The Commutability of Traces

by Thomas Zummer

“. . . mi ritrovai per una selva oscura . . . ”

-Dante Alighieri, Inferno, Canto 1

At the very beginning, indeed within the first few lines, Dante’s narrator ‘finds himself’-mi ritrovai-in a ‘dark wood,’ in an allegory conventionally taken as ‘error’ or ‘sin,’ though it may also refer to that ‘ancient forest, deep dwelling of beasts’ near the mouth of Hades found in the Aeneid(1). It is also quite likely that there is reference to the Platonic idea of matter, silva in the Latin translation of the Timaeus, and even possibly to the forest of Arthurian romance. There is, too, a perhaps not so distant relation to Augustine of Hippo, who writes in his Confessions that “it is one thing, from a wooded mountain top to see the land of peace and quite another to reach it, when one’s way is beset by the lion and the dragon.” Poliphilo, too, comes readily to mind, lost in the dark forest of the Hypnerotomachia, searching for his lover Polia, for harmony, order, and sense, in a vast maze of ruined antiquities-caverns, pyramids, theaters, temples-all described with fanatic erudition and unreserved desire, spoken as if within the economies of a dream. These phrases are compelling depictions: they present an image, figure, or representation, a graphic and visual portrayal in and through language. A thicket, a mesh of branches, a tangled skein, a field of lines, marks, impediments, in so many words, a dark, dusky, darksome, gloomy image. Before such images one finds oneself in the dark, lost, for a moment, in a tangle of references, arrested, transfixed in a moment of apprehension, without a thread in the labyrinth of interpretations, casting about for marks of passage, wegmarken.(3) Whether such images are of a textual or visual nature, they possess a remarkable potency, operating across multiple registers of sense and meaning, with various forms of address, and multiple significations.

The legible and the visible have common spaces and borders; they overlap in part, and each is embedded in the other to an uncertain degree.
-Louis Marin

Artworks engender a complex mediation between public and private, tradition and innovation, spectator and reference. They do so with a range of liminal devices and conventions, both within and outside the work, that form these mediations. Prominent among such devices are what we might call, after Genette, paratexts-in our case the title of a work, annotations which may appear interior or exterior to the frame of the work, signatures, evaluations, even critical accounts, or records of ownership and sale. Less concrete, and perhaps more persuasive, is the register of tradition, the narratological inscription of images/artifacts into discursive patterns: history, theme, school, movement, oeuvre, anomaly. In a sense images become the depictions they are by their traversal of a public sphere, a community of signs and recognitions. And yet, while the visual and the textual may be permeable and co-extensive, images are irreducible to description, and descriptions may provide but a mere suggestion of acceptable grounds for the visual.

At the core of depiction is the recognition of its subject, and this remains so even when the subject is radically transformed and recognition becomes correspondingly extended.
-Michael Podro

Artworks address us, and they do so in part by creating uncertainty; our engagement with them involves a continuous adjustment as we scan for signs, clues, suggestions on how to proceed and for a confirmation or disconfirmation of our response.(2) It is within the framework of such discursive fields that artworks take place as such, and we, as spectators, come into a discourse ready-made(3). That is to say that a tradition of recognition and exegesis proceeds us, and the given community within which we find ourselves forms a culturally-mediated perceptual horizon, or boundary in our consumption of images. Still, this is a malleable field, accommodating many differences, and we are capable of acting with our own volition, posing our own questions. How, we might ask, is it that a medium, having it’s own rhythms and textures, seems both distinct from the represented subject and yet at the same time to embody it? It is less a matter of how depictions are made, than it is an issue of recognition, a basic relation we have to the world, a capacity that functions in a distinctive way with works of art, and even with technically reproducible copies, or variants of works.
stains, blots, noise:

visibility and legibility in the given and the artificial

If you look upon an old wall covered with dirt, or the odd appearance of some streaked stones, you may discover several things like landscapes, battles, clouds, uncommon attitudes, humorous faces, draperies, And c. Out of this confused mass of objects, the mind will be furnished with abundance of designs and subjects perfectly new.
-Leonardo da Vinci

