- IntroductionReality and Its Shadow
What kind of thing is an image? What is at stake in this strange phenomenon that has been at the center of contention in the history of philosophy, religion, theology, and the arts? Occupying these various discourses and histories, the image seems to mark a certain excess over each, as if not able to be contained by any one of them and thus never fully determinable by them, exposing the limits of each of their capacity for determination, as well as, through this exposure, forcing them to communicate with each other, preventing their full self-determination and self-sufficiency.
The task of this volume of the Yearbook of Comparative Literature is double: first, to take stock of some of the fundamental moments in which the tradition (mainly the Western one, often associated with the term Metaphysics) has confronted the problem of the image and attempted to articulate what is at stake in it; and second, to ask: can we think about the image beyond its traditional philosophical, religious, and theological determinations? and suggests doing so both by examining the role the image plays in the work of several post-metaphysical thinkers: Benjamin, Warburg, Deleuze, etc., and by examining some key moments in the contemporary use of the image in the arts, mainly in cinema and painting.
By way of suggesting in a very few words the framework within which we find the contemporary, and more widely, modern question of the image, we might say that it can be thought as implying two distinct understandings of the general formula of the image, which can be stated thus: “The image is [End Page 1] always the image of some thing, or some object, yet it is itself not the thing of which it is an image.” We can hear this formula in an ancient, call it for convenience’s sake Platonic, register, and a modern one, call it for convenience’s sake Kantian. The Platonic register can be called ontological/realistic while the Kantian one can be called phenomenological. In the ontological/realistic register the image is understood according to a mimetic logic, that is, it is judged based on its proximity to the real thing, or the reality, of which it is an image. The main question guiding this register is “Does the image imitate faithfully, thus approximating the real thing, or is it a falsification of this original thing, the reality, of which it is an image?” In the phenomenological register the image is understood according to a logic of the showing of the “conditions” of reality. That is, conceptually articulated with Kant, though artistically practiced since the Renaissance discovery of the problem of perspective, the modern, phenomenological, question about reality is not “where is true reality?” “How can we reach it?” But rather, “what are the conditions for reality’s appearance, that is, what are the conditions for having, for being open to, a reality?”
Kant has designated reality, which is no longer a hidden realm to be reached, as a realm of objectivity, that is, as a realm that is equally and immediately opened to, shared and common to, all (this is what objective means), without a relation to any privileged transcendent being, to any hierarchically dominating perspective. Appearance, according to this logic, is no longer to be distinguished from, as it is in Platonism or Christianity, a hidden reality, but is henceforth the very being of reality as an objectivity equally open, thus appearing, to all. Reality is that which objectively appears. The “condition” for reality’s appearance is an openness to all, equally, an openness that contemporary philosophy has also designated by the term “world”.
If the image is an image of reality, or of objectivity, its guiding question in the modern, “phenomenological” era, is no longer “does it imitate faithfully?”, but rather “How can the image show us the world’s showing, that is, how can it show us the fact of the world as a realm of appearance, as a reality?” Or, put otherwise, the question with which the modern image occupies itself is “How can reality appear as reality, that is, as a realm common...