Wednesday, July 20, 2011

by Temenuga Trifonova,
September 9th 2010

Photography and the Unconscious

The Construction of Pathology at the Fin de siècle


The eighteenth century and the first half of the nineteenth century were dominated by physiognomic theories of madness, which posited a one-to-one correspondence between mental states and body states: the body was seen as an undistorted image of the mind. Paradoxically, at a time when an 'objective' recording device (the camera) had not been invented yet, skepticism had not yet proven itself as serious a problem as it would become after the invention of photography. Indeed, I would argue that precisely the absence of an external recording/mirroring device (the camera) made it possible to assume the presence of an internal mirror i.e., to conceive of the body as an 'image' of the mind. In the second half of the nineteenth century the new media of photography and film contributed to a shift in the understanding of attention, thereby influencing the development of the new sciences of mind (psychology and psychiatry). Challenging the assumption of the mind and the body as 'co-expressible' -- functioning as 'mirrors' of each other -- photography and film foreshadowed the 'discovery' of the unconscious and were instrumental in the reconceptualization of pathology and in the transition from physiognomic to psychological theories of madness. As materialist theories constructing madness as purely organic and visually inscribed gradually gave way to a new understanding of consciousness and sanity in terms of attention, it became increasingly clear that inattention, distraction, automatism or absence from oneself, are, in fact, primary rather than secondary states. Paradoxically, precisely when a sophisticated technology for providing visual records of pathology was introduced, theories of pathology as visually inscribed became obsolete and pathology came to be seen as inherent in normal psychological processes.

Photography and film undermined physiognomic theories of insanity, thus blurring the distinction between sanity and insanity and contributing to the 'discovery' of the unconscious in three significant ways. First, photography and film gave rise to a new concept of the self as inherently theatrical and, by extension, of insanity as performative. Second, through its inherent, technical automatism photography revealed at the heart of any photographed movement -- not only the movements of those diagnosed with some form of insanity -- a similar, previously unsuspected, human automatism. Instantaneous photography demonstrated that what appear to be rational, purposeful movements/actions are often carried out automatically or unconsciously. Distraction and inattention -- absence from oneself -- which had previously been considered particular types of pathology now appeared to be inherent in normal psychological processes. Third, while photography was expected to provide objective records of insanity, most scientific applications of photography were driven by aesthetic concerns. To grasp the specific ways in which photography and film challenged materialist theories of insanity, it is helpful first to trace the historical transition from physiognomic to psychological theories of madness.


Early physiognomic theories of mind assumed the equivalence of mental and brain states, positing the mind and the body as 'mirrors' of each other. In Physiognomy, or the Corresponding Analogy between the Conformation of the Features and the Ruling Passions of the Soul (1775-1778) J.C.Lavater argued for "a certain native analogy between the external varieties of the countenance and form, and the internal varieties of the mind."[1] He praised physiognomy for its ability to distinguish "what is permanent in the character from what is habitual, and what is habitual from what is accidental."[2] The repetitious, regulated contraction of facial muscles, he argued, produces normal facial expressions that become deformed when an element of disproportionate change and randomness is introduced into the habitual work of the muscles. Lavater thus identified the normal with the habitual/recognizable and the pathological with the accidental/unpredictable; by extension, immobility (the immobile body/face) was a sign of normality whereas mobility (the body/face in motion) signified abnormality. In A Treatise on Insanity (1801) Pinel claimed to oppose the popular view of insanity as a result of an organic lesion of the brain, considering it instead a 'functional disturbance' produced by psychological causes. Nevertheless, he listed numerous exceptions demonstrating a connection between "certain malconformations of the cranium [and] a state of insanity."[3] Building on the work of Lavater and Pinel, in The Physiognomy of Mental Diseases (1843) Sir Alexander Morison linked sanity to the habitual contractions of facial muscles, which produce a visually recognizable expression: "The appearance of the face is...dependent upon the state of the mind; the repetition of the same ideas and emotions, and the consequent repetition of the same movements of the muscles of the eyes and of the face, give a peculiar expression, which, in the insane state, is a combination of weirdness, abstraction or vacancy."[4]

The connection Benjamin Rush and J.E.D. Esquirol drew between inattention and madness -- a connection reinforced by popular studies like Robert Macnish's The Philosophy of Sleep (1830)[5] which compared madness to dreaming -- were the first cracks in dominant physiognomic theories. In "Of Reverie, or Absence of Mind," chapter XVI of his Medical Inquiries and Observations upon the Diseases of the Mind (1812), Rush described insanity in terms of inattentiveness, a predisposition to reverie or distractedness that could be induced either by "the stimulus of ideas of absent subjects being so powerful as to destroy the perception of present objects [or] by a torpor of mind so great as not to feel the impressions of surrounding objects upon the senses."[6] In Mental Maladies: A Treatise on Insanity (1845) Esquirol also identified the loss of attention and thus of the ability to reason, an ability not natural to us, as the essential feature of insanity: "[W]e are not naturally reasoning beings...our ideas are not conformed to objects, our comparisons exact, our reasonings just, but by a succession of effort of the attention, which supposes in its turn, an active state of the organ of thought."[7]

