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Media and Images

practice, or realism and idealism. Different forms
of it are attacked in different books. In The Clue to
History Macmurray looks at the split between the
theory and practice of religion; in Reason and
Emotion he argues that the real distinction should
be intellect and emotion, and that both are capable
of rationality or irrationality. And his whole philosophical position, in The Form of the Personal,
attempts to bring thought and action into a reciprocal
relationship, through ‘the rhythm of withdrawal and
return’ .

Christians, Marxists, eXistentialists, psychologists and anthropologists – Macmurray’ s thought
owes something to all these groups, but the system
he has produced is his own, argued in close detail’.

It is his ability simultaneously to see human life as
a whole, and to analyse its different aspects in
depth, that makes him remarkable. And it is not
essential to accept the general outline of his philosophy to be able to appreciate the particular points
he makes: his analysis of the relation between
mother and Child, or of the nature of democracy, or
of scientific and artistic method. He is one of a tiny
number of British philosophers in this century to

have taken note of continental philosophy. The price
he has paid for believing that his subject is about
the world, not words, is neglect. I hope this article
may help to rectify matters.

References

Bibliography

1 Search for Reality in Religion, *FI”eedom in the Modern Wf)rld, Faber,
p21
1932
2 op. cit., p18
Interpreting Uw Universe, Faber, t933
3 op. cit., p22
The Philosophy of Communism, Fnber,
4 The Self as Agent. p13
1933
5 Freedom in the Modern World, Creative Society, SCM,1935
pG8
*R£’ason :lIId Emotio’l, Faller, 1935
6 op. cit., p101
The Structurc of Reli~’!.Y~J}erien(‘c,
7 Inteill..!:.Qting the Universe, p38 Faber, 193G
8 op. cit., p40
The Clue to Histo!)” SCM, 1938
The Boundaries QI.::iI’i.t2!l££, Fa)er, 1939
9 op. cit., p85
10 The Self as Agent, p98
Challenge to the Churches, Kcgan
11 Eeheion Art and Sdence, p31 Paul, 1941
12 See Reason and Emotion,
Constructive D(‘morracy, Faber, 1950
pp164-5
Idealism Against Hcligion, Lindsey
13 Freedom in the Mo(e1’l1 World, Press, 1944
p205
Conditions of Frt’edom,.Faber, 1950
14 The Clue to History, p235
*The Self as AI’C’nt, Faller, 1957
15 Constructive Democracy,
·Persons in l1e1:1lion, Fabcr, 19G1
p22
*Religion Art and SCience, Livcrpool
University P rcss, 1961
*Search for R~aJity in HC’ligion, Allel~
and Unwin, 1965
*denotes still in print according tf)
Books in Print, 1975

Media and images
Brian Miller
‘Consciousness’ is not something other than
‘sensuous human activity’ or praxis. It is to
be understood as an aspect or moment of
praxis itself. Furthermore the forms that
‘consciousness’ takes in society are to be
understood within the context of the forms
of social praxis.

– Richard J. Bernstein, Praxis and Action
(London, 1972)
My general consciousness is only the
theoretical shape of that which the living
shape is the real community, the social
fabriC, although at the present day general
consciousness is an abstraction from real
life and as such confronts it with hostility.

– Marx, Economic and Philosophic
Manuscript of 1844
The key to the understanding of media lies in
this concept of consciousness as a moment in
praxis.

Man is the social being. His’ self’ is relationship, which is him in relation to others.

Even when his life does not appear in the direct
form of communal life in association with
others, it is still, Marx says, ‘an expression
and confirmation of social life’. Our individual
consciousness is a moment in our interrelated
activity, and our relationships reconcile our
own consciousness to ourselves.

However, when the objective basis of material society is founded upon other than human
relationships, upon the relations of things in the
form of capital-movement, the resultant reified
social relations lead to the subjective condition
of social opacity. In the condition of social
opacity, human relations are pale reflections of
the relations of things, and cannot assume
primary place because this would be at odds
with society’s material basis in things.

As this process of opacity develops, a
20

development in relation to the growth of productive forces and extensions of capital into every
facet of human existence, images loom more
and more as the means by which a sense of
human relationship in praxis is restored.

These images enhance the individual personality by confirming perception, since perception
is decreasingly confirmed through close, living
relationship and identity with others. The
function of these images determines their
content: they are offered up as unambiguous,
familiar, loving, altruistic, enlightening and
dependable. Above all, they ‘confirm selfidentity by yielding to the viewer’s preferences,
even when this yielding incorporates any
necessary apparent abrasiveness. The function
of the image is to confirm individual selfidentity.

Image specificily
One cannot identify with a wooden totem.

Once upon a time an image of that kind would
have served to be the focal-point for common
activity, primitive social praxis. But the nature
of images alters with societies, which demand
different functions from them. In the modern
case, the image must of necessity be lifelike,
realistic, recognisably and empathically
human. This requires it to appear to us in
movement and in sound, in colour, in highlydefined tone and picture, and in a personable
manner. It must be very much like ourselves,
to all appearances, and must at the same time
be either very much what we would like to be,
what we desire in others, or what we believe to
be true about others, confirming both fondest
hopes and deepest suspicions.

