are received with a different consciousness from the one that produces photo apparatuses.

Much of what is said and written with respect to photos can be attributed to this discrepancy. Photos are not received as projections, that is, as images of the future, but rather as copies of scenes, that is as images of the past.


And, it is generally assumed that photographs illustrate (document) happenings, as if they were historical images. The consequence of this misunderstanding between the programmers of photo-production and photo-distribution apparatuses and the addresses of the photographs is absolutely characteristic of the present cultural situation.


The programmers of photographs […] hover about history, and they project a potentially alternate future. To the addressees, however, photos are not the starting point of programs to be developed in the future, but rather end points of history.

The behavior of the addressees of photos expresses their understanding of them: being photographed is the goal of everything they do. For these sorts of addressees, the image is not a model of the future. Rather, they (and their environment) will be immortalized in the image.

This misunderstanding in convenient to the programmers. Because addressees behave according to the function of the images, they become functionaries of the modeling programs.

In this manner, the addressees of photographs are blind to the new level of consciousness where the photographs have been programmed. In this manner, the programmers become a cultural elite of technocrats, media operators, and opinion makers who manipulate an unconscious society.

[discussion of parallel situation with linear writing, and illiterate masses]


With respect to posthistorical images, we too are illiterate. We too are incapable of decoding the “software” generating these images.


The hegemony of the literati was breached thanks to the invention of the printing press: everyone became a literatus.The same is possible today: everyone can become a programmer.

Photographs are simply the first among the posthistorical images. In the case of photographs, the acquisition of the codes, in which the new consciousness articulates itself, is a more difficult task than in the case of more developed images, such as synthetic images.

Two aspects of the photograph make it more difficult. First, photos resemble copies more than projections. At first glance,a photo of an airplane does not reveal that, just like a synthetic computer image, it signifies a possible airplane rather than a given one.

Second, the photograph seems to be made by a photographer operating the apparatus, rather than by a software specialist programming the apparatus. The projecting and computing nature of the photograph is less evident than in synthetic images. Yet this is precisely why learning to photograph in the sense of a posthistorical projection is extraordinarily emancipatory. Because photographs are in the process of departing from paper and chemicals in favour of electro-magnetic fields, there are already numerous approaches to learning how to photograph.

Thus, the universe of images that surrounds us and whizzes us around will be changed from the bottom up.

It will be a universe through which we will project ourselves out of the present and into the future.

Flusser, Vilem. ‘Line and Surface’ Writings translated by Andreas Ströhl (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002) 21-34

[originally published in 1973]


Surfaces are becoming ever more important in our surroundings. For instance, TV screens, posters, the pages of illustrated magazines.

Photographs, paintings, carpets, vitreaux, cave paintings surrounded men in the past, but these surfaces did not offer themselves either in the quantity or with the degree of importantce of the surfaces that now surround us.

Ever since the “invention” of alphabetical writing (that is, ever since Western thought began the articulate itself), written lines surrounded men in a way that demanded explanation.

Western thought is “historical” in the sense that it conceives the world in lines, therefore in process. It can be no accident that historical feeling was first articulated by the Jews – the people of the book, that is, of linear writing. But let us not exaggerate: only a very few knew how to read and write, and the illiterate masses distrusted (and pour cause) the linear historicity of the scribes and clerks who manipulated the civilization.


The invention of the printing press vulgarized the alphabet, however, and it may be said that during the last hundred years or so the linear historical consciousness of Western man has formed the climate of our civilization.


The problem is to find out what adequation there is between the surfaces and the world on one hand, and between  the surface and the lines on the other.

What is the difference between reading written lines and reading a picture?

The difference seems to be that in reading lines we follow a structure imposed upon us, whereas in reading pictures we move rather freely within a structure that has been proposed to us.


We may in fact read pictures in the way described, but we need not necessarily do so. We may seize the totality of the picture at a glance, so to speak, and then proceed to analyze it by means of the above-mentioned pathways.


In fact, this double method  – synthesis followed by analysis (a process that may be repeated several times in the course of a single reading) – is what characterizes the reading of pictures.

This gives us the following difference between reading written lines and pictures: we must follow the written text if we want to get at its message, but in pictures we may get the message first, and then try to decompose it.

And this points to the difference between the one-dimensional line and the two-dimensional surface: the one aims at getting somewhere; the other is there already, but may reveal how it got there. The difference is one of temporality, and involves the present, the past, and the future.

If, then, we call the time involved in reading written lines “historical time,” we ought to call the time involved in reading pictures by a different name, because “history” has the sense of going somewhere, whereas, while reading pictures, we need go nowhere. The proof of this is simple: it takes many more minutes to describe what one has seen in a picture than it does to see it.


[discussion of reading films]

How we read films can best be described by trying to enumerate the various levels of time in which the reading goes on. There is the linear times in which the pictures of scenes follow one another. There is the time in which each picture moves. There is the time it takes for us to read each picture (which is similar to, though shorter than, the time involved in reading paintings). There is the time that is meant by the story the film is telling. And, very probably, there are other, even more complex, time levels.

[…] the reading of films goes on in the same “historical time” in which the reading of written lines occurs, but the “historical time” itself occurs, within the reading of films, on a new and different level.


