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Irmgard Emmelhainz on Conditions of Visuality Under the Anthropocene


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Image: A still from the “National Anthem” episode of Black Mirror.

The March issue of e-flux journal includes a piece by Irmgard Emmelhainz entitled “Conditions of Visuality Under the Anthropocene and Images of the Anthropocene to Come.” In the piece, Emmelhainz advances a provocative and paradoxical thesis: “Images of the Anthropocene are missing”

In an era of ubiquitous synthetic and digital images dissociated from human vision and directly tied to power and capital, when images and aesthetic experience have been turned into cognition and thus into empty sensations or tautological truths about reality, the image of the Anthropocene is yet to come. The Anthropocene is “the age of man” that announces its own extinction. In other words, the Anthropocene thesis posits “man” as the end of its own destiny. Therefore, while the Anthropocene narrative keeps “man” at its very center, it marks the death of the posthuman and of antihumanism, because there can be no redeeming critical antihumanist or posthuman figure in which either metaphysics or technological and scientific advances would find a way to reconcile human life with ecology. In short, images of the Anthropocene are missing. Thus, it is necessary to transcend our incapacity to imagine an alternative or something better. We can first do this: draw a distinction between images and imagery, or pictures. Although it is related to the optic nerve, the picture does not make an image. In order to make images, it is necessary to make vision assassinate perception; it is necessary to ground vision, and then perform (as in artistic activity) and think vision (as in critical activity).

Find the full essay at the e-flux journal website.