In The Mechanism of Human Facial Expression (1862) G. B. Duchenne de Boulogne recorded the results of his experiments with 'localized electrization', the purpose of which was to 'decompose' general facial expressions -- the elongated face of the melancholic or the changeful features of the maniac -- into the series of particular facial muscles that produced them in the first place. On the basis of his accidental discovery that a single contraction of a facial muscle does not cause all other muscles to contract, he classified the isolated or combined contractions of the face as 'expressive on their own', 'expressive only in a complementary way', or 'partly expressive'. Duchenne was essentially thinking of facial expression, on analogy with language, as a universal, immutable code: "To be universal, the language must always be composed of the same signs or, in other words, depend on muscular contractions that are always the same. [...] [E]ach emotion is always represented on the face by the same muscular contractions, which neither fashions nor whims can change."[8] Reviving Lavater's ideas, he proposed that a 'normal' or 'natural' facial expression is formed by the habitual contractions of the same muscles working in harmony to produce a general visually recognizable expression that can be compared to similar ones in the past. Conversely, Duchenne considered the face in motion as an example of deformity or abnormality: a deformed expression is not immediately recognizable because it is no longer the product of the habitual contraction of the same series of muscles; instead, individual muscles contract in new, unpredictable (non-habituated) ways. Duchenne thus defined pathology as a failure of recognition as a result of excessive localization (the autonomous and random manner in which isolated muscles contract). The physical deformity of the face (and the internal deformity it pointed to) was analogous to the disruption of the codified, conventionalized relation between signifier and signified, resulting in a dispersal and randomization of meaning. In such abnormal cases, even if a person's internal state of mind remained the same (e.g. melancholy) the system of facial muscles (signifiers) that used to produce that particular expression in the past was disrupted, with the result that the individual contractions of isolated facial muscles failed to produce one recognizable expression i.e. a single, recognizable signified (melancholy).

Duchenne's major contribution to the new sciences of mind lies in his novel conception of mental deformity as a kind of illegibility: the deformed mind cannot be 'read' through/'on' the body. His experiments challenged the conventional belief in the correspondence between the visible (body) and the invisible (mind). Even as he held on to the familiar notion of physical deformity (the contraction of the facial muscles in non-habituated ways) as a sign of mental deformity, Duchenne's emphasis on the illegibility (the 'non-habituated' as 'illegible') of the visible (physical deformity) pointed to a parallel illegibility of the invisible (mental deformity). Abandoning Esquirol's holistic theory of correspondence, Duchenne proposed instead an analytic conception of the subject and of facial expression, underscoring the fragmentary/illegible nature of the body and, by implication, the fragmentary/illegible nature of the mind. By distancing himself from earlier physiognomic theories and using photography to capture the ephemeral and the instantaneous, Duchenne was already beginning to understand the human face cinematically: "instead of seeking a permanent physical imprint of fate or character [Duchenne] sought to understand the face in motion, describing facial expressions as a mobile muscular phenomenon."[9] With Duchenne, "the human face became less a realm described in generalities [as had been the case with physiognomy which focused on classifying faces into types] than a zone of intense scrutiny on an individual basis."[10]

The heyday of physiognomic theories was 1810-1840; by the 1870s and the 1890s the scientific basis of such theories was beginning to be seriously challenged.[11] In Degeneration (1892) Max Nordau argued that the main causes and symptoms of insanity were mental rather than physical: degeneracy is the result of a breakdown of the normal association of ideas, which depends on habitual responses to external stimuli based on the memory-images of similar past stimuli. The mind of the insane stops functioning as a screen for external stimuli: instead of taking the path of least resistance it allows presentations that have nothing to do with the present stimulus and fails to match past perceptions with present ones based on the four laws of association.[12]

[A]ttention is the faculty of the brain to suppress one part of the memory-images which, at each excitation of a cell or group of cells, have arisen in consciousness, by way either of association or of stimulus-wave; and to maintain another part, namely, only those memory-images which relate to the exciting cause i.e. to the object just perceived. [...] Inability to be attentive accompanies all forms of exhaustion. Untended and unrestrained by attention, the brain activity of the degenerate and hysterical is capricious, and without aim or purpose.[13]

Nordau conceived of degeneracy in terms of a gap between the input of external stimuli and the subject's motor response to those stimuli (the transformation of idea into action):