Now, if by history we mean a project toward something, it becomes obvious that “history” as embodied in reading written texts means something quite different from what it means in reading films.


This radical change in the meaning of the word history has not yet become obvious, for a simple reason: we have not yet learned how to read films and TV programs. We still read them as if they were written lines, and fail to grasp their inherent surface quality.

But this situation will change in the very near future. It is even now technically possible to project films and TV programs that allow the reader to control and manipulate the sequence of the pictures, and to superimpose other pictures upon them.

In consequence, the “history” of a film will be something that is partly devised or manipulated by the reader.

Now, these developments imply a radically new meaning of the term historical freedom. For those who think in written lines, the term means the possibility of acting upon history from without. This is so because those who think in written lines stand within history, and those who think in films look at it from without.

The preceding considerations have not taken into account the fact that films are “talking” pictures.

Visually, films are surfaces, but to the ear they are spatial. We are merged in the ocean of sound and it penetrates us; we are opposed to the world of images, and it merely surrounds us.

This third dimension [sound], which drives a wedge into the surface reading of films, is a challenge to those who think in surfaces; only the future can show what will come of this.

Flusser, Vilem. ‘The Future of Writing’ Writings translated by Andreas Ströhl (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002) 63-69

[originally written, 1983-4]


Writing is an important gesture, because it both articulates and produces that state of mind which is called “historical consciousness.” History began with the invention of writing,not for the banal reason often advanced that written texts allows us to reconstruct the past, but for the more pertinent reason that the world is not perceived as a process, “historically,” unless one signifies it by successive symbols, by writing.

The difference between prehistory and history is not that we have written documents that permit us to read the latter, but that during history there are literate men who experience, understand, and evaluate the world as a “becoming,” whereas in prehistory no such existential attitude is possible.


If one examines certain Mesopotamian tiles, one can see that the original purpose of writing was to facilitate the deciphering of images.


It may be shown through text analysis that the original purpose of writing, namely, the transcoding of two-dimensional codes into a single dimension, is still there: every text, even a very abstract one, means, in the last analysis, an image.

The translation from surface into line implies a radical change of meaning. The eye that deciphers an image scans the surface, and it thus establishes reversible relations between the elements of the image.

The reversibility of relations that prevails within the image characterizes the world for those who use images for the understanding of the world, who “imagine” it. For them, all the things in the world are related to each other in such a reversible way, and their world is structured by “eternal return.”

In such a world, circular time orders all things, “assigns them their just place,” and if a thing is displaced it will be readjusted by time itself.

In sum: the “imagined” world is the world of myth, of magic, the prehistoric world.

The eye that deciphers a text follows its lines, and thus establishes the univocal relation of a chain between the elements of which the text is composed. Those who use texts to understand the world, those who “conceive” it, mean a world with a linear structure. Everything in such a world follows from something, time flows irreversibly from the past toward the future, each instant lost is lost forever, and there is no repetition.


In sum: the “conceived” world is the world of the religions  of salvation, of political commitment, of science, and of technology – the historical world.

Images are mediations between man and his world, a world that has become inaccessible to him immediately.

One must learn how to decipher these images, one must learn the conventions that give them their meaning, and one may commit mistakes.

The “imagination” that produces road maps is not the same as the “imagination” that produces cave paintings and projections. Explaining images with the help of texts may therefore be useful.

But there is another, and more profound, reason for the invention of writing and of historical consciousness. There is in images, as in all mediations, a curious inherent dialectic. The purpose of images is to mean the world, but they may become opaque to the world and cover it, even substitute for it.

No longer are such images tools, but man himself has become a tool of his own tools; he “adores” the images he himself has produced. It is against this idolatry of images, as a therapy against this double alienation, that writing was invented.

Writing, historical consciousness, linear, rational though were invented to save humankind from “ideologies,” from hallucinatory imagination.


For most of its course, historical consciousness was the privilege of a small elite, while the vast majority continued to lead a prehistoric, magico-mythical existence. This was so because texts were rare and expensive, and literacy the privilege of a class of scribes and literati. The invention of printing cracked this clerical case open, and it made historical consciousness accessible for the rising bourgeoisie, but it was only during the industrial revolution and through the public primary school system that literacy and historical consciousness can be said to have become common in the industrialized countries. But almost immediately, a new kind of image, the photograph was invented, which began to threaten the supremacy of writing, and it now looks as if the days of historical, rational conceptual thinking were numbered, and as if we were approaching a new type of magico-mythical age, a posthistorical image culture.

The reason why rational, conceptual thinking (and acting) is an exceptional form of existence, why history seems to be a brief interlude within the ageless “eternal return” of myth and magic, is that writing, just like images, is torn by an internal dialectic, and that this dialectic takes a more pernicious aspect in writing than it does even in image making. The purpose of writing is to mean, to explain images, but texts may become opaque, unimaginable, and they then constitute barriers between man and the world. The vectors of meaning of such texts turn around and point at their authors, instead of pointing at the world.

It is against the threatening rise of formal rationalism, of a meaningless existence amid speculative, opaque explanations, that the rise of the new image culture must be seen.


The new type of images are unlike their prehistoric predecessors in that they are themselves products of texts, and in that they feed on texts. They are products of history.

The essential difference between a TV program and a tapestry is not (as one might believe) that the one moves and talks while the other stands still and is mute, but that the TV program is the result of scientific theories (texts) and that it needs texts (for instance, telegrams) for it to function.

