Jean Baudrillard - The violence of the image
Question : do some images, some exceptional images escape from this double violence - that of the image and that done to the image ? Is it any chance to escape from the hegemonic overflow of the visual surrounding as to recover the original power of the image - the vital power of illusion ?
At first we will point at three forms of violence. The primary form is that of aggression,of oppression, of rape and spoiling : the unilateral violence of the most powerful. Another form is that of historical, of critical violence, the violence of the negative
and the transgression,of revolt and revolution (included maybe the violence of analysis and interpretation). Both are determined forms of violence - effects that are related to specific causes and to whatever form of transesendenese, be it that of power, of history or of meaning.
These are, I would say, the violence of the first type and of the second type. But now we have to deal with a violence of the third type, a very different one. More radical and subtle : the violence of deterrence, of consensus and esontrol, of hyperregulation and deregulation altogether - the violence of the virtual, a metaviolence in some way. Violence of forced consensus and interaction, which are like the plastic surgery of the social. Therapeutic, genetic, communica-tional and informational violence, but, first of all, NEW the violence of transparency, which tend to eradicate, by the way of prophylaxis, of physical and mental regu-lation, the very roots of evil, of negativity and singularity (including the ultimate form of singularity, which is death itself). Violence of a general extradition of conflict, of death. Violence which paradoxically puts an end to the violence itself, and which therefore cannot be balanced except with radical dene-gation, with pure abreaction to the whole state of things - a pure violence without object anymore, without determination.
This is the typical violence of information, of media, of images, of the spectacular. Connected to a total visibility, a total elimination of secrecy. Be it of a psychological or mental, or of a neurological, biolo-gical or genetic order - soon we shall discover the gene of revolt, the center of violence in the brain, perhaps even the gene of resistance against genetic manipulation - biological brainwashing, brainstorming, brainlifting, with nothing left but recycled, whitewashed lobotomized people as in Clockwork Orange. At this point we should not speak of violence anymore, but rather of virulence. Inasmuch that it does not work frontally, mechanically, but by contiguity, by contamination, along chain reactions, breaking our secret immunities. And operating not just by a negative effect like the classical violence, but on the contrary by an excess of the positive, just as a cancerous cell proliferates by metastasis, by restless reproduction and an excess of vitality.
That is the point in the controversy about the violence on the screens and the impact of images on people's mind. The fact is that the medium itself has a neutralizing power, counterbalancing the direct effect of the violence on the imagination. I would say : the violence of the third type annihilates the violence of the first and second type - but at the price of a more virulent intrusion in the deep cells of our mental world. The same as for anti-biotics : they eradicate the agents of disease by reducing the general level of vitality.
When the medium becomes the message (MACLUHAN), then violence as a medium becomes its own message, a messenger of itself. So the violence of the message cannot be compared with the violence of the medium as such, with the violence-emanating from the confusion between medium and message. It is the same with viruses the virus also is information, but of a very special kind - it is medium, and message, agent and action at the same time. That the very origine of its "virulence", of its uncontrollable proliferation. In fact, in all actual biological, social or mental processes,virulence has substituated violence. The traditional violence of alienation, power and oppression has been superated by something more violent than violence itself : the virality, the virulence. And while it was an historical or individual subject of violence, there is no subject, no personal agent of virulence (of contamination, of chain reaction), and then no possibility to confront it efficiently. The classical violence was still haunted by the specter of the Evil, it was still visible. Virulence only transappears, it is of the order of transparency and its logic is that of the transparency of the Evil.
The image (and more generally the s re of information) is violent because what happens there is the murder of the Real, the vanishing point of Reality. Everything must be seen, must be visible, and the image is the site par excellence of this visibility. But at the same time it is the site of its disappearance. And that something in it has disappeared, has returned to nowhere, makes the very fascination of the image.
Particularly in the case of all professional of press-images which testify of the real events. In making reality, even the most violent, emerge to the visible, it makes the real substance disappear. It is like the Myth of Eurydice : when Orpheus turns around to look at her, she vanishes and returns to hell. That is why, the more exponential the marketing of images is growing the more fantastically grows the indifference towards the real world. Finally, the real world becomes a useless function, a collection of phantom shapes and ghost events. We are not far from the silhouettes on the walls of the cave of Plato.
