Welcome to Scribd, the world's digital library. Read, publish, and share books and documents. See more
Standard view
Full view
of .
Look up keyword
Like this
0 of .
Results for:
No results containing your search query
P. 1
80443427 Vangelis Athanassopoulos

80443427 Vangelis Athanassopoulos

Ratings: (0)|Views: 5 |Likes:
Published by ferrocomolus

More info:

Published by: ferrocomolus on Mar 15, 2013
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


Read on Scribd mobile: iPhone, iPad and Android.
download as PDF, TXT or read online from Scribd
See more
See less





Why do vampires avoid mirrors? Reflections onspecularity in the visual arts
Vangelis Athanassopoulos*
Department of Visual Arts, Panthe´ on-Sorbonne University, Paris, France
This article is an attempt to organize the general axes of aresearch on mirror image in the visual arts, addressing theconceptofspecularityanditsproblematic statusinWesternaesthetics. The argument is that, paradoxically, despite thecentral role of reflection in the theory of representation,specularity is constantly repressed as false and dangerous.Hence the historical duplicity of the mirror in its relation toart: on the one hand it consolidates the Western system of representation while on the other it deconstructs the veryprinciples upon which this system is erected. Literarytheory and psychoanalysis enable us to focus on the wayswhich, in the founding myths of representation such as theones of Narcissus and Medusa, vision, discourse andidentityarearticulatedaroundreflection,relatingaphysicalphenomenon with the mental processes defining self-consciousness. In the field of visual arts, this articulationis operated through the opposition between two differentconceptions of the image, ‘‘painting-as-window’and‘‘painting-as-mirror’’. Locating this opposition in SvetlanaAlpersreadingof 
Las Meninas
andLouisMarinsapproachof the Brunelleschian optical box, we point out thediscontinuity which comes to the fore in the latter’sdescription of the reflexive/reflecting apparatus and whichconstitutes the blind spot of the classical system of representation. In contemporary art, specularity returnsas a tautological figure, ‘‘zero degree’’ representationestablishing a closed circuit in which the gaze is sent backtoitselflikeJosephKosuth’sself-referentlinguisticproposi-tions. But in the same time it problematizes the process of self-reference, opening it to similar specular apparatuseswhich destabilize tautological circularity. Works by DanGraham, Robert Smithson and other artists demonstratethat mirror, which in the classical system guarantees thesubjugation of the gaze to the eye, can on the contrary beused in order to emancipate the former from the latter,displacingthe relation between theart work andthe viewer.
Vangelis Athanassopoulos
, Ph.D.in Aesthetics, is an AssociateProfessor of Philosophy of Art atthe Department of Visual Arts of the University Paris I Panthe´on-Sorbonne in Paris, France. He isa member of the LETA (Labora-tory of Theoretical and AppliedAesthetics, University Paris I), theAICA (International Association of Art Critics), and co-editor of Proteus, an online Frenchjournal on aesthetics (www.revue-proteus.com). He haspublished two books on postmodernism and advertising(
La publicite´ dans l’art contemporain
, 2 t., Paris: L’Harmat-tan, 2009) as well as several articles on modern andcontemporary art. His research fields include visualsemiology, philosophy of language and critical theory.
reflecting surfaces; visual apparatuses; theory of representation; reflexivity; projection; self-identification; myth of Medusa
*Correspondence to: Vangelis Athanassopoulos, Department of Visual Arts, Panthe´on-Sorbonne University, Paris, France.Email: onoda.h@gmail.com
 Journal of 
Vol. 4, 2012
2012 V. Athanassopoulos. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0Unported License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/), permitting all non-commercial use, distribution, and reproduction in anymedium, provided the original work is properly cited.Citation:
(page number not for citation purpose)
To see one
s own sight means visible blindness
Iconographic matter, visual instrument at theserviceofthepainteror thephotographer,emblemof vanity in classical art or phenomenologicalobject of spectator displacement in contemporaryart, the mirror is intimately related to our concep-tion of representation. The present article is anattempt to organize the general axes of a researchon mirror image in the visual arts, outliningthe semantic, phenomenological as well as dis-cursive implications of specularity in Westernaesthetics.A great deal of research has addressed thisissue from different points of view
