CSS Smooth Text Color Transition

Chromogenic print in artist’s frame
40 x 26,5 cm

We ourselves speak a language that is foreign. Freud’s formulation, which goes something like that, stipulates that, regardless of which language we speak, read or think through, it is foreign.[1]Foreign to whom? To us? To the analyst trying to apprehend it? For ourselves? Unconscious thoughts, desires, fears and fixations turn our consciousness into a text that is translated into the language of everyday life. That language is constantly subject to corrections, deletions, alterations, retakes, additions, and so on. The foreign elements that overwhelms us, names, dates, rituals, bodies, sculptures, prehistory, dreams, passions, madness, drugs, and always language, too. It is said that there are two ways to lose your mind: a) to be absent from the language; b) to be absently part of it. The relationship between words and things illustrates our point. It is infused with a powerful, irresolvable tension: whether the words are a natural part of it, whether the things are independent, how much they counteract each other, whether the connection between them was there from the beginning or was established afterwards. Substitution as a form of madness: the urge to replace things with words, to symbolically situate the presence of things, in other words, to define things in their absence. How this difference finally comes to haunt us. How it threatens to fling gravel in our eyes.[2] Then our eyes fall out and we can no longer read the text we are writing.

The situation that the above sentence describes is the same situation as the one into which it places its non-reader: an omitted reading, a wordless contemplation. What stands written is:

⠄⠮⠀⠋⠁⠀⠉⠑⠀⠇⠕⠕⠅⠎ ⠌⠗⠁⠊⠣⠞⠀
⠁⠞ ⠍⠑ ⠯ ⠾⠳⠞ ⠃⠺⠎⠲

Read as Braille against the substrate, the meaning can be deciphered. The raised parts form meaningful characters while the redundant parts remain flat. To begin with we can think of the redundant parts in the picture itself. What distinguishes photographs from other visual media, we could argue, is specifically their redundancy, the excess of information. In this case, we see a person who stands half turned away, what goes on beyond that: clothes, individual details, sun and shadows. It is late in the day, the shadows have lengthened. The body is split into two parts, the face completely vanishes into the shadow. The arms catch the narrow shaft of sunlight, they extend down towards what we can assume are plastic bags weighed down by goods. The person is wearing a headset: the righthand earphone lead traces a diagonal line through the shadowy section. It ends in a corresponding lead on the lefthand side, before both continue downwards into a common cable.
            We observed the relief pattern on the cloth of the jersey. It could be made of a rubber material of the type we so often see in sportswear. Certain dots ⠄⠮⠀⠋ / ⠇⠕⠕⠅⠎ / ⠊⠣⠞ ⠁⠞ / ⠯ ⠾⠳⠞ ⠃⠺ shine out clearly, while others ⠁⠉⠑ / ⠌⠗⠁/ ⠍⠑ / ⠎⠲ can only be made out from the shadows that they cast on the clothing. It is a tactile statement whose meaning is not immediately accessible to us when we view the picture on the wall. The inability to read the text is what interests us here. There is a kind of radical uncertainty or helplessness inscribed into this very incapacity that takes our thoughts to the unconscious. We do not really know whether the message has any recipients, whether it is trying to say something to anyone. We do not know whether the other one wants something. That is why we try in advance to reflect that uncertainty. When Freud’s successors talk about the unconscious, it is specifically in the sense of a kind of broken communication:

Precisely as an enigma, the symptom, so to speak, announces its dissolution through interpretation: the aim of psychoanalysis is to re-establish the broken network of communication by allowing the patient to verbalize the meaning of [her/]his symptom: through this verbalization, the symptom is automatically dissolved.[4]

The symptom arises when the words are lacking, where the meaning has been excluded from the cycle of discourse. It constitutes a kind of continuation of the broken communication, but in encoded form. The goal of the analysis is in effect to restore communication through enabling the analysand to decipher the code, that is to say, to articulate the meaning of their symptom so that it can be dissolved. The continuity of the subject’s history is restored retroactively by creating meaning in the apparently meaningless. In a sense the symptom does not exist without its recipient: in analysis it is always addressed to the analyst, like a targeted invitation to decode its hidden meaning. In our case the code is self-reflexive to the extent that it explicitly communicates its own impossibility: the recipient of the message remains mute and wordless. In what sense is the script impossible more specifically? There are two linguistic modalities of impossibility, the first of which deals with linguistic (un)consciousness. For reading to come about, understanding is required so that something constitutes language, in this case an array of dots on an article of clothing. Its units of meaning can easily be mistaken for decorative additions: beads, sequins, rubber textures, quite simply objects among many others, which they also in a sense are. In this first stage we encounter the words in a reified form, unaware that they bear meaning. The words take off from within the language, yet they do not reach the reader, but are only accessible specifically as objects. Does this not say something about words in general? Words can be read, but they can also be looked at: they are disguised objects. Words denote objects, but now themselves get object status.

