Carthusians refer to their cells as deserts. The cell is a remote site at the margins of civilization, distant from the noise of society and mundane temptations. A desert is not only the place where all customs, traditions, and historical stratifications fall apart, but also where any consolidated societal structure can be questioned and examined from an estranged point of observation.
By contrast, what the idea of the rule provides is a relation to the self—to sleeping, washing, eating, excreting and reflecting—that embodies an understanding of the social constituted neither by an assemblage of solitaries nor by the model of the epistolary relations between the writer and the “others” whose “help” he needs to cultivate himself properly. It would be too much to say that in the seven “Deserts” we see the struggle between capital and labor. But it would be exactly right to say that we see emblems not of self-care but of both conflict and of ideology.
Whereas, on Fried’s account, such theatricality and coercion by objects is a scenario to avoid, both 2001 film and novel presume the inevitability of spectacle and objecthood. They embrace the theatrical condition of their 1968-modernity as their 2001-future. It might even be the case that Kubrick was attempting to turn the entirety of his film into the experience of a minimalist object in a manner entirely congruent with Fried’s account.
Let me be clear, the problems I raise do not stem from a dissatisfaction with the way October authors repeat a kind of party line. In fact, I envy the unity and consistency of the resolve and of course their massive impact on the discipline (what is there, politically speaking, besides anti-hierarchy in the humanities?). My point is that the basic set of claims shared by many of these authors is mistaken.
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.
Doesn’t the image’s power lie in its proliferation of meanings? So what is the point of arguing for such autonomy? Is it possible to separate ourselves from all the forces that teach us how to act in a room with an artwork?
Another way of putting this is to say that the violence of the frame consists above all in making our lives as irrelevant as hers, and it’s in this indifference to our particularity (this allegorizing of its irrelevance) that I locate the politics of Kydd’s work.
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.
An insistence on autonomy, here, is not about continuing to valorize the self as a site of all meaning and value. The opposite is true. Autonomization is a fundamentally social process. It is a matter of vigorously and loudly arguing for the necessary existence of modes of inquiry, styles of life, and ways of organizing creative and scholarly activity that reveal the limitations of the neoliberal market as an arbiter of what is valuable to know and do.