In his treatise of 1785, entitled New Method of Assisting the Invention in Drawing Original Compositions of Landscape, Alexander Cozens makes an intentional reference to this well-known passage in the Treatise on Painting in order to set forth the idea that an improvement has been rendered upon Leonardo’s suggestion of “a new method of assisting the invention.” Cozens proposes a refinement of the faculty of recognition, which for Leonardo was tempered by chance discovery and fortuity, by developing a method of (visual) invention through the production of artifice. One no longer had to depend upon the aleatory, on random occurrences sought in crumbling architecture or the fleeting impressions inspired by infelicities in light or shadow, but one might produce such “rude forms” artificially, with a minimal degree of conscious design. The system introduced in the New Method involved procedures for the composition of landscapes based on the use of randomly produced artificial ink-blots, allowing for a complex interplay between imitation and invention, method, chance and design. Cozens considered that the greater part of attention requisite to the act of drawing must be applied to the whole, that is, to the general design of the composition, and to this alone, so that the subordinate parts-the material marks and happy accidents-are left to the casual and unthinking motion of the hand or brush.(4) The distinction between the marks, stains or blots which one might chance upon, and those that one might indifferently render, is therefore negligible to the process of recognition. This early method implies an almost syntactic compiling of lines, blots, stains, splashes carried out in a variety of media -ink or carbon, pigment, dust, sugar, cotton, thread- which prefigures modern disputations on abstraction, materiality and invention in contemporary aesthetic practices from impressionism to surréalism to the postmodern and transmedial.

James Elkins, in a sustained critique of the semiotic approach to visual signs(5) points out that what are presumed to be stable and irreducible elements of images-marks, lines, traces, edges, outlines, surfaces, textures, fields, or even relations of figure and ground, tonality and illumination-give way upon close examination to a much more unruly series of historically specific practices and discourses, which are themselves irreducible to a re-translation into signs or narratives. The graphic mark remains both mysterious (since it is infinitely variable and replete with meaning) and secondary (since it is incapable of becoming a legible sign so long as its meaning depends so intimately on its form). While such “rude” marks may be invested with meaning in and of themselves, and recast as elemental pictures or figures, these are determinations which occur almost entirely in language. Rorschach’s set of diagnostic designs are an interesting, if extreme, example of this.(6) Rorschach’s aggregate collection of stains is a legislated and overdetermined sign-system, whose use is rigorously controlled, and restricted to psychiatric and psychoanalytical professionals. There are, in fact, some rather strict legal sanctions for misuse. At the same time it is remarkable in its normative anxieties about the proper containment of representation. A discrete set of images, composed by Rorschach, in all likelihood by a method at least congenial to that proposed by Cozens, is fixed and arrested, sustained by and constrained to very precise hermeneutic and exegetical rules. While these “blots” may remain “random,” the recognitions performed by test subjects certainly are not. Similar sorts of investments in the materiality of the mark as an aesthetic signifier are made in certain forms of abstraction or material reflexivity, such as occurs in the painting of Jackson Pollock or Cy Twombly, or the systematic deployment of marks that one finds in works by Hanne Darboven, Sol Lewitt, Richard Long or Jonathan Borofsky. There are many other examples of the reflective insistence on the material conditions and constituents of the art work that take place within the modernist framework, and persist in sometimes exotic forms in contemporary, postmodern, mediated practices. Another register of materiality and insistence takes place in artworks which appropriate, simulate, cite or mimic other works and things. Different types of paratextual formulations operate to secure an image as a specific type of depiction. The relation of contingency between (para)text and image is irregular, unstable, provisional, and plural, and extends even to the implications of the unsaid. Certain works, in fact, operate by strategically leaving the obvious unsaid, by saying something else, or by deferral to the linguistic/textual ‘outside’ of the work, as is the case with certain performative or site-specific works and processes which engage the unconscious reflexes or interaction of a given audience in the completion of the work. Some works are made or unmade in language, as has been the case with the determination of forgeries, where, as attribution (signature) changes, the status of a work, which had been a particular thing for a certain duration, is radically altered. Consider too, the difficulties that arise with technical reproducibility, where even in the simplest photographic recording of events or situations, it is impossible to make a clear determination of, for example, identity, originality, truth, culpability, causality or consequence.