Consciousness, previously identified as a
moment in social praxi~, becomes an activity,
but since it is one played out without the direct
participation of others, it must therefore seek

reciprocation from images, and these images
must contain the highest degree of apparent
realism to sustain the role they must play.

The emergence of this role of images in consciousness therefore coincides with what L
choose to call the specificity of images.

Common social images were once the means
by which people in society were brought together. The remnants of these exist, for
example, in our churches, in various survivals
of heraldic signs, in revivals of Greek tragedy.

There was no need for these to be particularly
human or even’ very representational, since they
conveyed, in meaningful symbols, the overriding
ethos of the culture and society. They were truly
meant to move people outside themselves, to act a8
the social lubricants for collective endeavour, even
as they were manipulated by a ruling order in order
to mobilize or subdue a subordinant class. By contrast, under conditions of modern alienation, when
images are received in order to bolster an existing
state of individual isolation, they must be produced
to meet this specific function. They must look as
individualised as is the response with which they
are met. Image-specificity is the process by which
this kind of production has come about. Material
development, individualism and image-specificity
entered into a dialectical relationship which – after
a long relatively separate development – ‘took off’

in the last century with the coming to fruition of
global capitalist relations and the invention of
photography. Images have reached their most
advanced stage to date in the moving photography
of lifelike beings, beamed into the home, and acting
out stories which assume the basis of society to be
human relationship, even where (and especially! )
capitalism as such is openly portrayed. Even the
News interprets objective development as human
drama, so that a complete illusion -of a human
world is portrayed, and matters affected by in-

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creasingly impersonal forces are seen as humanly
caused and orientated.

A brief scheme for the evolution of western
image-specifics from the images contained in
medieval art to those of the present day runs as
follows:

1 The image transcends its immediacy. The
. image, whether enshrined in altarpiece or stained
grass, is but one component and at the same time
a transcending one, it is both ‘less’ than complete
in itself and ‘more’, in symbolic meaning and
social function, than what it is pictured as. These
two opposed characteristics reinforce each other.

What need is there for a more complete representation than the most generalized, conventionalized
symbol, when that symbol expresses the meaning
and unity of the society as a whole? In one respect
the symbol performs a merely functional role as
a conduit through which individuals relate themselves to the culture and vice-versa. In another
respect it overwhelms a merely visual role by
bringing upon itself all recognized social aspiration.

In a closed, hierarchical society it is a means; in
a society in which prayerful contemplation is the
highest achievement, it is an end in itself.

The artistic moment
2 The image is an embodiment of its own unity,
still transcendent, but self-contained. The hierarchical world breaks up, corroded by the advance
of mercantile values, the beginnings of nationalist
absolutism, religious schism, the transformation
of master-craftsman into the identified, individual
artist and entrepreneur of artistic labour and artcommodities. Other factors have their effect,
from the Crusades to the discovery of America,
the influx of gold, the great price-rises. The conventionalized symbolic portrait – of, say, Madonna
and Child, with rigorously-adhered-to gold backgrounds, blue mantles, postures and relative
proportions of bodies – is insufficient visually for
the demands of an increasingly heterogeneous
society. The unity of artist-work-spectator /
worshipper is rent asunder. The image must thus
dra w into itself all the separated unifying factors
which previously lay outside it, or over which it
transcended. The tendency is more and more
towards a strictly visual experience. The tendency
is for the image to regain a lost unity by fixing that
unity almost totally within the frame of the picture.

Thus, . pictures begin to take on the appearance of
dramatisations, because picturing one specific
event, around which all the separate visual elements turn, is a means of creating a purely visual
image-unity within the frame, and with relatively
less reference to a function outside the frame.

But to I’icture a drama means calling into existence
all the elements which make up a drama: plot,
characterisation, mood, sense of place, theme,
beginning middle and end. Normally the ‘plot’ is
supplied by an episode from the Bible, especially
the Crucifixion orevehts surrounding it. (One
fascinating transitional figure here is Fra Angelico,
whose great wallpainting of the Betrayal of Jesus
is a sort of circular strip- cartoon: the central
event – in’ the centre of the picture – being the
Kiss, the pictures around it being events leading
up to and a way from this Kiss. Later artists would
take the strip-cartoon idea further by picturing
beginning, middle and end within one depiction.

Already in the central Kiss of Judas there is a
temporal ambiguity: is Judas about to kiss Jesus
or has he already done so? Already Fra Angelico
21

is demonstrating that many separate pictures are
not necessary to depict a chain of events. The
great paintings of the Renaissance do not depict
one moment in time only, yet it is only one moment
that they depict: the consummate artistic moment,
whi ch contains the beginning and end of many
others. )
Characterisation is essential to drama. Again,
in a Crucifixion wallpainting, Fra Angelico depicts
each witness to Christ’s death not only in a highly
individualized manner, but in an individualized,.

