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Table of contents :
Notes on References
1. Plato's Allegorical Camera-Cave
2. Plato's Chora and the Uneasy Place of Photography
3. Iamblichus's Receptacle of Light
4. Photographing the Divine: Philotheos of Batos
5. Marsilio Ficino: Light and Photosensitivity
A History of Light
Also available from Bloomsbury The Cultural Promise of the Aesthetic, Monique Roelofs The Curatorial: A Philosophy of Curating, edited by Jean-Paul Martinon Techne Theory, Henry Staten Thinking in Film, Mieke Bal The Politics of Aesthetics, Jacques Rancière Reparative Aesthetics, Susan Best
In memory of my mother Mary Kwok Chiu Tse and His Holiness Grandmaster Lin Yun
A History of Light The Idea of Photography Junko Theresa Mikuriya
Bloomsbury Academic An imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing Plc
Contents Acknowledgements Notes on References
1 2 3 4 5
Introduction Plato’s Allegorical Camera-cave Plato’s Chora and the Uneasy Place of Photography Iamblichus’s Receptacle of Light Photographing the Divine: Philotheos of Batos Marsilio Ficino: Light and Photosensitivity Coda
Notes Bibliography Index
Acknowledgements This book would not have come into being without the guidance and support of Howard Caygill and John Hutnyk, whose erudition, intellectual rigour, insightfulness and generosity have continued to inspire me. I would like to thank Peg Rawes and Scott McQuire for their extensive and detailed comments on an earlier version of this project. I am also grateful to Scott Lash for his interest in my work. The Centre for Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths University of London provided me with a nurturing and stimulating environment for intellectual growth. I would like to thank Sean McKeown, Joel McKim, Lisa Power, Craig Smith and Benny Lu. I am also deeply grateful to James Burton for his encouragement, generosity and friendship, and for the many inspiring discussions that we’ve had about this project in its earlier incarnations. I would like to thank Peter Bennett, Mark Cousins, Garin Dowd, Michelle Henning, Jon Kear, Linda Lai, Aphrodite Papayianni, Grant Pooke, Ben Thomas, Nancy Tong, Hector Rodriguez and Peter Whelan for their support and belief in me. Parts of Chapter 1 formed the basis of an article that appeared in Stimulus-Respond (October 2007). I would like to thank the editor for permission to re-use some of this material. I owe a great deal to my sister Frances for her love and sustenance; her strength and willpower serve as an inspiration that constantly spurs me onwards. I am grateful to Her Holiness Khadro Crystal Chu Rinpoche for her encouragement and guidance throughout the years. I am deeply indebted to His Holiness Grandmaster Lin Yun, whose infinite wisdom, compassion and love are like the rays of the sun. This book is dedicated to him and my mother.
Notes on References Unless otherwise indicated, all references to the Platonic Dialogues are drawn from The Collected Dialogues of Plato: Including the Letters, ed. Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns. 11th edition, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982. This includes Phaedo, trans. Hugh Tredinnick; Republic, trans. Paul Shorey; Sophist, trans. F. M. Cornford; and Timaeus, trans. Benjamin Jowett. In Chapter 3, DM refers to Iamblichus, De mysteriis, trans. Emma Clarke, John M. Dillon and Jackson P. Hershbell, Writings from the Greco-Roman World 4. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2003.
Introduction Photography is difficult (chalepon). Elusive both theoretically and materially, it is often described as having no identity of its own. It is treacherous – at times it hides behind its object of depiction, other times concealing itself underneath its bedazzling technical splendour. Its apparent instability belies its generosity; its hospitality is such that its boundaries are porous and mutable, inviting the encroachment of others. Hence photography is often considered to be overly reliant upon its surroundings; attempts to define and to theorize photography would reduce it to a set of cultural, social, political or technological productions, identifying its history solely as the development of the photographic camera, or the inevitable outcome of a changing aesthetic sensibility. As a topic of enquiry, the history of photography has produced a vast corpus consisting of divergent strands. Some of these titles are recognized as classics in the field, such as The Origins of Photography by Helmut Gernsheim, Beaumont Newhall’s The History of Photography and Georges Potonniée’s The History of the Discovery of Photography. These works present a historical narrative of the medium through the figure of the grand photographer, the evolution of artistic and photographic movements as well as the development of various film and camera technologies. They also tend to prioritize a historical account of photography which is told through an established canon of photographers while overlooking the usage of photography in other domains. However, there are also historical studies that place a stronger emphasis on the cultural and social implications of the photographic medium, such as Michel Frizot’s The New History of Photography, Jean-Claude Lemagny and André Rouillé’s A History of Photography and Mary Warner Marien’s Photography: A Cultural History. Any attempt to write a history or theory of photography would have to address the challenges presented by the ubiquity of the photographic image and the changing forms of its technological manifestations. To find productive ways to engage with the photographic medium, photo historians and theorists have drawn upon discourses in psychoanalysis, feminist theory, literary studies, art criticism, deconstruction, Foucauldian historiography, Marxism, semiotics, cultural theory and other disciplines. What all of these works have in common is the recognition of the camera obscura as the site of origin of the photographic camera and the necessary condition for the production of the photographic image. When constructing a genealogy of photography, the camera obscura is frequently considered as the technical apparatus that gave rise to the photographic camera. This is, for example, reflected in the title of a 1955 work by Helmut and Alison Gernsheim, The History of Photography from the Earliest Use of the Camera Obscura in the Eleventh Century up to 1914. As a technical process, the invention of photography is usually situated around the 1820s, with Joseph Nicéphore Niépce’s heliograph View from a Window at Gras (c. 1827) marking the moment that an image can be captured and fixed successfully inside a camera obscura. Further chemical experimentations led to several independent inventions that emerged around the same time – in France, the daguerreotype (Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre) and l’effet positif or the direct positive (Hippolyte Bayard), and in England, the calotype (William Henry Fox Talbot). However, as Geoffrey Batchen has shown in Burning with Desire, the history of photography is much more complex; instead of a single origin, Batchen suggests that photography is the outcome of a particular set of cultural conditions and aesthetic sensibility to emerge at the end of the eighteenth century. Before we look at Batchen’s work, it might be worthwhile to examine some of the problems arising from attempts to theorize or conceptualize photography. The ubiquity of the photographic medium – how it is entrenched in every aspect of our lives – contributes to the seemingly nebulous character of the photograph. In Camera Lucida, Roland Barthes, describing his ‘ontological desire’ to search for what Photography is in ‘itself’, writes: ‘[S]uch a desire really meant that beyond the evidence provided by technology and usage, and despite its tremendous contemporary expansion, I wasn’t sure that Photography existed, that it had a “genius” of its own.’1 Barthes’s comment reflects the anxiety that arises from attempts to conceptualize and locate photography. Thirty years on, the question of ‘what photography is’ still constitutes a topic of heated discussion, as seen in a round-table discussion chaired by James Elkins at University College Cork, Ireland in 2005.2 The ubiquity of the photograph is undoubtedly a source of this problem as highlighted by Sabine Kriebel, in an essay that appears in the same volume as the edited transcript of the panel discussion in Cork. Kriebel asks what we should consider when writing about the photographic medium: is it photographic practice, the photographic object, its function or the genre of photography (such as documentary, landscape, fine art, portraiture, or snapshot)?3 In those early years of photography, following François Arago’s declaration in 1839 to the Académie des Sciences, presenting the daguerreotype as France’s gift to the world, photography was immediately incorporated into the fabric of the social structure of the time. The photographic image infiltrated portraiture (replacing miniature painting), astronomy, tourism (postcards, stereoscopic images), pornography, medicine and criminology (classification of criminal types). If the pervasive characteristic of the photograph is described as a radiating light upon its inception, literature from the
nineteenth century often comparing photography to the sun, perhaps it is precisely this blinding brightness that constitutes the elusive nature of the photographic medium, making it a difficult subject to write and theorize about. These uncertainties regarding photography’s identity are played out in various ways. For example, John Tagg turns Barthes’s ontological concern for photography’s lack of identity into the basis for an examination of it as a social and cultural technology. In his work on photography’s complicit relationship with the political apparatus and its role in the construction of the individual and the state, Tagg examines photography solely as a technological tool defined by a set of social and cultural practices. In The Burden of Representation, he writes: Photography as such has no identity. Its status as a technology varies with the power relations which invest it. Its nature as a practice depends on the institutions and agents which define it and set it to work … Its history has no unity. It is a flickering across a field of institutional spaces. It is this field we must study, not photography as such.4
Looking at photography uniquely through the perspective of technological production, ‘across a field of institutional spaces’, is problematic and restrictive because it gives priority to photography’s efficiency as a technological tool and the ways in which it is embedded within the system of its production and usage. Furthermore, Tagg’s statement is indicative of a reductionist attitude towards the medium and presumes an absence of photography’s being. Mary Price in The Photograph: A Strange, Confined Space presents another viewpoint drawing upon literary studies; she observes that ‘photographs without appropriate descriptive words are deprived and weakened, but that descriptions of even invented photographs may adumbrate a richness of use that can extend the possibilities of interpreting actual photographs’.5 For Price, the photograph is defined by its context; the subordination of the photographic image to language is such that even the description of an imaginary photograph can be more powerful than a real one if the latter is not accompanied by words. As we have seen so far, it seems that photographic theory is unable to divorce itself from the camera as a technological apparatus. A similar viewpoint is reflected by Joel Snyder, whose debate with Rosalind Krauss on medium specificity and the notion of indexicality continues to this day. Whereas Krauss is interested in examining photography through the concept of the index or trace, in particular its link with what Barthes calls the referent – the thing or person photographed, for Snyder the photograph is nothing but pure construction and has no connection with the natural world; the images produced by the camera obey a specific set of rules that conform to Renaissance perspective.6 Snyder’s viewpoint echoes that of Tagg’s, who rejects Barthes’s reading of the photograph as ‘an emanation of past reality, a magic, not an art’.7 Addressing Barthes, specifically his search to find the unique being of his mother through photography, Tagg writes: ‘The photograph is not a magical “emanation” but a material product of a material apparatus set to work in specific contexts, by specific forces, for more or less defined purposes.’8 Geoffrey Batchen’s work enables us to move beyond the restrictive discourses of Snyder and Tagg by searching for the ‘identity of photography in the history of its origins’.9 In Burning with Desire, he proposes instead to look at the emergence of the ‘desire to photograph’, before the official announcement of the invention of photography in the mid-nineteenth century. In his search for the origins of photography, he singles out the last two decades of the eighteenth century as a crucial moment, identifying a list of proto-photographers, ‘those who recorded or subsequently claimed for themselves the pre-1839 onset of a desire to photograph’.10 He links the birth of photography to the rise of modernity, marked by a crisis of representation in which new configurations of power and subject/object relations are established. The uncertainty towards nature and its representations is echoed throughout the early nineteenth century, where man is no longer seen as a passive recipient but an active agent. Alongside the inventors of photography, Batchen sees the writings of the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the picturesque theorist and classical scholar Richard Payne Knight, and the Reverend William Gilpin as exemplifying the emergence of a new form of subjectivity where man is simultaneously the subject and object of his knowledge. Burning with Desire succeeds in revealing the ambivalent nature of the origins of photography. By questioning the timing of photography’s conception, the book can be seen as an attempt to rewrite photography’s history. What is assumed to be of a fixed origin, the discovery of photography, in fact possesses multiple beginnings and cannot be attributed to a single individual.11 Batchen identifies a specific period in history where certain discourses emerge which point to a shift in the organization of the human subject – the period that directly precedes the invention of photography, noting the sudden irruption of photographic-like discourses in art, literature and science in the era preceding the 1830s: ‘Clearly it was only possible to think “photography” at this specific historical conjuncture; photography as a conceptual economy thus has an identifiable historical and cultural specificity. This is why the principal question … has been not “Who invented photography?” but rather “Within which specific dynamic of cultural/social forces was it possible for photography to be thought by anybody?”’12 Batchen’s project, although admirable in many ways, still falls into a theorization of photography
that is bound up with its technological status. For his rewriting of photographic history situates the origins of photography in the late 1700s, thus identifying the medium as a product of a ‘modern’ sensibility, arising from a crisis of representation. He writes: Much more overwhelming in this regard is the vast absence, prior to this period, of talk along the lines I have described. From a virtual dearth of signs of a desire to photograph, the historical archive reveals the onset only in the last decade of the eighteenth century of a rapidly growing, widely dispersed, and increasingly urgent need for that-which-was-to-become-photography.13
I disagree with Batchen’s argument that the thought of photography was only made possible in the last decade of the eighteenth century. For to desire photography is already to be conscious of it, or of something that is akin to it. This sudden irruption of photographic-like discourse in art, literature and science in the late 1700s is in fact the rationalization of photography. I argue instead that the invention of photography is only the material manifestation of that which has always existed. Against the widespread tendency to associate the origins of photography with the nineteenthcentury inventions of Niépce, Daguerre, Talbot and others, I argue that as a philosophical project, photography goes further back in time than what is generally recognized as the period of its inception, the nineteenth century. In fact, its presence can be uncovered right at the roots of Western metaphysics, within discourses of magic, mysticism and spiritual practice. Instead of locating the origin of photography at the site of the camera obscura, I will complicate the history of the medium and suggest that intimations of photography can be found in the core of Platonic and Neoplatonic thought. One of the aims of this book is to question the all-too-ready dismissal of photography by historians and critics as a medium with no inherent qualities, the assumption of it being nothing more than a technological system of visual representation based upon Renaissance perspective. To address the often-reductive discourses on photography, I propose a different way of thinking about photography in terms of photagogia or the ‘evoking of light’. As I have said, while Tagg, Price and others have all engaged with photography in diverse and productive ways, reflecting upon the various problematics of photography, they often take the conditions that produced the object of their critique as a given, thus omitting to examine the underlying reasons behind, for example, photography’s apparent lack of identity, which, I argue, can be considered as something other than the weakness of the medium but an outcome of that which is much more complex. As a consequence, instead of delving into the reasons underlying photography’s mutability, the volatility of the photograph is often accepted as an a priori and one of the failings of the medium. I suggest that the uncertainty experienced when confronting the medium can be conveyed by the Greek word chalepon (χαλεπόν), a word which frequently appears in the Platonic dialogues. I am inspired by John Sallis’s use of the word in his reading of Plato. In The Verge of Philosophy he writes: ‘How, then, is it possible to read Platonic dialogues together in a way that is both critical and productive? What needs, above all, to be stressed can perhaps best be expressed by a word found often in these texts, the word χαλεπόν’.14 This book attempts to explore that which lies behind photography’s difficultness (χαλεπότης), by examining how photography is already implicated in Western thought, before the arrival of its technical regeneration as the photography with which we are all familiar. By showing how photography has always been parasitic upon the history of philosophy and by uncovering the dreams of photographein concealed within theurgy and mysticism, I hope to open up new possibilities in reading photography, which in turn will shed light on the ways in which we reflect upon the history of Western philosophy. Both Barthes and Benjamin have alluded to the presence of magic in their encounters with photography; these observations have curiously gone unnoticed or perhaps even been deliberately overlooked by subsequent thinkers.15 As we have seen earlier, Barthes describes the photograph as ‘an emanation of past reality: a magic, not an art’.16 Benjamin, in his essay ‘Little History of Photography’, notes the ‘magical value’ of the photograph, which painting cannot produce.17 It is interesting that indexicality, the trace or imprint, seemingly the basis for the realist perspectives so often associated with photography, also seems to evoke this sense of magic for these thinkers. What is this wonderment of photography? Is it driven by the longing (ephesis) for the divine; does it coincide with the Neoplatonic dream of achieving homoiōsis theō? I argue that the history of Western philosophy can be read as the movement of photagogia (φωταγωγία) or the ‘evoking of light’, a term used by the Neoplatonic philosopher Iamblichus. The history of philosophy is an appropriate host for the photagogic, since light occupies a privileged place in its figures of transcendence. The presence of light pervades philosophy’s own origin myths, from the sunlight in Plato’s cave allegory, the oscillation between light and night in Parmenides’s poem ‘On Nature’, to the light of creation in the Corpus Hermeticum, not to mention philosophy’s historical obsession with representation and reflection.18 The writing of photographic history is inseparable from the writing of a history of light. Photographein brings out the strange traces of the absolute contained within the wider practice of photagogia. As I looked into the early writings on light, I noticed something that began to reveal itself – the constant presence of divine light (a photophania that is also a theophania and agathophania).19 In
the Republic, Plato refers to light as a third kind (triton genos) that constitutes the conditions of seeing. Socrates says: ‘Though vision may be in the eyes and its possessor may try to use it, and though color be present, yet without the presence of a third thing specifically and naturally adapted to this purpose, you are aware that vision will see nothing and the colors will remain invisible’ (507e). Another figure which frequently makes its appearance in this book is the sun – the sun as representative of the transcendental Good in the sensible world, as manifestation of the Divine and as the residing place of the hidden primordial light. As Derrida remarks in his essay ‘Demeure, Athènes’: ‘Toute photographie est du soleil.’ (‘Every photograph is of the sun.’)20 In the following chapters, I will attempt to reconstruct a genealogy of photagogia of which photography, now a dominant way of collecting light, is an example. I hope to show that photography, understood as a mode and practice of photagogia, has always existed prior to its ‘invention’, deeply embedded within the roots of Western metaphysics, in practices of mysticism and magic, waiting to surface and to be revealed. This book offers a history of photography that departs from the more conventional, technologically oriented accounts of the medium. My aim is not to replace these other narratives but, instead, to suggest ways of rethinking photography’s ontological instability in a manner that is not reductive to the medium, to move away from the critical studies that tend to overlook, suppress, or deny photography its ontology. Perhaps there is something of the chora in this book’s uneasy relationship to conventional discourses on photography, for it is part of the nature of this project not to fit, not to sit comfortably within the mainstream critical and theoretical writings on photography. By reading the underground cave in Republic VII as a photographic camera, Chapter 1 reflects on the different processes of photography (exposure, development, the negative, the darkroom) through the Platonic discourse of light and shadow, reflections, the world of appearances, phantasmata, simulacra, and the Good as exemplified by the sun. This sets out my main argument: that photography has always existed in Western thought, even before the advent of photography. Whereas in many previous writings on the Platonic speleology, more emphasis has been placed on the illusory nature of the cave and its dark interior, I examine both the inside and outside of the cave, with the aim of highlighting the alternating transition from darkness to light which is crucial to the allegory, and explore how this oscillating movement may be considered as an embodiment of the photographic process. I suggest that Socrates is a photographer who teaches Glaucon through a series of images, and examine the implications of this – in terms of the allegory of the cave and the simile of the line. By looking closely at the line as marking out the different degrees of truth of a thing, I hope to show that photography can provide us with a better understanding of the ways in which a thing can reveal itself. The chapter continues with a discussion of the image-making properties of the Good. I then move on to a reading of the Timaeus in Chapter 2, looking in particular at the elusive chora (χώρα), which I shall argue is photography. The Timaeus is about beginnings; beginnings are fraught with difficulties, troublesome (chalepon), obscure (amudron) and hard to discern.21 The chora emerges in the middle of Timaeus’s discourse after many beginnings and withdraws almost immediately as it is being made known. In Double Truth, John Sallis describes the chora as ‘the mother of images, the virtually unspeakable condition of doublings’.22 In Chapter 2, I suggest that Sallis’s statement about the chora can also apply to photography. Although photagogia does not make its appearance until Chapter 3, its presence has already been haunting the first two chapters. In this chapter, I explore the notion of photagogia in the theurgic practice of the Neoplatonic philosopher Iamblichus and show how the collection of light is the determining factor for the ascent of the soul (anagōgē) to take place. Thus, right at the core of Neoplatonism resides the practice of capturing light. I argue that the verbal cognate of chora – chorein – is the condition of Iamblichean theurgy.23 In Iamblichus’s writings on theurgy, we see a tension between flashes of light (opening a difference in charges) and a continuous collection of light. It is in the second stage of anagōgē that photography takes place, for the marking of divine light on the theurgist’s soul constitutes a photographic act. Chapter 3 argues that Iamblichean theurgy is the site of the re-emergence of the chora as photography. Chapter 4 presents the story of St Philotheos, a ninth-century monk from Mount Sinai who used the verb phôteinographeistai (φωτεινογραφεἱσθαι) or ‘to write with light’ to describe the mystic union with God. This chapter examines the photographic experience of divine ecstasy – the imprinting of God’s image on the soul of the devotee. Does the encounter with the divine always necessitate an extreme form of photagogia, leading to blindness and overexposure? In Chapter 5, by examining the work of the Renaissance philosopher and magus Marsilio Ficino, I hope to show how theourgia gives place to therapeia. In Ficino’s work, the emphasis on an upward movement that characterizes theurgic ascent is displaced by the inclination towards a descent, the drawing down of divine light. Photagogia consists of acclimatizing oneself to the reception of the divine, enabling one to see the image of God. I argue that Ficino’s writings on life and light are propelled by the idea of the enhancement of photosensitivity. The pursuit of photosensitivity is not restricted to the spiritual domain but is inseparable from one’s lifestyle. Ficino proposes to his reader
an entire regime based on the cultivation of a solar environment; this includes the consumption of solar food and the use of solar objects. I will show how the enhancement of photosensitivity for Ficino affects not only one’s spiritual cultivation but also one’s cognitive and physiological system. The coda which concludes this study alludes to an essay by Jacques Derrida, ‘Demeure, Athènes’. Derrida’s essay has been an inspiration behind many aspects of this project. From the Renaissance, the setting for the previous chapter, we flash forward to the twentieth century, to a modern-day Athens under the scorching heat of the sun, where glimmers of the past are intermingled with the present, like the multiple reflections of light bouncing off from one surface to the next. Thus the movement forward is also an act of reflecting back. Contrary to the continuous absorption of light which predominates Ficino’s photagogia, in ‘Demeure, Athènes’ exaiphnês takes centre stage, characterized by sudden bursts of light. Derrida dreams of dreaming the same dream as Socrates. What is the nature of this dream? What does this have to do with photography? To borrow the beginning of a phrase which constantly appears in the Platonic dialogues, ‘ti esti’ or ‘What is …?’ (τί ἐστι), I would like to ask, ‘What is photography?’ (ti esti photographein) (τι εστι φωτογραφειν), if such a question can be asked again, after so many have responded that it is nothing. Perhaps it should be followed by a second question, ‘What is the chora of photography?’
1 Plato’s Allegorical Camera-cave The light of the sun in water is a kind of shadow. Ficino, De amore VI.17 The writing of this chapter can be described as chalepon – difficult, troublesome and dangerous. Chalepon is a word that appears in both the Republic and the Timaeus, which Plato uses to describe the Good and the chora. My experience with chalepon (χαλεπόν) works on many levels. I find my engagement with the Platonic texts chalepon; the heterogeneity of the dialogues is troublesome and difficult and, as a result, I find myself circling and hovering above the texts, hoping to lower myself into a point of entry. On the one hand, this may be a kind of daydream – for at the same time that a distance separates me from the text, I am in fact deeply embroiled in it, unable to tear myself apart from the object of my study. This thing that I am studying is chalepon, for it is silent – unspeakable, unphotographable and impossible to behold. Despite what Socrates says about the escaped prisoner, that he is finally able to behold the sun ‘as it is, in its own place’ (auton kath’auton en tèi autou chorai), what awaits us at the end of the line and at the apex of the prisoner’s ascent is an impossible image, for how can one stare at the sun when it is precisely the sun that bestows vision? How can one take a photograph of photography? How can one capture the origin that withdraws and resists being fixed? The writing of this text is therefore chalepon, for it is a strenous and dangerous task to incorporate the different aspects, loose strands and discontinuities that reflect the richness of the Platonic dialogues and to demonstrate how they are interwoven so tightly together with photography. I find myself constantly reordering, removing, and reinserting things again and again. This partly arises from the complexity of Plato’s work with its multi-faceted mirrors in which appearances are perpetually captured and deflected. It seems that a discussion on the Good will always be haunted by a kind of doubling. I am aware that at many times I am doubling John Sallis in my writings on the Good. Perhaps one cannot move away from any form of doubling when truth and being are spoken about. Timaeus uses the word chalepon to describe how difficult it is for him to tell the story of the beginning (48c). This comes as no surprise since the discourse on the origin cannot be but troublesome, dangerous and bordering on the unsayable. In ‘The allegory of the cave’ in Plato’s Republic, Book VII (VII. 514A–521B), Socrates resembles a magician conjuring for us two contrasting spectacles, one immersed in darkness and the other in sunlight. The first moving picture which Socrates unveils to Glaucon is that of a dark cave where men are held prisoners by chains.1 Socrates asks Glaucon to imagine the situation: unable to turn their heads and to see each other, these prisoners are forced perpetually to look at a wall in front of them where shadows in the forms of humans and animals move about. These shadows are cast by the firelight and belong to marionettes that are carried by performers hiding behind a parapet. Often the performers would emit some noise, which the prisoners, having known nothing but the reality of the shadows, would mistake for sound coming from the shadows. In one of the English translations of Plato’s Republic by F. M. Cornford, Socrates says to Glaucon: ‘Here is a parable to illustrate the degrees in which our nature may be enlightened or unenlightened. Imagine the condition of men living in a sort of cavernous chamber underground, with an entrance open to the light and a long passage all down the cave.’2 The same passage has been translated in different ways, with the word parable becoming situation, ‘here’s a situation which you can use as an analogy for the human condition – for our education or lack of it’,3 or experience, ‘take the following sort of experience as an image to the degree’.4 In a translation by H. D. P. Lee, we find Socrates speaking in a more commanding tone: ‘I want you to go on to picture the enlightenment or ignorance of our human condition.’5 Taking into consideration the usual problems encountered when translating from one language to another, how can we explain the differences in the various English versions of the text? Consultation of several translations of Plato’s allegory of the cave reveal variations in interpretation, omissions from the original text as well as additions to it. Perhaps the ambiguous nature of the passage accounts for the different versions in translation. For example, we do not know whether the fire burning behind the prisoners is located inside or outside of the cave; we are told by Socrates that it is placed at a higher position: ‘At some distance higher up is the light of a fire burning behind them.’6 Similarly, when one of the prisoners is set free and forced to turn his head towards the light, is he looking at the firelight or the daylight that is coming through the entrance of the cave? Here are two versions of the passage: ‘Suppose one of them was unchained, and was immediately made to stand up and turn his head around, to walk about and look up the cave towards the firelight.’7 Cornford translates the above
sentence as: ‘Suppose one of them set free and forced suddenly to stand up, turn his head, and walk with eyes lifted to the light.’8 Paul Shorey also chooses not to specify the type of light: ‘When one was freed from his fetters and compelled to stand up suddenly and turn his head around and walk and to lift up his eyes to the light …’9 The original word that Plato uses is phôs or light. When Socrates first presents to us the spectacle of the cave and asks us to consider it as an analogy, parable or experience, he uses the term apeikason, which can be defined as ‘to represent from a model’, ‘to copy’ or ‘to imagine’.10 Glaucon’s replies to Socrates’s questions are all related to sight. Even the name Glaucon (Γλαύκων) refers to ‘gleaming’ as in ‘gleaming eyes’.11 When Socrates asks him to imagine the cave, Glaucon replies with ‘I see’ or ‘I can picture this.’ When he is surprised by the strange vision of chained men watching the spectacle of shadows on the walls of a cave, he exclaims: ‘It is a strange picture and a strange sort of prisoners’ (515).12 The Greek word used here is atopos (ατοπος) which is defined as ‘out of place, without a place’. The word atopon will take on greater significance later in this chapter when we discuss the place of the Good. We also encounter atopon in the Timaeus, when Timaeus prays to the gods to guide him through his telling of the strange narrative of another beginning (49d). In contrast to the darkness of the underground cave, the exterior world is filled with light. When one of the prisoners in the cave is set free and dragged up the slope into the exterior world, he is at first blinded by the sunlight. The picture of the upper world is a spectacle of sunlight and of its multiple reflections in the water and other surfaces. The man who left the cave gradually learns to discern the shadows, then the reflections of men and animals in water and other surfaces, followed by the constellation at night. It is by peeling back each layer of illusion that man moves closer to reality. Finally he is able to look at the Sun, not its ghostly apparition in water or in an alien medium, ‘but itself, just as it is, in its own proper place’13 or ‘as it is in itself in its own domain’.14 I will return to the significance of this sentence at a later point in this chapter.
On the walls of the caves are shadows The figure of the puppeteer in the cave reappears in the Sophist as the sophist, the type of philosophereducator whom Plato despised and saw as dangerous. For Plato the sophist falsifies reality by fabricating illusions using ‘words that cheat the ear’, presenting ‘images of all things in a shadow play of discourse’ and misleading naive minds into thinking that they are presented with the truth.15 He is described by Socrates as: the man who professes to be able, by a simple form of skill, to produce all things, that when he creates with his pencil representations bearing the same name as real things, he will be able to deceive the innocent minds of children, if he shows them his drawings at a distance, into thinking that he is capable of creating, in full reality, anything he chooses to make. (234b)
The sophist resides in the realm of darkness and shadows, the world of the cave with its enchained inhabitants, as opposed to the philosopher whose luminescence dazzles those blinded by ignorance: ‘Whereas the philosopher, whose thoughts constantly dwell upon the nature of reality, is difficult to see because his region is so bright, for the eye of the vulgar soul cannot endure to keep its gaze on the divine’ (254a). This brightness that is associated with the divine, belongs to the dominion of the sun. In the cave, in order to release the prisoners from the snares of blindness and ignorance, light must enter its dark interior. Light floods through the entrance of the cave just like the light that bursts through the aperture of the camera; the chamber is saturated with so much light that contours melt and shadows are effaced. The brimming light is the moment of divine unification, where the self becomes translucent. This is what Didi-Huberman describes as the ‘infinite ecstasy of the formless image, the pure tactile intensity of the flooding light’ on one’s face, the ‘face seen by the light as by a mother who nurses her infant’.16 The inundation of light into the cave resonates very well with certain technical aspects of photography, especially overexposure. Overexposure makes the negative thick, so thick with light that at the time of its printing, its very opaqueness prevents the light in the enlarger from coming through and, in turn, renders the resulting image a dazzling white – just as the light that the philosopher lets into the cave is so overwhelming as to become opaque to those inside. Black light, white light, in the plenitude of light nestles its darkness. Inhering in the divine white light is the black light of the Sufi mystics. The divine darkness does not come from the lack of light but from a super-abundance of light, what the mystics would call ‘the Night of light’, ‘luminous Blackness’ and ‘black light’.17 The black light renders all lights visible; it brings about vision although it is itself invisible. The Hermetic black light can only be attained when one reaches the highest spiritual level. The mystic, when faced with this light – the cause of all seeing – cannot see it, for it is present in every act of seeing. ‘It dazzles,’ writes Corbin, ‘as the superconsciousness dazzles.’18 The mystic Shaykl Lãhiji describes his experience just before he reaches the black light. He finds himself in a world of
mountains and lakes full of all kinds of coloured lights, before the black light swallows up the entire universe absorbing him into the light.19 The mystic seeks the Orient where the midnight sun and the black light resides. This Orient cannot be found on the map for it does not refer to the east as opposed to the west, which are the usual divisions of cartography. The Orient is in fact located at the centre, or the summit, what is known as the heavenly North Pole.20 The midnight sun of Iranian Sufism finds its resonance in the sun of Parmenides’s quest, when he voyaged to the depths of Hades to Tartaros, guided by kourai, daughters of the Sun, and welcomed by Persephone the Queen of the underworld. In Peter Kingsley’s work, In the Dark Places of Wisdom, he argues that, contrary to the prevalent understanding of Parmenides as the exponent of rationality and logic, the Pre-Socratic philosopher was actually an Iatromantis, a prophet and healer. Like Pythagoras, Parmenides practised the technique of incubation (enkoimesis) – lying still (hêsychia) in the darkness of the cave (phôleos) to prepare one’s entrance into a state of consciousness which hovers between sleeping and waking, in order to receive wisdom from the gods and to be able to heal those in need. As Kingsley points out, the word phôleos refers to a lair or den in which an animal goes into hibernation.21 Lying inside the phôleos, the Iatromantis is ‘neither alive nor dead … at home not only in this world of the senses but in another reality as well’.22 The cave in which incubation takes place is not a space reserved solely for the Iatromantis. Patients are also encouraged to lie inside the cave under the supervision of the priest, otherwise known as the Phôlarchos, or ‘lord of the lair’.23 Sometimes the incubation would last for days during which the gods would appear in dreams and bestow guidance and answers to patients’ questions. A preparatory ritual is often involved, consisting of prayers, fasting, purification baths and sacrifices, such as those that took place at the temple of Asclepius at Epidaurus, a popular healing site during the fourth century 24 BCE. In this enclosed and sacred chamber which serves as a platform for divine contact, we see an example of how magic, medicine and religion are intrinsically bound up in the ancient world before drifting their separate ways. Among the many inscriptions that recorded the healing process and the ‘testimonials’ of the patients at Epidaurus, we find the story of a woman who successfully gave birth to a child after a pregnancy of five years, a man who woke up with the scars on his face removed and a patient who dreamt of a god (either Asclepius or Apollo) pouring medicine into her blind eye and who awoke completely healed.25 In the nether regions, what we ‘rationally’ perceive as antithetical elements no longer remain in opposite poles; it is the realm where light resides in darkness and where the sun god Apollo returns with his chariot every night. As Kingsley puts it: ‘Right at the roots of western as well as eastern mythology there’s the idea that the sun comes out of the underworld and goes back to the underworld. That’s where it has its home; where its children come from. The source of light is at home in the darkness.’26 The photographic movement – its continuous rhythm from light to dark, dark to light, where the two are simultaneously present at each instant, reveals the true nature of divine darkness – an excess of light. The light-sensitive emulsion is enframed in the darkness of the camera awaiting its moment of exposure. The shutter is released and a certain amount of light is allowed to make its mark on the surface of the film. The film stripped bare of its armour of metal is rolled on to a reel and developed inside a dark tank. The immersion of different chemicals one after the other follows a certain rhythm; the film, held in the tank’s embrace, is rocked from side to side. The resulting negatives are exposed to a light source projected from the top of the enlarger, which resembles the sun shining down from above. Light seeps through the negative image and traces the shadows on to a blank piece of photographic paper, which in turn is plunged into various liquid baths. After the image is fixed and washed, it is ready to take on a life of its own and circulate the world as a photograph.