The easiest way to imagine the future of writing, if the present trend toward a culture of techno-images goes on, is to imagine culture as a gigantic transcoder from text to image.

All texts will flow into that box (news about events, theoretical comments about them, scientific papers, poetry, philosophical speculations), and they will come out again as images (films, TV programs,photographic pictures): which is to say that history will flow into the box, and that it will come out of it under the form of myth and magic.

In sum,  the future of writing is to write pretexts for programs while believing one is writing for utopia.


History may be said to be the attempt to submit imagination to the criticism of reason. Texts are meant to be critiques of images, and writing, as a code, is an analysis of surfaces into lines. Therefore, during history, imagination was the source of reason: the stronger the imagination,the greater the challenge of critical reason, and rich images permit more powerful linear explanation.

TV programs are not, of course, the most impressive examples of what happens when reason betrays itself and serves imagination. Nazism is a better illustration.


At present, the purpose of writing is to explain techno-images, and the task of reason is to criticize imagination.

To write meant, in the past, to render opaque images transparent for the texts they are hiding. In other words, reason, in the past, meant analysis of myths, and in the future it will mean de-idologization.

It is perfectly possible that the general trend toward techno-images will become irresistible, and that reason will degenerate into the planning of programs – that to write will mean not to make “grams” but “programs” and that all texts will become pretexts.

Thus, in fact, we may discern, at present, two possible futures of writing: it will either become a critique of techno-imagination (which means an unmasking of the ideologies hiding behind a technical progress that has become autonomous of human decisions) or it will become the production of pretexts for the techno-imagination (a planning for that technical progress). In the first alternative, the future will be unimaginable by definition. In the second,history in the strict sense of that term will come to an end, and we may easily imagine what will follow: the eternal return of life in an apparatus that progresses by its own inertia.

Kotz, Liz. ‘Language Between Performance and Photography’ October. Winter 2005, Issue 111, 3-21.


Although there is a tendency to see language as something like the “signature style” of Conceptual work, it is important to remember that the turn to language as an artistic material occurs earlier, with the profusion of text-based scores, instructions, and performance notations that surround the context of Happenings and Fluxus.

This turn to language, I will argue, occurs alongside a pervasive logic structuring 1960s artistic production, in which a “general” template or idea generates multiple “specific” realizations, which can take the form of performed acts, sculptural objects, photographic documents, or linguistic statements.


In what follows, I would like to propose one trajectory through this art, in which uses of language vector toward the conditions of “photography,” on the one hand, or toward the conditions of “performance,” on the other—not that these are clearly separable, as we will see.

[Discussion of Brecht,  Three Chair Events]

Viewed in retrospect, from the perspective of late-sixties Conceptual art, one is struck by the relative repression of  photography in most proto-Fluxus and Fluxus-related work. Although many early and mid-1960s performances were photographed—by Peter Moore, Manfred Leve, George Maciunas, and others—photography was rarely systematically employed or addressed by Brecht or other Fluxus artists, who apparently regarded photographs as secondary, documentary records of an experience that was primarily perceptual and temporal—not representational and static.


An almost moralistic aversion to the photographic reduction of experience was widespread around Minimalist art as
well, as is evident in Carl Andre’s comment that “art is a direct experience with something in the world, and photography is just a rumor, a kind of pornography of art.”


In a sense, Cagean and Minimalist projects were united by an ambivalence to inscriptive technologies and representational media: despite Cage’s use of radio broadcasts and magnetic tape in certain compositions, he famously refused to own phonographic records, which he viewed as falsifications of music, and many of his own performance protocols (such as the orientation to the visual and theatrical, to environmental sound and so forth) focus precisely on those elements that evade sound recording.


[discussion of Joseph Kosuth’s Proto-Investigations]


For all its powerful referential dimensions and its capacity to indicate and describe objects and experiences, language structurally entails certain gaps, between “word” and “thing,” between “meaning” and “intention,” which cannot be
eliminated in even the most precise communicative act or philosophical proposition.


[…] the shifts between the two pieces manifest a crucial series of transformations that occur in 1960’s art: from the heightened perceptual attention to phenomena and participatory models of post-Cagean projects to the systematic and
self-reflexive investigation of representational media characteristic of self-consciously Conceptual engagements.


Unlike in photography, with its logic of original and copy, the relationship between a notational system and a realization is not one of representation or reproduction but of specification: the template, schema, or score is usually not considered the locus of the “work,” but merely a tool to produce it; and while the “work” must conform to certain specifications or configurations, its production necessarily differs in each realization.


If photography as a means of documentation is so ubiquitous in late 1960’s art, this is not simply due to the proliferation of Earthworks, Conceptual practices, site-specific projects, and ephemeral realizations, but is a result of the fact that the “work of art” has been reconfigured as a specific realization of a general proposition.

Batchen, Geoffrey. ‘Photogrammatology: Writing/Photography’ Art Document, Winter (1994), 3-6


By projecting photography as a system of representation, each individual photograph becomes an historical, and therefore mutable, artefact of meaning.

This view of photography directly opposes  the one propagated since the late 1960’s by formalist scholars, such as John Szarkowski.