optical, cog-nitive, historical, anthropological, phenomeno-logical, psychoanalytic and others
providing animportant bibliography which it would be toolong to develop here.For a general account of the mirror image inthe classical system of representation, the readeris referred to Gombrich, Damisch and Schwarz.
For a historical approach, one can consultMelchior-Bonnet,
and for a psychoanalyticalone, Mulvey.
As for mirror and photography,the classical reference is Rudisill.
The readerparticularly interested in photography is alsoreferred to Owens.
The purpose of this article is not to establisha historiography of reflection but rather to raisea certain number of questions which cross overthe epistemological fields covered by the avai-lable literature on mirror and visual perception.This requirement of interdisciplinarity is hardlysomething new in contemporary aesthetics; butin our case it is closely related with the veryobject of analysis, the ambivalent nature of whichinvites to reconsider the methodological instru-ments through which we tend to grasp it. For,in spite of the diversity of approaches, specularimage seems to be constantly subordinatedthrough art history to a theory of representationthat regards it as an emblem of mimesis, asopposed to language.In
Mirror and Map: Theories of PictorialRepresentation
mirror designates less a particu-lar category of visual signs than a principle thatcognitively distinguishes mimetic organisation of visual data from rational articulation of space.Significantly, it is photography that is convenedto convey the
mirror effect
of representation.
And yet it is precisely the cognitive statusof reflection that seems to defy analyticalthought and philosophical understanding of visualphenomena. Gombrich
s article opens with anaccount of a stroll in Vienna, where, as a child,he had to make a choice between a left and aright turn in order to go either to the Museumof Natural History or to the Museum of ArtHistory, two identical buildings facing each otheracross the Maria-Theresien-Platz.In the 13th chapter of his
Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics
, Kant attempts to demon-strate that space is not a property of the objectsin themselves but the external form of our
sensuous intuitions
. Now, what is interesting,is that, in order to ground his argument, Kant hasrecourse to the examples of mirror and incon-gruent features like the left and the right hand.In doing so, he states the impossibility of pureconceptualisation of specular inversion. Incon-gruity
that is, enantiomorphism, mirror reflec-tion
paradoxically appears to mark the limits of consciousness, something that resists philosophi-cal understanding; or, in other words, the usualmetaphor according to which we transpose reflex-ivity from vision to consciousness seems to berather problematic. It is this unstable relationshipbetween consciousness, language and image thatthis article wishes to question.ThemainargumentisthatfromtheRenaissanceto the digital era, the concept of representationin Western art can be regarded as a dialecticalconstruction combining two opposite approachesof the image: as a window and as a mirror. Adouble-faced
divided between the transpar-ency/transcendence of the
and the fascinationwith/delusion of the
. On the one hand thepainting, which, even when exclusively focused onits own pictorial conditions, let us look
it, at a metaphysical or immanent
.On the other hand the reflection which, strictlyspeaking,isnotcapableofrepresentinganythingatall, because:
Not only can it not be properly called animage (since it is a virtual image, and there-fore not a material expression) but evengranted the existence of the image it mustbe admitted that it does not stand
some-thing else; on the contrary it stands
in front 
of something else, it exists not instead of butbecause of the presence of that something;
V. Athanassopoulos
(page number not for citation purpose)
when that something disappears the pseudo-image in the mirror disappears too.
Since the Antiquity, this ambiguous status of mirror image is closely related with the problemof representation. In
The Republic
, Plato
s accountof the painter as
the man with the mirror
