Schriftatlas II, 12a-12b

It is not a question for me, at this point—and perhaps it is impossible that the question, for me, at this point, will ever be otherwise—of whether the act of image-making, the project of creating (of recording) pictures, moving or static, can attain to the order of art, that is, to the order of the aesthetic. At this point, rather, I can only hope to limit my image-making to the order of vision and, by extension, to the order of thought. That is to say, the only questions that remain proper to my efforts to make images—photographs, moving pictures—are: What do my images see (assuming, as I must, that they see other, and differently, than I myself see)? And How do they see, insofar as this seeing of the image—fixed, mobilized—is not, or not merely, not exclusively, a mechanical operation, nor purely a photochemical one. For to see is necessarily to strain to discern and to strive to distinguish, to differentiate, to identify, hence to know with all the requisite recognition of the imperfection of knowledge. I thus see that which I shall fix as an image, and attempt to know the seen independently of and in conjuction with the image so produced. The created image, however–the photograph, say–will also “see” its object, and (II, 12a) will necessarily see it by different means. The question then becomes, can only be, is constitutive of the operation of mechanical vision (which can never be construed as exclusively mechanical): What discontinuity–what differential–intervenes between the retinal and the mechanical executions of vision; what rift in knowledge spans the two moments of seeing, and what specter of knowledge issues forth from this darkness, this gap, this insurmountable interval between the photographic and the anthropo-visual image? That the two moments or modalities of vision are irrevocably different is of negligible significance; that what differentiates them is, likewise, categorically, constitutionally inscrutable, hence of even less importance. That a form–a veil, a mirror or mirage, an image itself (imago; specter; spectrum)–of some province of knowledge emanates from that insuperable chasm (chiasmus) between the eye and the vision machine is of absolute centrality to the comprehension of any photographic event. (II, 12b)

[GLOSS: Gradual evolution discernible in V’s ideas on relationship between anatomical and mechanical visual experience. Furthermore, a certain resemblance of his concern in this passage with Benjamin’s “optical unconscious.” Still, must distinguish V’s ruminations from Benjamin’s: V seems not to refer here to capacity of photograph to reveal “the physiognomic aspects of visual worlds which dwell in the smallest things” (Benjamin, “Short Hist. of Photog.”). It is not some “magic”–not “the difference between technology and magic”–which V. seeks to visualize, nor which he believes photographic medium is given to visualizing. To contrary, V. here appears at pains to assert identical nature of seen and photographed object. Hence, his thought experiment places target instead on what differentiates these two modes or “moments” of seeing precisely in moment they take place before same scene/seen. I.e. V.’s “optical unconscious” resides neither in biological nor in photographic vision, but rather in difference between them. I.e., the optical unconscious according to V. would reside not in what one “moment” of vision can “reveal” in putative inadequacies of other, but rather in that entirely autonomous, categorically irreproducible form of visual knowledge that issues from space between each mode of seeing, when each charged simultaneously with “seeing” exact same object according to its particular processes.

A foreshadowing of Barthes’s assertion that photograph “does not know how to say what it gives to seeing”?