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Richard Hamilton's Tabular Image

Author(s): William R. Kaizen

Source: October, Vol. 94, The Independent Group (Autumn, 2000), pp. 113-128
Published by: The MIT Press
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RichardHamilton'sTabular Image

in thenineofpoetsto cometo terms
in imageforming.The media,however,
suburbs,are an
inventoryof pop technology. . . a treasuryof orientation,a

-Lawrence Alloway

... theimageshould,therefore,
ofas tabularas well
as pictorial.
-Richard Hamilton
In a letterfrom 1957 writtento architectsand fellowIndependent Group
membersPeterand AlisonSmithson,RichardHamiltonlistedhis definitionof the
popular arts. He wrote, "Pop art is: Popular (designed for a mass audience),
Transient (short-termsolution), Expendable (easily-forgotten),
Low Cost, Mass
Produced, Young (aimed at youth), Witty,Sexy, Gimmicky,Glamorous, Big
business."lHamilton and the Smithsonshad all recentlycontributedto ThisIs
Theo Crosby'smultidisciplinary,
multimediaexhibitionon art as a culTomorrow,
turalprocess,and were thinkingof workingtogetheron a follow-up.Afterhis list,
Hamilton hesitates:"This isjust a beginning.Perhaps the firstpart of our taskis
the analysisof Pop Art and the production of a table. I find I am not yet sure
about the 'sincerity'of Pop Art."Althoughhe capitalized"pop art,"makingit into
a proper noun and so recognizingmass-producedgoods as a properlydefinable
phenomenon, he was stillunconvincedthat these objects were worthyof serious
attention.He hesitated because, although the IG had been examiningpopular
goods forsome time,he wasstillunsureiftheywereno morethanjust passingfads.

Words1953-1982 (London: Thames and Hudson, 1982), p. 28.

OCTOBER 94,Fall 2000,pp. 113-128. ? 2000 October

Magazine,Ltd.and Massachusetts

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Crosbywas then the editorof thejournal Architectural

Digest,where he had
the IG, including
Hamilton. ThisIs Tomorrow,
held in 1956 at London's WhitechapelArtGallery,was
the physicalmanifestationof these writtenexplorationsof pop culture.Crosby
matchedgroupsof architects,designers,and artiststogetherand each group contributedits own section to the largerexhibition.Each was assigneda themebased
on various social and scientificconcepts in order to show how different
formationsintersectand overlapwithinsocietyas a whole. For Crosbyand the IG,
culturewas no longerthe exclusivepropertyof the bourgeoisie,equivalentto high
culturealone. ThisIs Tomorrow's
vision of culturewas expansive.It included the
entire nexus of social connections and communicationby puttingon displaya
generalizedfieldof culturewherehighand low were no longeropposed but parts
of a largersocial continuum.
By the mid-1950sthe IG and Crosbyhad found thatitwas no longerpossible
to dismissmass-producedcommoditiesdesigned for leisure consumptionas so
much kitsch.Thanks to postwarprosperity,
the Britisheconomyhad shifted.With
the improvedstandardof livingand the growthin both leisure time and disposable income,consumerproductsfloodedthe market.Mass-producedentertainment
was everywhereand it became an unavoidable part of everydaylife. Lawrence
Alloway,artcriticand IG member,describedthe timeas "edenic forthe consumer
of popular culture."2Technicalimprovementsin magazinecolor photography,
bigscreen cinema, and the emergenceof new productssuch as long-playingrecords
and televisionhad all recentlybecome available in England,and the IG set out to
carefullyexamine theseobjects.
At the same time,EnglishhistorianRaymondWilliamswas developinga similarly expanded cultural theory.Williams had been looking at the origins of
culturesince the 1940s when he co-foundedthe reviewPoliticsand Letters.3
1780-1950 (publiterarycriticismas its startingpoint,his book Cultureand Society:
lished in 1958)4 theorized the larger historical arc that had led to culture's
equation withthe finearts.He tracedthe shiftsof meaningin the word"culture,"
fromits origin as a tendingof natural growth(firstin agricultureand then in
human, moral development) to its identificationin the nineteenthcenturyas a

