Saturday, December 18, 2010

How Object-Oriented is Agamben? Withdrawnness and the Image Part II

     In my last post, I left out a crucial aspect of the image, an aspect that perhaps hints at the image's being neither a real nor a sensual object (a thesis I am still tenuously clinging onto). Concluding the previously quoted sentence, the image “is neither a mere logical object nor a real entity,” Agamben writes, “it is something that lives (‘a life’)” (“Nudity” 83). Putting aside Agamben’s aside (“a life” and its invocation of his essay on Deleuze’s “Immanence: A Life”), this assertion that the image is something that lives as the medium between real and sensual objects gets greatly complicated at the close of the paragraph. Unfolding the ontological status of the image, Agamben continues, “inasmuch as it is nothing other than the giving of the thing over to knowledge, nothing other than the stripping off of the clothes that cover it, nudity [image] is not separate from the thing: it is the thing itself” (84). How is the image not the real object, insofar as it is a living medium, yet also the real object, insofar as it is the giving over of the thing to knowledge? Further, this final statement is contradicts the immediately preceding claim, “the image is not the thing, but the thing’s knowability (its nudity).”
     Perhaps the key to this bizarre assertion that the image/nudity is the thing itself is the word “itself.” Much as in The Coming Community the phrase “as such” indicates a slight (messianic) difference between the thing and its appearance in language, might this “itself” indicate a similar division between the real object and its image? After all, Agamben claims that image=thing itself, not image=thing. What function is the “itself” playing? Here I can easily pull out a long genealogy of all such similar figures in Agamben’s thought: genius, dignity, persona, identity, and so on. Basically, then, the “itself” indicates not the thing/real object, but the embodied thing/real object within its appearance. The “thing itself” is, therefore, a certain modality of the real object. As this “thing itself” is the image, and the image is not the thing/real object, it could follow that the “thing itself”/image indicates something like what I asserted at the very close of my last post; namely, that the image is the pre-condition of vicarious contact. If the image is a certain, essential modality of the real object, it therefore serves as the medium through which the real object becomes a sensual object, and, of course, therein undergoing vicarious causation. Crucially, the image is neither real nor sensual object, but the membrane between the two. It is therefore the “face” of any object. Yet, I wonder, might the image itself simply be another real object in startlingly close proximity (even promiscuity) to the real object and its sensual object? Again, the “itself” would lead to this possible conclusion. But (and this is merely a closing question to be picked up later, perhaps in the context of apparatuses), might the image in some fundamental way inhere without become a part of the real object, perhaps as a sort of halo? As a halo, might the image be then both of the real object and of itself autonomously?
     One more comment. If the image is another real object it fits within an OOO universe of “objects all the way down.” If we crack open the medium-functioning image and we get another real object. But, for Agamben, the image does not participate in this breaking down. Rather, it is a sort of firewall against such a fragmentation: “One could define nudity [i.e. image] as the envelopment that reaches a point where it becomes clear that clarification is no longer possible” (89). Or, more simply, the image is that which “remains ‘inexplicable,’” a term the translators note as meaning, etymologically, “that which cannot be unfolded.” Thus, the image marks the withdrawnness of a real object such that the real object cannot be broken down into other objects. The image is, again, neither the withdrawnness of the real object nor the real object, but instead that which points to its withdrawnness. It is, therefore, the signature of a real object.

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