Sigrid Weigel: Towards a Political Theology of Images
Seminar in the context of the Kent Summer School for Critical Theory
We are increasingly surrounded by images. Innumerable pictures circling through the globalized net mediate not just scenes from distant sites of war and violence, but also emotions such as hate, envy, and pity; and they often unleash violence anew. Expanding digital imaging techniques penetrate more and more territories of the a-visible world: they even promise to read our emotions and to make our mind visible. This growing image-world calls urgently for a critical mode of reading of pictures/presentations that does not operate within the register of representation. The seminar proceeds from the theses that this critical capacity may best be evolved by an image theory that is informed by pictures from the history of religion, and that the advancing technical character of images ‘beyond art’ is accompanied by the return of pictorial practices prior to ‘art’s’ emergence.
The focus of the seminar is the observation that the ‘new images’ share many aspects with pre-modern and ancient image practices that present super-natural figures or a-visible, transcendental ideas: that is to say, images from religion or cult. In both cases, images are invented and produced in place of the lacking or impossible evidence of what they seemingly depict. Both try to negotiate the problem of the vera icon, i.e. to generate a picture from material traces or remains of something that is absent or even non-existent. Today, the problem of the vera icon, the ‘true image’, appears in science labs and media: in pictures of phenomena inaccessible to the human eye and optical instruments.
The seminar will investigate correspondences and exchanges between the two image worlds that, in terms of history, are poles apart: between images from the history of religion and contemporary image policy in research, politics, and media, i.e. between images before and after ‘art’. We will examine how traces and data are transformed into iconic images, pictures, and narratives; how resentments are mediated by pictures; how ideas, values and intelligible notions get translated in the visual register; and the role images play in recognition.
Sigrid Weigel is the former director of the ZfL, professor emerita at the Technical University of Berlin and head of the project Iconic Presence. The Evidence of Images in Religions.