LawrenceAlloway,"Popular Cultureand Pop Art,"in PopArt:A CriticalHistory,
ed. StevenHenry
Madoff(Berkeley:Universityof CaliforniaPress, 1997), pp. 167-68. Established culturalauthorities
disparagedthe influenceof mass-producedculture.The Ministryof Culture,England's governmental
artsagency,supportedcraftand small-scaleproductionfollowingthe lead of WilliamMorrisa
before.The fewinstitutionsconcerned withcontemporaryart,such as the Instituteof
Art,upheld the conservativemodernismof HenryMoore.
WithCliffordCollinsand WolfMankowitz.It ran from1946-48.
1780-1950 (New York:Columbia UniversityPress,1983).
RaymondWilliams,Cultureand Society
Williamshad been workingon the book since 1950.

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specialized fieldof activitytied to the bourgeoisie.For Williams,withthe onset of

the IndustrialRevolutionand the rise of the bourgeoisie,culturebecame a set of
specialized activities(e.g., opera, ballet,chambermusic,easel painting),in which
the individualwas set freefromeverydaylife.Culturebecame the finearts,a place
forthe cultivationof the individualsubject.It was privatizedso thatit would exist
overand above the social realmas a place thatcould, byaccessingbeautyor teaching morality,
In his next book, TheLongRevolution
(1961),5 Williamsset out to restore(at
least in part) the pre-bourgeoisnotion of cultureas generalized cultivation.He
expanded the culturalfield,makingit the whole wayof life of a society.The fine
arts became one specificmode of communicationwithinthe largersocial whole.
This undercutthe previousoppositionbetweenhighand low culturethatwas,for
Williams,a reflectionof class divisionimposedbythe bourgeoisie.Culturebecame
the common culture,the variousactivitiesthatcomprisethe social interactionof
all membersof a societywho live in a particulartime and place. Withincommon
culture,art was but one of any number of specialized formsof communication
withits own particularhistoryand use to the largersocial group. This generalization of culture had two major consequences. First, that art was no longer a
rarefiedactivity,somehow more valuable than other typesof social activity,and
consequentlythat other typesof social productionbesides art could and should
be analyzedwiththe same rigorthatwas previouslyreservedforart criticism.In
expanding culture to include any and all forms of human communication,
Williamsmade popular goods acceptable objectsof inquiry.
The IG, with their after-hoursmeetings at the Instituteof Contemporary
Art,had begun to explore these goods. In autumnof 1952, aftertheirfirstyearof
meetingswas almost over,ReynerBanham assumed the convenership."The subject matter,"Hamilton said, "changed overnight,"the focus turningto popular
culturein general and American popular culturein particular.6Inspired by pop
goods thatartistJohnMcHale broughtback froma tripto the United States,their
discussionsranged fromElvis to violence in the cinema to automobile styling.7
Hamilton contributeda lecture on how "whitegoods" (e.g., washingmachines,

(London: Hazell, Watson& Viney,Ltd., 1961). This book
was writtenas a directfollow-upand clarificationof the ideas he proposed in Culture
and Society.
TalkingArt1, ed. AdrianSearle, (London: Instituteof ContemporaryArts,1993) p. 73.
Hamilton describes the IG at this time: "When John McHale visited the U.S. in 1955, he
returnedwitha box full of exotic thingshe had acquired there. He had gone around
magazine and comics of the most extremekind of lots of pop records.Elvis Presleyand Bill Haley's
"RockAround the Clock" were being heard and discussedat the IndependentGroup before
even playedon the radio here [in England]. Theywereanalyzedat the ICA and regardedas a
sociological phenomenon, though therewas an admirationand enjoymentof them.So much thatit directed
our interestsintowhatwas going on in the popular arts,otherthan the cinema" (ibid., 74).

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werepresentedin advertising.Withtheirexaminadishwashers,and refrigerators)

tion of these products,the IG set out to reclaimculture.They had found thatthe
verticalpyramidof bourgeoisculture,withhigh cultureon the top and low on the
bottom,was becoming horizontalized,flattenedout by mass commodification.In
horizontalcultureas in common culture,no one formof culturalproductionwas
inherentlymore valuable than any other.Each productwould have to be judged
on itsown merits,each as potentiallyvaluable as the next in termsof interestor as
a pointof criticalreflection.