This Kantian historiography therefore entails a continual search for “concepts peculiar to photography,” for a photographic essence (a “photography-as-such”) that is able to transcend the specific contents or historical circumstances of any given image. Thus, for formalists, the object of photographic study is the very essence of photography itself.

Postmodernism has opposed itself to this search for essence, seeing it as both intellectually fruitless and politically conservative.

Motivated not by an essence specific to its own being but by the place it occupies within a dynamic field of intertextuality, a given photograph could mean anything. A photograph has a stable meaning at a particular moment in its history only because other potential meanings are momentarily suppressed. In other words, all meaning comes at a cost – the exercise of power.

[reference to Saussure]


Solomon-Godeau offers us an historical reading of photography that represses the thing itself in favor of its situated network of deployments, actions, and effects. In similar fashion, Tagg as specifically identified the history of photography with the “diversified field of a history of writing.” Not only does this equation again stress photography’s unbounded ubiquity but it also reiterates the notion that photography has no substantial identity of its own – no specific agency and  no photographic essence at its origin. For like photography, writing is regarded as another of those systems of representation that is merely instrumental in the transference of information and power from one place to another.


This idea is again central to work of Saussure. In his Course in General Linguistics, writing is presented as an imperfect, even dangerously distorting instrument for the representation of speech, the true expression of language.

So for Saussure, as for Tagg, the relationship between writing and speech is equivalent to the relationship between photography and reality. One is seen as an unequal representation of the other.

In Of Grammatology, Derrida shows how the supposed uniqueness of speech is entirely enfolded within the economy of writing. Writing, the denigrated supplement, the conduit through which true language merely passes, turns out to be the condition of possibility for any language whatsoever. The Saussurean desire to separate writing from its origin, to posit a unified and stable presence which comes “before writing,” involves a conceptual politics that Derrida terms logocentrism. As he points out, it is this same politics that in other contexts also persistently privileges man over woman (phallocentrism) and White over Black (ethnocentrism). And it is this same politics that one finds reproduced in the postmodern attempt to separate photographies from photography, context from thing, and reality from the photographic.

This does not mean that the identification of photography as writing is without value. However, if we wish to do more than reproduce an inverted version of our culture’s existing conceptual and political hierarchies, we need to acknowledge that the notion of writing deployed by much postmodern criticism has tended to ignore the term’s complexity.

Derrida’s grammatology is the practice of this acknowledgement. In his work, writing is transformed from the marking of a surface to an economy of inscription that incorporates surface within depth, speech within writing, and reality within representation, such that each of these terms is radically reconfigured.

Accordingly, a grammatology might look to the origins of photography’s identity, whether these origins purport to be a transcendental essence  (Nature) or a plurality of functions (Culture), and find in every case that an apparently reliable foundation is continually displaced by a dynamic play of differences.

The postmodern critique of essence is the critique of identity “as such” – in this case, a critique of the formalist notion of photography as something unified and undifferentiated. Postmodernism wants to say that photography is nothing but difference, and replace its singular identity with a multiple one, photographies.

In other words, the postmodern identification of photographies with a sphere of operations that is entirely cultural – the assumption that “mutability as such,” can be delimited – is itself an essentializing gesture.

Suggestive as it is, we don’t need to look to the authority of post-structuralist theory to acknowledge the need for a troubling of these binary divisions. We can find this same complication writ large within the archival narrative of photography’s own history. We could look, for example, at aspects of photography’s historical origins and find that, once again, a certain kind of eruptive “writing” is already there before us.


Discussion of origins of word “photography”


[…] at the time photography was being named as a form of writing, writing itself was being written as cultural and historical, rather than a natural of God-given, phenomenon. At the same time, as Barbara Stafford has pointed out, “the image of ‘writing’ had expanded until all physical shapes became dimly meaningful forms of script, and each of these forms (physiognomics, botany, mineralogy, or geology) has its own science of decipherment.

Getting back to the question of identity, it is interesting to note that the word “photography” is a compound of “light” (Nature) and “writing” (Culture), a linguistic construction that sidesteps the necessity of deciding to which of these spheres photography should be consigned.

The Oxford English Dictionary, for example, traces the etymology of the Greek suffix graphy to an “abstract noun of action of function.” In other words, graphy could be read as either active or passive. Operating simultaneously as verb and noun, this is a writing that produces while being produced, inscribing even as it is inscribed.

[Further discussion of Daguerre, Niepce and Talbot’s descriptions of photography]

What I have tried to suggest is that, if we look closely at photography’s history, we will find what I have called a photo-grammatology – a disruptive unravelling of all those conventions of identification that anchor both formalist and postmodern accounts of photography.

Recognizing that photography’s identity entails an economy of contradiction, these historical examples of “photography as writing” demand that we rethink the parameters of contemporary debate on this same issue. Resisting the exclusive embrace of either formalist or postmodern historiography, photography’s own complication of oppositional logics continually brings us back to the question of the medium’s deconstruction – back what what Derrida describes as “the experience of the impossible”.

To conclude with another quotation from Derrida, “this concept of the photograph photographs all conceptual oppositions, it traces a relationship of haunting which perhaps is constitutive of all logics.”



Flusser, Vilem. ‘Poetry’ Does Writing have a Future? translated by Nancy Ann Roth (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2011) 71-75

A distinction is traditionally made between poetry and mimicry (poesis and mimesis). But under the sway of the alphabet, this close connection between thinking and language – poetry – is usually understood as a language game whose strategy is to creatively enlarge the universe of languages.
The universe becomes poetically broader and deeper through the manipulation of words and sentences, the modulation of linguistic functions, a game with the meanings of words and sentences, rhythmic and melodic modulation of phonemes.
Poetry in this sense is that source from which language always springs anew and, in fact, overall in literature, even in scientific, philosophical, or political texts, not only in poetic ones.

Images will detach themselves from their imitative, mimetic function and become inventive and poetic. This poetic power is clearly visible in films, videos, and synthetic images. As for poetry, in the sense of a language game, on the other hand, its route to the new culture appears to be blocked: for it is bound to alphabetic writing.


We are not always aware of what we owe to poetry in the broader sense: almost everything we perceive and experience. Poetry produces models of experience, and without such models, we would scarcely be able to perceive anything. We would be anesthetized and would – having to rely on our atrophied instincts – stagger about blind, deaf and numb.

Poets are our organs of perception. We see, hear, taste, and smell on the basis of models we have from poets.

These colors, sounds, and tastes are as they are not because they have been culturally – that is to say, poetically – shaped from some imperceptible natural ground.

The model of love that channels the contemporary love experience is Hollywood’s rather than the Buddhist or the central African because media channels are built on an historic, imperialistic pattern.
If cable were introduced to the media, for example, central African love models could be transmitted as well as those of Hollywood.

We already perceive in a far more complex manner than earlier generations did. Not only our love lives, but also our perceptions of color, sound, and taste are becoming more complex.

Poetry in the sense of a construction of experiential models is already beginning to develop now and will achieve dimensions in the near future that will exceed all expectations.

The alphabetic poet manipulates words and linguistic rules by means of letter to produce a model of experience for others. In doing so, he thinks he has forced his own, concrete experience (sensibility, idea, desire) into the language and so made this experience and the language that has been changed by this experience accessible to others.

The new poet, equipped with apparatuses and dining on them digitally , cannot be so naive. He knows he has to calculate his experience, to dissect it into atoms of experience to be able to program it digitally. And in making this calculation, he must confirm the extent to which others previously modeled his experience. He no longer identifies himself as author but rather as remixer.

Even the language he manipulates no longer seems like raw material stacked up inside him but rather like a complex system pressing in around him to be remixed.
He relies on theories and no longer works empirically.
Such an informatic approach to poetry has long been in preparation. In Mallarme, for example, this attitude finds theoretic, nearly informatic expression; and the cool, calculating, exact, even mechanical dimension of poetry is clearly visible in the precision of many of Shakespeare’s sonnets.
The new poet, sitting at his terminal and waiting expectantly to see which unanticipated word and sentence formations appear on the screen, is gripped by a creative delirium no less intense than the one a writing poet felt in his struggle with language.

Flusser, Vilem. ‘Spoken Languages’ Does Writing have a Future? trans. by Nancy Ann Roth (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 2011) 63-69