A wonderful model of this forced visibility is Big Brother and all similar programs, reality shows, docusoaps etc. Just there; where everything is given to be seen there is nothing left to be seen. It is the mirror of platitude, of banality, of the zero degree of everyday life. There is the place of a fake sociality, a virtual sociality where the Other is desperately out of reach - this very fact illuminating perhaps the fundamental truth that the human being is not a social being. Move over in all these scenarii the televisual public is mobilized as spectator and judged as become itself Big Brother. The power of control and transvisuality has shifted to the silent majorities themselves.
We are far beyond the panoptikon, where there was still a source of power and visibility it was so to say a panexoptikon - things were made visible to an external eye, whereas here they are made transparent to themselves - a panendoptikon - thus erasing the traces of control and making the operator himself transparent. The power of control is internalized, and people are no more Lt victims of the image : they transform themselves into images - they only exist as screens, ;or in a superficial dimension.
All that is visualized there, in the operation Big Brother, is pure virtual reality, a synthetic image of the banality, producted : as in a computer. The equivalent of a ready-made - a given transcrition of everyday life - which is itself already recycled by all current patterns.
Is there any sexual voyeurism ? Not at all. Almost no sexual scenery. But people dont want that, what they secretly want to see is the spectacle of the banality,which is from now our real pornography, own true obscenity - that of the nullity,of insignificance and platitude (i.e. the extreme reverse of the "There of the Cruelty"). But maybe in that scene lies a certain form of cruelty, at least of a virtual one. At the time when media and television are more and more unable to give an image of the events of the world, then they discover the everyday life, the existential banality as the most criminal event, as the most violent (in)actua-lity, as the very place of the Perfect Crime. And that it is, really. And people are fascinated, terrified and fascinated by this indifference of the Nothing-to-see, of the Nothing-to-say, by the indifference of their own life, as of the zero degree of living. The banality and the consumption of banality have now become an olympic discipline of our time - the last form of the experiences of the limits.
In fact, this deals with the naive impulsion to be nothing, and to comfort oneself in this nothingness - sanctioned by the right to be nothing and to be considered and respected as such. Something like a struggle for Nothing and for Virtual death - the perfect opposite to the basic anthropological postulat of the struggle for life. At least it seems that we are all about to change our basic humanistic goals.
There are two ways of disappearing, of being nothing, (in the Integral Reality, everything must logically want to disappear - automatic abreaction to the overdose of reality). Either to be hidden,and to insist on the right not-to-be-seen (the actual defense of private life).Or one shifts to a delirious exhibitionism of his own platitude and insignificance - ultimate protection against the servitude of being,and of being himself. Hence the absolute obligation to be seen,to make oneself visible at any price. Everyone deals on both levels at the same time. Then we are in the double bind - not to be seen,and to be continously visible. No ethics,no legislation can solve this dilemma,and the whole current polemic about the right to information,all this polemic is useless. Maximal information, maximal visibility are now part of the human rights (and of human duties all the same) and the destiny of the image is trapped between the unconditional right to see and that, unconditional as well, not to be seen.
This means that people are deciferable at every moment. Overexposed to the light of information, and addicted to their own image. Driven to express themselves at any time - self-expression as the ultimate form of confession, as Faucauld said. To become an image, one has to give a visual object of his whole everyday life, of his possibilities, of his feelings and desires. He-has to keep no secrets and to interact permanently. Just here is the deepest violence, a violence done to the deepest core, to the hard core of the individual. And at the same-time to the language, because it also loses its symbolic originality - being nothing more than the operator of visibility.. It loses its ironic dimersion, its conceptual distance, its autonomous dimension - where language is more important than what it signifies. The image too is more important than what it sneaks of. That we forget usually, again and again and that is a source of the violence done to the image.
Today everything takes the look of the image - then all pretend that the real has disappeared under the pression and the profusion of images.. What is totally neglected is that the image also disappears under the blow and the impact of reality. The image is usually spoiled of its own existence as image, deyoted to a shameful complicity with the real. The violence exercised by the image is largely balanced by the violence done to the image - its exploitation as a pure vector of documen-tation, of testimony, of message (including the message of misery and violence), its allegeance to morale, to pedagogy, to politics, to publicity. Then the magic of the image, both as fatal and as vital illusion, is fading away. The Byzantine Iconoclasts wanted to destroy images in order to abolish meaning and the representation of God. Today we are still iconoclasts, but in an opposite way : we kill the images by an overdose of meaning.