For the ThisIs Tomorrow

exhibition catalog, Hamilton created the collage

so appealing?8 Before constructing

Just what is it that makestoday'shomesso different,

the collage, he had programmatically

writtendown all the areas of popular culture thatwould comprise it: "man, woman, humanity,history,food, newspapers,
cinema,TV, telephone,comics (pictureinformation),word (textualinformation),
tape recording (aural information),cars, domestic appliances, space."9 He gave
thislistto his wife,Terry,and to theirfriendMagda Cordell,who spent daysclipping out magazine images thatmatched these categories.Hamilton then made a
selectionfromtheseclippingsand used theseto generatethe finalpicture.
Beneath his list he added, "The image should, therefore,be thoughtof as
tabular as well as pictorial."As much as Justwhatis it... hangs togetheras a picture,it is also a tabulationof horizontalculture.In linkingJustwhatis it... to the
criteria that he had defined for making the collage, Hamilton's tabular image
graphed his preconceivedlistonto a finalrepresentationconsistingof units subsumed by it.Justwhatis it... holds in suspensionboth the image it presentsand
the generativestructureused to build thatimage. It is both a pictureof the modern man and woman at home in the house of tomorrow,surrounded by latest
consumer goods and scientificgadgets and, at the same time, it is the separate
units chosen fromthe mass media and used to create the image. Afterthe list
Hamiltoncontinuedwitha longerstatement:
TV is neitherless nor more legitimatean influencethan,forexample,
is New YorkAbstractExpressionism.The wide range of these preoccupations (eclectic and catholic as theywere) led to a willfulacceptance
of pastiche as a keystoneof the approach-anything which moves the
mind throughthe visual sense is as gristto the mill but the mill must
not grindso smallthatthe ingredientslose theirflavourin the


It was also printedon a posterused to advertisethe exhibit.

p. 24.
Ibid., p. 31.

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Justwhatis itthatmakes
so appealing?
today'shomesso different,

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Hommagea Chrysler
This is the tabular
image, appropriating the
new environment of massproduced imagery,cuttingit
up and then pastiching it
back togetherwithoutcom! i?ii
, ?
pletely subsuming it in the
With the tabular image,
Hamilton created a taxonomy of horizontal culture.
Rather than build a classical
w ww'-M,7-,
. : ::ii--ic-'-'-7
subsumedbya top-to-bottom
hierarchical order, he
common culture
across the surfaceof the picture, tabulating together
various bits and pieces of
pop imagery. Because the
separate units ofJustwhatis
it... were filteredthrougha
calculated process of selection, it is as if Hamiltonhad
polled the media and
graphed the results.He creates a nonlinear taxonomic
chart of pop culture, a systematic image that can be
and in toto. Each separate unit both maintainsits exisread both point-by-point
tence as individualdatumand becomes a partof the overallfieldthatis the sum
totalof all the data.
AfterJustwhatis it..., Hamiltonreturnedto painting,adapting his collage
tabulationand continuinghis examinationof the effectsof consumercultureon
He createdpaintedcollages thatdepict the resultsof masscultureon
the horizontal subject. His subject,literallythe figurein his paintings,was the
productof commodification.In the horizontalculturethatHamiltonand the IG
defined, advertisingand leisure goods were quickly coming to dominate the
archiveof formsthroughwhichthe subjectenteredsociety.FollowingWilliams,to
become a memberof societyis to be acculturated,the subject enteringsociety
throughthe adoption of variousformsof cultureone is born into.Since the war,
the culturalarchive had been overrunby commodification.Hamilton's tabular
paintingspresentedthe processof acculturationas mass-acculturation,



i !iiiiii


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$he. 1958-61.

