Cover photo by Carrie Schneider

Cover photo by Carrie Schneider

The Three-Personed Picture, or the History of Photography, Part II

(nearing completion)

Since The Miracle of Analogy is primarily concerned with photography as the agency through which the world reveals itself to us, it focuses on images in whose formation the photographer played only a nominal role: on the pre-optical camera obscura's images, and photographs made during the first three decades of chemical photography. And although Silverman discusses a number of works by contemporary photographers, they are all close in spirit to those of the most important nineteenth century representative of  this kind of photography: William Henry Fox Talbot.

The second volume, The Three-Personed Picture, is about the gradual emergence in the period between 1839 and 1910 of a different kind of image:  one that is pictorial in nature. This picture has some very unusual features. It is double-sided, like all photographs, but in a new way. Because it is destined for the wall of a museum or gallery, instead of an album, a locket, or a small frame on a mantlepiece, its two sides face each other, much as they do in Las Meninas.   Unlike the camera obscura’s image-stream, which is a spatio-temporal continuuum, the edges of this picture are also  absolute. It belongs to the here-and-now of  the potentially transformative encounter between the beholder and the sitter that occurs when the latter steps into the space in front of it, the space that constitutes its other side. The three-personed picture not only has an author, but--as Silverman shows--it requires one. However,  it is also shaped by the objective intelligence of the world. Finally, it depends for its existence as much upon the sitter and the beholder as it does upon the author, and it links them to each other through a three-person chiasmus. Through this picture, the saving power of photography finally becomes social, as well as ontological.

The final volume in this trilogy, The Promise of Social Happiness, is focused on the re-emergence of pictorial photography in the second half of the twentieth century and the first decades of the twenty-first, through two closely-related forms:  photo-painting, and large-format photography.


Cover photo by John Dugdale

Cover photo by John Dugdale

The Miracle of Analogy, or the History of Photography, Part I

Stanford University Press, 2015

The Miracle of Analogy is the first volume in a three-volume reconceptualization of photography. It argues that photography originates in what is seen, rather than in the human eye or the camera lens, and that it is the world’s primary way of revealing itself to us. The photographic image is able to perform this function because it is an analogy, rather than an index, a representation or a copy, and because this analogy is an ontological extension of its so-called “referent.” Analogy governs every other aspect of photography, as well; a positive print analogizes the negative from which it is generated, every other print that is struck from that negative, and all of its digital “offspring.” Photography is also unstoppably developmental. It began with the pinhole camera, which was more found than invented, morphed into the optical camera obscura, was reborn as chemical photography, and lives on in a digital form. It moves through time, in search of other “kin,” some of which are visual, but others of which may be architectural, philosophical or literary. Finally, photography develops with us and in response to us; it assumes historically-legible forms, and when we divest them of their saving power, as we always seem to do, it goes elsewhere. The Miracle of Analogy starts with the camera obscura, and ends with Walter Benjamin’s “Little History of Photography,” but it is primarily focused on the nineteenth century and a few of its contemporary progeny.


Winner of the 2016 Outstanding Academic Title Award, sponsored by Choice.

Honorable Mention in the 2016 PROSE Awards (PSP Awards for Excellence), sponsored by the Professional and Scholarly Publishing Division, Association of America Publishers

Reviews: ARTFORUM, Prefix Photo, Critical InquiryArt Libraries Society of North AmericaBartleby Reviewnon-site.

Homay King's review of The Miracle of Analogy, written for the book's launch at Slought in Philadelphia is available here.

Watch the MoMA Forum on Contemporary Photography with Kaja Silverman, André Dombrowski, Eve Meltzer, and Howard Singerman discuss the first volume of    The Miracle of Analogy. 


Cover image: Gerhard Richter,  Betty  (1977).

Cover image: Gerhard Richter, Betty (1977).