With the incapacity for action there is connected the predilection for inane reverie. The degenerate is not in a condition to fix his attention long, or indeed at all, on any subject, and is equally incapable of correctly grasping, ordering or elaborating into ideas and judgments the impressions of the external world conveyed to his distracted consciousness by his defectively operating senses. It is easier and more convenient for him to allow his brain-centers to produce semi-lucid, nebulously blurred ideas and inchoate embryonic thoughts, and to surrender himself to the perpetual obfuscation of a boundless, aimless, and shoreless stream of fugitive ideas.[14]

Reviving a line of thought going back to Rush and Esquirol, Nordau described degeneracy as a form of inattentiveness, a break in the psychic-motor apparatus of stimulation and response[15] i.e., he assumed that that the structuring of the random series of associations into conscious/voluntary thought and action is a natural process which, when stopped or prevented, leads to degeneracy.[16] Nordau's account of degeneration in terms of a lack of discrimination or inattentiveness could just as well be read as a reference to the non-discriminatory nature of the photograph. Early photographers struggled with the medium's automatism, its tendency to record disinterestedly all kinds of disorderly, irrelevant incidents, suggesting that the instrument was only partially under the photographer's control. It is likely that the unprecedented overabundance of irrelevant details recorded automatically by the camera shaped contemporary views (including Nordau's) of 'the insane, degenerate mind' as similarly inattentive, automatic and prone to digressions. Simply put, the degenerate mind functioned like a camera: failing to screen out the irrelevant or the incidental it recorded everything.

Nordau identified dual personality as the epitome of degeneracy, referring to the explanation given by Pierre Janet, in Les actes inconscient et le dédoublement de la personnalité (1886) and his brother Paul Janet, in L'Hystérie et l'hypnotisme d'après la théories de la double personnalité (1888): "Every person consists of two personalities, one conscious and one unconscious. Among healthy persons both are alike complete, and both in equilibrium. In the hysteric they are unequal, and out of equilibrium. One of the two personalities, usually the conscious, is incomplete, the other remaining perfect."[17] The conscious part is incomplete inasmuch as it has no recollections of the actions of the unconscious part, whereas the unconscious part is fully aware of the primary (conscious) state and is, therefore, complete. Degeneracy, Nordau concluded, manifests as a certain lack of self-presence (in this case, one-directional amnesia). A few years later, however, Breuer and Freud put forward the hypothesis that lack of self-presence, inattention, diffusion and reverie represent our natural state of mind rather than a form of pathology, that mental pathology is rooted in normal psychological processes, for example day-dreaming.[18] Based on their analysis of the case of Anna O., in Studies in Hysteria (1895), Breuer and Freud concluded that pathology results from the compartmentalization of consciousness, part of which continues to exist automatically in the real world (usually performing some kind of mechanical action) while another part becomes dissociated. They attributed this process of dissociation to particular private or social circumstances, in this case Anna O.'s monotonous private and public life, which left a large amount of her mental energy unemployed. Breuer and Freud proposed to think of consciousness and the unconscious in terms of attention and energy: being unconscious begins in the normal state of being inattentive or distracted, which presupposes the availability of surplus energy that has not been tapped into. The dissociation of personality starts out as a dissociation from reality, which fails to make a strong enough claim on the individual thereby leaving her free to disengage that surplus energy somewhere else (in unconscious acts, reveries, and hallucinations). Anna developed a

Freud and Breuer believed that the second state, which disposed of everything 'mentally toxic', was necessary for the proper functioning of the normal self. Studies in Hysteria was symptomatic of an important shift in the conceptualization of pathology: since consciousness, understood in terms of attention, functioned mostly as a mechanism inhibiting the normally diffused, involuntary, and multiple self, inattention, involuntariness and automatism could no longer be construed as pathological. By the time Ribot published The Psychology of Attention (1890) the old hierarchy of conscious and unconscious, attention and inattention, recognition and amnesia, had been reversed. Whereas in his earlier study, The Diseases of the Will (1884), Ribot described the hysterical constitution in terms of inattentiveness and inconstancy, in The Psychology of Attention he posited attention as an abnormal state, the natural state supported by consciousness being diffusion: "The normal condition is plurality of states of consciousness, or...polyideism. Attention is the momentary inhibition, to the exclusive benefit of a single state, of this perpetual progression: it is a monoideism."[20]

