- Whatever Image
This essay can be seen as an attempt to foreground a new approach to representation with an outcome of a new concept, “whatever image.” This is undertaken by going through Benjamin’s handling of image via Leibniz in the prologoue of “German Tragic Drama” where he problematizes epistomolgy’s claim to truth by introducing his idea of constellations and thus opens up the question of a rigid, bounded image of the world to an immanence; Adorno’s theories in “Negative Dialectics”, concerning the image as the third term, as a screen, between subject and object, by way of which he introduces the question of “the resurrection of flesh” as far as the perception of the world in the form of images is concerned; and Giorgio Agamben’s concept of “whatever” in “The Coming Community” by means of which I attempt to introduce a “whateverness” to the concept of image which aims to open the question of image to “experience through flesh.”
The evocative remarks of Giorgio Agamben on the concept of whatever have received relatively little attention. In opening the question of the whatever and its implications for the nature of representation, my intention is to investigate the possibilities for another concept, that is, the whatever image.
For Agamben, language depends upon the notion of singularity, a concept he derives from an investigation of the “the Scholastic enumeration of transcendentals” that begins “quodlibet ens est unum, verum, bonum seu perfectum—whatever entity is one, true, or perfect.” Agamben points out that the adjective “whatever,” the Latin quodlibet, is the term that “remaining unthought in each, conditions the meaning of all the others” (1). “Whatever” is that which is neither universal nor particular; it is being “such as it is” (66). I will elaborate this critical notion in a moment, but at this point I would simply point out that, when considering language and writing, Agamben is drawn to the sensation of whatever from the viewpoint of the singularity that this whateverness endows the being with. The whatever singularity in a singular language calls into question the pre-eminence of central linguistic conventions, such as the I and its representations. It is this that enables Agamben to assert that “the perfect act of writing comes not from a power to write, but from an impotence that turns back on itself and in this way comes to itself as a pure act” (36). His figure for the perfect act of writing that is not-writing is Melville’s Bartleby, “a scribe who does not simply cease writing but prefers not to, . . . [who] writes nothing but its potentiality to not-write” (36).
The body has emerged as a subject of much recent critical and theoretical concern, and I believe there is merit in reconsidering the body in terms of whatever singularities. This would entail thinking of the body as the locus or the generator of representation. But if the body is seen as a generator of representation, what happens to art, to image, and to the broader question of representation in art criticism? And what happens to the relationship between art theory and politics, or indeed what happens to the “political” itself?
4. My intention here is to attempt to draw the possible relationships between the body and the image, understood as the singular experience of a singular language, largely ignoring the difference between visual and verbal language. To that extent the following investigation can also be seen as a contribution to the development of art criticism that will be based on a new community, a coming community of whatever singularities. My discussion will move through Leibniz and his interpreters Benjamin, Deleuze, and Adorno, and then return, at last, to Agamben.
Benjamin and Constellations
“The Epistemo-Critical Prologue” of Benjamin’s Trauerspiel study conceptualizes Adam as the father of philosophy. Adam’s naming of the things foregrounds for Benjamin the linguistic base of representation of philosophical truth. The name before the Fall is thus the linguistic being which captures the intended object in its singularity. The period that comes after the Fall is the one in which names are transformed into words, and now they fail...