the subject as the site on

which mass culture was
In his first painted
tabular work, Hommage a
Chrysler Corp. (1958), car
parts- a bumper,a headlight,
a tail-fin-are fragmented,
decomposed and hybridized,
dissolved into lines and
washes of chrome, red, and
sooty black. The vaguest outline of a salesgirl stands
behind the car parts,onlyher
lips and one breastvisible,the
. . .. .
breast a mechanical drawing
of the support structureof a
bullet bra. Surroundingboth
woman and car are a variety
of painterlymarks dispersed
across the ground,suggesting
an interior,but one thatnever
meshesinto a properarchitectural space: a block of color
hints at a wall, horizontals
lines hint at floor boards.
Different painterly marks,
each made in a separatetechnique (wash,drybrush,a solid
painted black bar,a small red cross,hatchmarks),floatin the background.Some
of these marksworkto providespatial cues; others referencenothingbut their
own existence.Together,withthe scraps of figureand car, theyput on displaya
range of plasticstyles.Much of the paintingis leftwhiteas ifeitherunfinishedor
as if these pieces were collaged onto paper. Each separateelementof Hamilton's
image is distinctlyvisible,scatteredaround the fieldof the painting.While they
existtogetheron the plain of the paintedsurface,each retainsitsindividualidentityas muchas itmakesup the totalimage.
In creatingthe tabularimage,Hamiltonhoped to upend the long-standing
traditionin Westernartthat"a paintingis to be experiencedas a totalityseen and
... consists
understoodall at once beforeitscomponentsare examined."llHommage




Ibid., p. 104.

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of separatemarksor images,each presentedside byside, one nextto the other,on

the canvas.The finalimage neverquite comes together.LikeJustwhatis it... , the
total image has a clear overallreference(automobile advertisingin thiscase), but

unlike Just what is it ...,

Hommage ...

does not cohere in perspectival space.

... maintainsa surfaceheterogeneitythatpresentsits lack-its construction as image-openly. The separate units need to be read and understoodboth
as individualunits and as over-allimage. With Hommage... Hamilton wantsthe
image to be "scanned like a poem or a comic book"12ratherthan read all at once
in its entirety.Like a comic book, each frame,or in the case of the tabularpainting, each separate unit, existsboth for itselfand for the overall meaning of the
In $he (1958-61), his next tabular painting,Hamilton takes advertisements
forkitchenappliances as the basis of his image. He depicts a woman in a kitchen,
into a
caught in a web of labor-savingdevices,the domesticinteriortransformed
a vacgrotesquerie.Her refrigerator
uum cleaner. Her body is in fragments;her hips and ass rise fromthe canvas in
into a toiletseat. Her one eye is a plastictoythatwinks
on and off,a mechanical come-on to viewersas theywalkpast. $heis a pasticheof
biggerand betterappliances,the subjectlost in a void of appliances thatoverflow
theiruse. $he existsas the product of consumeridentity,a Frankensteinianconstructbuiltfromlabor-savingdevices,the branded subjectof consumeridentity.
In "An Exposition of $he," Hamilton elaborated his source material.13He
described each tabularunit comprisingthe paintingnext to reproductionsof the
original advertisementshe used to create the finalimage. As in his essayin the
ThisIs Tomorrow
catalog,he seems to describe the tabularimage itself:
The ad forthe Westinghousevacuum cleaner demonstratesan endearing characteristicof modern visual techniques which I have been at
pains to exploit-the overlappingof presentationstylesand methods.
Photographybecomes diagram, diagram flowsinto text. This casual
adhesion of disparateconventionshas alwaysbeen a factorin mypainting. I want ideas to be explicit and separable, so the plastic entities
mustretain theiridentityas tokens.The elementshold theirintegrity
because theyare voiced in differentplastic dialects with the unified
whole. 14

These plastic dialects are the formalmethods throughwhichHamilton presents

each separate element. Like the various techniques employed in the ads,

Ibid. Hamiltonis describingthe workof Paul Klee, whose workhe cites,along with
LargeGlass,as predecessorsof the tabularimage.
Ibid., pp. 35-38.
Ibid., p. 38.

