HKUK0361DU Art History/Visual Culture: Transparency of Evil

Volume 2016/2017

The title of the course is inspired by Baudrillard’s book with a similar title, which we take as a point of departure for a debate and a critical assessment of his ideas around extreme phenomena of visuality in the era of the virtual in its latest stage, which he calls “the fractal.”

The fractal, is according to Baudrillard, the current pattern of our culture – the viral – or the radiant stage of value. Within this pattern, “there is no point of reference at all, and the value radiates in all directions,” “by virtue of pure contingency.” Therefore, at this stage in “the microphysics of simulacra,” estimation between good and evil is impossible to make anymore; good is no longer the opposite of evil. This is, what Baudrillard calls, the transparency of evil. But for him, transparency and saturation are two facets of the same coin. Things become “saturated” or “transparent” at the same time because of “the epidemic of simulation.” In the world in which things, signs and actions are freed from ideas and points of reference or origins, they simply disappear, become transparent. Disappearance is a key word and concept. But it is not about a mortal mode of disappearance, but of the “fractal mode of dispersal.” And here comes the paradox: in the fractal, things come to disappear not through loss and dissipation but through proliferations and contamination. But what really is the ultimate violence done to the image is, as Baudrillard point out in his “Why hasn’t everything already disappeared?” is the violence of the cgi – computer-generated image – which emerges ex nihilo from numerical calculation and the computer.” “ This puts an end even to the imagining of the image, to its fundamental “illusion” since, in computer generation, the referent no longer exists and there is no place even for the real no “take place,” being immediately produced as Virtual Reality.” (45)

Whether we agree, or not, with Baudrillard’s gloomy virtual projection of the world, we must insist that not only his play of words and his fine taste of aphorisms could be already a seductive exercise of thinking to undertake, but many of his ideas are worth to explore as they raise important issues, as the power of images and the relation of media with violence. On such topics and concerns, Baudrillard meets Virilio, another scholar of the “disappearance” through destruction, who refines the vision of the disappearance of the world in his picnoleptic and catastrophic version. Evil is personified in the guise of the war, the war proper, and the “war of images.” But why war, one may wonder? Because, as Virilio argues, “war is in every way an art, a theatre of operation where stratagems are essential to deceive the enemy, as from this come the terms for the dissimulating tactics of war: camouflage, disinformation.” “But above all, the field of battle is a field of perception.”

There is a lot to discuss about fear of war, and pleasure, about “the terrible love of war” (Hillman), but what should concern us mostly is the utmost refinement of the aesthetics of war: how it is no longer possible to distinguish between the real, the visual and the virtual in terms of representation since all seems to disappear into aesthetics (The Aesthetics of Disappearance, 1998(1980)). Coming to this point, the fear of an aestheticized politics (Benjamin) seems to have already become fait accompli in Virilio’s reading. The military, the cinematic and the techno-scientific “logistics of perceptions” are all melding together in the great pot of disappearance (War and Cinema, 1989 (1984)).

Extreme phenomena of contemporary imaginary dominated by terror, catastrophe and accident, will expand Baudrillard’s the imaginary of evil within an aesthetics of disenchantment. We should make room for the apocalyptical and the eschatological, and other forms of contemporary theodicy with which the film industry is suffused (Lars von Trier, Anti-Christ, Melancholy). Yet the scenery would not be complete without an image that has become by now an “icon of our times.” We are talking about Mitchell’s photograph showing a prisoner with a black hood, and wires falling from his outstretched arms: an Anti-Christ of our times on stage. This anti-ritual, we may imagine it being staged in a time that Baudrillard so suggestively calls, “the era after orgy.” Beyond all metaphors and figures of style, what should remain is the consistent image of transparency of evil that our contemporary imaginary projects in visions ever more exquisite that should call upon our clarity of judgment and critical assessment. Thus we may be able to see how images could become not only sublime tokens of vision but also most powerful weapons, capable to manipulate the public’s perception in this terrible battle between the “prophylactic” whiteness of the saturated society and the beneficial transparency of vision.

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Exam
  • 84
  • Guidance
  • 1
  • Lectures
  • 33
  • Preparation
  • 302
  • Total
  • 420
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