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The Useless Image: Bataille, Bergson, Magritte Author(s): Suzanne Guerlac Source: Representations, Vol. 97, No. 1 (Winter06/2015 04:51 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at . http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp . JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, re searchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org. . University of California Press is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Representations. http://www.jstor.org " id="pdf-obj-0-34" src="pdf-obj-0-34.jpg">

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SUZANNE GUERLAC

The Useless Image:

Bataille, Bergson, Magritte

T he L ascaux cave , known as the Sistine Chapel of prehistoric art because of its stunning wall paintings, was discovered, quite fortuitously, in 1940. Opened to the public in 1948, it became the site of serious archae- ological study only in the early 1950s, with work carried out by l’Abbé Breuil, the most celebrated French paleontologist of the time. In 1952 Breuil published his monumental Quatre Cent Ans d’art pariétal, in which he devel- oped his thesis concerning the magical power of prehistoric cave paintings, powers he explained in terms of primitive hunting rituals. Three years later Georges Bataille published Lascaux ou la naissance de l’art, in which he shifted Breuil’s interpretation toward a notion of religious transgression. Bataille frequented the surrealist milieu of André Breton until 1929 when he broke with Breton, violently, and became editor of Documents, a countersurrealist review devoted to questions of avant-garde art and ethno- graphy that he published from 1929 to 1931. In 1937 he helped found the Collège de Sociologie (along with Michel Leiris, Roger Caillois, and others), a project informed by Emile Durkheim’s sociology of religion and the ethnographic work of Marcel Mauss. Bataille remained fascinated by relations between art and the experience of the sacred, eventually theorizing what he called the transgression of eroticism as an intimate relation between interdiction and transgression in a study influenced by Caillois’s L’Homme et le sacré and, to a lesser degree, inspired by the work of Rudolf Otto. By the 1960s, l’Abbé Breuil’s thematic treatment of cave art had been superceded by the structuralist approach of André Leroi-Gourhan, who read Paleolithic art in terms of binary structures of signification. With the rise of poststructuralism, however, in the course of the same decade, Bataille’s notion of transgression became an important philosopheme in France in the context of Tel Quel ’s avant-garde theoretical program. Michel Foucault appealed to it as a post-Hegelian substitute for the dialectic; Jacques Derrida wrote an important essay on the subject; and transgression played a crucial role in Julia Kristeva’s

ABSTRACT This paper explores Bataille’s writings on primitive art, specifically his essay on the Lascaux cave, in order to elaborate a notion not of the informe (as contemporary art critics have done), but of the fictive figural image. It reads this “useless image”—a term borrowed from Bataille—in the work of Magritte through Bergson’s notion of resemblance and the operation of attentive recognition. / R EPRESENTA TIONS 97. Winter 2007 © 2007 The Regents of the University of California. ISSN 0734–6018, electronic ISSN 1533–855X, pages 28–56. All rights reserved. Direct requests for permission to photocopy or reproduce article content

FIGURE 1. Black b <a href=ull, Lascaux. Reprinted from Georges Bataille , Lascaux; or, The Birth of Art (Lausanne, 1955). analysis of avant-garde language practices in The Revolution of Poetic Language and in her elaboration of the concept of the abject . Together with Derrida’s grammatological term différance , transgression provided one of the major theoretical underpinnings for the notions of text and writing central to poststructuralist theory and its challenge to representation. This is why, even in our post-poststructuralist era, it remains a bit shocking to hear Bataille speak of a “sacred moment of figuration” in Lascaux (fig. 1). He not only marvels at the miraculous seductive power of the cave’s animal paintings but also attributes a specifically transgressive force to these figurative images, contrasting them with the grotesque depictions of human beings that he labels informe (fig. 2). Since the 1980s, Rosalind Krauss has transposed the theoretical terms “writing” and “text” into art-critical discourse in the American context. In 1996, together with Yve-Alain Bois, she curated an important exhibit at the Centre Pompidou, L’informe: mode d’emploi , that revived (and displaced) Bataille’s notion of the informe , elaborating it as an important art-critical term. Whereas in their exhibition catalogue (published in English as Formless: A The Useless Image: Bataille, Bergson, Magritte " id="pdf-obj-2-2" src="pdf-obj-2-2.jpg">

FIGURE 1. Black bull, Lascaux. Reprinted from Georges Bataille, Lascaux; or, The Birth of Art (Lausanne, 1955).

analysis of avant-garde language practices in The Revolution of Poetic Language and in her elaboration of the concept of the abject. 1 Together with Derrida’s grammatological term différance, transgression provided one of the major theoretical underpinnings for the notions of text and writing central to poststructuralist theory and its challenge to representation. This is why, even in our post-poststructuralist era, it remains a bit shocking to hear Bataille speak of a “sacred moment of figuration” in Lascaux (fig. 1). 2 He not only marvels at the miraculous seductive power of the cave’s animal paintings but also attributes a specifically transgressive force to these figurative images, contrasting them with the grotesque depictions of human beings that he labels informe (fig. 2). 3 Since the 1980s, Rosalind Krauss has transposed the theoretical terms “writing” and “text” into art-critical discourse in the American context. In 1996, together with Yve-Alain Bois, she curated an important exhibit at the Centre Pompidou, L’informe: mode d’emploi, that revived (and displaced) Bataille’s notion of the informe, elaborating it as an important art-critical term. 4 Whereas in their exhibition catalogue (published in English as Formless: A

FIGURE 2. Ven <a href=us of Tursac (Dordogne). Reprinted from Grand, Pau le-Marie, Preh i stor i c A rt: P a l eo li t hi c P a i nt i ng an d S cu l pture (G reenw i c h , Conn., 1967). User’s Guide ) Krauss and Bois refer the informe back to Bataille and to his discussion of primitive art, they consistently steer clear of the Lascaux cave. In Lascaux ou la naissance de l’art , Bataille puzzles over what he takes to be a certain lack of interest in the prehistoric cave on the part of specialists. Is it, he asks, pudeur that inhibits a return to this “place of our birth”—a fear of regression, perhaps? We might ask the same question in a different register concerning the reluctance of contemporary critics to address Bataille’s text on Lascaux. Might there not be some anxiety about theoretical regression, given that Bataille insists here on the magic of figural images? To the extent that the exhibit L’informe: mode d’emploi , and the lively critical discussion that surrounded it, marked a strategic critical intervention in the field of modern art criticism, we could say that crucial issues of contemporary aesthetics—issues that concern the limits of modernism, the status of surrealism within the modern canon and the status of fictive figural images—can be meaningfully staged in relation to prehistoric sites, specifically the caves of Lascaux and, as we shall see, Gargas. R EPRESENTATIONS " id="pdf-obj-3-2" src="pdf-obj-3-2.jpg">

FIGURE 2. Venus of Tursac (Dordogne). Reprinted from Grand, Paule-Marie, Prehistoric Art: Paleolithic Painting and Sculpture (Greenwich, Conn., 1967).

User’s Guide) Krauss and Bois refer the informe back to Bataille and to his discussion of primitive art, they consistently steer clear of the Lascaux cave. 5 In Lascaux ou la naissance de l’art, Bataille puzzles over what he takes to be a certain lack of interest in the prehistoric cave on the part of specialists. Is it, he asks, pudeur that inhibits a return to this “place of our birth”—a fear of regression, perhaps? 6 We might ask the same question in a different register concerning the reluctance of contemporary critics to address Bataille’s text on Lascaux. Might there not be some anxiety about theoretical regression, given that Bataille insists here on the magic of figural images? To the extent that the exhibit L’informe: mode d’emploi, and the lively critical discussion that surrounded it, marked a strategic critical intervention in the field of modern art criticism, we could say that crucial issues of contemporary aesthetics—issues that concern the limits of modernism, the status of surrealism within the modern canon and the status of fictive figural images—can be meaningfully staged in relation to prehistoric sites, specifically the caves of Lascaux and, as we shall see, Gargas.