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Hamilton uses a varietyof painterlytechniquesto separatelydefine each tabular

unit. Each element stands on its own, the units comprisinghis overall subject,
This two-levelsplitin Hamilton's tabular image points towardthe divide in
consumercultureat the institutionaland the individuallevels.At the institutional
level,consumerculturetendstowardhomogenization.It createslarge numbersof
identical productsthat it marketsto the largestpossible numberof people. This
reduces the subjectto pure consumer.But at the microlevel,the level of the individual subject, this systembreaks down. The subject's desire constantlytries to
escape the homogenizingpull of mass culture. Hamilton's two-leveltabulation
shows this split, his subjects comprised of various points drawn fromthe mass
archive.His tabularsubjectis the productof consumerculture,constructedfrom
the vast arrayof consumergoods that compete forattentionin the mass-market
place, fragmentedbyand composed of the formsofmass commodification.
Hamilton's tabular image depends on thissubject,and his individualunits
alwayscome togetherthroughfiguration."Althoughsome of mypre-Poppictures
mayseem to the casual observerto be 'abstract,"'he has said, "I believeit is trueto
saythatI have nevermade a paintingwhichdoes not showan intenseawarenessof
the human figure."'15
But he createsthisfigurefromobjects of mass production,
constructingthem from consumer images and things. Unlike the advertised
image,whichpresentsa unifiedsubject,the fantasysubjectof happycommodification, Hamilton reveals the subject as the object of commodification.If capital
makes all thingsequivalentby reducingtheirstatusto goods in the marketplace,
Hamilton'sfigurepresentsthe subjectas the productof thislevelingout. His figure is no longer the singular,unifiedsubject. The various pieces thatcompriseit
jostle togetherand driftapart across the painting'ssurface.Though theymaybe
contiguous,theynevercome togetheras a unifiedwhole. They are the tabulation
of consumerculture.

Over the next ten years,Hamilton pursued the tabular image throughseveral series of paintings,each centeredon a different
theme:fashion(both men's
and women's), architecture,cinema, and, in the series SwingeingLondon,the
news.16In 1967 Hamilton'sart dealer,RobertFraser,was arrestedalong withtwo
of the Rolling Stones for drug possession. Because rock stars were involved,the
trialwas extremelypublic and the tabloidshad a fieldday.The bustwas reported

Ibid., p. 269. Even in laterworkwherehe explores the environmentand landscape it is alwaysin
relationshipto the figure.
London67, the entire series consistsof several
AlthoughI will onlydiscuss the printSwingeing
printsand a painting.

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fordays.Fraser'sgalleryhired a press agencyto collect any and all reportsof the

trial. Hamilton took the clippingsand turned them into a collage of headlines,
body copy,and photographs.Among the clippings,he distributedvarious images
relatedto the trial (the coverof an incense packet,the gallery'sletterhead,a Mars
Bar wrapper'7)all of whichwere accented withsmallspots of watercolor.Asked to
create an edition for Italian printmakersED 912, Hamilton turned the collage
into a poster.18He punninglyentitledit Swingeing
London67,19a combinationof
thejudge's swingeingsentence and the newlycoined phrase "SwingingLondon"
whichhad firstappeared in 1966 in the Britishmagazine Time.20
In Swingeing
London67, Hamilton tabulatesthe wayin whichan account of
an eventis necessarilyinfluencedby the observer'sparticulardispositiontoward
it. Byplayingone reportof the trialagainstthe next,he presentsslightlydifferent
truths.Truthis revealedas a constellationof multipletruths.Each reportstakesa
claim to facticity,
to the existenceof a particulareventthathappened in a particular wayin a givenplace at a giventime,but each is different.
Hamiltonchose his clippingsverycarefully,
focusingon articlesthatdescribe
the colors of the defendant'sclothes and the colors of the various pieces of evidence. He selected color as the basis of his tabulationbecause its descriptionis
alwaysimperfect.It is a factualphenomenon that breaks down at the subjective
level. While it is possible to analyze any given hue spectroscopically,
the human
alwaysarbitrary. example,
reportsof the
color of the defendant's clothes are all in the same general range-browns,
greens,blues-but each has a differentway of describingany particularbrown,
green,or blue. Hamiltonreinforcesthisbyadding washesof the colors described
in the textas spots of pigmentscatteredthroughoutthe print,settingthe color's
If, in his earlier work,Hamilton revealed the constructionof subjectivity
through his manipulation of the images of horizontal culture, here he goes
deeper, pointingtowardthe emergence of horizontalizationwithinthe subject's
veryinception, where subjectivityitselfemerges as a constructionof the mass
media. Through his added spots of color,Hamiltonuses the actual,physicalpres-