Numerous studies corroborated Ribot's claim that diffusion, rather than attention, is the natural state of consciousness, thereby encouraging the conceptualization of consciousness as an inhibitory mechanism and reversing the negative associations of 'the unconscious', 'the diffused' and 'the multiple' with 'insanity'. Various cases reported at the end of the century demonstrated the difference between spontaneous and artificial somnambulism. In 1875 L'Académie de Médicine de Belgique asked M. Warlamont to do a report on the subject of 'double conscience', of which there had been many reported cases. His report insisted on "la realité scientifique du phenomena dit 'dédoublement de la vie', 'double conscience', 'condition seconde', états qui peuvent être spontanés ou provoqués."[21] Warlamont recounted a 1875 case of a girl who fell into 'somnambulism avec catalepsie' whenever she worked "à des bontonnieres" -- a line of work requiring great focus -- and concluded that "c'était une hystérique qui s'hypnotisait elle-même."[22] The more famous case of "Felida X" was discussed in Dr. Eugene Azam's study Amnésie périodique ou dédoublement de la personnalité (1877). Significantly, Azam's use of the term "dédoublement de la vie" departed from the dominant terminology in American studies at the time, 'fragmentation of the ego'. In most other cases of amnesia, the patient felt as if they were double but had no memory of their double existence; however, Felida had no such feeling and in her 'second' state she had perfect memory of her first state. Indeed, Felida did not think of herself as being a different person -- she always felt 'semblable à elle-même."

These studies reinforced the already established tendency to conceptualize consciousness and memory in terms of attention. The cataleptic girl became somnambulist whenever she engaged in some form of activity requiring absolute attention: her somnambulism was the result not of a memory dysfunction but of an imbalance of attention. The part of her existence to which she was not paying attention while she was focusing on her button-work became irrelevant -- it did not produce a strong enough impression upon her or made no immediate demands upon her -- and, therefore, forgettable/unreal/non-existent. Her case raised the question whether, given our ability to consciously or purposefully regulate our attention -- our ability to focus on something to the exclusion of everything else -- we are also capable of 'hypnotizing ourselves': indeed, Warlamont claimed the girl was capable of inducing a somnambulistic state herself. Along similar lines, Azam interpreted Felida's amnesia as a loss of attention rather than the result of a memory dysfunction. As he put it, it is not that one forgets because one cannot remember (amnesia is not the result of memory disturbance); rather, one forgets that of which one was not completely conscious (or completely attentive to) in the first place, and which therefore left an "insufficient impression" upon him. Amnesia has nothing to do with memory in the conventional sense of memory as 'the ability to recollect' the past. Instead, amnesia presupposes at least a minimum awareness that we have lost something: whatever fails to register or become conscious, thus producing amnesia, must have still 'registered', however slightly, or else we wouldn't be able to 'have no memory' of it.

For Bergson, as for Azam, amnesia no longer had to do exclusively with the past: to be amnesiac was not to be fully conscious of/attentive to what is going on 'now'. In Matter and Memory (1896)[23] Bergson defined consciousness in terms of memory -- matter is deprived of memory -- thereby linking amnesia to the unconscious: the 'forgotten' is simply that which we have not perceived consciously i.e., the unconscious. Elaborating further on Ribot's premise that the normal state of consciousness is diffusion, Bergson identified both madness (particularly the doubling/multiplication of personality)[24] and dreams as the substratum of mental life, insisting that the real question is not why some people are mad but rather why we are not all mad or dreaming all the time. Bergson's refusal to distinguish categorically the waking state from the dream state, or perception from memory,[25] was an implicit attack on essentialist theories of sanity and madness for it suggested that the processes assumed to be symptomatic of insanity are always already going on under normal circumstances[26] but are "prevented from emerging, when about to appear, by one of those continually active inhibitory mechanisms which secure attention to life."[27] It was becoming increasingly clear that attention -- and therefore sanity -- was by no means a state one would describe as 'natural' to us; on the contrary, sanity and consciousness now appeared as 'selections' within a vast, nebulous realm alternatively called Pure Memory (Bergson) or the unconscious (Freud). Inasmuch as the photograph framed a portion of the world, it served as an appropriate metaphor for the new understanding of the brain/mind relationship in terms of 'selection'. Bergson made use of that metaphor when he compared the brain to a frame and the mind to a picture:

The frame determines something of the picture, by eliminating beforehand all which has not the same shape and size. [...] So also with the brain and consciousness. Provided the comparatively simple actions -- gestures, attitudes, movements -- in which a complex mental state would be materialized, are such as the brain is ready for, the mental state will insert itself exactly into the cerebral state. But there are a multitude of different pictures which would fit the frame equally well; consequently the brain does not determine thought and, at least to a large extent, thought is independent of the brain.[28]


It is now time to consider the three ways in which photography and film contributed to the transition from physiognomic to psychological theories of insanity that I traced above.

1. Theatricality

At the fin de siècle photography and film played an important part in the rethinking of selfhood as a specular process. Writing in the 1880s and 1890s, French sociologist Gabriel Tarde argued that selfhood originates in imitation, a process he compared to "inter-psychical photography" i.e., "the action which consists of a quasi-photographic reproduction of a cerebral image upon the sensitive plane of another brain."[29] The self is constructed by adopting the gestures and behaviors of those around us in a process similar to taking photographs. If self-consciousness is a product of imitation, early cinema made this self-objectification manifest.[30] According to Jonathan Auerbach "the early movie camera functioned as a distinct apparatus of self-objectification, at once triggering self-consciousness and registering it as a visual process."[31] However, this self-objectification had already happened in still photography. In 1856 Dr. Hugh W. Diamond pioneered the use of photographic portraits in the study and treatment of the insane.[32] Rather than trying to isolate specific signs of malfunction, Diamond was interested in capturing the overall appearance of his patients. He would show them a 'before' and an 'after' photograph (e.g. the patient during a manic attack versus the patient convalescing) so that they could see the improvement they had made in the course of their treatment. The photographs made patients aware of their illness, sometimes provoking a degree of self-consciousness that allowed them to objectify their condition as a sort of performance from which they could distance themselves instead of being trapped by it. One patient imagined herself a Queen but when she was presented with a photograph of herself 'posing' as a Queen she found the photograph ludicrous. Although patients had no choice but to pose, since the technology available at the time depended on long exposure times, Diamond remained convinced that the use of professional models did not undermine the evidential value of photography. By 1859 Diamond's photographs were being criticized, in The Photographic News, not for failing to be objective or scientific but, on the contrary, for lacking the justification of an art work.[33]

Diamond's photographs inspired a series of essays by John Conolly on The Physiognomy of Insanity, published in 1858 in the Medical Times and Gazette. Conolly's essays were illustrated with lithographs based on Diamond's photographs, but there were some significant differences between the two, differences that undermined photography's claim to provide an objective record of insanity. In her unpublished study Frames of Mind: An Investigation into the History of the Photography of Psychiatric Patients (1993)[34] Kamilla Porter draws attention to one particular photograph of a woman suffering from melancholy:

The two pictures are similar and clearly of the same patient, but in Conolly's illustration the subject looks downwards, whereas originally she was gazing directly into the camera (2.7) [...] Had this particular patient been photographed in a different pose, for example without resting her cheek on her hand, and if she had not been wearing a crucifix, the diagnosis of religious melancholy would no doubt have been far less obvious to the observer of the photograph (2.8). [T]he diagnosis of melancholy depended on the reproduction of a classic image of melancholy, which in turn demanded that Diamond's original photograph be slightly modified in order to fit that image. Ultimately, the medical diagnosis depended on the patient's pose rather than on the photographic medium's supposedly inherent objectivity.[35]

On the basis of her examination of the casebooks of photographs by Hering at Bethlem (c. 1850), by Diamond at the Surrey County Asylum (c. 1856) and by Dr. Clarke at Wakefield (c. 1869) Porter concludes that by the late 1860s photography was used not to study the physiognomy of the insane but rather for identification and record keeping, especially once new technological improvements allowed photographs to be taken more efficiently. Porter wonders whether the very development of photography might have contributed to the decline of physiognomic interpretations of insanity.

The writings of Albert Londe, medical researcher and chronophotographer appointed as head of the photographic service at La Salpêtrière, suggest that the decline of physiognomic theories might have to do with a growing awareness of ability of the camera to reproduce the object it is supposed to record. Londe emphasized the reproduction capacity of photography, which made possible a taxonomy of madness since different types of madness could be recognized only through comparisons across patients and across time. He derived the persistence or recurrence of the visual signs in which madness manifested itself -- which he read as essential or inherent precisely because of its recurrence -- from the reproducibility of reproductions (photographs).[36] The very nature of the apparatus -- its 'double identity' insofar as it offered a means of mechanical reproduction but it also made possible the application of exactly the same process of reproduction to the result obtained through reproduction i.e., to the photographs themselves -- reproduced the object of which it claimed to provide a record:

Il est même certaines affections qui donnent au malade une physionomie toute spéciale, qui ne frappe pas l'observateur dans un cas isolé, mais qui devient typique si on la retrouve chez d'autres personnes atteintes de la meme maladie. La comparison de photographies prises quelquefois à des années de distance permettra, comme l'a fait M. le Professeur Charcot a la Salpêtrière, de décrire la facies proper à telle ou telle affections dy système nerveux. Ce résultat est important; car le type, une fois défini, reste gravé dans la mémoire et il peut, dans certain cas, être précieux pour le diagnosic.[37]

Londe was aware of the danger of theatricality due to the sheer presence of the camera: "Il est évident, en effet, que si nous voulons saisir des attitudes, des mouvements qui soient pris sur le vif, il ne faudra pas éveiller l'attention de nos modeles involontaires qui ne manqueraient pas de se croire obligés de poser."[38] Indeed, he understood that the behavior of the insane more often than not conformed to the apparatus used to represent it, an apparatus that functioned according to the same principle of decomposition and analysis that governed the attacks of the hysteric or the epileptic and was thus unusually suitable for recording them:

Dans sa clinique des maladies du système nerveux M. le professeur Charcot a toute une série de maladies atteints de paralysie, d'hystérie, d'épilpsie, de chorée etc., qui semblent mettre au défi la Photographie; il s'agit, en effet, d'étudier des tremblements, des attaques, de les analyzer et de les decomposer. D'ou la nécessité d'un appareil spécial qui permet de prendre un certain nombre d'épreuves à des intervalles quelconques, aussi rapproches ou aussi eloigner qu'on le voudra les uns des autres. Prenon comme type l'attaque hystéro-épileptique, attaque qui se subdivise en périodes parfaitement distinctes, composées chacune de mouvements rythmes et caractéristiques. Le medicin a interet a décomposer: 1. l'attaque en periodes caractérisées par le mouvement; 2. le mouvement lui-même.[39]

For E. Frippet, one of Londe's students at La Salpêtrière, the good photographer was recognized by how artistic -- well-posed -- his photographs were. Frippet devoted himself to the study of different lighting conditions and the exact 'temps de pose' corresponding to each, for he believed that instantaneous photography had to be as exact as possible in its simulation of a natural attitude: "Il faudra donc, pour avoir d'excellents resultants, recourir a la pose, et avoir soin de placer son modele dans les meilleures conditions possible au point de vue de la lumière, tout en lui donnant une attitude naturelle."[40] The inherent sincerity and precision of photography soon came to be seen as obstacles to its establishment as a true art:

Cette precision excessive, aveugle même, precieuze dans certain cas, sera ici plutôt un obstacle. Il faudra donc que l'opérateur compose son sujet de manière a attirer l'attention sur l'objet principal, qu'il l'éclaire de manière à mettre en lumière tel ou tel point, qu'il lui donne une attitude naturelle, qu'il fasse ressortir la physionomie qui lui est habituelle, en un mot qu'il exécute ce travail préparatoire tout comme le ferait un artiste; mais comme, d'autre part, il se sert d'un instrument particulier qui, àcertains points de vue, peut modifier les effects, qui'il prevoie tout, qu'il calcule tout.[41]

In the course of explaining why he could not use the fusil photographique of his excellent colleague Marey, Londe inadvertently acknowledged the extent to which the recording of madness and mental illness depended on the precise match between the mechanical progress of the apparatus and the 'natural' progress of the hysterical or epileptic attack: "la durée de l'attaque n'a absolument rien de régulier, et [il] fault pouvoir régler la marche de l'appareil sur celle de l'attaque. De plus l'appareil doit obéir au médicin, de facon que celui-ci puisse agir au moment précis qu'il croira utile de choisir."[42] There was something pathological in the very capacity of photography to freeze time, a kind of technological catalepsy matching the 'natural' catalepsy of which it provided a record: "Catalepsy retains by way of the body what photography retains by way of the camera: it freeze-frames and retains the body in isolated position that can be viewed and theorized outside a sequence of motion.[43]

The possibility of taking multiple records of the insane over a period of time in order to study the effect of various treatments and to perform other kinds of comparative analysis rendered the idea of an essentially unified and static self obsolete. Indeed, that idea had already been put into question by the 'boom' in hysteria cases at the end of the nineteenth century. Hysteric patients could reproduce poses that were suggested to them under hypnosis as if there was a second self 'in' them. By the end of the century this second personality, associated with automatism, was recognized as the unconscious, a concept that would undergo numerous redefinitions and destabilize traditional definitions of 'sanity' and 'insanity'. The privileged place of hysteria in fin de siècle culture can be attributed to its role in the development of the idea of the unconscious in terms of 'performance'. Charcot's name features prominently in histories of dynamic psychiatry, especially in relation to hysteria and the theatricalization of the cogito by the emerging new media.[44] Charcot contributed to the development of dynamic psychiatry by drawing a distinction between 'dynamic' and 'organic' paralyses: the latter resulting from a lesion of the nervous system, the former provoked through auto-suggestion or hypnosis and thus reversible. Similarly, he demonstrated that unlike organic amnesia, which involved the irreversible loss of memories, patients suffering from dynamic amnesia were capable of recovering their lost memories. Dynamic amnesia and dynamic paralysis were thus, in a manner of speaking, 'simulations'. Charcot went on to argue that, like dynamic amnesia and dynamic paralysis, hysteria was the result of suggestion and could therefore be cured in the same way, by suggestion. His studies depended on the analogous dynamics of popular melodrama: at the Bal des Folles, very popular with the public, Charcot induced, through hypnosis, localized hysterical symptoms, which the patients then 'acted out' in front of an audience.[45] Conversely, after the introduction of film hysterical patients would often imitate cabaret performers and early film comedy actors, thus drawing attention to what Rae Beth Gordon calls 'the performative nature of corporeal pathologies':[46]