Borgès'fable on " The People of the Mirror :he gives the hypothesis that behind each figure of resemblance and representation there is a vanquished enemy, a defeated singularity, a dead object. And the Iconoclasts clearly understood how icons were the best way of letting God disappear. (but perhaps God himself had chosen to disappear behind the images ? Nobody knows). Anyway,today is no more the matter of God : We disappear behind our images. No chance anymore that our images are stolen from us, that we must give up our secrets - because we no longer have any. That is at the same time the sign of our ultimate morality and of our total obscenity.
There is a deep misunderstanding of the process of meaning. Most images and photographs today reflect the misery and the violence of human condition. But all this affects us less and less, just because it is over signified. In order for the meaning, for the message to affect us, the image has to exist on its own, to impose its original language. In order for the real to be transferred to our imagination, or our imagination transferred to the real, it must be a counter-transference upon the image, and this countertransference has to be resoluted, worked through (in terms of psychoanalysis). Today we see misery and violence becoming a leitmotiv of publicity just by the way of images. Toscani for example is reintegrating sex and Aids, war and death into fashion. And why not ? Jubilating ad-images are no less obscene than the pessimistic ones) But at one condition to show the violence of publicity itself, the violence of fashion, the violence of the medium. What actually publishers are not able even to try to do. However, fashion and high society are themselves a kind of spectacle of death. The world's misery is quite so visible, quite so transparent in the line and the face of any top-model as on the skeletal body of an african boy. The same cruelty is to be perceived everywhere, if one only knows how to look at it.
This realistic image, however, does not catch at all what really is, but what should not be - death and misery - what should not exist, from our moral and humanistic point of view. And at the same time making an aesthetic and commercial, perfectly immoral use and abuse of this misery. Images that actually testify, behind their pretended "objectivity", of a deep denial of the real, and of an equal denial of the image - assigned to present what does not even want to be represented, assigned to the rape of the real by burglary.
Murder of the image, crushed by overinformation, oversignifcation,overreference. Murder of the secret of the image, drowned by hypervisibility, by unconditional transparency. In "Leaving Las Vegas", we look at a very charming blond girl pissing and talking on and on, perfectly indifferent to what she is saying and doing. A perfectly useless scenery, but which ostensibly testifies that nothing will escape from the minion of the fiction and the reality, that all is assigned to a ready-to-see, ready-to-act, ready-to-enjoy. That is transparency to force all the real in the orbit of the visual (not even representation : pure visually). And this is obscene. Obscene is all what is unnecessarily visible,without desire and without effect. All what usurps the so rare and so precious space of appearances.
The last violence done to the image - the very final violence - is the technological one : electronic and comp terized, synthetic images issued from numerical combination, combined and reworked on the surface of the screen. It is the end of the imagination of the image itself. of its fundamental illusion, because in the syntheticoperation the referent no longer exists, and the real has not even time to take place as it is immediately produced as virtual reality. No direct capture of the picture anymore, no presence of a real object in an irrevocable moment and face-to-face, which constitutes the magic of photography and of the image generally as acting, as singular event - last glimmer of reality in a world devoted to hyperreality. Nothing left in the synthetic image of this "punctual" enactitude, of this "punctum" in time (to quote the expression of Roland Barthes) which is the caracteristic of the analogous image. While the photo testfile of an absence that something really took place, but according to Barthes now went away for ever ,today the photo, the genuine analogous photograph,would rather testify of a presence,of an immediate presence of the subject to the object- what does not happen anymore in the computerizing of images. Ultimate challenge to the synthetic order which is now overwhelming us. The relationof the image to its referent raised already a lot of problems,those of representation. But when the referent is out of the field,and there is actually no representation anymore,when the real object has disappearedinto the technical programming of the image,when the imageas pure artefact does not reflect anyone or anything, and does not even go through the phase of the negative - can we still speak of an image ? Are in fact televisual, numerical and virtual images images at all ? Our real world of images will soon cease to enist,and our consumption of images itself will be virtual.
If the image - as Plato says - is the confluence of the light emanating from the object and of the light emanating from the eye, then we will soon neither have an object nor an eye, and thus no images anymore.
The same problem for thinking. In the field of artificial intelligence, the thought does not even have time to formulate itself. Maybe the computerization of the image is the perfect mode of the image. And just the same : the computerization of thought would be the achievement of thinking. But just because of this, it is at the same time their total denegation. In the very perfection lies the violence of synthetic images and artifical intelligence. A perfect enorcism of the real, as infant malady of virtuality - a perfect enorcism of thought, as infant malady of brainengineering - a perfect enorcism of the image as infant malady of the visuality.