Shadowplay We can distinguish two types of shadows in the allegory of the cave. The ex-prisoner, unaccustomed yet to the dazzling light of the exterior world, first learns to rest his gaze upon the shadows. Unlike the ever-changing projections on the walls in the cave, which are devious, deceptive and unnatural – manipulated by conjurors and pretending to be the thing itself, the shadows in the outside world – ‘likenesses or reflections in water of men and other things’ (748) are of a higher order for they belong to the domain of phusis. They are ‘phantasms created by God in water and shadows of objects that are real and not merely, as before, the shadows of images cast through a light which, compared with the sun, is as unreal’ (532c). These real or natural images are described by Plato in the Sophist: ‘Dream images, and in daylight all those naturally produced semblances which we call “shadow” when dark patches interrupt the light, or a “reflection” when the light belonging to the eye meets and coalesces with light belonging to something else on a bright and smooth surface and produces a form yielding a perception that is the reverse of the ordinary direct view’ (266c). An earlier passage in the Republic known as the simile of the line will help us in our understanding
of the prisoner’s ascent from the cave to the exterior world. In some ways the different levels of the line correspond to the experience of the escaped prisoner, his journey from the darkness of the underground cave to the highest point, where he is finally able to gaze at the sun. In the previous sections, I have attempted to show how the Platonic cave can be read as a photographic camera. With my analysis of the line, I hope to show how photography is intrinsically bound up with Western metaphysics. When shadows and reflections are mentioned in Socrates’s presentation of the line (509d–511e), Plato is undoubtedly preparing his reader for the ensuing section on the allegory of the cave. Socrates explains the four levels of knowledge to Glaucon by dividing a line into four unequal segments, two segments each belonging to the visible world and the intelligible world. At the lowest level is eikasia, at the second level is pistis, above it is dianoia and at the highest level is episteme. Dianoia and pistis are of the same proportion. The image/copy is placed at the bottom of the line; the original is placed directly above it in the level of pistis. These two comprise the visible world or the world of belief (to doxaston). The higher two levels, episteme and dianoia, make up the intelligible world. Dianoia describes mathematical knowledge or knowledge gained through enquiry into the originals residing in the visible world. Episteme, which is at the highest level, does not require images but uses Forms as a method of understanding.27 Socrates positions images (eikones) at the lowest level in the visible world. He says: ‘By images I mean, first, shadows, and then reflections in water and on surfaces of dense, smooth, and bright texture, and everything of that kind, if you apprehend’ (510).28 These images have their counterparts as living creatures and natural elements, all products of divine creation. It is curious that Plato would group together shadows, reflections in water and reflections in mirrors (‘surfaces of dense, smooth and bright texture’), because if we look closely at the two types of reflections, the surfaces that support these images are different – water is an element of nature whereas the mirror belongs to the realm of technê, although in this case what it reflects is of the natural order. However, in Republic X, Plato cautions us against the deceitful nature of reflections and he chooses the mirror to illustrate the different levels of appearance. In a discussion identifying the art of production as either imitation or original, Socrates tells Glaucon that a craftsman, an artist, or anyone in fact, can quickly and without difficulty produce all things in the heavens and on earth by using a portable mirror: ‘You will speedily produce the sun and all the things in the sky, and speedily the earth and yourself and the other animals and implements and plants and all the objects of which we just now spoke’ (596e). In this amazing passage, we are not far away from the picturesque world of the Claude glass and the daguerreotype’s mirror images. John Sallis’s reading of the line simile in Being and Logos facilitates an understanding of the complexity of the line and how closely interwoven Plato’s metaphysics is with the process of imaging. Sallis points out that the different sections of the line do not refer to separate objects but are ‘different degrees of truth (manifestness) of the same things’.29 The line is a plotting of the movement in which a thing can reveal itself; the segments of the line representing various levels of concealment. Sallis notes that the intelligible and the visible are not two separate domains. In fact, like the lower segments of the line, the two levels of noesis – both dianoia and to a certain extent episteme, need to rely upon images.30 Dianoetic knowledge is constructed by hypotheses that are drawn from the visible. Although at the level of episteme, one no longer needs to rely upon images from pistis in the visible world, images are still required, for epistemic knowledge derives from eide, which are images of the Good.31 Sallis locates the passage from pistis towards dianoia as the ‘beginning of philosophy’ since it represents the ‘very opening-up of this difference’ between the intelligible and the visible.32 Socrates’s task here, as teacher, is to bring his pupil Glaucon to this level of understanding which corresponds to philosophical thinking through the discussion of the line and the image of the cave, but the dialogue between the two never moves beyond dianoia.33 Even Socrates’s explanation of episteme is presented through the understanding of dianoia. When Glaucon asks his teacher to continue the discussion until the end of the line, Socrates replies: You will no longer be able, dear Glaucon, to follow me further, though on my part there will be no lack of good will. And, if I could, I would show you, no longer an image and symbol of my meaning, but the very truth, as it appears to me – though whether rightly or not I may not properly affirm. (533)
The ‘very truth’ (αύτò τò άληθές) here, refers to that which is ‘unconcealed’ – the original.34 Socrates is telling Glaucon that if he could, he would show the very truth as it appears to him. Does this mean that even at the level of dialectic, we can never move away from images, that we can never see truth as it is, in its place? As Sallis remarks: ‘to speak more directly, there is no end of the road, no haven where one would finally have the highest idea present without reserve before one’s vision. Always there would remain images, difference – that is, the bond to concealment.’35 Even the line itself is an image. There is an inherent performative aspect concerning the line; what it demonstrates also applies to itself.36 Sallis suggests that if we regard the line as a ‘thing’ at different stages of concealment, then Socrates’s verbal description of the line can be considered as an ‘image’
belonging to the level of eikasia. By following the verbal description and actually drawing the line, we are moving upwards towards the level of pistis. And by measuring and marking out the ratio of the line, thus applying mathematics to what we know so far about the line, we are in the realm of dianoetic knowledge. Sallis differentiates between two types of dianoia in his reading of the line. Downward dianoia involves a return to the visible, to obtain an understanding of the images which reside in the realm of doxa in relation to the intelligible. This downward-looking movement from the level of the intelligible elucidates the visible through ‘genuine measure … as opposed to the merely relative determination with which it is presented to perception’.37 He explains that upward dianoia is closer to philosophical reflection, drawing the soul away from the visible, for it brings about a realization that the visible is uncertain, that visible things are merely images ‘in the sense of supplying a locus where the determinate things, the eide, show themselves but in such a way as also to conceal themselves’.38 In explaining the ascension of the soul, Sallis suggests that this realization must be a forceful one; upward dianoia has to be ‘provoked’ by the ‘downward movement of clarification [which] shatters against the indeterminacy of the visible’ (emphasis added).39 Sallis observes that there is a discrepancy between the ratio of the line segments and the degrees of clarity to which each segment supposedly corresponds. According to Socrates’s description of the line, dianoia and eikasia would be in the same proportion. How can things that exist in the realm of the visible possess the same kind of clarity as those residing in dianoia? One way of understanding this seeming contradiction would be to regard dianoia as also reliant on images – images which are the ‘originals’ or pistis from the lower realm, as we have seen earlier with the downward movement of dianoia.40 In a later work entitled The Verge of Philosophy, Sallis returns to the line simile in the Republic and describes this segment of the line as dianoetic eikasia, thus emphasizing its dependence upon images from the visible world or doxa. At the end of the line, the reliance on images or what he calls the ‘image-original dyadic structure’ will be dispensed of, ‘for the sake of a vision of the ἀρχἠ, the beginning, which is not itself an image of something else’.41 At this ultimate point, there will be no more images but the original – the Good, ‘in and by itself in its own place’ (516b). But whether or not one can reach this highest point is another matter which I will return to in my discussion of the Good.
Proclus’s commentary In his commentary on the Republic, Proclus, the fifth-century Neoplatonist philosopher, draws our attention to Plato’s definition of the image (eikon) in the simile of the line.42 He suggests that although ‘copy’ may refer to sculpted or painted images, Plato focuses on images that are produced by sources of light on illuminated surfaces: ‘Il (Platon) dit nommer “copies” des images telles que celles qui sont produites par les éclairants dans les éclairés, soit les ombres soit les images réflechies tant à la surface de l’eau que dans les autres sortes de miroirs.’43 (‘He (Plato) calls by “copies”, images such as those that are produced by the illuminating in the illuminated, either shadows, or reflected images as much on the surface of water as on other types of mirrors.’) Proclus elaborates on the three properties of the reflective surface as described by Socrates – density, smoothness and bright texture. Density is necessary, says Proclus, in order for the reflection to be brought forth as a singular image. Although the reflection may come from different sources, it is important that the reflected image is not lost when it falls upon the pores of the surface. For the reflected image to appear even and complete, the surface should be smooth and without indentation. Brightness is required in order for a dark reflection to be fully seen. Proclus evokes the beautiful image of light streaming through the windows revealing particles suspended in air. These molecules by themselves are dark and invisible without the presence of light.44 Shadows are of the same nature as reflections because they are copies of things and possess a strong resonance with the objects from which they project themselves. According to Proclus, this affinity between objects and their shadows is fully exploited by magicians when they conjure up ghosts. Is Proclus referring to an early form of phantasmagoria, necromancy, or the esoteric art of magicians? 45 It is probably the latter, for he points out that animals also possess such magical powers. He gives us the example of the hyena, which is capable of dragging a dog down from above if it steps on the dog’s shadow.46 Is this due to the resemblance between the hyena and the dog thereby investing it with power over the latter’s shadow? He also refers to Aristotle who proclaims that if a menstruating woman looks at herself in the mirror, her reflected image will take on the colour of blood. Proclus concludes that certain qualities of the original are inherent in the simulacrum and that reflections are actual realities of those spectral bodies produced by divine artifice, ‘les reflets sont les réalités substantielles de certains corps spectraux’.47 We are far from the shadows in the cave that have no real connection with the objects which the prisoners, in their uneducated minds, take them to be. Outside of the cave, the ex-prisoner habituates himself to the recognition of reflections; he then directs his gaze at the actual objects themselves. His perception shifts upwards and the man raises his head to look at the night sky with its constellations, before he learns to discern the sun, the
representation of all Good and Beautiful. The order of vision during his ascent is extremely important: from shadows we move on to reflections, then to the objects themselves, followed by the stars in the night sky, before finally reaching the sun. As we can see from Proclus’s observations, the various stages of the ex-prisoner’s upward movement appear to correspond to the different levels of Plato’s line. Proclus explains that stars are copies of the intelligible, and the fire burning in the stars is of the same nature as the sun. Just as the stars possess some essence of the sun, because they benefit from the light emanating from it, the intelligible is divine because of the light that issues from the Good.48 Proclus reminds us that Socrates teaches through analogy, although there is nothing physically similar between the sun and the Good, it is possible to draw an analogy between the light of the sun as the source of all things visible, that which renders objects perceptible and that which allows the viewers to see them, ‘qu’elle [cette lumière] fournit aux visibles la cause de ce qu’ils sont vus et à ceux qui voient la cause de ce qu’ils voient’, and Reality, creator of objects of knowledge and the motive for those who seek the intelligible, ‘de même que la Réalité est cause pour les Intelligibles de ce qu’ils sont intelligés et, pour ceux qui intelligent, cause de ce qu’ils intelligent’.49 Contemplating the entire sky and its constellations before seeing the sun is just like looking at all that resides in the intelligible world and in the world of appearances before perceiving the Good. Proclus suggests that when Plato writes ‘the objects of knowledge not only receive from the presence of the good their being known, but their very existence and essence is derived to them from it, though the good itself is not essence but still transcends essence in dignity and surpassing power’ (509b), the Good is a kind of super-essence, transcendent and prior to the most divine essences, beyond essence and being (ontos).50 It is only in the intelligible world that the Good allows itself to be seen. Just like the Sun, the light emanating from the Good is the most divine of all light, shining forth from the objects in the intelligible world. Inferior to this light would be the light from the stars, which Proclus sees as more divine than the starlight reflected in the viewer’s eyes. We can perhaps compare this universe of sympathies to a hall of mirrors or even a kaleidoscope, where things are reflected within each other, creating a continuous mise-en-abyme. Or would it be more appropriate to perceive these rings of affinities as a world of concentric circles produced by a pebble thrown into the smooth mirror of a pond? In Proclus’s treatise On the Priestly Art According to the Greeks,51 he explains how elements belonging to the different orders of being are related to each other through a series of ‘chains’ (σειραί): Why do heliotropes move together with the sun, selenotropes with the moon, moving around to the extent of their ability with the luminaries of the cosmos? All things pray according to their own order and sing hymns, either intellectually or rationally or naturally or sensibly, to heads of entire chains. And since the heliotrope is also moved towards that to which it readily opens, if anyone hears it striking the air as it moves about, he perceives in the sound that it offers to the king of the hymn that a plant can sing. In the earth, then, it is possible to see suns and moons terrestrially, but in heaven one can also see celestially all the heavenly plants and stones and animals living intellectually. So by observing such things and connecting them to the appropriate heavenly beings, the ancient wise men brought divine powers into the region of mortals, attracting them through likeness. For likeness is sufficient to join beings to one another … Thus, all things are full of gods: Things on earth are full of heavenly gods; things in heaven are full of supercelestials; and each chain continues abounding up to its final members.52
In this ‘essential community between visible and invisible beings’,53 a bond of affinity can be established between the sensible and the intelligible world, through the heliotrope, the sun and the transcendental Good. Proclus uses the example of the plant turning its head towards the sun to demonstrate how sympatheia operates and manifests itself in the natural world. Further in the text, he identifies both animate and inanimate objects as possessing solar properties – the lotus, a stone called the Bel’s eye, the lion and the cock. He writes: ‘So it seems that properties sown together in the sun are distributed among the angels, demons, souls, animals, plants and stones that share them’ (lines 67– 9). With sympatheia, we are no longer in the realm of analogy, for within the same chain (σειρά), each of the lower elements is regarded as a sumbolon (σύµβολον) or sunthema (σύνϑηµα) of the higher one.54 As Proclus states in his Commentary on Plato’s Timaeus: For the divine does not stand aloof from anything, but is present for all things alike. For this reason, even if you take the lowest levels [of reality], there too you will find the divine present. The One is in fact everywhere present, inasmuch as each of the beings derives its existence from the gods, and even though they proceed forth from the gods, they have not gone out from them but are rather rooted in them … For what is beyond the gods is That which is in no way existent, but all beings have been embraced in a circle by the gods and exist in them. (209.14–28)
In Chapter 3, we will see how the philosopher-priest draws upon these properties to carry out various theurgic manipulations.
In his commentary on the Republic, Proclus draws our attention to the difficulty of seeing the Good, which leads us to think of the sun and its blinding light, as the ultimate moment in the prisoner’s ascent from the cave. However, we cannot regard it as the final goal because the ex-prisoner, now enlightened, has to risk his life and descend into the cave once again. As Plato tells us, the man’s ascent from the underground cave towards the luminosity of the sun corresponds to the gradual awakening of his intelligence, ‘the passage from the deeper dark of ignorance into a more luminous world’ (518b). Armed with knowledge of the idea of the Good, ‘the cause for all things that is right and beautiful’, and ‘the authentic source of truth and reason’ (517c), he then returns to the inhabitants of the cave, reluctant though he may be, ‘he would feel with Homer and greatly prefer while living on earth to be serf of another, a landless man, and endure anything rather than opine with them and live that life’ (516d). He faces the danger of being ridiculed, for, unaccustomed to the darkness, at first he is unable to discern the shadows. He may even be killed by the prisoners who laugh at him, who think that his eyes have been damaged by the light. Even if he is required to surrender himself to the most unfavourable circumstances, it is the task, perhaps even the fate of the philosopher, to fix the shadows in the cave with light and to reveal the true nature of illusions. For Socrates says: Down you must go then, each in his turn, to the habitation of the others and accustom yourselves to the observation of the obscure things there. For once habituated you will discern them infinitely better than the dwellers there, and you will know what each of the ‘idols’ is and whereof it is a semblance, because you have seen the reality of the beautiful, the just and the good. So our cities will be governed by us and you with waking minds, and not, as most cities now which are inhabited and ruled darkly as in a dream by men who fight one another for shadows. (520c)
The Good When the prisoner is dragged out of the cave and his eyes habituated to the world of light, Socrates tells Glaucon that the man will finally be able to look directly at the Sun, not its ‘reflections in water or phantasms of it in an alien setting, but in and by itself in its own place’ (516b). What does it mean to behold the sun ‘as it is’? What is the place of the sun? To look directly at the sun is surely painful and dangerous for it will culminate in the destruction of sight.55 As Sallis tells us, blindness leads to an obscuration of things, resulting in their withdrawal and concealment.56 How then can the loss of vision function at the same time as a form of enlightenment, providing us with insight into the things themselves? In another Platonic dialogue, one finds a very different discussion of the sun. In the Phaedo, Socrates warns of the dangers of looking directly at a solar eclipse (99d) unless it is through a reflection of some kind: ‘It occurred to me that I must guard against the same sort of risk which people run when they watch and study an eclipse of the sun; they really do sometimes injure their eyes, unless they study its reflection in water or some other medium’ (99e). Socrates fears that the reliance on sight or the other senses to understand the nature of beings would lead to the blindness of the soul (99e). Instead one should turn to logoi: ‘So I decided that I must have recourse to theories, and use them in trying to discover the truth about things’ (99e). Here I would like to introduce the notion of doubling and highlight its importance in the above passage from the Phaedo; to turn away from the sun signifies a turning away from the original towards the image (eikon), its double.57 However, this movement does not only involve the image but also logoi. As Sallis points out: [T]he recourse to λόγοι is nothing but a way of redoubling the drive to origin, of posing in every instance the thing itself (τò πραγµα αυτό) as ειδος and thus (re)launching the advance towards the originals. It is thus anything but simply a recourse to images, and one soon realizes that a redoubling haunts that very turn with which philosophy would begin.58
Thus the movement towards unconcealment. Here it may be useful to recall that the various degrees of showing from eikasia to episteme posited by Plato includes both an advancement and a regression – each step that brings us closer to the origin entails a regressive turning away from it. In order to behold ‘the thing itself’ (τò πραγµα αυτό), one needs to rely upon logoi and eikon, thus simultaneously moving away from the original object ‘to the images through which, if not among which, one would advance only by a double vision’.59 Diagrammatically one may be tempted to plot a divergent movement with arrows moving in opposite directions, one pointing towards the origin and the other towards logoi. However, Sallis argues that this is not the case; the search for truth involves a redoubling at every turn – each turn is simultaneously a movement towards and a movement away – thus ‘the double turn both directs one toward the origin and opens the space of the difference between the εἴδη and the things of sense’.60 It is a double doubling, for turning away from the original to logoi, what one may consider as a distancing, entails at the same time a moving forwards, bringing one closer to the original. Socrates’s cautionary words in the Phaedo concerning the sun are contradictory to the passage in
the Republic, where the ex-prisoner only gains access to truth (aletheia) when he is finally capable of looking directly at the sun as an original and not as a copy. How do we account for the differing views on the vision of the sun? Could it be that what is involved here in the Phaedo consists of a different type of looking since we are denied a direct vision of the sun, which is hidden in an eclipse? Referring to the passage from the Republic, Sallis suggests that instead of a persistent beholding of the sun which can be detrimental to one’s eyesight, Socrates is referring to a momentary glance at the sun and not a constant gaze. Sallis argues that a direct vision of the sun is impossible, for the sun withdraws itself from our sight with its blinding light. If we turn away from the sun, we experience dark orbs temporarily emblazoned on to our retina. These are blind spots, ‘the most immediate images that the sun makes of itself’.61 I want to take this proposition further and suggest that the momentary glance mentioned by Sallis may be likened to a fast shutter speed that exposes us briefly to the light of the Good. To leave the shutter open for any longer duration would lead to overexposure, resulting in a blank image – an obliteration of the photographed object. Perhaps the Good can only be perceived between the ‘blinds’, in the space that define the ‘trait’, the line, the trace, or when the shutter opens to allow light to come through.62 This spacing or gap belongs neither to the sensible nor to the intelligible realm; encompassing both absence and presence at the same time, it is defined only by its in-betweenness or, as Derrida calls it, ‘the law of the inter-view’.63 The aperture then, resembles this in-between space of the blind; what its contours mark is neither sensible nor intelligible, for it indicates both absence and presence at the same time.64 The analogy that Plato sets up in the Republic between the sun and the Good, the sun providing light and nourishment to all beings in the sensible world just as the Good operates as generator of knowledge and truth, suggests that the momentary gaze experienced by the escaped prisoner may stand for the possibility for one to catch occasional glimpses of the Good when it shows itself through eide.65 It also indicates that we can never fully comprehend and possess a firm grasp of the Good for it is beyond being (epekeina tes ousias) (509b). As a consequence, one needs to look to logoi and images. Even Socrates himself indicates that he can only contend with the image of the Good as it appears to him, when Glaucon urges him to lead their discussion further towards noetic knowledge (533).66 When Socrates describes the ex-prisoner who is finally able to behold the sun, he does not use an affirmative tone but rather one of speculation with words such as ‘I suppose’ (516b).67 And in an earlier passage (506d–e), he is reluctant to speak of the Good, preferring to comment on its offspring. There is a curious moment in the Republic, towards the conclusion of the allegory of the cave (517b), where Socrates uses analogy once again to differentiate between the intelligible and visible worlds, comparing the image of the cave to the images of the exterior region. The fire inside the cave, he explains, resembles the light shining forth from the sun, and the man’s departure from the cave represents the soul’s upward movement towards the intelligible. At which point he claims that his observations, impressions or surmise (elpidos) are words that Glaucon had wanted to hear. He then questions himself and exclaims: ‘But God knows whether it is true.’ What is the significance of this sudden doubt? Is it a form of resignation in face of the impossible beholding of the Good? Are Socrates’s words meant to be ironic or a sign of mere playfulness? I want to draw attention to the sentence immediately following his exclamation, which continues to reveal the uncertainty of ever grasping the Good, when Socrates says: ‘But, at any rate, my dream as it appears to me is that in the region of the known the last thing to be seen and hardly seen is the idea of the good …’ (emphasis added). The allusion to dreams is significant here, for dreams are also mentioned in the Timaeus when Plato introduces the notion of the chora as triton genos, a ‘third kind’ in addition to the two orders of nature: being and becoming. It seems that one must enter a dreamlike state before even beginning to understand the idea of the Good (idea tou agathon) or the chora. I will return to the role of dreams in the next chapter. In the whole of the Platonic Dialogues, the only instances in which one finds epekeina tes ousias (beyond being) are in the discussions of the Good. Yet Plato also describes the chora as residing outside of the sensible and the intelligible. I would like to draw attention to a question posed by Derrida in ‘Tense’, an essay that addresses Sallis’s work. Derrida asks: ‘And yet why does not Plato say that χώρα is επέκεινα της ούσίας? Why is that so difficult to say and to think?’68 In his essay ‘… A Wonder that One Could Never Aspire to Surpass’, Sallis responds to Derrida’s question by attributing Plato’s silence to the chora’s wildness, which he argues could be epekeina tes ousias. To support his claim, he singles out a sentence in Book VII of the Republic – at the ultimate moment of the prisoner’s ascent, when Socrates says that the escaped prisoner can finally look at the sun ‘not in some alien place [εδρα], but the sun itself by itself in its own χώρα – and see what it’s like’ (516b).69 Thirteen years later, writing in The Verge of Philosophy, Sallis revisits the discussion between Derrida and himself on the chora that began in 1982 tracing the paths of divergences in their respective readings of the chora. Here he compares the chora to a wild animal that evades capturing. Whereas for Derrida, the word chora used by Plato in the Republic at the moment of the prisoner’s ascent (516b) is a mere homonym and entirely distinct from the chora in the Timaeus, Sallis proposes to draw a link between
the Republic’s epekeina tes ousias and the chora in the Timaeus.70 Recalling two passages in the Timaeus, in which the formlessness of the chora is compared to gold and to a wax-like mould (ekmageion), Sallis proposes to view the chora as a happening or an operation, thus leading him to formulate the following question: ‘Is it the χώρα, operative in such a manner, that grants to the good its abode επέκεινα της ούσίας?’71 Paying tribute to Derrida, Sallis writes in a poignant passage that he would have liked to renew and continue his dialogue with his good friend ‘on the verge of such Platonism, such perhaps exorbitant Platonism … as I turned, once again, back to these ancient texts, calling again on what they hold still in reserve, he would have smiled. With reserve yet with generosity. The smile of a friend. And, continuing, the voice of a friend.’72 As we have seen above, the discussions centred on the Good in the Republic can be described as chalepon (χαλεπόν), the Greek word which means difficult, dangerous and troublesome. Plato uses chalepon in both the Republic and the Timaeus, although more frequently in the latter. The importance of chalepon has been commented upon by Sallis on numerous occasions, in reference to the heterogeneity of the Platonic dialogues, the elusive characteristic of the Good in the Republic, the triton genos in the Timaeus and the doubling of truth in Western philosophy.73 The difficulty of grasping the Good lies in its transcendent nature, for it is outside the categories of the intelligible and the sensible.74 We find here an affinity with other belief systems, as reflected in the following observation by Adriano Clemente, writing of Dzogchen practice in Tibetan Buddhism: ‘In all the gnostic traditions, the absolute is the equivalent of the ineffable, of that which transcends word and thought. For example a famous invocation by Jigmed Lingpa reads that “even the Buddha’s tongue is weak to explain [i.e., the absolute condition]”.’75 We can also find resonances of the conditions of hyperousia in the teachings of negative theology, which draw upon the unspeakability of the Good. As Dionysius the Areopagite, one of the major figures in the via negativa, writes: ‘Now if the Good is above all things (as indeed It is) Its Formless Nature produces all-form; and in It alone Not-Being is an excess of Being, and Lifelessness an excess of Life and its Mindless state is an excess of Wisdom, and all the Attributes of the Good we express in a transcendent manner by negative images.’76 For Derrida, the hidden Good cannot be seen, just as the act of seeing, itself, remains imperceptible to us: ‘[T]he absolute Good, the intelligible father who begets being as well as the visibility of being (the eidos figures an outline of intelligible visibility), remains as invisible as the condition of sight – as visibility itself – can be.’77 The threat of blindness lurks in the background of the entire Platonic discourse on the Good, an indication of the intrinsic link that ties knowledge to sight.78 The loss of sight does not merely refer to the ‘blindness’ of the cave dwellers in the Republic or the difficulty of vision that the escaped prisoner experiences twice as he struggles to habituate himself to the exterior world and again upon his return to the cave, nor is it the potential damage to the eyes caused by a direct viewing of the solar eclipse; it is the excess of the Good, its hyperekhon which induces our blindness, for its transcendence ensures its invisibility.79 However, if one is guided by noesis, one may be allowed a momentary glimpse of the Good as if through the fast shutter speed of the camera.
The image-maker For Sallis, the Good operates as an image-maker. Writing of its self-propagatory properties, Sallis explains: ‘So, the sun is something like an image of the good, an image of the good begotten by the good itself. This indicates something that is of utmost importance regarding the good: the good possesses the power of image-making; the good makes images of itself.’80 If we follow through the implications of this, we can see that there is something inherently photographic about the Good, which enables it to make images of itself. What kind of images does the Good create? One must be careful to underline the distinction between the images that are generated by the Good – these are the sun and the eide in the intelligible world as opposed to the eikon in the visible world. Elaborating on the images created by the Good, Sallis writes: To say that the good bestows being upon the knowable (that is the intelligibles) is to say precisely that it grants to each its distinct oneness. Constituted as one with itself, each is such that it need not show itself only mixed up with others that it is not; rather, each can show itself as it is, in its being one with itself; and it can show itself openly and unconcealedly, that is, truly, in the original sense of άλήθεια.81
In Book VII, Socrates tells Glaucon on two occasions that the Good generated the sun in its own image. Socrates’s words would imply that the sun is a photographic imprint of the Good – ‘The offspring of the good and most nearly made in its likeness’ (506e); it is begotten by the Good ‘to stand in a proportion with itself (on tagathon agennesen analogon)’ (508b). In the Verge of Philosophy, Sallis observes that the image-making action of the Good is a form of giving, the generosity of the Good consists of its bestowal of being (ούςία) and truth (άλήθεια) on things, granting us knowledge by exposing things as they really are.82 The gift of truth or aletheia is to
enable beings to reveal themselves as they truly are, not merely as ‘imitations’ but ‘rather to show themselves in such a way that their very whatness, their what-being, their ειδος, shines through them’.83 It is important to keep in mind that the gift of the Good entails that the origin is still discernible through its image. This indicates that the Good’s proximity to the photographic is even more remarkable, for the photograph, as Roland Barthes observes, is an ‘emanation of the referent’.84 In the photograph, the photographed thing manifests itself through the flat surface of the image. As Barthes explains so eloquently in Camera Lucida: ‘A sort of umbilical cord links the body of the photographed thing to my gaze: light, though impalpable, is here a carnal medium.’85 This unique property of photography, which consists of the origin shining through the image, is precisely what renders it such a paradoxical medium; the loved one is there yet at the same time not there, leading Barthes to describe it as a strange medium, hallucinatory and mad.86
Socrates the photographer As we have seen in the cave allegory, which revolves around darkness and light, seeing and not seeing, and in Socrates’s discussion of the line, image-making plays a crucial role in Books VI and VII of the Republic. In these two passages, not only are images discussed, the pursuit of aletheia and the ascent towards noesis are, in themselves, image-making processes, ‘a continuum of modes of showing running from a showing through the very poorest images up through a showing in the original’.87 Referring to an earlier passage in Republic VI (487e–489a) in which Socrates describes himself as ‘straining after imagery’, Sallis sees Socrates as an image-maker who is greedy for images.88 I will take Sallis’s suggestion further and propose that Socrates is in fact functioning as a photographer who captures and fixes images for Glaucon. As in the discussion of the line, there is a performative aspect running through the allegory of the cave.89 Socrates, by presenting Glaucon with the initial image of the cave dwellers, continues to make images by telling the story of one prisoner’s ascent.90 Let us consider the first image that Socrates presents to Glaucon: ‘Picture men dwelling in a sort of subterranean cavern with a long entrance open to the light on its entire width … Picture further the light from a fire burning higher up’ (514). This first photograph taken by Socrates would probably resemble a negative image, all darkness except for the areas lit by the single light source inside the cave. What we see in the photograph are shadows, the shadows on the walls, the silhouettes of the inhabitants, the hazy outlines of the puppeteers and the dancing firelight. If we take into consideration Sallis’s analysis of the line as ‘a continuum of modes of showing’,91 then this first photograph of the cave, in which shapes replace details, would be a murky image. It would offer the weakest level of visibility, thus corresponding to the bottom of the line in the category of eikasia. In a similar fashion, as the prisoner begins to make his ascent, the images that he sees will no longer be underexposed and dense. As the prisoner makes his way out of the cave, climbing up the various levels of the line, things will become clearer and more discernible. The photographs gradually become brighter and more in focus; even when one photographs the night sky, one will be able to make out the stars clearly. This level of visibility thus corresponds to the higher division of the line – the realm of the intelligible. It is important to bear in mind, however, that this is not the end of the line. In fact, Socrates’s and Glaucon’s discussion stays at the level of dianoia and never reaches episteme. The ultimate image that the escaped prisoner sees in his ascent is a completely blank photograph, a luminous picture and not a dark one, for it is infused with so much light that all traces are obliterated. As Socrates says, the exprisoner is finally able to see the sun ‘in and by itself in its own place’ (516b). This photograph of the sun is an impossible image since a direct beholding of the sun damages the retina and results in blindness. The photograph taken at the apex of the man’s journey will not be the last picture that we see in the story of the cave. For the ex-prisoner now has to return to his original habitat, thus we find ourselves once again moving downwards, from an overabundance of light, slowly descending into the darkness of the underground cave, from photographs of lightness and clarity to darker images where things are once again indistinguishable until we find ourselves re-immersed in the obscurity of the cave. Socrates’s role as photographer functions at two levels. At the same time that he uses pictures to educate Glaucon, he is also fixing the dancing shadows for us, revealing photographically the truth of our existence. In my discussion of the images photographed by Socrates, I have tried to show how negativity operates at different levels in relation to the various pictures presented to us in the cave allegory. The idea of the negative plays an even more fundamental role in the Platonic hierarchy of things since it helps us to distinguish the original from the copy. Note how photography is implicated in this discussion, for it is precisely the negative which liberates us from the confinements of the original. After all, in the history of photography, it is Henry Fox
Talbot’s calotype that survived, whereas the daguerreotype became obsolete. The success of Fox Talbot’s method can be attributed to the negative, which enabled one to produce multiple copies of the same image. If we return to Socrates’s discussion of the line with Glaucon, eikones or images are positioned at the bottom segment of the line in eikasia. These are copies – shadows and reflections whose originals can be found in pistis – the portion of the line directly above eikasia. In Sallis’s reading of the line, he emphasizes the negativity or concealment inherent in eikon and points out the strong link between eikasia and pistis as two ways of showing. The original manifests itself through the image; it ‘shine[s] forth in and through it’.92 It comes as no surprise then that these words can be applied to the printing process in the darkroom where the light of the enlarger shines through the negative, casting shadows on the photographic paper. How does one distinguish an image from the original? As Socrates tells us in the Phaedo, it is by recognizing that an image is an image because it shows the original as it is and as it is not.93 Here I would like to draw another link with photography by thinking through the ways in which an image can reveal itself. In Socrates’s explanation of eikasia, the first example that he gives is the shadow, for the shadow is an image which shows the outline of the original object and nothing else.94 In the Phaedo, Socrates explains the image–original relation and the power of recollection by using the example of portraiture. Just as the portrait of Simmias is Simmias but at the same time it is not Simmias, what we see in an image or copy of the original is the original and what it is not.95 Photography would push this tension between image and original even further until the two become so inseparable that they are what Barthes would call laminated objects – any attempt to tear one apart would inevitably destroy the other, ‘as if the Photograph always carries its referent with itself’.96
Plato’s Chora and the Uneasy Place of Photography Not to have anything of one’s own, isn’t that also the situation or site, the condition of khora? Derrida Let us begin by looking at the various instances in which the word chora appears in the Platonic dialogues. In the Timaeus, Plato chooses to use an ordinary word from the Greek lexicon, chora (χώρα) to designate the triton genos or third kind in his cosmology. As we have seen in Chapter 1, the word ‘chora’ appears in Book VII of the Republic when Socrates tells Glaucon of the crucial moment in the prisoner’s escape from the cave, when the ex-prisoner is finally able to look at the sun, not in an alien setting but ‘auton kath’auton en tèi autou chorai’, ‘in and by itself in its own place’ (516b). The summit of the climb culminates with the beholding of the sun and is immediately followed by the prisoner’s descent back into the cave. The word ‘chorai’ here refers to place. Not only does this denote the place of the sun but, if we follow through the analogy set up by Plato in Book VI, then ‘chorai’ would also allude to the location of the Good. This will prove to be of great significance in light of my suggestion of chora as photographic. ‘Chora’ also appears in the Sophist and depicts the bright region in which the philosopher resides, as opposed to the darkness of non-being that enshrouds the sophist (254a). The Stranger tells Theaetetus that it is difficult to look at the philosopher, for the chora of the philosopher is filled with so much light that it dazzles those who are ignorant. Thus one can see how the word ‘chora’ in the Platonic dialogues brings together the philosopher, the sun and the Good by providing them with an abode (ἕδρα) that is overflowing with light. As Sallis remarks: ‘Here the place is, then, not only just that of the philosopher but also, as such, the place of the brightness of being, even (as the Stranger goes on to suggest) a godly place.’1 At a later point in this chapter, I will explore the implications of this gathering, for chora in the Timaeus is described as triton genos, a phrase that is also used in the Republic in reference to light. However, one must be careful not to make generalizations in terms of the word itself. ‘Chora’ was a common word at the time of Plato and is still used today to designate space, place, a partly occupied room, position, post, land and country. The associations of ‘chora’ with a sense of illumination and enlightenment, as we have seen above, is clearly not the case in the Republic 495c, where it is used to depict the barren place of philosophy, resulting from the polluting of young minds by sycophants and flatterers in the polis. Nor is it in the Laws, where the word appears on numerous occasions, in reference to the country as opposed to the city (704c and 763c), rough land (695a) and the foreign country to where the murderer is banished (864e).2 In the previous chapter, I examined the presence of the photographic in Platonic thought, using the allegory of the cave as a starting point to explore the place of the Good. Now I will look at another figure in the Platonic dialogues which, along with the Good, can be considered as ‘epekeina tes ousias’. Introducing chora at this point of the text already proves to be difficult (chalepon) and we shall see how resistant it is to discourse, for Plato tells us that chora is a third kind (triton genos) outside of Being and Becoming, thus beyond language, before the existence of time, and can only be understood through a kind of ‘bastard reasoning’ (‘logismô nothô’), as if in a dream (52b). By looking closely at the Timaeus, I will explore the ways in which chora can be considered photographic. The Timaeus is a story about origins. It is a curious text, in the way that the origin is constantly being deferred. There are in total three beginnings that are recounted throughout the course of the dialogue. The difficulty of speaking the beginnings reflects the difficulty of locating the origins of photography. Hence, the Timaeus and its structural deferral of commencement will detain us and our entry into the pressing question of the photographic which abides there in its narrative.
Beginnings In the Timaeus Plato examines the origin of the world and the creation of the cosmos.3 In this story of genealogies, he leads the reader through a labyrinth of many beginnings; the multiple commencements of the Platonic dialogue operate on two levels: thematically, as a story of origins, and structurally, in the organization of the text. As soon as the reader is immersed in the story, he is made to realize that what he thought of as the starting point of the story is in fact not the true beginning, for there exists a story prior to the tale that he has just read, which in turn will be narrated by another interlocutor. After two or three ‘false’ starts, it is not until mid-way through Timaeus’s discourse, after Critias’s story, that the true origin is revealed to the reader. The Timaeus is set during the festival of the goddess. Although she is never named, the celebrations
are probably held in honour of the goddess Athena, the patron of Athens. It is the disciples’ turn to tell Socrates a story, in return for their teacher’s speech the night before, on the subject of the utopic state and its citizens. Critias decides to tell Socrates an ‘old-world story’ (21), which was told to him by his ninety-year-old grandfather Critias, when he was a ten-year-old boy. This tale of the wonderful feats of the Athenians and the secret island of Atlantis, lost through the crevices of time and memory, is ‘not a mere legend but an actual fact’ (21). It is authentic, ‘though strange, is certainly true’ (20e), for it was told to the elder Critias by the poet Solon, recognized as ‘the wisest of the seven sages’ (21), a relative and friend of Dropides, Critias’s great-grandfather. Therefore, right from the beginning of the Timaeus, we are presented with a narrative resembling a kaleidoscope, composed of stories within stories, myths which recall other originary tales and recollections of past remembrances embedded in other people’s memories – Critias the disciple telling us a story told to him by his grandfather Critias, who heard of it from his own grandfather Dropias, who was told the story by the noble Solon, who heard about the feats of his ancestors from an Egyptian priest.4 During his travels to the Eyptian Delta, Solon visited the city of Sais, where he first heard the story of the magnificent Athenians from an elderly priest. Solon was presenting an account of the origin of humans, of Deucalion and his wife Pyrrha and how they survived the Great Deluge in their ark, when an elderly priest approached him and commented on the incompleteness of his story: ‘As for those genealogies of yours which you just now recounted to us, Solon, they are no better than the tales of children. In the first place you remember a single deluge only, but there were many previous ones …’ (23b). The priest explained that the goddess founded the city of Athens 9,000 years earlier. It was an ideal state, perfectly governed and inhabited by the best people, ‘And there you dwelt, having such laws as these and still better ones, and excelled all mankind in all virtue, as became the children and disciples of gods’ (24d). Under the aegis of the goddess Athena, who was the patron of wisdom as well as war, the city of Athens was a valiant state and protected its citizens and neighbours from the onslaught of Atlantis, the powerful island empire. However, in one single day and night, earthquakes and floods destroyed both empires, Atlantis disappearing under the sea and the Athenians swallowed by the earth. Solon would not have known about the ancient city for the written records of this wonderful race of Athenians had been destroyed by natural disasters. Its histories, however, were preserved in the temples of Salis.5 This failure to fix and preserve history was due to geographical location, the habitats of Solon’s ancestors were more vulnerable to natural disasters, unlike that of the Egyptians who lived in a land protected from draught and floods, ‘for which reason the traditions preserved here are the most ancient’ (22c). The priest explained that those who survived a natural disaster did not have the writing abilities to record the past: Whereas just when you and other nations are beginning to be provided with letters and other requisites of civilized life, after the usual interval, the stream from heaven, like a pestilence, comes pouring down and leaves only those of you who are destitute of letters and education, and so you have to begin all over again like children, and know nothing of what happened in ancient times, either among us or among yourselves. (23b)
Thus memory, the failure to remember and the necessity for inscription pervade the beginning of the Timaeus. Critias’s tale is reconstituted through the effort of a triple memory: the memory of Critias who tells the story to Socrates, the memory of the elder Critias who repeated the story to the ten-yearold Critias, having heard it from Solon, who himself remembered a meeting he had with an Egyptian priest. The priest in turn knew this story from the written records in the temple. Despite its authenticity, emphasized many times by Critias the narrator, this tale is unfinished as a story of genealogies. For, as the grandfather, Critias, laments: if Solon, upon his return, had not been as occupied with other matters and had written down the complete story as a poem, he would have been as famous as Homer or Hesiod (21d). Critias describes his attempts at recalling the tale before he presented it to Socrates: ‘For a long time had elapsed and I had forgotten too much; I thought that I must first of all run over the narrative in my own mind, and then I would speak’ (26). Throughout the night, he managed to retrieve nearly the entire story from his childhood memories. It is almost as if Critias, the young boy, wanted to ‘photograph’ the story in his mind when he asked his grandfather to repeat the tale to him many times so that it could be imprinted on his memory ‘like an indelible picture’ (26c). In the Burnett translation of the Timaeus, the same phrase (hoste hoion enkaumata anekplutou graphês emmona moi gegonen) reads, ‘so it has stayed in my mind indelibly like an encaustic picture’.6 Here, Critias compares the fixation of memory to a type of wax painting renowned for its durability. And when it is Timaeus’s turn to speak, one will also find allusions to impressing, marking and moulding in his discussion of gold and ekmageoin, in relation to chora.
