Homay King - Introduction for Book Release Conversation

Kaja Silverman’s The Miracle of Analogy, or, The History of Photography Part I

February 27, 2015, Slought Foundation, Philadelphia, PA


Antonioni’s Blow Up is story about photography masquerading as a detective story. One could describe The Miracle of Analogy as a detective story masquerading as a history of photography. Once upon a time, this story goes, the world was present. But it was kidnapped and sequestered away due to the influence of several factors, which I’ll summarize in capsule form. The first of these was the Cartesian attempt to establish man’s self-sovereignty, and the triumph of mind over matter, by essentially philosophizing the world out of existence. The second was the privileging of photography’s “dry,” mechanical aspects over its “liquid,” vital aspects: the dry features being associated with the ease and instaneity of a point-and-click snapshot, the liquid features with the slow, durational, semi-magical processes of the darkroom. The third factor was the suppression of photography’s social, dialogical, even republic-creating qualities in favor of its status as infinitely reproducible commodity. In your book, though, the world emerges afresh from these attempts to bracket it out of belief and appearance. In fact you show that it was hiding in plain view all along, and that it will find another path to visibility if we attempt to suppress it once more.

The Miracle of Analogy is, in a way, in an analogical relationship to your previous book, Flesh of My Flesh. This relationship is analogical in precisely the way you define in both these texts. That is, the new book continues the project of the previous one, but not in the sense of a sequel or next episode in a series. It develops out of its predecessor, in the photographic sense of that word, and also mirrors an image back to it, pressing its thought onward while still adhering closely to it, preserving the touch of a metonymic connection. 

The Miracle of Analogy calls back to Flesh of My Flesh with references to Leonardo, Richter, Proust, and other figures from the earlier book, thereby overlapping with it in corners—as in a double exposure. It also forms a sort of negative or reversal pair with that text, exploring similar ideas by other means. Both of these books tell stories about the interconnectedness of the world of things and the world of appearances. In Flesh of My Flesh, you begin this story with the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice and the philosophical writings of Nietzsche, Freud, and Lou Andreas Salome, and conclude it with works of contemporary art, ending with Richter’s October 18, 1977 paintings, which you describe as a form of photography by other means. In the new book, by contrast, the journey from writing to image is reversed: you begin with photographs and photography, narrating a new history of this medium that greatly expands its purview and capacities, and you end with a theorist, Walter Benjamin, as well as a beautiful reading of the book’s cover image by John Dugdale. These two texts, taken as a pair, demonstrate one of their own primary claims, that the smallest unit of Being is two. 

The Miracle of Analogy is also in a weakly messianic relationship to other books in your oeuvre. In World Spectators, you first wrote about “appearance” in a non-representational sense: the notion that images are not alienated from their referents, and not the kind of signs that cause the world to fade away. In James Coleman, you turned to the Irish artist’s superimposed slide installations to think about photography as a palimpsest of black and white erasures and reversals thereof, as in the intimate relationship of a photographic positive with its negative, or that of a stereoscopic image with its twin. In Speaking About Godard, a book that you co-authored with Harun Farocki, you use the word “analogy” during a discussion of adaptation: Godard’s Contempt, like the whole collection of works that have sprung forth from The Odyssey, is much more than a replica or variation; rather, it expands The Odyssey’s field and shakes its literary pedestal. You also describe the island of Capri, where that film is set, as a place “where past and present coexist.” As we learn in the new book, a photograph is also such a place, when it is met by the eyes of an addressee. And finally, as in your analysis of Godard’s self-portrait film JLG/JLG, you describe the art of image-making as an act of receiving: not taking, capturing, or shooting, as everyday language would have it; not creating out of a void, as in the Romantic sense of artistic production; not possessing or controlling, as modern technologies attempt to do; and not even making an imprint or index, as in Charles Peirce’s account. In The Miracle of Analogy, you “prove” that speculative claim, grounding it in a meticulous history.

In retrospect, all of these texts seem to have been awaiting this new fellow traveler. Analogy is once again the proper term for their relationship: the new book does not trump its predecessors, it does not negate them, as in the suturing action of classical cinema, nor does it mechanically reproduce them or stage their eternal return. It analogizes them, turning round to look back, while also craning to look forward from the vantage point of the present. 

The most exciting thing this book does, in my view, is to re-establish photography as the means by which the world becomes present—not, as the assumption has been in recent decades, the means by which we mark or commemorate the world’s absence. This shift in thinking has marvelous, profound consequences. It is one that I think many of us have eagerly been awaiting.