Bad fate for the image (and for thinking, and for the real in general !),but at the same time the chance, for the genuine photographic image, of a pathetic success, as it happens now, of an artificial resurrection, as for an animal species about to disappear. Maybe it is, in this symbolic murder of the image, an ironical revenge for the murder of the real by the image. The whole dimension of techni-cal, economical and aesthetic values, fashion, market and speculation are drowning the image under their flood.
The specificity of the image is that it is in some way a parallel universe - another world, another scene, in two dimensions - not to confuse with our universe in three dimensions, our real universe, the world of representation. This dimension less makes its magic and its power of illusion. All what reintegrates the image in the third dimension is a potential violence done to the image. Not only the spatial dimension of relief and stereoscopy, but even that of movement, of time (in the movie), or that of meaning and message - all that reintegrate the image in our world and destroys it as a parallel world.
Even worse is the absorption of the image in what we would call the Fourth Dimension - that of the Virtual and the cybernetics. We usually believe that every additional dimension is a plus, but on the contrary, every additional dimension annihilate the former ones in their singularity. The third one annihilates the two-dimensional world, that of the image. As for the Fourth, it annihilates all the others, included the threedimensional world of representation. It is a strange game. .-The new world (the Brave New World) of the virtual is a world of Integral Reality. And a world of integral reality has no place for a parallel universe, like that of the image. Then here is the final solution for image and imagination.
Something else very dangerous for the image as a paralle-universe is the fact that our whole actual universe itself is becoming image. We have to do with a general conversion of our real world in image, the most vulgar form of visibility - and then how is any parallel universe to be distinguished at all - how can the image save its singularity in a world entirely turned into image?
Now the question, the crucial question is :is there still a chance, a real chance for the image to escape this double violence, the one it exerts and the one it endures, in order to find the original power of the image again - the Evil Genius of the Image? Images that resist the violence of information and communi-cation, to recover, beyond all signification and aesthetic diversion, the pure event of the image?
Resist the noise, the perpetual rumour of the world, through the silence of the image. Resist movement, flow and acceleration through the stillness of the image. Resist the moral imperative of meaning through the silence of signification. Above all, resist this automatic overflow of images and their perpetual succession. Recover the "po-ignant" detail of the object, the "punctum", but also the moment of acting, of taking the picture, immediately passed, and always nostalgic. Opposite to the flow of images produced in "real time", indifferent to this other dimension of the becoming-image of the object : the time itself. The visual flux of actuality does not know anything but change, it does not know the concept of becoming, which is radically different from change : in this flux the image does not even have time to become image (as in the sphere of information thought has hardly the chance to becoming-thought).
In order for the image, and for the object, to emerge as such, it has to be put in suspense, in suspense of meaning, in suspense of the tumulluous operation of the world, it must be captured in the single fantastic moment which is the first encounter, the surprising moment, when things are not yet aware that we are here, when they have not yet been arranged by analytical order, when our absence is not yet fading away. But this instant is ephemeral : we should not be present to see it. That does in a sense the photographer, hidden behind his lens, himself vanishing, himself disappeared. For this is the price of making objects appear : the disappearance of the subject.
In this rule of disappearance and transparency as a secret rule of the image, this one has a close connection to theory. It is the silent consecration of all that which, having achieved itself in the discourse, must now metamorphose itself in something else. And the image is the most beautiful of the metamorphoses of the discourse.. It has basically nothing to do with it, but it is as if it had preceded it in an earlier life. Anyway, the theory itself, when it reaches its extrem limit, has no open face anymore - it becomes its own masque. It keeps the outlook of analysis, but it has secretly transfused to the other side, to the side the phenomena, of which there is nothing to say anymore. In this moment, the image appears with all its phenomenal power. The photographic image is born out of this phenomenal intuition of the world, following the analytical intuition - not as transcription, but as transmutat: of theory. That is,at least,my own eperience of the photographic image as a transtheoretical object. Not as an artistic or realistic activity,but as a becoming-image of the object,as becoming-image of the thought,as symbolic terminal for the analytic process,together with its resolution into an object existing for its own - neither real nor objective as soon as it becomes an image,the object raises no problems anymore,it is the immediate solution to whatis perfectly insoluble from the point of view of analysis Mutation, metamorphosis, anamorphosis maybe - poetictransference of the analytical situation : the "punctual" which is at the core of the image becomes the "contrapunctual" of the theory.