I

The “theoretical unity” of modernism, affirms Yve-Alain Bois, has been “constituted through an opposition of formalism and iconology.” 7 It was ostensibly to undercut pat oppositions of this kind that Rosalind Krauss and Yve-Alain Bois elaborated the term informe. The Pompidou exhibition, and the critical term that oriented it, were part of a strategy of “redealing modernism’s cards” (“To Introduce,” 29). Informe implied a delicate critical intervention, one that “brushes modernism against the grain,” but without “countering modernism’s formal certainties by means of more reassuring and naive ones of meaning” (“To Introduce,” 25), that is, without falling back into iconology or figuration. The task of the informe, then, was not only to undermine the excessive formalism of a certain modernism (the “modernist fetishization of sight” associated with Clement Greenberg) but also to stave off a postmodern impulse that would, in Bois’s words, “bury modernism” and “conduct a manic mourning of it” (“To Introduce,” 29). 8 The task of reframing modernism has been ongoing for decades, and the theorization of the informe was just the latest move in the service of this project. Tools borrowed from the French theoretical context—semiological and grammatological tools—had been turned successfully against modernist formalism. But now, faced with a challenge from another quarter—from postmodernism—it became necessary to disarm the other term of the opposition, iconology, whose immanent return postmodernism threatened. To this end Krauss and Bois turned to Julia Kristeva’s theory of the abject and displaced it in the discourse of the informe. Through a structural interpretation of the base materialism of the early Bataille, which Kristeva articulated with the psychoanalytic concept of primary repression, the French theorist had invented a category of the abject that seemed to slip past ready-made oppositions (such as between the imaginary and the symbolic) and even to suggest a way into the difficult Lacanian territory of the real. In the notion of the informe Krauss and Bois found a way to think “the concept of the abject ‘operationally’—independently of a thematics of trauma, of mourning, of melancholy—i.e., independent of attachment to a subject, and to meaning” (“To Introduce,” 25). The informe, in other words, would do the work of the abject in the visual field without falling into iconology. This is what is at stake when Yve-Alain Bois insists that the informe is an operation, not a theme, and explicates this operation with reference to Bataille’s discussion of alteration in an essay on primitive art published in 1930, a book review of G.-H. Luquet’s L’Art primitif. 9 Bataille turned to Luquet for an explanation of the puzzling contrast between the two kinds of primitive art already mentioned—the painted “well-formed images” that resemble animals, on the one hand; and the

The Useless Image: Bataille, Bergson, Magritte

31

deformed, abstract, sculptural renderings of human beings on the other. 10 What is the difference in meaning between these two distinct kinds of art, he asked? If primitive artists could paint animals so convincingly (indeed Norbert Aujoulat admires the “uncommon mastery of motion and perspective” of Lascaux’s cave paintings, as well as their precision of detail) why did they not produce comparable images of themselves? 11 In order to account for certain aberrant features of primitive art, Luquet had introduced a distinction between “visual realism” and “intellectual realism.” 12 The former is mimetic, whereas the latter presents things as we know them to be, not as they appear to us (a profile rendering of a person with two ears would be an example of intellectual realism). Luquet associates intellectual realism with children’s drawings and suggests that primitive humans, like children, pass through this phase before advancing to visual realism. Not only does Bataille object to the comparison of primitives to children, he finds Luquet’s theory inadequate to the question that concerns him, namely, why there would have been such a great difference in the caves between the visual treatment of animals on the one hand and of humans on the other. Bataille proposes another approach, one he derives from observations Luquet had made concerning the origin of figuration in the graffitilike drawing activity of children who love to dip their fingers in mud or paint and run them along a wall, taking a kind of instinctual pleasure in marking things up and destroying the surfaces around them. Bataille suggests that the deformation of the human form in the abstract anthropoid figures (the ones he calls informe) could be attributed to an operation of alteration, characterized as an innate instinctual desire to deface or deform materials, surfaces, or objects. This process involves the following steps: First, random scribbling or tears attack a given surface or support in a kind of instinctual gesture. Second, a virtual object is discerned through imaginative projection into these random markings. Finally, in a third dialectical moment, this virtual figure is altered, or defaced, in turn. It is in reference to this sequence that Krauss will write: “Informe denotes what alteration produces.” 13 And it is on this basis that Krauss and Bois will define the informe as an operation that yields “the disintegration rather than the creation of form.” 14 But they move too quickly when they reduce alteration to this operation and proceed to identify it with transgression. For, on Bataille’s account, alteration also includes a second moment. Speaking of alteration, Bataille continues,

Another outcome is possible for the figured representation from the moment that the

imagination substitutes a new object for the support that has been destroyed

. . .

it is

possible, through repetition, to subject it to a progressive appropriation in relation to the represented original. In this way one passes, quite rapidly, from an approximate

  • 32 R EPRESENTATIONS

figure to the more and more well-formed image [l’image de plus en plus conforme] of an animal, for example. 15

In other words, there is a second operation of alteration that runs parallel to the first and produces a dialectically opposite result: a figural image. On this version, a first moment performs the defacement or deformation of a surface as before and a second moment, as before, yields a virtual image that is projected into these markings. But an important shift occurs in the third moment. When the virtual image is discerned it is not, in turn,

prevented from coming to appearance, defaced or rendered informe. It is rendered de plus en plus conforme; it is brought into form and actualized as a figural image. Thus, according to Bataille’s theory, the operation that renders a virtual image informe is simply an alternative practice to the one that actualizes it as a figure. Both are operations of alteration and both place us, as we shall see, outside the realist framework of representation. Indeed, in a less theoretical way, Luquet had proposed this second version of what Bataille will call alteration as an explanation of the figurative images of primitive art. He had explained that in the caves, “artistic creation did not initially consist in the execution of a complete figure on a blank

surface, but was limited at first to an operation

. . .

of intentionally complet-

ing a resemblance that had been remarked and judged to be imperfect” in images that were already there, and that sometimes were merely suggested by “natural accidents” such as the contours of a cave wall. 16 Modern theorists of the informe do not mention this figural version of

alteration, or this feature of Bataille’s analysis of primitive art.

17

As we shall

see, however, it is indispensable to the link Bataille makes between primitive art and transgression in his essay on Lascaux, an association already signaled in “L’Art primitif” when, in a note, Bataille links the operation of alteration to the sacred with reference to Rudolf Otto’s theory of the tout autre [the absolutely other]. 18 As we have seen, Bataille turns to the concept of alteration to understand the difference between the two types of prehistoric art, the paintings of animals, on the one hand, and the grotesque anthropoid artifacts on the other. He wants to account for the difference between them in anthropological terms, to determine the difference in meaning that might have attached to the two types of production in order to arrive at a general theory of primitive art. He is able to do so thanks precisely to his conception of alteration as a dual operation, recognizing that a change of meaning attaches to the alternative paths of alteration and to the two types of art he associates with them. 19 He is not yet able to say what this change of meaning is and he will not in fact do so until the essay on Lascaux (1955), which proposes “psychological motives” for it. Indeed, a careful reading of this essay reveals that the dual operation of alteration presented earlier

The Useless Image: Bataille, Bergson, Magritte

33

(informe/conforme) corresponds with the dual operation of the sacred that requires interplay between interdiction and transgression. Bataille does not explicitly theorize the notion of transgression until L’Erotisme (1957), published two years after “Lascaux.” However, an earlier version of this study, “L’Histoire de l’érotisme” (whose composition coin- cides with that of the essay on Lascaux) presents an account of the dual operation transgression/interdiction that parallels the story Bataille tells about the birth of art in “Lascaux ou la naissance de l’art.” 20 In “L’Histoire de l’érotisme,” we find interdiction/transgression written into a narrative that concerns the origins and ends of history. In his famous public lectures (which Bataille attended) Alexandre Kojève had interpreted G. W. F. Hegel to say that history is the dialectical development of the self-creation of man, a development he presented as a negation of the givens of nature. “L’Histoire de l’érotisme” presents an eminently dialectical account of the relationship between interdiction and transgression that follows the lines of Kojève’s narrative of history, which goes like this: (1) history is founded as the negation of nature; this is the moment of interdiction that frames the experience of culture. (2) This cultural world, which now coincides with the horizon of the given, impinges on the autonomy of the subject. (3) The subject revolts against this limitation in a gesture of transgression that negates this new horizon of culture. Transgression, as a negation of interdiction, marks a dialectical return to the initial horizon of nature—only this time in a mode of desire. This is the “double movement of negation and return” that Bataille also calls the “reversal of alliances” in his discussion of the sacred. 21 It corresponds to the affective rhythm of the sacred presented through the figure of the dance in L’Erotisme, a movement anticipated by the “drunken dance” evoked for Bataille by the animal images on the walls of Lascaux. 22 When Bataille presents the origin of art as a passage from beast to man in “Lascaux ou la naissance de l’art,” the dialectical narrative of relations between interdiction and transgression comes into play. The act of making art implies a passage from nature to culture; it coincides with the moment of interdiction as theorized in “L’Histoire de l’érotisme.” Transgression occurs through the evocation of the animal world that is left behind in this passage by means of painted figural images that seem to address us. It occurs for the spectator who experiences a return to the world of nature in a mode of desire (a transgression of interdiction), and who, upon viewing these images, is transported, making a correlative “passage from the world of work to the world of play.” 23 The human being who views these cave images becomes a religious animal when addressed by this primitive art. 24 This is the moment of transgression, and it occurs thanks to the powerful way in which

