terça-feira, 14 de fevereiro de 2012

The Two versions of the Imaginary - Maurice Blanchot, The Space of Literature


But what is the image? When there is nothing, the image finds in this nothing its necessary condition, but there it disappears. The image needs the neutrality and the fading of the world; it wants everything to return to the indifferent deep where nothing is affirmed; it tends toward the intimacy of what still subsists in the void. This is its truth. But this truth exceeds it. What makes it possible is the limit where it ceases. Hence its critical aspect, the dramatic ambiguity it introduces and the brilliant lie for which it is reproached. It is surely a splendid power, Pascal says, which makes of eternity a nothing and of nothingness an eternity.


The image speaks to us, and seems to speak intimately to us of ourselves. But the term "intimately" does not suffice. Let us say rather that the image intimately designates the level where personal intimacy is destroyed and that it indicates in this movement the menacing proximity of a vague and empty outside, the deep, the sordid basis upon which it continues to affirm things in their disappearance. Thus it speaks to us, a propos of each thing, of less than this thing, but of us. And, speaking of us, it speaks to us of less than us, of that less than nothing that subsists when there is nothing.
The gratifying aspect of the image is that it constitutes a limit at the edge of the indefinite. This fine line does not hold us at a distance from things so much as it preserves us from the blind pressure of this distance. Thanks to the image, the remove is at our command. Because of the inflexibility of the reflection, we think ourselves masters of absence which has become interval, and the dense void itself seems to open onto the radiance of another day.


In this way the image fulfills one of its functions which is to quiet, to humanize the formless nothingness pressed upon us by the indelible residue of being. The image cleanses this residue --appropriates it, makes it pleasing and pure, and allows us to believe, dreaming the happy dream which art too often authorizes, that, separated from the real and immediately behind it, we find, as pure pleasure and superb satisfaction, the transparent eternity of the unreal.
"For in that sleep of death what dreams may come," says Hamlet, "when we have shuffled off this mortal coil . . ." The image, present behind each thing, and which is like the dissolution of this thing and its subsistence in its dissolution, also has behind it that heavy sleep of death in which dreams threaten. The image can, when it awakens or when we waken it, represent the object to us in a luminous formal aura; but it is nonetheless with substance that the image is allied -- with the fundamental materiality, the still undetermined absence of form, the world oscillating between adjective and substantive before foundering in the formless prolixity of indetermination. Hence the passivity proper to the image -- a passivity which makes us suffer the image even when we ourselves appeal to it, and makes its fugitive transparency stem from the obscurity of fate returned to its essence, which is to be a shade.


But when we are face to face with things themselves -- if we fix upon a face, the corner of a wall -- does it not also sometimes happen that we abandon ourselves to what we see? Bereft of power before this presence suddenly strangely mute and passive, are we not at its mercy? Indeed, this can happen, but it happens because the thing we stare at has foundered, sunk into its image, and the image has returned into that deep fund of impotence to which everything reverts. The "real" is defined by our relation to it which is always alive. The real always leaves us the initiative,
addressing in us that power to begin, that free communication with the beginning which we are. And as long as we are in the day, day is still just dawning.


The image, according to the ordinary analysis, is secondary to the object. It is what follows. We see, then we imagine. After the object comes the image. "After" means that the thing must first take itself off a ways in order to be grasped. But this remove is not the simple displacement of a moveable object which would nevertheless remain the same. Here the distance is in the heart of the thing. The thing was there; we grasped it in the vital movement of a comprehensive action -¬and lo, having become image, instantly it has become that which no one can grasp, the unreal, the impossible. It is not the same thing at a distance but the thing as distance, present in its absence, graspable because ungraspable, appearing as disappeared. It is the return of what does not come back, the strange heart of remoteness as the life and the sole heart of the thing.