Flesh of My Flesh 

Stanford University Press, 2009

What is a woman? What is a man? How do they—and how should they—relate to each other? Does our yearning for "wholeness" refer to something real, and if there is a Whole, what is it, and why do we feel so estranged from it? For centuries now, art and literature have increasingly valorized uniqueness and self-sufficiency. The theoreticians who loom so large within contemporary thought also privilege difference over similarity. Silverman reminds us that this is but half the story, and a dangerous half at that, for if we are all individuals, we are doomed to be rivals and enemies. A much older story, one that prevailed through the early modern era, held that likeness or resemblance was what organized the universe, and that everything emerges out of the same flesh. Silverman shows that analogy, so discredited by much of twentieth-century thought, offers a much more promising view of human relations. In the West, the emblematic story of turning away is that of Orpheus and Eurydice, and the heroes of Silverman's sweeping new reading of nineteenth- and twentieth-century culture, the modern heirs to the old, analogical view of the world, also gravitate to this myth. They embrace the correspondences that bind Orpheus to Eurydice and acknowledge their kinship with others past and present. The first half of this book assembles a cast of characters not usually brought together: Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud, Marcel Proust, Lou-Andréas Salomé, Romain Rolland, Rainer Maria Rilke, Wilhelm Jensen, and Paula Modersohn-Becker. The second half is devoted to three contemporary artists, whose works we see in a moving new light: Terrence Malick, James Coleman, and Gerhard Richter. 

James Coleman

Cantz Verlag, 2002

That which is seen and the act of seeing have long been preoccupations of Irish-born artist James Coleman. Having rejected painting in the 1970s, Coleman turned to the reproductive media of video and film, as well as theater projects, but his preferred format remains photography displayed through large-scale slide projection. Extraordinarily precise, both pictorially and narratively, his audio visual works are reminiscent of scenes from daily life, film, and literature, offering tightly orchestrated social situations shot in in colorful, multiple fade-over stills accompanied by spoken text with a highly differentiated soundtrack--but with a narrative structure that remains enigmatic. This publication features a detailed essay by noted film theorist Kaja Silverman and a specially reconstructed version of Coleman's 1973 slide projection Seagulls. 

Cover photograph by Ulla Ziemann

Cover photograph by Ulla Ziemann

World Spectators

Stanford University Press, 2000

Combining phenomenology and psychoanalysis in highly innovative ways, this book seeks to undo the binary opposition between appearance and Being that has been in place since Plato’s parable of the cave. It is, essentially, an essay on what could be called “world love,” the possibility and necessity for psychic survival of a profound and vital erotic investment by a human being in the cosmic surround. Here, the author takes her cue from Freud’s assertion that the “loss of reality” associated with psychosis is a function of a disturbance not in the capacity to reason or perceive, but rather in the capacity for world love, the libidinal and semiotic circuity by means of which such love actualizes itself.

In an implicit challenge to poststructuralist thought, the author claims that this love is always in response to a call issued by the world—that the world has, as it were, a vocation: its beauty ought to be seen. We must think of our own being-in-the world as a response to a primordial calling out to respond to this beauty. We are, the author suggests, at the very core of our being, summoned to what she terms world spectatorship.

Drawing on Heidegger’s phenomenological elaboration of care as the being distinctive of human being and the primarily Lacanian conceptualization of the language of desire specific to each human subject, this metapsychology of love attempts to integrate issues in the fields of psychoanalysis, philosophy, visual culture, art history, and literary and film studies. 

Cover image from Godard's  Alphaville  (1965)

Cover image from Godard's Alphaville (1965)


New York University Press, 1998

Probably the most prominent living filmmaker, and one of the foremost directors of the postwar era, Jean Luc-Godard has received astonishingly little critical attention in the United States. With Speaking about Godard, leading film theorist Kaja Silverman and filmmaker Harun Farocki have made one of the most significant contributions to film studies in recent memory: a lively set of conversations about Godard and his major films, from Contempt to Passion.