  • 34 R EPRESENTATIONS

<a href=FIGURE 3. Third Chinese horse, Lascaux. Reprinted from Georges Bataille, L ascaux; or, Th e Bi rt h o f A rt (L ausanne, 1955) . the figurative images address the viewer across an immense expanse of time (fig. 3). Figuration produces an experience of the sacred here because our encounter with it is “catastrophic.” Catastrophe is above all a temporal structure for Bataille, one that interrupts linear time. In the Lascaux cave, the figural image addresses us from the depths of time, performing its “endless survival” until it reaches us. It is through this address that the primitive “beast” becomes an artist, entering into history and culture. The negation of the order of nature (of prehistoric man as beast) occurs through this address by the figural image. At the same time, figuration marks a return: “They returned to this world of the savagery [ sauvagerie ] of the night . . . they figured it with fervor, in anxiety,” Bataille writes of these first artists. The images that we recognize let us feel the transgressive joy of the primitive man/beast that Bataille associates with play and opposes to the utilitarian cultural economy established through interdiction. The Useless Image: Bataille, Bergson, Magritte " id="pdf-obj-8-2" src="pdf-obj-8-2.jpg">

the figurative images address the viewer across an immense expanse of time (fig. 3). Figuration produces an experience of the sacred here because our encounter with it is “catastrophic.” Catastrophe is above all a temporal

structure for Bataille, one that interrupts linear time. 25 In the Lascaux cave, the figural image addresses us from the depths of time, performing its “endless survival” until it reaches us. It is through this address that the primitive “beast” becomes an artist, entering into history and culture. The negation of the order of nature (of prehistoric man as beast) occurs through this address by the figural image. At the same time, figuration marks a return: “They returned to this world of the savagery [sauvagerie] of

the night

. . .

they figured it with fervor, in anxiety,” Bataille writes of these

first artists. 26 The images that we recognize let us feel the transgressive joy of

the primitive man/beast that Bataille associates with play and opposes to the utilitarian cultural economy established through interdiction.

The Useless Image: Bataille, Bergson, Magritte

35

For Bataille, the informe anthropoid objects found in the cave are part of this story. They signify a refusal by the artists of Lascaux to depict the human form that Bataille interprets as a negation of the passage from nature to culture (or from beast to man); they signify the negation of interdiction associated with transgression. Considered in light of the prestige of the animal paintings, they communicate a desire for (dialectical) return to the savage night of nature. To this extent they participate in the narrative of transgression that implies a return to nature in a mode of transgressive desire according to the (pseudo-) dialectical logic presented in “L’Histoire de l’érotisme.” If the Lascaux paintings are stupefying because of what they show us and the desire they evoke in us, they are equally important to Bataille for what they do not show. In this cave, Bataille writes, we are overwhelmed by the “useless figuration of these signs that seduce.” These extraordinary images, then, are useless figures. First (departing from the theory of Breuil), Bataille claims they are useless because they were created from desire, not for some instrumental (or ritual) purpose; this is what makes them art. In the second place these images are useless because they do not tell us what we want to know. We want to see a portrait of the artist as a remote reflection of ourselves at the point of our own origin, to know what the primitive human looked like when, making art, s/he became like us. Instead, Bataille writes, we are given masks, masks that evoke the animal world primitive man is on the point of leaving through the act of making art (fig. 4). Last but not least, there is a theoretical sense in which it is meaningful to speak of useless images here. For, according to Bataille’s theory of alteration, the figures that emerge to be either deformed or brought into form—rendered informe or de plus en plus conforme—are, as we have seen, virtual figures—images of pure invention. They are images fortuites, as Bataille put it in “L’Art primitif,” images that arrive as if by accident. 27 Alteration involves the projection of spontaneously generated mental images, which, when actualized or given form, offer no certainty, no knowledge, and no truth.

II

Bataille’s enthusiasm for the “sacred moment of figuration” in Lascaux is scandalous for modernist critics committed to the “disintegration rather than the creation of form.” 28 But the notion of the useless image, which we borrow from Bataille’s essay on the cave, suggests a way to theorize figural art outside the celebrated opposition between formalism and

  • 36 R EPRESENTATIONS

<a href=FIGURE 4. Fourth bull, Lascaux. Reprinted from Georges Bataille, Lascaux; or, The Bi rt h o f A rt (L ausanne, 1955) . iconography. In particular, it provides a way of thinking about surrealist images, fictive figures that are not representational. We might take as a point of departure a painter generally excluded from the modernist canon: René Magritte. Magritte was an abstract painter until 1925, by which time he had discovered the early work of Giorgio De Chirico and come to feel that “abstract paintings reveal only abstract painting, and absolutely nothing else.” He had also come to believe that the full potential of abstraction had already been realized in the early work of Piet Mondrian. Abstraction, from his point of view, was over. Having abandoned it, however, Magritte became marginalized within the history of modern art. Labeled realist, his work was accused of being retrograde, banal, and, worse yet, unpainterly. Rosalind Krauss, for example, contrasts the “dry realism” of Magritte with the “abstract liquefaction” of Joan Miró, an artist she claims for the informe in a brilliant analysis in another context. This opposition is telling, in that it The Useless Image: Bataille, Bergson, Magritte " id="pdf-obj-10-2" src="pdf-obj-10-2.jpg">

iconography. In particular, it provides a way of thinking about surrealist images, fictive figures that are not representational. We might take as a point of departure a painter generally excluded from the modernist canon: René Magritte. Magritte was an abstract painter until 1925, by which time he had discovered the early work of Giorgio De Chirico and come to feel that “abstract paintings reveal only abstract painting, and absolutely nothing else.” 29 He had also come to believe that the full potential of abstraction had already been realized in the early work of Piet Mondrian. Abstraction, from his point of view, was over. Having abandoned it, however, Magritte became marginalized within the history of modern art. Labeled realist, his work was accused of being retrograde, banal, and, worse yet, unpainterly. Rosalind Krauss, for example, contrasts the “dry realism” of Magritte with the “abstract liquefaction” of Joan Miró, an artist she claims for the informe in a brilliant analysis in another context. 30 This opposition is telling, in that it

The Useless Image: Bataille, Bergson, Magritte

37

demonstrates how easily the informe itself can be recuperated by one term of the fundamental opposition that it was meant to displace, one we can now rephrase as an opposition between formalist abstraction and realism. In his celebrated early-1970s essay Ceci n’est pas une Pipe Foucault attempted to clear Magritte’s name of the charge of realism. He succeeded, provisionally, but only at the price of significant misunderstanding and in an argu- ment that leaves the opposition formalism/iconography (or abstraction/ figuration) intact. Indeed, he took a version of that opposition—reading versus looking—as his point of departure. Foucault argued that Magritte’s paintings were fundamentally con- cerned with operations of signification, not visual representation. Magritte was not interested in visual resemblance, but rather in similitude, a term Foucault defined according to a textual paradigm. Whereas resemblance “serves representation,” Foucault wrote, similitude “develops in series that have no beginning and no end, that one can run through [parcourir] in one direction or the other, that obey no hierarchy, but propagate themselves from small differences to small differences.” 31 Foucault affirms that similitude (conceived on the grammatological model of différance or the Barthesian model of texte scriptible) is privileged over resemblance in Magritte’s work. 32 Similitude, he insists, introduces a reading function (a differential movement) that triumphs over resemblance, defined as a looking function and identified with representation—or, as Krauss put it more bluntly, dry realism. In effect, Foucault’s analysis brings Magritte over to the side of writing, which, as we know, contests representation. (Krauss will make a comparable gesture for surrealist photography, as we shall see, a decade later.) 33 The Fata Morgana edition of Ceci n’est pas une Pipe includes two short letters from Magritte to the already celebrated French philosopher in which the painter attempts to clarify his use of the terms “resemblance” and “similitude.” Not only do these letters call attention to erroneous assump- tions made by Foucault, they alert us to the importance of the term “resemblance” for Magritte, and to the fact that the painter used this term in a radically unconventional way. Six years after Foucault’s essay, Flammarion published a hefty volume of the collected writings of Magritte that reveals how absolutely central the notion of resemblance was to his conception of painting, and how radically Magritte’s understanding of the term differs from the one Foucault attributed to him. “The art of painting,” Magritte writes

—that really should be called the art of resemblance—makes it possible to describe, through painting, a thought capable of becoming visible. This thought in- cludes only figures that the world offers: people, curtains, weapons, stars, solids, in- scriptions, etc. Resemblance spontaneously reunites these figures in an order that directly evokes mystery. 34

  • 38 R EPRESENTATIONS

For Magritte, then, painting is fundamentally an art of resemblance. But resemblance does not imply a mimetic relation between an image and a model. It is an act of visual thought. “The images I paint,” he writes, “show nothing except what I have thought” (Ecrits, 689). 35 Painting does not give us an image that resembles the world; it materializes, or embodies in paint, a visual mental act—an act of resemblance. It renders this act visible as if by “photographic recording [enregistrement photographique].” Here Magritte meets up with Breton who defined surrealist automatism as a “photography of thought.” 36 Resemblance, for Magritte, involves the visual thought of an affinity

between two images that do not look alike. The painter recounts, for example, the night he slept in a room where someone had placed a bird in a cage. “A magnificent error,” he writes, “made me see the bird absent [disparu] from the cage and replaced by an egg. I had discovered an astonishing new

poetic secret” (Ecrits, 110).

