Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Rapport with the Image

As a consequence of Nancy's materialism of the image–which may be a biopolitical materialism, for what it's worth, but is still a materialism of the image in the tradition of the Epicureans#150;the question of transcendence will need to be rethought. The theme of touching in Nancy's thought has, it seems, been leading in this direction, away from transcendence, away from ecstasy though not from jouissance. The idea of touch is balanced by the idea of withdrawal–but I may not need to delve into that. In any case I see an opportunity here to question what transcendence means, and whether it can finally be surpassed by more subtle thinking.

As I was saying, the image according to Nancy is always material ("The Image–The Distinct," in The Ground of the Image, pp. 12). Nancy finds that the image concerns sameness, but it is an other sameness than the sameness of the concept and of language. Is this imagistic sameness a material sameness? (I am sure it's a coexistential sameness; we will have to decide if that means it is of the material.) He says, to quote him at length:

The thing as image is thus distinct from its being-there in the sense of the Vorhanden, its simple presence in the homogeneity of the world and in the linking together of natural or technological operations. Its distinction is the dissimilarity that inhabits resemblance, that agitates it and troubles it with a pressure of spacing and of passion. What is distinct in being-there is being-image: it is not here but over there, in the distance, in a distance that is called "absence" (by which one often wants to characterize the image) only in a very hasty manner. The absence of the imaged subject is nothing other than an intense presence, receding into itself, gathering itself together in its intensity. Resemblance gathers together in force and gathers itself as a force of the same–the same differing in itself from itself: hence the enjoyment [jouissance] we take in it. We touch on the same and on this power that affirms this: I am indeed what I am, and I am this well beyond or well on this side of what I am for you, for your aims and your manipulations. We touch on the intensity of this withdrawal or this excess. Thus mimesis encompasses methexis, a participation or a contagion through which the image seizes us.

(p. 9)

(Since Nancy is obviously reading Sartre, I'll note, for those keeping score, that Nancy appears to agree with Sartre on the immobility of the image, though he finds that images do in fact have worlds, a world being defined here as "an indefinite totality of meaning" (p. 5)). The image seizes us. It touches us, which means that we touch it. As long as we hold it up for consideration we are in the image, but without passing into the image (p. 7). I'm going to quote Nancy at length again, keeping in mind that the thing to look for is an alternative to the idea of transcendence:

But the distinction of the image–while it greatly resembles sacrifice–is not properly sacrificial. It does not legitimize and it does not transgress: it crosses the distance of the withdrawal even while maintaining it through its mark as an image. Or rather: through the mark that it is, it establishes simultaneously a withdrawal and a passage that, however, does not pass. The essence of such a crossing lies in its not establishing a continuity: it does not suppress the distinction. It maintains it while also making contact: shock, confrontation, tête-à-tête, or embrace. It is less a transport than a rapport, or relation. The distinct bounds toward the indistinct and leaps into it, but it is not interlinked with it. The image offers itself to me, but it offers itself as an image (once again there is ambivalence: only an image / a true image. . .). An intimacy is thus exposed to me: exposed, but for what it is, with its force that is dense and tight, not relaxed, reserved, not readily given. Sacrifice effects an assumption, a lifting and a sublation of the profane into the sacred: the image, on the contrary, is given in an opening that indissociably forms its presence and its separation.

(p. 3, Nancy's emphases, my bold)

Nancy doesn't say as much and perhaps wouldn't want to; I do and I will: the relationship between the free and the given is not one of transcendence but one of rapport. Well, I've been sidetracked. I am not thinking the distinct quite the way Nancy would have me think it. Indeed, on the contrary, I am drawn to the vague. I might want to align the image with the vague, and on the other side I wouldn't even speak of an indefinite totality of meaning because "totality" is too precise a word–obviously then I'm in danger of totally losing the meaning of the distinct, and that may in turn jeopardize my ability to think the vague. Nevertheless, I am intrigued by this notion of rapport. To offer rapport as a designation for the operation of the image is to suggest that our relations to other people structurate our psychic lives. (You might reasonably say that Nancy's rapport has nothing to do with structuration; I think the choice of words matters, and this is what the choice of "rapport" suggests to me.) At a basic level we treat "psychic" phenomena as persons. Nancy's materialism of the image, according to my reading, notably thematizes intimacy. His is a materialism, rarest of all, in which the intimate matters. In this intimate setting what does distinction mean? What does sameness mean? Does it have a personal meaning? Do we have a rapport with the same that is other than the same of representation? Would the inquiry into a rapport with the same address the question of the meaning of the same, or would it lead away from meaning? Speaking of the image, Nancy says it is "the other of forms. It is the intimate and its passion, distinct from all representation" (p. 3). On the other hand Nancy speaks of the image as a jouissance of meaning (p. 13). The meaning of the same, then, with regard to the image and its sameness that is not the sameness of language or concepts, would then be bound up with the passions, which are to be regarded as material, as mixed up in the material. Rather than thinking the passions as forces that must be transcended, they must be thought as forces that touch. They open up rapports. Does this describe anything like reality? Any reality that transcendence fails to capture? I would like to think so, but I will have to continue to bounce the idea off Nancy (and you, dear reader, should you choose to add your two cents).

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posted by Fido the Yak at 8:11 AM.


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