One of the mostnotoriouslypublicized (and neverproven) partsof the trialwas the
thatJaggerand hisgirlfriend
were havingsex witha candybar whenthe police bustoccurred.
Again echoing the reproductionofJustwhatis it... as both a posteradvertisingThisIs Tomorrow
and in the exhibitioncatalog.
Released in 1968.
A swingeingmeans,in Britishslang,a harsh punishmentor
stingingrebuke.The edition was of
2,000. Though not huge by commercialstandards,thisis quite large fora fine-artprint. Hamilton's
largestprevious run had been 125. Except for the poster inserthe designed for the Beatles's White
Albumin 1968, whichwas printedin an edition of approximatelyfivemillion,his editions
150 or less.

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~ ~



-- -------









c vat


w vy:
vA 7/7'

Hamilton.SwingeingLondon. March1968. TheMuseumof

(Photo? 2000 TheMuseumofModernArt,NewYork)

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ence of the colors against the descriptions around them. These added colors
become the real-worldpoint that the reportsmisrepresent,and, through mass
disseminationin the tabloids, these misrepresentations
become partof the common culture. They enter into the larger social sphere, becoming part of the
cultural archive that formssubjectiveidentity.In Swingeing
is shownto be foundedon misrepresentation.
67 tabulatesthe lack
at the center of the consumersystem,the inabilityof mass formsto account for
In his description of AndyWarhol's AmbulanceDisaster(1963), Hal Foster
describesthislack as a missedencounterwiththe real: "thesepops, such as a slipping of registeror a washingin color, serve as visual equivalents of our missed
encounters with the real .

. Through these pokes or pops we seem almost to

touch the real."21 Hamilton's SwingeingLondon 67 also presents this missed

encounterwiththe real. The sum total of the differentdescriptionsof the trial
circle around each and around the actual spots of color,but theyneverquite get
to the actual event. Even the washes of color that Hamilton puts next to the
descriptions,playingthe literalagainst the descriptiveaccounts, are mechanical
reproductionsof the color he placed on the original collage. Hamilton's real is
missedbecause it points towardthe lack in the system'sabilityto processinformation thatisn'tmass-mediated.
Fostercalls thislack "traumaticrealism."The
Referringto Ambulance
paintingfeaturestwo images,one over the other,of a crashed ambulance witha
dead woman hangingfromthe wreckage.In the bottomimage, the woman's face
is obscured by a large blotch,an imperfection(purposefulor not) thatoccurred
in Warhol'ssilk-screening
process. FollowingJacques Lacan, Fosterdescribesthis
" (in French a hole, gap, or deficitbut also a pun on the
blotch as a tear or a "trou
English "true") that leaps out at him, a lack in the technicalprocess of the silkscreen reproductionof the originalimage. It is in thisdelinquencyof technique,
Fostersays,"especiallythroughthe 'floatingflashes'of the silkscreenprocess,the
slipping and streaking,blanching and blanking,repeating and coloring of the
images"thatthe traumaofWarhol'simage can be located.22
Withboth the repetitionof the image and the breakdownin the mechanical
process of reproduction,Fosteris touched by the real that lies behind Warhol's
image. For Foster,thislack is the punctumthatlocates the traumaof the image,
more so than the horribleimage of the crashor Warhol'srepetitionof thatimage.
The trouis the gap between the two, between the horrorof the crash and the
banalityof its repetition.It is the deficiencythat points back towardthe system


Ibid., p. 136.
Hal Foster,TheReturnoftheReal (Cambridge:MIT Press,1996), p. 134.

