Archaeologies of Vision: Foucault and Nietzsche on Seeing and Saying / Edition 1

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While many acknowledge that Friedrich Nietzsche and Michel Foucault have redefined our notions of time and history, few recognize the crucial role that "the infinite relation" between seeing and saying (as Foucault put it) plays in their work. Gary Shapiro reveals, for the first time, the full extent of Nietzsche and Foucault's concern with the visual.

Shapiro explores the whole range of Foucault's writings on visual art, including the theory of visual resistance, the concept of the phantasm or simulacrum, and his interrogation of the relation of painting, language, and power in artists from Bosch to Warhol. Shapiro also shows through an excavation of little-known writings that the visual is a major theme in Nietzsche's thought. In addition to explaining the significance of Nietzsche's analysis of Raphael, Dürer, and Claude Lorrain, he examines the philosopher's understanding of the visual dimension of Greek theater and Wagnerian opera and offers a powerful new reading of Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

Archaeologies of Vision will be a landmark work for all scholars of visual culture as well as for those engaged with continental philosophy.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226750477
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 5/28/2003
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 458
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Gary Shapiro is a professor of philosophy and Tucker-Boatwright Professor in the Humanities at the University of Richmond. He is the author of three previous books, including Alcyone: Nietzsche on Gifts, Noise and Women and Earthwards: Robert Smithson and Art after Babel.

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Read an Excerpt

Archaeologies of Vision
Foucault and Nietzsche on Seeing and Saying
By Gary Shapiro
The University of Chicago Press
Copyright © 2003 Gary Shapiro
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-226-75047-7

Chapter One
Between Sun and Cyclops: Nietzsche at the Dresden Gallery

[8] Eye Trouble

My eyes get worse every day, and, unless someone comes along and helps me, I shall probably be blind by the year's end. So I shall decide not to read and write at all-but one cannot stick it out when one is completely alone. Nietzsche

To his mother, to his friends and colleagues, Nietzsche writes repeatedly of his failing eyes and his fear of blindness. Two months before the letter to his mother, he said to his old friend Franz Overbeck that "matters concerning the eyes are increasingly doubtful. Schiessen's remedies have not helped. Since last summer there has been a change that I do not understand. Spots, veiling, also a flood of tears" (B 7.33; Schiessen was one of his several ophthalmologists). Nietzsche had too many reasons, among them human, all-too-human, reasons, for associating his own destiny with that of his vision-one might say, with vision itself. His struggle to see, in the literal and more than the literal sense of the word, was a constant of his career. There is something poignant in Nietzsche's discussion, in Schopenhauer as Educator, of some of the typical weaknesses of the modern scholar, for he construes the scholar as a nearsighted fellow; his own optical deficiency becomes a metaphor for a general circumscription of intellectual vision. The scholar, he says, has a

sharpsightedness for things close up, combined with great myopia for distant things and for what is universal. His field of vision is usually very small and he has to hold his eyes close to the object. If the man of learning wants to go from one point he has just subjected to scrutiny to another, he has to move his whole seeing-apparatus to this new point. He dissects a picture into little patches, like one who employs opera-glasses to view the stage and then has a sight now of a head, now of a piece of clothing, but never of anything whole. He never gets to see these patches joined together, his perception of how they are connected is only the result of an inference, and thus he has no very strong impression of anything universal.... he would be tempted to assert that an oil-painting is a disorderly heap of blots. (SE 6; KSA 1.395-96)

Perhaps Nietzsche could be on his guard against scholarly myopia because he knew the disease of the eyes of which it is an extended version; his own effort was to see more and to escape the parochial limitations of a single perspective.