separate relationship to the main event. Each
character in the drama relates in his own way to
the cross. (Angelico’s mediocre contemporaries
had to be content with, allowing their witnesses to
bury their faces in their hands with grief – a
typical poor actor’s trick in provincial rep. ,
where he lacks the resources to portray emotion
to its fullest and most highly-individualized extent. )
What are the basic components of visual individuation? The study of anatomy, the solving of the
long-perplexing problem of depicting solid volumes
within draperies, the development of sculptural
dra wing (as in the pioneering work of Masaccio) on
the way to depicting livil1g, breathing flesh, the use
of live models and props from the real world. All
these are necessary. Then, drama is nothing
without spatial relationships. Perspective becomes
a problem to be solved. A little later, mood is
induced by the study ‘Jf lighting effects, relativities
of light and shadow. A sense of place: the architecture, the landscape, the setting. The influence
of the Middle Ages does not easily die out: for long,
a medieval obsession with ritualized proportions is
transformed into a geometrical concern for preserving the unity of the composition within the
frame. Nor does the medieval concern for the
transcendence of images die out; it is preserved in
the development of theme within a work: a finger
pointing to resonances and implications outside the
picture. But the meanings of many great Renaissance pictures are not clear: not to us, nor indeed
to contemporaries. The Mona Lisa is pregnant with
meaning: Leonardo points, still, a medieval finger
outside his portrait. But in a heterogeneous society
a clear, explicable meaning for such a picture is
impossible. Botticelli, too, endows his pictures
with much symbolic meaning, but they remain
ambiguous in intent, and indeed always appeared
so. And so, the evolution of the image into specific,
tangible and real objects and portraits comes about
through a painful and lengthy technical process.

At the same time, art does not lose its medieval
image-function of transcendence as part of the
artist’s aspiration; it is simply that society is not
now such that it can assimilate this transcendence
into every part of itself. The transcendence, of a
Mona Lisa or a Birth of venus, hangs, suspended,
over the world, not to be absorbed into its practice.

Art lays the foundations for its future in this fact
of the homeless transcendence. It is an integral
part of a society whose collective sense is breaking
down, so that the message of transcendence can
only be absorbed individually, without social feedback. And without feedback, the transcendence
remains homeless.

Later, of course, when realistic depiction becortles commonplace and facile (I am speaking of
Victorian academic painting) it is possible to wrap
even the theme up within the frame: thus producing
the once-popular ‘story picture’. But this so
rigorously circumscribed the theme that such
such pictures – even with their present-day revival

22

of popularity – have never escaped the charge of
sentimentality, well-executed though many of them
are. Moreover they specifically reveal the fantasies
and prejudices of one social class, whereas the
all-embracing medieval iconography had, literally,
‘something for everybody’.

Thus in the second stage of this triadic concept,
the image is consolidated visually but without
assimilable transcendence or social relevance,
thus mirroring a society of increasing heterogeniety. That is, transcendence of a sort continues to
exist, but no longer in a sociological context. This
is a phase during which Aesthetics becomes (once
again, after Classical times) a separate discipline,
for such a study is needed when artistic intentions
cannot be assimilated in any other way.

The third stage follows:

3 The image is highly-defined and specified,
incorporating sound and movement, words and
music as well as picture, appealing ,direct to the
selfhood of the individual viewer existing in isolation within the newer (but spurious) collectivity of
industrial society. As manifested in television, a
complete unity now exists between society, the
medium, and the viewer. But now it is unity on,
subjectively, the individual plane only, for its
setting is the private home, and the home surroundings themselves ramify the impact of the messages
received. SOCiety has been reunified, the circuit is
complete once more, but on an individual rather
than collective level. The forced soci~lization of
urban, industrialized culture, instead of leading to
political SOcialism, leads instead to a spurious
unity, a spurious collectivity, where feedback is
suppressed through imaginative impoverishment,
an impoverishment brought on by the sheer mass
of detailed explication in the image, including the
technics of presentation. (The art of television
presentation is to create in you the sense that you
have already fed back. your participation into the
proceedings. As En2ensberger says, what is
normally called a system of communication is in
fact a system of distribution. )

Myslery of appearances
However, before proceeding further with this, it
is necessary to link the passage from Phase Two to
the, passage into Phase Three of the triad, for
historically much takes place between the two. In
the centuries between the Renaissance and roughly
1850, or the invention of photography, there is, in
the Western world, a crisis of the image. It is not
like a ‘crisis’ of the headline sort, immediate and
apparent, but of a different and more gradual kind.

There is, in these centuries, no relevant or allembracing social imagery. As art evolves, it
becomes increasingly the preoccupation of the few.

With the achievement of technical mastery over the
depiction of physical reality, artists cannot remain
content. In the seventeenth century, the Dutch
painters solve this problem in a spectacular way by
turning ever more intensely into their naturalism,
by seeking ever closer definitions of material life,
thus dialectically achieving visual transcendence
over it. By depicting the real world with what we
would now call almost photographic clarity, the
Dutch produce a sense of the mystery of appearances, a strong theme which finds its way (by a not
too distended or tenuous series of connections) into
the heart of the philosophy of Kant. Other artists
seek and find other ways of getting to grips with the
challenge of their inherited naturalism. But meanwhile the sense of one transcendent social image,

already undergoing change in the early Renaissance,
is irrevocably lost.