In the image, the object again grazes something which it had dominated in order to be an object -- something counter to which it had defined and built itself up. Now that its value, its meaning is suspended, now that the world abandons it to idleness and lays it aside, the truth in it ebbs, and materiality, the elemental, reclaims it. This impoverishment, or enrichment, consecrates it as image.
However: does the reflection not always appear more refined than the object reflected? Isn't the image the ideal expression of the object, its presence liberated from existence? Isn't the image form without matter? And isn't the task of artists, who are exiled in the illusory realm of images, to idealize beings -- to elevate them to their disembodied resemblance?



The Image, the Remains
The image does not, at first glance, resemble the corpse, but the cadaver's strangeness is perhaps also that of the image. What we call mortal remains escapes common categories. Something is there before us which is not really the living person, nor is it any reality at all. It is neither the same as the person who was alive, nor is it another person, nor is it anything else. What is there, with the absolute calm of something that has found its place, does not, however, succeed in being convincingly here. Death suspends the relation to place, even though the deceased rests heavily in his spot as if upon the only basis that is left him. To be precise, this basis lacks, the place is missing, the corpse is not in its place. Where is it? It is not here, and yet it is not anywhere else.

Nowhere? But then nowhere is here. The cadaverous presence establishes a relation between here and nowhere. The quiet that must be preserved in the room where someone dies and around the deathbed gives a first indication of how fragile the position par excellence is. The corpse is here, but here in its turn becomes a corpse: it becomes "here below" in absolute terms, for there is not yet any "above" to be exalted. The place where someone dies is not some indifferent spot. It seems inappropriate to transport the body from one place to another. The deceased cleaves jealously to his place, joining it profoundly, in such a way that the indifference of this place, the fact that it is after all just a place among others, becomes the profundity of his presence as deceased becomes the basis of indifference, the gaping intimacy of an undifferentiable nowhere which must nevertheless be located here.


He who dies cannot tarry. The deceased, it is said, is no longer of this world; he has left it behind. But behind there is, precisely, this cadaver, which is not of the world either, even though it is here. Rather, it is behind the world. It is that which the living person (and not the deceased) left behind him and which now affirms, from here, the possibility of a world behind the world, of a regression, an indefinite subsistance, undetermined and indifferent, about which we only know that human reality, upon finishing, reconstitutes its presence and its proximity. This is an impression which could be said to be common. He who just died is at first extremely close to the condition of a thing -- a familiar thing, which we approach and handle, which does not hold us at a distance and whose manageable passivity betrays only sad impotence. Certainly dying is an incomparable event, and he who dies "in your arms" is in a sense your brother forever. But now, he is dead. And as we know, certain tasks must be performed quickly, not so much because death's rigor will soon make these actions more difficult, but because human action will shortly be "displaced." Presently, there will be -- immoveable, untouchable, riveted to here by the strangest embrace and yet drifting with it, drawing here under, bearing it lower -- from behind there will be no longer an inanimate thing, but Someone: the unbearable image and figure of the unique becoming nothing in particular, no matter what.



The Cadaverous Resemblance
When this moment has come, the corpse appears in the strangeness of its solitude as that which has disdainfully withdrawn from us. Then the feeling of a relation between humans is destroyed, and our mourning, the care we take of the dead and all the prerogatives of our former passions, since they can no longer know their direction, fall back upon us, return toward us. It is striking that at this very moment, when the cadaverous presence is the presence of the unknown before us, the mourned deceased begins to resemble himself.


Himself: is this not an ill-chosen expression? Shouldn't we say: the deceased resembles the person he was when he was alive? "Resembles himself" is, however, correct. "Himself" designates the impersonal being, distant and inaccessible, which resemblance, that it might be someone's, draws toward the day. Yes, it is he, the dear living person, but all the same it is more than he. He is more beautiful, more imposing; he is already monumental and so absolutely himself that it is as if he were doubled by himself, joined to his solemn impersonality by resemblance and by the image. This magnified being, imposing and proud, which impresses the living as the appearance of the original never perceived until now -- this sentence of the last judgment inscribed deep within being and triumphantly expressing itself with the aid of the remote -- this grandeur, through its appearance of supreme authority, may well bring to mind the great images of classical art. If this connection is justified, the question of classical art's idealism will seem rather vain. And we might bear in mind the thought that idealism has, finally, no guarantee other than a corpse. For this indicates to what extent the apparent intellectual refinement, the pure virginity of the image is originally linked to the elemental strangeness and to the formless weight of being, present in absence.