If we follow Martin Heidegger's reading of Nietzsche as the culmination of Western thought's pursuit of presence, we could read this struggle for vision as a symptom of philosophy's impossible desire. Heidegger suggests that the history of this tradition should be read as the tragic unfolding of a hubris that enters the stage with Plato's story of the cave and the sun. If Nietzsche's work constitutes the last act of this tragedy, then these laments for his failing eyes would support an analogy with the fate of Oedipus. Both would have staked everything on their ability to subdue the world by means of their gaze, and both would have eventually submitted to a blindness that signified the limits of their vast aims. In this book I am investigating what Nietzsche thought and said about vision, the activity of seeing with our eyes and also with our whole being, for he understands vision not as the activity of a disembodied eye (or "I") but as the project of a human who is situated in a place, a time, a culture, and a body that is imbricated in all of these contexts.

In his last year Nietzsche complains of his failing vision and expresses the fear that his remaining time for reading and writing will be severely limited by his problems with his eyes. Apologizing for a delay in responding to his friend Carl Fuchs, he scribbles this on a postcard in August 1888, less than five months before his breakdown:

Esteemed friend, it is scarcely describable how little time I have, above all with my eyes to thank you for your rich letters. It is almost the high tide of all sorts of necessities with me that absorb my little bit of the faculty of vision all too completely. Happily, you are not acquainted with this physiological misfortune. I need number 3 glasses for reading and writing-if my three ophthalmologists had been right, I would have been blind for years. In fact, each day I have only a very small number of hours for reading and writing; and if the weather is dark, no time at all. To deal with this in the economy of a great work demanding a learned culture is a problem. (B 8.394)

Precisely during this time, Nietzsche became increasingly concerned with one painter, Claude Lorrain. He had no access to Claude's pictures at this time, and we do not know how much he would have been able to make of them if he had encountered them in a gallery. So we seem to be dealing with memories of vision, of phantasms that haunted Nietzsche at a time when he was planning the philosophical architectonics of what he projected as his major work, The Transvaluation of Values. It might seem to be an odd choice. Lorrain is a painter of peaceful ideal landscapes, idyllic visions of a perfected version of the Roman Campagna, a painter who turned out such works in a methodical, businesslike way in response to a constant demand from wealthy aristocrats and clerics (including a pope). Such paintings might not seem to be those which would first come to mind to the thinker of the will to power. And we might also wonder whether Nietzsche, especially with his poor eyes, could have much to tell us about the visual world and how we see it. Or could it be that being always on the verge of losing his vision gave this thinker a capacity for seeing this power in all its splendor and fragility?

[9] Glances of the Golden Age

Why Claude Lorrain? The answers begin to appear in Nietzsche's writings, notes, and letters. For Nietzsche Claude is the painter of tranquility, of scenes that give the sense of peace and assurance, of what he was to call the halcyon, reintroducing that word into the German language. As his eye troubles increase and the vision of his youth becomes a memory, one way to designate such beauties is to invoke the name of Claude. A perfect landscape, a perfect day, become for Nietzsche a Claude Lorrain. In Ecce Homo he rejoices in the atmosphere of Turin, his "proven place," declaring: "Never have I experienced such an autumn, nor considered anything of the sort possible on earth-a Claude Lorrain projected into the infinite, every day of the same indomitable perfection" (EH "Books," "Twilight," 3; KSA 6.356). What was Nietzsche remembering? He would have seen two Claudes in Dresden, at the celebrated gallery of old master paintings; Dresden was not far from Leipzig, where he was a student for two years and where he saw Wagner's operas. The Dresden Gallery possesses two Claudes that were also exhibited in Nietzsche's time, a Landscape with Acis and Galatea (fig. 3) and a Landscape with the Flight into Egypt. The first of these is the more dramatic and has attracted the most comment. At first glance, it portrays a seductive utopia, a rugged coastline, a smoking volcano in the distance, a rising or setting sun-there are uncertainties about some of Claude's suns-that radiates a golden glow over everything and speckles the sea with brilliant highlights. In the foreground are an amorous couple, protected only in minimal fashion by a rudimentary canopy. Architecture has not yet made a serious incursion into this world of idealized simplicity. Perhaps the strongest impression, as with so many of Claude's paintings, is of vast distance and peace, a horizon "projected into the infinite," in which the sun is not so much an object as the site or condition of what Nietzsche's Zarathustra was later to call an "abyss of light" (Z III.4; KSA 4.207). Claude is justly renowned for his creation of spaces that seem to recede into the infinite and for capturing the magical shimmering of sunlight on the sea; both are striking aspects of this painting. We can imagine Nietzsche, perhaps at twenty, the student of classical languages, being entranced by this idealized representation of archaic Greece, with its indication of a mythical world, a golden age. Philology, he was beginning to feel, had a tendency to turn everything into the materials of Wissenschaft, fodder for dry treatises from which one could never sense the life of the ancient world. Here was a painting that spoke of that lost time. The painting had similar effects on others. Dostoyevsky was one of those passionate visitors to the Dresden Gallery, and he has left an account of how the painting might impress one sensitive visitor. In the course of his anguished confession in The Possessed, Stavrogin recalls Claude's picture as representing the golden age:

I had a dream which was totally surprising to me because I had never dreamed anything like it before.... In the Dresden Gallery there is a painting by Claude Lorrain, called in the catalogue Acis and Galatea if I am not mistaken, but which I always called The Golden Age, I don't know why. I had seen it before and just three days earlier I saw it again in passing. As a matter of fact, I went to the gallery simply in order to look at it and it was perhaps for that reason alone that I stopped at Dresden. It was this picture that appeared to me in a dream, yet not as a picture but as though it were an actual scene. ... As in the picture, I saw a corner of the Greek archipelago the way it was some three thousand years ago: caressing azure waves, rocks and islands, a shore in blossom, afar a magic panorama, a beckoning sunset-words fail one. European mankind remembers this place as its cradle, ... here was mankind's earliest paradise, gods descended from heaven and united with mortals, here occurred the first scenes of mythology. Here lived beautiful men and women! They rose, they went to sleep, happy and innocent; the groves rang with their merry songs, the great overflow of unspent energies poured itself into love and simple-hearted joys.... The sun poured its rays upon these isles and the sea, rejoicing in its fair children. Oh, marvelous dream, lofty illusion!

As Stavrogin's last words and his fearsome life suggest, the beauty of the scene cannot be the final truth about human possibilities. Life in "civilized" Europe, which provides the setting for such Dostoyevskyan themes as spite, envy, murder, prostitution, gambling, and the sexual abuse of children is no longer "happy and innocent." It is significant that the painting comes back to Stavrogin as a memory, a dream, a vision; not directly present, it is recalled or impresses itself involuntarily on the mind through a dream. So the memory of Claude comes to Nietzsche in Turin. And the painting itself is a recollection, a reconstruction of a lost dream, here humankind's dream of a golden age. But we do not need to go outside the painting to see that such a dream is shadowed by malign and destructive forces. Above the lovers, up in the rocks to our right is the Cyclops Polyphemus, playing a flute or pipes and minding his herd. Polyphemus is the same monocular giant who was later blinded by Odysseus; Homer emphasizes the Cyclops's brutishness by showing his insensitivity to language, whose multiple meanings are wielded so adroitly by Odysseus, leaving the wounded giant crying that "nobody" has injured him. The story in Ovid (and in earlier sources, going back to Theocritus) is that Polyphemus became jealous of Acis and slew him in order to capture his lover. Neither Dostoyevsky nor Nietzsche alludes to this sinister side that sometimes darkens a Claude painting, but we can imagine that Nietzsche, who certainly knew his Ovid and the pastoral tradition, found the narrative dimension of the picture significant. Even the natural setting suggests a certain foreboding in the darker clouds that are gathering in the right-hand section of the sky. Might he have been struck by the fact that it is a Cyclops who casts a single envious or evil eye upon the lovers? In The Birth of Tragedy, Socrates' role in the destruction of Greek tragedy is described as an effect of his "one great Cyclops eye," which was unable to tolerate the multiplicity of perspectives and abyssal depths opened up by tragedy (see chap. 4 below, esp. secs. 27-29). At the point depicted in the painting, time seems tranquilly suspended. It is not clear whether Polyphemus has seen the lovers yet; in any case he has not instigated his attack. Most of Ovid's telling of the story consists in Galatea's relation of the Cyclops's song, in which he woos her and threatens her lover. Since the text describes him as singing this song to the accompaniment of his pipes, this could be the moment depicted here (however, Galatea's narration also describes the lovers as taking refuge in a cave at this point). The sun, invoked by Zarathustra as a great radiant and generous eye, is bathing the scene, probably in its early morning light. Perhaps the sun and the eye of Polyphemus can be thought of as two polar extremes of optical possibility. Polyphemus sets the stage for this interpretation, for in Ovid's version of his song to Galatea, he apologizes in this way for his unusual countenance: "True, I have but one eye in the middle of my forehead, but it is as big as a good-sized shield. And what of that? Doesn't the great sun see everything here on earth from his heavens? And the sun has but one eye." While the Cyclops proposes an identity between his eye and the sun, we might find his vision to be already deformed by his failure to appreciate a plurality of perspectives. He is, in a sense, already blind, a point emphasized in Galatea's narration when she says that Polyphemus had already disregarded a prophetic warning that Odysseus would blind him one day. We might notice that these two eyes present a deep contrast as well as similarities. Each is single, and each avoids the complexity of human vision, which is suited to depths and perspectives. The sun is beyond the human, because it makes vision possible; the other, Cyclops's one eye, embodies that degraded extreme at which sight recoils in envious hatred and contempt for what would otherwise be an object of admiration. This would be the contrast between the evil eye of folklore and its radiant other (the opposition plays a major role in Zarathustra and is especially worth noting in the different ways of seeing eternal recurrence-I use the term both literally and metaphorically). Each of these optical stances can be construed as a form of the gaze, a vision that totally encompasses its object. Nietzsche is a proponent of perspectivism, of the position that there is no uniquely privileged gaze. He becomes a critic of the philosophical tradition, insofar as the latter assumes that such a gaze is possible or even necessary. While the tendency within the main lines of that tradition has been to take the language of vision deployed by such thinkers as Plato, Descartes, and Hegel in a figurative sense, so that it becomes simply another way of talking about knowledge and understanding, we must pause, in reading Nietzsche; for he, insisting that knowledge and understanding are fully embodied activities, cannot allow himself such a reduction of the senses to the pure intellect. And his own reading of his predecessors, as in a famous section of Twilight of the Idols, called "How the True World Finally Became a Fable," will suggest that each of the major stages of metaphysics can be understood as an optical regime, in which, for example, Plato poses as the sun, Christianity trades on the contrast between seeing now through a glass darkly and then face to face, and Kant claims to perceive the traces of the sun's truth through northern fog and mist.


Excerpted from Archaeologies of Vision by Gary Shapiro Copyright © 2003 by Gary Shapiro. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations
References and Abbreviations
Introduction: The Abyss of Vision 1
1 Between Sun and Cyclops: Nietzsche at the Dresden Gallery 39
2 Nietzsche's Laocoon: Crossings of Painting and Poetry 69
3 "This is Not a Christ": Art in The Birth of Tragedy 87
4 Ubersehen: Architecture and Excess in the Theater of Dionysus 127
5 In the Twinkling of an Eye: Zarathustra on the Gaze and the Glance 157
6 Foucault's Story of the Eye: Madness, Dreams, Literature 193
7 Crituque of Impure Phenomenology 217
8 Seeing and Saying: Foucault's Ekphrasis of Las Meninas 245
9 Toward an Archaeology of Painting 265
10 Visual Regimes and Visual Resistance: From the Panopticon to Manet's Bar 285
11 Pipe Dreams: Recurrence of the Simulacrum in Klossowski, Deleuze, and Magritte 325
12 The Phantasm in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction 347
Notes 395
Index 429
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