Theory of the Image (OUP, 2019) OUT NOW!

IMG_0341.jpeg

 

The book is now available from Amazon and shortly with OUP (30% off code: AAFLYG6)

Read the introduction here.

Read the Conclusion below.


The Mobile Image

 

We live in the age of the mobile image. Today, more than ever before, we are surrounded by hybrid images of all kinds that circulate freely and mix with contemporary images. This incredible mobilization and proliferation of images forces us to rethink the basic structure and definition of the image itself—as something fundamentally kinetic. The advent of the digital image, defined by a continuous flow of electricity, forces us to see that the image is not and never has been a representation of a static model. Images have always had a material agency. Movement, and not representation, has always been central to the image, making possible a new materialist aesthetics. This book thus has made three main contributions to the philosophy of art and aesthetics.

 

THE KINETIC THEORY OF THE IMAGE

Its first contribution is to offer an original kinetic theory of the image. Traditionally, the image has been viewed as either objectively or subjectively derived from something else. A relatively static object, subject, or human structure was assumed as primary and the image was what moved in between them. Even when the image has not been treated explicitly as a representation, it has typically been thought of an expression or production of something else. Even contemporary theories of images as a copy of copies or copies without originals, still miss the point. The image is not a copy and there was never a model to have gone missing. In contrast to these previous theories, this book proposes a new definition of the image as a reflection, a duplication, or a fold in moving generative matters. All images are sensuous and all sensations are images. Images both sense and are sensed. The image is thus not something strictly visible. There are images of sight and sound, just as there are images of taste, smell, and touch. The image is also not unique to humans or to organic life.

 

The original contribution of part I, then, is to have provided a kinetic and materialist theory of the image defined by the flow, fold, and field of sensitive matters. As such, it reorients the central problem of aesthetics and art history, moving it away from the question of representation and anthropocentric constructivism, whether linguistic, social, psychological, or otherwise, and toward the distribution and analysis of regimes of moving images with their own material agency and generativity.

THE HISTORY OF THE IMAGE

The second contribution of this book is that it offers an original conceptual and historical methodology for the study of art and art history. If the study of the image is not a question of representation but, rather, of kinetic distribution, then we need to understand what kinds of distributions have been invented and to what degree and with what mixture they persist in the present. Part II of this book thus presented neither a universal ontology of affect nor a merely empirical history of works of art but, rather, a study of the kinesthetic patterns or historical regimes of aesthetic motion.

Unlike merely empirical art histories, kinesthetic regimes of motion prefigure, persist, and mix well beyond their initial empirical manifestation, making their analysis much more broadly applicable to the study of art, art history, and sensation widely construed. Thus, the kinetic method of this book makes no attempt at an ahistorical ontology of sensation, affect, or image; rather, it offers a regional ontology from the perspective of the early twenty-first century. Based on the apparent primacy of mobility revealed in the digital image, it proposes an answer to the simple question: What must images at least be like for them to be capable of this kind of motion? In doing so, it thus discovers a previously hidden dimension of all hitherto existing images: the primacy of their motion.

 

THE CONTEMPORARY IMAGE

The third major contribution of this book is its offer of an original theory of the digital image defined by its materiality and mobility. In contrast to the first wave of new-media scholarship that defined the digital image as largely immaterial and virtual, this book provides an analysis of the material and kinetic dimensions of the digital image and its conditions of circulation. While more recent new-media scholarship seems to be taking the material dimension of the digital image more seriously, this book adds to this literature a complete conceptual and analytic framework that connects the study of the digital image with the rest of art history and the structure of affection more broadly.

The electrical flow that defines the digital image is historically novel in some ways, but not in others. The digital image thus allows an incredible degree of hybrid mobile images, but in a more general sense, electrical flows also pervade all material images. The digital image is not just about hybridity and remediation; it is also about the creative pedesis and feedback of the electrical flow itself: its generative power. This includes both contemporary digital and historical nondigital generativity. The digital image thus presents the twenty-first century with an incredible aesthetic decision: how and to what degree to treat the digital image as an instrumental tool for merely replicating images or as a means for releasing a more generative flow in all matters, thus generating completely new images.

Against Nature, Lorraine Daston (2019)

Image result for gainst Nature (Untimely Meditations) Paperback – May 21, 2019 by Lorraine Daston (Author)

A pithy work of philosophical anthropology that explores why humans find moral orders in natural orders.

Why have human beings, in many different cultures and epochs, looked to nature as a source of norms for human behavior? From ancient India and ancient Greece, medieval France and Enlightenment America, up to the latest controversies over gay marriage and cloning, natural orders have been enlisted to illustrate and buttress moral orders. Revolutionaries and reactionaries alike have appealed to nature to shore up their causes. No amount of philosophical argument or political critique deters the persistent and pervasive temptation to conflate the “is” of natural orders with the “ought” of moral orders.

In this short, pithy work of philosophical anthropology, Lorraine Daston asks why we continually seek moral orders in natural orders, despite so much good counsel to the contrary. She outlines three specific forms of natural order in the Western philosophical tradition―specific natures, local natures, and universal natural laws―and describes how each of these three natural orders has been used to define and oppose a distinctive form of the unnatural. She argues that each of these forms of the unnatural triggers equally distinctive emotions: horror, terror, and wonder.