Let us look again at this splendid being from which beauty streams: he is, I see this, perfectly like himself: he resembles himself. The cadaver is its own image. It no longer entertains any relation with this world, where it still appears, except that of an image, an obscure possibility, a shadow ever present behind the living form which now, far from separating itself from this form, transforms it entirely into shadow. The corpse is a reflection becoming master of the life it reflects -- absorbing it, identifying substantively with it by moving it from its use value and from its truth value to something incredible -- something neutral which there is no getting used to. And if the cadaver is so similar, it is because it is, at a certain moment, similarity par excellence: altogether similarity, and also nothing more. It is the likeness, like to an absolute degree, overwhelming and marvelous. But what is it like? Nothing.


That is why no man alive, in fact, bears any resemblance yet. In the rare instances when a living person shows similitude with himself, he only seems to us more remote, closer to a dangerous neutral region, astray in himself and like his own ghost already: he seems to return no longer having any but an echo life.
By analogy, we might also recall that a tool, when damaged, becomes its image (and sometimes an esthetic object like "those outmoded objects, fragmented, unusable, almost incomprehensible, perverse," which André Breton loved). In this case the tool, no longer disappearing into its use, appears. This appearance of the object is that of resemblance and reflection: the object's double, if you will. The category of art is linked to this possibility for objects to "appear," to surrender, that is, to the pure and simple resemblance behind which there is nothing -- but being. Only that which is abandoned to the image appears, and everything that appears is, in this sense, imaginary.


The cadaverous resemblance haunts us. But its haunting presence is not the unreal visitation of the ideal. What haunts us is something inaccessible from which we cannot extricate ourselves. It is that which cannot be found and therefore cannot be avoided. What no one can grasp is the inescapable. The fixed image knows no repose, and this is above all because it poses nothing, establishes nothing. Its fixity, like that of the corpse, is the position of what stays with us because it has no place. (The idée fixe is not a point of departure, a position from which one could start off and progress, it is not a beginning, it begins again.) We dress the corpse, and we bring it as close as possible to a normal appearance by effacing the hurtful marks of sickness, but we know that in its ever so peaceful and secure immobility it does not rest. The place which it occupies is drawn down by it, sinks with it, and in this dissolution attacks the possibility of a dwelling place even for us who remain. We know that at "a certain moment" the power of death makes it keep no longer to the handsome spot assigned it. No matter how calmly the corpse has been laid out upon its bed for final viewing, it is also everywhere in the room, all over the house. At every instant it can be elsewhere than where it is. It is where we are apart from it, where there is nothing; it is an invading presence, an obscure and vain abundance. The belief that at a certain moment the deceased begins to wander, to stray from his place, must be understood as stemming from the premonition of the error which now he represents.
Eventually we have to put a term to the interminable. We do not cohabit with the dead for fear of seeing here collapse into the unfathomable nowhere -- a fall the House of Usher illustrated. And so the dear departed is conveyed into another place. No doubt this site is only symbolically set apart; doubtless it is by no means really unsituatable. But it is nevertheless true that the here of the here lies, filled in by names, well-formed phrases and affirmations of identity, is the anonymous and impersonal place par excellence. And it is as though, within the limits which have been traced for it and in the vain guise of a will capable of surviving everything, the monotony of an infinite disintegration were at work to efface the living truth proper to every place and make it equivalent to the absolute neutrality of death. (Perhaps this slow disappearance, this unending erosion of the end, sheds some light upon the remarkable passion of certain murderesses who kill with poison. Their joy is not to cause suffering, or even to kill slowly or surreptitiously, but, by poisoning time, by transforming it into an imperceptible consumption, to touch upon the indefinite which is death. Thus they graze the horror, they live furtively underneath everything living in a pure decomposition which nothing divulges, and the poison is the colorless substance of this eternity. Feuerbach recounts of one such murderess that the poison was a friend for her, a companion to whom she felt passionately drawn. When, after a poisoning that lasted several months, she was presented with a packet of arsenic which belonged to her, so that she would recognize it, she trembled with joy -- she had a moment of ecstasy.)