37

What has happened? Magritte sees something

that is not there (the egg) in a particularly revealing relation to what is there to be seen (the cage). The bird, really there, has disappeared from view, hidden by the image of the egg. The visual shock Magritte enjoyed, he writes, was caused “by the affinity of two objects” (110), in this instance the cage and the egg (fig. 5). Henceforth Magritte would seek out such visual experiences of affinity. He would set himself thought problems to be solved visually, either through an automatic drawing practice, or, exceptionally, by direct visual inspiration (fig. 6). 38 Each problem, he writes, involves three terms: “the object, the thing attached to it in the shadows of my mind, and the light in which this thing should appear [devait parvenir]” (Ecrits, 111). This elusive third term is crucial to the articulation of the other two. It is precisely this act of synthesis that Magritte calls “resemblance” and characterizes as an activity of inspired thought. “An unknown image from the shadows is called forth by an image known in the light [une image connue de la lumière],” Magritte writes (Ecrits, 335) (fig. 7). The phrase sounds like a nod to Marcel Proust, and it may well be, but it also evokes Henri Bergson’s discussion of relations between memory and perception in Matière et mémoire. Here we come across a notion of resemblance that informs Magritte’s theory of painting, as well as the more general notion of the useless image I am attempting to elaborate here. Bergson argues that since perception occurs in time it requires the support, or relay, of memory in order to function at all.

Your perception, as instantaneous as it may be, consists therefore in an incalculable multitude of memory fragments [éléments remémorés] and, in truth, all perception is already memory. Actually, we perceive nothing but the past, the pure present being the elusive [insaissable] progress of the past gnawing away at the future.

39

The Useless Image: Bataille, Bergson, Magritte

39

FIGURE 5. René <a href=Magritte, “Les Affinités Electives [Elective Affinit ies],” 1930. Copyr i g ht © 2006 C . H erscov i c i , B russe l s /A r ti s t s Ri g ht s Society (ARS), New York. Perception, according to Bergson, involves a “perceptual shock [ ébranlement perceptif ]” that functions to “imprint on the body a certain attitude in which memories will insert themselves the present percep-tion will . . . always seek, in the depths of memory, the image [ souvenir ] of the anterior perception that it resembles” ( Matière , 112). This is the phrase that returns, only slightly altered, in Magritte’s sentence: “An unknown image from the shadows is called forth by an image known in the light” ( Ecrits , 335). Bergson calls the operation that articulates the incoming sense data of perception with memory images “attentive recognition” ( Matière , 107). He says that the incoming sense experience, imprinted on the body, calls to memory, which then spontaneously generates memory images to match (or answer) the rough contours of perceptual experience. On Bergson’s theory various mental planes are available to furnish memory images. There are, R EPRESENTATIONS " id="pdf-obj-13-2" src="pdf-obj-13-2.jpg">

FIGURE 5. René Magritte, “Les Affinités Electives [Elective Affinities],” 1930. Copyright © 2006 C. Herscovici, Brussels/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Perception, according to Bergson, involves a “perceptual shock [ébranlement

perceptif ]” that functions to “imprint on the body a certain attitude in

which memories will insert themselves

the present percep-tion will

. . . always seek, in the depths of memory, the image [souvenir] of the anterior perception that it resembles” (Matière, 112). 40 This is the phrase that returns, only slightly altered, in Magritte’s sentence: “An unknown image from the shadows is called forth by an image known in the light” (Ecrits, 335). Bergson calls the operation that articulates the incoming sense data of perception with memory images “attentive recognition” (Matière, 107). He says that the incoming sense experience, imprinted on the body, calls to memory, which then spontaneously generates memory images to match (or answer) the rough contours of perceptual experience. On Bergson’s theory various mental planes are available to furnish memory images. There are,

  • 40 R EPRESENTATIONS

<a href=FIGURE 6. René Magritte, “La Main Heureuse [The Happy Hand],” 1953. C opyr i g h t © 2006 C . H erscov i c i , B russe l s /A rt i sts Ri g h ts S oc i ety (ARS) , New York. for example, the “memories that follow immediately upon . . . perception, of which they are but the echo” ( Matière , 112). These provide useful memory images that contribute directly to the act of perception and to the cognitive construction of the object at hand. These shallow memory images appear similar to the incoming sense data of perception. They are as if “photographed from the object itself” ( Matière , 112). But more disparate memory images come into play as well, images associated with various fea- tures of the specific context into which past experiences are embedded in our memory through relations of similarity and contiguity. “Behind these images identical to the object,” writes Bergson, “there are others, stored in memory, and that simply have resemblance to the object” ( Matière , 112–13). There are still others, he adds, “that only have a more or less distant kinship [ parenté ]” ( Matière , 112) with the incoming sense data. In other words, the The Useless Image: Bataille, Bergson, Magritte " id="pdf-obj-14-2" src="pdf-obj-14-2.jpg">

for example, the “memories that follow immediately upon

. . .

perception, of

which they are but the echo” (Matière, 112). These provide useful memory images that contribute directly to the act of perception and to the cognitive construction of the object at hand. 41 These shallow memory images appear similar to the incoming sense data of perception. They are as if “photographed from the object itself” (Matière, 112). But more disparate memory images come into play as well, images associated with various fea- tures of the specific context into which past experiences are embedded in our memory through relations of similarity and contiguity. “Behind these images identical to the object,” writes Bergson, “there are others, stored in memory, and that simply have resemblance to the object” (Matière, 112–13). There are still others, he adds, “that only have a more or less distant kinship [parenté ]” (Matière, 112) with the incoming sense data. In other words, the

The Useless Image: Bataille, Bergson, Magritte

41

7. Ren <a href=é Magritte, “Les Vacances de Hegel [Hegel’s Vacatio n],” 1958. Copyr i g h t © 2006 C . H erscov i c i , B russe l s /A rt i sts Ri g h ts Society (ARS), New York. shallowest memories, and those that will directly participate in the percep- tion of the object at hand, yield images similar to the object of perception. But others—deeper memories that carry more contextual detail, more specific features of the concrete singularity of the past experience—may link to the sense data in a mode of resemblance that does not imply visual similarity at all, but merely some sort of generic affinity. Bergson defines perception in terms of action, not representation. This point is fundamental. Perception does not match, or represent, external objects; it filters from the complexity of the real only those features pertinent to its pragmatic interests. Perception, for Bergson, is always less than the real. Poised for action, memory contracts; the mind tenses up and sharpens its focus, as if to cut through the real like a knife blade at the point of incipient action. Bergson provides a schematic drawing of an inverted cone to show us what he calls the “two extreme planes of mental life . . . the R EPRESENTATIONS " id="pdf-obj-15-2" src="pdf-obj-15-2.jpg">

FIGURE 7. René Magritte, “Les Vacances de Hegel [Hegel’s Vacation],” 1958. Copyright © 2006 C. Herscovici, Brussels/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

shallowest memories, and those that will directly participate in the percep- tion of the object at hand, yield images similar to the object of perception. But others—deeper memories that carry more contextual detail, more specific features of the concrete singularity of the past experience—may link to the sense data in a mode of resemblance that does not imply visual similarity at all, but merely some sort of generic affinity. 42 Bergson defines perception in terms of action, not representation. 43 This point is fundamental. Perception does not match, or represent, external objects; it filters from the complexity of the real only those features pertinent to its pragmatic interests. Perception, for Bergson, is always less than the real. Poised for action, memory contracts; the mind tenses up and

sharpens its focus, as if to cut through the real like a knife blade at the point of incipient action. 44 Bergson provides a schematic drawing of an inverted

cone to show us what he calls the “two extreme planes of mental life

. . .

the

  • 42 R EPRESENTATIONS

plane of action and the plane of dream” (Matière, 273). At the point of the inverted cone (the point marks the site of action) memory images intervene according to a tightly orchestrated set of rules where resemblance tends toward similarity and direct contiguity. But if we pass, as Bergson puts it, to the other extreme of mental life, to the broad plane of memory associated with dream, here “all of the events of our past life appear [se dessinent] in all their most minute detail” (Matière, 186). It is here, in what Bergson calls “pure memory,” that the past lives on, virtually. This complete past is unconscious; it is mostly hidden from our awareness by the practical requirements of useful action, that is, by the “tendency of every organism to extract from a given situation whatever is useful to it” (Matière, 186). Here, in the region Bergson identifies with dream, where, like Breton’s Nadja, one is detached from the imperatives of action, one “would hold beneath [one’s] gaze, at all times, the infinite multitude of details of [one’s] past history”

(Matière, 172). Here “between any two ideas [deux idées quelconques]