assimilates mimetic representation with specularreflection only to establish the superficial andillusory character of 
Nevertheless,despite Plato
s mistrust of images, Classical anti-quity provides us with at least two founding mythsof representation which are both tales of reflec-tions: Narcissus and Medusa.Indeed, during the Renaissance the platonicrepressed comes to the surface but this time beinginverted, that is, used as an argument for andnot against image-making. Recuperating in Ovid
the myth of Narcissus, Leon Battista Albertirefers to the latter as the founder of painting,associating the narrative with a reflexivity whichis the one of the liberal arts, the noble artsof the spirit, rather than with a skin-deep attach-ment to the appearance of things. At the begin-ning of Book II of 
On Painting 
, Alberti writes,
Consequently I used to tell my friends thatthe inventor of painting, according to the poets,was Narcissus, who had turned into a flower;for, as painting is the flower of all the arts sothe tale of Narcissus fits our purpose perfectly.What is painting but the act of embracing bymeans of art the surface of the pool?
Baskins points out that Alberti does not actuallyrecount a
of Narcissus, but allegorizes theaccount instead:
Alberti conflates two aspects of Narcissus
transformation; the flower and the reflectionin the pool both seem to signify the mimeticsurface of painting. (
. . .
) The canonicalinterpretation of the Narcissus trope inAlberti takes the reflection of the pool to beanalogous to the imitation of surface appear-ance, stripped of narrative components andconcentrating on the physical property of water to reflect an image in the real world,Narcissus
reflection corroborates our under-standing of the naturalistic, illusionistic goalsof early Renaissance painting.
It is also Ovid who establishes the link betweenNarcissus and Medusa.
As noted by CamilleDumoulie
, the association of the two myths alsooccurs in Desportes
(1573)and Gautier
(1857), underlining thesimilarity of the victimization process being atwork: since the individual is considered to havebeen the victim of his own reflection, the victimi-zer is absolved from all blame. The specularimage is hence associated with the narrative of an originating crime, a suicide in fact, which givesbirth to representation as an image of death
thedeath of its own referent. Capable as it is toimmobilize all who came within its purview,Medusa
s gaze was endowed with the power of creating figures. By killing her, Perseus has stolenthis power for himself. The appropriation of thegaze is the principal theme of the myth which,in Ovid
s account, begins with the theft of an eye.
The use of the shield as a mirrorstresses the split-second
instant de
in which Medusa had been
turned into stone. The mirror inverts the relationbetween subject and object, transforming powerinto weakness and vice versa. Perseus insertsMedusa into a closed system where the seer isidentified to the seen.
According to Freud, decapitation refers to thefear of castration, associated with the act of seeing,the visual shock caused by the lack of mother
sphallus which constitutes the decisive momentof fetishism. Medusa
s hair, most commonlydepicted as snakes, would be in that sensesubstitutes of the penis, the absence of which isthe origin of the horror
and desire. The multi-plication of the phallic symbol hence signifiesthe fear generated by the visualization of itsloss, making Medusa
s head a fetish, a displacedrepresentation of female genitalia.
Beyond theFreudian interpretation, Owens pointed outthe correspondences between the myth
s centralepisode and Lacanian psychoanalysis, recognizingin the instantaneous identification of the actof seeing with its own sight
the duality, thespecularity, the symmetry and immediacy thatcharacterize Lacan
s Imaginary order
Thepsychoanalytical perspective is important hereinsofar as it places the specular image in theheart of the structuring of the subject, crossingthe philosophical
approach of self-consciousness as identification.
Lacan definesthe essence of the imaginary as a dual relationship,a reduplication in the mirror, an immediateopposition between consciousness and its otherin which each term becomes its opposite and islost in the play of the reflection
Why do vampires avoid mirrors?
(page number not for citation purpose)

You're Reading a Free Preview

/*********** DO NOT ALTER ANYTHING BELOW THIS LINE ! ************/ var s_code=s.t();if(s_code)document.write(s_code)//-->