Combining the insights of a feminist film theorist with those of an avant-garde filmmaker, these eight dialogues–each representing a different period of Godard's film production, and together spanning his entire career–get at the very heart of his formal and theoretical innovations, teasing out, with probity and grace, the ways in which image and text inform one another throughout Godard's oeuvre. Indeed, the dialogic format here serves as the perfect means of capturing the rhythm of Godard's ongoing conversation with his own medium, in addition to shedding light on how a critic and a director of films respectively interpret his work.

As it takes us through Godard's films in real time, Speaking about Godard conveys the sense that we are at the movies with Silverman and Farocki, and that we, as both student and participant, are the ultimate beneficiaries of the performance of this critique. Accessible, informative, witty, and, most of all, entertaining, the conversations assembled here form a testament to the continuing power of Godard's work to spark intense debate, and reinvigorate the study of one of the great artists of our time.

Cover photograph by Edward Steichen

Cover photograph by Edward Steichen


 Routledge Press, 1996

In the Threshold of the Visible World Kaja Silverman creates an aesthetic model capable of assisting us in the seemingly impossible task of loving bodies which are both different than our own, and culturally despised. At the heart of this model is a provocative rethinking of idealization and the culturally transformative uses to which it might be put. Linking Benjamin's notion of the aura with Brecht's notion of alienation, she articulates an entirely new set of formal parameters for political representation.

The Threshold  of the Visible World also provides a psychoanalytic examination of the field of vision. While offering an extended discussion of the gaze, the look, and the image, Silverman is concerned above all else with establishing what it means to see. She shows that our look is always impinged upon by our desires and our anxieties, and mediated in complex ways by the representations which surround us. These psychic and social constraints lead us to commit involuntary acts of visual violence against others. Silverman explores the conscious and unconscious circumstances under which such acts of violence might be undone, and the look induced to see and affirm what is abject, and alien to itself. 

Cover image: Mantegna's  St. Sebastian  (1480)

Cover image: Mantegna's St. Sebastian (1480)


Routledge Press, 1992

In Male Subjectivity at the Margins, Kaja Silverman provides a feminist and psychoanalytic reading of a variety of masculinities which fall outside the phallic pale—masculinities which defy the logic of paternal succession, and which in so doing might be said to say 'no' to power. Since the forms of male subjectivity which most centrally concern Silverman are those which occupy a space which has been traditionally defined as 'feminine', this book is also an extended investigation into the category of femininity. 

Cover image from Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen's  Riddles of the Sphinx  (1977)

Cover image from Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen's Riddles of the Sphinx (1977)


Indiana University Press, 1988

"The Acoustic Mirror" combines an extended reflection on sound and voice in cinema with a critical examination of the possibilities and impossibilities of current theoretical approaches as they listen, or not, to questions of sexual difference. The result is a vitally new understanding that takes us from the terms of the representation of sexual difference to an anatomy of female subjectivity which will be widely influential."  —Stephen Heath

"Displaying with equal mastery the discourses of feminist film theory and psychoanalysis....Silverman  develops a provocative theory of the constitution of female subjectivity that reconciles the claims of the body with those of language. An original work likely to have significant impact on all those with an interest in the vibrant intersection of feminism, film theory, and psychoanalysis—which is to say a large and growing audience of men and women." —Naomi Schor



Oxford University Press, 1983

Through the writings of Ferdinand de Saussure, Roland Barthes, Jacques Lacan and others, the kindred disciplines of semiotics and structuralism have stirred enormous interest within European and  American intellectual circles in recent years. With their focus on the ways in which signs, symbols, and cultural phenomena of all kinds convey meaning, these burgeoning theoretical fields have had a special impact on the analysis of film and literature. In this provocative book Kaja Silverman undertakes a new and challenging reading of recent semiotic and structuralist theory, arguing that films, novels, and poems cannot be studied in isolation from their viewers and readers.