Art developed the visual specificity of images in
the West. But in the new era, art, as property and
commodity, was but a part of a new social and
economic development in which the question of
imagery as a socially-binding force, is no longer
.

relevant. It was not to be imagery at all, Qut the
alienated form of capital. As the law of the market
becomes the underlying reality of all material life,
the appearances of social life mirror less and less
the realities; the image becomes isolated into mere
leisured consumption. And here is stated another
fundamental dictum of the concept: images and
revolution are antithetical. Two kinds of revolution
occurred in the intervening centuries between the
Renaissance and 1850. The Reformation, an infrastructural phenomenon of social change, was a
time when images were smashed, not reversed,
when – as notably in Holland – there were outbreaks
of popular image-smashing.

The image offers a relationship which brings
individuals into the universal embrace of a cohesive
social order; the iconoclastic aspects of the popular
Reformation in northern Europe demonstrate the
antipathy between social image and the revolutionary tendency within religious struggle. The emphasis on the Word as revealed in the Bible is a basic
tenet of protestantism, exerting a powerful influence upon attitudes towards socially-binding visual
representation.

The other kind of revolution was the development
of capitalism. Marx and Engels pay due tribute to
the continuously revolutionizing tendency of capital.

This made itself felt on the political level in 1688,
1789-93, 1830 and 1848, but the tendency to
revolutionize runs far deeper into capitalist society
and continues far beyond the mid-nineteenth century.

Looked at one way: capitalism never produced a
coheSive society; its approach, aim or tendency
was quite different from that. One philosophical
consequence of this was the development of positivism. As Marcuse points out in Reason and Revolution, positivism believed that society was ruled by
underlying social laws that moved with a natural
necessity, that these laws were analogous to physical laws and could be studied in the same manner.

The desire to see society shaped and governed by
underlying, universal laws which ensure its stability and equilibrium is the outcome of living in a
society whose ruling order has no natural tendency
towards stability or cohesion at all.

Image as fact
Positivism, not necessarily as a specific philosophy but as a general tendency in thought, has
evolved into the approach that bases its results upon
passive obsCirvation of objective reality. It is now
time to see the ways in which this general tendency
in thought is ramified by the invention of photography. The photograph helped us to shift the
approach to truth from what was truth as a necessity
for us into what was true in itself and for its own
sake: the fact. The ideal social science would, like
the physical science, pinpoint separate aspects of
society as frozen, exact, correct and factual. If the
social world came to have its own objective laws
which could be studied through the minute examination of surface appearances, so the photograph and the philosophy behind photography – could reinforce this view visually in a peculiarly powerful
way. The photograph relayed exactly what was
there, and in a sense ‘proved’ that what we were

seeing was all there was to see. (Photographic
trickery only emphasized by way of aberration the
‘truth’ of the photograph proper.) The social world,
which had been governed by action and argument,
whose images had been moulded (and destroyed) by
action and argument, came to have its own ‘objective’ images of itself. This photographic imagery
was beyond question objective.

… Technically, photography marks a qualitative
change in the making of images. We have reached
the totally ‘objective’ image, which is disembodied
in that it does not come through the hand and brain
of another human being but only indirectly via an
optical device. It is an image which, whilst being
so disembodied, the result of mechanics, optics and
chemistry, is as a finished product the very height
of specificity. The. qualitative change occurs purely
on the technical level, it lies in the invention itself.

cl-IARUES

1‘If”L.”!;,

NENES<. S~'D

"NY~~G­

A 1.0"1 ,euf"TtJaiQ;;s.

Even the most ‘exact’ painting is the result of an
artist’s approach and technique. We tend to marvel
at such a technique, which, no matter how mediocre
the conveyance of values or moods, still draws
attention to its own dexterity. This in itself represents a weakening of the image being portrayed, for
no image is strong if attention is drawn a way from
itself. The photograph specified, but its power of
specificity lay in its own impersonal, ‘objective’

mechanism. Thus specificity emerged as a power
because of the mechanical means by which it was
achieved. No human hand interposed itself between
the surface appearance being ‘snapped’ and the
resultant reproduction of the appearance, except to
perform a secondary role.

The first photographers were quick to propagate
their technique as a valuable, new means of scientific verification, as well as of aesthetic appraisal
of works of art. We can see then that positivism and
photography reinforce each other. Positivism providing the outlook which gave validity to truth as that
which can be captured and observed in its fullness,
photography as the means by which that outlook may
be imagized. Ideological reinforcement is given to
specificity by the fact of its production by nonhuman,
mechanical contrivance. And only a scientistic outlook could accept the value of results thrown up by
mechanical contrivance virtually on that basis alone.

Thus the consolidating triumph of capitalist
ideology coincides \-ith the emergence of imagespecificity through photography,. bringing to an end
nearly three hundred years of turbulence during
which one social order was decisively replaced by
another, and during which a crisis existed for the

23

social image because none emerged during that
time – either from art or from any other quarter to exercise a cohesive, totalizing function. With
the arrival of photographic reality, the specifying
tendency in European art reached fruition as it
began to leave the realm of art altogether to be
embodied in the emergent technology, and a sociallybinding image-form, unparallelled even in the middle
ages because of its global development, came into
being.

