Theory of the Image sold out in the first few days. Back orders are now shipping and the second printing is now available!
Available from Amazon and OUP (30% off code: AAFLYG6)
Read the introduction here.
Read some selections on Cinema below.
A Kinetic Theory of Cinema
On the one hand, film is nothing other than a series of static freeze-frames moving extensively from point A to point B across a lens and through a beam of light. However, these discrete frames are also nothing other than images on a single vibrating and continuous strip of celluloid. The condition for the extensive movement of a frame is the intensive topological transformation of the whole reel. Furthermore, what seem to be discrete shots of different people and things extensively moving on the screen are also continuous flows of modulated light from the projector. The waves of light are continuously vibrating and changing in order to give the appearance of discrete persons and things on the screen. All perceived division and extensive movement are predicated on the intensive continuum upon which they are the topological regions, like boats bobbing on the ocean.
Bergson wrote that cinema was a bad description of perception, as if we perceive only snapshots of reality plus movement and get continuous reality. He is correct that this is a bad theory of perception, and it seems to be part of cinema from the perspective of the viewing subject who experiences the “illusion of movement” when people “move around” on the screen. However, from the perspective of the movement of matter itself, this is an inaccurate description of the cinema. The material conditions of cinema presuppose both the continuous intensive change of celluloid and flows of light and, at the same time, the extensive movement of relatively discrete figures on the screen and photos across the lens. They are two aspects or dimensions of the same motion.
Films like La Jetée (1962) and San Soleil (1983) by Chris Marker, for example, demonstrate this explicitly by filming photographs and for extended durations where there is no visible movement on the screen or any characters doing anything. In this case, the viewer sees a seemingly immobile photo whose very conditions of extensive “stasis” are the intensive motion of its material body (celluloid and light). By inverting the relationship between perceived extensive and intensive motions in film, the true material kinetic structure of cinema is revealed directly to the viewing audience.
All movement is therefore revealed as both extensive and intensive at the same time. The two occur as dimensions of the same process, but the former is always derived from the latter and not the other way around. Snapshots, for example, are aspects or dimensions of the material flow of celluloid and light, but continuous celluloid and light can never be the product of discrete snapshots. The two are present together when we watch a film, like the latitude and longitude of a kinesthetic cartography.
Cinema also uses long takes of relatively fixed scenes in order to render sensible the interval series that makes the frame series itself possible and mutable. In between every photographic frame is an interval, a difference that makes a difference between frames. While montage renders this interval sensible only indirectly through the decomposition and recomposition of the frame series, the still shot renders this interval sensible as a simple passage of time during which relatively “nothing” is happening in the dramatic action of the film or in the frame itself. Cinematic temporality is a temporality made possible by difference and differentiation in the frame and between the frames. Time passes, but only on the condition of a more primary differentiation or division between distinct images made possible by the continuity of the filmstrip and continuous movement of the film projector.
In Chris Marker’s La Jetée (1962), for example, the stillness of the shots and the use of photographs makes explicit the difference between the photographic image and the cinematic image. When Marker films a photograph, he renders sensible the duration and movement of the film itself as the kinetic condition of the relative immobility of the photo image. This is the great inversion of postwar cinema: only by filming something that does not move is the movement of the camera itself made sensible. The series of intervals between the frames is exposed as the condition for the frame series itself and the persistence of the immobility of the image.
In Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928), for example, the face becomes frozen, but as frozen the face exposes the implicit movement of the camera itself and the mobility of the dark intervals between frames. This invisible darkness is depicted visually in the black pupils of the eyes. The eyes are the black holes or intervals of the face frame. In Andy Warhol’s Empire (1964), the duration of the unedited film merges with the real-time duration of someone actually watching the Empire State Building. By merging the duration of the camera and the body, the kinetic condition of both is made sensible. The eye blinks just as the frames pass through intervals.
In Ingmar Bergman’s Persona (1966), the filmstrip burns and rips off the reel, exposing the intervalic gaps and their material conditions of celluloid, light, and motion that sustain the frame intervals themselves. The continuum of white light is shown as the pure kinetic condition of the film, but only on the condition that the actual film Persona remains intact, framed, and not burned at all, even if what it shows is burned frames and white light. It is still a white light divided by the frames of the celluloid film itself. Film cannot escape its own material conditions; it can only reveal them: light, motion, frame, interval. During the duration of this white light in which nothing happens and no one is there, the differential kinetic interval comes to the fore as the condition of du- ration (figure 13.4).
multiverse from Hiroshi Kondo / STNW on Vimeo.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.