            (The fantasy of reification, of the word-object, could be extended to include a moment of mutual transformation. A person becomes an object through words, not as a result of sexism or linguistic objectification, but due to a profound affinity between the word and the person themself. To see a word and feel how it moves inside you. To feel yourself inside the word, how the word reads you. If you persist long enough with the word-object, you becomeit. You do not grasp the message, so instead you are turned into it.)

The inability to conceptualize the message as something other than an object recalls the magic realm before language, before our cognition of meaning through language. We should, however, bear in mind that objects are language, objects have syntax and can be read in many different ways. The very fact that we conceptualize something as an object indicates a linguistic dimension. The notion of a pre-linguistic set of objects overlooks the fact that “object” is a linguistic event. As Wittgenstein explains: “What reason have we for calling ‘S’ the sign for a sensation? For ‘sensation’ is a word of our common language […] and it would not help either to say that it need not be a sensation; that when he writes ‘S,’ he has something – and that is all that can be said. ‘Has’ and ‘something’ also belong to our common language […]”[5]For Wittgenstein, we might add, it is only within language that signs signify. Hence, signification cannot explain language. This is another way of saying that there is no metalanguage. Every syllable is a dot that conceals the movement ofits origin. Every dot is a movement. Every movement conceals where it is carried out:

What is missing in the encounter with the text is an understanding of structure, that the dots create meaning through their syntactic relations with each other. Without that understanding the words are shut inside themselves. They are in this exact sense invisible to us. We are without words, but we still do not know that we lack them. We cannot yet read the text on the garment, or to put it more correctly: we cannot yet – notread the text. The text only emerges once we get to know the linguistic nature of the dots. Epistemologically it is a dialectic situation: knowledge produces an obstacle that at the same time is the only guarantee of getting any further. I am attracted by the idea that something is mediated through its own hindrance. Once again, the structure of the symptom is reflected as something that is both enabling and limiting. More generally that duality is reflected in all knowledge acquisition that is subject to the divisive effect of language, which is also the predicament of psychoanalysis.
            The other modality of impossibility in the work with the Braille script consists of the act of reading being disabled by its material conditions. Braille is a script that is read through tactile contact, but shut away behind glass, the script vanishes into illegibility. The sighted, too, are blinded in the encounter with what is written. What we see is, to overstate it somewhat, our own inability to see.
            As we notice, a complex of corresponding dichotomies is activated (readability/unreadability ↔ visibility/invisibility), in which we go from the linguistic level to pondering the relationship between sight and the other senses. Here we can think of the tension between optic and haptic vision first formulated by Aloïs Riegl. Where the haptic level presumes a certain measure of closeness to the object – to the extent that we can perhaps touch its surface (haptikos means ‘ability to touch’ in Greek) – the optical level entails a certain measure of distance from the object. Drawing the line is, however, as Riegl himself was careful to point out, not obvious, and later thinkers have further complicated the picture by situating the haptic experience within the domain of optic vision, when “sight discovers in itself a specific function of touch that is uniquely its own, distinct from its optical function”.[6] The function of sight is shifted from passively receiving visual information to developing its own tactile sensibility, in other words, a form of embodied perception. The ambivalence between sight and touch is also confirmed in various ways by today’s neuroscience discoveries about the complexity of the cerebral cortex. One example that interests us: when a blind person reads Braille, their cerebral cortex is activated, like everyone else.[7] The remarkable thing, however, is that the visual cortex is also activated. Neurons that usually send out axons to the part of the cortex that processes impressions from the fingertips deviate in a different direction and develops nerve fibres to the visual cortex.[8]A neuroendocrinologist describes the case of a woman who had been blind since birth and who was very skilled at reading Braille.[9] But, when she suffered a stroke in the visual cortex, she lost her ability to read Braille; the raised dots in the substrate began to feel flat and senseless, while her other touch functions were unaffected.

    ⠄                ⠄                ⠄            ⠄
Dots        shining        like        eyes

    ⠄                ⠄                   ⠄            ⠄
   in       the shadow         of        the gaze

The field of art is still surrounded by a certain mystique as to how visual perception operates and to what extent the rest of the body is mobilized in the process. Attempts to activate more forms of perception than the strictly visual will be at best understood allegorically by some.[10]  According to one such ocularcentric view the encounter with an artwork remains a primarily optic-visual experience. The privileging of sight occurs, we might object, at the expense of other pivotal factors in the encounter with art. Many works certainly mean more for a body than simply that which can be perceived with the eye. As we have seen, however, sight and the other senses are interconnected in a complex, often unpredictable network. Sight is in a certain sense touch.[11]It may perhaps seem strange that a discussion about expanding the senses is prompted by a photographic image that so blatantly revolves around sight and the loss of sight. The other senses are not involved in any explicit way, on the contrary, they are denied access to the work.[12] Touch is excluded. Even if a person does not interact with a work by touching it physically, it can, as we have seen, give rise to a form of unconscious engagement, which for lack of a better word can be described as somatic. The somatosensory system detects a multiplicity of impulses, direct touch being just one of many stimuli.[13]Besides, with regard to touch, there is a reciprocity in perception. Even if you yourself cannot touch something it may very well touch you. In fact, these reverse impulses can be even stronger than those detected by direct touch.