the intercession of the camera

. . . the camera does not see . . .
-Walter Benjamin

In an essay which is perhaps read too often, and too quickly, Walter Benjamin(7) marks a distinction between the camera’s optics and human perception, noting the camera’s intervention into the sphere of human visuality, via the substitution of a nonconscious instrumentality in the place of our own regard. That is, at a remove, in a deferral which institutes an aporia in perception via certain intercessionary technologies-photography, cinema, digital media-which is difficult to discern or to avoid. For all of its increasing sophistication, the camera remains an instrument of citation, a ‘writing in/of light’ which secures only the most minute trace, or movement, as it flashes by (aufblitzendes), caught, inscribed in the particulate grain of photo-chemical materiality. Still, when we see what the camera has recorded it nonetheless engages a reflex within us, that perceives light and shadow, movement, and even reflection, as substance, and, in the case of photographically recorded images of people, which compels in us a recognition and response to a presumed other, the presence of some person or thing seen as having actually appeared within the frame of the image, or operating at its presumed point of origin. Facial recognition it is one of our earliest unconscious accomplishments, hardwired in us even as infants; the camera intervenes in that, and presents a technically reproducible shadow, an apparition of presence, one which operates at the same time as an index of loss. This also happens with the photographic reproduction of drawings, prints or painting, where the presumption of the presence of the ‘eye’ of the artist is also linked to the chain of presumed presences. For Benjamin, it is through the instrumentality of the camera that “an unconsciously penetrated space is substituted for a space consciously explored,” where the naturalization of prosthetic perception via the camera “introduces us to unconscious optics as does psychoanalysis to unconscious impulses.(8)” That is, at a remove, outside the image or scene, with a compulsion to repetition and the promise of recuperation, so that there is an uncanny doubling of the camera’s unconscious optics with our own impulses, a technico-philosophical sleight of hand that purports to secure the whole of the real. It is the very definition of the phantasm. Cinematic perception is folded back into experience, an artificial memory, naturalized and subsumed, which presents the proleptic promise of recall, even as it circumscribes a doubled site of loss. What we thought were sensations have become ghosts(9), transfixed in a flash, mere afterimages; we are haunted by images, traces of an elsewhere that we have made our own, domesticated fragments which we have compelled to enter into other relations, different economies of sense. Presence deferred to an impossible proximity, but not lost entirely. The patterns of deferred presences may be considered a species of allusion, and it is within the space of allusion that a complex interplay of simulation and dissimulation occurs, through which we recognize, engage with, and consume images. Our presumption of the verisimilitude of the camera-of its ‘objectivity’ and it’s tacit claim to the truth of human presence, of the eye, or of the hand-is related, and has persisted as an index to the photographic apparatus since its origins.

Thomas Y. Levin(10) has argued persuasively that “the epistemology of the “realism” of the ‘effect of the real’ produced by classical continuity editing in film is fundamentally based on the referential surplus value of photo-chemical indexicality.” The history of our apprehension of the material basis of the photographic artifact as depicting an image of something has secured for the photograph-and for all subsequent photographic media- a powerful, if indeed problematic, signifying presence. There was a certain era in the reception of photography where such artifacts could be unproblematically introduced as, for example, evidence of culpability or innocence in a court of law, or convincing proof of political events or natural phenomena. Today no such claim to evidentiary verisimilitude can be presumed, as the consequences of an increasingly widespread recognition of the photographic surface as a complex and hybrid construct become increasingly salient in the contemporary digital milieu, and we find ourselves tracing the hitherto hidden contours of a constantly renegotiated and “generalized pedagogy of verisimilitude” wherein our perceptual regard and consumption of images is shaped and constrained by a register of habits(11). There is a commutability in the materiality of signs, a system of equivalences constructed between a blot, an incision, a mark, the grain of reactive photo-chemical deposition, a pattern of pixels or the disparate charges of electrons. And while there may be an assumed equivalence on the material axis between the profoundly unintentional tracings in light which are mechanically produced, and those markings which have come about through the intercession of the hand and the eye, using technologies of rendering or etching, we still find ourselves arrested, silent, alone before the image, a moment before a flicker of recognition sets in.

Many riddles might be solved by mere image, but redeemed only through the word.
-Walter Benjamin


Things look like things, they are embodied in the transience of each other’s meaning; a thing looks like a thing, which looks like another thing, or another.
-Vik Muniz

One recognizes representations based on the resemblance of the depicted image to something, or to something like, something that one has already seen. The mediation between novel experience and previously apprehended sensory stimuli occurs by reflex, through a mimetic faculty that ‘retrieves’ significant data from the chaotic external sensorium almost before one knows it. In a sense, raw data is abstract at the outset, and when one’s semantic memory fails to locate a precise equivalent to a given stimulus, it reflexively forces that equivalence. In such a manner are faces found in clouds, and figures in stones, or meadows in the accretion of blots. A compelling pictoriality may be found even within the depths of etymology, as any careful reader of Francis Ponge discovers. Le Parti Pris des Choses wrests the images of the simplest things from the palimpsest of language, inducing the apparition of familiarity to “give up it’s ghosts,” revealing, reveling in, the strange spectrality which is common to both language and images. A similar spectrality haunts the etymologies of the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, languages which are both indeterminate and determining, within which sense moves, darkly, as if covered by an obscuring skein, as beneath the surface, the play of words at making pictures produces striking resonances(12) . Roger Caillois writes, on and on, an entire book of descriptions of depictions(13), of images found in the unthinking accretions of stones and minerals, fractures and erosions, images retrieved from mute stones, finding themselves in an idiotic-that is, solitary and singular-poetics. Silent images wrought from stone into language, a mesh or network of associations, this looks like that, memory and resemblance.

invention and phantasm

Many years ago when I was looking over Piranesi’s “Antiquities of Rome,” Mr. Coleridge, who was standing by, described to me a set of plates by that artist called his “Dreams,” and which record the scenery of his visions during the delirium of a fever. Some of them . . . represented vast Gothic halls, on the floor of which stood all sorts of engines and machinery, wheels, cables, pulleys, levers catapults, And c., And c., expressive of enormous power put forth, and resistance overcome. Creeping along the sides of the walls you perceived a staircase; and upon it, groping his way upwards, was Piranesi himself; follow the stairs a little further, and you perceive it comes to a sudden, abrupt termination, without any balustrade, and allowing no step onwards to him who had reached the extremity, except into the depths below. Whatever is to become of poor Piranesi? -you suppose, at least, that his labours must in some way terminate here. But raise your eyes, and behold a second flight of stairs still higher, on which again Piranesi is perceived, by this time standing on the very brink of the abyss. Again elevate your eyes, and a still more aërial flight of stairs is beheld; and again is poor Piranesi busy on his aspiring labours : and so on, until the unfinished stairs and Piranesi both are lost in the upper gloom of the hall. With the same power of endless growth and self-reproduction did my architecture proceed in my dreams.
-Thomas De Quincey

Giovanni Battista Piranesi, who had a passionate interest in architecture, ruins and fragments, was once dismissed from an apprenticeship(14) on the grounds that he was “too much of a painter to be an engraver.” Piranesi’s work exhibited a quality characterized by a freer and more strongly contrastive manipulation of the effects of the acid used to etch plates, a use which diverged from the traditional referential techniques, replacing the etcher’s fine line with a more expressive and unruly assortment of blots, bleeds, cuts and incisions. Piranesi developed this technique, and an examination of the first editions of the Opere Varie, for example, show a lighter, clearer quality of etching, while in later editions the plates have been reworked so that there is a considerable amount of ‘rebiting’ and darkening of shadows. The initial purity and restfulness of tone in etching which is discernible in Piranesi’s early editions of the Carceri, was soon to be reworked by a darker and more energetic technique of rebiting, a technical accretion of marking and evacuating spaces that opened onto a more whimsical, phantasmatic space. By employing the splashes, blots, volumes, and fields that are an unconscious, or minimally conscious, effect of the techné of reproduction Piranesi’s images, especially in the case of the Carceri, or Imaginary Prisons, diverge from the traditional mimetic correspondences between representation and representamen. The reworking/rebiting of plates produces an uncanny psychological effect, an irruption within the familiar forms of representation of an unfamiliar intensity, a delirium within the familiar, where all sorts of things may take shape. Imaginary prisons look like other, actual architectures, inventions constructed of the elements of drawing/etching their dark forcefulness induced by the materialities of the mark, the tangled lines etched in vision.

De Quincy, in a waking dream of his own, recognizes Piranesi, doubled many times over, within the mesh and tangle of lines forming the Carceri. “Poor Piranesi . . . lost in the upper gloom of the hall,” irrecuperable at precisely that moment, and that proximity, where a figure cannot be wrested from the tangle of lines, where the materiality of the stain holds at the outer limit of recognition. It is a strange space, within which base medium admits to allegory, and things change, language and image transform each other, and poor Piranesi, in De Quincy’s vision, finds himself “standing on the very brink of the abyss.”

allegory and mimesis

“. . . Moors, bishops, lobsters, streams, faces, plants, dogs, fishes, tortoises, dragons, death’s heads, crucifixes-everything a mind bent on identification could fancy. The fact is that there is no creature or thing, no monster or monument, no event or site in Nature, History, Fable or Dream whose images the predisposed eye cannot read in the markings, patterns and outlines found in stones.”
-Roger Caillois

Caillois finds in the Tuscan paesinas, also called “ruin marbles,” the depiction in detail of the debris of classical cities and the fragments of antiquities.(15) Nonetheless, the mimetic gives way to the allegorical as these figures remain, after all, unthinking accretions in stone, which only appear to mime something, and which have but momentarily engaged our very human reflex of making sense of them in our own terms. They are imaginary, and there is some of the sense of invention by which Piranesi’s imaginary carceral spaces and architectures were so close to the ruins and fragments he himself haunted, that we recognize in them real, or at least possible places.

There is a constant and agonistic tension between mimesis and allegory, between patterns of identity and difference in the recognition, apprehension and consumption of texts and images. The mimetic simulates the real, while allegory, reflecting upon the material disposition of words and images, dissimulates. Moreover there is an ambiguous territory which mediates between allegory and mimesis, so that certain things, narratives, images may, according to specific interests or tactics, be assigned to either register. That is to say, that there is something tacitly allegorical in the mimetic recognition that something ‘looks like’ something else, while allegory, in its turn, depends upon such similarities in order to render its differences. Between mimesis and allegory therefore lies a complex field of complicities and resistances. The interplay between the mimetic and the allegorical is perhaps nowhere more clearly figured and examined than in the para-photographic works of Vik Muniz. Muniz is perhaps one of our finest contemporary ironists, and his endeavors are not constrained to the visual alone, but seep into the language and textuality which enframe his artwork. It is no small achievement, and Muniz masterfully interweaves the two tendencies. Through works such as the early series Individuals (1992-93), where common everyday objects are rendered out of cotton, or Equivalents (1994), wherein artificial clouds take on an increasingly unlikely array of shapes. The object/images are constructed and photographed, a kind of precessionary composition of the image before its instantiation through the intercession of the camera (what has happened to all of those cotton balls after all?). Muniz understands that a mimicry which reveals itself as such may fairly be considered a minimal sort of allegory, and he uses certain forms of pretense to present an apparently simple (but in fact complex and profound) occlusion of references where the limit points of mimicry and deferral play out. This is true in works where a certain technique, such as mimicking etchings or line drawings in string or wire, is conveyed through the vehicle of photography, so that it simultaneously completes the illusion of similitude, and punctures the illusion of identity. Random anomalous material marks which had hitherto traced lines or contours, tone or volume, in the manufacture of an image have been translated into other, anomalous, substances such as chocolate, dust, sugar or marinara sauce. The simulation of an image-with whatever proper name it might bear as signature: Warhol, or Turner, Constable or Muniz-appears, more or less intact, as a dissimulation. This comes about through the intercession of the camera. The camera is a device which intervenes in our reflexes in the most subtle fashion, a vehicle which enables the presumption of presence-the presumption that something was in front of the lens at some time-through the material trace of its absence.

The works of Vik Muniz are allegorical in precisely this sense: that they reflectively position the camera as an instrument of differentiation within that moment where the spectator’s habitual reflex is towards a recognition of identity or similitude. The photographic process foregrounds the materiality of the image as representation while leaving it intact as an image. It is a process where, as Germano Celant remarks, the “photographic hardening” renders the reproduced image transparent, and the reproduction concrete.(16)

In the very simplest terms, allegory says one thing and means another; in so doing, it destroys the normal expectation that one has of language, that words ‘mean what they say.’ At the same time, allegory is both a structural principle and a fundamental process of encoding speech, and it appears in an extraordinary and complex variety of forms. Allegory often calls attention to or indicates its own material armature as representation or conveyance of (absent/present) meanings. Allegory derives from allos + agoreuein (other + speak openly, in public community, i.e., in the marketplace or agora: “To speak otherwise”). Agoreuein has the connotation of public, open, declarative speech, a sense which is inverted by the prefix allos, giving something like ‘other than open, public, speech,’ so that allegory is often understood as an inversion wherein there is couched something different than can be seen in the literal sense. The term inversio in its original sense meant translation, while translatio simply ‘translates’ (is the Latin equivalent of) the Greek term metaphor. Allegory is traditionally defined as an extended metaphor, when, for example, the events of a narrative obviously and continuously refer to another simultaneous structure of events or ideas or phenomena. It is important to point out the political overtones of the verb agoreuein which are reflected in a long history of situations which have demanded and produced indirect, devious, and ironical ways of speaking or depicting. It is also appropriate to emphasize the public nature of allegory, in the sense that when allegory occurs, as it does in parables or in painting, in utopian or dystopian tracts or fictions, it does so (from) within the public sphere, that is, within the community of common tradition and reference.(17)

At the same time, allegory is excessive. It often exceeds the bounds of the visual and the verbal, as in the case of dreams, where, since Freud,(18) there is a recognition of unconscious or latent drives or conflicts residing within or hidden beneath texts and images, rendering them tacit psychological allegories. Allegory calls attention to the materialities and pluralities of signification and often involves pretense, as for example when one pretends to talk about one series of events when actually talking about another. More complex allegories tend to develop a strongly ironic tone, which may involve the recognition, implication or enunciation that one is reflexively performing an allegory. The pretense to simplicity, or stupidity, a tongue-in-cheek reliance on something obviously wrong or blatantly ignorant masks the seriousness of critique or indignity. This sort of critical/theoretical stance is closely related to allegory, and is called allogoresis.

There is an unruliness to allegory, an impossibility to set to rest it’s references, tempered only perhaps by unlikelihood, or the excessiveness of labor invested in making sense. The endlessness of representation, the impossibility to contain reference where an apparent sense refers to an other sense, perhaps even another, casts one into a regressive abyss of signs and portents, a mise-en abyme. Allegory operates by revealing that the mimetic covers a kind of ‘hole,’ a negative space (mise-en-abyme) around which various discourses and desires are organized and articulated. Mise-en-scene (literally ‘casting into place’) is symmetrically bonded and contradistinct to this invisible mise-en-abyme (a ‘casting into the abyss’ of signs and representations). It is only via the arrestment of the (absent, phantasmatic) image in the stains of the photo-chemical trace by the engaged presence of a spectator that photography exists.(19) Photography is an art of memory, a prosthesis to our own recall. Paradoxically, it induces recognition in us of things which we cannot remember, which have preceded us, or taken place elsewhere, which we know only through reflections or reproductions, or which we might suppose or imagine to have existed.

Artworks purporting to express, or indicate the impossibility of the ‘inexpressible’ may in certain senses be considered to be allegorical, as are verbal and textual definitions of the sublime. At one point Muniz asked a diverse group of people to ‘imagine a non-existent object,’ and to form, shape and nurture this non-thing in their mind so that they might simulate the grasp necessary to hold this probabilistic artifact. These postures were then photographed, in a secondary pretense to a certain phenomenological seriousness, where the spectator is both seduced by, and let in on, the joke. In a sense the allegorical difference nascent in Cozens’s notion of the materiality of unintentional blots in their relation to the composition of images, is shown by Muniz not to have required matter at all, but that a reflexive character or object, might need only the intercession of another material instrument (a pencil, a camera, pixels and light) to perform an introspective or auto-deconstructive examination of the materialities of mediation. When one considers the materialities of mediation, especially of time-based media such as radio, cinema, television or digital recording/transmission, the question of the situatedness of allegory becomes more pronounced. Within a critical tradition of reflexivity and phenomenological introspection, even minimally time-based practices, such as photography, underscore their deictic (spatio-temporal) parameters by reference to an absence. It is a rhetorical sleight of hand which preserves the presumption of the fidelity of the eye of the artist as commensurate with that of the spectator, in inscribing onto some surface or another, something of some originary scene, a generalized human presence which is recuperable to our own position, that is real. It is just such incommensurabilities in the relations between texts and images that have grounded and informed the work of Vik Muniz.
the absent armature

. . . . reproducibility has always reproduced itself, but never in an identical way


1.See: The Divine Comedy of Dante Alighieri, Volume 1, Inferno, Robert M. Durling, ed./trans., [New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press] 1996 (“I came to myself in a dark wood, for the straight way was lost”). See also: The Vision or Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise of Dante Aligheri,Rev. Henry Francis Cary, trans., [London: George Bell and Sons] 1901, (“I found me in a gloomy wood, astray”); Dante, The Inferno, John Ciardi, trans., [New York: Mentor Books] 1954, (“Midway in our life’s journey, I went astray”); Dante The Divine Comedy 1: Inferno, John D. Sinclair, trans., [New York: Oxford University Press] 1939, (“In the middle of the journey of our life I came to myself within a dark wood where the straight way was lost.”);

2.See: “Reading a Picture from 1639 according to a Letter by Poussin,” p. 5, in Sublime Poussin, Louis Marin, Catherine Porter, trans., [Stanford: Stanford University Press] 1999. See also: On Representation, Louis Marin, Catherine Porter, trans., [Stanford: Stanford University Press] 2001.
3.See Martin Heidegger, “The Age of the World Picture,” in Off the Beaten Path (a translation of Holzwege), Julian Young, Kenneth Haynes, [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press] 2002.

