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Atomic Light (Shadow Optics)

2005
Author:

Akira Mizuta Lippit

Atomic Light (Shadow Optics)

Explores the “avisual” and its effect on the visual world

Dreams, x-rays, atomic radiation, and “invisible men” are phenomena that are visual in nature but unseen. Atomic Light (Shadow Optics) reveals these hidden interiors of cultural life. Akira Mizuta Lippit produces readings of secret and shadow archives and visual structures or phenomenologies of the inside, charting the materiality of what can and cannot be seen in the radioactive light of the twentieth century.

Lippit is one of the most perceptive and trenchant writers to emerge in—and immediately to challenge—the new field of visual studies. Here he interweaves philosophical approaches, historical events, and aesthetic objects with deftness and elegance.

Laura U. Marks, Simon Fraser University and author of Touch: Sensuous Theory and Multisensory Media

Dreams, x-rays, atomic radiation, and “invisible men” are phenomena that are visual in nature but unseen. Atomic Light (Shadow Optics) reveals these hidden interiors of cultural life, the “avisual” as it has emerged in the writings of Jorge Luis Borges and Jacques Derrida, Tanizaki Jun’ichirô, Sigmund Freud, H. G. Wells, and Ralph Ellison and in the early cinema and the postwar Japanese films of Kobayashi Masaki, Teshigahara Hiroshi, Kore-eda Hirokazu, and Kurosawa Kiyoshi, all under the shadow cast by the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Akira Mizuta Lippit focuses on historical moments in which such modes of avisuality came into being—the arrival of cinema, which brought imagination to life; psychoanalysis, which exposed the psyche; the discovery of x-rays, which disclosed the inside of the body; and the “catastrophic light” of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which instituted an era of atomic discourses.

With a taut, poetic style, Lippit produces speculative readings of secret and shadow archives and visual structures or phenomenologies of the inside, charting the materiality of what both can and cannot be seen in the radioactive light of the twentieth century.

Atomic Light (Shadow Optics)

Akira Mizuta Lippit is professor of cinema, comparative literature, and Japanese culture at the University of Southern California. He is the author of Electric Animal: Toward a Rhetoric of Wildlife (Minnesota, 2000).

Atomic Light (Shadow Optics)

Lippit is one of the most perceptive and trenchant writers to emerge in—and immediately to challenge—the new field of visual studies. Here he interweaves philosophical approaches, historical events, and aesthetic objects with deftness and elegance.

Laura U. Marks, Simon Fraser University and author of Touch: Sensuous Theory and Multisensory Media

Akira Mizuta Lippit brilliantly weaves together writings of Freud, foundational work on x-rays, and postwar Japanese and French films to articulate an atomic optics of invisibility and show the emergence of a historical optics of avisuality.

Lisa Cartwright, University of California, San Diego

Lippit explores in depth the relation between atomic light and shadow optics and leads us to a new field of visual studies.

Afterimage

Atomic Light (Shadow Optics)

Contents

Acknowledgments

0. Universes 1
"Hoichi the Earless"—blindness and invisibility—exscription—atomic
destruction and phantom visuality—catastrophic light, Japanese visual
culture—Jorge Luis Borges, "The Library of Babel" (1941)—the universal
Library and secret archive—traces of the uninscribed and uninscribable—
"the true story of your death"—atomism—the shadow archive—Jacques
Derrida, Archive Fever (1995)—heterogeneity and psychoanalysis—a
universe of the unarchivable
1. The Shadow Archive (A Secret Light) 13
"The secret is the very ash of the archive"—Sigmund Freud, Moses and
Monotheism (1934-39) — "into the light"—"the shadow of the god" —
secrecy and pseudonymy—Tani/aki Jun'ichiro, In Praise of Shadows
(1933-34)—illumination and the archive—"the glow of grime"—
radiation descends from above and assails the body like a fever—cinders
and atomic writing—pellicular surfaces—X-rays and cinema, profound
superficiality—secret visuality—avisuality—cinefaction
2. Modes of Avisuality: Psychoanalysis-X-ray-Cinema 35
"The dream of Irma's injection"—the secret of dreams and the secret
dream—formlessness and interiority—"the very invisibility of the
invisible within the visible"—Wilhelm Conrad Rontgen—Berthe's hand,
X-rays—inside out—skiagraphy—penetrating light and the Visible
Human Project—destructive visuality—anniversaries, apocalypse—
x sign—the dream of cinema—an exemplary design
3. Cinema Surface Design 61
"The psychology of movement"—early cinema, making visible the
invisible—Auguste and Louis Lumiere, the surface of the screen—
imaginary depth—"unseen energy swallowing space"—screens and
displaced collisions—"phantom rides"—invisible thresholds between life
and death—"the metaphysical surface" (Gilles Deleuze)—James
Williamson, The Big Swallow (circa 1901)—total visibility—the outer
surface of consciousness—the phantasm
An Atomic Trace 81
"Eyes melted out of sheer ecstasy"—colorlessness—the wrathful light of
atoms—invisible men—optical density and diffusion—allegories of
atomic radiation—invisibility and transparency—H. G. Wells (1897) and
James Whale (1933), The Invisible Man—"a black cavity"—racelessness—
unimaginable destruction, catastrophic light—photographic sculptures—
face and surface, facelessness—Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952)—IM,
"hypervisibility"—"outside history"—atomic and anatomic—phonic
atomism—the spaceless image
fxscr/pf/on/Antigraphy 105
Maurice Merleau-Ponty, "a blending of some sort"—painting and the
universal image—Tanizaki's Japanese skin, which radiates darkness—
"a bright shadow"—a dark writing—atomic, atopic—Ibuse Masuji,
Black Rain (1965)—liquid atomic ash—interiorized world—emulsion,
"an immiscible mixture"—Marguerite Duras and Alain Resnais, Hiroshima
man amour (1959), cinders and rain—an atomic trope, writing on skin—
Mizoguchi Kenji, Ugetsu (1953), the searing surface—impressions—
"eyes destined to weep"—Kobayashi Masaki, Kwaidan (1964), the invisible
body—disturbance of the senses—demontage—catastrophic synthesis—
antigraphy—Teshigahara Hiroshi, Woman in the Dunes (1964)—identity
papers—a liquid desert—8:15 a.m.—water from sand—a smooth
archive
Phantom Cures: Obscurity and Emptiness 133
Psychic visuality and displaced interiority—Kore-eda Hirokazu, Maborosi
(1995)—"a beautiful light"—memory and dream, the acousmatic voice—
passages and lines—a shadow optics—Kurosawa Kiyoshi, Cure (1997) —
"x"—"I myself am empty"—memories returned from the outside—
Roger Gorman, X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (1963)—atomic vision—
photographing emptiness—mesmerism—interiority constituted by the
lack of interiority—circumcision, secret cuts—the cure/to cure—dark
worlds—"sightless vision," a vision machine at the end of cinema—
universe

Notes

Index