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that generates truththrough mass mediation. Like Hamilton's spots of color,

Warhol's trousignalsthatthe real is alwaysmissedin any account of an event,but
particularlyin the representationsof the mass media. In horizontalculture,truth
only exists as the homogeneous surface floating on top of the mass-cultural
archive.The troupointsback to the real, to desirethatis unmediatedbyconsumption,to a pointbehind the systemof massproduction.
London67 is the image of tabulation itself.Hamilton presentsa
metatabulationof the systemsof horizontalculture.He uses the newspaper,the
point at whichfactualinformationentersinto largerculturalcirculation,to point
towardthe general wayin whichmass productionformsthe subject. In replaying
the trialover and over,each account circlesaround the real. Through the repetition and reconstructionof mass-produced information(the news), Hamilton
demonstratesthe gap between the thing/eventas object and its subjectiverepresentation within the spectacle. Though the final image may generate a single
overallmeaning,its partsfallapart. In each instance,using the fieldof mass production in whichsamenessis inherent,Swingeing
London67 demonstratesthe ways
thisfieldbreaksdown. Hamiltonuses the tabularimage to show thatat the heart
of this systemof commodificationlies a fundamentallack-the human subject's
inabilityto access anydesirebeyondthatof the marketplace.
If,as Fostersaysof Warhol'straumaticrealism,the subjectis touched by the
real, Hamilton's tabular image also proposes that the real touches the subject.
Hamilton's trouis a tear in the meaning of the image, the central lack around
which the image is constructed,but it is also the point at whichmeaning is constructedupon the real. It is the screen of culturewheresubject and object meet.
Lacan, in his seminarsof 1964 gatheredtogetheras TheFourFundamental
theorized the screen as the place where individual subjectivity
and the gaze of the object merge.
In the fourthseminar,"Tuche and theAutomaton,"Lacan recountsthe story
of Freud's grandsonplayingwitha wooden spool attached to a lengthof cotton.
The child, his motherhavingleftthe room, takes the spool in hand and tossesit
away,yelling,'fort!"("gone!"). Witha tug,he reelsit back in, "da!" ("here!"). Again
and again, the child playsthisgame, back and forth,in the symbolicrepetitionof
his mother'sabsence. For Lacan, thisis the verymomentwhen the child becomes
fromcryinto speech. The need for
possessed bydesire,when need is transformed
the motheris representedby the reel of string,an extensionof the child into the
world.Like language,the reel is a pulse thatextendsthen returnsto the sender.23
For Lacan the child's fort-dagame is the verypulse of symbolization,the
game of speech in whichthe speaker reaches forevertowardthe Other.The turn


Even ifthereis no reply,forLacan, everyact of speech impliesa return.

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of the reel is used by the child to enact language forthe firsttime. It is the foundational trauma of the mother'sabsence, the tuchiof loss thatpushes the child
into symbolizationand into social life.
The fort-da
game, as the instantiationof language, also marksthe formation
of subjectivity
withinthe child's unconscious.As the child plays,the reel symbolizes the divisionbetweensubjectand object. The alternationbetweenthere (fort!)
and here (da!), comes to define the pulse of the child's subjectivity
as it reaches
out withlanguage and is in turnaffectedbythe language of others.The reel is the
locus of the signifier,
the object thatcomes to definethe subject.In so doing it is
the thingthatforeverlinksthe subjectto the objects of the outsideworld.Coming
between subject and object, unfurledby the subject but presupposingthe existence of the object, the reel is Lacan's object
petita, the thingwhichis both selfand
other,the thingin whichthe twobecome intertwined.
Lacan asks, "Where do we meet this real?"24If the real is what eludes us,
whatexistsbeyond (or before) signification,
past wordsand the possibilityof conscious knowledge,where can it be found?In severalof the seminarsthatfollow,25
Lacan identifiesvision as one possible place where we are touched by the real.