Used in portraiture, sculpture and architectural decorations such as ceilings and walls, encaustic technique was valued for its ability to produce vivid colours and realistic renderings, as well as for its durability. Pliny writes in Natural History: In early days there were two kinds of encaustic painting, with wax and on ivory with a graver or cestrum (that is a small pointed graver); but later the practice came in of decorating battleships. This added a third method, that of employing a brush, when wax has been melted by fire; this process of painting ships is not spoilt by the action of the sun nor by salt water or winds. (Book XXXV, 41)7
In encaustic paintings, pigments are mixed with molten beeswax and applied to a surface with a cestrum, a utensil that is shaped like a spoon on one end for holding the melting wax and with a flat handle on the other end for applying the pigment on to the surface.8 The resulting image is then sealed with a heated iron rod known as a rhabdion. The application of molten wax demands speed, resulting in images that convey a sense of spontaneity and vivacity. In addition to the adornment of ships described by Pliny, encaustic painting was also used in portraiture work, as seen in the mummy portraits unearthed in the Fayum region in Egypt. In the period of Greco-Roman Egypt (100 BCE to 200 CE), an encaustic portrait was usually painted on thin wooden panels and kept in the house as an ordinary painting during the owner’s lifetime, but upon death the same portrait would be trimmed into a smaller size and placed over the face of the deceased. It is striking how realistic these portraits are – the detailed rendition of the facial features by the artist attempts to capture the vivid expression of the subject. Moreover, by virtue of its positioning, the simulacrum of the face, placed upon the actual face of the corpse enabled the deceased to appear as if it were gazing back at the observer. In a curious manner, the way that encaustic paintings are incorporated into Egyptian funereal traditions foreshadows certain cultural practices involving photography in Asia. The encaustic portrait reminds one of the practice popular in places such as Taiwan, of affixing a headshot photograph (of the kind used in passports) to an individual’s tombstone following their death. The encaustic painting removes the anonymity of the body hidden under the mummy encasing and, in a way, restores the corpse to its former living glory. Just like the photograph, it captures the individual expression of a loved one. Friends and relatives can continue to visit the deceased, whose body is laid out in a wooden box with a lid that can be opened specifically for the viewing of the encaustic portrait.9 Critias’s allusion to encaustic painting is important to us, for the reference to wax and imprinting will become more significant as we examine the notion of chora in this chapter.
Recollections The effort to recollect does not feature only in the stories told by Socrates’ disciples. The conversation in the Timaeus opens with a question concerning memory. Socrates asks his disciples, Timaeus, Critias and Hermocrates, whether they remember the topics that were discussed during the previous night regarding the governance of the perfect state – the education of its citizens, the defence of the city, and the procreation of children. Whereupon Timaeus replies: ‘We remember some of them, and you will be here to remind us of anything which we have forgotten, or rather, if we are not troubling you, will you briefly recapitulate the whole, and then the particulars will be more firmly fixed in our memories?’ (17b). It is not sufficient for memory to be lodged deeply within the recesses of the mind; it needs to be reanimated and projected like a moving picture. Socrates requests his students to make the story come alive: ‘I might compare myself to a person who, on beholding beautiful animals either created by the painter’s art, or, better still, alive but at rest, is seized with a desire of seeing them in motion or engaged in some struggle or conflict to which their forms appear suited’ (19c). Critias then hands over the discourse to Timaeus, who, being the astronomer among the group, tells the story of the creation of the world. It is at this point that the narrative ‘begins’ once again, with Timaeus invoking the gods before launching into an inquiry on the nature of the universe. Whereas Critias’s tale involves the magnificent deeds of the ancients and the matter of governance in early civilization, Timaeus’s story opens further back in time, right at the beginning, before humans were created. Timaeus begins his story by alluding to the generosity of the Good. He says: ‘Let me tell you then why the creator made this world of generation. He was good, and the good can never have any jealousy of anything’ (29e). Linking Timaeus’s opening words, ‘Good he was [ἀγαθὸς ᾖν]’ (29e) to the discussion of the line simile in the Republic, where the Good is presented as the beginning (ἀρχή), Sallis suggests that there is a ‘four-fold compound beginning’ at play here, the beginning word uttered in Timaeus’s beginning on the subject of beginning is the Good, which is the ἀρχή or beginning.10 Timaeus begins his discourse on the genesis of the cosmos by establishing a distinction between the intelligible and the sensible. He asks the question: ‘What is that which always is and has no becoming, and what is that which is always becoming and never is?’ (28) The intelligible which consists of the
eternal paradigms is unchanging and perfect, ‘that which always is’ (τὸ ὂν ἀεί), whereas the sensible, apprehended through opinion, sensations and without reason, is variable and imperfect. Those things that belong to the intelligible are perpetual, eternal and always the same whereas those belonging to the sensible realm are generated. In a constant state of becoming, they are susceptible to disappearance. Thus one notes that, right from the beginning, a juxtaposition is established between the ways of accessing the two kinds. It is through ‘intellection with discourse’ (νοἠσει μετὰ λόγου)11 that we can gain an understanding of eidos (είδος) whereas doxa (δόξα), which Timaeus presents as without logos, leads us to the things that reside in the visible world.12 The world is presented here as a copy, modelled after the eternal Forms – it is the ‘fairest of creations’, created by the ‘best of causes’ (29) and ‘framed in the likeness of that which is apprehended by reason and mind and is unchangeable, and must therefore of necessity, if this is admitted, be a copy of something’ (29b). The following question posed by Timaeus sums up the major preoccupation of the text: ‘I am asking a question which has to be asked at the beginning of an inquiry about anything – was the world, I say, always in existence and without beginning, or created, and had a beginning?’ (28b). F. M. Cornford notes in Plato’s Cosmology that Timaeus as a cosmogony differs from previous philosophical writings on the genealogy of the world, for Plato includes the figure of the Demiurge who operates as the divine craftsman. He points out that whereas other cosmogonies present the birth of the world as either evolutionary or atomistic, Plato wants to show us that there is divine Reason at work in the universe.13 The Demiurge did not create the world from scratch but from pre-existing material. Cornford cautions us against perceiving the Demiurge as an all-powerful God in the Christian tradition, for Plato’s God faces constraints and limitations. Comparing the Demiurge to a craftsman who needs to make the best out of the materials that were given to him, Cornford explains that the Demiurge is ‘confronted with “all that is visible” in chaos of disorderly motion. For this disorder he is not responsible, but only for those features of order and intelligible design which he proceeds to introduce, “so far as he can.”’14 After explaining the actions of the Demiurge in instilling soul into the world and framing the universe by binding the heaven and creating the four elements – water, air, earth and fire – in equal proportions, the narrative continues with the emergence of time and the division of day and night, the birth of the planets and the stars, and the creation of the demi-gods, children of God who are entrusted with the task of bringing humans into being. Following an exposition on the importance of sight and a description of the fire that flows from one’s eyes to the object of vision, we find ourselves suddenly back at the beginning, ‘I will first go back to the beginning and try to speak of each thing and of all. Once more, then, at the commencement of my discourse, I call upon God and beg him to be our saviour out of a strange and unwonted inquiry, and to bring us to the haven of probability. So now let us begin again’ (48d–e).
Triton genos In this new beginning, Timaeus offers us a more detailed account of the two kinds of being (duo eidê). In his discussion so far, we are presented with to on aie (τὸ ὂν ἀεί), eternal and perfect, and to gignomenon (τὸ γιγνόµενον), forever in the state of becoming. Just before he introduces the third kind (triton genos), Timaeus tells us that the second kind, which is visible and generated, resembles the first kind. It is the chora that enables this resemblance to take place. This act of doubling, described as ‘the duplicity of being’ by Sallis, will be of the utmost importance when we look at the photographic properties of the third kind.15 Now, Plato brings forth the triton genos: There is also a third kind which we did not distinguish at the time, conceiving that the two would be enough. But now the argument seems to require that we should set forth in words another kind, which is difficult of explanation (chalepon) and dimly seen (amudron). (49b)
Two words are used to describe the third kind, chalepon (χαλεπόν) and amudron (ἀμυδρόν). The word amudron is associated with the act of seeing and can be defined as vague, dimly seen and difficult to discern by eyesight. As for chalepon, it is not the first time that the word is used in the Timaeus. Chalepon, defined as difficult, dangerous and troublesome, appears frequently throughout the text. Right at the onset, Timaeus asks Socrates to recount the discourse which took place the night before, if it is not too troublesome for him (17b). Here, chalepon is used in conjunction with the task of remembering and reiteration. Timaeus hopes that by asking Socrates to repeat the story of the previous night, all those who are present will have the details fixed and reinforced in their minds. Sallis notes the significance of chalepon at such an early point in the text; he writes: ‘His [Timaeus’s] request puts into play for the first time a word that will serve as an indispensable marker later in the dialogue, a word that could indeed serve to mark the character of the Timaeus as a whole – the word χαλεπόν’.16 Timaeus continues, ‘What nature are we to attribute to this new kind of being? We reply that it is the
receptacle, and in a manner the nurse, of all generation.’ We are told that all things enter and leave the receptacle, ‘the forms which enter into and go out of her are the likenesses of eternal realities modelled after their patterns in a wonderful and mysterious manner’ (50c), yet the nature of the receptacle is that it has no form in itself. One finds an undertone running through the narrative suggesting that language is insufficient in articulating the qualities of the triton genos. The difficulty in speaking of the triton genos is implicit in the following statements by Timaeus: ‘I have spoken the truth and I must express myself in clearer language, and this will be an arduous task for many reasons’ (49b), and later, ‘Let me make another attempt to make my meaning more clearly’ (50). Furthermore, in his presentation so far, Timaeus has not yet designated the third kind with a proper name. One has to wait until 52a before Timaeus names the triton genos as chora (χώρα). The notion of the triton genos is something that I want to develop in this section – the obscurity of the third kind, its elusiveness and resistance to discourse, may elucidate our understanding of the uneasy place that photography occupies in cultural and art theory. By looking closely at the chora – I am hesitant to use ‘properties’ of the chora, for this would imply that chora is a ‘kind’ – I hope to reveal that which is photographic in the chora. In many ways, the difficulty for Timaeus to speak of the beginnings reflects photography’s own nebulous beginnings.17 Timaeus describes his discourse on the chora as atopos (ἄτοπος) or ‘out of place’: ‘Once more, then at the commencement of my discourse, I call upon God and beg him to be our savior out of a strange and unwonted inquiry … So now let us begin again’ (48d–e). I will show how the notion of atopos is also shared by photography. As I have mentioned earlier, the triton genos remains unnamed until 52a. Before it is designated with the name chora, Timaeus tells us that it resembles a receptacle. Over the next few chapters, what becomes apparent is the frequent allusions to the receptacle in discussions related to light and the divine. In the Timaeus, two concrete examples are chosen to explain the nature of the receptacle (hupodochê), each one curiously pertaining to a type of artisanal work. In his explanation of the receptacle’s unchanging quality, Plato gives us the example of the goldsmith who is constantly moulding gold into different shapes. Gold will always remain the same material despite it being transformed into various figures. In Natural History, Pliny explains that the popularity of gold does not stem from its brightness (silver is shinier) nor from its resemblance to the stars (gems are brighter). It is due to its consistency as a metal, impermeable to wear and tear: gold is the only thing that loses no substance by the action of fire, but even in conflagrations and on funeral pyres receives no damage … Whereas all other metals when found in the mines are brought into a finished condition by means of a fire, gold is gold straight away and has its substance in a perfect state at once, when it is obtained by mining. (Book XXXIII, 19.59–62)18
The other example that Plato uses to describe the hupodochê pertains to the fabrication of perfume. This is a distinctive quality of the receptacle – as generator of all things, the receptacle does not take on the shape of the thing that is impressed upon its surface, similar to the base oil used in perfumemaking, which has to be odourless in order to receive the scents.19 So far we have known the ‘invisible and formless being’ (51a) as the receptacle (hupodochê), nurse (tithênê) and mother (mêtri). It is in the middle of the Timaeus that Plato introduces the term chora to designate this place of generation: ‘And there is a third nature, which is space (chora) and is eternal, and admits not of destruction and provides a home for all created things’ (52b). Whereas the intelligible can be accessed through reason and contemplation, the sensible, which is always in the process of becoming, is comprehended through the senses and opinion, the chora is defined as ‘hardly real’ and can only be perceived as if in a dream, ‘when all sense is absent, by a kind of spurious reasoning’ (52b). What is chora? As noted earlier, the Greek word χώρα is defined as space, place, a partly occupied room, position or post, land and country. Plato chooses to use an ordinary word from the Greek lexicon to designate the third kind. In the beginning of this chapter, we have looked at several instances in which the word was used in the Platonic dialogues, in particular at its associations with the brightness of being of the philosopher and the place of the sun. In the Timaeus, ‘chora’ is different, for it is no longer a word, except in the sense of designating something that resists language and all systems of signification.20 Chora in the Timaeus defies all explanation, for we are told that it is dimly seen and ‘most incomprehensible (χαλεπόν)’ (51b). If we think of the Platonic universe as composed of the intelligible world and the sensible world, where then does one place chora? The Timaeus tells us that the creation of the cosmos is already a copy of the intelligible – the Demiurge looked to the Eternal and fashioned the world according to the most perfect form. With chora, a rupture in Platonic discourse occurs, for the chora has no referent, belonging neither to the intelligible nor to the sensible. As Derrida writes: And yet, half-way through the cycle, won’t the discourse on khôra have opened, between the sensible and the intelligible, belonging neither to one nor the other, hence neither to the cosmos as sensible god nor to the intelligible god, an apparently empty space – even though it is no doubt not emptiness? Didn’t it name a gaping opening, an abyss or a chasm? Isn’t it starting out from this chasm, ‘in’ it, that the cleavage
between the sensible and the intelligible, indeed between body and soul, can have place and take place?21
Although the receptacle and nurse of generation22 has no form of its own (amorphos), it is nonetheless a generator of forms. A key passage states: ‘In the same way that which is to receive perpetually and through its whole extent the resemblances of all eternal beings ought to be devoid of any particular form’ (51). This statement however needs to be read in conjunction with an earlier passage concerning the receptacle (49a–51e) before Plato introduces the term chora (52a), we are told that the elements or qualities that enter and leave the receptacle – fire, water, air and earth – are in constant change; the only thing that is permanent is the receptacle itself.23 These qualities entering the receptacle are already images – ‘But the forms which enter into and go out of her are the likenesses of eternal realities modelled after their patterns in a wonderful and mysterious manner’ (50c). Cornford compares chora to a mirror where images are constantly being reflected, ‘The Receptacle is not that “out of which” (έξ ού) things are made; it is that “in which” (έν ᾧ) qualities appear, as fleeting images are seen in a mirror.’24 Chora acts as a support for the eidolons, ‘like images crossing a mirror’.25 One must bear in mind that there is no reference to the mirror in Plato’s description of chora. However, the mirror does appear several times in the text, in a passage that examines the mechanics of vision (46b–c), and towards the end of the Timaeus as a metaphor for the liver’s role in the lower region of the body (71b and 72c). The spleen, adjacent to the liver, is described as a napkin whose function is to wipe the mirror clean. We are told that the liver is the seat of divination (72b); this would therefore make the mirror metaphor especially befitting since the mirror is an instrument often used in soothsaying practices and the occult. Plato tells us that things enter the receptacle and impress themselves upon its surface, leaving imprints that are immediately erased. Chora, eternally blank and void of form, is what Derrida describes as a virginal substrate: Now what is represented by a virgin wax, a wax that is always virgin, absolutely preceding any possible impression, always older, because atemporal, than everything that seems to affect it in order to take form in it, in it which receives, nevertheless, and in it which, for the same reason, is always younger, infant even, achronic and anachronistic, so indeterminate that it does not even justify the name and the form of wax?26
In the question above, not only does Derrida highlight the self-effacing property of the substrate, for it never takes on the forms that are impressed upon its surface; more importantly, he brings to our attention chora’s position which is outside of language, beyond the Platonic schemata of all things residing in the world of forms and the world of particulars. Hence, assigning it the name of wax or comparing it to wax is inadequate, for chora cannot be identified as any kind of being that exists in the Platonic world. It stands outside of Western ontology.27 Chora is virginal because it is a priori to all beings; it is, at once, out of date – ‘anachronic’ and timeless – ‘achronic’. It is in chora’s nature to be ‘anachronic’, forever incongruous to any time period within which it is inserted. As the prerequisite for everything to exist in the world, chora’s existence must precede that of the origin of the cosmos, for the origin is the moment of inscription inside the chora by the Demiurge.28 Chora is ‘achronic’ for it is eternal and indestructible. Its atemporal quality, in this sense, resembles that of Form – ‘one kind of being is the form which is always the same, uncreated and indestructible’ (51e).29 This would suggest that both chora and eidos are already present before the demiourgos commenced his work. However, one must bear in mind that the first and the third kind are different – the first kind, as an eternal being, is self-same; it does not receive anything nor does it enter anywhere. It is also distinguished from chora by the way that it is apprehended, for eidos can only be understood through rational thinking whereas the obscurity of the third kind, its resistance to discourse and its elusiveness, necessitates a form of ‘bastard reasoning’ (λογισµῷ τινὶ νόθῳ) and a dream-like state. The word ‘νόθῳς’ or ‘bastard’ refers to a child born out of wedlock or the offspring of an alien mother and an Athenian father.30 ‘Νόθῳς’ also points to inauthenticity, counterfeit and corruption. One may even argue that the presence of chora is a corruption within Plato’s cosmology. Derrida describes the chora as a ‘foreign graft within Plato’s text’,31 thus reinforcing chora’s ‘alien’ status. The fact that chora can only be apprehended through an oneiric state and a kind of bastard reasoning emphasizes its inaccessibility. A passage in Book V of the Republic may be able to shed some light on Timaeus’s evocation of dreams as a medium to discern the chora.32 In a discussion on those people who recognize the beautiful in itself as opposed to others who are only capable of recognizing beautiful things but refuse to believe that there is the beautiful in itself, Socrates posits that the latter, who mistake images as originals, are living in the state of a dream: ‘Is not the dream state, whether the man is asleep or awake, just this – the mistaking of resemblance for identity?’ (476c). It seems, then, that in the dream one takes representation to be the original thing itself. And it is in such a dream-like state, as Sallis suggests, that one can perceive the chora, where a merging of the image of the chora with the chora itself takes place and where one finds a collapse of the difference which originally sets chora apart from sensible things: ‘In the dream the χώρα is pictured as the place in which all that is must be. In the
oneiric vision the χώρα – or rather, its dream-image – hovers before us as a place so all-encompassing that whatever is set apart from it can only be nothing.’33 I will return to the dream in my discussion of Derrida’s text Demeure Athènes.34 Derrida dreams of dreaming the same dream as Socrates. What is the nature of this dream? Although both eidos and chora have existed before the creation of the cosmos, what marks the singularity of the latter is its existence outside of time. In the Timaeus, time is presented as an image modelled after Eternal Duration, constructed by the Demiurge when he created the heavens and the planets. This would place time in a different category from chora, for the latter is ‘original’ and not a copy; it is a pre-existing factor outside of the Demiurge’s creation of the cosmos. For time to exist, it would have had to endure the ‘rite of passage’ by impressing itself upon the surface of chora. Cornford draws our attention to Giuseppe Fraccaroli’s observation that there is no archetype of chora;35 it is a ‘condition without which Reason could not produce the visible order. Time is a feature of that order, inherent in its rational structure.’36
Epekeina tes ousias In the French translation of the Timaeus by Joseph Moreau, one finds the following footnote relating to chora: ‘Le réceptacle, dépouillé de tout attribut sensible et défini par sa fonction propre, est une essence; mais cette fonction même exige qu’il soit denué de tout essence; c’est donc à proprement parler, un être donc l’essence est de n’en avoir pas.’37 (‘The receptacle, removed of all sensible attribute and defined by its particular function, is an essence; but this same function demands it to be deprived of all essence. It is therefore strictly speaking, a being whose essence is not to have any essence.’) Although Moreau’s reading acknowledges the amorphousness of chora, it still locates chora inside the realms of the intelligible and the sensible – chora’s presence is regarded here as a manifestation of its essence. However, one must note that the non-being of chora lies precisely in its position outside of Western metaphysics. It is integral to Western philosophy yet cannot be encompassed by it.38 As Derrida writes: ‘Chora is no essence. It is beyond the opposition of essence and accident, beyond all the traditional oppositions in philosophy.’39 Language fails to accommodate chora for the latter overturns all systems of representation. Derrida points out that many commentators of the Timaeus have analysed Plato’s use of metaphors in describing chora as ‘mother’, ‘nurse of all generations’ and ‘receptacle’ but have failed to recognize that these are in fact not metaphors, for the metaphor is a rhetorical device that draws upon the division between the intelligible and the sensible; the chora exists beyond the Platonic dichotomy. Derrida writes: ‘We shall not speak of metaphor, but not in order to hear, for example, that the khôra is properly a mother, a nurse, a receptacle, a bearer of imprints or gold. It is perhaps because its scope goes beyond or falls short of the polarity, no doubt analogous, of the mythos and the logos.’40 As we have seen earlier, chora resists all kinds of definition due to its position outside of representation; hence Timaeus, who tells us that it is ‘hardly real’ (52b) and ‘is most incomprehensible’ (51). After a passage comparing its movement to that of a winnowing basket, the chora vanishes from the text and is never mentioned again. I would like to propose that there is something of the chora in photography. Does photography reside in an uneasy place similar to that occupied by chora? Photography receives and gives form to all things that impress themselves upon its light-sensitive surface, yet it is often seen as formless, without an identity of its own. Roger Scruton in his essay ‘Photography and Representation’ argues that photography cannot be an art form for, unlike painting, it is not a mode of representation. He writes The photograph is a means to the end of seeing its subject; in painting, on the other hand, the subject is the means to the end of its own representation. The photograph is transparent to its subject, and if it holds our interest it does so because it acts as a surrogate for the thing which it shows.41
Scruton attributes the aesthetic interest that one may have towards a photograph solely to the subject photographed, thus reducing the role that the photographer has to play in the creation of the image and, at the same time, disregarding the materiality of the photographic support. His reductionist attitude towards photography is typical of many critical writings in photographic history and theory: for example, John Tagg regards photography as lacking an identity of its own; Mary Price argues that a photograph acquires meaning solely through language and the context that surrounds it.42 The easy dismissal of photography to a third kind, inferior to art, subservient to the network of social and linguistic forces within which it is embedded, is the result of a misreading, substituting the manifestation of photography’s essence, which is a kind of formlessness, for a lack of identity. The following statement about chora may shed some light on to the ‘invisibility’ of the photographic medium: Khôra receives, so as to give place to them, all the determinations, but she/it does not possess any of them as her/its own. She possesses them, she has them, since she receives them, but she does not possess them
as properties, she does not possess anything as her own. She ‘is’ nothing other than the sum or the process of what has just been inscribed ‘on’ her, on the subject of her, on her subject, right up against her subject, but she is not the subject or the present support of all these interpretations, even though, nevertheless, she is not reducible to them.43
The description of chora above can easily apply to photography. By considering the affinity between the two, one may be able to understand the difficulties often encountered in attempts to theorize photography. That chora is ‘nothing other than the sum or the process of what has just been inscribed “on” her, on the subject of her’ echoes Tagg’s comment that Photography as such has no identity. Its status as a technology varies with the power relations which invest it … Its function as a mode of cultural production is tied to definite conditions of existence, and its products are meaningful and legible only within the particular currencies they have.44
Tagg and Price’s respective views of photography are symptomatic of a wider theoretical aporia concerning photography. Theorizing photography is often reduced to identifying a set of relations external to the medium that are determined solely by usage or context. In a round-table discussion on photographic theory that took place in 2005, at the University College Cork, James Elkins’s comments bring to the forefront the often frustrating and difficult (χαλεπόν) attempt to define photography. On the subject of ‘why we find photography so hard to conceptualize’, his remark is as follows: ‘One immediate reason is that it is not one subject, but several.’45 Tagg’s error is to misrecognize photography’s ubiquity as a lack, whereas what I have hoped to show so far in this chapter is that photography functions like chora: it withdraws in order to give place. A passage in the Platonic text where Timaeus tells us that chora may take on the appearance of fire when the traces of fire, or, rather, a proto-fire, are received by the receptacle will enable us to better understand the ‘invisibility’ of photography. Timaeus tells us that ‘as far, however, as we can attain to a knowledge of her [mother and receptacle of all created and visible] from the previous considerations, we may truly say that fire is that part of her nature which from time to time is inflamed … in so far as she receives the impressions of them’ (51b). How does one reconcile this statement to what we have been told so far about the chora – that it gives form but doesn’t take on the form of things that enter the receptacle? Sallis’s reading of this passage may help shed light on the apparent contradiction. He explains that the total invisibility of the chora would otherwise have resulted in a discourse which is ‘even more than most perplexing … difficult, troublesome, dangerous’ and would collapse upon itself, ‘utterly blind, completely unbound by anything but itself’.46 He continues, ‘Even if as fire, it nonetheless appears; it appears, even if never as itself.’47 Sallis’s comments on this specific passage help to elucidate our understanding of photography’s perplexing nature as a medium. A photograph is always a photograph of something, it necessarily points to something, ‘it points a finger at certain visà-vis, and cannot escape this pure deictic language’,48 but it never refers to itself. This transparency, which Barthes describes as belonging ‘to that class of laminated objects whose two leaves cannot be separated without destroying them both’,49 leads to a misunderstanding of the medium; as we have seen earlier, one such problem arising from many photographic theories is the assumption that photography has no identity of its own, its existence being solely defined by the set of social, political, cultural and historical relations in which it finds itself immersed.50 Hence Mary Price, who observes, ‘The range of uses for a single photograph is limited by its visible content … Use is limited by the image even as the image lends itself to varying uses.’51 In Burning with Desire, Geoffrey Batchen notes that there are two groups of photographic theorists, the ‘naturalists’ who seek to define photography through its formalistic qualities and the ‘postmodernists’ who deny photography of its essence and instead focus on its intertwining relationship and complicity with discourses of power, gender and culture.52 Instead of photography being subsumed under a network of social and cultural relations, or reduced to merely formalistic qualities, I would like to suggest the following: what if photography acts as a support, providing things with an abode, like the hupodochê or the liver-mirror in Timaeus 71b, holding up these phantasms that pass through? Thinking photography through the Platonic chora is productive in several ways. It allows one to acknowledge that the ‘invisibility’ of the medium is not equivalent to an absence; invisibility is its mode of operation. Second, it confirms the argument of this book that photography is embedded in the roots of Western thought. One recognizes in the elusive presence of the triton genos, in its generosity and its formlessness, something that is photographic.
Impression I want to suggest that photography shares the same tropes of ekmageoin and hupodochȇ as the chora. The word ekmageoin first appears in 50c, in a description of chora as ‘the natural recipient of all impressions’ (ekmageion gar phusei pantei keitai). It is curious to note that in the French translation,
there is a direct reference to soft wax that is absent in the English versions, ‘Telle une cire molle, sa nature est prête pour toute impression’,53 whereas Burnett translates the same phrase as ‘by nature it is there as a matrix for everything’54 and W. R. M. Lamb’s translation reads: ‘For it is laid down by nature as a molding-stuff for everything.’55 The following definitions of ekmageion in the Liddell and Scott Greek-English Lexicon reveal the opposing forces that are contained in the single word – the dual action of imprinting and erasure. The entry of ekmageion (ἐκμαγεῖον) reads: napkin; that which wipes off, gets rid of; that on or in which an impression is made; impress, mould and model.56 These opposing forces are constantly at play in photography – every act of fixing with light is threatened by the possibility of immediate erasure by a superabundance of light. Ekmageion as napkin appears in a description of the spleen in the Timaeus (72c). Plato explains that the spleen ensures the proper functioning of the liver, just like a napkin that is always available to wipe the surface of the mirror clean. A napkin that is capable of both erasing and imprinting reminds us of the legend of Veronica’s veil, a cloth used to wipe away the sweat and blood of Christ while simultaneously fixing his image on to its surface. The Turin Shroud, the gospel of Guadalupe, the Mandylion of Edyssa and Veronica’s veil are among the many miracles that record the impression of the holy body on to fabric. It is interesting to note that both the Mandylion of Edyssa and Veronica’s veil perform the double action of inscription and erasure. The Mandylion of Edyssa was created when Jesus wiped his face with a towel, thus fixing his image on to the piece of cloth. The word mandylion derives from the Latin mantele, which refers to a napkin or a towel and the Arabic mandil, defined as handkerchief and veil.57 The towel was given to King Abgar of Edyssa, who asked Jesus to heal him from leprosy. Unable to visit King Abgar in person, Jesus sent Abgar’s messenger the fabric. Upon receiving the holy relic, the king was cured. The miraculous images mentioned above are known as acheiropoietoi – images made without the intervention of the human hand.58 These are often seen as metaphors of photography, as suggested by Ewa Kurylik. Referring to Veronica’s veil, she writes: ‘Like an exposed film, the cloth contains Jesus’ image which, however, can be “developed” only when the proper light is “switched on”, i.e. under the gaze of a few true believers who, like Veronica, Volusianus, and the Emperor Tiberius, see in it the Lord’s soul.’59 The idea of the ‘automatic’ image or the picture made without the intervention of the human hand pervades the literature of photography in the early years of its inception. Niépce in an attempt to name the photographic process that he and Daguerre had been working on, experimented with various word combinations based on the following Greek terms: phusis, auté, graphé, typos, eikon, parastasis, aléthés. From which was devised, physautographie (‘painting by nature herself’), physautotype (‘imprint by nature herself)’, iconotauphyse (‘image by nature herself’), paratauphyse (‘representation of nature by herself’), aléthophyse (‘real nature’), and phusaléthotype (‘true imprint from nature’).60 As we can see from the above neologisms, a strong emphasis is placed on the notion of automatism – nature recording herself. Next to the Greek word typos, we find the following definitions: ‘marque, signe; empreinte; vestige; image; effigie; modèle’.61 Curiously, this leads us back to the ekmageion as imprint and model. If we follow the French translation of the passage from the Timaeus mentioned earlier, the direct allusion to a wax substrate brings us back to the beginning of the Timaeus, where Critias describes his efforts to memorize Solon’s story as if he were making a wax painting. The analogy between memory and the wax substrate can also be found in Theaetetus where the quality of the wax, its hardness and the level of its purity, are compared to the human capacity for memory. Socrates explains to Theaetetus that erroneous judgement often arises when the block of wax in one’s mind is too soft or too hard; however, ‘When a man has in his mind a good thick slab of wax, smooth and kneaded to the right consistency, and the impressions that come through the senses are stamped on these tables of the “heart” – Homer’s word hints at the mind’s likeness to wax – then the imprints are clear and deep enough to last a long time’ (194c–d).62 It is important for us to note that chora is no ordinary wax tablet, for it is life-giving and a nurse of generation (pasês einai geneseôs hupodochên autên hoion tithênên) (49a). An element enters and passes through chora, and after making contact with its surface, departs with something extra; the passage through the receptacle sanctions it to become part of the visible order. Similarly we can associate the photographic camera with a receptacle (hupodochê) that enables images to be fixed and sent forth into the world. Images impress themselves upon the photographic substrate, scorching the silver emulsion with light. After these eidolons – ‘resemblances of all eternal beings’ (51) – pass through the dark chamber, they will become photographs that circulate in diverse networks of production and consumption. Batchen, in Burning with Desire, writes: ‘As an index, the photograph is never itself but always, by its very nature, a tracing of something else.’63 Can we take this statement further and say that photography is chora, for, in its non-being, it receives and gives form to all matter? In a dialogue with the architect Peter Eisenman, Derrida, referring to the Timaeus, asks: ‘One of the questions of this text is, what does “to receive” mean?’64 Derrida compares Socrates, as triton genos to chora.65 In the
beginning of the Timaeus, Socrates positions himself as an outsider; he gives place to Critias, Timaeus and Hermocrates: ‘And thus people of your class are the only ones remaining who are fitted by nature and education to take part at once both in politics and philosophy’ (19e). By identifying himself as resembling the genos of the poets and the Sophists – ‘tribe of imitators’ (mimêtikon ethnos), Socrates declares that he is therefore unable to ‘celebrate the city and her citizens in a befitting manner’ (19d). Derrida writes: Socrates effaces himself, effaces in himself all the types, all the genera, both those of the men of image and simulacrum whom he pretends for a moment to resemble and that of the men of action and men of their word, philosophers and politicians to whom he addresses himself while effacing himself before them. But in thus effacing himself, he situates himself or insinuates himself as a receptive addressee, let us say, as a receptacle of all that will henceforth be inscribed.66
I will return to the implications of the dual action of receiving and erasing which takes place within the hupodochê in the next chapter when I discuss the theurgic practice of Iamblichus. In an essay entitled ‘Containing Ecstasy: The Strategies of Iamblichean Theurgy’, Gregory Shaw draws parallels between the formlessness of the chora in the Timaeus and the theurgist’s practice of emptying one’s soul in preparation for divine possession. Iamblichus’s teachings place a strong emphasis on the cultivation of oudenia or nothingness. In order to be possessed by the gods, it is imperative that the theurgist realizes his own worthlessness (oudenia) in face of the divine.67 This ability to become the receptacle of the divine is characterized by what Shaw describes as ‘the capacity to enter states of not-knowing receptivity’.68 He notes that in De Mysteriis, Iamblichus uses the verb ‘χωρεῖν’ to describe the theurgist’s emptying of the soul in order to become a receptacle for divine light.69 I will present Iamblichean theurgy as the site where one sees a re-emergence of chora as photography. There is another triton genos which merits our attention; it appears in 507e of the Republic: ‘Though vision may be in the eyes and its possessor may try to see it, and though color be present, yet without the presence of a third thing specifically and naturally adapted to this purpose, you are aware that vision will see nothing and the colors will remain invisible.’ This third kind is light.
