Unreal Nature

October 14, 2015

The Living and the Dead

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:46 am

… they capture something like the duration of a desire, something visible that promises an experience of consciousness.

Continuing Lee Friedlander: The Little Screens by Saul Anton (2015):

… In our media-tised world, everyday reality is haunted by the presence of those who are not, in any simple sense, present, but whom we carry with us wherever we go. This transformation is often understood in starkly Platonic terms, that is, as an emptying out, an evacuation of the depth and thickness of reality, and a substitution in its place of a superficial existence — something unreal or artificial, and thus suspect. However, such a dichotomy fails to capture the more profound relation between surface and depth, presence and transmission, that is activated and goes ‘live’ with the advent of the television screen.

… In the 2001 volume of The Little Screens it is quickly apparent just how out of place the televisions are in the spaces they occupy. Almost as if manufacturers didn’t yet understand what it was they were making, and in spite of the extraordinary lengths they went to in designing and sizing models for every possible place in the house, these televisions simply do not fit. Rather, they seem, in Friedlander’s treatment, to be doubles of the very aliens or monsters being broadcast into American homes.

Florida, 1963

… Unlike the faces of movie stars on the ‘big screen,’ the ‘little screen’ reduces the subject to something less than alive, something merely lifelike. But this ‘imitation of life’ (incidentally the name of a 1959 film starring Lana Turner as a well-coiffed housewife) brings into relief the movement of anthropomorphism that operates within auratic art.

What Friedlander thus achieves is the opposite of the domestic intimacy and homey reassurance that television promises. There is a powerful sense of apprehension in The Little Screens. The TVs are always on, and their screens present a world that is somehow out of place.

… The uncanny, for Cavell, is the intuition that reality is itself conditioned by repetition and by death as much as by life. In The Little Screens, however, this implicit and ‘originary’ repetition makes possible the anthropomorphism facilitated by the television screen and the inability to distinguish between the living and the dead by means of the eye. In the absence of human presence, the TV screen presents us with an image of the suspension of our certainty that what we are looking at is alive and real. It is … this loss of certainty in our ability to see that is closely bound, Cavell, argues, to the power of language to name things. Friedlander’s televisions, then, make visible and stage this intersection of vision and language that animates the world, making what is dead appear alive and what is alive appear dead.

As a result, The Little Screens possess neither the motion and star quality of the cinema’s big screen nor the instantaneity of the photograph. Rather, these photographs present an oscillation or a suspension not unlike the flickering that one associates with television screens. Being little rather than big screens, they do not move in the sense that movies are first and foremost moving pictures; nevertheless, they capture something like the duration of a desire, something visible that promises an experience of consciousness. As photographs of moving images rather than photographs of movement, they open onto the horizon of time and introduce an infinitely thin duration into the simultaneity of the photographic still.


They are supposed to be maps but they turn into screens: instead of representing the world, they obscure it until human beings’ lives finally become a function of the images they create. — Vilém Flusser [this quote is not in the Friedlander book]
My previous post from Anton’s book is here.




Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: