Atomic Light (Shadow Optics)

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Dreams, x-rays, atomic radiation, and “invisible men” are phenomena that are visual in nature but unseen. Atomic Light (Shadow Optics) reveals these hidden interiors of cultural life, the “avisual” as it has emerged in the writings of Jorge Luis Borges and Jacques Derrida, Tanizaki Jun’ichirô and Sigmund Freud, and H. G. Wells and Ralph Ellison, and in the early cinema and the postwar Japanese films of Kobayashi Masaki, Teshigahara Hiroshi, Kore-eda Hirokazu, and Kurosawa Kiyoshi, all under the shadow cast by the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 

Akira Mizuta Lippit focuses on historical moments in which such modes of avisuality came into being—the arrival of cinema, which brought imagination to life; psychoanalysis, which exposed the psyche; the discovery of x-rays, which disclosed the inside of the body; and the “catastrophic light” of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which instituted an era of atomic discourses. 

With a taut, poetic style, Lippit produces speculative readings of secret and shadow archives and visual structures or phenomenologies of the inside, charting the materiality of what both can and cannot be seen in the radioactive light of the twentieth century. 

Akira Mizuta Lippit is professor of cinema, comparative literature, and Japanese culture at the University of Southern California. He is the author of Electric Animal: Toward a Rhetoric of Wildlife (Minnesota, 2000).

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780816646104
  • Publisher: University of Minnesota Press
  • Publication date: 12/25/2005
  • Pages: 248
  • Product dimensions: 5.89 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix
0 Universes 1
"Hoichi the Earless"
Blindness and invisibility
Atomic destruction and phantom visuality
Catastrophic light, Japanese visual culture
Jorge Luis Borges, "The Library of Babel" (1941)
The universal Library and secret archive
Traces of the uninscribed and uninscribable
"The true story of your death"
The shadow archive
Jacques Derrida, Archive Fever (1995)
Heterogeneity and psychoanalysis
A universe of the unarchivable
1 The Shadow Archive (A Secret Light) 13
"The secret is the very ash of the archive"
Sigmund Freud, Moses and Monotheism (1934-39)
"Into the light"
"The shadow of the god"
Secrecy and pseudonymy
Tanizaki Jun'ichiro, In Praise of Shadows (1933-34)
Illumination and the archive
"The glow of grime"
Radiation descends from above and assails the body like a fever
Cinders and atomic writing
Pellicular surfaces
X-rays and cinema, profound superficiality
Secret visuality
2 Modes of Avisuality: Psychoanalysis-X-ray-Cinema 35
"The dream of Irma's injection"
The secret of dreams and the secret dream
Formlessness and interiority
"The very invisibility of the invisible within the visible"
Wilhelm Conrad Rontgen
Berthe's hand, X-rays
Inside out
Penetrating light and the Visible Human Project
Destructive visuality
Anniversaries, apocalypse
X sign
The dream of cinema
An exemplary design
3 Cinema Surface Design 61
"The psychology of movement"
Early cinema, making visible the invisible
Auguste and Louis Lumiere, the surface of the screen
Imaginary depth
"Unseen energy swallowing space"
Screens and displaced collisions
"Phantom rides"
Invisible thresholds between life and death
"The metaphysical surface" (Gilles Deleuze)
James Williamson, The Big Swallow (circa 1901)
Total visibility
The outer surface of consciousness
The phantasm
4 An Atomic Trace 81
"Eyes melted out of sheer ecstasy"
The wrathful light of atoms
Invisible men
Optical density and diffusion
Allegories of atomic radiation
Invisibility and transparency
H. G. Wells (1897) and James Whale (1933), The Invisible Man
"A black cavity"
Unimaginable destruction, catastrophic light
Photographic sculptures
Face and surface, facelessness
Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)
IM, "hypervisibility"
"Outside history"
Atomic and anatomic
Phonic atomism
The spaceless image
5 Exscription/Antigraphy 105
Maurice Merleau-Ponty, "a blending of some sort"
Painting and the universal image
Tanizaki's Japanese skin, which radiates darkness
"A bright shadow"
A dark writing
Atomic, atopic
Ibuse Masuji, Black Rain (1965)
Liquid atomic ash
Interiorized world
Emulsion, "an immiscible mixture"
Marguerite Duras and Alain Resnais, Hiroshima mon amour (1959), cinders and rain
An atomic trope, writing on skin
Mizoguchi Kenji, Ugetsu (1953), the searing surface
"Eyes destined to weep"
Kobayashi Masaki, Kwaidan (1964), the invisible body
Disturbance of the senses
Catastrophic synthesis
Teshigahara Hiroshi, Woman in the Dunes (1964)
Identity papers
A liquid desert
8:15 a.m.
Water from sand
A smooth archive
6 Phantom Cures: Obscurity and Emptiness 133
Psychic visuality and displaced interority
Kore-eda Hirokazu, Maborosi (1995)
"A beautiful light"
Memory and dream, the acousmatic voice
Passages and lines
A shadow optics
Kurosawa Kiyoshi, Cure (1997)
"I myself am empty"
Memories returned from the outside
Roger Corman, X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (1963)
Atomic vision
Photographing emptiness
Interiority constituted by the lack of interiority
Circumcision, secret cuts
The cure/to cure
Dark worlds
"Sightless vision," a vision machine at the end of cinema
Notes 159
Index 195
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