Shadow drawing In Pliny the Elder’s Natural History, there is an entry on the origins of painting and the plastic arts. In Book XXXV, Section XLIII, Pliny tells the legend of the Corinthian maiden, Diboutades, who traces on a wall the shadow cast by candlelight of her lover on the eve of his departure to foreign lands. Her father, Boutades, a potter, pressed clay to the outline and made a sculpture out of the man’s profile. Earlier on in Section V, Pliny writes: The question as to the origin of the art of painting is uncertain and it does not belong to the plan of this work … As to the Greeks, some of them say it was discovered at Sicyon, others in Corinth, but all agree that it began with tracing an outline round a man’s shadow.70
For Derrida, blindness is at the origin of drawing and painting – the stick that Boutades’ daughter uses to trace the outline of her lover’s shadow is a blind man’s cane.71 Referring to two paintings depicting the legend – J. B. Suvée’s Butades or the Origin of Drawing and Jean-Baptiste Regnault’s Butades Tracing the Portrait of Her Shepherd or the Origin of Painting, Derrida proposes that the necessity of not-seeing is a condition of drawing; the Corinthian maiden does not exchange glances with her lover. Immersed in the fixing of his shadow, her face is turned away from him.72 Blindness is also inherent in the act of photography. At the instant of exposure, a lacuna takes place – a momentary blindness. The photographer is prevented from seeing the subject when the shutter is released. This is more pronounced with the single-lens reflex camera – inside the body of the camera is a mirror which flips up at the moment of exposure. The range-finder camera avoids such blackout; its direct-vision viewfinder is separate from the lens and, as a result, the vision offered by the viewfinder does not coincide with the actual view seen through the lens. This creates a constant disjuncture between what is seen and what is photographed. Is this also a kind of blindness? But then again, is photography not built upon the tension between what you think you have photographed and what appears in the resulting image?73 Temporary blindness is even more pronounced with digital photography where the screen turns blank at the moment of image capture. The legend of the Corinthian maiden is often depicted iconographically with the figure of Cupid guiding the hands of the young girl.74 The invention of painting is a mark of love, made by the hand of the lover who attempts to preserve the essence of the original object of desire by tracing its shadow. With photography, this will be quite a different story, for no human hand nor the guidance of a god is required in this ‘writing’ or ‘tracing with light’. The degree of automatism and the mechanical nature of the photographic medium contributed greatly to the amazement experienced by both practitioners and viewers in those early years, when photography first emerged as a technological invention, hence
phrases such as ‘Nature drawing itself’, ‘autogenic drawing’, ‘magic mirror of nature’, and ‘mirror of memory’ abound in the literature of the nineteenth century. The affinity between the Diboutades story and photography is even more significant when one considers that as early as the 1850s, the Swedish photographer Oscar Rejlander, famous for his composite photograph The Two Ways of Life, created a photographic version of the Diboutades story, entitled The First Negative. In Rejlander’s black and white photograph, the Corinthian maiden is tracing her lover’s shadow by hand with what seems to be a pencil or a charcoal stick. It is surprising that the theme of drawing in this image still assumes centre stage even when the title makes a direct reference to photography. Why is the maiden depicted as tracing her lover’s shadow with a pencil when the allegory points to photography? In this evidently self-referential work, could she not have posed with a camera instead? In another Rejlander photograph entitled Infant Photography, a child resembling Cupid is portrayed handing a brush to an artist. The child has one hand leaning against what may be a daguerreotype camera and is stretching out his other hand towards the artist. A statue of a male nude is placed at the bottom left-hand corner, possibly suggesting the classical arts. Behind the child is what looks to be a concave mirror. The body of the artist is cropped out of the frame; all we see are his hands, one of which is holding several brushes and is receiving one more from the child. The caption reads: ‘The hand of the artist holds many brushes; young photography – only a child – gives him one more.’75 In both photographs it is curious that Rejlander chooses to use the paintbrush or the pencil, a tool that is dependent upon the human hand to depict photography. By equating photography with painting, one senses Rejlander’s own viewpoint towards photography, which is also reflected in the way that he works. Rejlander carefully crafts his photographs by creating scenarios and tableaux as opposed to the straight portraiture of his contemporary, the French photographer Nadar, whose photographs of celebrities and the Parisian catacombs are highly dependent upon the photographic medium as a documentary tool. The tracing of shadows in portraiture (skiagraphy, silhouettes, shadowgraphs, shadow picture) became a popular artistic practice in the late 1700s until it was eclipsed by the invention of photography, with the French Academy of Science’s declaration of Daguerre’s invention in 1839 and the simultaneous discovery of the calotype by Henry Fox Talbot.76 The physionotrace, a type of machine for reproducing silhouettes, is often presented by photo historians as a precursor to photography.77 Invented by Gilles-Louis Chrétien in 1786, this device for drawing silhouettes enjoyed great popularity in Europe and in America; due to its mechanical nature, it was seen as an accurate and scientific method for reproducing one’s likeness. In the Paris Salon of 1797, 600 physionotrace portraits were shown. When the French portraitist Fevret de St-Mémin went to the States, he made more than eight hundred portraits.78 The physionotrace is equipped with a stylus that is attached to several wooden rulers; by moving the rulers around, one can accurately trace the outline of the sitter. The stylus traces the profile on to metal engraving plates. Portraits made from the physionotrace were cheap and the results were speedy – in one sitting the client could obtain 12 copies. A low-priced and rapid process, the physionotrace took part in the economy of mechanically reproduced images. According to John Caspar Lavater in his well-known work Essays on Physiognomy, first published in Germany in 1775, silhouettes provided an accurate means into the understanding of a person’s temperament and character. Physiognomy, defined by Lavater as ‘the science or knowledge of the correspondence between the external and internal man, the visible superficies and the invisible contents’, was so popular in the nineteenth century as a tool to see into the true nature of mankind that it was studied fervently by leading novelists such as Honoré de Balzac and Emile Zola.79 In a chapter entitled ‘On Shades’, Lavater writes: Shades are the weakest, most vapid, but at the same time, when the light is at a proper distance, and falls properly on the countenance to take the profile accurately, the truest representation that can be given of man. The weakest, for it is not positive, it is only something negative, only the boundary line of half the countenance. The truest, because it is the immediate expression of nature, such as not the ablest painter is capable of drawing, by hand, after nature. What can be less the image of a living man than a shade? Yet how full of speech! Little gold, but the purest.80
Note the choice of words in the above statement, as if foreshadowing the invention of photography in the nineteenth century – ‘negative’ and ‘immediate expression of nature’; all of which are dependent upon the accurate measurement of light. Lavater is confident that the shadow, as the ‘truest’ copy of the original, provides us with access to see beyond the world of simulacra and appearances. In retrospect, Lavater’s work on physiognomy and his faith in the ‘truthfulness’ of shadows may seem incredible to us, whereas photography, with its fixations of light and movement and its ability to mirror nature, appears to provide us with a more sophisticated and firmer grasp of reality. Yet to what extent, one may ask, does the photographic portrait allow us to delve into the inner being of the photographed subject?81
Iamblichus’s Receptacle of Light But the end of ascents is the participation in divine fruits and the filling [of] the soul with divine fire, which is the contemplation of God, the soul being placed in the presence of the Father. Proclus, On the Chaldean Philosophy Very little is known about the life of the Neoplatonic philosopher Iamblichus. Scholars have established his birth year to be sometime before 240 CE and his birthplace as the ancient city of Chalcis, in Syria. He was born into a renowned and wealthy family, descendant of royal priest-kings of Emesa. He studied with Porphyry before establishing his own school in Syria, probably in the city of Apamea. It was said that when Iamblichus prayed, he would levitate himself in mid-air, his entire body emanating golden light. Eunapius, writing fifty years after Iamblichus’s death (c. 325 CE), tells us in the Lives of the Philosophers some of the wondrous feats performed by Iamblichus. Although Iamblichus was reluctant to display his powers in front of his students, he did on several occasions reveal his extraordinary abilities to them. One of Iamblichus’s disciples implored his teacher: O master, most inspired, why do you thus occupy yourself in solitude, instead of sharing with us your more perfect wisdom? Nevertheless a rumour has reached us through your slaves that when you pray to the gods you soar aloft from the earth more than ten cubits to all appearance; that your body and your garments change to a beautiful golden hue; and presently when your prayer is ended your body becomes as it was before you prayed, and then you come down to earth and associate with us.1
Eunapius recounts several miraculous events that bear testimony to Iamblichus’s spiritual powers. To reassure his reader of the authenticity of his narrative, Eunapius tells us that he learned about Iamblichus’s amazing feats from his own teacher Chrysanthius of Sardis, who was in turn the disciple of Iamblichus’s pupil, Aedesius. One summer day, Iamblichus, accompanied by a group of his students, visited the warm baths of Gadara in Syria. As usual, his pupils begged him to perform a miracle. Iamblichus reluctantly agreed, declaring: ‘It is irreverent to the gods to give you this demonstration, but for your sakes it shall be done.’2 He sat down near one of the smaller springs and touched the water with his hand while uttering an incantation. A blond boy appeared out of the water, his torso emanating light. Iamblichus then repeated the same ritual at another spring, and this time a boy with dark hair emerged out of the water. The youths were in fact Eros and Anteros, water spirits from the two springs. Before they were sent back, they hugged the sage affectionately, and ‘clung to him as though he were genuinely their father’.3 Even if these accounts of Iamblichus’s exceptional powers were heavily embellished by Eunapius, what they reveal is the strong presence of the esoteric and all that which defies logic and reason – what would later be dismissed by scholars as exemplifying corruption in Iamblichus’s teachings and in subsequent generations of Neoplatonic thought, including the Athenian school.4 Syrianus, Proclus, Damascius and others would regard these manifestations as revealing the divine status of Iamblichus, and not as mere hocus-pocus. Eunapius, himself, was aware of the dangers of disclosing too much of the mysteries, declaring: ‘Even more astonishing and marvellous things were related of him, but I wrote down none of these since I thought it a hazardous and sacrilegious thing to introduce a spurious and fluid tradition into a stable and well-founded narrative.’5 It is important, however, to keep in mind that the ability to perform these miraculous deeds is an outcome of Iamblichus’s spiritual cultivation and not the aim of his teachings and practice. In his writings, Iamblichus constantly warns us against the delusion of thinking that humans can control the gods. For Iamblichus, humans do not compel the gods to perform miracles. It is the divine will at work, and not the practice of magic. Theurgy is not wonder-working. Magic creates illusions, ‘for these have neither the energy, nor the essence of things seen, nor truth, but present mere images, reaching only as far as appearance’ (DM III.25, 160.13– 161.2). In this chapter, we will look at photagogia, a term coined by Iamblichus in his treatise De Mysteriis. Photagogia (φωταγωγία or φωτός άγωγή) is often translated as ‘evoking the light’6 or ‘the leading on of light’.7 It encompasses a variety of techniques such as the projection of light into water or on to a wall inscribed with sacred letters (DM III.14, 134.3). In order fully to understand the significance of photagogia, we need to examine Iamblichus’s practice of theourgia or ‘god-work’. Although Iamblichus uses photagogia to describe a specific theurgic technique – the collecting of divine light in theurgic rituals, I will suggest that photagogia plays a far more important role in Iamblichean theurgy. For Iamblichus, theurgy is photagogia.8 In fact, throughout the De Mysteriis, there is a constant tension at play, an oscillation between the continuous drawing down of light and the interrupted
exposures of light. As we have seen in the previous chapter, the verbal cognate of the word chora contains the movement of both withdrawal and reception.9 I will demonstrate in this chapter how a variant of the chora plays an important role in photagogia. This permutation of the chora is not without significance; I argue that the theurgist in ekstasis transforms himself into an empty vessel and functions as a photographic camera, absorbing the burst of divine light. Iamblichus’s theurgic practice raises the issue of how the visual is marked and fixed; the activity of anagōgē or the elevation of the soul during theurgic ritual plots a shifting movement from a flashing of light to the marking with light. In the soul’s ascent towards the divine, photography takes place within photagogia. The Liddell-Scott-Jones Lexicon defines chorein as the following: ‘to withdraw, to give place, to receive, to be in constant motion.’ The verb takes on a particular meaning in Iamblichean theurgy; it is used to describe the specific movement which takes place within the theurgist during divine inspiration as he receives the light of the gods. Gregory Shaw compares the ‘quiet receptivity’ of the theurgist as he prepares for ascent (anagōgē) to the ‘primal matter that receives the Forms’.10 One of the characteristics of chora as described in the Timaeus is to provide an abode (ἕδρα) to all things. What is of interest here is the association between ἕδρα and the divine. The word often refers to the seat of a god, an altar or a temple.11 This takes on even greater significance when we consider Iamblichus’s use of chorein to describe the act of the theurgist withdrawing himself in order to give place to the gods during divine possession. Thus chorein is the precondition of anagōgē. For light to be collected, the theurgist must empty his soul-vessel through the process of kenosis.
A response to Porphyry The De Mysteriis is generally attributed to Iamblichus. In the text, Iamblichus takes on the guise of an Egyptian prophet, Master Abamon, and composes a defence of theurgy as a response to Porphyry’s Letter to Anebo. Written between 280 and 305 CE, the entire treatise comprises ten parts. The text is a reflection of Iamblichus’s Neoplatonism, which draws upon ancient teachings of magic, the Corpus Hermeticum and the Chaldaean Oracles, incorporating these doctrines into Platonic thought and other Hellenic philosophies.12 Proclus, in his Commentary on the Timaeus, identified Abamon as ‘the divine Iamblichus’.13 One must note that the title of the treatise as it is known today is not the original title of the work but an addition made by the Renaissance philosopher Marsilio Ficino in the fifteenth century. Iamblichus’s text was originally entitled ‘The Reply of the Master Abamon to the Letter of Porphyry to Anebo, and the Solutions to the Questions it Contains’, and was changed by Ficino, who renamed it De Mysteriis Aegyptiorium, Chaldaeorum, Assyriorum. The original title indicates to the reader Iamblichus’s intention to set up the treatise as a direct riposte to Porphyry’s letter; the latter’s work can be seen as an attack on theurgy. It is interesting that Iamblichus, who was in real life Porphyry’s pupil, chose to take on the persona of Abamon and presented himself not as Anebo – the addressee of Porphyry’s epistle, but as a more authoritative figure – the teacher of Anebo. Porphyry’s letter, extant as fragments only, expresses his views on theurgy as a highly suspicious activity and his disapproval of traditional rituals such as sacrifice and divination. For Porphyry, these are not valid modes of philosophical enquiry into higher truths; he sees divinatory rites as either the outcome of human imagination gone wild or resulting from the corrupting influences of daemons. Although scholars have not been able to establish whether Anebo was a real or fictional figure, Porphyry’s letter is generally regarded as a direct criticism of Iamblichean theurgic practices. For Porphyry, Iamblichus’s interest in the occult is symptomatic of the corrupting influence of Egyptian magical practices in Greek culture.14 Iamblichus has often been blamed for corrupting philosophy with magic. His teachings have greatly influenced subsequent Neoplatonic thinkers such as Syrianus, his pupil Proclus and the pagan emperor Julian. As Anne D. R. Sheppard observes: ‘The later Neoplatonists have acquired a bad name for practising theurgy and have often been accused of debasing the rationalism of Plotinus by substituting magic for intellectual contemplation as a means of achieving union with the divine.’15 The unwillingness or failure to understand the esoteric elements in Iamblichus’s work is reflected in E. R. Dodds’s comment that later Neoplatonism, after the death of Plotinus, was ‘a retrogression to the spineless syncretism from which [Plotinus] had tried to escape’.16 Dodds’s labelling of the De Mysteriis as ‘a manifesto of irrationalism’ exemplifies the type of pejorative view described by Sheppard above.17 However, scholarship in the past two decades has considered Iamblichus in a different light and seems to have veered towards the other extreme. Emma C. Clarke cautions against the overzealous efforts in recent studies to reinstitute Iamblichus’s text ‘in philosophical terms’ as an ‘intellectual masterpiece’, reminding us that Iamblichus saw philosophy ‘as a worthwhile but fundamentally limited method of understanding’.18 For Iamblichus, it is theurgy and not philosophy that possesses salvific possibilities. Gregory Shaw, in Theurgy and the Soul, argues that Iamblichus ‘provided a philosophic rationale’ for the incorporation of ritualistic elements into late Platonism and that his practice of theurgy ‘in Platonic terms … fulfilled the goal of philosophy understood as homoiōsis theō’.19 Theurgic ritual provides a
platform for the gods to manifest themselves in human form. It also enables mere mortals temporarily to assume the guise of the gods during ekstasis.20 Referring to a phrase in De Mysteriis IV.2, ‘to tôn theôn schêma’ or ‘taking the shape of the gods’, Shaw writes: ‘Ecstasy transforms theurgists into gods, yet because theurgists are human, the gods become human.’21 In fact, Iamblichus, in his treatise De Anima, alludes to the teachings of the second-century Platonist Calvenus Taurus to support his argument that the purpose of the soul’s descent into this world is to allow the gods to reveal themselves through human forms.22 The affinity between the human and the divine exemplifies the Neoplatonic principle of simile similibus.23 Union with the divine entails that the theurgist be assimilated into divine light through constant prayers and theurgic rituals, and as Iamblichus explains: ‘[B]y the practice of supplication, we are raised gradually to the level of our supplication, and we gain likeness to it by virtue of our constant consorting with it, and, starting from our own imperfection, we gradually take on the perfection of the divine’ (DM 1.15, 47.13–48.23). Iamblichus’s Platonism, with its emphasis on ritual and mystical elements, and its drive towards reestablishing contact with the divine, brings it closer to a form of religion than philosophy.24 As Shaw suggests, to understand Iamblichus’s role in the development of the ritualistic aspect of Neoplatonism, one must distinguish theourgia (god-work) from theologia (god-talk).25 For Iamblichus, theologia is a purely human activity and belongs to the domain of logos whereas theourgia ‘the work of the gods’, moves beyond human understanding while enabling one to connect with the divine.26 The distinction between the two also reflects the predominance of practice in Iamblichean theurgy. One does not only think theurgy, one needs to do theurgy. Refuting Dodds’s dismissive attitude towards Iamblichean theurgy as merely a set of techniques, Polymnia Athanassiadi argues that it is a ‘dynamic state of mind’ and ‘often an involuntary manifestation of an inner state of sanctity deriving from a combination of goodness and knowledge in which the former element prevails.’27 Recognizing the transformative power of theurgy, the enactment of theurgic rituals is Iamblichus’s answer to the Neoplatonic project of spiritual cultivation and salvation. It is through the practice of theurgy that one can achieve the status of homoiōsis theō. The collection of light or photagogia brings about an elevation of the soul, propelling it upwards towards the Platonic Good, bringing it closer to the ineffable. Divination (manteaia) is merely a by-product of theurgic activity. For Iamblichus, the goal of theurgy is henōsis (ἕνωσις) or divine union, which can only be achieved through a combination of virtuous living and theurgic activity. Thus there are prerequisites before photagogia can take place; the theurgist needs to prepare himself to be ‘fit’ (epitēdeiotēs) in order to receive the divine visions. As Iamblichus explains, the theurgist who is equipped with ‘infallible truth in oracles’ and ‘perfect virtue’ in his soul, will be granted ‘ascent to the intelligible fire … a process which indeed must be proposed as the goal of all foreknowledge and of every theurgic operation’ (DM III.31, 179.6–8). When Porphyry asks whether there are alternative ways, other than theurgy, to attain happiness, Iamblichus makes it very clear that theurgy is the sole path for salvation, for it is the only way which will lead us to the gods: ‘For if the essence and accomplishment of all good is encompassed by the gods and their primal power and authority, it is only with us and those who are similarly possessed by the greatest kinds and have genuinely gained union (ένώσεως) with them that the beginning and the end of all good is seriously practised’ (DM X.1, 286.1–7). Iamblichus is aware of the failure of language or logos to encapsulate the highest kind of gnosis which can only be accessed through theurgic practice. Right at the outset of De Mysteriis, he declares his inability to address certain issues: ‘Some of these, such as require experience of actions for their accurate understanding, it will not be possible “to deal with adequately” by words alone’ (DM I.2, 6.6– 7.1). One recalls Plato’s Seventh Letter in which he states that certain truths cannot be divulged by language alone.28 As Plato explains: ‘Acquaintance with it must come rather after a long period of attendance on instruction in the subject itself and of close companionship, when suddenly, like a blaze kindled by a leaping spark, it is generated in the soul and at once becomes self-sustaining’ (341c).29 The term theourgos (θεουργός) or theurgist first appeared in the Chaldaean Oracles, a collection of mystical poems in dactylic hexameter, purported to be of divine provenance, recorded by Julian the Chaldaean and his son Julian the Theurgist in the second century CE.30 Psellus wrote of Julian the Chaldaean conjuring Plato’s spirit as a guide for his son the Theurgist. With the spirit of Plato as one of the ‘direct’ sources of the Oracles, the poems would be even more highly regarded.31 Thus one hears of the various miraculous deeds performed by the two Julians. Julian the Theurgist was known for the rain miracle that he produced in 174 CE, which saved Marcus Aurelius’s army from the Marcomans.32 From the Neoplatonists’ point of view, the Chaldaean Oracles were direct transcriptions from divine sources; hence the poems were quoted as teachings from the gods and not as interpretations by the two Julians.33 Only fragments of the poems have survived.
Salvation for the soul Underlying Iamblichus’s advocacy of theurgy (θεουργία) is his concept of the embodied human soul.34
For Iamblichus, knowledge of the gods is the only way to set man free from the bonds of his embodiment. It is through theurgy, which he describes as a ‘method of salvation for the soul’ (DM I.12, 41.9–11), that one can find true happiness, enabling the human to reunite with the divine. For Iamblichus states: ‘[M]an who is conceived of as “divinised”, who once was united to the contemplation of the gods, afterwards came into possession of another soul adapted to the human form, and through this was born into the bond of necessity and fate’ (DM X.5, 290.8–11). Iamblichus’s view of the human soul is a departure from both Porphyry’s and his teacher Plotinus’s interpretations. For Porphyry and Plotinus, part of the human soul is undescended and remains in the intelligible realm.35 It is through philosophical contemplation that one can reconnect to the higher part of the soul. Plotinus believes that union with the One can be achieved through quiet contemplation whereas for Porphyry, rational thought is sufficient in understanding the divine. Since Iamblichus believes that the soul has not lost its divine part or older presence (πρεσβύτεραν) in the process of its embodiment, theurgic rites allow humans to gain true knowledge of the soul, without resorting solely to intellectual reflections.36 For Iamblichus, theurgy represents the means for the human soul to become whole again, allowing it to rise to divine heights, theurgic rituals serving as a channel for the gods to reawaken this dormant part of the soul. In contrast to Plotinus’s focus on inner contemplation as the path to divine knowledge, Iamblichus’s quest for the attainment of noetic knowledge involves a transformation of the theurgist’s body into a receptacle of light. The illumination of the theurgist’s soul comes from the outside, through the epiphanies of the divine entities, leading towards the final goal of henōsis. Humans cannot reach this ascent on their own. Iamblichus explains what happens when invocations are addressed to the gods: [T]he gods in their benevolence and graciousness unstintingly shed their light upon theurgists, summoning up their souls to themselves and orchestrating their union with them, accustoming them, even while still in the body, to detach themselves from their bodies, and to turn themselves towards their eternal and intelligible first principle. (DM I.12, 41.3–8)
What interests us in the passage above is the emphasis that Iamblichus places on the generosity of the gods, whose goodwill is indicated by the abundance of light that they unreservedly project upon the theurgist, and the way in which their light assumes different functions during the various levels of the ascent. At the initiatory stage, illumination helps to prepare the soul for the gradual loosening of its corporeal ties, before it becomes the driving force that propels the soul towards the intelligible realm. Iamblichus tells Porphyry that the main aim of theurgy is anagōgē (ἀναγωγή) or the elevation of the soul. It is through anagōgē that the soul of the theurgist regains its divine status which was lost when it descended into the sensible realm.37 Although anagōgē is also mentioned by Plotinus in the Enneads, it is different from the theurgic ascents of the Chaldaeans and Iamblichus. The Plotinian anagōgē is a purely intellectual endeavour, where the philosopher, through the act of contemplation, leaves the material world behind and reunites with the undescended higher part of his soul. This progression towards one’s higher self requires mental rigour, self-scrutiny and the observance of virtue. Hence the constant call for introspection, as seen in the Enneads I.6:38 How then can you see the sort of beauty a good soul has? Go back into yourself and look … just as someone making a statue which has to be beautiful cuts away here and polishes there and makes one part smooth and clears another till he has given his statue a beautiful face, so you too must cut away excess and straighten the crooked and clear the dark and make it bright, and never stop ‘working on your statue’ till the divine glory of virtue shines out on you, till you see ‘self-mastery enthroned upon its holy seat’.39
Contrary to Plotinus’s introspective mode, anagōgē for both the Chaldaeans and Iamblichus is powered by photagogia. Illumination comes from an external source, through the generosity and benevolence of the gods, as we have seen in the earlier passage from De Mysteriis (DM I.12, 41.3–8). The performance of ritual enables the theurgist to receive the light of the gods, which in turn empowers his soul to leave his body and rise to the realm of the divine. During the Chaldaean anagōgē, the initiate ascends by riding on solar ‘rays’ with the help of the Teletarchs and the theurgist.40 Hans Lewy’s comment below may help us understand further the difference between the Plotinian, Chaldaean and Iamblichean systems. Distinguishing the Chaldaean notion of ‘elevation’ from Plotinus’s concept of the soul’s ascent, he writes: ‘Plotinus interprets the Platonic metaphor of ascent as a metonymous reference to an introversive process, whereas the Chaldaeans regard the stations of the real journey of the soul at the same time as phases of mystical transformation.’41 Thus Iamblichus and the Chaldaeans would view the soul’s ascent as a kind of physical elevation, ‘real elevation in mundane space’,42 and not merely as a contemplative act. However, theurgical ascent appears to be much more complex. As Ruth Majercik notes, the presence of a Plotinian introspective mode can be found in Fragment 1 of the Oracles, where the initiate is asked to extend an empty mind and perceive the intelligible by the flower of mind.43 The ‘flower of mind’ (νόου ἄνθει) refers to a fiery organ that is most similar to the fiery essence of the Father/First God and it is this similarity which enables union to be realized, exemplifying the Neoplatonic principle of ‘like attracting like’.44 The practitioner is asked to direct his
mind away from the mundane objects of perception and empty his mind of all thoughts: ‘You must not perceive it intently, but keeping the pure eye of your soul turned away, you should extend an empty mind toward the Intelligible in order to comprehend it, since it exists outside of (your) mind.’45 For Majercik, this fragment clearly indicates that there is a contemplative element at play in the Chaldaean and Iamblichean ascent. She challenges Lewy’s reading of the Chaldaean anagōgē and refers to Pierre Hadot and Andrew Smith, who have both suggested the possibility of different versions of theurgy, a more contemplative variant as well as one which involves anagogic rituals, with Smith proposing the existence of a higher and lower form of theurgy in the Oracles.46 Let us recall Book VII of the Republic, in which Socrates tells us that the prisoner who escapes from the darkness of the cave to the exterior world is ultimately able to face the sun, ‘in and by itself in its own place’ (516b). Theurgy is an attempt to re-enact this ascent through its rituals. As we have seen earlier, for the Chaldaeans and Iamblichus, man’s ability to behold noetic light comes not from himself but from his being illuminated by the light from without.47 Here, true understanding and knowledge is obtained through revelation, or theoria gnosis (θεωρία γνῶσις).48 It is theurgy and not philosophy that provides the path to salvation. The emphasis on practice as opposed to intellectualization is exemplified in Iamblichus’s argument that theurgic work exceeds the limits of human understanding.49 As he explains, ‘[I]t is the accomplishment of acts not to be divulged and beyond all conception, and the power of unutterable symbols, understood solely by the gods, which establishes theurgic union’ (DM II.11, 96.13–97.2). This is a radical departure from Porphyry’s belief that divine truth can be revealed through human reason. In the ‘Letter to Anebo’, also known as ‘The Epistle of Porphyry to the Egyptian Anebo’, Porphyry praises the ‘scientific knowledge of the gods’ as ‘holy and beneficial’ and ‘the cause [to men] of every good’.50 In response, Iamblichus emphasizes that it is the non-intellectual aspect of theurgy that leads to divine knowledge: Hence, we do not bring about these things by intellection alone; for thus their efficacy would be intellectual, and dependent upon us … For even when we are not engaged in intellection, the symbols themselves, by themselves, perform their appropriate work, and the ineffable power of the gods, to whom these symbols relate, itself recognises the proper images of itself, not through being aroused by our thought. (DM II.11, 97.2–9)
Iamblichus is careful to point out that humans do not manipulate the gods; the theurgist can prepare his soul through a series of rituals to receive the epiphanies of the gods but it is only through divine will that the gods manifest themselves in front of the theurgist, for ‘the things which properly arouse the divine will are the actual divine symbols. And so the attention of the gods is awakened by themselves of their characteristic activity’ (DM II.11, 97.10–14). Humans should not display such arrogance as to think that they are the ones who are controlling the divine manifestations. This kind of hubristic attitude would only lead to spurious daemons and false epiphanies. In answer to Porphyry’s query on the boastful nature of gods, daemons and other higher beings, Iamblichus points out that these are manifestations of lower beings, an outcome of improperly conducted theurgic rites. Iamblichus, known to have successfully unmasked a deceased gladiator who pretended to be Apollo,51 further argues that gods, daemons and spirits of such high order would not fall into the ignominy of self-aggrandizement. The primacy given to theurgic work rather than philosophy as a means to access divine knowledge does not imply that the Iamblichean theurgist rejects rational discourse. Iamblichus acknowledges the important role that thought plays in the quest for divine knowledge: ‘Effective union certainly never takes place without knowledge’ (DM II.11, 98.6–7). But he also explicitly states that human knowledge cannot bring about divine union, for ‘Nothing, then, of any such qualities in us, such as are humans contributes in any way towards the accomplishments of divine transactions’ (DM II.11, 98.10–11). Since true gnosis lies beyond human understanding, how can rational thinking be sufficient?52 Porphyry’s mistake consists of his failure to recognize that the two are not the same, conflating both under the category of knowledge. Addressing his teacher directly, Iamblichus/Anebo declares: You, however, seem to think that knowledge of divinity is of the same nature as a knowledge of anything else, and that it is by the balancing of contrary propositions that a conclusion is reached, as in dialectical discussions. But the cases are in no way similar. The knowledge of the gods is of a quite different nature … but from all eternity it coexisted in the soul in complete uniformity. (DM I.3, 10.1–6)
Since our connection with the divine is innate, our understanding of divine matters relies on ‘knowledge on the same terms, not employing conjecture or opinion or some form of syllogistic reasoning’ (DM I.3, 9.10–11), whereas human knowledge operates at a ‘secondary level of reality’ (DM I.3, 9.6) and is ‘separated (from its object) by some degree of otherness’ (DM I.3, 8.2–3).