Is there a relationship between ways that movement was staged in early cinema and corporeal pathologies -- contractures, tics, catalepsy, and convulsive movement -- related to hysteria and epilepsy? [...] It seems plausible that café-concert performers provided models for potential hysterics who couldn't resist imitating the tics, grimaces, and convulsive movements that later came to characterize the medical journal Nouvelle Iconographie Photographique de la Salpêtrière.[47]

According to Kamilla Porter, Charcot's use of photography differed from that of his predecessors:

Charcot's approach to hysteria emphasized the external and visual rather than the unseen and purely psychological. [...] Thus Charcot's use of photography differed from that of Diamond and Conolly in that he was interested in recording the bodily postures of the patients and not just their facial expressions. Also, Charcot's photographs were more elaborately framed and staged than Diamond's pictures and some of the patients were photographed many times to the extent that some made sort of a career out of modeling for the iconographies.[48]

The presence of the photographic camera destabilized the ontology of the mental state of which it sought to provide ocular proof. If ocular demonstration and record were essential to the continued study of madness and mental illness, then the camera was called upon to keep producing and reproducing the object of study (madness): to demonstrate the cure meant to provide the illness first. Even as the camera claimed to be the most objective and technologically advanced method of studying insanity, its sheer presence challenged the reality of the object it was supposed to represent objectively.

As soon as photography and film were 'invented' they were used for medical documentation. In 1885, ten years before the first film screening of the Lumière brothers, the first clinical case of a multiple, Louis Vivet, was photographed in his ten personality states. Two years later Albert Dad, the first person whose dissociative fugues were studied in detail, was photographed in his three states (normal, hypnotized and during a fugue).[49] Between 1899 and 1902, Romanian neurologist Gheorghe Marinescu wrote (for French medical journals) a series of articles on hysteria, basing his research on cinematographic documents. In 1883 Albert Londe studied the 'large hysterical arc' with serial cameras. And yet, as early as 1910 Dr. Hans Hennes of the Provinzial-Heil-und Pflegeanstalt Bonn observed (in his treatise Cinematography in the Service of Neurology and Psychiatry) that, paradoxically, film 'produced' madness precisely by providing reliable records of it. Although film was instrumental in what Hacking calls the re-conceptualization of the 'soul' -- under the new disguise of 'memory' -- as an object of scientific inquiry, it also contributed to the theatricalization of the cogito, provoking a shift in our understanding of rational thought from Descartes' notion of the cogito as "a perpetual recession of the body" to the cinematic proof of the cogito through the "perpetual visibility of the self, a theatricality in my presence to others, hence to myself."[50] Overexposed by the film camera, constantly on display, the cogito would from now on derive the proof of its own existence only from the realm of appearances: the camera compromised the previously stable distinction between reason and unreason, opening it up to manipulation. By offering incontrovertible visible evidence of the reality of a mental illness like multiple personality, for instance, film also demonstrated the increasing obsolescence of the idea of a transcendental subject, thereby contributing to a new discourse of the self as inherently multiple and reproducible, existing in a constant state of metaphysical embarrassment, a 'perpetual theater' involving other minds. The camera introduced an element of theatricality or insincerity that would eventually permeate the larger intellectual climate of modernity and play a central role in the birth of existentialism with its emphasis on the inherent inauthenticity or theatricality of the self (Sartre). By registering automatically both our conscious and unconscious movements/gestures, the camera condemned us to a perennially exposed mode of existence, of which it provided an inevitable surplus of proof.

Film did not only contribute to the anxiety of drift that Leo Charney identifies, in Empty Moments: Cinema, Modernity and Drift,[51] as the defining experience of modernity; it also participated in the total restructuring of attention at the fin de siècle. Insofar as film perception mimicked the drifting, distracted perception of the flâneur, film was just one manifestation, among many, of modernity's tendency to drift; on the other hand, film served as a bulwark against the threatening tendency to drift by structuring the viewer's attention -- structuring contingency -- into 'peaks and valleys'. In The Emergence of Cinematic Time: Modernity, Contingency, the Archive [52] Mary Ann Doane identifies the tension between contingency and rationalization (the rationalization of time and space)[53] as central to modernity, and to film. Early cinema, argues Doane, was about instants and their accountability with respect to meaning: cinema resolved the pressing conflict between meaning and contingency by offering an automatic inscription of contingency (as distinguished, for example, from Impressionist painting's purposeful attempts to capture contingency) thereby making rationalization tolerable. Contingency was thus constructed both as a lure (film's promise of indexicality, of the re-materialization and archiving of time) and a threat (the threat of nonsense, illegibility and arbitrariness: any -- empty -- moment can be filmed). Film's role in the structuring of attention exposed the natural predisposition of consciousness to drift, to 'valleys' rather than 'peaks', to involuntary rather than voluntary perception and memory: film promised to keep at bay the vertigo of drift by arresting time into moments that give us the illusion of presence.