... there is always resemblance” (Matière, 182, my emphasis). Virtually, “everything resembles everything [tout se ressemble]” (Matière, 187). “To evoke the past in the form of images,” Bergson writes, “one must be able to cut oneself off from [s’abstraire de] present action, one must know how to attach value to what is useless, one must want to dream. Only human beings are perhaps capable of such an effort” (Matière, 87). Unlike Sigmund Freud, for whom a bar of repression separates dream from reality, Bergson presents a continuous transition from consciousness, on the plane of action, to unconsciousness, characterized as detachment from action. The plane of dream, or dilated memory, is just as real as the plane of action. Memory gives us the survival of lived experience (le vécu). The difference between the two extremes of mental life—action and dream—is a difference in degree of mental tension. It is a question of the extent of “contraction or expansion by means of which consciousness tightens or enlarges the development of its contents” (Matière, 185). A more relaxed state, where the memory is opened up, enables an enriched contact with the past and a concomitant broadening of the play of resemblance. With the dilation or expansion of memory, Bergson writes, “reflexion reaches deeper levels of reality” (Matière, 115). Here “useless memories [souvenirs inutiles]” (Matière, 170, emphasis

added) enrich our experience of the real. They are useless because they do not serve the interests of action. Vision is detached from perception; it occurs for its own sake as a voir pour voir. 45 This is what I take Magritte to mean when he speaks of “second degree vision,” a vision “intermediate between the real

object, extra-mental, and the mind [esprit]

a vision considered for its own

. . . sake [prise pour elle-même]” (Ecrits, 182) (fig. 8). And it is from this perspective

that we can best grasp the importance of what Bataille referred to as the “useless figures” that seduced him in the Lascaux cave.

The Useless Image: Bataille, Bergson, Magritte

43

FIGURE 8. René Mag <a href=ritte, “Dieu n’est pas un Saint [God Is No t a Saint],” 1935. Copyright © 2006 C . H erscov i c i , B russe l s /A r ti s t s R ights Society (ARS), New York. It is in this sense, then, that Bergson could be said to provide the philosophical ground for Magritte’s conception of painting, and for what I am calling, after Bataille, the useless image. This broader play of affinity between images, which Bergson characterizes through the word “resemblance”—one that moves beyond mere similarity of appearance and does not depend on the ratio of any analogy—is what I take Magritte to have in mind when he defines painting as an art of resemblance. Magritte’s “visual thought [ la pensée qui voit ]” ( Ecrits , 377) can be glossed in relation to Bergson’s “vision of memory” ( Matière , 173). It is through a richer contact with memory that the useless image comes into play, and with it what Magritte calls “the beauty of what is neither meaning [ sens ] nor nonsense [ nonsens ]” ( Ecrits , 549). This is the beauty of art that escapes the grip of either formalism or iconology—the beauty, we could say, of the useless image (fig. 9). R EPRESENTATIONS " id="pdf-obj-17-2" src="pdf-obj-17-2.jpg">

FIGURE 8. René Magritte, “Dieu n’est pas un Saint [God Is Not a Saint],” 1935. Copyright © 2006 C. Herscovici, Brussels/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

It is in this sense, then, that Bergson could be said to provide the philosophical ground for Magritte’s conception of painting, and for what I am calling, after Bataille, the useless image. This broader play of affinity between images, which Bergson characterizes through the word “resemblance”—one that moves beyond mere similarity of appearance and does not depend on the ratio of any analogy—is what I take Magritte to have in mind when he defines painting as an art of resemblance. Magritte’s “visual thought [la pensée qui voit]” (Ecrits, 377) can be glossed in relation to Bergson’s “vision of memory” (Matière, 173). It is through a richer contact with memory that the useless image comes into play, and with it what Magritte calls “the beauty of what is neither meaning [sens] nor nonsense [nonsens]” (Ecrits, 549). This is the beauty of art that escapes the grip of either formalism or iconology—the beauty, we could say, of the useless image (fig. 9).

  • 44 R EPRESENTATIONS

FIGURE 9. Ren <a href=é Magritte, “Les Fanatiques [The Fanatics],” 1945. C opyright © 2006 C . H erscov i c i , B russe l s /A r ti s t s Ri g ht s S oc i e t y (ARS ), New York. III If there is one position on which Rosalind Krauss and Clement Greenberg could be said to agree, it is the rejection of surrealist painting. When, in a move against Greenberg, Krauss champions surrealism, she does so in the domain of photography, in a reading that performs what Krauss calls a “relocation of photography from its eccentric position relative to surrealism to one that is absolutely central—definitive one might say.” We could say that Krauss has done the same for surrealism, shifting it from 47 an eccentric position relative to modern art to a central one. The Optical Unconscious (1993), which contests Greenbergian mod- ernism, and traces an alternative path through modern art that is oriented by the informe , starts in the surrealist context with the photo collages of Max Ernst and proceeds to engage with Marcel Duchamp, Pablo Picasso, The Useless Image: Bataille, Bergson, Magritte " id="pdf-obj-18-2" src="pdf-obj-18-2.jpg">

FIGURE 9. René Magritte, “Les Fanatiques [The Fanatics],” 1945. Copyright © 2006 C. Herscovici, Brussels/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

III

If there is one position on which Rosalind Krauss and Clement Greenberg could be said to agree, it is the rejection of surrealist painting. When, in a move against Greenberg, Krauss champions surrealism, she does so in the domain of photography, in a reading that performs what

Krauss calls a “relocation of photography from its eccentric position relative to surrealism to one that is absolutely central—definitive one might say.” 46 We could say that Krauss has done the same for surrealism, shifting it from

47

an eccentric position relative to modern art to a central one. The Optical Unconscious (1993), which contests Greenbergian mod- ernism, and traces an alternative path through modern art that is oriented by the informe, starts in the surrealist context with the photo collages of Max Ernst and proceeds to engage with Marcel Duchamp, Pablo Picasso,

The Useless Image: Bataille, Bergson, Magritte

45

and Jackson Pollock. This gesture cuts two ways. On the one hand it counters Greenberg, for whom surrealism was anathema. On the other, it radically rereads surrealism, skirting the issue of surrealist painting almost entirely, and drawing surrealism back toward the practices of Dada. 48 Through the perspective opened up by the informe, the analysis in the Optical Unconscious pursues the critic’s earlier reading of surrealist photogra- phy, where a semiological analysis enables her to circumvent issues of iconol- ogy almost entirely. “Photography,” she has written,

belongs to that group of signs set off semiologically by the name index. It is the char-

acter of the index, indeed, to mark the spot, since it is the one type of sign that is the result of a physical cause, unlike the icon, a sign that relates to its referent through

the axis of resemblance

the index has an existential connection to meaning, with

. . . the result that it can only take place on the spot. 49

The photograph does not engage with representational meaning, since it is

produced by a trace of the object that imprints itself directly by chemical means. It functions not as an icon but as an index (terms borrowed from the semiology of Charles Sanders Peirce). In The Optical Unconscious, Krauss implicitly inscribes her analysis of the index in an art-historical narrative through reference to the readymade. Not only does she move from Max Ernst to Duchamp (in a displacement from surrealism to Dada) she reads Ernst through the Duchampian term “readymade,” thereby capturing surrealism for the trajectory of the informe that, in the end (with Jackson Pollock), meets up with the conventional story of modernism. Max Ernst composed his photo collages from a stock of preexisting images (photographic or print material), often taken from commercial catalogues. Krauss not only associates this practice with the Duchampian readymade but also attributes this association to André Breton. “The term Breton had originally used for this element,” she writes, “is the far more suggestive word ‘readymade,’ as, in his text for the 1921 exhibition at Au Sans Pareil, he notes that the collages are built on grounds constituted by ‘the readymade images of objects,’ adding parenthetically ‘(as in catalogue figures).’” 50 Krauss then extends this analysis to affirm surrealism’s

engagement with “a model based

on the conditions of the readymade,

. . . conditions that produce an altogether different kind of scene from that of modernism’s,” one that implies a “structure of vision and its ceaseless return to the already-known.” 51 This is the horizon of the optical unconscious that Krauss will analyze with reference to Freud and Jacques Lacan, challenging the sublimating opticality of Clement Greenberg, through an appeal to the Lacanian notion of the real.