Although Iamblichus does not provide us with a step-by-step guide to theurgic ascent, he does allow us glimpses into the process through descriptions of the importance of prayers in theurgic rituals and categorizations of the various forms of divine manifestations. Perhaps this opacity to the actual procedures of anagōgē can again be attributed to the transcendental nature that governs the operation. As he explains: ‘[D]ivine union and purification actually go beyond knowledge.’ (DM II.11, 98.9–10). In the concluding section of the text, Iamblichus states that there are three stages involved in divine union – purification of the soul, participation in the vision of the Good, and finally, union with the divine (DM X.5, 291.8–292.3). All three stages require different modes of light collection or photagogia. I want to draw attention in particular to the second stage of anagōgē, in which I will argue that a potentiality of the photographic is staged. It is this second level, or rather the absence of it, which separates Plotinus and Porphyry from Iamblichus. As we have seen earlier, both Plotinus and Porphyry believe that contemplation can lead directly to divine union, thus bypassing the photographic. In order for the theurgist to embark upon the activity of anagōgē, purification must take place before his soul container can draw down divine light. Details of the purification methods involved can be found in Iamblichus’s discussion of divination (DM III.11), in relation to the priest of Colophon and the prophetess of Brandichai; these included fasting, bathing and withdrawing into solitude. The chanting of inarticulate magical names (voces mysticae)53 also features as part of the ritual. What Porphyry refers to as ‘meaningless names’, Iamblichus replies: ‘And indeed, if it is unknowable to us, this very fact is its most sacred aspect: for it is too excellent to be divided into knowledge’ (DM VII.4, 255.9–13). It is frustrating to the modern reader of De Mysteriis that Iamblichus does not offer any detailed descriptions of the methods involved in anagōgē. What happens during the theurgic ritual? After the initial process of mind and body purification, how does the theurgist proceed to the next step? To better apprehend Iamblichus’s silence on such matters, one can perhaps refer to the secrets surrounding esoteric teachings of Tibetan Tantric Buddhism, which are transmitted solely from the mouth of the master to the ears of the pupil.54 Iamblichus does tell us that ‘the goal of all foreknowledge and of every theurgic operation’ is the ‘ascent to the intelligible fire’ (DM III.31, 179.6–8). Once the theurgist has embarked upon the ascent, what takes place during his encounter with the divine? A prayer-invocation from The Gospel of the Egyptians, a Gnostic work discovered at Nag Hammadi, may provide us with a glimpse into the transformation that occurs within the theurgist’s body at the moment of henōsis. In his comparative study on the role of ritual in Gnosticism and Neoplatonism, Birger A. Pearson cites the following prayer-invocation: ‘I have become light … Thou art my place of rest … the formless one who exists in the formless ones, who exists, raising up the man in whom thou wilt purify me into thy life, according to thine imperishable name …’ (III 67, 4.16–22).55 What we encounter here is an extreme form of photagogia, where the boundaries of the self dissolve in the abundance of light as the soul of the theurgist merges and rests within the bosom of the divine. An earlier passage in Book V of De Mysteriis, in which Iamblichus identifies the different levels of praying, may provide us with a clearer understanding of the procedures involved in theurgic ritual. The three levels of prayers are identical to the three stages of divine union found in the concluding section of De Mysteriis. In Emma C. Clarke’s reading of Iamblichean theurgy, she refers to this section as a means to understanding ekstasis.56 In many ways, this passage also reflects the influence of the Chaldaean Oracles on Iamblichus’s work. According to Lewy, the Chaldaeans used the following terms to describe the process of anagōgē: ‘approaching’ (ἐµπελάσας), ‘touching’ (ἁψάµενος) and ‘resting in’ (κεῖντα) – all of which can be found in the writings of Plotinus, Porphyry and Iamblichus.57 For Iamblichus, the first degree is the introductory prayer, which establishes contact with the divinities; illumination (ἐπίλαµφιν) takes place at this stage. The second involves a ‘union of sympathetic minds’ in which the theurgist receives blessings from the gods even before he makes specific requests. Actions are completed at this stage. And the highest level, which is described as ‘the most perfect’, involves ‘ineffable unification’ (ἄρρητος ἕνωσις) in which a ‘perfect fulfilment (of the soul) through fire’ (DM V.26, 238.9) takes place. At this stage, the soul is described as ‘resting in’ (κεῖσθαι) the divine (DM V.26, 238.5).58 Although it is not clear whether illumination continues throughout the three stages, one could assume that in a successful conjuration, the theurgist would probably be immersed in light, since the initial arrival of the gods would have already been accompanied by flashes of lightning. Here again, one senses the tension between the constant illumination of light and the sudden surges of light. Photography can be considered as the moment when these two different intensities of light collide. The Chaldaeans used the word sustasis (σύστασις) to describe the initial encounter between the theurgist – the invoker – and the deities – the invoked. Defined as an introduction or a standing together, sustasis also refers to the communication between human and god. As we have seen earlier, the authority of the Chaldaean Oracles arises from its direct link to the voice of Plato and the gods.59 This can be attributed to the sustasis performed by Julian the Chaldaean to ‘conjoin’ his newborn son with Plato’s soul and the deities.60 Although the term does not appear in De Mysteriis, for Iamblichus, sustasis would have been synonymous with illumination, for he tells us that whenever a god is invoked,
ellampsis takes place.61
Technologies of Light Light radiating from the gods is so bright that it is unbearable to its beholder. The difficulty in contemplating divine truth finds resonance in the blinding sun of Plato’s Republic and the lone figure of Philotheos, who stood in the burning sands of the Sinai deserts, his tear-drenched eyes staring into the sun.62 Iamblichus uses a specific term, epilampsis (ἐπίλαµψις), to designate the light that shines on the theurgist. In fact throughout the De Mysteriis one finds a variety of words which describes divine illumination, such as ellampsis, eklampsis and ellampein (ἐλλἀµπειν). Iamblichus’s influence on the fourth-century philosopher Sallustius can be seen in the latter’s treatise Concerning the Gods and the Universe. Commenting on the frequent appearance of Iamblichean terms such as ellampein, chorein, henōsis and sunaphê in Sallustius’s work, Arthur Darby Nock remarks that Iamblichus employs ellampein (to illuminate, to shine upon) almost as a technical term, treating divine light ‘as an objective illumination vouchsafed in visions’.63 Photagogia is propelled by an excess of energy (periousia dunameos). The divine light directed towards the theurgist during theurgic ritual is boundless and inexpendable. As Iamblichus explains: ‘In the highest level of beings, the abundance of power (periousia tes dunameos) has this additional advantage over all others, in being present to all equally in the same manner without hindrance; according to this principle, then, the primary beings illuminate even the lowest levels, and the immaterial are present immaterially to the material’ (DM V.23, 232.9–10). Like the sun’s infinite energy, the power generated by photagogia is such that divine light reaches even the lowest of forms. The word dunamis appears frequently in De Mysteriis – a total of 186 times.64 Dunamis is used in conjunction with photagogia when Iamblichus describes the latter as the driving force behind divination (DM III.14, 132.8–9). As Polymnia Athanassiadi points out, the abundance of light shining on the theurgist allows Iamblichus to emphasize the unchanging nature of the divine; it also enables him to separate theurgic practice from magic (goētia).65 The conflation of theurgy with magic can be seen in writings by philosophers and scholars since Iamblichus’s days. Georg Luck in his essay ‘Theurgy and Forms of Worship in Neoplatonism’ overlooked an important aspect of Iamblichus’s theurgy, that which distinguishes him from the Chaldaeans or other followers of the Magical Papyri: the notion of ‘compulsion’ (anagkē). Throughout De Mysteriis, Iamblichus repeatedly emphasizes that human interference in theurgic practices should be kept at as minimal a level as possible, for it is not the human who controls the divine: ‘[T]his light is from without and alone achieves all its effects serving the will and intelligence of the gods’ (DM III.14, 134.10–12). This is contrary to Luck’s generalized view on theurgy: ‘[I]t seems to me that in as much as theurgy is a kind of higher magic and all magic recruits demons and gods, presses them into service, as it were, sometimes against their will, it is reasonable to suppose that even theurgy is a form of pressure.’66 Iamblichus does not make a distinction between the continuous exposure to light and the flashes of light. As we have seen earlier, illumination takes place during the stage of sustasis, or the initial encounter with the gods. What is unclear in Iamblichus’s writing is whether the flashes occur while the theurgist is already immersed in light or whether there is a period of hiatus after the initial ellampsis, which is then followed by an intensifying build-up before the discharge of divine energy. Iamblichus presents the advent of the gods as a spectacular event, describing the god’s manifestation (epiphaneiai, ἐπιφάνειαι) as a flash of light. For Iamblichus writes: ‘[D]ivine appearances flash forth (apastraptei, ἀπαστϱάπτει) a beauty almost irresistible, seizing those beholding it with wonder … and transcending in comeliness all other forms’ (DM II.3, 73.5–8). Again, one notes the ineffable quality of the divine apparition: ‘But the presence of the god is different from and prior to this, and flashes (enastraptousa ἐναστϱάπτουσα) like lightning from above’ (DM III.11, 125.6–8). It seems that the intensity of the illumination marks the rank of the deities: the higher the position of the god, the stronger the burst of light. As Iamblichus explains: ‘[T]he greatest light has a sacred brightness which, either shining from above in the aether, or from the air, or moon or sun, or any other heavenly sphere, appears apart from all these things to be such a mode of divination that is autonomous, primordial, and worthy of the gods’ (DM III.14, 12–15). Fulguration as a sign of divine manifestation does not originate from Iamblichus’s theurgical writings; it is already mentioned in the Chaldaean Oracles. Fragment 147 contains the following message from the Goddess Hekate: ‘If you speak to me often, you will perceive everything in lion-form. For neither does the curved mass of heaven appear then nor do the stars shine. The light of the moon is hidden, and the earth is not firmly secured, but everything is seen by flashes of lightning.’67 The power of illumination has a blinding effect; such is its magnitude that the moon and the stars pale in comparison. In a paraphrase of the above fragment, Iamblichus, referring to the intensity of the light manifestations, declares that ‘the magnitude of the epiphanies in the case of the gods manifests itself
to the extent that they sometimes hide the entire heaven, both sun and moon, and the earth is no longer able to stand firm as they make their descent’ (DM II.4, 75.8–11).68 The blinding light and earthquake are not the only external factors that the theurgist has to endure. For accompanying such luminosity is an extreme rise in temperature. As Iamblichus tells us, humans would find such conditions intolerable and would suffocate like fish out of water. The dangers of overheating, loss of breath and sight would all subside with the advent of the angels, who would enable the theurgist to breathe comfortably again (DM II.8).69 These changes in the atmosphere are indicative of the types of deities appearing in front of the theurgist. We are told that the arrival of daemons and heroes differ from the manifestations of the gods. They are not preceded by radiating light nor thinning air, although heroes do provoke earth tremors and noises. As we have seen so far, light, fire and heat are recurring tropes in the theurgic ascent. Whereas heat can create an uncomfortable situation for the Iamblichean theurgist, it is at the same time a propelling force for the rising of his soul, as figured in the Chaldaean ascent. A passage from Proclus’s commentary on the Chaldaean Oracles may further elucidate the role of the angel in theurgic ascent, highlighting how photagogia is integral to anagōgē. Note that in the passage below, there are different orders of light at play. The role of the angel here is to lead the theurgist’s soul to the celestial region by illuminating it thoroughly. At the initiatory stage, the angels shine their light upon the soul, causing it to be ‘full of undefiled fire, which imparts to it an immutable and tranquil order and power’. The soul thus heated, enters into the second stage, where it is separated from the material realm and united with the ‘light of divine things’. This stage of illumination then further propels the soul upwards through heat, and as Proclus explains: But it is wholly elevated by hastening into the celestial region, just as by gravitating downward it is carried into matter or the region of generation. But the end of ascents is the participation in divine fruits and the filling [of] the soul with divine fire, which is the contemplation of God, the soul being placed in the presence of the Father.70
The unbounded energy of light manifested by the gods is also mentioned in the Greek Magical Papyri. In the divine alliance spell below, light appears to be measured in terms of depth and dimensions.71 The ‘Charm that produces a direct vision’ (PGM IV 930– 1114) includes two spells which refer to the dimensions of light. The ‘light-bringing charm’ contains the following utterances: I call upon you, the living god, / fiery, invisible begetter of light … enter into this fire, fill it with a divine spirit, and show me your might. Let there be opened for me the house of the all-powerful god ALBALAL, who is in this light. / Let there be light, breadth, depth, length, height, brightness, and let him who is inside shine through, the lord BOUĒL PHTHA PHTHA PHTHAĒL PHTHA ABAI BAINCHŌŌŌCH, now, now; immediately; immediately; quickly, quickly. (PGM IV, 960–74)
The god-conjuring spell may sometimes produce darkness. To protect the magician from this negative outcome, he is asked to appeal directly to the proportion of light, as seen in this light-retaining spell: ‘I conjure you, holy light, holy brightness, breadth, depth, length, height, brightness, by the holy names …’ (PGM IV, 979–80). Light is seen here as synonymous with the divine and is no longer merely an indication of the latter. What are some of the light-collecting techniques employed by theurgists to invoke the presence of the gods? The incorporation of artificial light as an invocatory method is frequently mentioned in the Greek Magical Papyri. One such example is the ‘Lamp Divination’ spell (PGM VII. 540–78). After lighting a lamp and placing it in the eastern part of a clean house or room, the magician utters the following words: ‘Come to me, spirit that flies in the air, / called with secret codes and unutterable names, at this lamp divination which I perform, and enter into the boy’s soul, that he may receive the immortal form in mighty and incorruptible light.’72 The Greek Magical Papyri records many different ways of preparing the lamp. Some rituals require the wick to be made of linen soaked in sesame oil and cinnabar as seen in the ‘Request for a dream oracle of Besa’ (PGM VIII. 64–110); others ask for the lamp to be lit with cedar oil, and in the ‘Apollonian invocation’ (PGM I. 262–347), the lamp is lit with rose oil or spikenard and placed on a wolf’s head. Among all these diverse spells and invocations, there is one thing in common: the magician is forbidden to use a red lamp.73 Clay lamps in the second century CE are often coated with the pigment miltos or red ochre. These lamps, which give off red light, are considered unsuitable for magical rituals since the colour red is associated with Seth-Typhon, 74 the god with the serpent’s body and the head of a donkey, symbolizing chaos. Dodds notes that in the lamp rituals depicted in the Greek Magical Papyri, the ordinary light of the lamp gives place to a ‘strong immortal light’.75 To illustrate the shift from the mortal to the divine that takes place in these magical operations, he cites the ‘Charm that produces a direct vision’ (PGM IV.930–1114), in which a lamp originally placed in the centre of a room is transformed into a vault. After performing the light-binding spell, the magician opens his eyes to a vision of bright light, the lamp vanishes and in its place, a god is sitting on a lotus.76 Although Iamblichus states that water is a suitable conduit for the divine (DM III.14), at the same
time he regards apparitions that appear in oil, water and mirrors as examples of false divinations (DM II.10).77 How can one explain Iamblichus’s seemingly contradictory viewpoints on the use of water in divinatory practices? In a passage that echoes the discussion in the Sophist on the differences between originals and copies – images belong to the lowest realm of being since they are merely imitations and not the real thing – these phantasmata (φαντάσµατα) appearing on reflective surfaces are not true manifestations of the gods, for ‘In no way, surely, does a god either change itself into phantasms or project these from itself into other beings, but it radiates its true forms in the true ways of souls’ (DM II.10, 93.11–13). These false apparitions are described as weak and faint (DM III.29). Unstable, they are not ‘fixed’ by the action of photographein. When Iamblichus mentions water as a suitable medium for theurgic rituals, he probably has the priest of Colophon in mind, who is known to prophesy after drinking the water from the underground cave. He rejects the popular belief that the spring, infused with divine spirit, is the sole cause of divination and argues instead that divine inspiration occurs on a much larger scale. He explains that the radiance emanating from the presence of the gods illuminates not only the water but also the luminous vehicle (augeiodēs pneumatos) of the theurgist (DM III.10, 125.1–5). It is the luminous vehicle (αύγοειδοῦς πνεύµατος) inside us that receives (chorein ton theon) the gods. Divine light is projected on to the theurgist (epilampousin) and causes his soul to ascend.78 Referring to the theory of correspondences or sympatheia, Johnston suggests that in order for anagōgē to take place, the theurgist must ensure that he becomes as similar to the gods as possible, in this case his ‘vehicle’ (ochēma) would have to resemble the intense light of the gods and become augeiodēs, ‘like light’.79 The luminous vehicle of the theurgist is powered by the continuous collection of light, thus sharing the same substance as the gods. Theurgic rites enable the theurgist to regain temporarily the soul’s immortality before his embodiment. Yet he remains mortal.80 The theurgist’s imaginative faculties (phantaskitē dunamis) are fired up as a result of his vehicle being illuminated by photagogia. For Iamblichus states, photagogia ‘illuminates the aether-like and luminous vehicle surrounding the soul with divine light, from which vehicle the divine appearances, set in motion by the gods’ will, take possession of the imaginative power in us’ (DM III.14, 132.9–12). Upon illumination of the soul vehicle, other sensory impressions are suppressed and replaced by images of the gods; this allows the theurgist to operate at a higher noeric level, removing all of the irrational elements that weigh the soul down.81 We can see this stage as photographia, the writing of divine light on to the theurgist’s soul. The divine visions (phantasiai theiai) that the theurgist receives demonstrate what Shaw describes as ‘“the eyes of the body” awaken[ing] “the eyes of the soul”’.82 The theurgist is only able to perceive the manifestations of the deities if the ‘imaginative faculties’ (phantaskitē dunamis) of his vehicle are triggered by divine illumination.83 As Johnston points out, phantaskitē dunamis literally means ‘the ability of the vehicle to receive or process images’.84 Thus the flashing of light accompanying the autophanes of the gods serves a dual purpose: at the same time that it announces the arrival of the gods, it also brings out their visibility by shining on the theurgist’s vehicle. Triggered by divine light, the theurgist acts as a camera and captures divine images during his ekstasis, bringing out that which is elusive to the human eye. As Proclus writes in his Commentary on the Republic: Tout dieu donc est sans forme, bien qu’il soit vu face à face avec une forme: la forme n’est pas en lui, mais projetée à partir de lui, parce que le spectateur de l’apparition ne peut voir sans forme le dieu sans forme, mais le voit, en vertu de sa propre nature, avec une forme (40.1–4).85 Every god therefore has no form, although he is seen face to face with a form. The form is not in him, but projected from him, for the viewer of the apparition cannot see without a form a formless god, but will see him, in accordance to his own nature, with a form.
Thus the theurgist-camera sees and captures the light exposure of the gods. One type of photagogia which Iamblichus refers to in De Mysteriis can be compared to a photographic slide projection or even a studio lighting session: ‘At other times they [theurgists] cause it to shine on a wall, having expertly prepared in advance a place on the wall for the light with sacred inscriptions of magical symbols, and at the same time fixing the light on a solid place so that it will not be too diffused’ (DM III.14, 134.4–7).86 Imagine the theurgist in the photographic studio exercising a similar kind of control, fixing a honeycomb grid on to the flash strobe so that the burst of light triggered by the camera’s shutter release will produce direct instead of diffused lighting. One can draw parallels between the light-captivating strategy performed in theurgic rituals and photography, in particular, the camera’s action of letting in light through the aperture of the lens or the shutter opening. On the one hand, the theurgist acts as an operator who collects light through specific manoeuvres that fall under the category of photagogia. On the other hand, he is more than the photographer; he is transformed into the equivalent of the photographic emulsion which absorbs light, under epilampsis. We will see how this transmutation of the human body is taken further in the writings of the Renaissance philosopher Marsilio Ficino. In Chapter 5, I shall demonstrate how Ficino proposes an entire solar regime to enhance one’s photosensitivity, thus promoting the development of a
photographic emulsion that is even more sensitive to light.
A Fit Receptacle For divine union to take place, the theurgist must act as a ‘container’ for light. Iamblichus frequently uses terms such as hupodochê (ὑποδοχή) and dechomenon (δεχοµένην) to describe the vessel-like property of the theurgist. These words also appear in the Timaeus when Plato alludes to the movement of the chora. Although each soul has the capacity for theurgic union, it must be purified properly in order for the gods to descend. Since the gods are the ones who make the decision to descend, humans can only prepare their soul-vessel to ensure that it is as pure as possible for divine reception. Theurgic union cannot be triggered through human reason alone, since this would be indicative of human control. Instead, it requires a combination of ‘all the best conditions of the soul and our ritual purity to pre-exist as auxiliary causes … the things which properly arouse the divine will are the actual divine symbols. And so the attention of the gods is awakened by themselves, receiving from no inferior being any principle for themselves of their characteristic activity’ (DM II.11, 97.12–14). This ‘fitness’ of the soul to contain the gods is what Iamblichus calls epitēdeiotēs (ἐπιτηδειότης).87 The purer the vessel the more powerful the deity who will descend. Shaw highlights the function of the theurgist as container: ‘Theurgists must present the gods with a receptacle both subtle and strong enough to contain their light, for only with a properly prepared receptacle does the soul have the capacity (ἐπιτηδειότης) to experience the divine efflux without distortion.’88 In order to invoke the gods successfully, the theurgist-receptacle must bear as close a resemblance to the divine as possible, exemplifying the Neoplatonic principle of sympatheia. Thus right at the core of Neoplatonism resides the practice of capturing light. The work of the theurgist involves the preparation of the soul-vessel or hupodochê through the continuous absorption of light or by opening up a difference in charges, which would lead to sparks and flashes of light. Before light can be collected, the theurgist-vessel must be emptied, as instructed by the gods in Fragment 1 of the Oracles: For there exists a certain Intelligible which you must perceive by the flower of mind. For if you should incline your mind toward it and perceive it as perceiving a specific thing, you would not perceive it. For it is the power of strength, visible all around, flashing with intellectual divisions … You must not perceive it intently, but keeping the pure eye of your soul turned away, you should extend an empty mind toward the Intelligible in order to comprehend it, since it exists outside of (your) mind.89
To be fit requires ‘triple-barbed strength’ in both mind and soul, as explained in the Oracles.90 Concentration and focus is demanded of the theurgist, who is ‘arrayed from head to toe with a clamorous light’.91 As the theurgist continues to draw down light, he becomes closer to the divine. Iamblichus tells us that the priest at the Colophon prepares himself by fasting for one day and one night and retires to a solitary place before he is capable of receiving the divine oracles. It is through an act of isolation – ‘he withdraws by himself to sacred, inaccessible places, and by this withdrawal and separation from human affairs’ – that the theurgist ‘purifies himself for receiving the god’ (DM III.11, 125.11–126). In addition to the cultivation of solitude, prayers serve as a means of strengthening one’s epitēdeiotēs. As Iamblichus writes: Extended practice of prayer nurtures our intellect, enlarges very greatly our soul’s receptivity to the gods, reveals to men the life of the gods, accustoms their eyes to the brightness of divine light, and gradually brings to perfection the capacity of our faculties for contact with the gods, until it leads us up to the highest level of consciousness (of which we are capable); also, it elevates gently the dispositions of our minds, and communicates to us those of the gods. (DMV.26, 238.12–239.5)
I want to draw attention to Iamblichus’s use of two words in the passage above, hupodochê (ὑποδοχή) which refers to the theurgist’s capacity to receive the gods and marmarugas (µαϱµαϱυγάς) which describes the flashing of divine light. The theurgist’s soul functions as a container (ὑποδοχή) to hold the divine, just like any of the other vessels used in theurgic rites.92 The word marmarugês also appears in Book VII of Plato’s Republic (518a) in reference to the difficulties that the soul encounters when moving from the accustomed darkness of ignorance to face the dazzling light of truth. In Iamblichus’s use of the word, there is the same notion of the need for adjustment, for orienting oneself to gaze at that which is outside of human understanding. As we have already seen in the previous chapter, chora is described by Plato as a container (ὑποδοχή) in the Timaeus: ‘What nature are we to attribute to this new kind of being? We reply that it is the receptacle, and in a manner the nurse, of all generation’ (49a–b). There is a movement of erasure that takes place within the chora. The third kind (triton genos) having no form of its own (amorphos), gives being to those things that belong to the sensible world. Plato tells us that things enter the chora and impress themselves upon the ὑποδοχή without leaving any trace. In theurgy, we find a similar movement of withdrawal and erasure – the soul of the theurgist withdraws (chorein) himself and gives
place to the other during anagōgē. An exchange must take place between the theurgist’s soul and the divine: ‘it detaches itself from the worse, and changes (allattetai) one life for another, and gives itself to another order of things, completely abandoning its previous one’ (DM VIII.7, 270.13–14).93 Shaw highlights this process of becoming alien to oneself, noting Iamblichus’s use of the verb ἀλλάσσω in the middle voice, which can be defined as ‘to be made other’, ‘altered’, or ‘take in exchange’.94 The middle voice would indicate that a change takes place within the subject as the action is being completed. It is through the emptying (kenosis) of the theurgist-vessel that divine light can be collected. By withdrawing (chorein) and giving place to the other, through this act of hospitality, one becomes the other. During anagōgē, the theurgist’s soul provides an abode (ἕδρα) for the gods; he is transformed into an ‘altar’ or ‘seat of the gods’ to the gods. Thus we see how the verb form of chorein and its association with receptivity possesses similar characteristics to the triton genos in the Timaeus. Chorein is the condition of theurgy. This is reflected in Shaw’s statement when he writes: ‘The soul’s role in this theurgic union requires a receptive capacity to contain the divine power … Exchanging “one identity for another” (ἀλλάττεται) – human for divine – the soul then becomes a vehicle for the will and the activity of the gods. Without this receptivity and the ekstasis of habitual self-consciousness no theurgy was possible.’95 The salvific potential of theurgy lies in the theurgist’s transformation into the other and renders the human, who is ‘subject to passions by reason of birth, pure and immutable’, similar to the gods. For Iamblichus writes: ‘[I]n the contemplation of the “blessed visions” the soul exchanges one life for another and exerts a different activity, and considers itself then to be no longer human – and quite rightly so: for often, having abandoned its own life, it has gained in exchange the most blessed activity of the gods’ (DM I.12, 41.9–13).
Imaging In Book II, Iamblichus provides the reader with a list of different types of deities and spirits – the gods who occupy the highest rank, followed by the archangels, angels, daemons, heroes, archons and souls. This echelon of beings are characterized by the quality of their self-revelatory manifestations (autophanes) in terms of luminosity, image clarity and stability; the degree of clarity seems to be dependent upon the rank of the deities. It is striking how Iamblichus’s description of the autophanes of the higher deities can easily be applied to the tonal qualities of a photograph taken with a good camera lens. As Iamblichus explains: ‘[L]et us also define the degrees of vividness of self-revelatory images. So then, in the case of the supernatural manifestations of the gods, their visions are seen more clearly than the truth itself, and they shine forth sharply and are revealed in brilliant differentiation’ (DM II.4, 76.11–77.1). Images that are of the highest resolution, brilliance and clarity belong to the gods. As one moves down the scale, the apparitions gradually become blurred and unclear, as if they are underexposed at the moment of shooting. Iamblichus writes: Obscure are the images of daemons, and inferior in turn to these appear those of heroes. Of the archons, the images of the cosmic class are clear, but those of the material class are obscure, even though both are seen as powerful authority. The images of souls in turn appear shadowy. (DM II.4, 77.4–7)
Not only are these badly photographed, it is as if the resulting negatives have also been underdeveloped in the darkroom, for the images of heroes, daemons and souls are ‘not fixed’, and are ‘permeated by alien natures’ in contrast to the vision of the gods which Iamblichus attributes to be ‘exceedingly brilliant and remains fixed in itself’ (DM II.5, 79.12–80.3). Clarke underlines the distinction that Iamblichus makes between eidola (εἰδώλα), eidolopoietike techne (εἰδωλοποιητικὴ τέχνη) and eidos (εἴδος).96 For Iamblichus, false apparitions fall into the category of eidola whereas the self-revelatory images of the gods (autophanes) are often described as eidos. False appearances are trickeries created by image-makers whose art is unstable for it belongs to the material realm.97 These images resemble reflections that one finds in water and mirrors. They ‘have neither the energy (energeian), nor the essence of things seen, nor truth, but present mere images, reaching only as far as appearance’ (DM III.25, 161.1–2). Here we can see how divine energy serves as an indicator for the authenticity of the vision experienced by the theurgist. Iamblichus describes εἰδωλοποιητικὴ as skiagraphia (shadow painting).98 Once again, this brings us back to the underlying argument in Iamblichus’s response to Porphyry – that the divine cannot be manipulated by human intention. Self-revelatory images refute the notion that the gods are drawn down by human force. Since their appearances are governed by divine will, they are luminous and fixed. The manipulation of the gods to achieve specific ends belong to the domain of magic (goētia) and not theurgy. Whereas the magician relies upon active manipulations to achieve specific goals, the theurgist always assumes a passive role and is propelled by a belief in the salvatory purposes of his activity.99
As we have seen earlier, Iamblichus mentions heat, blinding light and flashes, which occur during autophanes, but he never discusses the manifestations in details. It may be worthwhile to draw upon the visions described in the Chaldaean Oracles to gain a better understanding of the autophanes experienced by Iamblichus’s theurgist. Fragment 146 of the Oracles contains the following instructions: … after this invocation, (it says) you will either see a fire, similar to a child, extended by bounds over the billow of air, or you will see a formless fire, from which a voice is sent forth, or you will see a sumptuous light, rushing like a spiral around the field. But you may even see a horse, more dazzling than light, or even a child mounted on the nimble back of a horse, (a child) of fire or covered with gold or, again, a naked (child) or even (a child) shooting a bow and standing on the back (of a horse).100
In the vision above Luck identifies nine different images ranging from abstract shapes of light to luminous figures such as the child or the horse.101 Not only do these diverse manifestations signal the imminent arrival of the goddess Hekate, who is associated with fire and light, they also serve as an indicator to the theurgist that he is on the right path of conducting the ritual.102 In his interpretation of fragment 146, Lewy suggests that the apparitions are part of Hekate’s entourage – the figure of the child belongs to the category of wandering spirits who have been denied a proper burial. The child shooting a bow is the spirit of someone who had died in combat and been deprived of a proper internment. These souls of the deceased accompany the goddess during her nocturnal roamings.103 However, in her study on Hekate, Johnston refutes Lewy’s interpretation of the various epiphanies in fragment 146, arguing that due to their light-emanating properties, these apparitions who escort the goddess cannot be souls of the unburied but must be higher entities instead – daemons, iynges and angels. Referring to Iamblichus’s discussion of the various types of manifestations and their scale of luminosity (DM II), she suggests that these apparitions are capable of projecting different intensities of light and fire on their own, not because of their association with Hekate, as Lewy has maintained, but due to their ranks – the incorporeal or formless belonging to a higher level whereas the daemons, such as the naked boy, would be closer to our material world.104 If these were indeed apparitions of the unburied dead, they would have presented a dreadful and macabre spectacle instead of the vision of splendour and brightness as described by the fragment.105 In the previous chapter, I have attempted to uncover the photographic in Plato’s chora and explored how the triton genos can be productive in rethinking photographic theory and history. In this chapter, I suggest that Iamblichean theurgy is the site where one sees a re-emergence of chora as photography. In the theurgist’s encounter with the divine, his soul is transformed into a camera which captures the light emanating from the deities. In Chapter 5, I will show how Iamblichean theourgia is transformed into therapeia in the work of Marsilio Ficino. In Ficino’s writings on life and light, photagogia does not involve instantaneous flashes of light but a continuous drawing down of light. I will argue that Ficino’s project is characterized by a search for the enhancement of photosensitivity – to sensitize the human soul for the reception of divine light. Therefore the theurgist-magus does not only receive light during ekstasis as we have seen in the theurgic rituals described by Iamblichus, but he does so continuously – through the adoption of a solar regime, by embracing a lifestyle that is solar by nature, and by surrounding himself with solar things. As I have proposed at the start of this chapter, for Iamblichus, theourgia is photagogia. Similarly, for Ficino, therapeia is photagogia. The project of photosensitivity encompasses the entire human physiological and cognitive systems, from the humours to the different layers of veils enveloping the aetherial vehicle of the soul, to the imagination and finally to the soul itself.
Photographing the Divine: Philotheos of Batos He who has tasted this light understands of what I am speaking. Philotheos of Sinai The monk Philotheos lived in Mount Sinai around the ninth or tenth century.1 The only trace left by this elusive figure was a work that he composed entitled ‘Forty Texts On Watchfulness’, which was later incorporated into The Philokalia, a collection of writings by various saints belonging to the Hesychast school of the Orthodox tradition. Philotheos was the first person ever to have used the word ‘photography’.2 The term that he coined was phȏteinographeisthai (φωτεινογραφεἱσθαι) or ‘writing with light’. What is the significance of this word? And what are its implications for the history of photography, if we consider that the word we would later come to know as ‘photography’ was in fact invented by a mystic? As we have seen in the previous chapters, henōsis (ἕνωσις) or divine union generates such luminous intensity that the plenitude of light may bring about an obliteration of the self. In the Republic, Socrates tells Glaucon of the impossibility to see the Platonic Good (533) and in the Phaedo, he warns of the ensuing blindness that results from a direct view of the solar eclipse (99e). With the figure of Philotheos, who exemplifies the notion of photagogia taken to the extreme, we find ourselves returning once again to the strange image of the escaped prisoner who can finally see the sun, not in its reflections but ‘in and by itself in its own place (auton kath’auton en tèi autou chorai)’ (Republic 516b). Where is the χώρα οf the sun? If the sun is the representation of the Good in this world, what does it imply to see the sun in its own place? Is this the site where the face-to-face encounter with the Divine takes place? In his essay ‘Celui qui inventa le verbe “photographier”’, Georges Didi-Huberman tells the story of St Philotheos of Batos who coined the verb ‘to photograph’ (φωτεινογραφεἱσθαι). Philotheos is called ‘of Batos’ because of the batos shrubs growing near the monastery where he lived; ‘batos’ in Greek meaning bramble or thorn. Philotheos is also known as ‘the Sinaite’, for he belonged to the Sinaite school of monks. Didi-Huberman ingeniously weaves fiction with the sparse facts that we know of the monk from Mount Sinai. He presents to us a romantic portrait of the ascete living in the desert a thousand years ago, under the blinding light of the sun. Didi-Huberman conjectures that in the stifling heat, Philotheos ate nothing but dried resin from the trees. Called gutta in Latin because they resemble the tears of the Virgin, the monk slowly chews the amber droplets. Once in a while, an Egyptian traveller passing by would give Philotheos an onion to eat, watching the saintly man unfold layers and layers of the onion’s translucent skin, his face turned towards the burning slope, drenched in tears.3 The metaphor of heat pervades the text. After all, Mount Sinai, also known as Mount Horeb, was the site where God first spoke to Moses through the burning bush. Remarking that gutta is burnt as incense in synagogues and basilicas, Didi-Huberman goes on to ask, ‘Philothée avait-il fait voeu de ne manger que ce qui se brûle?’4 (‘Philotheos has he vowed only to eat that which is flammable?’).5 Little is known of Philotheos of Batos except for ‘Forty Texts on Watchfulness’, sometimes translated as ‘Forty Texts on Sobriety’, which were later collected in The Philokalia alongside works by other saints and monks from the Greek Orthodox Christian tradition. The word ‘philokalia’ (φιλοκαλια) signifies the love of all things good and beautiful. The Philokalia was first published in Venice in 1782 by two Greek monks, St Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain of Athos and St Makarios of Corinth. Spanning hundreds of years, the diverse collection of writings is united by a single theme: the importance of contemplation and the cultivation of stillness in spiritual practice. In his introduction, St Nikodimos writes that The Philokalia constitutes ‘a mystical school of inward prayer’.6 This ‘mystical school’ is known as Hesychasm, the term deriving from hȇsychia or stillness. Hesychasm is the cultivation of internal silence and peace through nepsis, the keeping of a watchful heart, along with constant prayer following the rhythm of one’s breathing. The repetitive invocation of the Jesus prayer serves as an aid in concentration, purifying the mind of the dangers of the imagination and bringing one closer to God.7 The spiritual practice flourished during the Byzantine era; it was practised widely from Mount Athos to Bulgaria, Serbia and Russia. Its popularity can be attributed to St Gregory of Palamas (1296–1359), whose work Triads for the Defence of the Holy Hesychasts, written between 1337 and 1339, stands as a milestone in Ηesychast thought, for it is a set of doctrines which successfully synthesized the mysticism of the Desert Fathers with the teachings of the Church in the fourteenth century. It was written as a response to the philosopher Barlaam the Calabrian, who challenged Palamas on certain issues concerning Ηesychast spiritualism, which he considered to be sacrilegious, such as the possibility of seeing God directly.8 In Triads, Palamas quotes Barlaam’s criticisms:
If they agree to say, that the intelligible and immaterial light of which they speak is the superessential God himself and if they continue at the same time to acknowledge that he is absolutely invisible and inaccessible to the sense, they must face a choice: if they claim to see this light, they must consider it to be either an angel or the essence of the mind itself, when, purified of passion and of ignorance, the spirit sees itself and in itself sees God in his own image. If the light of which they speak is identified with one of these two realities, then their thought must be held to be perfectly correct and conformed to Christian tradition. But if they say that this light is neither the superessential essence, nor an angelic essence, nor the mind itself, but that the mind contemplates it as another hypostasis, for my part, I do not know what that light is, but I do know that it does not exist.9
The light that Barlaam refers to in the above passage represents the uncreated light of God revealed to man only through deification or theosis. If God is transcendent, how can a direct vision of the Divine be possible? Palamas distinguishes between the essence of God and His energies. Man cannot aspire to the essence of God but can receive His energies. Palamas’s argument relies on the idea of the incarnation of Christ; Christ was human, through Christ it is possible for the body to receive grace; the vision of God does not come from outside but from within us.10 As Palamas explains: In his incomparable love for men, the Son of God did not merely unite his divine Hypostasis to our nature, clothing himself with a living body and an intelligent soul, ‘to appear on earth and live with men’ (Baruch 3:38), but, O incomparable and magnificent miracle! He unites himself also to human hypostases, joining himself to each of the faithful by communion in his holy Body. For he becomes one body with us (Eph. 3:6) making us a temple of the whole Godhead – for in the very Body of Christ ‘the whole fulness of the Godhead dwells corporeally’ (Col. 3:9). How then would he not illuminate those who share worthily in the divine radiance of his Body within us, shining upon their soul as he once shone on the bodies of the apostles of Tabor? For as this Body, the source of the light of grace, was at that time not yet united to our body, it shone exteriorly on those who came near it worthily, transmitting light to the soul through the eyes of the sense. But today, since it is united to us and dwells within us, it illumines the soul interiorly.11
This regard for the body as an active agent in spiritual cultivation is a distinguishing aspect of Hesychasm and accounts for the important role that breathing plays in prayer. It is clearly demonstrated by Nikiphoros the Monk in ‘On Watchfulness and the Guarding of the Heart’ written around the latter part of the thirteenth century. Nikiphoros gives the following instructions to his reader: You know that what we breathe is air. When we exhale it, it is for the heart’s sake, for the heart is the source of life and warmth for the body […] Seat yourself, then, concentrate your intellect, and lead it into the respiratory passage through which your breath passes into your heart. Put pressure on your intellect and compel it to descend with your inhaled breath into your heart. Once it has entered there, what follows will be neither dismal nor glum. Just as a man, after being far away from home, on his return is overjoyed at being with his wife and children again, so the intellect, once it is united with the soul, is filled with indescribable delight […] Moreover, when your intellect is firmly established in your heart, it must not remain there silent and idle; it should constantly repeat and meditate on the prayer, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me,’ and should never stop doing this. For this prayer protects the intellect from distraction, renders it impregnable to diabolic attacks, and every day increases its love and desire for God.12
One of the distinctive features of the Hesychast prayer is the psychosomatic method of navel-gazing. Barlaam ridiculed the Hesychasts by calling them ‘omphalopsychoi’ or ‘people-whose-soul-is-in-theirnavel’.13 In the Triads, Palamas defends the technique of curling oneself up into a ball and resting one’s eyes upon the navel. This circular position that the body adopts facilitates inward attentiveness and, like slow breathing, achieves ‘what St. Dionysios calls a state of “unified concentration”’.14 This method, which combines corporeal awareness with mental focus, aims to facilitate the guarding of the heart. The Hesychast regards the heart not only as the site of emotions but also as the spiritual centre of man.15 The heart must be guarded against the onslaught of desires and the corruption of the senses, so that it can devote itself completely to the memory of God. In the following passage from ‘The Three Methods of Prayer’, often attributed to St Symeon the New Theologian (949–1022), we find clear instructions concerning the psychosomatic method: Then sit down in a quiet cell, in a corner by yourself, and do what I tell you. Close the door, and withdraw your intellect from everything worthless and transient. Rest your beard on your chest, and focus your physical gaze, together with the whole of your intellect, upon the centre of your belly or your navel. Restrain the drawing-in of breath through your nostrils, so as not to breathe easily, and search inside yourself with your intellect so as to find the place of the heart, where all the powers of the soul reside. To start with you will find there darkness and an impenetrable density. Later, when you persist and practise this task day and night, you will find, as though miraculously, an unceasing joy. For as soon as the intellect attains the place of the heart, at once it sees things of which it previously knew nothing. It sees the open space within the heart and it beholds itself entirely luminous and full of discrimination.16
In the above meditation method presented by Symeon, it is interesting to note how the physical space of the practitioner appears to echo his mental and psychical space. The withdrawal into a quiet corner is accompanied by curling oneself into a ball while resting one’s gaze on the navel. The transition from darkness to light seems to act as an indicator of the spiritual progress of the practitioner. St Symeon’s ‘Three Methods of Prayer’ and Nikiphoros’s ‘On Watchfulness and the Guarding of the Heart’ may have been the first two written documentations of the psychosomatic method to appear in the thirteenth century, but as the editors of The Philokalia indicate, the technique would have been practised by the earlier monks and orally transmitted from master to disciple.17 In fact, if we look at The Ladder of Divine Ascent, a seventh-century spiritual guide by St John Climacus (580–650), abbot of the convent of St Catherine on Mount Sinai, the union of breath with prayer is already mentioned in the text. In Step 27, St John Climacus writes: Strange as it may seem, the hesychast is a man who fights to keep his incorporeal self shut up in the house of the body … Stillness is worshipping God unceasingly and waiting on Him. Let the remembrance of Jesus be present with your every breath. Then you will appreciate the value of stillness.18
Of particular significance here is the term hêsychia, which appeared in an earlier context. The term was used in ancient Greece to describe the method of incubation as practised by Parmenides and other Pholarchos or priests of Apollo. Hêsychia refers to the stillness of the priests and patients while they are lying inside the cave during incubation, waiting for messages from the gods. Practised by philosopher-priests such as Parmenides and Pythagoras, incubation is a way of healing which requires one to lie very still for days, resembling an animal in hibernation.19 In the following passage, Strabo describes a cave in Caria, the Charonium – often seen as the portal to Hades. The cave was located directly next to the temple dedicated to Persephone and her husband Pluto, the goddess and god of the underworld. The cave was used for healing: ‘But often they lead the sick into the cave instead and settle them down, then leave them there in utter stillness (hêsychia) without any food for several days – just like animals in a lair (phôleos).’20 St Symeon’s meditation method of curling oneself into a ball can probably be seen as an offshoot of the incubation ritual described above.
Mystic photography It is in text 23 of the ‘Forty Texts on Watchfulness’ by St Philotheos that the verb ‘to photograph’ first appears, as indicated by J. Lemaître in the Dictionnaire de Spiritualité: Philothée, dont nous ignorons malheureusement les dates, mais qui ne doit pas être de beaucoup postérieur à Jean Climaque, a inventé la photographie, du moins est-il le premier à en parler. Il s’agit de photographie mystique.21 (Unfortunately we do not know the dates of Philotheos’s life, but he would not have lived much later than John Climacus. Philotheos invented photography, at least he is the first one to have mentioned it. It is a matter of mystic photography.)
Philotheos uses the term phôteinographeisthai or ‘writing with light’ to describe the practice of nepsis, or watchfulness of the heart. He writes: ‘Gardons de toute notre attention à toute heure notre coeur des penseés qui ternissent le miroir psychique dans lequel a coûtume de s’empreindre et de se photographier Jesus-Christ, sagesse et puissance de Dieu.’22 The Greek word used here is ϕωτεινογραϕεἱσθαι, which like its French counterpart ‘se photographier’ is a pronominal or reflexive verb. Jesus Christ photographs Himself in one’s heart. The reflexive nature of the verb is significant here, for it is not the human who photographs God but God who photographs himself. Unfortunately, the term is lost in the English translations of the text. I consulted two English translations of the Philokalia, one directly from Greek, translated as such: ‘At every hour and moment let us guard the heart with all diligence from thoughts that obscure the soul’s mirror; for in that mirror Jesus Christ, the wisdom and power of God the Father (cf. 1 Cor. 24), is typified and luminously reflected.’23 In the above text, the marking with light is replaced by the movement of reflection. The collection of light – imprinting (s’empreindre) as well as writing oneself with light (se photographier) – is nowhere to be seen. However, in another version of The Philokalia, translated from the Russian text Dobrotolubiye – an eight-volume compilation from the ninth century by Theophan the Recluse, we find the following: ‘And so every hour and every moment let us zealously guard our heart from thoughts obscuring the mirror of the soul, which should contain, drawn and imprinted on it, only the radiant image of Jesus Christ, Who is the wisdom and the power of God the Father.’24 Although the meaning of phôteinographeisthai is also lost in this version, it at least retains a sense of imprinting and drawing. Philotheos’s writings are exemplary of the teachings of the early Fathers of the Desert, who emphasized the importance of the guarding of the heart in spiritual cultivation. To obtain deification (theosis) or the union with God, we must aspire to and imitate the conduct of Christ (mimètikôs) through abstinence, respect of the commandments, faith and prayer. Philotheos teaches us that contemplation is an extremely active exercise. In order to achieve the state of stillness, we must dispel
all thoughts and desires that arise in our mind. The ‘Forty Texts’ begins with the metaphor of combat: ‘We have in us a mental warfare more arduous than physical warfare. The aim of the doer of righteousness, which he should pursue with his mind and towards which he should strive, is to have the memory of God treasured in his heart like a priceless pearl or some other precious stone.’25 The imagery of battle and swordplay conjured by Philotheos is surprisingly violent: ‘through this mental vigilance we should slay all the sinners of the earth. In other words, for the sake of the Lord we must cut off the heads of the strong, and the first sign of strife-provoking thoughts by the true intense memory of God, which raises us on high.’26 The memory of God (mnimi Theou), which appears in both passages, refers to a form of ‘single-mindedness’ in which one’s attention is solely directed towards God. For Philotheos it is important to guard our heart zealously against the assaults of the imagination. Didi-Huberman uses the term ‘chasser des images’27 to describe Philotheos’s endeavour to destroy all images: ‘Aussi se rêvait-il lui-même comme un “chasseur d’images” – non pas un chercheur de tropheés imaginaires à ramener chez soi, mais bien un déstructeur, un dépeupleur d’images […].’28 (‘He also dreamed of being a “hunter of images” – not a seeker of imaginary trophies to bring home but a destroyer, a de-populator of images […]’). As Didi-Huberman suggests, Philotheos is in fact chasing away images. For it is only by banishing all pictures that one can turn away from the self in order to focus one’s attention on God – the memory of God. One then becomes the blank surface which can receive the unique ‘impression’ of God. As Philotheos writes: He who has tasted this light understands of what I am speaking. Once tasted, this light tortures the soul all the more with hunger for it, for the soul feeds on it but is never satiated, and the more it tastes it, the more it hungers. This light, which draws the mind as the sun draws the eyes, this light, inexplicable in itself, which however becomes explicable, only not in words but by the experience of him who receives its influence, or rather who is wounded by it – this light, commands me to be silent, although the mind would still have enjoyed conversing on this subject.29
The ineffability of photagogia is brought to the forefront in the above passage. The experience of light cannot be described by words nor should its secrets be disclosed, as Philotheos tells us, despite his willingness to speak about the subject. His account of photagogia reveals an intense longing for the divine. After the initial exposure, the devotee is propelled by an insatiable hunger to draw down divine light continuously. The intensity of light is such that exposure to it can even wound its beholder. Roland Barthes’s punctum inevitably comes to mind. In Camera Lucida, Barthes describes the punctum as: this element which rises from the scene, shoots out of it like an arrow and pierces me. A Latin word exists to designate this wound, this prick, this mark made by a pointed instrument … I shall therefore call [it] punctum; for punctum is also: sting, speck, cut, little hole – and also a cast of the dice. A photograph’s punctum is that accident which pricks me (but also bruises me, is poignant to me).30
Punctum transcends the immobility of the image and moves beyond the imprisonment of the frame by opening up the ‘blind field’.31 It is a ‘stigmatum’32 that pierces through the flatness of the photograph. Barthes concludes that there are two punctums in a photograph. The first punctum only exists in certain photographs; it is a detail capable of triggering our memories or emotions, transforming the passive experience of viewing a photograph to an active, almost violent one, ‘a tiny shock, a satori’.33 This punctum is personal and private – what stands as a punctum for one person may be merely the studium for another. It is the reason why the reader of Camera Lucida will never get to see the photograph of Barthes’s mother as a little girl in the winter garden, the only picture which succeeds in capturing the essence of her being, for Barthes argues that the photograph would only stand as studium for the reader. The second punctum exists in all photographs: ‘This new punctum, which is no longer of form but of intensity, is Time, the lacerating emphasis of the noeme (“that-has-been”), its pure representation.’34 It is the constant memory of death: But the punctum is: he is going to die. I read at the same time: This will be and this has been; I observe with horror an anterior future of which death is the stake. By giving me the absolute past of the pose (aorist), the photograph tells me death in the future. What pricks me is the discovery of this equivalence.35
The memory of death is an essential step in Philotheos’s search for spiritual enlightenment. He writes: The first door leading to the mental Jerusalem – attention of the mind – is a wise silence of the lips, although the mind is not yet silent. The second is a precisely measured abstinence in food and drink. The third is a constant memory of death, which purifies both mind and body. Once I had seen the loveliness of this latter not by eye but in spirit, I became pierced with delight in it and with a longing to have it as my companion for my whole life, for I conceived a love for its splendour and beauty.36
Along with the observance of silence and the controlled intake of food and drink, the persistent awareness of our mortality is one of the principles for the guarding of the heart: ‘It gives birth to mourning, gives guidance in all-round abstinence, it reminds a man of hell, it is the mother of prayer
and tears, the guardian of the heart, the means of going deep into oneself and of good judgement …’37
Light Philotheos’s text is a guide to the cultivation of stillness and the purification of one’s heart, teaching the devotee to become closer to divine truth. As Didi-Huberman remarks, where ‘truth’ is mentioned in Philotheos’s text, the ‘sun’ is always nearby.38 In his essay, ‘A Comparison of the Early Forms of Buddhist and Christian Monastic Traditions’, Mathieu Boisvert examines the ascete’s quest for singlemindedness or monotropos, and the connection between sunlight and the Divine. Boisvert writes: ‘The ideal of monotropos can be most accurately described by comparing it to a plant that constantly orients its leaves toward the sun, “a process known as phototropism.” Like the plant, the “monotrope” constantly directs his or her effort toward God.’39 Monotropos is governed by the love of god; the longing for divine light reminds us of Proclus’s heliotrope, who moves accordingly with the sun in the sky. It is also exemplified by the figure of Philotheos, who unwaveringly stares into the sun in order to be imprinted by God: ‘Il cherchait désormais à noyer ses yeux dans le flot solaire ardent. Imaginant devenir image à se soumettre à la lumière. L’unique chemin, pensait-il, pour voir et être vu de quelque chose qu’il nommait “Dieu”.’40 (‘From then on, he tried to drown his eyes in the cascade of blazing sunlight. He imagined turning into image by submitting himself to light. The only way, he thought, to see and to be seen by something he called “God”.’) Nikiphoros the Monk declares: ‘If you ardently long to attain the wondrous divine illumination of our Saviour Jesus Christ … then I will impart to you the science of eternal or heavenly life’.41 This science entails single-mindedness or a ‘[s]obriety […] like a small window through which God enters and appears to the mind’.42 The preparation for the light-appearance of Christ requires the emptying of all thoughts and echoes the kenosis which takes place within the theurgist’s soul. Iamblichus tells us that chorein is the prerequisite of anagōgē, as the theurgist withdraws himself to give place to the gods. Similarly watchfulness opens an aperture in the soul, allowing divine light to enter and for God to photograph Himself in the heart of the devotee. Didi-Huberman likens the instant of ‘mystic photography’ to molten wax: ‘Il (Philotheos) ressentait son corps et l’intérieur de son corps semblables à une flaque de cire sanglante que vient frapper un sceau.’43 (‘His body and its interior felt like a pool of molten wax that has just been struck by the seal.’) Immersed in light, one becomes pure light. What is the photographic experience of divine ecstasy? Although Philotheos does not describe the process of this extreme form of photagogia, St Symeon’s encounter with the divine, as recounted by his biographer Nikiphoros the Monk, may help us gain a better understanding of what takes place during the imprinting of God’s image in the soul of the devotee: ‘Il vit la lumière elle-même s’unir d’une façon incroyable à sa chair et pénétrer peu à peu ses membres … Il vit donc cette lumière finir par envahir peu à peu tout entière son corps tout entier et son coeur et ses entrailles, et le rendre lui-même tout feux et lumière.’44 (‘He saw the light unite with his flesh in an incredible way and slowly penetrate his limbs … Thus he saw that the light finally invaded the whole of his body, and his entire heart and his entrails and transformed him into all fire and light.’) Philotheos collects light as he stands under the burning sun, gradually transforming himself into an overexposed image – an ‘image without form’.45 Let us conclude then on Philotheos’s coinage – phôteinographeisthai. As Palamas has indicated, man alone does not have the capacity to see God directly but God can choose to reveal Himself to man. Phôteinographeisthai is a reflexive verb for God acts as the sole agent and photographs Himself into the devotee’s heart. In theosis, God is pure light. Describing the ascete’s vision of God, which is ‘seeing light through light’, Palamas writes in the Triads: ‘That is what union means; all is so one, that he who sees can make no distinction either of the means or the end or the object; he is conscious only of being light and seeing light distinct from all that is created.’46 The mystical union with God is ‘photographic’ by nature; it is the ecstatic moment when the boundaries of the self dissolve and become pure light.
Marsilio Ficino: Light and Photosensitivity In light there is a certain daemonic power. Commentaria in Platonis ‘Sophistam’ In this chapter, I will look at several texts by the Renaissance philosopher Marsilio Ficino and examine the transfiguration of Iamblichean photagogia from theourgia to therapeia. In Chapter 3 we saw how photagogia or the collection of divine light is embedded in the theurgic practices of Iamblichus; in this chapter I will suggest that photagogia in Ficino’s work is specifically the drawing down of celestial light. What one sees in Ficino’s exploration of photagogia has less to do with a theurgic ascent (theourgia) than with a descent, which will constitute the basis of his therapeia of light. Unlike Iamblichus, whose main interest is the soul’s ability to elevate itself through the various stages of anagōgē, I will argue that Ficino’s writings exhibit instead a gravitation towards a downward movement – the capturing and containment of divine light. For Ficino, then, to enhance the soul’s fitness (epitēdeiotēs) to receive God requires an increase in one’s sensitivity to light. What one sees developing in Ficino’s thinking is the notion of photosensitivity,1 which underpins his diverse writings on life and on light. In this chapter I will examine the various scenarios of photosensitivity found in Ficino’s work, mainly in his medical writing and treatises on light. I will also draw upon several passages from the Platonic Theologies on the Soul, De amore and the Sophist commentary. Ficino was a prolific writer; not only was he responsible for the revival of interest in Platonism in the Renaissance, he also translated the works of many Neoplatonists such as Plotinus, Porphyry, Iamblichus and Synesius into Latin at the request of his patron Cosimo de’ Medici. Some of the translations include Porphyry’s De Abstinentia, Iamblichus’s De Mysteriis and Synesius’s De Insomniis. Ficino’s interest in magic probably stems from his translation work on the Corpus Hermeticum and the Picatrix, as well as his familiarity with the Orphic poems and the Chaldaean Oracles. Like his father, who was Cosimo de Medici’s physician, Ficino was trained in medicine, although it is unclear whether he had ever received a medical degree.2 Ordained a priest in 1473, he was also the founder and director of the Platonic Academy in Florence. Thus Ficino’s multiple roles in his life are reflected in his writings, which contain diverse and intertwining elements (Platonic, Orphic, Hermetic, Christian, theological, medical, astrological) but are always propelled by the worship of God and the love of mankind. Scholarship on Ficino’s work has been extensive. It is beyond the scope of this book to provide a list of all the texts devoted to Ficinian study. Nevertheless I would like to point out several pioneering works that have paved the way to subsequent discussions of the role of magic in Ficino’s thinking and in the Renaissance in general. Among the first to scrutinize his interest in magic and the occult were D. P. Walker’s Spiritual and Demonic Magic from Ficino to Campanella and Frances Yates’s Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition. Examining the notion of spiritus in Ficino’s thinking, D. P. Walker argues that Ficino’s interest in music, both musical theory and practice, is integral to his conception of natural magic; music, through its vibrations in the air, can be seen as one way of understanding the theory of spiritus. Walker focuses mainly on astrological music, as discussed by Ficino in the third book of De vita, and its subsequent influences on other thinkers and musical theorists in the Renaissance. He suggests that Ficino’s astrological music, which enables one to capture the influences of the planets and the stars, is probably Orphic in origin, and includes the Orphic Hymns, hymns to the sun and the eighteenth psalm of David as some of the songs that Ficino probably would have sung while playing his lyra orphica.3 He also argues that there are two types of magic present in Ficino’s work: spiritual magic as seen in De vita and demonic magic. These two facets of Neoplatonic magic would develop into two distinctive strands: demonic magic as practised by Agrippa and Paracelsus, and spiritual magic which would be eventually incorporated into music, poetry and Christianity.4 In Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition, Yates examines Ficino’s use of talismans and attributes the Corpus Hermeticum as a major influence in Ficino’s interest in natural magic. Although he does not directly address magic, Paul Oskar Kristeller’s work The Philosophy of Marsilio Ficino provides a comprehensive and thorough understanding of Ficino’s philosophical system, in particular the role of the soul and Ficino’s conception of an internal consciousness. One of the major difficulties in approaching Ficino’s work is the sheer volume of it; in addition to the numerous translations commissioned by Cosimo de’ Medici, Ficino’s oeuvre includes the Platonic commentaries, letters, pamphlets, De Christiana religione, his writings on metaphysics – Theologia Platonica; his book on health – De vita libri tres (Three Books on Life); as well as his treatises on light. Whereas previous scholars have explored specific aspects of Ficino’s writings by looking at individual texts or grouping particular works together, examining for example Ficino’s doctrine on love and beauty (Allen,
Festugière), musical theory (Voss, Walker), interest in astrology (Moore, Voss), doctrine of the soul (Allen) and influences in Renaissance art (Chastel, Panofsky, Warburg), what I propose to do here is to uncover a thread that runs through his writing, which I will argue is driven by a lifelong quest for photosensitivity. In Ficino’s own writings one often senses an underlying tension, especially in the texts that touch upon theurgic rituals or magical manipulations, where he carefully negotiates the perilous task of combining pagan mysticism with Christian theology. At the end of De vita libri tres (Three Books on Life), published in 1489, Ficino had to include an Apologia refuting many of his previous discussions on the magical manipulations of talismans (imagines) due to accusations of heresy by the Church. In the Apologia Ficino claims that he is not advocating the use of magic but merely presenting an interpretation of Plotinus. Ficino often refers to the authority of the prisca theologia as well as the Christian saints to counter possible accusations of blasphemy. He is operating on dangerous grounds in his soteriological project, for how does one reconcile a cosmology based upon Plato’s Timaeus – with its demiurge and sublunar gods – with the Christian God? As a Christian priest, how does one justify the religious worship of the sun?5 Would the use of astrology for medicinal purposes border upon heresy? The notion of light plays an important role in Ficino’s work. Light does not only function as a metaphor in his writing.6 Since light is everywhere in this world – the most manifest and the most accessible – it allows him to speak of a subject that otherwise would escape the confines of language. Light enables Ficino to find a common ground between his Platonism and his Christian faith while at the same time, light serves as a guide, leading both writer and reader into the celestial mysteries.
Light writings Among Ficino’s large corpus of work, including numerous commentaries on Plato’s dialogues, there are three texts that specifically focus on the subject of light. A quick glance at their titles – Quid sit lumen, Liber de sole and De lumine – already provides us with an indication of the importance that Ficino attributes to the notion of light. De lumine, composed in 1492, is an inquiry into the nature of light. In this work, Ficino attempts to lead his reader into the divine mysteries through an exploration of the physical characteristics of light. In the preface of this treatise, Ficino distinguishes his work from other scientific studies of light. He is not interested in launching a mathematical investigation into the properties of light but, instead, he proposes to examine light in order to gain an understanding of moral laws, rules of contemplation and the divine mysteries, light emblematic of such truths. De lumine comprises 17 chapters and is in fact a revised edition of an earlier work entitled Quid sit lumen (1479). In addition to the six new chapters, Ficino has also expanded his discussions on heat and transparency and included an allusion to the aetherial vehicle, all of which I will be discussing in more detail later. Another work which appeared at the same time as De lumine is the Liber de sole. It is organized in a similar structure, comprising 13 chapters, with headings which summarize the theme of each chapter. Over the next few pages, I will mainly focus on De lumine while drawing upon Liber de sole to investigate the ways in which light is embedded within Ficino’s thought. In the preface addressed to Piero de’ Medici, to whom the work is dedicated, Ficino mentions a text on the sun which is also dedicated to the merchant prince. Although he does not name the work, he is referring to Liber de sole, composed around the same time as De lumine. One can assume that the prince would have already received Liber de sole before De lumine, for Ficino tells Piero that it is only appropriate for light to follow its guide, the sun. He then makes a distinction between the terrestrial and celestial orders; whereas on earth the first glow of the aurora always precedes the rising of the sun, in the heavens, it is the sun that claims precedence. Ficino declares that in the past, he would always consider light before the sun; now he will follow the celestial order and contemplate the father first before directing his attention towards the son. One can thus regard the two texts – Liber de sole and De lumine – as companions to each other, Liber de sole focusing mainly on the sun as a symbol of the Divine and De lumine exploring the implications of light as a visible manifestation of God. Ficino tells Piero that the sun is the father of light from which all brightness emanates. His words resonate with the analogy of the sun and the Good presented to us by Plato in Book VI of the Republic. Whereas the sun is considered to be an image of the Good – ‘the offspring of the good which the good begot to stand in a proportion with itself’ (508b–c)7 – in Ficino’s treatment of the Platonic motif, light now has become the offspring of the sun. In the Republic, light is described by Socrates as a third species (triton genos): ‘the bond … that yokes together visibility and the faculty of sight’ (508). An observation by Derrida may help us reflect upon the status of light. Referring to this passage, Derrida writes: A bit earlier, an allusion to a third species (triton genos) seems to disorient the discourse, because this is neither the visible nor sight or vision; it is precisely light (507e), itself produced by the sun, the son of the
Good ‘ton tou agathou ekgonon’) which the Good has engendered in its own likeness (‘on tagathon agennesen analagon’).8
What Ficino explores in De lumine is in fact the triton genos of the Republic. Although he does not use the term ‘third kind’, De lumine can be read as an elaboration of this passage in Republic VI, incorporated with the presence of Aristotle, Plotinus, Iamblichus and Pseudo-Dionysius. Ficino carefully constructs light as an active agent which links together the sun, the Good and God. He also positions both himself and his reader as the friend of light, ‘amico lucis’.9 The true object of Ficino’s enquiry is the divine mysteries and it is through the study of light that one is able to gain access into such realities. An understanding of light holds the key to unlocking the mysteries of the celestial spheres and man’s relation to God. In the preface, Ficino claims ardently that light, as the most trustworthy indicator of divine presence, provides a straightforward means of seizing these truths. Sylvain Matton points out in his essay on De lumine that Ficino’s interest in light derives from a soteriological and gnostic perspective.10 As discussed at the opening of this chapter, there is a constant tension between Ficino’s theurgic and medical writings of light and his writings on life. His interest in natural magic is driven by a realization that the correct and legitimate manipulation of ‘natural things’ can enable us, as he claims in De vita, to ‘obtain the services of the celestials for the prosperous health of our bodies’11 and of our soul. At the same time, in his devout worship of God, his investigation into the mysteries of the human soul and his doctrine on love, he is always animated by a Renaissance humanism which celebrates man’s place at the centre of the universe. It is important to understand the properties of light in order to capture it successfully, both in its observable form (sunlight) and its celestial counterpart (the hidden light of God). As mentioned earlier, Ficino’s strategy steers clear of presenting his reader with an objective scientific analysis of light. Instead, he examines the nature of light through that which is closest to us, our sensorial experience. De lumine opens with Ficino declaring his love of light and his extreme dislike of shadows and all that is accompanied by shadows: ‘Je hais plus que tout les ténèbres … J’aime plus que tout la lumière.’12 (‘I hate above all shadows … I love light more than anything else.’) One is struck by the playful tone that Ficino assumes, for he begins his investigation of light by addressing his senses directly as if they were old friends, each of his senses replying in turn to his question on what is light. Ficino’s approach reminds one of Socrates’s question to Glaucon: ‘With which of the parts of ourselves, with which of our faculties, then, do we see visible things?’ (507c). The first three senses – hearing, smell, taste – are unable to provide Ficino with an answer. Taste even retorts by asking Ficino why he is posing such a strange and unfamiliar question. Since taste is bathed in liqueur, he is only too happy to show Ficino what liqueurs are all about. Touch reproaches Ficino for attempting to extort from him that which he cannot provide. Since touch is restricted to corporeal things, he advises Ficino to seek his answer at a higher level. Ficino thus declares that he will make his ascension from the lower parts to which he has fallen, towards the higher levels of his body in order to see the light. Finally it is Ficino’s eyesight which offers to help him, providing him with the explanation of light as a spiritual emanation, instantaneous and extensive. These two opening chapters of De lumine demonstrate Ficino’s ability to employ the ordinary and mundane as a strategic move to approach that which is esoteric and transcendental; it is as though there are two levels; by uncovering the first layer of reality, one can thus draw oneself closer to the divine. By capturing visible light, which belongs to the sensible world, one can then begin to discern the hidden light, which exists in the intelligible realm.
First light In his investigation into the nature of light, Ficino makes a distinction between different types of light. The light perceived by our vision is only one kind of light (lumen); it is not the first light (lux) since it is variable and dependent on things other than itself. Ficino’s object of inquiry is a light which exists by itself and in itself: ‘Celle-ci existe donc par soi et en soi.’13 (‘Thus this one exists by itself and in itself.’) Since it is the first form of the first body, ‘la première forme du premier corps’,14 it is an autonomous light, thus independent of any external factors. This is probably the same kind of light that appears in Iamblichus’s De mysteriis when he describes the various methods of divination through the collection of light. Iamblichus writes: ‘[T]his light is from without and alone achieves all its effects serving the will and intelligence of the gods, the greatest light has a sacred brightness which, either shining from above in the aether, or from the air, or moon or sun, or any other heavenly sphere, appears apart from all these things to be such a mode of divination that is autonomous, primordial, and worthy of the gods’ (DM III.14, 134.10–15).15 Although Iamblichus does not refer to light as a first light here, he does emphasize the transcendental aspect of light and refers to the theurgic ritual as primordial (πρωτουργὸς, protourgos). It seems that Iamblichus is acknowledging the presence of a superior light that is not accessible to the untrained eye, its visibility dependent upon the fitness of the theurgist. At the end of this chapter, I will show how Ficino aims to alter one’s physiological make-up in order to
become sensitive to this light. For Ficino, the perfection of the first light (lux) lies in its nature as an active agent: ‘Ainsi elle est si parfaite qu’elle existe non pas en tant que qualité inactive distincte de l’acte, mais plutôt en tant qu’acte très vigoureux.’16 (‘In this manner it is so perfect that it exists not as an inert quality separate from the act, but rather as a very vigorous action.’) This dynamic characteristic of light is emphasized throughout the text. For example, one finds the following heading for Chapter 11: ‘La lumière ne devient pas la qualité de ce qui est illuminé, mais constitue l’acte de ce qui illumine.’17 (‘Light does not become the quality of that which is illuminated, but constitutes the act of that which illuminates.’) Not only is this light independent, it is the source of radiance and generates the conditions of seeing. The dynamism of light is also mentioned in Liber de sole, with Ficino invoking the authority of Iamblichus and proclaiming: ‘Iamblichus the Platonist finally came to refer to light as a certain active vitality and clear image of divine intelligence.’18 What is extraordinary about this statement is the reference to the invigorating force of light. Ficino’s treatises on light can be considered as an investigation into the physical manifestations of light, in particular its dynamic vigour, and by understanding its visible properties such as heat, luminosity and its effect on different types of materials (transparency/opacity), one can devise methods to encapsulate its potency; this is what Ficino will endeavour to accomplish through his medical writing, especially in De vita libri tres. I will make a slight detour and examine an earlier text by Ficino, one of his letters composed more than a decade prior to the publication of Quid sit lumen. I hope to show that as early as 1479, he was already preoccupied with the connection between a visible sunlight and a hidden primordial light. In the ‘Orphica comparatio solis ad Deum atque declaratio idearum’ (‘The Orphic Comparison of the Sun to God and the setting forth of causal forms’), Ficino is concerned with the affinity between these two kinds of light. The first light (lux) is described as the light of consciousness that resides in the centre of the sun. Ficino writes: ‘It is certainly in the Sun that visible light is created from the light of consciousness, and there also sight is created from understanding.’19 This would imply that there is a light of consciousness which precedes the creation of sunlight, a clear image of divine intelligence. Ficino tells us that this single pure light is the source of all colours and it ‘sees multiplicity through a single power of seeing’.20 The letter ends with an allusion to the danger of blindness from staring too long at the sun. He then contrasts the visible sun with the hidden one, adding that the super-celestial sun will not harm one’s eyesight, for ‘the more it flashes in their [ardent lovers’ and contemplatives’] eyes, the more it strengthens and invigorates their sight’.21 Ficino’s comments suggest a photosensitivity that enables the ‘super-celestial One who has set His tabernacle in the Sun’22 to come into view. The more we prepare ourselves to the reception of this light, the clearer the image of divine intelligence may be. And in the Phaedrus commentary, associating light with the Platonic Good, he writes of the intelligible world which is light: Certain facts are denied and affirmed about this intelligible place above heaven. Touch is denied, that is, every condition and property proper to the corporeal world; shape is denied, that is, the animate world’s quality, which the Timaeus describes through figures and numbers; and color is denied, that is, a certain participated light proper to the intellectual world. For this higher place is pure [and not participated] light, and pure light is seen not in color but in a transparent medium. Guided by Plato, finally, we usually use the innermost light of the sun to describe the good itself, which is higher than the intelligible place.23
According to Ficino, the intelligible realm has no characteristics of the sensible world except for light. Thus light serves as a common denominator which will allow us to gain access into the divine truths. And it is Ficino’s goal through the enhancement of one’s photosensitivity to increase our awareness of this light.
The Vitality of Light When Ficino remarks, ‘Les astronomes et les mages démontrent qu’il existe dans les rayons des forces merveilleuses, mais cachées’24 (‘Astronomers and magicians demonstrate that there are marvellous but hidden forces in light rays’), he may be referring to the occult properties of light and the art of catoptrics. Ficino presents his reader with the example of heat produced by the convergence of light on a concave mirror; again he is moving from an observable phenomenon of light, in this case the effects of light rays striking on the surface of a mirror, to a discussion of the esoteric properties of light. He continues: ‘Sans nul doute la puissance de la lumière est très grande, au point qu’elle établit facilement et instantanément de nombreux liens entre les êtres célestes et les êtres terrestres qui autrement n’entretiendraient pas de relations en raison de leur distance.’25 (‘Without any doubt the power of light is so great that it instantaneously and easily establishes numerous links between celestial and terrestrial beings, who would otherwise not have fostered any relations due to the distance between them.’) Light does not only transmit the virtues of the stars to the level immediately
below, but it also acts as a transport, Ficino tells us, by bringing the sun and the stars towards lower beings. In Ficino’s study of light, there is a constant interplay between visibility and invisibility. Light is invisible yet it brings out the visibility of objects. It is through this natural phenomenon that Ficino finds the potential of acquiring esoteric knowledge. As I have mentioned earlier, both heat and speed are indicators of the active vitality of light. I will examine heat in the context of talismanic magic towards the end of this chapter. Another sign of the dynamism of light can be found in its speed. According to Ficino, the ability of light to overcome the constraints of physical distance is indicative of its strength, for it is capable of travelling long distances instantaneously without being separated from its source.26 In Chapter 11 of De lumine, one finds the following observation on the expansive power of light. I would like to underline the dominance of reflections and phantasmatic appearances in Ficino’s discourse as well as the hall of mirror effect that he creates, with light bouncing off from one surface to the other. One can almost imagine this to be the scene of the prisoner’s first glimpse of the sensible world when he emerges out of the Platonic cave. Note also the indexical quality of the reflection. Ficino writes: Elle [la lumière] semble en effet devoir toujours se propager au-delà d’elle-même et elle se réfléchit instantanément de multiples manières, renvoyée de miroirs en miroirs, de l’eau sur un miroir et de là, de nouveau, sur un mur, et ainsi de suite. Et en sa réflexion, elle n’abandonne jamais le corps qui la réfléchit.27 It [light] appears indeed to always spread beyond itself, creating instantaneous reflections of itself in multiple ways. It returns from mirror to mirror, water to mirror, and from there, once again, it is projected on to a wall and so forth. And in its reflection, it never abandons the body that it reflects.
In the above scenario set up by Ficino, one senses a polarity of forces at play: speed and slowness, absorption and projection, impediment and dissemination. Light resists capture, leaping from one surface to the next instantaneously and in a multiplicity of ways. Only when it is projected on to a wall, does it appear to slow down its pace. However, contrary to light, which evades confinement and is considered incorporeal, objects are captured inside their reflections, thus intangibly carrying the corporeal within them. Yet there appears to be no danger of the depletion of light in spite of its vigour and vivacity, for the very movement of reflection seems to guarantee its propagation. It may be helpful to understand what is happening within this scintillating world, full of fast-moving images and flashing lights, through the analogy of abundance. The plenitude of light reminds one of the surplus of light that is constantly present in Iamblichus’s discussion of photagogia. It is once again an indicator of the potency of light. Iamblichus uses the term periousia dunameos, an excess of force, to describe the power exhibited by the higher gods during theurgic ascension. Similarly, Ficino in the Theologia Platonica draws an analogy between the abundance of divine light that never seems to exhaust itself and the omnipresence of the divine soul (divinus animus). He writes: Doesn’t even a light trapped inside a heavy lantern blaze out afar in a brief moment when the lantern is opened, and illuminate most distant objects? Yet it does not quit the lantern; and when the lantern is shut again, it is confined in a narrow space without its being harmed. This is because, when initially it was flooding the greatest space, it was being poured forth without its being dissipated. Wonderful is the power of light! It remains quietly in the narrowest place and it fills up the amplest; and it does this because light in a way is incorporeal. The soul does the same because it is divine light.28
Ficino’s lantern recalls the lamps mentioned in many of the divination spells found in the Greek Magical Papyri in particular the ‘Charm that produces a direct vision’ (PGM IV.930–1114), which I have discussed in Chapter 3. Again one sees an instance where the abundance of light and its transformative power are the determining factors that enable the divine to be revealed, for the magician opens his eyes and sees not the lantern but a vault brimming with light, where he comes face to face with a deity.
Incorporeal light So far we have looked at the dynamic vitality of light through its visible characteristics. Now I would like to examine the incorporeal nature of light, which is a constant theme in De lumine. Ficino is certainly less interested in the physical properties of light than in its metaphysical implications; a discussion of the visible characteristics of light is a means for him to approach the ineffable. As mentioned earlier, speed is a sign of the potency of light. Ficino takes this point further by connecting it with the celestial realm. The efficiency of light and its speed when it traverses unhindered by both long and short distances29 serves as an indicator of its ability to cross the boundaries between heaven and earth, hence its role as ‘the bond of the Universe’. Ficino argues:
Sans nul doute la puissance de la lumière est très grande, au point qu’elle établit facilement et instantanément de nombreux liens entre les êtres célestes et les êtres terrestres qui autrement n’entretiendraient pas de relations en raison de leur distance. Et elle ne transmet pas seulement toutes les vertus des étoiles à ce qui est en dessous d’elles, mais elle transporte le Soleil lui-même et les astres vers les choses inférieures, tout comme notre esprit véhicule les forces de notre âme et l’âme elle-même vers les humeurs et les membres. Et de même qu’en nous l’esprit constitue le noeud de l’âme et du corps, la lumière est le lien de l’Univers.30 So strong is the power of light that it connects celestial things easily and in one moment with earthly things from which they are otherwise far removed beyond all proportion. Not only does it transport the forces of the stars to the following things, but it brings the sun and the stars themselves to the lower beings, just as our spirit brings the forces of the Soul and the Soul itself to the humors and members. And as in us the spirit is the bond [connecting link] of Soul and body, so the light is the bond of the universe (vinculum universi).31
In the above passage, Ficino draws a parallel between the mediating role of light and that of spiritus, the aerial essence that links Soul to the body.32 In De amore, his commentary on Plato’s Symposium, Ficino explains that spirit is ‘a certain very thin and clear vapour produced by the heat of the heart from the thinnest part of the blood’ (De amore VI, vi).33 Since soul is conceived to be of a very different essence to the body, spirit provides the bond which links the two together. Spirit functions as a mirror, furnishing images to the soul. Since soul is incorporeal and of a superior nature to the body, it cannot receive images directly from the latter. However, soul can apprehend these images by looking at spirit, which contains these ‘images of bodies shining in it, as if in a mirror’ (De amore VI, vi).34 These images provided by spirit are known as ‘sensations’. Soul would then, through the process of ‘imagination’, conceive of its own purer images from these sensations. Considering the analogy which Ficino sets up between light’s role as a mediator between the divine and the terrestrial and spirit’s function as an intermediary linking soul to the body, I would like to suggest that soul is in fact ‘photographing’ (writing with light) images provided by spirit – these shining images in the mirror – which Ficino tells us would then be preserved by memory. Thus the eye of the soul, otherwise known as mens,35 would be able to refer to these images and compare them with the Ideas which it already holds within itself. Ficino gives an example: ‘[A]t the same time that the soul is perceiving a certain man in sensation, and conceiving him in the imagination, it can contemplate, by means of the intellect, the reason and definition common to all men through its innate Idea of humanity; and what it has contemplated, it preserves.’36 He then contrasts this contemplative ability of the soul with both the spirit and the eye, for the latter two, he argues, resemble mirrors. Since the mirror is unable to fix the images reflected in it, thus the eye and the spirit ‘can receive images of a body only in its presence, and lose them when it is absent’.37 I would like to return to the passage above from De lumine, where Ficino presents spiritus as analogous to light. Considered alongside the discussions of spirit in De amore, I would suggest that he implies that the humours are photosensitive. Light has a certain active vitality towards which the humours are responding. Thus consciousness is one way of capturing light. What we have underlying here then is a discussion on the photographic and its implications on human cognitive ability as well as on the physiological system. A further connection can be drawn between spiritus and light.38 D. P. Walker notes that what Ficino refers to as the spiritus in De vita coelitùs comparanda may be the astral body or the vehicle of the soul (ochēma) mentioned by the Neoplatonists in theurgic rites.39 If one follows through the implications of this, it would not be surprising to find further indication of the connection between spiritus and light by tracing back to Iamblichus’s use of the term augeiodēs pneumatos or luminous vehicle for the ochēma in the De mysteriis.40 According to Ficino, the vehicle is enveloped in three layers, one made of fire, another consisting of air, and the outermost cover, which he calls ‘spirit’, vaporous and composed of the four elements. A description of the soul vehicle and the important role it plays in human imagination can be found in Ficino’s unfinished commentary on the Sophist, published in 1496. In this remarkable passage, Ficino describes the human soul as a triple demon! Ficino writes: Whenever you look within at our soul clothed as it were in spirit, perhaps you will suppose that you see a demon, a triple demon. For you will see too the celestial vehicle covered entirely with a fiery and an airy veil, and such a veil surrounded with spirit – with spirit, I say, compounded from the vapors of the four elements. You will know that the soul primarily and effectively exercises the imagination in the celestial vehicle and prepares all the sense through the whole vehicle; and through this vehicle as through a seal frequently it impresses images on the second veil; and through the second similarly it fashions the third. Finally, you will conclude that the images that are innermost in you, since they are made by this spiritual and demonic animal, proceed from a certain demonic contrivance.41
Referring to the passage above, Michael J. B. Allen observes: ‘Like a series of mirrors, the three envelopes thus serve to reflect the soul’s images; and in the triple process, the images become more
and more distorted and indistinct.’42 I disagree with Allen’s reading of the veils as similar to the mirrors, for there is no activity of reflection involved in Ficino’s explanation of the soul’s interaction with the aetherial vehicle. The veils do not operate like mirrors. A mirror would deflect an image, but Ficino here is clearly implying a process of penetration. Instead of bouncing back when it encounters the veil, light enters and infiltrates each layer, just as it passes through the glass panes mentioned in De lumine. This distinction is of crucial importance for understanding how Ficino may in fact be intimating the advent of photography. A mirror would only reflect back the light, whereas the imprinting process described above is dependent upon the conditions of translucency. The notion of diaphanis is pivotal here. Ficino tells us that ‘the soul exercises the imagination in the celestial vehicle’. Light appears to be creating a camera out of the soul’s vehicle, piercing through the veils as if through an aperture. The three layers of veils obstructing the passage of light only do so partially due to their diaphanous nature. And with each percolation of light emerge shadows which are then marked on to the next veil. If we consider the first veil as a negative, light forces its way through this layer, and, as a consequence, makes an imprint on the second veil. After making its mark on the second layer, it continues to pierce through the veil and makes another exposure on the third veil. What the soul is confronted with, then, is a triple photographic process, a writing with light which is characterized by the transition from negative to positive to negative, culminating in a negative image. Thus one can argue that what Ficino calls the ‘images that are innermost in you’ are in some manner photographs. The direction of the movement appears to be unclear. Allen suggests that it is concentric – imagination projects images from the centre towards the outside: ‘[T]he vehicle projects the images onto the airy veil and the airy veil in turn projects them onto the vaporous spirit.’43 It is through light that God manifests Himself to the mortal’s sight.44 Despite its incorporeal nature, light is able to give form to that which is ineffable. While Ficino emphasizes the familial bond between light and the Platonic Good in De lumine, he makes a further move by conflating the Good with God. Thus he writes: ‘Enfin la lumière, telle une puissance divine dans le temple du monde, possède une ressemblance avec Dieu. A tel point que notre cher Platon dans La République la nomme la Fille du Bien lui-même.’45 (‘Finally light, such a divine power in the temple of the world, resembles God. To such a point that our dear Plato himself in the Republic calls her the Daughter of the Good.’) Ficino is alluding to a passage in Book VI of the Republic, where Socrates tells Glaucon: ‘This, then, you must understand that I meant by the offspring of the good which the good begot to stand in a proportion with itself. As the good is in the intelligible region to reason and the objects of reason, so is this in the visible world to vision and the objects of vision’ (508c). The incorporeal nature of light frequently emphasized by Ficino provides him with a strategy to address the transcendence of God in his discourse. There is a constant interplay throughout the De lumine between translucency and opacity, permeation and occlusion. The dichotomy of darkness and light is brought to the forefront in the heading of Chapter 3: ‘Rien n’est plus clair que la lumière ni que Dieu; rien n’est plus obscure.’46 (‘Nothing is brighter than light nor God; nothing is darker.’) In a leap from describing light as the brightest and the most obscure, Ficino speaks of God in the same terms. He addresses his intellect: ‘Ô intelligence, toi qui mesures correctement toutes choses, dis-moi si la lumière ne serait pas Dieu luimême qui, lui aussi, est plus clair et plus obscur que tout.’47 (‘Oh intelligence, you who measure all things correctly, tell me if light would not be God Himself, who also is the brightest and the darkest of all.’) A similar tension between polarities operates in Liber de sole: ‘For not one of the Philosophers until now has explained the following: that nothing anywhere is clearer than light; but that on the other hand nothing appears more obscure, just as goodness is both the most recognised of all things, and equally the least recognised.’48 As Paul Oskar Kristeller points out: Ficino’s whole epistemology therefore converges, as we see, into the knowledge of God. All thought is a steady ascent of the Soul toward God, in whom even particular and empirical knowledge unconsciously has a part and whom, in the supreme act of contemplation, the Soul finally perceives by intuition in His fullness of essence, face to face.49
I would argue that, unlike Iamblichus whose theurgy consists mainly of an ascent of the soul, Ficino is more interested in capturing the descent of divine light. Many commentators, by directing their attention towards the upward movement which characterizes theurgy, have overlooked a difference between theourgia and Ficinian therapeia. The latter consists of the absorption of descending light in view of triggering a chemical reaction that would change the nature of the human soul, thus photosensitizing oneself to the presence of God. In Ficino’s conception of photosensitivity, sunlight serves as the medium for divine knowledge to be transmitted and filtered down through the various ranks of angels to humans, and conversely, by the reception and collection of this light (photagogia), thus acclimatizing the soul to light, divine union may take place. As I have mentioned earlier, not only can we find an oscillation between the plenitude of light and the absence of light, there are also two dominating movements of vision that permeate the text: to look at and to look through. To look through something requires the object to possess a certain degree of
sheerness or translucency. Thus transparency operates as a recurring motif in De lumine, with the frequent appearance of the word diaphanis as well as several allusions to glass. Whereas in the earlier version of the text Quid sit lumen, dating from 1476, diaphanis appears only once, in De lumine, diaphanis recurs more than ten times along with other words which are associated with the notion of transparency, such as perspicuitas.50 Why would Ficino place such emphasis on the diaphanous nature of light? It seems that the notion of diaphanis assumes several guises throughout the treatise. Occasionally the word is used interchangeably with light. Sometimes diaphanis stands for the medium through which light travels (Chapter 9), other times it is used to designate translucent bodies as opposed to solid masses (chapters 2 and 12). This would coincide with Aristotle’s theory of the diaphanis as a vehicle of visibility,51 a medium which enables light to actualize itself.52 What distinguishes Ficino’s approach is his introduction of diaphanis into Iamblichean photagogia. In Chapter 9 of De lumine, Ficino uses diaphanis as a synonym for the aetherial vehicle of the soul. Invoking the authority of Iamblichus, Ficino proclaims: ‘Jamblique assure à partir de la théologie des Phéniciens, que le véhicule de cette lumière, c’est-à-dire le diaphane, est infusé en toutes choses, même opaques, puisqu’il existe en chaque chose certaines couleurs qui sont des portions de lumière.’53 (‘Iamblichus affirms the theology of the Phoenicians, that the vehicle of this light, which is the diaphanous, is infused with all kinds of things, including those that are opaque, since certain colours which are portions of light can be found in each thing.’) Ficino is referring to the passage in the De Mysteriis where Iamblichus describes the theurgic activity of light collection (photagogia). For Iamblichus, photagogia ‘illuminates the aetherlike and luminous vehicle surrounding the soul with divine light, from which vehicle the divine appearances, set in motion by the gods’ will, take possession of the imaginative power in us’ (DM III.14, 132.9–12). According to Ficino the luminous vehicle is characterized by its transparency. It is interesting to note that the reference to Iamblichus and the vehicle of the soul is in fact a later addition and does not exist in the first version of the text Quid sit lumen. A few pages later, diaphanis also appears in a chapter which is marked by the strong presence of negative theology; it is used to define what light is not. Light is not colour nor the diaphanous, nor is it an image, for an image of celestial realities would absolutely be an image.54 Here we encounter a very curious moment in the Ficinian discourse, an insistence for an image – even if it is a celestial image – to be nothing more than an image; we are told that it is not in the nature of the image to produce new images, imaginative knowledge or substances. Is Ficino implying that images have no generative power? Does Ficino regard the image as a totality enclosed within itself? What about the imagines (talismans) mentioned in De vita coelitùs comparanda, the third book of the De vita? I will return to this point later in this chapter, when I examine the art of image-making in the Sophist commentary. In the meantime, it is important to note that the image is not always assigned an inferior status in Ficino; in a passage describing the various levels of light involved in anagōgē, Ficino depicts the moment of apotheosis as a gradual collection of light until it overflows with luminosity, bringing about a transformation of man into the same image as God, ‘conduits par la face révélée, c’est-à-dire par l’esprit du Seigneur, nous nous transformions graduellement, de clarté en clarté, en la même image.’55 (‘[L]ed by the revealed face, that is, the spirit of the Lord, we gradually transform ourselves from brightness to brightness into the same image.’) Would this imply that a different kind of image exists? For in its status as the ultimate image, the imago dei is an image that is saturated with so much light that it dissolves into pure light and translucency – an image of both emptiness and plenitude. We find ourselves back inside the realm of overexposure. Now that we have a broad idea of the incorporeal nature of light, I would like to draw attention to the motif of glass in De lumine. In addition to the frequent appearance of the word diaphanis, Ficino also refers to glass on several occasions, where light is active in a different kind of way. Celestial rays are diffused down to us as if through layers and layers of glass panes. This is a world consisting of an interplay of textured glass and reflective surfaces. In De lumine, Ficino constructs a cosmology that is composed of various sheets of glass in which the divine rays are filtered through or bounced around like mirrors. Thus, accompanying the devout’s gaze upwards towards God is a projection of light downwards. Following a discussion on the incorporeality of light in a previous chapter, Ficino opens Chapter 7 with an image of joyful abundance: Comme nous voyons que tout reçoit sa perfection, sa vie, son sens, sa certitude, sa grâce et sa joie des rayons stellaires qui descendent vers nous depuis les êtres supra-célestes à travers les astres comme à travers des vitres, il est nécessaire que la lumière constitue pour les esprits supra-célestes la perfection de leur forme, la fecondité de leur vie, la pénétration de leur sens, la très claire certitude de leur très juste entendement, l’abondance de leur grâce, la richesse de leur joie.56 Seeing that all receives its perfection, its life, its meaning, its certainty, its grace and its joy of the stellar rays that descend towards us from the supra-celestial beings across the stars just like the way it travels through the glass panes, light must constitute for the supra-celestial spirits the perfection of their form, the fecundity of their lives, the penetration of their senses, the certitude of their very sound understanding, the abundance of their grace and the richness of their joy.
The perfection of the super-celestial beings would gradually filter down to us through the rays of the stars and the planets. This chain of beings is essential for our understanding of Ficino’s project of photagogia for he will attempt to employ various strategies in De vita to direct and capture this light for the benefit of both our physical and our spiritual well-being. As I have mentioned earlier, the first light is not a light that can be perceived by human eyes – it is completely incorporeal and produces similarly incorporeal images. Since it is not subordinate to any dimension, division or mixture, it is clear that this light cannot derive from any matter, form or corporeal virtue.57 The heading of Chapter 6 is presented as a question: ‘De quelle manière pouvonsnous monter de la lumière visible jusqu’à l’invisible?’58 (‘In what manner can we rise from visible light to the invisible?’) In this chapter, Ficino presents to the reader an incredible scale of luminosities, starting from the sublunary light of shadows, which I assume would be the visible light of this world, to the celestial light of matter, then to the supra-celestial light, before proceeding to the light of reason. Henceforth, from the light of reason, one can then move on to the light of the intellect before reaching the penultimate level: intelligible light.59 Ficino then tells us that depending on our powers, ‘dans la mesure de nos forces’, we may ultimately be able to reach divine light. Here he is probably referring to the ‘fitness’ of the theurgist, which Iamblichus calls epitēdeiotēs (ἐπιτηδειότης) in the De Mysteriis. As I have mentioned earlier, it is at this final stage of henōsis (ἕνωσις) that human can achieve the status of homoiōsis theō, man becoming similar to his Creator. As in the section on Iamblichus and the vehicle of the soul (Chapter 9), Ficino did not include this remarkable echelon of lights in the first version of the text Quid sit lumen. He must have later felt the importance of establishing a detailed hierarchy of lights. Whereas in De Mysteriis, Iamblichus provides his reader with a list of daemons and divine beings that might appear during photophanes, he does not establish a compendium of the different lights involved in photagogia. Thus it is Ficino in his triple role as magus, priest and physician who provides us with ways to sensitize the human soul in order to acquire the ability to recognize and receive this scale of luminosities. In a curious passage in Chapter 13 of De lumine, comparisons are drawn between the soul’s relation to the body and certain effects of light. Ficino’s observation on the traversal of light through an aperture perhaps hints at a rudimentary model of the camera obscura. One should bear in mind that Ficino would have been familiar with the various writings on light such as Euclid’s De Speculis, alKindi’s De aspectibus and Roger Bacon’s experimentations on the transmission of light through apertures and the effect of different mirror surfaces on sunlight.60 However, as he has stated in his preface, he is not aiming to produce a scientific study of light. Thus, accompanying his observation on the passage of light through an aperture is a reflection on the movement of the soul. The discussion also recalls the various techniques of photagogia found in De Mysteriis, such as the projection of light on to a wall with sacred inscriptions. Ficino writes: La lumière répandue dans un vaste espace peut se concentrer pour passer à travers un trou et s’étendre de l’autre côté en rayons obliques, recouvrant alors progressivement sa figure première et ensuite son ampleur jusqu’à ce qu’elle redevienne la même; semblablement, l’âme qui est passée ici-bas de l’ampleur du divin à l’étroitesse du corps et de la passion peut, encore intacte, émigrer de nouveau pour reprendre sa forme et son ampleur primitives.61 Light spread across an expansive space can be condensed through an aperture and will emerge out of the other side as oblique rays, thus recovering progressively its original form and amplitude until it becomes the same again. In a similar way, the soul which comes down here below from divine abundance to the narrowness of the body and the passions, can migrate once again, still intact, to recover its original form and amplitude.
One must note, however, that for the above effect of light to be perceivable, one would presumably require darkened surroundings, such as the inside of a camera chamber. As seen in many instances throughout the text, Ficino once again employs the observable phenomena of light to explain a metaphysical concept – in this case, the consequences of the soul’s embodiment and the process of theurgic ascent. The manner in which light recovers its original luminosity and breadth despite the intervention of the aperture is used to illustrate the soul’s ability to reunite with the divine even after the hindrances of embodiment. One can consider this passage as an allegorical figure marking the difference between photosensitivity and photo-insensitivity. The wall blocking the light presents an obstacle to light while at the same time provides a frame which facilitates photosensitivity to take place, via the aperture.
A solar regime In Liber de sole, Ficino mentions the secret to the maintenance of youthfulness and longevity. He writes:
[T]he ancients always represented Phoebus and Bacchus – who reign more gloriously in the Sun than the others – as youths, and if anyone were to experience the light and heat of the Sun with the sincerity and appropriateness by which they exist there, to take it up for their own use and to accommodate its properties, he would achieve eternal youth, or at least would live to be one hundred and twenty.62
And it is in De vita that he provides the reader with the recipe to such a regime – a solar diet that would enhance one’s photosensitivity. The De vita libri tres or Three Books on Life is a manual that helps scholars to maintain a healthy living, for Ficino believes that intellectuals are prone to the saturnine temperament of melancholy. The work also provides the reader with instructions on the diverse ways in which one can draw down the virtues from the celestial spheres, thus fulfilling the following statement from Liber di sole: ‘and so the virtues of all heavenly things are brought down to the limbs from the Sun via the Moon, to be nurtured through medicines ritually prepared at that particular time’.63 I will therefore suggest that Ficino’s aim in De vita is to provide the reader with a set of instructions on various ways to sensitize oneself to light, thus increasing one’s fitness to receive God. The prescribed medical regime and the use of talismans discussed in the text are methods to intensify one’s photosensitivity in order to obtain a clear image of the divine. As a consequence, there is a shift from the primacy of an ascent to the emphasis of a downward movement – the capturing of light. As the title suggests, the De vita libri tres is composed of three books. Book One, entitled De vita sana (On a Healthy Life), offers advice on everyday life for intellectuals, with prescriptions for certain dietary routines and living habits (best time to rise and sleep, importance of observing one’s bowel movements and so forth). It also discusses common ailments which afflict scholars such as black bile, phlegm and melancholia. However, Ficino also extols the positive aspects of melancholia and white bile, referring to both as signs of intelligence. Book Two, De vita longa (On a Long Life), provides the reader with remedies which help prolong life as well as dietary and living regimes for the elderly. Book Three, De vita coelitùs comparanda (On Obtaining Life from the Heavens), examines the ways in which one can draw down and capture the celestial forces from the heavens in order to benefit the well-being of the intellectual. What Ficino proposes is a form of astrological medicine which seeks to infuse the human soul with the spiritus mundi through the manipulation of matter in the corporeal world. Since the world soul is intrinsically tied to the Divine Ideas, by partaking of this matter in a timely manner, one can maximize its benefits. For the purpose of this chapter, I will direct my attention mainly to the third book of De vita. It is in Book Three that the notion of photosensitivity is brought to its culmination. Book Three (De vita coelitùs comparanda) comprises 26 chapters, out of which Ficino devotes eight chapters to the discussion of imagines or talismans (chapters 12, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20 and 21). Despite Ficino’s reluctance to promote the use of imagines for healing purposes, he does spend eight chapters exploring these objects, which are more often associated with daemonic magic than things used by a Christian priest, while stressing in the Apologia that it is natural magic he is interested in.64 There is a strong sense of anxiety bubbling under the surface of the discourse; it seems that Ficino is carefully negotiating his way through the discussions on the uses of talismans for therapeutic purposes. These eight chapters are characterized by the frequent appearance of the word ‘they’, undoubtedly Ficino’s strategy as a writer to distance himself from any possible accusations of idolatry and heresy. To convey his thoughts on talismans he would constantly seek recourse upon the authority of the others; ‘they’ including Plotinus, Iamblichus, Synesius, the astrologers, the Arabs and the Ancients. This is made evident in the heading of Chapter 15, which reads: ‘On the Power Which, according to the Ancients, Both Images and Medicines Possess; and on the Factors Which Make Medicines Far More Powerful Than Images’. After discussing the various types of talismanic figures and their corresponding planetary conjunctions, Ficino quickly refutes his own statement by asserting that medicine is more reliable than imagines. For Ficino, talismans demonstrate the ability of materials to draw down the forces of the heavens. There have been numerous discussions on the sources of Ficino’s talismanic magic; scholars have identified influences from works such as the Picatrix (Ghâyat Al-Hakîm), Corpus Hermeticum, Speculum astronomiae, De Sacrificiis et Magia, Vita Pythagorae and De Mysterii.65 Walker points out two texts that have influenced Ficino’s conception of the symbiotic relation between the spiritus and the celestial forces: the Asclepius and Plotinus’s Ennead IV.3.11.66 In his Apologia, Ficino even claims that Book Three is a reading of Plotinus’s views on magic and images. I would like to draw attention to a crucial difference between Ficino’s use of magic and the kind of magic presented in the Picatrix. If one compares Ficino’s talismans to those described in the Picatrix, one will find that they differ in terms of their designatory effects. The Picatrix provides detailed descriptions of various planetary figures that can be inscribed on to minerals or metals. However, unlike the imagines that are presented in the De vita, many of the talismans discussed in the text are not destined for medicinal purposes but for the fulfilment of certain intentions such as procuring love, removing flies, warding off snakes, stopping rain and arousing fear. These talismans also differ from the ones that Ficino examines because they do not need to be worn
but are sometimes buried, as in the talisman for obtaining the love of a woman described in Book III, 10.8. Both works are similar in the sense that they are propelled by an understanding of the planetary influences in the corporeal world; in the Picatrix, one even finds a discussion on the importance of maintaining a vertical alignment between a planet and the material when making a talisman, in order to best capture the stellar rays emanating from the planet, since an oblique angle between the object and the stars would result in a weak and diminished talisman.67 Brian P. Copenhaver notes the differences between Ficino and his predecessors such as Galen, Avicenna, Thomas Aquinas and Albertus Magnus in his conception of astral medicine and, specifically, in his use of talismanic magic. Ficino’s originality lies in his regarding stones and minerals as ‘somehow alive, in stressing the magic medium of spiritus in his account of their operations, and in emphasizing the ideas of imitation and similitude in describing the activity of images carved on stones’.68 I will take Copenhaver’s remark further and point out that, most important of all, it is the presence of a chemical photosensitivity that marks Ficino’s innovation and distinguishes him from his predecessors. This is reflected in a passage which can be found in Chapter 18 of De vita coelitùs comparanda. Throughout this chapter, there is a strong sense that Ficino is proceeding with caution, as he discusses the various talismanic figures and the corresponding cures that they provide. To deflect any possible accusations of idolatry or heresy, he positions himself as merely recapitulating what ‘others’ have said, ‘others’ here implying the Ancients. Towards the end of the chapter, having declared that medicines are more trustworthy than talismans, he adds: For it is probably that, if images have any power, they do not so much acquire it just at the moment of receiving a figure as possess it through a material naturally so disposed; but if an image eventually acquired something when it was engraved, it obtained it not so much through the figure as through the heating produced by hammering. This hammering and heating, if it happens under a harmony similar to that celestial harmony which had once infused power into the material, activates this power and strengthens it as blowing strengthens a flame and makes manifest what was latent before, as the heat of a fire brings to visibility letters previously hidden which were written with the juice of an onion; and as letters written with the fat of a goat on a stone, absolutely unseen, if the stone is submerged in vinegar, emerge and stick out as if they were sculptured.69
As we can see, the notion of a chemical photosensitivity is brought to the forefront in this passage. It is not the picture itself which contains the active power but the heat induced by friction from the carving of the image, unleashing the celestial powers previously captured in the material. Timing appears to be crucial as well, since the execution has to take place under the right conditions, one of ‘celestial harmony’, presumably under the various planetary conjunctions discussed earlier in the chapter. What is amazing in this passage is the comparison that Ficino makes between the latent properties of the stone or mineral and the practice of steganography – here one finds two different types of invisible ink, one made from onion juice and the other from animal fat! The hidden force contained in the stone awaits to be released by the strikes of the hammer just as the letters written in onion juice and goat’s fat require to be deciphered and developed through heat or acetic acid. This is another instance in which one notes that the active vitality of the celestial powers is transmitted through the medium of heat, the vehicle of photosensitivity. Thus I would like to suggest that there are several forces in action with regard to the talisman, the first being the active potency of the raw material which is released through the carving of the figure. Hence the talisman is able to carry out its effect ‘by reason of the material selected’ (electae ratione materiae),70 precipitated by the triggering of a chemical reaction, rather than through the pictorial representation carved on to its surface. The material itself would have already possessed certain celestial properties.71 Second, the talisman produces certain desired effects upon its wearer. As Ficino remarks, although he questions the talisman’s efficiency in overcoming distance, he does believe that the talisman may possess some power when it is worn, in contact with the skin, bringing about therapeutic cures upon its wearer. The purpose, then, is to use the talisman as a means to activate the celestial forces along with other ‘baits’ such as odours, fumigation, foods, music and prayers, thus obtaining the benefits of divine power through the medium of spiritus.72 Photosensitivity operates on several levels. The talisman is only one way of conditioning the human body and soul towards an increase in photosensitivity; it is not the only means to draw down the divine forces. The energy from light can be collected through various methods – sunbathing being the most direct. Ficino suggests exercising in the open air under the sunlight; thus the rays of the sun are absorbed straight into the pores of the skin. Other proposed methods rely on the principle of simili similibus: through the direct ingestion of light-like substances, wearing gold ornamentation, being in the company of men of solar nature and wearing talismans. In Book One of De vita, Ficino prescribes a pill ‘which can be called golden or magical, composed partly in imitation of the Magi’, which will ‘sharpen and illuminate the spirits’. Thus, internally as well as externally, one is encouraged to increase one’s intake of sunlight. These pills ‘expand the spirits so that they may not, being contracted,
engender sadness, but may rejoice in their expansion and light’.73 All of these strategies aim to acclimatize the body towards photosensitivity so that the humours can be infused with light. The key is to recognize the importance of spiritus as a link between the incorporeal and the corporeal, heaven and earth, soul and body. After all, in the Liber de sole, Ficino refers to spiritus as light.74 The opening of Chapter 14 in De vita coelitùs comparanda summarizes Ficino’s conception of astral medicine: ‘I have said elsewhere that down from every single star (to speak Platonically) there hangs its own series of things down to the lowest.’75 This chain of astral influences facilitates the drawing down of beneficial essences. As Ficino explains: If, therefore, as I said, you combine at the right time all the Solar things through any level of that order, i.e., men of Solar nature or something belonging to such a man, likewise animals, plants, metals, gems … you will drink in unconditionally the power of the Sun and to some extent the natural power of the Solar daemons.76
Thus the intensification of one’s photosensitivity demands not only the use of appropriate materials but also the observance of correct timing. What is curious about this passage is the merging of the solar daemons with the sun; Ficino is implying that the absorption of sunlight and the forces of the sun would also include the capturing of daemonic powers. He then continues the chapter by listing things that are considered solar – plants that are heliotropic, minerals such as a luminescent stone called ‘eye of the sun’ due to its resemblance to the eye, certain animals, gems, spices and metals. Under the appropriate conditions, all of these things would, if concocted into ointments or syrup and ingested, make the spirit solar. What Ficino suggests is, in fact, a complete immersion in a solar environment: the consumption of pills and potions should be accompanied externally by the wearing of solar costumes, as well as internally, by the devotion of one’s thoughts to solar things. One of the scenarios of photosensitivity which appears twice in De vita coelitùs is the figure of the burning mirror. The mirror can be seen as exemplifying an extreme case of photosensitivity, even bordering upon photo-insensitivity since light is not absorbed by the smooth surface of the mirror but bounces off it. The mirror is presented favourably in an earlier instance; it is used as an example to demonstrate the power of the heavenly rays which is capable of instantaneously creating a fire, burning any object that is placed opposite the mirror. The mirror’s concave surface, which Ficino describes as ‘shaped like the heavens’,77 enables it to capture, gather the rays and henceforth propel the divine force outwards, facilitating its propagation. As Ficino has shown, the mirror’s power to attract celestial rays is due to its similarity to the heavens; thus, once again, one sees sympathetic magic at work. However, in Chapter 20, Ficino offers a sinister scenario to the reader by comparing the detrimental power of the talisman to the harmful effects of light rays absorbed by a concave mirror and projected outwards: Moreover, they say that images fashioned and directed for the ruin of some other person have the power of a bronze and concave mirror aimed directly at him, so that by collecting rays and reflecting them back, at close range they completely incinerate him, and even at long range they make him blind.78
Ficino proceeds to state that he does not understand how imagines could exert such power over long distances; if a talisman has any effect on the wearer it is due to the material and not the figure on it. What we have here, then, is an example of how photosensitivity taken to the extreme can cause destruction – in this case the risk of inflammability and blindness. Thus, for Ficino, medicine is far more preferable than talismans. His astral medicine would offer a safer approach to predisposing the human body to light. In Chapter 16 of Book Three, one finds a passage which focuses on the power of the celestial rays, slightly echoing the discussion of light passing through the various materials (the movements of occlusion as opposed to infiltration) in De lumine. Ficino elaborates on the actions of the celestial ray, telling his reader that it is more powerful than a ray of fire. In addition to the following observable characteristics of fire, which Ficino tells us are ‘well known to our senses’, ‘to illuminate, warm, dry, penetrate, rarefy, melt’, the celestial ray contains ‘much more and more wonderful powers and effects’.79 Ficino also stresses the immediacy with which images are imprinted by the divine forces, after exposure to the heavenly rays of light. The key, of course, is to understand how to draw down the light: Finally, diverse powers come into being in the combinations of rays with each other of one sort or another, here and there … they arise right away much more and faster than in such and such mixtures of elements and elemental qualities, much faster even than in tones and rhythms in music combining in this way or in that. If you would diligently consider these things, perhaps you will not doubt, they will say, but that instantly with an emission of rays forces are imprinted in images, and divers forces from a different emission.80
It is curious that this passage seems to foreshadow the arrival of photography. In order to capture these instantaneous rays of light, one must increase one’s photosensitivity to a maximum in order to be
imprinted by the celestial force. A fast camera may be necessary to seize these moving lights from all directions. Perhaps the ultimate goal in Ficino’s project would be the transformation of the human soul into a photographic camera. Liber de sole ends with the image of Socrates standing transfixed by the daily rising of the sun. According to Ficino, Socrates is gazing at two suns, the visible one as well as the hidden super-celestial sun. Although he is contemplating the visible sun, Socrates is in fact looking beyond the sensible world, at the primordial light that resides in the intelligible realm. In Ficino’s words, Socrates is ‘motionless, his eyes fixed like a statue, to greet the return of the heavenly body’.81 It is almost a photograph.
Coda Il faudrait donc méditer cette invasion de la photographie dans l’histoire de la ville. Mutation absolue, mais preparée depuis le fond des âges (phusis, phôs, phantasma, êlios, technê, epistêmê, philosophia). We would thus have to meditate upon this invasion of photography into the history of the city. An absolute mutation, though one prepared from time immemorial (physis, phōs, phantasma hēlios, tekhnē, epistēmē, philosophia). Derrida, ‘Demeure, Athènes’ This book begins and ends with the Greek word chalepos. As I have discussed in the Introduction, the writing of the history of photography is chalepos – difficult, troublesome and dangerous. The writing of this coda can equally be described as chalepos. The nature of the project is such that to present the reader with a straightforward and totalizing conclusion would not only be an impossible feat, but would also overlook the mutabilities of a subject matter which touches upon the transcendental and the divine, while neglecting the inadequacy of language to address that which is ineffable (hyperousia). In my attempts to uncover the presence of the photographic before the event of photography, through the reconstruction of the photagogic in Western thought, I have shown how photography can be found right at the roots of Western metaphysics, in the writings of Plato and in Neoplatonic discourses on magic and mysticism. These instances of the photographic should not be considered metaphors but rather intimations of photography. I would therefore like to evoke a triad of images – each image in its own way suggestive of the traces (ἴχνη) of photography within the history of Western philosophy.1 By ‘traces’ I do not mean remnants or vestiges, but rather like the traces (ἴχνη) of fire, air, earth and water inside the chora, not yet formed but hinted at, they are ‘faint traces of themselves’ (Timaeus 53b), as Timaeus tells us, before they come into being. As I have mentioned above, to end this book with a single snapshot which encompasses the ways in which photography is implicated in Platonic and Neoplatonic discourses would not only be highly reductive; it would also negate the project itself. The first image that I would like to present draws from Derrida’s essay ‘Demeure Athènes’. Composed of a series of aphorisms, the essay accompanies a collection of thirty-four black and white photographs of Athens taken by Jean-François Bonhomme. The imminence of death, its inevitability and its momentary suspensions are considered photographic by Derrida. These aspects of death weave through ‘Demeure Athènes’, intertwined with his musings on the history of Athens, its bright sunlight, Plato and Socrates. In Bonhomme’s photographs, there are ruins and tombstones, people in cafés and shopfronts, objects sold in markets, as well as the figure of a photographer who falls asleep under the scorching Athenian sun.2 From the far horizon of the Aegean sea, a galley appears. The vessel, with its stern adorned by the priest of Apollo, is returning from its annual pilgrimage to Delos, a voyage that commemorates Theseus’s excursion to Crete with 14 young men and women. At that precise moment, when the luminous sails of the ship come into view from the shores of Athens, the shutter is released, the shot is fired, and Socrates will die. Derrida writes: Je pense à la mort de Socrate, au Phédon, au Criton. À l’incroyable sursis qui en retarda l’échéance, tant de jours après le jugement. On attendait des voiles, et leur apparition, au loin dans la lumière, à un instant précis, unique, inévitable, fatal comme un déclic.’ (‘I am thinking of the death of Socrates, of the Phaedo and the Crito. Of the incredible reprieve that delayed the date of execution for so many days after the judgement. They awaited the sails, their appearance off in the distance, in the light, at a precise, unique, and inevitable moment – fatal like a click.’)3
For Derrida, the appearance of the sails on the ocean, which signals and triggers the death of Socrates, is photography. Luminescent under the bright Mediterranean light, the sails resemble giant reflectors, which shine and send forth flashes in the billowing wind. Once in a while, when the white squares catch the sunlight at the right angle, a burst of radiance almost sets the tranquil surface of the sea ablaze. Socrates is condemned to die. There is a period of ‘suspension’, a delaying of his execution by poison. For nearly a month, Socrates awaits death in his prison cell. In Athens, these few weeks of reprieve are unusual; Socrates’ trial happened to coincide with the annual pilgrimage to Delos and as a tribute to Apollo, the law decreed that ‘as soon as this mission begins the city must be kept pure, and no public executions may take place until the ship has reached Delos and returned again, which sometimes takes a long time, if the winds happen to hold it back’. Phaedo explains, ‘That is why Socrates spent such a long time in prison between his trial and execution’ (Phaedo 58b–c). The vision of sails on the Aegean Sea is marked by an excess of light. This spectacle, dazzling in its
superabundance of reflective surfaces, functions as the harbinger of death. I would like to evoke another spectacle which may serve as a counterpoint to the above scenario. Contrary to the open horizon of the Aegean Sea, this second scenario unfolds in a setting which is twice enshrouded in darkness. It is here that the dream of photography lies awaiting to be uncovered, inside a subterranean vault within the closed space of the underground chamber in Hermes’ dream. Hermes says: When I wished to bring to light the science of the mystery and modality of Creation, I came upon a subterranean vault filled with darkness and winds. I saw nothing because of the darkness, nor could I keep alight because of the violence of the winds. Lo and behold, a person then appeared to me in my sleep in a form of the greatest beauty. He said to me, ‘Take a lamp and place it under a glass to shield it from the winds; then it will give thee light in spite of them. Then go into the underground chamber; dig in its center and from there bring forth a certain God-made image, designed according to the rules of Art. As soon as you have drawn out this image, the winds will cease to blow through the underground chamber. Then dig in its four corners and you will bring to light the knowledge of the mysteries of Creation, the causes of Nature, the origins and modalities of things.’ At that I said, ‘Who then art thou?’ He answered, ‘I am thy Perfect Nature. If thou wishest to see me, call me by my name.’4
What kind of image is uncovered by Hermes? What is a ‘certain God-made image’? In another version of the text, which Henry Corbin notes is almost identical to the above passage from the Ghâyat-alHakîm, it is not Hermes but the man of light, otherwise known as Phōs, who is asked to unearth the image by his Perfect Nature. In this text which Corbin attributes to Apollonius of Tyana, Perfect Nature asks Phōs to dig up the buried Image, the ‘primordial revelation of the Absconditum’, which will ‘bring light into this Night.’5 Is this a photographic image of the absolute? Inundated with light, is this the vision of overexposure, taken at the apotheosis of theurgical ascent? When Philotheos use the word phôteinographeisthai (φωτεινογραφεἱσθαι), could this be the image which is photographed on to one’s soul when one comes face to face with the Divine? Or is it the impossible image of the Good? As in a dream, I conflate the two visions – the setting sail of the ship and the image buried deep within the dark chamber of dreams. The subterranean space where the figure of Perfect Nature appears to Hermes recalls the underground caves of incubation, beneath the temples of Apollo and the shrines to Asclepius, where the patient lies still, awaiting the arrival of the gods in his dream bearing a cure or a remedy (pharmakon) for his affliction. Socrates too, dreamed. In fact he had several dreams.6 He did not need to see the sails to know the moment of his imminent death by pharmakon. He has already been informed by a dream, a dream-vision (enupnion) of a beautiful woman dressed in white who tells him that he will be arriving in the land of Phtia on the third day. A dream of arrival and not of departure, notes Derrida, and a dream in black and white.7 Based on a ‘savoir venu d’un voir, le voir d’une vision (ἐνύπνιον) venue le visiter’ (‘knowledge based on a seeing, the seeing of a vision come to visit him’),8 Socrates tells Crito that the galley will arrive not on ‘this day that is just beginning, but on the day after’ (Crito 44a). And it is at this moment that Derrida wishes to photograph the philosopher who is about to die, ‘C’est dans le moment de cette présomption que je rêvais de le photographier, quand Socrate parle et prétend avoir prévu l’instant de sa mort.’ (‘It is right at this moment of presumption that I dreamed of photographing him, photographing Socrates as he speaks and claims to have foreseen the instant of his death.’)9 On the day of his execution, Socrates tells Phaedo and the others about a recurring dream that he has throughout his life. It may differ in appearance but it always requests the same thing from him, asking him to ‘make music and work at it’ (Phaedo 60e).10 Socrates says that he has already been putting this into practice, since ‘philosophy was the greatest kind of music’ (Phaedo 61). The dream of music is the dream of philosophy, and somewhere amid all of this resides the dream of photography. Standing on the promontory of Cape Sounion, under the scorching summer sun, Derrida wishes to photograph Socrates. He writes: ‘J’aurais donc photographié Socrates attendant la mort …’ (‘I would thus have photographed Socrates awaiting death …’).11 Derrida is standing at the same site where the sails first came into view, the sails which announced the death of Socrates. The cape, its immutability and its silence, is compared to a photograph. He is astonished by this observation, this photographic presence where the past collides with the present under the brightness of the Athenian sun, for ‘[a]ll of this belongs to the luminous memory of Athens, to its phenomenal archive …’(‘tout cela appartient à la mémoire lumineuse d’Athènes, à son archive phénomenale …’).12 This image that Derrida imagines, ‘j’imaginai une photographie, je la vis’ (‘I imagined a photograph, I saw it’),13 – the photograph of Socrates awaiting his death – is delayed by a few thousand years. An image suspended in the photagogic memory of Athens, it waits to be made manifest, to be released by the trigger, by what Derrida calls the dispositif-retard or the déclenchement-retard. In the word dispositif-retard, what lies between dispositif and retard? Is it dispostif à retard, dispositif en retard, or dispositif de retard?14 For the dispositif-retard, which appears so frequently throughout the text, is no ordinary self-timing device, but one which is delayed; one would have to wait an eternity (αἰών) for the shot to be fired. Perhaps it is only in the time of the dream that the photograph of Socrates can be taken, for Derrida dreams of dreaming the same dream as Socrates: ‘Mon rêve télésympathisait avec son propre rêve. Il s’entendait
avec ce qu’il en dit ici ou là.’ (‘My own dream telesympathized with his. It was in accord with what he says about it.’)15 What is the nature of this dream? Is it the dream of photography? There is a millennial dream of photography which is parasitic on the dream of philosophy. As in all dreams, the two dreams conflate and intertwine with each other. Which one is the receptacle (hupodochē) that holds the other? Or do both vessels merge into one? As we have seen, the wonderment of photagogia and photographia, both inherent in Neoplatonic thought, survives and continues in photography as practice. This ancient dream slipped into the past and is displaced by another dream which emerged with the invention of the daguerreotype, announcing the beginning of the technological epoch of photography. With the invasion of digital technologies, are we witnessing the emergence of yet another dream, which is striated and punctuated by the dominating pulsations of exaiphnês, as the dream of photographia fades away? The tension between constant illumination and instantaneous bursts of light continues throughout the long history of photography. Light is the driving force behind this book, as I examined the various transfigurations of photagogia, from the continuous drawing down of light and the ways in which photography is inscribed within this movement, to the abrupt, interrupted flashes of light (εξαίφνης) reflected off the sails on the Aegean Sea, their appearance announcing the imminent execution of Socrates. Εξαίφνης also exemplifies the only way in which the Platonic Good can be perceived without leading to blindness.16 The vision of the Good, revealed through an instantaneous glimpse, is made possible during that brief interval (εξαίφνης) when the camera shutter is left open. These instances in which one is granted a glimpse of the absolute can be considered photographic, as Philotheos and Iamblichus have shown us – yet at the same time, the encounter with the divine results in an impossible image. An image of overexposure, inundated with so much light, it verges into emptiness. Does it coincide with the notion of sūnyatā (emptiness) in Buddhist thought? While researching this book, time and again I seem to return to the manifestation of the divine as an excess of light – a photophania which veers towards an effacement of the self in the moment of hēnosis. Does ‘Demeure Athènes’ mark the end of analogue photography? Perhaps we can view the two models of photagogia – the continual drawing down of light and the sudden burst of light – as exemplifying the differences between continuity and interruption, analogue and digital. With digital photography, light does not make an impression on a photosensitive emulsion; instead it is picked up by sensors which scan the space within the zone of capture of the lens, received no longer into a chamber but into an interface determined by algorithms.17 From the enclosed chamber of Hermes’s dream, I arrive at the land of Potidaea, where I see Socrates drawing down the light of the sun in a kind of heliotropic rapture. He stands (στήκει) immobile, one summer day – still, as if photographed.18 As evening approaches, soldiers arrive and prepare their mattresses and blankets. Since it is a hot summer’s night, these soldiers have brought out their bedding to sleep outdoors after supper and to witness the astonishing sight of a man who has been standing motionless since dawn and who would remain stationary for the entire duration of the night until the next sunrise. There are soldiers lying on the ground. Some are asleep, others are watching the solitary figure who stands transfixed, deep in contemplation. They have already heard of his bravery in previous battles and of his uncommon fortitude in the harsh winter, walking on the snow barefoot, clad merely in ‘the same old coat he’d always worn’ (Symposium 220b). News spread quickly among the troops. According to Alcibiades, who served alongside Socrates in the military, ‘Time went on, and by about midday the troops noticed what was happening, and naturally they were rather surprised and began telling each other how Socrates had been standing there thinking ever since daybreak’ (Symposium 220c–d). When the sun again appears on the horizon, Socrates makes a prayer to the sun and then walks away. During those 24 hours of stillness, standing rooted to the ground, frozen as if in a picture, did Socrates dream of photography? Did he contemplate upon the sun ‘in and by itself in its own place’ (auton kath’auton en tèi autou chorai) (Republic 516b)?