The Image and Signification

Man is made in his image: this is what the strangeness of the cadaver's resemblance teaches us. But this formula must first be understood as follows: man is unmade according to his image. The image has nothing to do with signification or meaningfulness as they are implied by the world's existence, by effort that aims at truth, by law and the light of day. Not only is the image of an object not the sense of this object, and not only is it of no avail in understanding the object, it tends to withdraw the object from understanding by maintaining it in the immobility of a resemblance which has nothing to resemble.


Granted, we can always recapture the image and make it serve the world's truth. But in that case we reverse the relation which is proper to it. The image becomes the object's aftermath, that which comes later, which is left over and allows us still to have the object at our command when there is nothing left of it. This is a formidable resource, reason's fecund power. Practical life and the accomplishment of true tasks require this reversal. So too does classical art, at least in theory, for it stakes all its glory upon linking a figure to resemblance and the image to a body -- upon reincorporating the image. The image, then, became life-giving negation, the ideal operation by which man, capable of negating nature, raises it to a higher meaning, either in order to know it or to enjoy it admiringly.

Thus was art at once ideal and true, faithful to the figure and faithful to the truth which admits of no figure. Impersonality, ultimately, authenticated works. But impersonality was also the troubling intersection where the noble ideal concerned with values on the one hand, and on the other, anonymous, blind, impersonal resemblance changed places, each passing for the other, each one the other's dupe. "What vanity is painting which wins admiration for its resemblance to things we do not admire in the original!" What could be more striking than Pascal's strong distrust of resemblance, which he suspects delivers things to the sovereignty of the void and to the vainest persistence -- to an eternity which, as he says, is nothingness, the nothingness which is eternal.



The Two Versions
Thus the image has two possibilities: there are two versions of the imaginary. And this duplicity comes from the intial double meaning which the power of the negative brings with it and from the fact that death is sometimes truth's elaboration in the world and sometimes the perpetuity of that which admits neither beginning nor end.
It is very true then, that as contemporary philosophies would have it, comprehension and knowing in man are linked to what we call finitude; but where is the finish? Granted, it is taken in or understood as the possibility which is death. But it is also "taken back" by this possibility inasmuch as in death the possibility which is death dies too. And it also seems -- even though all of human history signifies the hope of overcoming this ambiguity -- that to resolve or transcend it always involves the greatest dangers. It is as if the choice between death as understanding's possibility and death as the horror of impossibility had also to be the choice between sterile truth and the prolixity of the nontrue.

It is as if comprehension were linked to penury and horror to fecundity. Hence the fact that the ambiguity, although it alone makes choosing possible, always remains present in the choice itself.
But how then is the ambiguity manifested? What happens, for example, when one lives an event as an image?
To live an event as an image is not to remain uninvolved, to regard the event disinterestedly in the way that the esthetic version of the image and the serene ideal of classical art propose. But neither is it to take part freely and decisively. It is to be taken: to pass from the region of the real where we hold ourselves at a distance from things the better to order and use them into that other region where the distance holds us -- the distance which then is the lifeless deep, an unmanageable, inappreciable remoteness which has become something like the sovereign power behind all things.

This movement implies infinite degrees. Thus psychoanalysis maintains that the image, far from abstracting us and causing us to live in the mode of gratuitous fantasy, seems to deliver us profoundly to ourselves. The image is intimate. For it makes of our intimacy an exterior power which we suffer passively. Outside of us, in the ebb of the world which it causes, there trails, like glistening debris, the utmost depth of our passions.


