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An Idea of Glory

Animals know nothing of appearances. Only human beings have an interest in images as images and understand appearances as appearances.
Giorgio Agamben inity in His manifestation to human kind; more precisely it indicates manifes tation as one of the essential attributes of God. (The etymological meaning of doxa is 'appearance' or 'semblance'.) According to the Gospel of St. John, those who believe in Christ have no need of signs (semeia, 'miracles') because they can immediately see his glory, his face. And his face is entirely manifest upon the Cross, which is the ultimate "sign" in * which all signs found consummation. I look someone in the eyes, and they either lower their gaze (out of modesty, which is the modesty of the void that lies behind the gaze), or they look back at me. And they can look back at me with insolence, making a display of their emptiness as though behind it there lay another unfathomable eye, well acquain ted with the void, and capable of using it as an impenetrable hiding place; or they can look at me with a chaste shamelessness and entirely without reserve, thus allowing the void of our gazes to become a locus in which love and words can come into being. One of the calculated strategems of pornographic photographs is for the people in the picture to look directly into the lens of the camera and thus to reveal between the two meanings, almost as though with the intention of revealing the extent of their confusion: "piu che Stella Diana splende e pare" (More than the star Diana, does she shine and appear). The two meanings of the word can not truly be separated, and it can often be far from easy to make a decision in favor of the one or the other: it's as though splendor always implied a semblance, as though every parere (appearance), in cluded a mi pare, an "it seems to me." When we look at the face of a human being, the eyes don't really strike us because of their transparence and expressivity. They strike us on the con trary, because of their obstinate lack of expression, for their opacity. And if we really x our gaze upon another person's eyes, we see so little of that person as nally to realize that they give us back only the miniaturized image of ourselves, which is where the pupil of the eye receives its name. In this sense, the gaze is truly "the dregs of a man." But this sediment of everything human, this opacity and wretchedness of the face (in which lovers often lose themselves, and which politi cians know how to estimate in order to turn it into an instrument of power) is the only genuine sign of a human being's spirituality. The Latin word vultuswhich gives the Italian word volto, (face or visage) has no exact equivalent in any of the Indo-European languages except for the Gothic Wulthus. But in Wulla's Bible, which is where we nd the word pre served, it isn't employed to render an expression that might be translated with face. (Cicero had already observed that Greek has no equivalent to the Latin vul tus: "What we refer to as the vultus (the face or visage), and which can never be found among animals, but only in man, is an indication of the element of moral ity: this concept is unknown to the Greeks and their language is without this word entirely.") Wulla's Wulthus is used to translate the Greek word doxa, which means the glory of God. In the Old Testament, glory (Kabod) indicates Div

Antonin Artaud, Self-portrait.

The verb Pare (it appears) exhibits the most peculiar grammar. On the one hand it is tantamount to videtur: "it seems, it appears to me as an appearance or a semblance, which can therefore be deceptive." And on the other hand, it has the meaning of lucet: "it shines, is manif est in its splendor and self-evidence." In the rst case, we have a latency that remains concealed in the very act of pres enting itself to vision; in the second, we have a pure and absolute visibility, free from all shadow. In La Vita Nuova, which can be thought of as structured entirely as a phenomenology of appear ance, the two meanings of the verb are sometimes used in intentional contrast to one another: "Mi parea vedere ne la mia camera una nebula di colore di fuoco, dentro a la quale io discernea una gura d'uno segnore di pauroso aspetto a chi lo guardasse: e pareami con tanta letizia, quanto a se\.." (In my room, it seemed mi pareato me that I could see a cloud of the color of re, and within it I dis cerned the gure of a man of fearful aspect for anyone who should look at him: but as for himself, his apparency pareamiwas of great felicity). With equal irony, Guinizelli distinguishes

Richard Gerstl, Self-portrait.

their awareness of being looked at. This unexpected circumstance violently dis places the ction that is implicit in look ing at such pictures: the ction that the onlooker has crept up upon the actors of the scene without their being aware of it. When the actors show consciousness of being looked at, they force the voyeur to look them in the eyes. For the brevity of the instant in which the sense of surprise remains intact, there's an interchange between these miserable images and the person who is looking at them: an interchange that comes close to an authentic erotic inter rogation. Insolence borders on transpar ency, and their sudden and simultaneous appearance translates into the perfect splendor of a moment. (But in any case no more than a moment: it is clear here that the intentions behind the image do not allow for perfect transparency: the people in the picture know they are being looked at and are being paid to know it.) At the nerve point where the image on the retina becomes true and proper vision, the eye is necessarily blind. It organizes vision around this invisible center, which also means that the entirety of vision is organized in such a way as to prevent one from seeing this blindness. It is as though every nonlatency contained a latency at its very

center, as though every luminosity were the prison for some intimate darkness. Where animals are concerned, this blind spot remains forever hidden to them: the animal is immediately contig uous to what he sees, and can never betray his blindness or draw it into his experience. The animal's awareness van ishes at the very same point at which it awakens: it is nothing but pure voice. (And this is why animals know nothing of appearance. Only human beings have an interest in images as images and understand appearances as appearances.) It's by holding on to this blind spot with all the strength they can muster than human beings accede to the state of con scious subjects. It is as though human beings involve themselves in a desperate attempt to have a look at their own blindness. It results, for human beings, that a kind of delay insinuates itself into every vision; stimulus and response are not quite contiguous, and a memory lies between them. For the very rst time, appearance can separate itself from things, and semblance severs from splendor. But this small drop of dar kness, this delay, refers to something that is; it is being itself. For us alone, things are, in their separateness from our needs and from our immediate relationship with them. They are, simply, marvelously, unreachably.

But what does it mean to talk about seeing a blindness? I want to grasp my own obscurity; I want to grasp what remains inside of me unexpressed and unsaid. But this, once again, is my own non-latency, my not being anything other than uneclipsable face and appear ance. If I could truly see the blind spot of my eye, I would not see anything at all. (These are the shadows where mystics tell us that God abides.) This is why every face contracts into an expression, rigidies into a character, and thereby sinks into itself nally to lose itself there. Character is the grimace the face makes when it realizes that it has nothing to express and desperately attempts to take refuge behind itself in search of its own blindness. But what could in fact be grasped here is only a lack of latency, a pure visibility: only a face. And the vultus isn't something that transcends the face: it is the revelation of the face in all of its nakedness, victory over character: word. And was not language given to us so that we might liberate things from their images, giving appearance to appearance itself, and leading it to glory?

Gunter Damisch
October 1985

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