  • 46 R EPRESENTATIONS

Two comments are in order. First, in the passage from Breton just cited, Breton is not describing Ernst’s collages. 52 He is critiquing art that tries to signify in new ways (like cubism and the symbolist poetry of Stéphane Mallarmé) instead of working with what is given and rearranging it, as Ernst does (and as Lautréamont had done before him, in the literary field, in Poésies). 53 What is essential, from Breton’s point of view, is not the readymade (in Duchamp’s sense) but the act of redistributing given terms (words or images) “in whatever order we please.” 54 For Breton, this is how the surrealist practice of automatism yields the image. When Rosalind Krauss translates Breton’s images toutes faites (which I have translated elsewhere as “given images”) as “readymade,” what is evacuated is precisely the word image and, beyond that, the image itself—the light of the image, as Breton might say. 55 What is at stake in the substitution of the readymade for the surrealist image is precisely the allusion to Duchamp, who not only abandoned abstract painting (like Magritte) but abandoned painting altogether, and for whom, in his own words, “the choice of the readymade [was] always based on visual indifference.” 56 “Surrealist photographers,” Krauss has written, “were masters of the informe.57 Both photography and the readymade enjoy a privileged connection with the real associated with the structure of the index. 58 Thanks to this structure, both are “independent of any imaginative manipulation,” which is to say, free of meaning or iconography; “as paradoxical as it might seem,” Krauss writes, “photography has been an operative model for abstraction.” 59 The gesture of “brush[ing] modernism against the grain,” oriented by the critical construct of the informe, ends with abstraction, having successfully evicted the image from surrealism and displaced surrealism toward Dada. Krauss ends her story with Jackson Pollock (and Eva Hesse’s sculptural allusions to his work), arriving, when all is said and done, not so far from Greenberg’s modernism after all.

IV

In many of the caves, but particularly those at Gargas, the paleolithic paintings in- clude palm prints that were made, twenty millennia ago, by placing an outstretched hand against the wall and blowing pigment onto the exposed surface to create the

image in negative. The image is a residue of its maker. No matter how simply, I

leave my

trace. . .

.

Displaced from a Golden Age Greece to the dawn of humanity, the birth of art never seemed, therefore, to require a break with the myth of Narcissus. If the mimetic urge led to the depiction of mammoth and horse and bison, it even more surely required the reflection of the artist himself. 60

The Useless Image: Bataille, Bergson, Magritte

47

FIGURE 10. Gargas, <a href=hand prints. Reprinted from André Leroi -Gourhan, The Dawn of European A r t (N ew Y or k , 1982) . Given the theoretical authority of Bataille for the critical project of the informe , and the importance, in this context, of Bataille’s discussion of primitive art, Krauss had to return to the question of cave art in The Optical Unconscious . She also had to avoid Lascaux, with its proliferation of powerfully affecting figurative images, at all costs. Her solution is to change caves. Instead of entering Lascaux, a site renowned for its proliferation of dazzling figural images, she brings us to Gargas, a cave celebrated (as the Gargas Web site attests) for its hundreds of mysterious handprints (fig. 10). These are images Krauss characterizes as having been quite literally “stenciled off the world itself,” as she has written of the photograph. The palm prints of Gargas place the index at the very origin of art. The substitution of Gargas for Lascaux parallels the displacement already noted from Breton to Duchamp. It is consistent with a story that takes us from the indexical mark of the palm print, to the indexical structure of surrealist photography, through the readymade, to modernist abstraction. The move from Lascaux R EPRESENTATIONS " id="pdf-obj-21-2" src="pdf-obj-21-2.jpg">

FIGURE 10. Gargas, hand prints. Reprinted from André Leroi-Gourhan, The Dawn of European Art (New York, 1982).

Given the theoretical authority of Bataille for the critical project of the informe, and the importance, in this context, of Bataille’s discussion of primitive art, Krauss had to return to the question of cave art in The Optical Unconscious. She also had to avoid Lascaux, with its proliferation of powerfully affecting figurative images, at all costs. Her solution is to change caves. Instead of entering Lascaux, a site renowned for its proliferation of dazzling figural images, she brings us to Gargas, a cave celebrated (as the Gargas Web site attests) for its hundreds of mysterious handprints (fig. 10). 61 These are images Krauss characterizes as having been quite literally “stenciled off the world itself,” as she has written of the photograph. 62 The palm prints of Gargas place the index at the very origin of art. The substitution of Gargas for Lascaux parallels the displacement already noted from Breton to Duchamp. It is consistent with a story that takes us from the indexical mark of the palm print, to the indexical structure of surrealist photography, through the readymade, to modernist abstraction. The move from Lascaux

  • 48 R EPRESENTATIONS

to Gargas enables contemporary theorists of the informe to evacuate the issue of fictive figuration, which is central to the art practices of Breton, Max Ernst, and Magritte and to new media art today. The issue played out at the prehistoric scene therefore, is the fate of what I have called, after Bataille, the useless image. Modernism, Krauss writes, “imagines two orders of the figure”:

The first is that of empirical vision, the object as it is “seen,”

the object modernism

. . . spurns. The second is that of the formal conditions of the possibility for vision itself,

the level at which “pure” form operates as a principle of coordination, unity, structure:

visible but unseen. That is the level modernism wants to chart, to capture, to master.

But there is a third order of the figure out of sight. 63

. . .

an order that works entirely underground,

On this account, the first order of the figure implies realism, the second implies Greenbergian formalism, and the third the order of the informe as destruction of form and return to the real. I am proposing yet another order of the figure: the useless image. It is neither iconic (the object seen) nor abstract; it is not even informe. Magritte elaborates it through a notion of resemblance that refers us not to Peirce, but to Bergson. If the index marks the spot, as Krauss has so aptly put it, the question remains: where is the spot in a photography of thought? 64 Where, in other words, is thought? This is a question that prompted Bergson to write Matière et mémoire and to displace entirely the question of the relation between body and mind through memory that traverses them both. 65 Photography was a central preoccupation of surrealism, but it preoccupied the surrealists, more often than not, as a problem. When Max Ernst took already given photo- graphic or engraved images as the point of departure for his photo collages, gluing them together in improbable juxtapositions, he then photographed his collages to hide the seams of his cuts and designated the photographic copy as the original work. In so doing he was certainly not using photogra- phy in view of its indexical value, its status as imprint or “footprint.” 66 He was using it, quite precisely, to cover his tracks, imagina-tively manipulating photography to yield the appearance of a seamless fiction, one “with no system of reference,” as Breton observed with delight, capable of “estranging us back into our memory.” 67 Magritte, who was fasci-nated with both photography and film, speaks of the need to overcome the objectivity of photography, something he undertakes to do precisely by extending the citational practices of Ernst’s photo collages into a field of pure invention:

painting. He produces what Ernst referred to as “collages painted entirely by hand.” 68 Surrealism problematizes the index, then, specifically at the point where Magritte’s art of resemblance meets Breton’s definition of surrealist automatism as a photography of thought. 69 From Breton through Ernst and

The Useless Image: Bataille, Bergson, Magritte

49

Magritte this metaphor deepens and develops its specificity. Magritte extends Ernst’s metaphotographical maneuvers, completely breaking the indexical relation of the photograph, while miming it. Krauss and Bois ostensibly intended the informe to undercut [déclasser] oppositions between modernism and postmodernism, thereby disabling the postmodern attempt to “bury” modernism. As soon as one takes into account figures such as Magritte, however, we see that the informe serves to shore up modernism through a series of repositionings that shield what emerges as the first principle of modernism: the refusal of iconology. The defense against the figural image, so vehemently waged by Greenberg, prevails. If alternative modernisms are in order today, it is not so much because of an aesthetic challenge posed by postmodernism as it is a result of the challenge new technologies pose. Digital images have already displaced

70

photography from the ground of “photochemical form[s] of causality.” One could argue that what Breton saw in the photo collages of Ernst was a

step in this direction. Magritte, who paints his collages entirely by hand, reveals that the index has no ground to stand on. This is what Magritte understood by the dépassement [overcoming] of the objectivity of photog- raphy by painting, which, as an art of resemblance, not only invokes memory but also embodies virtual images in paint. The notion of the useless image (and the constellation of figures it designates—Breton, Magritte, de Chirico, Ernst) strikes me as especially pertinent today, when structures of representation are being called into question technologically in ways that suggest a dépassement of the problem of abstraction altogether. In the information age the image per se may be on its way to becoming useless. As Mark Hansen has convincingly argued, today the image is not given, it is actualized. New media works emphasize the actualization, or embodiment, of images through interaction with the spectator in an information field. 71 As Friedrich Kittler put it, digital data exist “unencumbered by a need to adapt to the constraints of human perceptual ratios.” 72 Today, on a model much more similar to Bergson’s operation of attentive recognition than to structures of either abstraction or representation (either formalism or iconography), it is a question of the realization or embodiment of virtual images. This is precisely the path we have opened up through Bataille’s discussion of the “sacred moment of figuration” in Lascaux (fig. 11) and of the “useless figuration” of these seductive images, which we have considered in light of the moment of alteration that has been repressed by contemporary critics—the gesture of bringing into form. We have followed it to Magritte, where painting, as an art of resemblance, is an embodiment of virtual images, images of visual thought. What links the two is Bergson,

