- 'The Brilliance of Invisibility'
- Tracking the Body in the Society of the Spectacle
- Book title
- The Spell of Capital
- Book subtitle
- Reification and Spectacle
- Pages (from-to)
- Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press
- ISBN (electronic)
- Document type
- Faculty of Humanities (FGw)
- Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis (ASCA)
In the wake of the events of September 11, 2001, the RETORT Collective published a collection of essays that revisited Debord to analyze the annihilation of bodies as a spectacular repetition of the society of spectacle's logic. Some 20 years before, T.J. Clark, a member of the American Situationists had published a groundbreaking study of Manet as the painter of Modern Life echoing Baudelaire and Guys, and Benjamin on them. Between the two publications, a body of work has emerged on the visual arts and the bodily dimensions of spectatorial experience. This essay will explore Debord's Society of the Spectacle from the vantage point of the body in modernity. I will firstly show how Debord's notion of spectacle (like Lukacs of reification) is marked by a process littered with risks and contingencies. The aim of this first section is to underline the less than stable, far from achieved state of the society of spectacle. Secondly, by comparing Clark's writings on painting and modernity with Jonathan Crary's Foucauldian construction of perception and painting, I will situate the problematic place of the body in relation to a visualization of the social order. In particular, I will establish and undermine any fixed relation between visuality on the one hand, and the nexus established between the painted body, the spectatorial body and the social body. This central section of the essay insists - contra the ongoing discourse of affect, libidinal intensities and a body without organs - that a critique of the society of spectacle is furthered by maintaining the tension between visuality as a sensorial and cognitive experience, and the inherent tensions between the represented, spectatorial and social body. The Crary-Clark comparison will exacerbate these tensions to paint a picture of visuality as a political practice of social critique. The body's unavailability must be understood not as the ground for an embodied escape from rationality, cognition and judgement. The tensions between the three bodies provide the conditions for a social and political critique of the stabilization of the social body by incessantly exposing the triple body's instabilities.
These instabilities triggered by the tensions between the represented, social and spectatorial body provide the ground for insisting on the relevance of the concept of spectacle by paradoxically exploring the contingencies on which spectacular society must rest. Visuality exposes the body to the paradox of representation. In its brilliant representation as object and experience, the painted body points toward what the society of spectacle must keep out of sight - what Foucault, reading Manet called "the brilliance of invisibility".
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