In my imagined temporary community on the stage, in that ring and in those lights, we would have started with a single set of questions, a single set of definitions, and disagreed from there until we came to new sets of questions, and so that is what I will do here, sitting literally alone, around my hearth, and without tribe. The artist always fights herself, in the end. I relax, so I can strike myself harder. I establish my balance, so I can stay on my feet.
So there is a sense in which Winogrand’s personal crisis expresses a theoretical position, just as there’s an equally important sense in which that theoretical position and the alternatives to it (what it might mean to intend something, and especially what it might mean not to or what it might mean for your reasons to be treated as causes) were becoming at the time of that crisis central to literary theory and aesthetic production. Indeed, in what is now an aesthetic and a political as much as a philosophical sense, the structure of intentional action has recently emerged as a crucial issue.
If I understand Emerson correctly, his allegory of photography contends that, while photography may look like shopping at a flea market, it’s really more like standing a round at the bar.
In an advertisement, the only intention that matters is to sell a product. All manner of decisions can and do saturate an advertising image, but these are subordinate to the purpose (Zweck) of selling the product. In a successful work of art, all kinds of decisions are subordinate to a larger intention as well; but that intention is analytically identical with the meaning (Zweckmäßigkeit) of the work, so it makes sense to speak of the work as a whole as saturated with intention. As we saw, art-commodities may well bear the marks of industrial processes. A work of art may, on the other hand, choose to exhibit them, which is a different matter altogether. We can tell the difference between bearing marks and exhibiting marks because works of art tell us how to tell the difference, each time.
It is to the afterlife of optical telegraphy that this article turns, less to trace a linear technical history characterized by patterns of evolution and decay, rupture and regress, than to suggest that visuality continued to inflect the subject of telegraphy in France after the 1850s, and to draw out some of the ways in which telegraphy provided a means of conceptualizing the historical meaning of diverse media. As the century progressed, the emergence of other media with an ability to conjure the past—most notably photography, in its various forms—did not lead to a decline in telegraphic metaphors: rather, it gave them new life.
We need to look more specifically at the kinds of formal effects typical of photography at mid-century in order to see Manet’s profound engagement with this new image paradigm. We also need to think about the photograph as an image whose source was not human, but optical and mechanical, and thus mysterious. Like Balzac, Manet was primarily concerned with the human, social world, but in Manet’s case, the ommatophore of the camera—the automatism of an eye on a stalk—has a greater presence than we have previously acknowledged.
Even the seeming agency of individual taste becomes an ossified representation of categorized, predictable choices and habits such that, according to class, education, and political leanings, individuals could be predicted to demonstrate affinities for Bach or Brassens, Le Monde or Le Figaro, tennis or football, a tidy or a harmoniously designed home.
Deschenes then begins to build into the logic of each of her photographs a specific quality – scale, frame, posture, and sometimes color. This is what abstraction means, in case we have forgotten: a work of art does not “look abstract” and it “is” not “an abstraction.” A work of art abstracts a specific quality. Sometimes such qualities derive from observation: a subject can be abstracted, but that does not mean that it is rendered blurry or otherwise stylistically abstract.
Photography is—as I hope to demonstrate—radically anti-Cartesian. It shows us that there really is a world, that it wants to be seen by us, and that it exceeds our capacity to know it. Photography also shows us that the world is structured by analogy, and helps us find our place within it….Each of us is connected through similarities that are neither of our making or our choosing to countless other beings. We cannot extricate ourselves from these relationships, because there is no such thing as an individual; the smallest unit of Being is two interlocking terms. There is also nowhere else to go.
Photography helps us to see and to feel what we are but cannot know. Then again, knowing when to trust our feelings—when we feel them to be right and not just ours—is not just a matter of affect, but of assertion, about what we think others could have meant. Not knowing what they could have meant does not mean they did not mean something or that we cannot know it. Properly acknowledging one’s “kin” requires that we risk the public and corrigible claim to understanding what was said.