  • 50 R EPRESENTATIONS

<a href=FIGURE 11. Rotunda bull, Lascaux. Reprinted from Leroi-Gourhan, Dawn of E uro p ean A r t . whose theory of attentive recognition proposes that even perceptual information needs the supplement of a memory image in order to come into being, just as the memory image needs the solicitation of perceptual data (its life or chaleur ) to prompt the spontaneous actualization of the memory image from the virtual storehouse of pure memory. We began, then, with the useless image in its proximity to the informe, in full support of the gesture of “redealing the cards” of modernism. But to redeal effectively, we must start with a full deck. We cannot limit the process of alteration only to the informe (in the limited sense invoked by Krauss and Bois) or we will be locked within the modernist opposition formalism/ iconography (or abstraction/figuration), unable to fully appreciate the critical and aesthetic force of surrealism. We must also include the operation that brings into form , that actualizes or embodies images, associated with what I am calling, after Bataille, the useless image. This is the fictive figural image that occurs outside the framework of representation, yielding, as Magritte put it, “the beauty of what is neither sense nor nonsense” ( Ecrits , 549). The Useless Image: Bataille, Bergson, Magritte " id="pdf-obj-24-2" src="pdf-obj-24-2.jpg">

whose theory of attentive recognition proposes that even perceptual information needs the supplement of a memory image in order to come into being, just as the memory image needs the solicitation of perceptual data (its life or chaleur) to prompt the spontaneous actualization of the memory image from the virtual storehouse of pure memory. We began, then, with the useless image in its proximity to the informe, in full support of the gesture of “redealing the cards” of modernism. But to redeal effectively, we must start with a full deck. We cannot limit the process of alteration only to the informe (in the limited sense invoked by Krauss and Bois) or we will be locked within the modernist opposition formalism/ iconography (or abstraction/figuration), unable to fully appreciate the critical and aesthetic force of surrealism. We must also include the operation that brings into form, that actualizes or embodies images, associated with what I am calling, after Bataille, the useless image. This is the fictive figural image that occurs outside the framework of representation, yielding, as Magritte put it, “the beauty of what is neither sense nor nonsense” (Ecrits, 549).

The Useless Image: Bataille, Bergson, Magritte

51

Notes

I would like to thank the editorial board of Representations for their careful reading of my work and helpful editorial suggestions.

  • 1. Michel Foucault, “Préface à la transgression,” Critique 195–96 (1963); Jacques Derrida, “De l’économie restreinte à l’économie générale, Un hegelianisme sans reserve,” in L’Ecriture et la différence (Paris, 1967), trans. as Writing and Dif- ference by Alan Bass (Chicago, 1978); Julia Kristeva, The Revolution of Poetic Lan- guage, trans. Margaret Waller (New York, 1984), and Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection, trans. Léon S. Roudiez (New York, 1982).

  • 2. Georges Bataille, “Lascaux ou la naissance de l’art,” in Oeuvres complètes, 12 vols. (Paris, 1970), 9:63. Unless otherwise noted, all translations are my own.

  • 3. These consist of “inhuman” depictions of human figures or statues of mostly feminine figures that Bataille describes as “hidden from human appearance [dérobées à l’apparence humaine]” (ibid., 72). He refers to them as “informe” (65).

  • 4. That same year, in a pendulum swing away from André Leroi-Gourhan’s struc- turalist paleontology, a new version of l’Abbé Breuil’s shamanistic interpreta- tion of cave art was affirmed by two anthropologists working in collaboration, David Lewis-Williams, an expert in southern African shamanistic art, and Jean Clottes, an expert in European Paleolithic cave art. See Jean Clottes and David Lewis-Williams, The Shamans of Prehistory: Trance and Magic in the Painted Caves, trans. Sophie Hawkes (New York, 1996). One can only imagine how this work might have fascinated Bataille.

  • 5. Yve-Alain Bois and Rosalind E. Krauss, Formless: A User’s Guide (New York,

1997).

  • 6. Bataille, “Lascaux,” 43.

  • 7. Yve-Alain Bois, “To Introduce a User’s Guide,” October 78 (Fall 1996): 29. Subse- quent references to this work will be given in the text in parenthesis. On the question of the informe see also Georges Didi-Huberman, La Ressemblance informe ou le gai savoir visuel selon Georges Bataille (Paris, 1995).

  • 8. Greenberg’s “modernist fetishization of sight” is cited in Rosalind Krauss, “An- tivision,” October 36 (Spring 1986): 147.

  • 9. This operation also implies a specific set of gestures such as horizontality, pulse, entropy, and base materialism. Georges Bataille’s “L’Art primitif,” in Oeuvres complètes (Paris, 1970), vol. 1, was first published in Documents 7, deux- ième année (1930): 38997. In a preceding issue, Documents had published a dictionary entry for the word “informe,” defining it as “a term used to declassify” (cited in ibid., 217).

  • 10. Bataille, “L’Art primitif,” 253.

  • 11. Norbert Aujoulat, Lascaux: Movement, Space, and Time (New York, 2005), 221.

  • 12. This was a distinction introduced by Heinrich Schaeffer in 1919 in Principles of Egyptian Art (recently reprinted; Oxford, 1986).

  • 13. Rosalind Krauss, The Originality of the Avant-Garde and Other Modernist Myths (Cambridge, 1985), 64.

  • 14. Rosalind Krauss, “Corpus Delicti,” October 33 (Summer 1985): 43.

  • 15. Bataille, “L’Art primitif,” 253. G.-H. Luquet’s account of figuration in primitive art, and Bataille’s theorization of the figural moment of alteration, meet up in

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the surrealist practice of automatism. See Breton’s essay on Max Ernst (André Breton, “Max Ernst,” in Oeuvres complètes [Paris, 1988], and Max Ernst’s Beyond Painting (New York, 1948). Ernst writes of “reproducing only that which saw it- self in me” in his photo collages, and of obtaining “a faithful image of my hal- lucination”; cited in Suzanne Guerlac, Literary Polemics (Palo Alto, 1997), 130. He also refers to the celebrated “lesson of Leonardo,” the pedagogical exercise Leonardo reputedly required of his students, namely, that they stare at a blank wall until they began to discern figures there that they must then go on to ren- der (130 n. 15), and which resembles the figural operation of alteration.

  • 16. Bataille, “L’Art primitif,” 249.

  • 17. In The Optical Unconscious (Cambridge, Mass., 1993), Rosalind Krauss acknowl- edges that “it is because of its wonderful ambivalence that Bataille likes the word alteration” and that it leads “simultaneously downward and upward” (152), but she says nothing about the fact that figuration belongs to the struc- ture of alteration in Bataille.

  • 18. Bataille, “L’Art primitif,” 251. A note refers to Rudolf Otto’s Le Sacré, published in English as The Idea of the Holy (Oxford, 1923). Otto’s study, which emphasizes ambivalent subjective response in the experience of the sacred (attraction and repulsion), anticipates important features of Bataille’s account of transgression in L’Erotisme (Paris, 1957).

  • 19. “We will limit ourselves for the moment to affirming that such a change has taken place from the time of the Aurignacian with respect to the representa- tion of animals and with respect to the representation of human beings” (Bataille, “L’Art primitif,” 253).

  • 20. Cf. Georges Bataille, “L’Histoire de l’érotisme,” in Oeuvres complètes (Paris, 1970), 8:9165. Some versions of these essays go back as early as 1939. Most were written during 195051. Likewise, two versions of the Lascaux study were published before 1955 in Critique (see Bataille, Oeuvres complètes, 9:420).

  • 21. Bataille, Oeuvres complètes, 8:66. Bataille calls this study an “erotic phenomenology” (524) and situates it in relation to Alexandre Kojève. He also writes: “Eroticism is essentially, from the first step, the scandal of the ‘reversal of alliances’” (Oeuvres complètes, 7:81).

  • 22. Bataille, “Lascaux,” 81, and L’Erotisme, 6869.

  • 23. Bataille, “Lascaux,” 28.

  • 24. Bataille, “L’Histoire de l’érotisme,” 3941.

  • 25. See Georges Bataille, “Sacrifices,” in Oeuvres complètes, 1:9496. Bataille speaks here of “the catastrophe of time” and of “the problem, of the being of time” (95). In “Lascaux” he writes: “Could we miss the fact, that, entering the grotto

. . .

we are, deep in the ground, in some way lost [égarés] ‘à la recherche du

temps perdu’?” (43).

  • 26. Bataille, “Lascaux,” 63.

  • 27. Bataille, “L’Art primitif,” 249.

  • 28. Krauss, “Corpus Delicti,” 43. In another essay Krauss identifies informe with deconstruction (“No More Play,” in Originality of the Avant-Garde, 99). See my discussion of relations between art criticism and French theory in “La trans- gression et le rêve de la théorie,” in De “Tel Quel” à “l’Infini,” l’avant-garde et après? ed. Philippe Forest (Paris, 1999), 7995.

  • 29. René Magritte to André Bosmans, August 1959, published in Harry Torczyner’s Magritte, Ideas and Images, trans. Richard Miller (New York, 1977), 65.

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53

30.

Krauss, Originality of the Avant-Garde, 91; “Michel, Bataille, et Moi,” October 68

(Spring 1994).