Daston proposes that human reason practiced in human bodies should command the attention of philosophers, who have traditionally yearned for a transcendent reason, valid for all species, all epochs, even all planets.

Buy here.

Theory of the Image (Oxford University Press, 2019)

Nail_full paperback cover for approval (dragged).jpg

We live in an age of the mobile image. The world today is absolutely saturated with images of all kinds circulating around the world at an incredible rate. The movement of the image has never been more extraordinary than it is today. This recent kinetic revolution of the image has enormous consequences not only for the way we think about contemporary art and aesthetics but also for art history as well.

Responding to this historical moment, Theory of the Image offers a fresh new theory and history of art from the perspective of this epoch-defining mobility. The image has been understood in many ways, but it is rarely understood to be fundamentally in motion. The original and materialist approach is what defines Theory of the Image and what allows it to offer the first kinetic history of the Western art tradition. In this book, Thomas Nail further develops his larger philosophy of movement into a comprehensive “kinesthetic” of the moving image from prehistory to the present. The book concludes with a vivid analysis of the contemporary digital image and its hybridity, ultimately outlining new territory for research and exploration across aesthetics, art history, cultural theory, and media studies.


“This is an engaging book with a fascinating argument. Thomas Nail stakes out new territory, building a theory from the group up of the image as kinetic” — David Morgan , Duke University
“Thomas Nail’s Theory of the Image is an ambitious and original attempt to re-theorize the material and cognitive dynamics of the image. In this respect, his model is kinetic as opposed to representational, mimetic, or hermeneutical. The book is eminently suitable for use on a range of undergraduate and postgraduate courses, in particular, philosophy, cultural theory, and art history.” — John Roberts , University of Wolverhampton


Read the introduction here.

Pre-orders are available from OUP (30% off code: AAFLYG6) and Amazon.

Mobile Borders (Confini Mobili)

Image result for border crisis

For those of you who read Italian, Tommaso Morawski and Ernesto C. Sferrazza Papa have just published a lovely edited special issue on “Philosophy and Cartography” in Pólemos: Materiali di filosofia e critica sociale.

FILOSOFIA E CARTOGRAFIA: PROSPETTIVE STORICHE, TEORICHE, ESTETICHE E POLITICHE

Ernesto kindly translated my contribution:

CONFINI MOBILI

Thomas Nail
Introduzione

Questo saggio introduce una nuova metodologia per lo studio dei confini; una metodologia “kinopolitica”, ossia orientata all’analisi del movimento.
Vorrei innanzitutto argomentare contro due assunzioni molto co- muni a proposito di come funzionino e lavorino i confini: la prima è che i confini siano statici, la seconda che tengano le persone fuori. Il mio argomento prende la forma di tre tesi interconnesse sui confini: 1) i confini sono in movimento; 2) la loro funzione principale non è interrompere il movimento, bensì farlo circolare; 3) i confini sono strumenti di accumulazione primitiva. A queste tre tesi segue un bre- ve esempio per illustrarle. Le implicazioni maggiori di queste tre tesi, come ho mostrato con maggiore ampiezza altrove, riguardano la riteorizzazione dei confini nell’epoca contemporanea.

Read the rest here.

 

 

The Nomadic Proletariat: An Interview with Alain Badiou

Image result for sans papiers

TRANSLATED AND CONDUCTED BY THOMAS NAIL

The Centrality of the Migrant

Thomas Nail: The sans-papiers are perhaps the single most cited example of a contemporary political event in all of your work. You say in De quoi Sarkozy est-il le nom? that their struggle “defines what is most important in politics today.” Why do the sans-papiers occupy such a privileged position in your work—and in contemporary politics?

Alain Badiou: My position is classical: Marx already considered the “late-arriving” proletarians who came from the countryside and who were not yet integrated into the logic of wages to be the “hard core” of the workers’ revolts in the big cities. It must also be remembered that these proletarians were also migrants (from the countryside to the cities) and that they were also undocumented migrants [sans-papiers]. Indeed, the right to remain in the city was subordinated to a document, the “worker’s booklet,” without which you could be sent home. Imperialist logic has only served to extend this attitude of police control, precarity, and permanent suspicion to proletarians coming from more remote countrysides of Africa, Asia, and others.This has in fact only internationalized the status of the proletariat in imperialist metropolises. Hence, the firm support for undocumented migrants [sans-papiers] is a natural and fundamental factor in the large-scale organization of the entire “nomadic” proletariat today.

 

L’Organisation Politique

TN: According to La Distance Politique, L’Organisation politique was created in 1983 and published its political writings from 1983 to 1991 in the journal Le Per- roquet. From 1992 to 1999 their writings were published in La Distance Politique.Where were the group’s writings published from 1999 to 2007? How would you characterize the group’s activity and writings during this time?

AB: The Organisation politique followed the more openly Maoist organization created in 1970 called the “UCFml” [Union des communistes de France marxiste-léniniste], Marxist-Leninist Union of Communists of France.The general inspiration that required the change of name was that the reference to Maoism and Marxism-Leninism was undoubtedly too classical on the one hand, too shared with dogmatic groups, and on the other, it did not place enough emphasis on our own properly political novelty, in particular the fact that our aim was no longer to quickly build a Party to“represent”the working class. But as far as I am concerned, I have always considered there to be a continuity of political practice between the two and believe that the change of name was not essential.

The Breakup

TN: Why did the group break up in 2007?

AB: In 2007 there was no longer sufficient unity and centralized political

labor on a scale large enough to maintain a national organization. Personally, as far as I am concerned, I would say that the action of the Organisation politique, in any case since the 2000s, had gradually become more and more limited: In fact, it existed practically only in the workers’ hostels of undocumented African workers. The living organization was in fact the one that had the name “the organization of the undocumented workers of the hostels and the political organization.” But “political organization” in this case no longer meant much. There have been four attempts to remedy this state of affairs. The first was to extend the organization to all hostels, perhaps on a national scale, which would have been a considerable extension. The second was to open political schools in the hostels. The third, to actively take over mass production in the factories. The fourth, and in my opinion the most important,was to create a“Council”of the Organisation politique and the militant workers who had demonstrated their great qualities as organizers and bearers of new ideas, and together create a new political direction truly anchored in the nomadic proletariat. I participated very actively in these attempts. But I also had to admit, against their success, some doubts about a certain inertia that I was not in a position to overcome. Eventually, I felt like the Organisation politique had become a specialized association of hostels and undocumented workers, and as such it was no longer “political.” This is because a political organization is an organization that is capable of holding, simultaneously, multiple processes among very different political situations.

 

Contemporary Analysis

TN: What has changed in your analysis of the sans-papiers since your work with them from 1996 to 1999? How would you compare those events to what is hap- pening today with other non-status migrant justice movements in North America and Europe more broadly?

 

Read the rest of the interview here.

Philosophy Today published whole special issue on Alain Badiou’s work, edited by Elisabeth Paquette, Amrit Mandzak-Heer, Dhruv Jain, “Critical Engagements With Alain Badiou” here.

Black Hole Sun: On the Materialist Sublime

The first image of black hole has just been released today. This is a profound and important aesthetic moment from a new materialist perspective. The image is not beautiful because we enjoy a free play of our imagination as we try to figure out what we are looking at and how it fits with our existing conceptual framework. The image is also not sublime in the sense that a black hole is an infinitely dense singularity that defies all calculation by general relativity, and thus “blows our mind,” as we try to conceptualize the radically unconceptualizable. The black hole is itself a work of art. Nature, according to Kant, cannot be art because nature is passive and mechanistic. Art, for Kant, is radically free because it is a strictly human feeling of our own freedom.

The black hole is an excellent example of the materialist sublime. Nature and matter are not passive or deterministic. They are indeterminate material processes. They perform precisely the sublime that Kant restricts to humans alone. Black holes are not infinitely dense singularities. At the heart of a black hole is a specific (and very small) spatio-temporal region measured by the Planck scale and related to the size of the black hole (its Schwarzschild radius). However, and more importantly, below the Planck level of the black hole there are quantum processes that produce the spacetime of that region. These quantum processes below the Planck unit are fundamentally indeterminate—meaning that they are neither in one spacetime or another. They are the indeterminate material conditions for the emergence of spacetime itself (quantum gravity).

In other words, nature is not just the passive conditions for the human experience of its own aesthetic faculties of beauty or the sublime but itself performs the sublime activity of radical indeterminism without concrete form. Humans have the experience of sublimity only because nature is already performatively and materially sublime.

 

 

Black Hole Sun: On the Materialist Sublime

The first image of black hole has just been released today. This is a profound and important aesthetic moment from a new materialist perspective. The image is not beautiful because we enjoy a free play of our imagination as we try to figure out what we are looking at and how it fits with our existing conceptual framework. The image is also not sublime in the sense that a black hole is an infinitely dense singularity that defies all calculation by general relativity, and thus “blows our mind,” as we try to conceptualize the radically unconceptualizable. The black hole is itself a work of art. Nature, according to Kant, cannot be art because nature is passive and mechanistic. Art, for Kant, is radically free because it is a strictly human feeling of our own freedom.

The black hole is an excellent example of the materialist sublime. Nature and matter are not passive or deterministic. They are indeterminate material processes. They perform precisely the sublime that Kant restricts to humans alone. Black holes are not infinitely dense singularities. At the heart of a black hole is a specific (and very small) spatio-temporal region measured by the Planck scale and related to the size of the black hole (its Schwarzschild radius). However, and more importantly, below the Planck level of the black hole there are quantum processes that produce the spacetime of that region. These quantum processes below the Planck unit are fundamentally indeterminate—meaning that they are neither in one spacetime or another. They are the indeterminate material conditions for the emergence of spacetime itself (quantum gravity).

In other words, nature is not just the passive conditions for the human experience of its own aesthetic faculties of beauty or the sublime but itself performs the sublime activity of radical indeterminism without concrete form. Humans have the experience of sublimity only because nature is already performatively and materially sublime.