When programming has set itself free of alphanumeric writing, thought will no longer need to work through a spoken language to become visible.
Thought and speech will no longer be fused, as they were when the alphabet was predominant.
This fusion of thinking and speaking is actually remarkable. For there certainly have been other codes besides the alphabet for making thought visible, for example, codes of painting and codes of mathematics. So people were always aware that speaking was only one of the ways to play with thought, and they repeatedly attempted to find a common denominator among them.
But the alphabet was the dominant code.
As the alphabet is surpassed, thought will liberate itself from speech, and other, nonlinguistic thought (mathematical and pictorial, and presumably new ones as well) will expand in ways we cannot yet anticipate.
Speaking, on the other hand, will not be surpassed at all. On the contrary: released from the alphabet, spoken language will flood the scene, tapes and speaking images will scream and whisper to society.
The danger will be that language, released from the alphabet, will revert to an uncultivated state. Our languages have passed through the filtering and caustic grid of the alphabet for thousands of years, and in this way, they have become powerful and beautiful, delicate, precise instruments. If they are allowed to grow unchecked, they – along with a great deal of thinking – will become barbaric.
The alphabet’s effect on speaking should not be overestimated, however. For in observing the contemporary linguistic situation, one notices that the overwhelming majority of writing and speech is nonsense and worse.
If this twaddle, this demagoguery, ceases to dominate thinking after the thinking after the loss of the alphabet, it might be regarded as an epistemological, political, and aesthetic catharsis.
Our languages (the Indo-Germanic and Hamito-Semitic) are inflected; that is, in them, words change meaning according to their position in the sentence order. Sentences formed from such words are pro-nouncements: predicates pushed out by their subjects. Accordingly, the things our languages say (the universe of our languages) consist of projectile, arrow-shaped situations. For example, the sentence “Hansel loves Gretel” is a sketch of “loves” that goes out from Hansel and aims at Gretel.
This is not true of all types of languages.
In agglutinative languages (e.g., Tupi-Guarani), there are word collages instead of sentences so that their universe (that of which they speak) has a circumstantial rather than a projectile character. In some isolating languages (say, in Chinese), there are no sentences, but there are juxtapositions of syllables, and instead of a projectile character, their universe therefore has a mosaic character.
So long as we think in ways bound up with language, we will be disorientated in these two universes. They make our thought unsteady because they offer evidence that our universe is structured not by reality but by our languages. So the unsteadiness is a good thing, but it also shows what we owe our languages: they offer us the net in whose threads and knots we think, feel, desire, and act.
For our languages are open systems: elements of other languages (words and rules) may be incorporated without loss of character. Translation enables us to say something we’ve said before in our own language, differently. The variety, the structural similarity and the functional difference among our languages means our universe is always open to a creative renewing of ideas, feelings, desires, and acts.
Our languages are codes in which various wordings are locked into symbols for concepts, and the rules of sentence construction are locked into rules of thinking. They are double-locked codes.
Now codes tend toward two opposite horizons, toward denotation, where each single symbol means one particular element in its universe, and toward connotation, where each symbol refers to a region of that universe that is ambiguously defined, and each element in the universe may be refered to by more than one symbol.
The advantage of a denotative code (e.g., symbolic logic) is that it is clear and distinct; that of a connotative code (e.g., painting) is the wealth of references and resulting variety of possible interpretations.
The double locking of our languages means they can be expanded toward both horizons. We can speak exactly and precisely (denotatively) as well as allusively and suggestively. We can even do both at the same time. our languages are exceptionally productive codes as a result.
And yet the experience of hundreds of generations is stored in our word forms and sentence construction. When we speak, this collective memory presses from us out into the public arena, where it is enriched.
Most languages – the so-called primitive ones – are not sufficiently codified to serve as memory. In some Indian languages, the vocabulary changes from decade to decade because many words become taboo and may no longer be used.
Some other languages are by contrast so highly codified that they seize up and can no longer be developed (ancient Egyptian would be an example).
We face the challenge of preserving and passing on our languages’ precious balance between rigor and elasticity.
For if the future brings a new code that relies less and less on linguistic codes and more and more on codes of calculation and computation, if the swell of speech that will then flood over us turns out to be no more than background noise for the new mode of thought, then we may well fear the loss of language, the precious legacy we have abandoned.
We may comfort ourselves with the thought that before the invention of the alphabet, spoken language as a unique code was continually enriched and transmitted, and that the same might happen after the alphabet becomes obsolete.
For with respect to spoken language, prealphabetic conditions are categorically different from postalphabetic ones.
Homer may be an example of the transition from speaking to writing as a language-preserving and language-creating gesture. (The mythagogues were probably singers, incidentally, so that the transition to alphabetic writing could have been perceived as an impoverishment of a whole dimension of spoken language.)
After the alphabet becomes obsolete, there will no longer be an elite entrusted with the preservation and enrichment of spoken language. Left to itself (that is, to prattle), language will run wild.
A glance at the current situation, though still embryonic, shows how little hope there is that an illiterate elite of the future might take care of the language.
Here the new mythagogues (Dylan Thomas, Brazilians, Indian and African bards) seem to have a creative effect on language and to restore its lost musical dimension.
Not until the invention of the tape recorder, one would think, has linguistic creativity had such an immediate and extensive impact as with these poems distributed in their millions. But are we actually dealing with poetry? However one defines this word etymologically – whether as dictation or as adage – on closer consideration, there is something different going on with these new mythagogues.
For cassettes and records are largely obsolete. Not so much because an opera on videotape carries more information than one on a record but rather because images suit the rising new mode of thought better than sound.
And so exactly because contemporary spoken poetry is so creative, it shows that spoken language is doomed to enter the service of new codes and to become background noise – as we know it from sound film, in music, and still more in speaking as an auxiliary function, so that it can be said of silent film that it is the true filmic language.
In the postalphabetic situation […] speaking will merely assist (as, say, gestural codes do today) the dominant codes. This suggests that with the rise of speech in an unimaginably distant past, a rich and creative gestural code was degraded into something auxiliary, just as speech is about to be degraded.

Flusser, Vilém. ‘The Gesture of Writing’ 1991

Accessible online here.


To write means, of course, to perform an action by which a material, (for instance chalk, or ink), is put on a surface, (for instance a blackboard or a leaf of paper), to form a specific pattern, (for instance letters). And the tools used during this action, (for instance brushes and typewriters), are instruments which add something to something. Thus one would suppose that the gesture of writing is a constructive action, if by “construction” we mean the bringing together of various objects to form a new structure (=”con-struction”).

But this is misleading. If we want to seize what the gesture of writing really is about, we have to consider its original form. If we may trust archeology, writing, at least as far as the Occident is concerned, was originally an act of engraving. The Greek verb “graphein” still connotates this.

[…] it is this half-forgotten gesture of scratching which is the essence, (“eidos”), of writing. It has nothing to do with constructing. It is, on the contrary, a taking away, a de-structing. It is, both structurally and historically, closer to sculpture than to architecture.

It is a gesture of making holes, of digging, of perforating. A penetrating gesture. To write is to in-scribe, to penetrate a surface, and a written text is an inscription, although as a matter of fact it is in the vast majority of cases an onscription. Therefore to write is not to form, but to in-form, and a text is not a formation, but an in-formation.

I believe that we have to start from this fact, if we want to understand the gesture of writing: it is a penetrating gesture which informs a surface.