With these seminars, his goal is to ".. . grasp how the tuchiis represented in visual

apprehension."26Lacan tellsthe famousstoryof the sardine can. When he was a

youngman,workingon a fishingboat, a sardinecan was floatingout on thewaves,
glinting,caughtin the sunlight."You see thatcan?" one of his companionson the
boat saysto him, "Do you see it? Well, it doesn't see you!"27But Lacan couldn't
shake the feelingthatit did indeed see him. "It was looking at me at the level of
the point of light,"he realized,"the point at whicheverything
thatlooks at me is
situated-and I am not speaking metaphorically."28
as he looked
out into the world,as his gaze reeled out towardthe can, the lightof the world
stabbed back into his eyes,a tuchipiercinghis retina.The can's gaze touchedback
as itwas touched byLacan's eyes.
It is thisreturnof the look thatLacan named "the gaze." As the subjectlooks
out at the world, the world looks back, much like the child enacting language
throughthefort-dagame. Vision is forevercaughtbetweensubjectand object on
the screen, "the locus of mediation"29between themwhere each sees the other.
The screen is the place wherethe reel comes to rest,the midpointof its pulsation

TheSeminarof acquesLacan, BookXI,

24. Jacques Lacan, FourFundamental
ed. Jacques-AlainMiller,trans.Alan Sheridan (NewYork:W. W. Nortonand Company,1978), p. 53.
All grouped under the heading "Of the Gaze as Objet Petita."
Ibid., p. 77.
Ibid., p. 95.
Ibid., p. 107.

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fromhere to there.On the screen,the subjectis formedfromthe object and vice

versa. "This is the functionthatis foundat the heartof the institutionof the subject in the visible,"Lacan writes."What determinesme, at the most profound
level, in the visible,is the gaze thatis outside. It is throughthe gaze thatI enter
And it is on the screen that
lightand it is fromthe gaze thatI receiveitseffects."30
the subject'slook and the object'sgazejoin.
Echoing Williams'scommon culture,Fosterdescribesthe screen as "the culturalreserveof whicheach image is one instance."31For Foster,the screen is the
archiveof culture,and thisis the culturalreservethatHamiltonaccesses withthe
tabular image. Hamilton's subject is forevercaught up in the screen of culture,
whichfor the postwarsubject means the screen of commodification.His tabular
image reveals that vision is screened throughthe culture of capital. Hamilton's
subjectis the figurethatcreatesand is createdbythiscommodification.
He linksitto capital's
FdlixGuattaripositionsLacan's psychoanalysis
domination of the twentieth-century
that the subject
subject by pointing
Lacan describesis screened throughthe representationsof capital: "Whatin fact
does Lacan say? He says that ... desire can exists only insofar as it is represented ...

I thinkthatLacan is completelyrightin termsof the unconsciousof the capitalist

social field... ."2 Lacan's screen is the place where the subject'sdesire and the
desire of capital meet. The subject's desire, the same horizontal subject that
Hamilton portrayswiththe tabularimage,is formedthroughdesire's commodification.
This is the figure, Hamilton's tabular figure, that Lacan described as
graphed throughpicturing,or,betterstill,graphedbylight:
I must, to begin with,insiston the following:in the scopic field,the
gaze is outside,I am looked at, thatis to say,I am a picture.This is the
function that is found at the heart of the visible. What determines
me, at the most profoundlevel, in the visible,is the gaze that is outside. It is throughthe gaze thatI enterlightand it is fromthe gaze that
I receive its effects.Hence it comes about that the gaze is the instrument throughwhichlightis embodied and throughwhich-if you will
allow me to use a word, as I often do, in a fragmentedform-I am
This is how Hamilton's tabular image functions-as the photo-graphicscreen
wherethe look of the subjectand the gaze of the object are foundedon the desire


Ibid., p. 106.
Foster,TheReturnoftheReal,p. 140.
ed. SylvireLotringer(NewYork:Semiotext[e],1996), p. 18.
Lacan, FourFundamental
p. 106.

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of the commodity.Whatis traumaticin the tabularimage is not the returnof the

real per se, a real that can never returnbecause it was both never there and is
alwaysthere (as lack,as the hole in the centerof the system).Rather,it is the turn
of the reel, where subject and object come to rest on the screen of horizontal
culture,thatlocates the traumaof the tabularimage. This is the trouof the tabular subject, the truth that, by the mid 1950s, meaning was caught in the
never-endingrepetitionof commodification.With the turnof the reel, the real
returnsas unfulfilleddesire.

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