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Seeing in-photo: Non-photography as Positive Barbarism

Seeing in-photo: Non-photography as Positive Barbarism

Lammin, Hannah ORCID: 0000-0002-9752-9335 (2018) Seeing in-photo: Non-photography as Positive Barbarism. Parallax, 24 (2). pp. 193-208. ISSN 1353-4645 (Print), 1460-700X (Online) (doi:

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Benjamin suggests that modern technologies bring about a poverty of conventional human experience, initiating a new barbarism by forcing thinkers to ‘start from scratch’ (1999b: 732). He observes that great creative spirits tend to ‘begin by clearing a tabula rasa’, by constructing ‘a drawing table’ (Ibid.). This article proposes that François Laruelle’s non-standard philosophy constitutes one such levelling of the grounds of thought—which resonates with Benjamin’s own ideas. Laruelle’s approach begins from a simple axiomatic ground, on which he builds a syntax for thought that allows for a new vision of emergent concepts. His posture indeed seems “barbaric” to some—Jacques Derrida once suggested that Laruelle was close to practicing a kind of “terror” over philosophy (Derrida & Laruelle, 2012). Yet this axiomatic flattening of the terrain of thought suspends the authority of logos (which can be related to the authority of experience as Erfahrung) to propose a more immanent experience of thinking (which can be linked to Erlebnisse), and can thus be seen as an example of the positive barbarism that Benjamin calls for.

However, rather than building a drawing table, it is a new camera that Laruelle constructs (Laruelle, 2011; 2012). He thereby brings an imagistic media technology to the centre of his epistemological system. Accordingly, this essay explores Laruelle’s proposal to take photography as the model for a theoretical installation, in relation to Benjamin’s discussion of technological reproducibility in art. Benjamin suggests that the camera brings about a new mode of perception which ‘extracts sameness even from what is unique’ (2008: 24). Laruelle’s non-philosophical vision functions not to extract sameness, but rather to think according to the immanent identity of the concept. We thereby propose that his non-photographic posture be understood as a radicalisation of Benjamin’s notion of the “dialectical image”—‘that wherein what has been comes together in a flash with the now to form a constellation’ (1999a: 462). Laruelle similarly characterises the non-photographic vision as a flash (2012), but rather than a temporal constellation, it is given as a transcendental superposition. Like Scheerbart’s glass buildings, the non-photographic lens reveals identity without reflection: it is ‘a hard, smooth material to which nothing can be fixed’ (Benjamin, 1999b: 734). This epistemological technology offers a new experience of the photo as an image of thought, at a time when the proliferation of image-based digital communication platforms are arguably instigating a new shift in human experience in general.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: walter benjamin, francois laruelle, photography, digital image, non-philosophy
Subjects: T Technology > TR Photography
Faculty / School / Research Centre / Research Group: Faculty of Liberal Arts & Sciences
Faculty of Liberal Arts & Sciences > School of Design (DES)
Last Modified: 04 May 2020 14:28

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