back to

Conditions of Visuality Under the Anthropocene and Images of the Anthropocene to Come


There is no harmony in the universe. We have to get acquainted to this idea that there is no real harmony as we have conceived it.
—Werner Herzog

In the experience of deep sadness, the world itself seems altered in some way: colored by sadness, or disfigured … [This originates] in desolation, in the sense that the world is frozen and that nothing new is possible. This can lead to terrible paroxysms of destruction, attempts to shatter the carapace of reality and release the authentic self trapped within; but it can also lead away from the self altogether, towards new worldly commitments that recognize the urgent need to develop another logic of existence, another way of going on.
—Dominic Fox

The Anthropocene is the era in which man’s impact on the earth has become the single force driving change on the planet, thus giving shape to nature, shifting seas, changing the climate, and causing the disappearance of innumerable species, including placing humanity on the brink of extinction. The Anthropocene thus announces the collapse of the future through “slow fragmentation towards primitivism, perpetual crisis and planetary ecological collapse.” Instead of being conceived as speculative images of our future economic and political system, the Anthropocene has been reduced to an apocalyptic fantasy of human finitude, world finitude, and the manageable problem of climate change. In the last decade, films about the end of the world have been characterized by an apocalyptic and doomsday narrative that may end with moral redemption—from The Day After Tomorrow (2004), and 2012 (2009), to Lars von Trier’s Melancholia (2011) and World War Z (2013). In parallel, we have seen in the mass media a narrative presenting climate change as a fixable catastrophe, just like any other (such as the 2008 financial crisis, or the 2010 BP gulf oil spill). Neither our condition of finitude nor the world after the human has been imagined, and the massive environmental impact from the industrial era onward, with its long-term geomorphic implications, has become unintelligible.

The Anthropocene has meant not a new image of the world, but rather a radical change in the conditions of visuality and the subsequent transformation of the world into images. These developments have had epistemological as well as phenomenological consequences: while images now participate in forming worlds, they have become forms of thought constituting a new kind of knowledge—one that is grounded in visual communication, and thereby dependent on perception, demanding the development of the optical mind. The radical changes in the conditions of visuality under the Anthropocene have brought a new subject position, announced by the reformulating trajectories between impressionism and cubism, and those between cubism and experimental film. While cubism culminated with the antihumanist rupture of the picture plane and converted the visual object, along with surrealism, into “manifestation,” “event,” “symptom,” and “hallucination,” experimental film introduced a mechanical, posthuman eye conveying solipsistic images at the sensorimotor level of perception. The consequence of these developments is that images, as opposed to being subject to our “beliefs,” or being objects of contemplation and beauty, came to be perceived as “the extant.” This involves a passage from representation to presentation, that is, instead of showing a perpetual present in a parallel temporality in order to make the absent partially present, the image has become sheer presence, immediacy: the here and now in real time. Made up of particles of time, wrested out of sensation and turned into cognition, the image deals more with concepts and saying than with intuition and showing.

With its break from the Renaissance point of view, cubism decomposed anthropomorphism. Based on linear perspective, Renaissance perspective had normalized a viewing position as a centered, one-eyed static entity within a mathematical, homogenous space. Creating the illusion of a view to the outside world, Renaissance perspective made the pictorial plane analogous to a window. Images constructed with traditional perspective bestow identities and subjects given a priori, configured by the point of view provided by the picture plane. Cubism, in contrast, turned space, time, and the subject upside down, redefining spatial experience by rupturing the picture plane. If classical representation conveys a continuous space, cubism invented discontinuous space by subverting the relations between subject and object, making identity and difference relative, questioning classical metaphysics. The cubist image renewed the image of the world by dissociating gaze, subject, and space, but without estranging them from each other, bringing about a new, antihumanist subject position. Moreover, with cubism, temporality—duration—and a multiplicity of points of view became embedded in the picture plane.

Read the full article here.