t e l e s y m p o s i a
This project was born out of a desire to understand the paradoxical relationship between violence and its representations. On the one hand, violence is extremely productive of culture: Think of the number of novels, films, and research projects devoted to representing the Holocaust, bombings, revolutions, and other violent events of our past. We are seduced by the intensity, by the pure energy released through these destructive acts. Death the death drive fascinates us but it also casts its "powers of horror" upon us. We find pleasure from novels and films about murder and war, but in real life those same events would traumatize us. Representations of violence, unlike reality, are "safe;" an image allows us to experience affects without being overwhelmed by their intensity. Like literature and Freudian jokes, representations of violence produce pleasure in the subject they candy-coat the event with that energy that Freud called forepleasure.
But representations of violence tend to neutralize their own effect. Our era of satellite communications, of internet and fax machines has seen an excessive proliferation of violent images and texts. Daily, the media "bombard us" to use Alfredo Jaar's term with footage of war and famine, of robbery and rape. The quantity and frequency of these representations has stripped them of the effect that they once had the capacity to communicate an affective charge. In the society of the spectacle, where everything is an image, representations of violence have become commonplace, they have been degraded into yet another consumer product.
Today, can representations of violence still communicate the pulsions and effects? Or have they become irreparably banalized through their excessive exposure? The following discussions tackle this dilemma from a psychoanalytic perspective, invoking Freudian theories in an effort to understand the effects of violence upon the subject. These conversations with Hal Foster, Alfredo Jaar, and Sylvère Lotringer voice three different views on the problematics of contemporary representation.
Hal Foster, art theorist and editor of October, has written on subjects that range from Surrealism (Compulsive Beauty, 1993) to postmodernism (The Anti-Aesthetic, 1982). His most recent book, The Return of the Real (1996) examines the history of art over the last three decades, emphasizing the connections between the historical avant-gardes and the neo-avant-gardes.
Over the past years, Chilean artist Alfredo Jaar has produced a series of pieces that reveal a deep suspicion of the image. In series like The Turning Point (1989) and Europa (1994), the photographic image could only be seen in fragments or indirectly. Jaar's iconoclastic experiments have culminated with Real Pictures (1994-95), an installation about the Rwandan massacres in which the photographs of genocide remain sealed in black boxes, never to be seen by the spectator.
Sylvère Lotringer is the founder and co-editor of Semiotext(e), a journal that since 1974 has explored the relationship between post-structuralism and urban culture, and has published seminal texts by Baudrillard, Deleuze, and Guattari. Lotringer's other projects include Overexposed (1981), an anthology of conversations with doctors and patients at a psychiatric rehabilitation center for sex offenders.
Our investigation of violence and its representations will continue in the next issue of TRANS with a discussion among these three panelists and two invited critics. This second part of the telesymposium will be a forum for debating the ideas and theories presented in this first series of interviews.
"The Return of Shock and Trauma"
"The Limits of Representation"