We do not think about the act of writing while writing, but about what we are writing, (which is, if you consider it, a dubious statement). Writing has become a habit, and habits are what we do without having to think about it. In fact: writing has become more than a habit.

Writing cannot be in our “genetic program” the same way nest building is in the genetic program of birds, because, after all, it is a cultural, not a natural, behavior pattern.

It comes to us rather like the behavior of walking and speaking: we have to learn it, but we must learn it, if we are to behave according to human nature. But again, writing does not seem to belong to the same level as do walking and speaking. it seems more superficial, more recent, and therefore it is learned later in life, and many never learn it.


And although it is difficult to imagine a man of the future who does not walk or speak, […] we can very well imagine a man of the future who no longer writes, and in fact there are symptoms even now which point toward such a future.


Which shows the fluidity of the limit between natural and cultural behavior, and suggest that those two categories should be abandoned. Anyhow: writing has become for many of us more than a habit, but a sort of second nature. This is the reason why we do not think about it while performing the gesture.

But, as it always happens with phenomena covered by habit and more than habit, writing becomes almost mysterious, if we discover it by deliberate consideration.

To write we need several things which are supplied by our culture.

[1. Blank surface
2. Instrument which contains a matter that contrasts with the surface, and can put matter onto that surface
3. Letters of the alphabet, or equivalent
4. Convention  which gives meaning to the alphabet
5. Orthography (rules of letter ordering)
6. Shared language
7. Grammar (rules of language ordering)
8. Underlying idea to be impressed on the surface
9. Motive for the idea]

The typewriter is not the same sort of reality as is a spoken language or a rule of grammar, let alone an idea.Therefore writing is a gesture which goes on several ontological levels. External observation will show only one  of those levels.

The structure of writing is linear […]


Now this linear structure of writing is more or less firmly established in our memories, we take it more or less for granted. In fact: it is programmed in the typewriter; which is a machine for writing lines from left to right and for jumping back to the left side. Thus the typewriter is, to some extent, a materialisation of a cultural program of ours.

If we look at the typewriter, we can see materially, to some extent, how one aspect of our mind works. But only to some extent, because the typewriter is more rigid than is our mental structure. The lines it writes are straighter than are the lines written by longhand, they are space more evenly on the sheet, and the letters are more evenly separated from each other and neater. Longhand writing is thus closer to our mental structure, and expresses it more directly. But of course, this is an argument which may cut both ways. We may hold that the typewriter is more faithful to our mind processes than is longhand writing, and that the irregularities of handwriting are technical imperfections which have been overcome by the invention of the typewriter. Which side of the argument we choose will reveal our attitude toward the gesture of writing.

If we hold that the typewriter is less faithful to the workings of our mind than is longhand, we consider writing to be a gesture related to drawing.

The irregularities of handwriting are then considered to be deliberate compositions which are excluded from typed writing.

If we hold that the typewriter is more faithful to the workings of our mind than is longhand, we consider writing to be a gesture related to conceptual thinking.  A far more “material” thinking, to be sure, than is “internal” thinking, but still a gesture which puts concepts or their symbols into an ordered sequence. The irregularities of handwriting are then considered to be unwanted accidents avoided by typed writing.

It is of course possible to combine those two attitudes toward writing. one may hold that it is a gesture which lies somewhere between drawing and conceptual thinking.

[“Concrete Poetry”] is a deliberate manipulation of the linear structure of writing.


But concrete poetry is still, essentially, a linear writing, even if the lines it puts on the surface are not straight lines. It stresses the family resemblance between writing and drawing, but unlike drawing it does not seek, primarily, to project shapes on a surface.


In other words: concrete poetry is not in its essence a gesture of drawing, but an unconventional gesture of writing.

Unconventional writing is of course easier for longhand than for typed writing, because the convention is programmed materially within the typewriter structure. But precisely because it is more difficult to impose a non-conventional structure on the typewriter than on the pencil, the typewriter is a more challenging instrument than is the pencil. If one aims at writing non-conventional lines with a typewriter, one must invent new methods of writing, (for instance, a specific manipulation of the paper) . This is characteristic of creation: the more limits are imposed on the act, (the more it is “determinist”), the better it can find new ways to change those limiting factors, (it is the “freer”). Unconventional gestures of writing like concrete writing suggest that the typewriter is a more challenging instrument than is the pencil.

Daniel Kahneman: The riddle of experience vs. memory

There is an experiencing self, who lives in the present and knows the present.

And then there is a remembering self. And the remembering self is the one that keeps score and maintains the story of our life […]

Those are two very different entities: the experiencing self and the remembering self […]

The remembering self is a storyteller. And that really starts with a basic response of our memory, it starts immediately, we don’t only tell stories when we set out to tell stories: our memory tells us stories, that is, what we get to keep from our experiences, is a story.

What defines a story? And that is true of a story that our memory delivers for us and it is true of a story we make up.