Somatosensory mapping of the cerebral cortex confirms this.[14] In terms of seeing there is also a type of reciprocity, in that you see yourself in a work. This mirroring can just as easily be expressed as the work looking at you. The process is maieutic in the sense that the work triggers something in you that was already there, but which you can only access through that encounter. Once the first wave of enthusiasm has ebbed away, the shortcomings of sight gradually become visible. These shortcomings are clear, not least to everyone who has tried to get close to another human being – or for that matter to themself. To get close to another person with the aid of sight involves measuring out a distance. With the eye as a yardstick, the separation from the other is made more profound. Much has been written about this shortcoming in the history of literature. In the French context, it is almost a kind of obsessive slander against sight.[15]Psychoanalysis’ demonization of the gaze as a malevolent and alienating force can be seen in this light. Against that background we can also understand the long series of anti-ocularcentric gestures in art: examples can be taken from Dada, constructivism and surrealism. What the futurist Marinetti seems to suggest in his Tactilism from 1924 is an art that denies us sight by violating it: without vision we are neither sighted nor blind, which opens onto completely different possibilities. This sensory reprioritization paves the way for a new aesthetic sensibility in which seeing is replaced by tactile exploration through the fingertips. If the sun expires and humankind is forced to live in darkness we will as a consequence be living in the realm of the fingertips. In order to practice our tactile ability, according to Marinetti, it will be necessary to wear gloves for several days “during which the brain will attempt to condense in them the desire for varied tactile sensations”[16]. Duchamp also comes to mind. His rejection of the artwork’s retinal aspect does not happen in favour of the conceptual, as Joseph Kosuth thought with regard to the readymade, but via a tactile apprehension of the work. If a work such as La Mariée Mise a Nu par ses célibataires, même (1915-23) marks a move away from the retinal, then there is an accentuation of touch in Prière de Toucher from 1947, more specifically as an erotic imperative. Of especial interest from our perspective is the earlier work (also known as Le Grand Verre), since it expressly incorporates glass as a kind of obstructive precondition; ‘delay in glass’, as Duchamp puts it. Glass is both material support and that which dispels our understanding. We see everything, all the materials are visible, albeit fragmented, viewers themselves have to fit the pieces together, nothing is hidden except meaning. The obstruction involved in that delay is thus not material, but conceptual, and yet it is enacted equally through the material. Lightness constructed as obstruction, weight through transparency. ︎

The gaze         is        a         boundary         that         separates
the picture         from         the rest         of         you         The gaze
wants         to cut         through         glass         so as         to
see         the         blind         The words         are         themselves
blind         to           something         blind         to         how
they         are written         to         how         difference         is written
between         surfaces         skin surface         glass         surface         text surface         touch’s surface               splits off         from the             reading         surface         meets         the do         inside         the eye’s         glass body

[1] Sigmund Freud, The Uncanny (London: Penguin, 2003), 341.
[2] Cf. the creature in E.T.A Hoffman’s tale Der Sandmann.
[3] The sentence is a translation of the Braille depicted in a work with the same title.
[4] Slavoj Žižek, The Sublime Object of Ideology(London: Verso, 2008), 73.
[5] Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical investigations(Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), 32.
[6] Gilles Deleuze, Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003), 125.
[7] Robert M. Sapolsky, Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst (New York: Penguin, 2018), 226.
[8] Ibid., 227.
[9] Ibid., 239.
[10] Cf. Nicholas J. Wade, “The Science and Art of the Sixth Sense,” in Art and the Senses, ed. Bacci & Melcher (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011), 19-58.
[11] Cf. the phenomenologist Merleau-Ponty’s idea of embodied perception, see Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception (London: Routledge, 2002).
[12] Many practices exemplify the opposite, cf. participatory and performative strategies, or interactive art with its preoccupation with bodily immersion.
[13] Alberto Gallace & Charles Spence, In Touch with the Future: The sense of touch from cognitive neuroscience to virtual reality (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015), 272.
[14] See Yoshiaki Iwamura, Somatosensory Processing: From Single Neuron to Brain Imaging (Boca Raton: CRC Press, 2019), 287-305.
[15] Cf. Downcast Eyes: The Denigration of Vision in Twentieth-Century French Thought.
[16] Marinetti, F.T. [1924] 2001. “Tactilism.” In Manifesto: A Century of Isms, edited by M.A. Caws, 197- 200. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.