post-phd thinking, writing, art, cartography, abstraction, Robinson Crusoe – risking appearing deranged – writing-as-thinking
Farocki describes the images that are used in the process of having a warhead navigate itself towards a target. I’m not sure precisely when the apparatus he describes was operating – the talk was given in 2003, but he is also referring to the war in the gulf (insert number here) in the 1990s so it’s not clear to me when he is talking about. He says “images are transmitted to the warhead – simulated pictures of the landscape it has to fly over. In this case the images are based on pictures taken from an aerial camera, and in them you can see the forests, home communities, and streets below.” (17) He describes the (relatively slow) process of recognition of features by the warhead – “The search-target program discovers a constellation in a picture, perhaps a part of a recognizable pattern, and stores it” (17) then looks for this same pattern again – and presumably on and on with the other patterns it is learning. “When the line is verified, when the outlines of a street-crossing, bridges, or power lines appear, which are registered as landmarks, the colour red is used to show that they have been verified, rather like a somewhat slow-moving mind that underlines in red a thought that seems to be correct” (17).
Farocki says that in Eye/Machine (2001) he first called these sorts of pictures ‘operative images’ – images designed “neither to entertain nor to inform” (17). “These are images that do not represent an object, but rather are part of an operation.” (17) Ok, useful to have things defined. Then a critical mention of Barthes – he says the term ‘operative images’ came from Barthes’ ‘Mythologies’ but then the example doesn’t include the term – an idea that there is a distinction between ‘meta-language’ and the ‘language of objects’ (17), illustrated by an example of not being a lumberjack, and speaking only ‘of’ and ‘about’ the tree rather than directly speaking about it as a lumberjack could, saying ‘the tree’. Then a digression about Barthes and how in this text (I take it either Mythologies or the theoretical afterword to it) he is “striving to maintain his own practice” (17), wanting to be part of ‘the revolutionary left’ but not wanting to “be part of the Soviet blanket-weavers, which is exactly what the French communist Party wanted from its intellectuals” (18).
“Moscow persecuted semiotics with characteristic hatred because it was based upon a much denounced Russian avant-garde theory, namely: formalism – the only theoretical novelty, according to Foucault, communism ever produced” (18)