Magic gets its power from this transformation. Its aim, through a methodical technique, is to arouse things as reflections and to thicken consciousness into a thing. From the moment we are outside ourselves -- in that ectasy which is the image -- the "real" enters an equivocal realm where there is no longer any limit or interval, where there are no more successive moments, and where each thing, absorbed in the void of its reflection, nears consciousness, while consciousness allows itself to become filled with an anonymous plenitude. Thus the universal unity seems to be reconstituted. Thus, behind things, the soul of each thing obeys charms which the ecstatic magician, having abandoned himself to "the universe," now controls.

The paradox of magic is evident: it claims to be initiative and free domination, all the while accepting, in order to constitute itself, the reign of passivity, the realm where there are no ends. But its intention remains instructive: what it wants is to act upon the world (to maneuver it) from the standpoint of being that precedes the world -- from the eternal before, where action is impossible. That is why it characteristically turns toward the cadaver's strangeness and why its only serious name is black magic.
To live an event as an image is not to see an image of this event, nor is it to attribute to the event the gratuitous character of the imaginary. The event really takes place -- and yet does it "really" take place? The occurrence commands us, as we would command the image. That is, it releases us, from it and from ourselves. It keeps us outside; it makes of this outside a presence where "I" does not recognize "itself." This movement implies infinite degrees.

We have spoken of two versions of the imaginary: the image can certainly help us to grasp the thing ideally, and in this perspective it is the life-giving negation of the thing; but at the level to which its particular weight drags us, it also threatens constantly to relegate us, not to the absent thing, but to its absence as presence, to the neutral double of the object in which all belonging to the world is dissipated. This duplicity, we must stress, is not such as to be mastered by the discernment of an either-or in it that could authorize a choice and lift from the choice the ambiguity that makes choosing possible. The duplicity itself refers us back to a still more primal double meaning.

The Levels of Ambiguity
If for a moment thought could maintain ambiguity, it would be tempted to state that there are three levels at which ambiguity is perceptible. On the worldly plane it is the possibility of give and take: meaning always escapes into another meaning; thus misunderstandings serve comprehension by expressing the truth of intelligibility which rules that we never come to an understanding once and for all.


Another level is expressed by the two versions of the imaginary. Here it is no longer a question of perpetual double meanings -- of misunderstandings aiding or impeding agreement. Here what speaks in the name of the image "sometimes" still speaks of the world, and "sometimes" introduces us into the undetermined milieu of fascination. "Sometimes" it gives us the power to control things in their absence and through fiction, thus maintaining us in a domain rich with meaning; but "sometimes" it removes us to where things are perhaps present, but in their image, and where the image is passivity, where it has no value either significative or affective, but is the passion of indifference. However, what we distinguish by saying "sometimes, sometimes," ambiguity introduces by "always," at least to a certain extent, saying both one and the other. It still proposes the significant image from the center of fascination, but it already fascinates us with the clarity of the purest, the most formal image. Here meaning does not escape into another meaning, but into the other of all meaning. Because of ambiguity nothing has meaning, but everything seems infinitely meaningful. Meaning is no longer anything but semblance; semblance makes meaning become infinitely rich. It makes this infinitude of meaning have no need of development -- it makes meaning immediate, which is also to say incapable of being developed, only immediately void. 1

1 Can we go further? Ambiguity defines being in terms of its dissimulation; it says that being is, inasmuch as it is concealed. In order for being to accomplish its work, it has to be hidden: it proceeds by hiding itself, it is always reserved and preserved by dissimulation, but also removed from it. Dissimulation tends, then, to become the purity of negation. But at the same time, when everything is hidden, ambiguity announces (and this announcement is ambiguity itself) that the whole of being is via dissimulation; that being is essentially its being at the heart of concealment.

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