Like capitalism, a reliance on image-specificity,
ramified by a quest for ever more factual data, is
inherently unstable. Once photography is posited as
the ultimate imagizer of truth, developments in
specificity must go ever further. When the ultimate
point of an image is its realistic specification, ever
more refinements become necessary. Thus colour
photography, moving photography, sound-accompanied photography, ‘live photography (specification of
ti~ of pictured event), life-size photography,
photography as personalized extension of the self.

These developments are not purely accidental or the
r8sult of snowballing technology. The history of each
development shows that the desire to achieve it was
mostly years ahead of the actual invention making it
possible. Thus colour-tinting was done long before
present-day colour processing was invented; the
invention of cinematography occurred at least two
decades after the first experimentation with moving
pictures; cinematographic sound had been experimented with in the 1890s – it took nearly thirty
years before a synchronized system was invented;
and television was conceived in various systems by
Americans, Britons and Russians during the 1920s
long before it became an accepted form of communication. Many of these inventions required the perfection of other inventions before seeing the light of
day – television for example needed further advances
in radio technology – the need was demonstrably
there before the invention was perfected. Once
irnage- specificity was under way, it could only be
maintained by further increases in specificity, just
as a science without a theory needs to gain more
and more facts in order to maintain its scientific
status. There is, I think, a vital distinction to be
made between those inventions which occur purely
out of the technological impetus and individual
inspiration of the time, and those which are avidly
sought after long before the practical sphere has
caught up.

I

Starry heavens
The increase in ‘our knowledge has made demands
upon our images, infringes ever more upon the
power of their mediation, casts old ones aside with
comparative rapidity. The ability of images to stand
up to scrutiny of an uncritical kind for very long
decreases with the growing hold on us of imagemaking in general. Society, in finding its binding in
image specificity,· factual inlage-evidence for its
own sake, becomes ever more distrustful of particular image-forms, constantly demanding new ones.

The dialectic here is that between a decreasingly
effective or long-lived image-form in particular and
the increasingly powerful hold of the image-making
process in general.

Hence the dizzying rapidity of the ‘specificity take
off’ is with us as the very central feature of a society wl1ich is more bound by social image than any
other since at least the time of the Reformation.

Before television, the technological means of
projecting image-specificty fell short of the complete unity described in the third stage (3) of the

24

t~iad described above. The projecting of moving
pIctures was for a time, of necessity, to be a
collective experience, or rather a particular conjunction of the collective with the private. Cinemagoing is both a collective matter and an intensely
individualised matter, and represents a transition
from essentially collective to essentially privatistic
pursuits. As such, films at the peak of the cinema’s
image-making power displayed a number of techniques and practices for coping with both ends of the
transition. Films developed as a unique blend of the
reali~tic with the transcending: they embody the
peculIar potency of ‘factual’ image reinforced by
thematic overtones.

The main problem conquered by film was how _
~nder conditions of extreme realism – to particularIze the general, or generalize the particular. For
if the leading man or lady is obviously a particular
individual, how can he or she be shown toembody
more-than-individual themes and resonances?

How can he or she bind an audience together with a
suprapersonal message whilst at the same time
yielding to intensely subjective and individual
projections and identifications?

One of the means of doing this lay in the juxtaposition of unique individual with stereotyped role
which is the basis for what was known as the ‘star’

system. No great Hollywood film star was ever in
himself, a stereotyped individual. A list at random
speaks for itself: Humphrey Bogart, Burt Lancaster,
Joan Crawford, James Stewart, Marlene Dietrich,
Henry Fonda, Greta Garbo, James Cagney, Cary
Grant – these are individuals of such uniqueness
that even now their presence in our consciousness
evokes memories perhaps stronger than that of
some of our own friends. Line any ‘great’ star up
against the various second leads (groomed, by
comparison, to look stereotyped) or – what is even
more instructive – examine the films of those who
were ‘groomed’ for stardom and failed to achieve it
(Anna Sten, Mark Stevens, Faith Domergue) to see
that individuality of a certain kind is vital. But it is
only so in relation to a role of stereotyped predictability. What enhances the myth of the star is the
inevitability of the actions he undertakes, and it
seems never to have been remarked upon that stars
are only ever seen at all <s& stars) in performance.

That some stars are also good actors and may vary
the roles they play to some extent is also true but
has little to do with ‘star quality’. The bringing of
myth to the image-specific was first and foremost
the function of the star.

Another means of achieving this was through
music. A boy meeting a girl became – with the addition of the ‘million violins’ behind the bushes – Boy
Meets GiN. Music gave a quality of universality to
a specific situation compriSing specific, photographed individuals. Music united the collective
with the private, and it is a detail worth noting that
background music is almost totally lacking in television drama and in television news-film, whereas
in film drama and newsreel it was (at one time)
very seldom missing. This is indicative of the incomplete unity of film as a structure concept and
experience. With televiSion, however; the unity is
completed in the ‘pact’ between image and viewer,
a pact which requires no transcendence of the
musical kind. Any music in television drama has
always led to almost virulent complaints from
viewers that it ‘interferes’ with their concentration
on the programme in question: i. e. it disturbs
their relationship to it. The viewers are correct
because ‘transcendence’ – a peculiar mission of

unfulfilled unity (as for example in the Renaissance
painting, noted above) – is not required where the
unity is completed, the circle drawn. With television Phase Three is more fully achieved.

The relationship, in a play, between particularity
and totality, which is displayed upon a stage where
all is always seen in relation to anyone thing, is
not seen ‘in’ a television play at all, but in the
,
home, the setting for the seeing of the play on
ANo–rH-E:f( l.LooDY 10 EAWS”T” SEIN I;television. Since television confirms the ‘I’ of the
viewer, it is the ‘I’ which confers the necessary
. ,£>verall resonance upon the play by internalizing its
specified contents. ! am absorbed in this play because it is aimed at me. I must therefore provide
my own significance to what I am seeing, or else I
am merely staring at an object. Abrasive television
very often deeply offends for since the heart of the
unity of the experience of image-specificity depends
upon a complex interplay between specificity of
image (including all its nonvisual aspects, including
the time of day when it goes out, etc) and the
requirement upon the viewer without which the
specificity would be insupportable, then any upset
to this delicate balance (a rude word, an unappealing
performer, unexpected ‘sex ‘n violence’) will force
the viewer to regard himself suddenly as a nullity,
and the television as a tyrannous object sitting in his
living room. The line between wholehearted absorption in television and wholehearted hatred of it is
extremely thin, and the whole viewer-television
TV dialectics
relationship is highly unstable, likely to be disrupted
Television, with high-definition, moving photoat any time by the slightest slip-up on the screen.

If a man’s individuality lies in his social being,
graphy (lifesize in close-up), synchronized sound,
then ‘man’ as merely passive ‘Viewer’ is a selfcolour, a quality of immediacy (specificity in time)
contradiction. For this reason the ‘viewed’ must be
and projection into the home, is thus far the
served up to him as part of a delicately balanced
ultimate in the conveying of image-specificity. Its
very method of portrayal is individualistic, for
transaction, interracting with his private consciousthere are inherent technical limitations in the
ness, or he will be reduced to a nUllity. When
medium. For one thing it is two-dimensional, and
man’s social being is so isolated his sociality is
distorted to the point where it is unrecognisable
for another the small screen-size reduces the
impact and definition of group-shots. Thus, for a
unless supported by a continuous supply of transmitted images, a supply which bolsters his selftwo-dimensional picture to be turned into the illucertainty by further distorting the social process.

sion of three dimensi.ons, background and foreThis means imposing upon social reality an individground must always be related, which usually means
ualistic approach to all problems, and this imposia foreground figure in relation to a middle- or backtion is at the heart of the media process.

ground figure: a two-shot with emphasis on the
The phenomenon of a ‘continuous supply of transforeground character. A shot of more than about
mitted images’ allows us to postUlate such a thing
three persons reduces the size of the faces and consequently reduces definition and impact. Thus a
as a social image at all: through this constant
television portrayal of Hamlet will always emphastransmission it becomes meaningful to speak of
ize the individual aspect of the character of Hamlet
social images as such. But the isolating context in
himself, and be weakest at being able to demonwhich such images operate – in the home, upon the
strate this character in constant relation to his
private, passive person – melts the imagery away
environment, as a stage presentation will be able
in the ceaseless by-play of the mind. We face a
to do. Chekov is extremely difficult to reproduce
dialectical proposition here; the stronger the grip
faithfully on television be~ause Chekov’s drama is
of images upon men, the less solid and more
social: it is about a group and not about anyone
tenuous, in their absorption, do they become. They
individual exclusive of others. On the stage Chekov
‘become’, in fact, in the act of dying away, and the
is performed by an ensemble of actors continually
more rapid their dying away the stronger their grip.

involved because we are seeing a constant tableau
Men into images
before us. On television this tableau is unsatisfactLooked at one way, image-specificity could be
orily broken up, and the play is broken down into
seen as humanistic, the clarification and humanizashifting individualities instead of achieving the
tion of images, one indication of our increaSingly
objectiVity of the characters seen constantly as a
human-centred preoccupations. But as a necessary
whole. This bias meets with a perfect response in
component of the socially isolating process it is
the more-or-Iess solitary individuals watching the
instead an increasingly repressive instrument of
screen at home surrounded by their own private
consciousness, an enemy of what Adorno termed
environments. The ultimate’ climax’ shot in a
the resonances of memory, time and recollection,
television sequence is always the big close-up of
a substitute for the interraction which actually
the human face – a shot which necessarily excludes
enriches consciousness. If the situation within
the rest of the world whilst at the same time prowhich the concept of social image has become isolclaiming itself the most significant moment in the
atable were to be removed, then image-specificity
whole presentation. A play on television is a play
might point to the destruction of images, since it
of shifting individualities,~ and the parallel to this
has long since become the main factor in their
in documentary is the bringing together of opposing
instability. But with the strengthening of this situapoints of view (‘balance’) to form, again, a pattern
tion, the opposite will be the case. The image is
of shifting individualities.

25

not only manifested in our individual identification
with it but in our identification of others with it,
our projection of imagery upon others and hence
the realization of the image as human reality itself.