The ambivalence toward film that informs both Benjamin's writing (film embodies the modern experience of being overwhelmed by the constant shocks to the eye but, at the same time, it holds the key to the 'optical unconscious')[54] and Charney's and Doane's takes on modernity (the discourse of 'drift' as both a danger and a lure) informs, as well, Stanley Cavell's writing on film, in which he seeks to demonstrate film's potential to function as a defense against the skepticism brought about precisely by photography's and film's challenge to physiognomic theories that positioned body and mind as mirror images of each other.[55] According to Cavell, Freud's unique contribution was his suggestion to look at the body's relationship to the mind not simply in terms of expression but in terms of exposure, betrayal and embarrassment (e.g. Freud's description of Dora's 'symptomatic acts' as a 'pantomimic announcement')."[56] Even the ultimate failure of psychoanalysis, which, while promoting itself as a new 'science of the mind' deteriorated from a critique of metaphysics to a kind of quasi-metaphysics, did not lead to absolute skepticism, simply because, argues Cavell, the modern cogito exists in the mode of having always already betrayed itself. Under the present circumstances -- the alienation of the cogito from itself -- the human survives only in the body's unconscious gestures.

Cavell analyzes the court scene in Frank Capra's film Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), in which the protagonist's sanity is put into question,[57] in order to demonstrate that the importance of cinema lies in "returning the mind to the living body,"[58] in recording thinking, which is not limited to 'intellectual processes' but is enacted in 'universal fidgetiness', the little involuntary gestures and movements of the human body. Cavell calls such recordings 'somatograms', claiming that they belong to "what Walter Benjamin calls cinema's optics of the unconscious."[59] Here lies the value of cinema as a bulwark against skepticism: by automatically (unconsciously) recording the body's automatic gestures, cinema reassures us that there is still something left of the human, something that is not fully conscious and thus not fully rationalized/constructed. In the scene Cavell analyzes Mr. Deeds delivers a speech, in which he argues that involuntary gestures and actions are a form of thinking too, though they do not conform to the common idea of thinking as a purely intellectual act:

And I take it that Deeds' insight is that a reverse field of proof is available by way of the motion picture camera, so that while thinking is no longer secured by the mind's declaration of its presence to itself, it is now to be secured by the presence of the live human body to the camera, in particular by the presence of the body's apparently least intelligent property, its fidgetiness, its metaphysical restlessness. In Descartes the proof of thinking was that it cannot doubt itself; after Emerson the proof of thinking is that it cannot be concealed. [...] Am I saying that the camera is necessary to this knowledge? [...] Must I commit myself to saying that my existence is proved (only) each time the camera rolls my way? I ask a little license here. My idea is that the invention of the motion picture camera reveals something that has already happened to us. [...] We can think of what the camera reveals as a new strain either in our obliviousness to our existence or in a new mode of certainty of it. [60]

If there is a threat to speak of here, it is not the threat of skepticism but the opposite threat of overexposing the cogito: "If the price of Descartes' proof of his existence was a perpetual recession of the body...the price of an Emersonian proof of my existence is a perpetual visibility of the self, a theatricality in my presence to others, hence to myself. The camera is an emblem of perpetual visibility. Descartes' self-consciousness thus takes the form of embarrassment."[61]

2. Automatism

The 'ghosting' of 19th century photographs -- the appearance of incomplete, blurred images -- along with photography's basic technical property, the latent image, account for the fact that the discourse of scientific objectivity to which the new medium seemed to belong was from the very beginning enmeshed with another, contradictory discourse of the uncanny, the magical, and the latent. The notion of photography as nature's "spontaneous reproduction," which translated the medium's inherent automatism into objectivity, was from the start undermined by the opposite reading of the very same characteristic of the medium -- its automatism -- as an instance of natural magic. Indeed, in slightly more than a decade after the invention of photography, it became associated with the idea of the double and the uncanny.

Early photography was more often than not discussed as a 'discovery' -- "a discovery of nature's capacity to register its own image" -- rather than as an 'invention'. Photographs were said to be "'obtained' or 'taken', like natural specimens found in the wild."[62] Photography's claim

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