Belting, Hans. ‘The Transparency of the Medium’ An Anthropology of Images trans. by Thomas Dunlop (Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2011) 144-168

The photographic image is usually understood as either an object trouvé. a thing that the camera find in the world, or else as the product of a camera. In other words, a photograph is seen either as a replica of the world or else as an expression of the medium that created it, its boundaries defines by what technology accomplishes between the moment when the picture is snapped and the print produced.
Some clarification is necessary, therefore, if we are to speak of photographic images in the anthropological sense; i.e., as images of memory and imagination with which we interpret the world, as we did with images before photography and as we do today with the products of digital technologies.
Barthes did not develop an actual theory of photography; instead, almost against his will, he opened up the medial boundaries of photography, which so fascinated him, in such a way that it might be considered in the broadest context of the image.
The collecting of photographs, their exchange, or their function as symbols of memory follow anthropological patterns for the use of the image that are far from new; namely, the use of the image as a means of taking possession of the world and making sense of it.
[Belting] I want to relate photographs to the beholder and to life experiences and concerns that he expresses in images, in his own images, even when it is through photography that they are expressed.
When an image finds its way into this technological medium, it is a symbolic product of the imagination that has already come a long distance.
From this perspective, photography, the quintessential modern medium, operates like a new mirror in which images of the world appear. Human perception has repeatedly accommodated itself to new pictorial technologies, but in keeping with its nature it transcends such medial boundaries.
Like perception, image too are inherently intermedial. They transcend the various historical media that are invented for them, pitching their tent in one new medium after another and then moving on to the next. It would be a mistake to confuse the image with these media.
For a medium is but an archive of dead images until we animate the images with our gaze.
Like images in other media, photographs, too, symbolize our perception of the world and our remembrance of the world. The internal development that photography has undergone since its invention has in no way been inevitable, but it, rather, symptomatic of the free play that takes place as image and medium interact.
The two have different origins: the medium as technology and the image as the symbolic meaning of the medium.
Modernity’s conception of the world has changed fundamentally since the early years of photography.
The photograph marched in step with this evolution, furnishing the mirrors in which contemporary beholders wished to look.
Flusser insisted on a rigid distinction between the old image and the technical image, but his distinction is in fact only meaningful when we see that it in fact distinguishes between image and medium.
[citing Flusser]
“Images are magical.” They belong to “a world in which everything is repeated” and therefore everything conforms to anthropological patterns. Distinct from this is the “historical linearity” of media and techniques.
Flusser’s “philosophy of photography” undertakes a “critique of functionalism in all its aspects – anthropological, scientific, political, and aesthetic.” His aim is to promote the freedom of the image against the tyranny of the photographic medium, “freedom to play against the apparatus.”
Photography was once considered the vera icon in modernity, a reputation that it has tried to justify ever since. But the “world out there” became increasingly suspect and uncertain as modernity unfolded, with the ultimate result that so-called reality no longer attracted the imagination.
Photography no longer shows us what the world is like, but what the world was like at a time when people still believed that they could possess it in the photograph.
The contemporary gaze prefers to look at the imaginary, and pretty soon it looks even further afield at a virtual world, and as it follows this path, the real world become nothing but an obstacle.
Photography was once sold as reality. But even then, it did not capture the reality of the world, but rather synchronized our gaze with the world: photography is our changing gaze upon the world – and sometimes a gaze upon our own gaze.
[referring to indexicality] A new argument against photography alleges that it is merely a token of what is real. This, too, photography can be: a copy or a kind of footprint of everything with which we have ever come into contact, the proof that such and such things and events must have existed when they were photographed.
But photography can only have this meaning if we are looking for a trace of reality.
Technology is willing. From the very beginning, photography was deployed against its pretended or real meaning. In fact one can even use it to picture what cannot in fact be pictured but only imagined.
It is useless to direct the camera at the world: there are no images out there. We make (or have) them always and ever only within ourselves. Hence the perpetual discord between pictorialism and documentarism, which like a swinging pendulum has driven the photographic image in pursuit of two different intentions: now the pursuit of beauty and no the quest for truth (now the subjective impression, now the objective record of the world).
Instead of repeating here the old comparison with painting, which in the end only served to secure photography’s status as art, it makes more sense to probe the meaning that the photographic image possesses for its producers and beholders. That meaning could consist either in rescuing a pleasing image from the worl, or, conversely, in analyzing the world through images. In the former case, the world delivered the motive, in the latter, the image was the key to the world.
The perception of the photographic image is substantially different in the two cases. If an image bears its meaning within itself, it is a composition. If on the other hand it shows us something of which our plain-and-simple vision is unconscious so that we are able to grasp the world with greater visual acuity than our eyes possess, then it is a medium that we interpose between ourselves and the world.
Photography constitutes a short episode in the old history of representation. But even so, the world changed in our eyes when it began to be photographed.
Photography geometricizes, ranks and classifies the world. Places become photographic places and as such are captured in the square of the print with no way out; what was observed by the camera at that moment is locked within a past time, as Régis Durand put it, following Smithson.
The world quickly and thoroughly ceases to resemble the photograph, though it was taken, after all, for the very sake of resemblance. Only in photography does the world remain the way it once was.
In photography the world becomes an archive of images. We chase after it like a phantom and yet only possess it only in the images from which that world has always managed to escape. Photographic images, too, remain mute remains of our transitory gaze. We animate them only when they bring back our own memories.
The gazes of two beholders looking at the same picture diverge where memory separates them. The remembering gaze of the current beholder is different from the remembered gaze that led to the photograph and is reified in it. But the aura of an unrepeatable time that has left its trace in the unrepeatable photograph leads to an animation all its own, which presupposes affective sympathy in the beholder.