The stage for the complete negation of man as a
social being would be set in the reduction of men
into images, the destruction of society in our own
penetration of it, solely with the privatized imagery
we have derived from society’s own media. Human
beings the mere cipher for transmissions, real
relationships the pale reflection of imagized ones,
and subjective life characterized by a narcissism
scarcely altered from childhood.

In fact, the objective condition of man as a social
being requires not only social organization but – in
industrial and urban society – such organization to
an ever more developed and intense degree. Presem
media provide a means by which individuality of a
nondialectical kind may be imagined as existing.

This is important, since, in a pre-socialist society,
a nondialectical individuality is the only kind which
can be imagined as active and not utopian, even
though it is not possible. It is a consequence of the
capitalist inversion – the social relations of things that individuality will be perceived in this topsyturvy way. Such individuality is sustained by the
safety-valve of media, the consumption of imagespecificity. Through this can the individual atom
participate in apparent relationships with its own
kind. But the figure imagized has no separate
existence apart from its viewability. It is designed
to yield to the needs and requirements of. the viewer
who, lacking resistance to the continuous flow of lH-e
his own reactions, is therefore prey to self-centred
narcissism.

At one time the social image was embodied in
definite arVe~acts but could not be isolated as image
because the image essence of the arteJacts themselves could not be disentangled from their social
function. With the qualitative change, it is possible
to isolate the image essence because the image’s
tendency now is to overcome any possible functions
to which it might at one time have been subordinated. However, since the growth of image per se has
come through specificity to electronics and through
electronics to minds, such is the tenuous and fluid
nature of the result that there is no definite artifactual basis. In other words, once upon a time the
image was solid and nonisolatable; today it is
isolatable without solidity. A qualitative change in
function has been accompanied by an inversion in
its actual mode of existence.

A consequence of capitalist society is the perversion of desire into something autonomous, alienated
from others who become ‘the other’: rivals, slaves,
masters, customers, clients, exploiters. The
perversion of desire is expressed as competition
with rivals, tyranny over slaves, subservience to
lnasters, charm towards customers, respect
towards clients, resentment of exploiters. In all
circumstances one is totally alone and the ultimate
is the sanctity of one’s own feelings as opposed to
those of anyone else, or the ‘other’.

Hence continual adjustments need to be made in
response to other, flesh-and-blood persons, adjustments complicated by subordination to the cause
of our individual, unique selves. Image-specificity
allows the viewer to respond to what is specific in
other human beings without at the same time
requiring him to make continual adjustments,
because the image is neither rival nor master,
slave nor exploiter. Through the image the individual can respond to the maximum specification of
26

an imagized human being without going through the
normal processes of alienation from others as
expressed in the elaborate games of exploitation of
others as objects for his own gratification. Through
image-specificity, the viewer can penetrate through
all the isolating and sordid paraphernalia of suspicion which inhibits social life, the obscenity of
contact, and can triumph over it in his embrace of
an image-specific who comes ‘direct’ to him, with
no suspicion or commitment on his part.

The logical development from this would be for
persons to project the priority of their identity and
reflections upon other, real people, whom they
imagine to be similar in yielding qualities to those
seen on the screen. There is no reason why people
should not sleep with, or marry, images projected
upon other people. the possibilities for an undisturbed narcissism are limitless. But every
development is capable of turning into its own opposite. This one could not long remain unchanged in
view of the actual, objective basis of man’s
individualism rooted in social life.

Media breakdown
There are, indeed, counter-tendencies to this
entire development. (Quite apart from the law of
uneven development which says that all could not
fall into these tendencies at all the same time. )
For one thing, the specified depiction of reality
itself plays a Significant part in making people far
more aware of, and far more knowledgeable about,
their world than has ever before been the case.

It is a truism that television has had a hand in for
example, the deglamourizing of politici~ns, who
once seemed such mighty figures on the radio, or,
earlier, on the hustings. It is also true that
television’s depiction of the horrors of the Vietnam
War had a great deal to do with mass protest in
the USA against the war, and that it has an undoubted influence on mass-politics at all times.

Indeed, .the extreme reality of the image can often
exacerbate a conflict in the viewer between seeing
and dOing, awareness and power, knowledge and
action, a. conflict which, though only occaSionally
manifested in one individual,strikes at the very
basis of human existence, which is postulated upon
the unity of these separated components of praxis.

The irony of image-specificity is this: that the
greatest socially-binding, global image-form
mankind has ever ‘known contains within itself the
seeds for an opposed development: that of a disillusionment so deep that a relatively small series
of events could well blow a way the gossamer
threads holding the apparently solid ideology
together. It is no accident, as Lenin would say, that
all societies, east and west, have firepower enough
for what would be considered sufficient containment
of dissidance. The ideology has never been in less
safe hands than it is now. It is not so much that
television is a purveyor of revolution as that it is
both too shallow and too specific in its portrayal of
events to positively hold a diSintegrating society
together in the face of revolution. Admirable as a
diverSion, indeed fatal given no external political
upheavals to awaken the isolated from its spell, the
television image has neither the solidity nor the
abundant glamour or hypnotism to counteract social
consciousness when the latter is emergent. In the
past, both too many and too few claims have been
made on its behalf. It is lethal, but in a lethal context. When the image traded symbolism for substitution of social action, it caught a tiger by the
tail.