  • 31. Michel Foucault, Ceci n’est pas une Pipe (Paris, 1973), 61. The title refers to a series of paintings by Magritte that includes “La Trahison des Images,” where we read the words “ceci n’est pas une pipe” painted beneath the painted image of a pipe (which justifies his opposition between reading and looking).

  • 32. Foucault speaks of the “privilege of similitude over resemblance” (ibid., 65), and again of “breaking down the fortress in which similitude was held prisoner to the affirmation of resemblance” (71).

  • 33. See Krauss, “The Photographic Conditions of Surrealism,” in Originality of the Avant-Garde. The chapter concludes with this statement: “But it is my thesis that

. . .

[with surrealist photography] reality was both extended and replaced

or supplemented by that master supplement which is writing: the paradoxical writing of the photograph” (118).

  • 34. René Magritte, Ecrits complets (Paris, 1979), 518.

  • 35. I would like to stress the distinction between what Magritte calls visual thought and something like opticality. “Vision is not just physical,” writes Magritte, “it is reasoned [raisonnée].” Magritte calls this a “vision to the second degree” (ibid., 182).

  • 36. Breton, “Max Ernst,” 245.

  • 37. The anecdote pertains to the painting “Elective Affinities.”

  • 38. The problem of the glass, for example, finds its réponse exacte in an umbrella in the painting “Les Vacances de Hegel”; the problem of the cloud yields “La Corde Sensible”; the problem of the piano, “La Main Heureuse”; and the prob- lem of the train, the celebrated painting “La Durée Poignardée.” Concerning the painting “La Main Heureuse” Magritte has written: “The problem I have been dealing with is the problem of the piano. The answer apprized me that the secret object designed to be joined with the piano was an engagement ring. . . .

The size of the ring is like an emanation of some happiness, particu-

larly that of a hand playing the piano. In addition the outline the ring makes,

partly concealed by the piano that traverses it, evokes the form of a musical sign” (Torczyner, Magritte, Ideas and Images, 144). Of “La Durée Poignardée” he

writes: “I decided to paint the image of a locomotive

I thought of joining

. . . the locomotive image with the image of a dining room fireplace in a moment of ‘presence of mind.’ By that I mean the moment of lucidity that no method

can bring forth. Only the power of thought manifests itself at this time

. . .

we

do not count for anything, but are limited to witnessing the manifestation of thought” (81).

  • 39. Henri Bergson, Matière et mémoire (Paris, 1939). Bergson also writes: “Every per- ception occupies a certain thickness of duration, prolongs the past in the pres- ent, and in this way participates in memory” (274).

  • 40. Bergson uses the words “mémoire” and “souvenir.” To distinguish the two, and because souvenir implies images, I have translated the latter as “image.”

  • 41. On Bergson’s account, sense data come into the body; this structures an appeal to memory, which produces an image. This image then feeds back into the act of perception itself, helping to constitute the object perceived.

  • 42. If one keeps in mind Breton’s correction of Pierre Reverdy’s conception of the image in the Manifeste du surréalisme, which Reverdy had characterized in terms of metaphor, it is important not to identify Magritte’s use of the term “affinity” with metaphor or analogy. See Breton, Oeuvres complètes, 1:325. Magritte’s term

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“affinity” also echoes Bergson’s use of the term “parenté” (Matière et mémoire, 112) in his analysis of attentive recognition where a notion of resemblance comes into play.

  • 43. Representation only occurs through memory, that is, in relation to the past, to absence, to “that which no longer acts [ce qui n’agit plus]” (Bergson, Matière et mémoire, 71). “Let’s restore the real character of perception, showing that in pure perception, an incipient system of actions plunges into the real

. . .

this

perception will distinguish itself radically from memory” (71). On this point see Suzanne Guerlac, Thinking in Time, An Introduction to Henri Bergson (Ithaca, 2006), 10711.

  • 44. “What we call action involves precisely making this memory contract or sharpen itself more and more [obtenir que cette mémoire se contracte ou plutôt s’affile de plus en plus] until it presents only the cutting edge of its blade to experience, in which it will penetrate” (Bergson, Matière et mémoire, 117).

  • 45. “Consciousness amuses itself by perceiving for the sake of perceiving, remem- bering for the sake of remembering, without any concern for life,” cited in Guerlac, Literary Polemics, 150.

  • 46. Krauss, Originality of the Avant-Garde, 101.

  • 47. See Rosalind Krauss, Jane Livingston, and Dawn Ades, L’Amour Fou: Photography and Surrealism (New York, 1985), catalogue of the exhibition at the Hayward Gallery in London and the Corcoran Gallery in Washington D.C. in 1986.

  • 48. For another reading, which considers Breton’s response to Ernst’s photo col- lages in the context of a deliberate attempt to invent an alternative to Dada, see Guerlac, Literary Polemics, 12736.

  • 49. Krauss, “Michel, Bataille, et Moi,” 13.

  • 50. Krauss, Optical Unconscious, 46.

  • 51. Ibid., 53.

  • 52. See my discussion of Breton’s essay “Max Ernst” in Literary Polemics, 13031.

  • 53. What Breton has in mind is the work of Lautréamont [Isidore Ducasse] in Poésies, where Lautréamont affirms the necessity for plagiarism, by which he means something not unlike what Bataille has called “alteration” in the context of primitive art. In Ernst’s photo collages, Breton sees an analogy to this opera- tion in the visual field, a practice similar to the one he will go on to theorize in terms of automatism and the surrealist image in the First Manifesto, where he will define surrealism in terms of its image-producing capacity. Far from col- lapsing surrealism back into the Dada context, Breton is claiming Ernst for the new movement of surrealism, which will define itself against Dada. As Marguérite Bonnet writes, in a note to Breton’s essay on Max Ernst in the Pleiade edition of that text, Breton sees this work of Ernst as “distancing itself resolutely from Dada,” Breton, Oeuvres complètes, 1266. For a discussion of Poésies see Suzanne Guerlac, The Impersonal Sublime: Hugo, Baudelaire, Lautréa- mont, and the Esthetics of the Sublime (Palo Alto, 1990).

  • 54. Breton, “Max Ernst,” 245.

  • 55. Guerlac, Literary Polemics, 131.

  • 56. In words that evoke the terms of Krauss’s critique of Greenberg, Marcel Duchamp complained to Pierre Cabanne: “When you see what the Abstraction- ists have done since 1940, it’s worse than ever optical. They’re really up to their necks in the retina!” Pierre Cabanne, Dialogues with Marcel Duchamp (New York, 1971), 43.

The Useless Image: Bataille, Bergson, Magritte

55

  • 57. Krauss, “Corpus Delicti,” 34.

  • 58. By “real” she means not the reality of realism but the Lacanian structure of the real that cannot be situated in the terms of either the symbolic or the imaginary.

  • 59. Krauss, Originality of the Avant-Garde, 210.

  • 60. Krauss, Optical Unconscious, 151.

  • 61. These are mysterious not only because they are so numerous in this cave but also because of what has been described as mutilated fingers in these palm prints. André Leroi-Gourhan, however, reads these as coded signs for animals (not narcissistic marks). See his 1967 essay “The Hands of Gargas: Toward a General Study,” trans. Annette Michelson, October 37 (Summer 1986): 1934.

  • 62. Krauss, “Michel, Bataille, et Moi,” 13.

  • 63. Krauss, Optical Unconscious, 217.

  • 64. See Krauss, “Michel, Bataille, et Moi,” 13, and Optical Unconscious, 151, 192, and 25960.

  • 65. Since the time of Bataille (and for the critics of Tel Quel in particular), the ques- tion of surrealism has pitted “materialists” against “idealists,” Bergson’s dis- placement of this opposition through the term “memory” becomes all the more pertinent in this context.

  • 66. Krauss writes: “Photography exploits the special connection to reality with which all photography is endowed. For photography is an imprint or a transfer off the real; it is a photochemically processed trace causally connected to that thing in the world to which it refers in a manner parallel to that of fingerprints or footprints” (Originality of the Avant-Garde, 110).

  • 67. Breton, “Max Ernst,” 246.

  • 68. Ernst, Beyond Painting, 14. Max Ernst stated in 1936 that Magritte’s pictures were “collages painted entirely by hand.” Cited by David Sylvester in Magritte:

The Silence of the World (New York, 1992), 110.

  • 69. The definition is given in “Max Ernst,” written for the catalogue of the 1921 exhibit at the Librairie Sans Pareil, republished in Les Pas perdus (Breton, “Max Ernst,” 245).

  • 70. Krauss, “Michel, Bataille, et Moi,” 13. See William J. Mitchell, The Reconfigured Eye: Visual Truth in the Post-Photographic Era (Cambridge, 1994).

  • 71. See Mark Hansen, New Philosophy for New Media (Cambridge, 2004).

  • 72. Cited in ibid., 2.

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