4.See: Jean-Claude Lebensztejn, “In Black and White,” in Calligram. Essays in New Art History from France, Norman Bryson, ed., [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press] 1988, for a sustained discussion of Cozens and the implications of his work for contemporary aesthetic theory.

5.See: James Elkins, On Pictures and the Words That Fail Them, [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press] 1998.

6.The aggregate collection of Rorschach stains may be one of the most overdetermined sign-systems ever. See: The Rorschach: A Comprehensive System, 2nd ed., Volume I, II, John E. Exner, Jr., [New York: Wiley Interscience] 1991.

7.See: Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” Section XII-XIII, in Illuminations, Hannah Arendt, ed./intro.; Harry Zohn, trans., [New York: Harcourt, Brace and World] 1964.


9.The use of the notion of phantasm, spectrality and technology derive principally from the works of Jacques Derrida, Bernard Stiegler, and Giorgio Agamben. For Derrida, see: Jacques Derrida, ‘La danse des fantômes: Entrevue avec Jacques Derrida’/’Ghost Dance: An Interview with Jacques Derrida,’ by Mark Lewis and Andrew Payne in Public 2, The Lunatic on One Idea, 1989; See also the following: Jacques Derrida, Specters of Marx, [New York: Routledge] 1994; Jacques Derrida, Mal d’Archive: une impression freudienne, [Paris: Éditions Galilée] 1995; Jacques Derrida, Archive Fever. A Freudian Impression, [Chicago: University of Chicago Press] 1995-96, and Jacques Derrida and Bernard Stiegler, Échographies de la télévision, [Paris: Éditions Galilée-INA] 1996. For Stiegler, see: Bernard Stiegler, Technics and Time, 1: The Fault of Epimetheus, R. Beardsworth, G. Collins, trans., [Stanford: StanfordUniversity Press] 1998; Bernard Stiegler, La technique et le temps 1: La faute d’Epiméthée, [Paris: Éditions Galilée] 1994; Bernard Stiegler, La technique et le temps 2: La désorientation, [Paris: Éditions Galilée] 1996. For Agamben, see: Giorgio Agamben, Stanzas. Word and Phantasm in Western Culture, [Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press] 1993; Giorgio Agamben, The Man Without Content,trans., Georgia Albert, [Stanford: Stanford University Press] 1999; Giorgio Agamben, Remnants of Auschwitz. The Witness and the Archive, trans Daniel Heller-Roazen [New York: Zone Books] 1999.

10.See: Thomas Y. Levin, “Rhetoric of the Temporal Index: Surveillant Narration and the Cinema of “Real Time”,” in CTRL SPACE Rhetorics of Surveillance from Bentham to Big Brother, Thomas Y. Levin, Ursula Frohne, Peter Weibel, eds., [Karlsruhe/ Cambridge, Mass.: ZKM/Center for Art and Media/MIT Press] 2002. Levin’s argument is persuasive and brilliant, and he describes the rearticulation andre-appearance of the documenary ‘image’ as style, that is, as an index of the evidentiary, so that the surveillant look of the photo-chemical trace, hand-held or automatic camera movement, or technical glitches or infelicities trades its claim to verisimilitude for a rhetoric of spatio-temporal configurations in the service of narrative progress or closure. This also holds true in the consideration of the fragmentary nature of the
photographic image presumed as an excerpt or arrestment from either an event, or a recording of an event.