Here, then, is a rundown of the argument:

1 The emergence of image-specificity through
Western art is indirectly linked (but not directly
until the present) with the emergence of the
bourgeoisie and the values of individualism in their
wake. Its technical qualitative change comes with
the invention of photography and with the technological developments in specificity since then (as
.

the technical rendition of specificity became no
longer an artistic problem).

2 In a society whose governing contradiction remains that between productive forces and the social
relations of prodUction, the development of the
image towards ever greater realism exacerbates
the discrepancy between what is witnessed and what
can be actively decided upon.

3 The old ‘nonrealistic’ image did not exist as
isolated from the processes of social communication
and their artet[acts. The increasingly ‘realistic’

image becomes itself a substitute for social cohesion as it defines itself as an isolatable cOJ)cept.

However, it is not imaginable as a thing. It can
only be conceived in terms of function, relationship
and effects – the stronger its influence is.

4 Socialization is internalized by means of the
realistic image. This recreates narcissism in a
mature form, for narcissism is the stunted
attempt at sociality in a society of isolated individuals given to living and perception passively
through images.

5 As image-specificity brings external imageforms closer to what we are actually like (a development taken over from art as, indeed, art reverted
to opposition to social images – indeed, the
struggle of the modern artist· can be seen as the
penetration beyond them) the potential arises for
destroying the whole process of image-making.

But as the last qualitative change was technical,
the next one required is political. However, in the
absence of political event, cognition of imagemirrors and the gradual deterioration of communal
life make narcissism an ever more pervasive
possibility.

6 The image, instead of being destroyed in favour
of the real, takes its place .. It bursts out of its
confines and is prOjected upon other living persons.

The image loses ri’chness as it descends into reality, and reality is drained dry of richness as it is
usurped by images. The imagination loses a depth
of projection as it becomes the sole mediation with
real life.

7 By the same token, image-specificityawakens
consciousness through forcible confrontation with
.the detail of the real world. Given disturbing situations, image-specificity is a poor substitute either
for action or for an ideology, because its ascendancy was born of an inherently unstable process of
technical refinement and shallow positivism~ In the
end, it will produce not awe but disillusionment in
its viewers, without being able to withhold from
them the visible facts of a deteriorating world situation. What has been seen as the strongest imagebinding possible turns out also to be, and simultaneously, the inadequate means for preventing social
change. The revolution itself will be the dissolution
of images into reality: that in itself is one aspect of
the revolutionary act. Revolution and social image
as function are antithetical, and with revolution,
with the development of socialism, transparent
social experience becomes possible. This experience in itself requires the mediation of art, though
not perhaps the art as we know it today with its
coteries and critics, salerooms, galleries and high
prices. Rather, a socialist art will be one in which
transparent social (i. e. individual) experience is
mediated and transcended – which, indeed, makes
it no different in quality from that of all great art
of the past. In V. G. Kiernan’s words, art had a
hand in the invention of socialism, and socialism
itself, without a central place for art in its development, will simply re-create another version of a
one-dimensional society. There is more to socialism than democracy: there is interpretation of
experience, the kind of experience that can only be
achieved under socialism. Interpretation must take
the ‘facts’ of social life, under whatever system,
and develop and extend the richness of the potential
kernel of all experience. The ‘images’ of socialism
will lie in a wider development of artistic interpretation of the greater transparency of social life
under socialism, an interpretation which will be
necessary in the making of men as individuals.

BUSSERL aND PHENOMENOLOGY
Roger Waterhouse
I began to study phenomenology seriously about ten
years ago. I came to it by way of Sartre, Laing,
and the Swiss analyst Ludwig Binswanger. At the
time it rekindled an interest in philosophy which
had been all but extinguished by a surfeit of Oxford
academicism. Thephenomenologists not only took
seriously those very serious questions about the
nature of man and his place in the world that I had
been taught to play games with – but them seemed
to have new perspectives, and new insights to offer.

It took me a long time and quite a lot of perserverance before I felt that I had ‘got inside’ the phenomenological tradition, and could not only read and
understand, but also evaluate and criticize phenomenological writings. With my Oxford training it
was sometimes too easy to dismiss as confused and
wrong-headed the formulation of an argument, without appreciating the inSight it was striving to
express.

The effort was worthwhile. The phenomenologists

have not merely been doing philosophy in a different
way: they have said some very positive and significant things. And they have evolved a way of thinking
which is not only grounded in the problems of our
day-to-day existence, but has powerful implications
for a whole range of theoretical studies.

Such is my opinion, and, apparently, that of an
increaSing number of people in the English-speaking
world. But the problem for the would-be student
(perhaps arriving at phenomenology from some
otlier discipline than philosophy) is where to begin what to read, and how to disentangle the jargon, the
often turgid prose, the widely different stances
adopted by writers all of whom call themselves
phenomenologists.

This article is an attempt to give some guidance.

It deals primarily with Husserl. I shall stress the
way in which his thinking changed during the course
of his life, because that evolution was responsible
for the major trends which subsequently developed
within the phenomenological movement.

27

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