12.As Giorgio Agamben points out, the play between the lexical and syntactico-grammatical elements in the Hypnerotomachia ìPoliphili produces “an effect of immobility and almost pictorial rigidity.” It is also this very sort of material play that the work’s ìillustrations mirror and multiply. See: G. Agamben, “The Dream of Language.” in The End of the Poem. Studies in Poetics, Daniel ìHeller-Roazen, trans., [Stanford: Stanford University Press] 1999. See also, related discussions about the relations between ìmaterial elements of visual images and language in Gerard Genette, Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation, Jane E. Lewin, ìtrans., [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press] 1997; Invisible Colors. A Visual History of Titles, John C. Welchman, [New ìHaven: Yale University Press] 1997; LucienDällenbach, Le récit spéculaire: Essai sur la mise en abyme, [Paris: Éditions de Seuil] ì1977; Francesco Colonna, Hypnerotomachia Poliphili, 2 vols., Giovanni Pozzi, Lucia A. Ciapponi, eds., [Padua: Editrice ìAntenore] 1968, rev. 1980; and for a very strange effect, see the translation into English of Francesco Colonna, ìHypnerotomachia Poliphili, Joscelyn Godwin, trans., [New York: Thames and Hudson] 1999.

13.See: Roger Caillois, L’Écriture des pierres, [Paris and Geneva: Flammarion/Skira] 1970. Description: ‘setting forth in words,’ ì’making a picture of,’ a ‘copy.’ ‘to register or portray,’ ‘a graphic account, a scene'; Depiction: ‘a representation or portrayal,’ ì’a figure,’ ‘to image,’ ‘to portray in words,’ ‘a picture or graphic description.’ These definitions come from The Compact Edition ìof the Oxford English Dictionary, Volume 1, A-O [Oxford: Oxford University Press] 1971. One might be only a bit more fanciful ìand suggest, with some latitude, that the prefix ‘de’ in both terms operates as a form of negation, so that to de-scribe has the ìsense of to un-write, so as to form a picture, and to de-pict, to un-picture, might suggest a recursion to language. In any case, ìas Louis Marin suggests, language and image are often coextensive, and deeply co-permeable, “embedded in each other to ìan uncertain degree.”

14.Cited in the “Introduction” to Piranesi: The Complete Etchings, Luigi Ficacci, ed., [Köln: Benedikt Taschen Verlag] 2000. The studio was that of the master engraver and printer Giuseppe Vasi. See also: Thomas De Quincey, Confessions of an English Opium-Eater and Selected Essays, (1822), [New York: A.L. Burt and Company] undated.

15.Roger Caillois, L’Écriture des pierres, [Paris and Geneva: Flammarion/Skira] 1970.

16.See: Germano Celant, “Vik Muniz/Ernesto Neto,” in Vik Muniz/Ernesto Neto, G. Celant, XLIX Biennale de Venezia/BrasilConnects (exhibition catalogue) 2001. See also: Vik Muniz, Home Alone, [Torino: Claudio Bottello Arte] 1992; Vik Muniz, Seeing is Believing [Santa Fe: Arena Editions] 1998; Vik Muniz, Vik Muniz, [Paris: Gallerie Xippas] 1999.

17. Plutarch is the first to use the term allegory, rather than the older Greek term byponoia. Thucydides, in The Peloponnesian War provides one of the earliest discussions of the corruption of language by politics, where, in order to fit in with the change of events, words too had to change their meanings, where what had once been understood as ‘thoughtless aggression’ was now regarded as an appropriate form of ‘courage.’ From the ancients to George Orwell, via Lucian, and Swift, Alain de Lille, Boethius, Michaux, Yeats, Borges or Calvino, the allegorical impulse persists, in all of its complicities and resistances to mimesis, in partial, fragmentary or full manner, alone or within other texts, sentiments and images.

18.See: Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams (I) (1900), in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Vol. IV, James Strachey, et al, eds., [London: The Hogarth Press] (1953).; The Interpretation of Dreams (II) and On Dreams (1900-10), in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Vol. V, James Strachey, et al, eds., [London: The Hogarth Press] (1953).; The Psychopathology of Everyday Life (1901), in The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, Vol. VI, James Strachey, et al, eds., [London: The Hogarth Press] (1953).

19.See: Thomas Zummer, “Projection and Dis/embodiment: Genealogies of the Virtual,” in Into the Light: The Projected Image in American Art 1964-1977, Chrissie Iles, [New York: Whitney Museum of American Art/Abrams] 2001.

20.See: The Princeton Handbook of Poetic Terms, Alex Preminger, Frank J. Warnke, O.B. Hardison, Jr., eds., [Princeton: Princeton University Press] 1965, 1974, 1986. See also: The New Princeton Handbook of Poetic Terms, T.V.F. Brogan, ed., [Princeton: Princeton University Press] 1994.

21.Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” Section XII-XIII, in Illuminations, Hannah Arendt, ed./intro.; Harry Zohn, trans., [New York: Harcourt, Brace and World] 1964.