Notes Introduction 1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10
21 22 23
Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, trans. Richard Howard (New York: Hill and Wang, 1981), 3. See ‘The Art Seminar’, Photography Theory, ed. James Elkins (New York: Routledge, 2007), 129–203. Sabine T. Kriebel, ‘Theories of Photography: A Short History’, Photography Theory, 4–5. John Tagg, The Burden of Representation: Essays on Photographies and Histories (London: The Macmillan Press, 1988), 63. Mary Price, The Photograph: A Strange, Confined Space (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1994), 2. As Krauss remarks: ‘Joel Snyder and I have been arguing about matters connected to the index for at least ten years now; his resistance related to a form of analysis that would deprive photography of its aesthetic possibilities of control over composition and internalized meaning.’ Krauss, ‘Notes on the Obtuse’, Photography Theory, 341. See also Rosalind Krauss, ‘Introductory Note’, 125–7, and Snyder ‘Pointless’, 369–85, in the same volume. See Joel Snyder, ‘Picturing Vision’, Critical Inquiry 6.3 (1980): 514. Barthes, Camera Lucida, 88. Tagg, The Burden of Representation, 3. Batchen, Burning with Desire, 21. The earliest two inventions that he notes both date from 1794 by Lord Henry Brougham and Elizabeth Fulhame. The latter’s experiments included coating cloth with silver and other metals under light. Batchen, Burning with Desire, 50. Batchen draws frequently upon Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault in his enquiry into the set of discourses which produced the desire for photography. Derrida’s work enables him to establish a ‘photogrammatology’, using the metaphor of writing (photography as light-writing) as a basis for his discussion on photography. Derrida’s concept of différance lies in the centre of Batchen’s project. Différance allows Batchen to question the assumption that there is a singular, uniform and fixed origin that is located at the heart of the invention of photography. See Batchen, Burning with Desire, Chapter 5. Batchen, Burning with Desire, 183. His discussion of the 1800s as a crucial moment in the history of photography finds resonance in Jonathan Crary’s argument in the Techniques of the Observer that the 1800s marked the birth of a different kind of observer who required new kinds of technologies. Batchen, Burning with Desire, 6. See John Sallis, The Verge of Philosophy (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2008), 31. For the importance of χαλεπόν in the Timaeus, see Sallis, Chorology: On Beginning in Plato’s Timaeus (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1999). Ιn the Timaeus, the word ‘χαλεπόν’ is used to describe the chora and can be defined as dangerous, difficult, cruel, harsh and troublesome. The exception is a recently published monograph by Kathrin Yacavone on Barthes and Benjamin. Yacavone discusses magic in relation to the photograph’s ability to serve as a conduit between the present and the past. She describes Barthes’s Winter Garden picture as ‘the magical photographic encounter with the irreducible singularity of the other’. See Kathrin Yacavone, Benjamin, Barthes and the Singularity of Photography (New York: Continuum, 2012), 181. Barthes, Camera Lucida, 88. Walter Benjamin, ‘Little History of Photography’, Walter Benjamin: Selected Writings, trans. Rodney Livingstone and others, ed. Michael W. Jennings, Howard Eiland and Gary Smith, vol. 2 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005), 510. The passage from the Corpus Hermeticum I (Poimandres) and Fragment 9 of Parmenides’s poem are mentioned by Bogoljub Sijakovic in his essay, ‘Le faisceau de problèmes de la métaphysique de la lumière’, in relation to what he describes as an ‘onto-photo-phania’, the knowledge of being through light. See B. Sijakovic, ‘Le faisceau de problèmes de la métaphysique de la lumière’, Amicus Hermes (Podgorica: Oktoih, 1996), 66–7. In his essay, Sijakovic examines light as a vehicle for the transmission of that which is ineffable and proposes a nomenclature of light, providing the reader with a list of terminology related to light and the divine, alluding to the writings of PseudoDionysius the Areopagite, St Augustine, Heraclitus, Plato, Plotinus and others. I borrow the terms photophania and agathophania from Sijakovic. See B. Sijakovic, ‘Le faisceau de problèmes’, 67 and 86. Jacques Derrida, ‘Demeure, Athènes’, Athènes à l’Ombre de l’Acropole (Athens: Edition Olkos, 1996), 63 (Derrida, Athens, Still Remains: The Photographs of Jean François Bonhomme), trans. Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas (New York: Fordham University Press, 2010), 65. For a discussion of the significance of beginnings in Plato’s dialogues, see John Sallis, The Verge of Philosophy, Chapter 1. Sallis, Double Truth (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1995), 2. I am indebted to Gregory Shaw’s discussion of chorein in footnote 31 of his essay, ‘Containing Ecstasy: The Strategies of Iamblichean Theurgy’, Dionysius 21 (2003): 59.
Chapter 1: Plato’s Allegorical Camera-cave 1
Plato’s allegory of the cave is often described as an early version of cinema. In his translation of The Republic of Plato, Francis Macdonald Cornford suggests that ‘A modern Plato would compare his Cave to an underground
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13 14 15
17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42
cinema, where the audience watch the play of shadows thrown by the film passing before a light at their backs.’ See Plato, The Republic of Plato, trans. Francis Macdonald Cornford (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1941), 223, n. 1. In Picture Theory, W. J. T. Mitchell writes: ‘Discursive hypericons such as the camera obscura, the tabula rasa, and the Platonic cave epitomize the tendency of the technologies of visual representation to acquire a figurative centrality in theories of the self and its knowledges – of objects, of others, and of itself. They are not merely epistemological models, but ethical, political, and aesthetic “assemblages” that allow us to observe observers. In their strongest forms, they don’t merely serve as illustrations to theory; they picture theory.’ See W. J. T. Mitchell, Picture Theory (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994), 49. The Republic of Plato, 222. Plato, Republic, trans. Robin Waterfield (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), 240. Plato, The Plato Reader, ed. and trans. T. D. J. Chappell (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1996), 230. Plato, The Republic, trans. Desmond Lee (London: Penguin Books, 1987), 317. The Republic of Plato, 222. The Plato Reader, 231. The Republic of Plato, 225. Plato, Plato in Twelve Volumes, Vols 5 and 6, trans. Paul Shorey (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1969) http://www.perseus.tufts.edu (last accessed 25 June 2016). ‘L’allégorie de la caverne’, trans. Bernard Suzanne, http:// plato-dialogues.org/fr/tetra_4/republic/caverne.htm (last accessed 20 December 2011) See footnote 5. As Bernard Suzanne points out, what Socrates wants us to picture, when he asks us to imagine the cave, is already an image. Suzanne suggests that Plato is deliberately leaving a lot of details out of the picture because the transition from image to reality can only be achieved by the efforts of the pupil, for the words of the teacher are also an image. Representation is integral to the acquirement of knowledge. Sallis, Being and Logos: Reading the Platonic Dialogues, 3rd edn (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1996), 319. The Republic of Plato, 223. Waterfield’s translation reads: ‘This is a strange picture you’re painting, he said, with strange prisoners.’ H. D. P. Lee translates the phrase as ‘An odd picture and an odd sort of prisoner.’ Chapell translates it as: ‘What a bizarre picture! said Glaucon. And what bizarre prisoners!’ And in Shorey’s translation, we find the following: ‘A strange image you speak of, he said, and strange prisoners.’ The Plato Reader, 233. The Republic of Plato, 225. Plato, Sophist, trans. Francis Macdonald Cornford, in The Collected Dialogues: Including the Letters, ed. Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1982), Bollingen Series LXXI, lines 234b–d, 977. Georges Didi-Huberman, ‘Celui qui inventa le verbe “photographier”’, Phasmes: Essais sur l’Apparition (Paris: Les Editions de Minuit, 1998), 56. The French text is as follows: ‘[C]omme celle d’une jouissance infinie de l’image sans forme: cette pure intensité tactile qu’est la lumière en flots sur notre visage offert – notre visage vu par elle comme par une mère qui nous enfante.’ ([L]ike that of an infinite ecstasy of the formless image; the pure tactile intensity of the flooding light on our exposed face – our face seen by the light as by a mother who nurses her infant.) See Chapter 5, ‘Photographing the Divine: Philotheos of Batos’. Henry Corbin, The Man of Light in Iranian Sufism, trans. Nancy Pearson (New York: Omega Publications, 1994), 6. Corbin, The Man of Light, 116. Corbin, The Man of Light, 112. Corbin, The Man of Light, 2, 44–5. Peter Kingsley, In the Dark Places of Wisdom (London: Gerald Duckworth & Co. Ltd, 2001), 78–9. Kingsley, In the Dark Places, 111. Kingsley, In the Dark Places, 78–9. Georg Luck, Arcana Mundi: Magic and the Occult in the Greek and Roman Worlds – A Collection of Ancient Texts (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006), 185–6, 287. Georg Luck, Arcana Mundi, 186–8. Kingsley, In the Dark Places, 68. On the sun god Apollo and his link with the underworld, see the chapter entitled ‘Apollo’, in Kingsley, In the Dark Places, 87–92. For a detailed explanation of the Line simile and noesis as philosophical thinking, see R. C. Cross and D. Woozley, Plato’s Republic: A Philosophical Commentary (London: Macmillan and Co. Ltd, 1970), 203–30. In the Sophist Plato writes: ‘There are, indeed these two products of divine workmanship – the original and the image that in every case accompanies it’ (266c). Sallis, Being, 439. Sallis, Being, 426. Sallis, Being, 426. Sallis, Being, 424. Sallis, Being, 440. Sallis, Verge, 27. Sallis, Verge, 27. Sallis, Being, 439. Sallis, Being, 432. Sallis, Being, 439. Sallis, Being, 438. Sallis, Verge, 26. Sallis, Verge, 26. Proclus was the head of Plato’s Academy and author of The Elements of Theology and The Platonic Theology. Known for his works on theurgy, mathematics and astronomy, he wrote commentaries on several of Plato’s works including the Timaeus, Parmenides and the Republic. Although Proclus was a pagan thinker, his teachings influenced subsequent generations of Christian and Islamic philosophers.
43 Proclus, Commentaire sur la République, trans. J Festugière, vol. 2 (Paris: Libraire Philosophique J. Vrin, 1970), 98. This is the French translation of the original text in Greek. The translations from French into English are my own. 44 Proclus, 98. 45 Proclus, Commentaire, vol. II, 98. The passage is ambiguous: ‘car ce sont des copies de corps et de figures, et elles ont très étroite affinité avec les objets à partir desquels elles se projettent, comme le montrent tous les exploits que les arts des magiciens se font fort de réaliser eu égard et aux fantômes et aux ombres’ (‘for these are the copies of bodies and figures, and they have very close affinity to the objects from which they are projected, as demonstrated by all the feats that magicians feel capable of achieving through their arts, in view of ghosts and shadows’). The verb ‘réaliser’ can be translated as ‘to realize’, ‘to bring into being’ or ‘to achieve’, and in this context, it is difficult to determine the exact activities of the magicians. Are they recreating spectacles of phantoms and shadows using various materials and devices, conjuring spirits from the dead using incantations and spells, or practising the kind of natural magic used by Agrippa, Dee and Ficino? 46 We find a similar anecdote in The Golden Bough by James Frazer. In a chapter entitled ‘The Perils of the Soul’, Frazer writes: ‘The ancients believed that in Arabia, if a hyaena trod on a man’s shadow, it deprived him of the power of speech and motion; and that if a dog, standing on a roof in the moonlight, cast a shadow on the ground and a hyaena trod on it, the dog would fall down as if dragged with a rope. Clearly in these cases the shadow, if not equivalent to the soul, is at least regarded as a living part of the man or the animal, so that injury done to the shadow is felt by the person or animal as if it were done to his body.’ See J. G. Frazer, The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion, 2nd edn, vol. 1 (London: Macmillan and Co.), 287. 47 Proclus, Commentaire, 98. 48 ‘Après cela, Platon dit que le prisonnier voit désormais, durant la nuit, le ciel lui-même tout entier et les astres, qui sont des copies des Intelligibles, et les feux qui brillent dans les astres, en tant qu’ils sont tous de la nature du soleil, pour que nous prenions une idée aussi de leur être propre et de leur perfections divines. Car, de même que ces astres sont de la nature du soleil à cause de la lumière issue du soleil, de même les Intelligibles sont tous divins à cause de la lumière issue du Bien.’ (After this, Plato says that from now on, the prisoner will see in the night, the sky itself in its entirety and the stars, which are copies of the Forms, and the fire that burns in the stars, as they are all solar in nature, so that we can have an idea of their own being as well as their divine perfections. For just as those stars are solar in nature because of the light arising from the sun, in the same way, the Forms are all divine because of the light originating from the Good.) Proclus, Commentaire, 102–3. 49 Proclus, Commentaire, 84. 50 The word that Proclus uses here is ‘ύπερούσιου’. See Proclus, footnote 4, Commentaire 86. It is translated as surexistentiel in French. 51 This text is also known as On the Hieratic Art or On the Sacred Art. Proclus’s treatise was translated into Latin by Marsilio Ficino in 1489 as Proculi Opusculum De Sacrificio Interprete Marsilio Ficino Florentino. 52 Brian Cophenhaver, ‘Hermes Trismegistus, Proclus, and the Question of a Philosophy of Magic in the Renaissance’ in Hermeticism and the Renaissance: Intellectual History and the Occult in Early Modern Europe, ed. A. Debus and I. Mekel (Washington, DC: Folger Books, 1988), 103–4. 53 Corbin, Creative Imagination in the Sūfism of Ibn ‘Arabī, trans. Ralph Manheim (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1969), 106. 54 Anne Sheppard, ‘Proclus’ Attitude to Theurgy’, The Classical Quarterly 32.1 (1982): 220. See also Sheppard, Studies on the 5th and 6th Essays of Proclus’ Commentary on the Republic (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck and Ruprecht, 1980), 152–3. 55 The head lifted towards the sun reminds us of Philotheos of Batos in his worship of God. Philotheos, embraced by divine light in the deserts of Mount Sinai, gradually transforms into a translucent sheet of photographic film. See Chapter 4. 56 Sallis, Verge, 45. 57 Sallis, Double Truth, 2. 58 Sallis, Double Truth, 2. 59 Sallis, Double Truth, 2. 60 Sallis, Double Truth, 2. 61 Sallis writes: ‘Indeed it [the sun] not only withdraws, escaping our direct vision, but also deflects that vision, temporarily injects blindness into it. As one turns away from the sun, blind spots remain before one’s eyes. They are the most immediate images that the sun makes of itself.’ Sallis, Verge, 51. 62 There are many types of camera shutters, ranging from the roller blind shutters found in early cameras to the focal plane shutter, the leaf shutter and the diaphragm. The roller blind shutter is now obsolete. 63 Derrida, Memoirs of the Blind, 55. 64 If we take care to use a faster shutter speed or a smaller aperture, maybe we will not end up with a blank photograph after all. Perhaps we will be able to catch a glimpse of the sun, even produce sun pictures. The first images of the sun were taken in 1845 by Léon Foucault and Hippolyte Fizeau – these were daguerreotypes of sunspots measuring 8cm and taken at 1/60 of a second, with a lens at a focal length of 10m. Fifteen years later, solar eclipses were photographed on 18 July both in Spain and in Algeria. For details about the first photos of the sun, see Michel Frizot, ‘The All-Powerful Eye: The Forms of the Invisible’, A New History of Photography, 277. 65 Sallis, Verge, 86. 66 Sallis, Verge, 51. 67 Sallis writes: ‘It is not insignificant that Socrates voices this description not as an assertion but as a supposition … That Socrates expresses something supposed or expected rather than known is indicative of the limitation under which the discourse of the Republic proceeds, even where, as in Book 7, it reaches its highest point.’ Sallis, Verge, 37. 68 Derrida, ‘Tense’, trans. D. F. Krell in The Path of Archaic Thinking: Unfolding the Work of John Sallis, ed. Kenneth Maly (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1995), 73.
69 See Sallis, ‘… A Wonder that One Could Never Aspire to Surpass’, in The Path of Archaic Thinking, 262. 70 Derrida writes: ‘The khora of the sun, in the Republic, is not, it seems to me, able to be a metaphorical value for khora in the Timaeus. Nor, for that matter, the inverse. Although the word clearly designates, in both cases, an “emplacement” or a “locality,” there is no analogy, no commensurability possible, it seems to me, between these two places. The word “place” [“lieu”] itself has such a different semantic value in the two cases that their relation … seems to be one of homonymy rather than figurality or synonymy.’ Derrida, ‘Comme si c’était possible’, cit. Sallis, Verge, 105. 71 Sallis, Verge, 108. 72 Sallis, Verge, 109. 73 See Sallis, Verge, pp. 31, 41, 46 and Chorology, esp. pp. 98, 100 and 111. The preface in Double Truth is entitled ‘Χαλεπόν’ (Chalepon). 74 The transcendent nature of the Good finds resonances in Christianity with negative theology and in Buddhism. In the latter, the essence of Buddhahood or the ‘self-arising wisdom’ is considered to be the primordial condition of existence. Thus it is beyond language, being and non-being. As the Dzogchen Master Chögyal Namkhai Norbu writes: ‘It [self-arising wisdom] cannot be identified with a stable and eternal substance allowing the assertion “It is thus!” and is utterly free of all the defects of dualistic thought, which is only capable of referring to an object other than itself.’ If we return to the concept of doubling in Plato’s metaphysics, then we can consider self-arising wisdom as the primordial state before any doubling would take place. Norbu observes: ‘It is given the name ineffable and inconceivable “base of primordial purity” (ye thog ka dag gi gzhi) beyond the conceptual limits of being and nonbeing. As its essence is the purity of original emptiness, it transcends the limits of being an eternal substance: it has nothing concrete and no specific characteristics to display. As its nature is self-perfection, it transcends the limit of nothingness and non-being: the clarity of light is the pure nature of emptiness.’ Chögyal Namkhai Norbu, Lhun grub rdzogs pa chen po’i ston pa dang bstan pa’i byung tshul brjod pa’i gtam nor bu’i phreng ba, 11.7–17.1, cit. Norbu and Clemente, The Supreme Source: The Fundamental Tantra of the Dzogchen Semde Kunjed Gyalpo, trans. Andrew Lukianowicz (Ithaca, NY: Snow Lion Publications, 2000), 20–1. Whereas one can draw many similarities between the Platonic good and ‘absolute reality’ considered to be the state of perfection in Buddhism, one distinction which separates Buddhist thinking from the former must be observed – this involves the immanent-transcendent characteristic of the essence of Buddhahood – the possibility of finding ‘self-arising wisdom’ inside each one of us. It is not within the scope of this book to engage in a comparative study of the Platonic Good with what is called in Tibetan Buddhism, the natural condition of primordial enlightenment. 75 gZhi lam ‘bras bu’i smom lam, by Jigs med gling pa (1730–98), cit. Adriano Clemente in ‘Foreword’, Chögyal Namkhai Norbu and Adriano Clemente, The Supreme Source, 10. 76 Dionysius the Areopagite, The Divine Names, 4.3, Dionysius the Areopagite on the Divine Names and The Mystical Theology, trans. C. E. Rolt (Berwick, ME: Ibis Press, 2004), 89–90. 77 Derrida, Memoirs of the Blind: The Self-Portrait and Other Ruins, trans. Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1993), 16. 78 Derrida writes: ‘Idein, eidos, idea: the whole history, the whole semantics of the European idea, in its Greek genealogy, as we know – as we see – relates seeing to knowing.’ Derrida, Memoirs, 12. 79 For a discussion on hyperekhon, see Derrida, How to Avoid Speaking: Denials, 102–3. 80 Sallis, Being, 405. 81 Sallis, Verge, 50. 82 Sallis, Verge, 52. 83 Sallis, Verge, 84–5. 84 Barthes, Camera Lucida, 80. 85 Barthes, Camera Lucida, 115. 86 Sallis, Being and Logos, 420. 87 Sallis, Being and Logos, 399 and 405. 88 Sallis, Verge, 35. 89 Sallis, Verge, 35. 90 Barthes, Camera Lucida, 81. 91 Sallis, Being and Logos, 420. 92 Sallis, Being, 419. 93 Sallis, Being, 419. 94 Sallis, Being, 419. 95 See Sallis, Being, 419–20. 96 Barthes, Camera Lucida, 5.
Chapter 2: Plato’s Chora and the Uneasy Place of Photography 1 2
Sallis, Chorology, 116. See Sallis, Chorology, 116–17. Sallis presents a comprehensive list of the instances in which the word chora is used by Plato. For an in-depth discussion of the different meanings of chora in the Platonic dialogues and the issue of its untranslatability in the Timaeus, see Sallis, Chorology, 115–17 and Verge, 105–6. I will be using Benjamin Jowett’s translation of the Timaeus unless otherwise indicated. Plato, Timaeus, trans. Benjamin Jowett, in Plato: The Collected Dialogues, ed. Edith Hamilton and Huntington Cairns, Bollingen Series LXXI (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1961). In an essay entitled Khôra, Derrida describes the Timaeus as a mise-en-abyme of receptacles. Comparing the narrative structure of the Timaeus to a series of receptacles, Derrida writes: ‘In truth, each narrative content – fabulous, fictive, legendary, or mythic, it doesn’t matter for the moment – becomes in its turn the content of a
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different tale. Each tale is thus the receptacle of another. There is nothing but receptacles of narrative receptacles, or narrative receptacles of receptacles.’ Derrida, Khôra, trans. Ian Mcleod, On the Name, ed. Thomas Dutoit (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995), 116–17. The following is the original text in French: ‘En vérité chaque contenu narratif – fabuleux, fictif, légendaire ou mythique, peu importe pour l’instant – devient à son tour le contenant d’un autre réçit. Chaque réçit est donc le réceptacle d’un autre. Il n’y a que des réceptacles de réceptacles narratifs.’ Derrida, Khôra (Paris: Galilée, 1993), 75. So on the one hand, the receptacle does not only feature in the narrative structure of the Timaeus or as a metaphor for describing chora, moreover it is even figured by the text as a mixing bowl (kratêr). It is the vessel into which the Demiurge pours the soul of the universe and the other elements to create the stars, planets and humans. See Timaeus, 41d. In Khôra, Derrida underlines the paradox that figures in this narrative of embedded memories. The memory of a city is written in the words of the other; it resides in the archives of the other’s political space, appropriated by another culture, that of the Egyptian priest who expresses his people’s admiration and subservience towards the ancient Athenians. This memory, once lost to the Greeks, is now restored to the Greeks through the words of the Egyptian priest, as Critias, who is Greek, tells us. Noting the instability of ownership, Derrida asks: ‘Will we ever know who is holding this discourse on the dialectic of the master and the slave and on the two memories?’ Derrida, Khôra 115. ‘Saura-t-on jamais qui tient le discours sur la dialectique du maître et de l’esclave et sur les deux mémoires?’ Derrida, Khôra, 71. Francis Macdonald Cornford, Plato’s Cosmology: The Timaeus of Plato Translated with a Running Commentary (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1977), 19. Pliny the Elder, Natural History, trans. H. Rackham, vol. 9 (London: William Heinemann Ltd, 1961), 371. See Note C in Pliny, Natural History, 369. George Ebers, ‘Introduction’, Catalogue of the Theodor Graf Collection of Unique Ancient Greek Portraits, 2000 Years Old (Paris: E. Morin, 1900), 3. Sallis, Chorology, 56. Sallis translates the phrase as ‘intellection with discourse’. Jowett translates it as ‘intelligence and reason’. Cornford’s translation reads: ‘That which is apprehensible by thought with a rational account […].’ See Sallis, Chorology, 47. Jowett’s translation of the Timaeus is in Plato: The Collected Dialogues. See also Cornford, Plato’s Cosmology, 22. In Chorology, Sallis points out that the common translation of doxa as ‘opinion’ or ‘judgement’ fails to convey the full meaning of the Greek word. The ancient Greeks would have also associated δόξα with appearance, for the verb ‘δοκέω’ can be defined as ‘to seem to be’. See Sallis, Chorology, 48. Cornford, Plato’s Cosmology, 31. Cornford explains that the Demiurge is a purely mythical symbol. He is not described as an object of worship; the reader of the Timaeus cannot distinguish between his work and the tasks that he gives to his children (the demi-gods). Cornford writes: ‘The evidences of design in the human frame are there attributed sometimes to “the god”, sometimes to the celestial gods, who are the stars, planets and Earth. On the other hand, there is no doubt that he stands for a divine Reason working for ends that are good. The whole purpose of the Timaeus is to teach men to regard the universe as revealing the operation of such a Reason, not as the fortuitous outcome of blind and aimless bodily motions.’ Cornford, Plato’s Cosmology, 38. Cornford, Plato’s Cosmology, 37. Sallis, Chorology, 113. Sallis, Chorology, 12. We can think of this nebulosity in many ways. The obscure beginnings of photography may refer to the many inventors of photography, including Niépce, Daguerre, Bayard and Talbot. These multiple discoveries show that there is no neat and tidy singular ‘origin’ of photography. Benjamin describes photography’s beginning as covered in fog, although he notes that the fog is ‘not quite as thick as that which shrouds the early days of printing’, observing that ‘the time was ripe for the invention, and was sensed by more than one – by men who strove independently for the same objective: to capture the images in the camera obscura, which had been known at least since Leonardo’s time.’ Walter Benjamin, ‘Little History of Photography’, 507. Benjamin’s fog is a useful metaphor for us to reflect on the ways in which photographic history has been constructed and propagated. To complicate matters even more, what is considered to be the ‘first photograph’ and reproduced in many history of photography books under the title ‘View from the Window at Le Gras’, the heliograph taken by Niépce in 1827 and discovered by the art historian Helmut Gernsheim in a trunk in 1952, is in fact a retouched copy made by Gernsheim! Since the photographic technology in the 1950s had failed to reproduce faithfully the effects of the heliograph, Gernsheim decided to ‘enhance’ the photographed version of the image. It is astonishing to consider that what is in fact a drawing (watercolour on gelatin silver print) has been ‘disguised’ and circulated as the real thing – the origin of all photographs. For a compelling account of Gernsheim’s discovery, see Batchen, Burning with Desire, 125–7. See also the website of the Harry Ransom Center – www.hrc.utexas.edu – where the heliograph is on permanent display. It was only in 2002 that the photographers working at the Getty Conservation Institute in Los Angeles were able successfully to photograph the first photograph. The fog can also refer to the fuzziness of the first images, the long exposure time required due to the limitations of early camera technology, making it difficult for the photographer to capture and fix movement. It is also interesting to note that the word ‘fog’ is commonly used by analogue photographers to describe a technical error when the photographic paper or film is accidentally exposed to light. Pliny, Natural History, 47–9. The comparison of chora to perfume is not without its significance here, because perfume or pharmakon is another Greek word which is wrought with ambiguities. In some ways it is similar to chora in its resistance to categorization. See Jeffrey Kipnis and Thomas Leeser, eds, Chora L Works: Jacques Derrida and Peter Eisenman (New York: The Monacelli Press, 1997), 108. See also Derrida, ‘How to Avoid Speaking: Denials’, trans. Ken Frieden, Derrida and Negative Theology, ed. Harold Coward and Toby Foshay (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992), 107. Derrida, Khōra, trans. Ian Mcleod, On the Name, ed. Thomas Dutoit (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1995),
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103. In the preface to On the Name, Thomas Dutoit explains that Derrida chose to use the recent French method of transliteration – χ as ‘ch’ is replaced by ‘kh’, therefore khōra instead of chora. See Thomas Dutoit, ‘Translating the Name?’, On the Name, xii. ‘Et pourtant, à mi-parcours du cycle, le discours sur khôra n’aura-t-il pas ouvert, entre le sensible et l’intelligible, n’appartenant ni à l’un ni à l’autre, donc ni au cosmos comme dieu sensible ni au dieu intelligible, un espace apparemment vide-bien qu’il ne soit sans doute pas le vide? N’a-t-il pas nommé une ouverture béante, un abîme ou un chasme? N’est-ce pas depuis ce chasme “en” lui que le clivage entre le sensible et l’intelligible, voire entre le corps et l’âme peut avoir lieu et prendre place?’ Derrida, Khôra, 44–5. ‘Nurse of generation’ is translated as ‘nurse of Becoming’ by Burnett in Plato’s Cosmology. See Cornford, Plato’s Cosmology, 178–85. Cornford, Plato’s Cosmology, 181. Cornford, Plato’s Cosmology, 184. Derrida, Khōra, 116–17. ‘Or que représente une cire vierge, toujours vierge, précédant absolument toute impression possible, toujours plus vieille, parce que intemporelle, que tout ce qui semble l’affecter pour prendre forme en elle qui reçoit, néanmoins, et pour la même raison toujours plus jeune, infante même, achronique et anachronique, si indeterminée qu’elle ne supporte même pas le nom et la forme de la cire?’ Derrida, Khôra, 74–5. See ‘Transcript One’, Chora L Works, 10. See ‘Transcript Two’, Chora L Works, 36. See Cornford, Plato’s Cosmology, 193. See Sallis, Chorology, 120. ‘Transcript One’, Chora L Works, 11. Sallis, Chorology 120–1. See also Sallis, Being and Logos, 299–301 and ‘Daydream’, 35. Sallis, ‘Daydream’, 35. See Coda. Cornford, Plato’s Cosmology, 193. Cornford, Plato’s Cosmology, 103. Platon, Oeuvres complètes, 1495. The English translation is mine. ‘Transcript One’, Chora L Works, 10. ‘Transcript Seven’, Chora L Works, 108. Derrida, Khōra, 92. For a discussion on the various commentators of the Timaeus and the limits of the metaphor, see note 1 in Khôra. See also Chora L Works, 10. ‘Nous ne parlerons pas de métaphore, mais non pas pour entendre, par exemple, que la khôra est proprement une mère, une nourrice, un réceptacle, un porte-empreinte ou de l’or. C’est peut-être parce qu’elle porte au-delà ou en deçà de la polarité sens métaphorique/sens propre que la pensée de la khôra excède la polarité, sans doute analogue, du mythos et du logos.’ Derrida, Khôra, 22. Roger Scruton, ‘Photography and Representation’, The Aesthetic Understanding: Essays in the Philosophy of Art and Culture (Manchester: Carcanet Press, 1983), 114. For a critique of Scruton’s view on photography, see Robert Wicks, ‘Photography as a Representational Art’, The British Journal of Aesthetics, 29.1 (1989), 1–9. Wicks points out that Scruton’s interpretation of photography as non-art is based solely upon other media’s capacities (such as painting, literature and sculpture) for fictive representation. Wicks argues that the photographer, like the painter, can interpret his subject matter through techniques such as the choice of lens, focus and depth of field. He suggests that photography’s capacity for artistic representation resembles that of masking or cosmetics: the causal link with the photographed object is present but reinterpreted through the techniques of the photographer. See John Tagg, The Burden of Representation: Essays on Photographies and Histories (London: The Macmillan Press, 1988), and Mary Price, The Photograph: A Strange Confined Space (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1994). Derrida, Khōra, 99. ‘Khôra reçoit, pour leur donner lieu, toutes les déterminations mais elle n’en possède aucune en propre. Elle les possède, elle les a, puisqu’elle les reçoit, mais elle ne les possède pas comme des propriétés, elle ne possède rien en propre. Elle n’“est” rien d’autre que la somme ou le procès de ce qui vient s’inscrire “sur” elle, à son sujet, à même son sujet, mais elle n’est pas le sujet ou le support présent de toutes ces interprétations, quoique, néanmoins, elle ne se réduise pas à elles.’ Derrida, Khôra, 36–7. Tagg, Burden of Representation, 63. Elkins, ed., Photography Theory, 171. Sallis, Chorology, 112. Sallis, Chorology, 112. Barthes, Camera Lucida, 5. Barthes, Camera Lucida, 6. This would include writings by Tagg, Sekula, Solomon Godeau, Price and Burgin. Price, The Photograph, 1. Batchen, Burning with Desire, 17. Platon, Oeuvres complètes, 469. Cornford, Plato’s Cosmology, 182. Plato, Plato in Twelve Volumes, trans. W. R. M. Lamb, vol. 9 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1925), 28 April 2007; http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgibin/ptext?doc=Perseus:text:1999.01.0180:text=Tim.:section=50c (last accessed 25 June 2016). In an essay entitled ‘Receptacle/Chôra: Figuring the Errant Feminine in Plato’s Timaeus’, Emanuela Bianchi examines the reading of Plato’s chora as a feminist critique of Western philosophy in the works of Luce Irigaray and Julia Kristeva. Bianchi offers us a similar etymological analysis of words that appear in the Timaeus; these include chora, ekmageoin and hupodochê. See Emanuela Bianchi, ‘Receptacle/Chôra: Figuring the Errant Feminine in Plato’s Timaeus’, Hypatia, 21.4 (2006): 124–46. Ewa Kuryluk, Veronica and Her Cloth: History, Symbolism, and Structure of a ‘True’ Image (Cambridge: Basil
Blackwell, 1991), 4. 58 Veronica’s Revenge: Contemporary Perspectives on Photography is the title of a collection of essays on conceptual photography edited by Elizabeth Janus and Marion Lambert. In the opening essay entitled ‘On Revenge, Art, Artists and Collecting’, Baroness Lambert, a collector of photography, writes: ‘The story of Veronica, whose real name was Berenice, is well-known: She was the woman who wiped Christ’s brow on the way to Calvary with a cloth that miraculously retained the image of His face and illustrated His suffering. A photograph. The first. An image of compassion. A document of suffering and a permanent testimony to sacrifice for faith.’ See Elizabeth Janus and Marion Lambert, eds, Veronica’s Revenge: Contemporary Perspectives on Photography (Zurich: Scalo, 1998). It is of course the argument of this book that photography existed before the legend of Veronica’s veil. 59 Kuryluk, Veronica and Her Cloth, 214. 60 ‘No. 548, Liste: Recherche étymologique du mot propre à désigner le procédé photographique Niépce-Daguerre’, Niépce: correspondance et papiers, ed. Manuel Bonnet and Jean-Lous Marignier, vol. 2 (Saint-Loup-de-Varennes, France: Maison Nicéphore Niépce, 2003), 1014–15. As Bonnet and Marignier point out, although the handwriting on this document is unknown, the list of words is consistent with Niépce’s interest in etymology. Niépce had wanted to find a more suitable name for his process other than heliograph. See note 1, Niépce: correspondance et papiers, 1014. It seems that physautotype was the chosen term, as indicated in Daguerre’s letter to Nicéphore, dated 3 October 1832. In the document, Daguerre uses the second person plural verb form of physautotype: physototypez. See ‘No. 549, Lettre: Paris 3 octobre 1832. Daguerre à Nicéphore’, Niépce: correspondance et papiers, 1016. 61 In English, this is translated as ‘mark; sign; imprint; trace; image; effigy; model’. 62 Plato, Theaetetus, trans. F. M. Cornford, Plato: The Collected Dialogues. 63 Geoffrey Batchen, Burning with Desire, 9. 64 ‘Transcript Two’, Chora L Works, 34. 65 See Khōra, 111 (Khôra, 63). Derrida writes: ‘Socrates is not khōra, but he would look a lot like it/her if it/she were someone or something.’ (‘Socrates n’est pas khôra mais il lui ressemblerait beaucoup si elle était quelqu’un ou quelque chose.’) 66 Derrida, Khōra, 110. ‘Socrate s’efface, il efface en lui tous les types, tous les genres, aussi bien ceux des hommes d’image et de simulacre auxquels il feint de ressembler un moment que celui des hommes d’action et des hommes de parole, philosophes et politiques auxquels il s’adresse en s’effaçant devant eux. Mais en s’effaçant ainsi, il se situe ou s’institue en destinataire réceptif, disons en réceptacle de tout ce qui va désormais s’inscrire.’ Derrida, Khōra, 60–1. 67 Gregory Shaw, ‘Containing Ecstasy: The Strategies of Iamblichean Theurgy’, Dionysius XXI (December 2003): 68–9. 68 Gregory Shaw, ‘Containing Ecstasy’, 59. 69 See Shaw, ‘Containing Ecstasy’, 59, footnote 31. 70 Pliny the Elder, Natural History, 271. 71 Derrida, Memoirs of the Blind: The Self-Portrait and Other Ruins, trans. Pascale-Anne Brault and Michael Naas (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1993), 51. 72 ‘(I)t is as if seeing were forbidden in order to draw, as if one drew only on the condition of not seeing, as if the drawing were a declaration of love destined for or suited to the invisibility of the other – unless it were in fact born from seeing the other withdrawn from sight.’ Derrida, Memoirs, 49. 73 The great American street photographer Garry Winogrand once declared, ‘I photograph to see what the world looks like photographed.’ 74 See Frances Mueke’s essay ‘“Taught by Love”: The Origin of Painting Again’, The Art Bulletin, 81.2 (June 1999): 297–302. Mueke examines the possible sources of the figure of Cupid as teacher in Simon Gribelin’s 1716 frontispiece to Charles-Alphonse Dyfresnoy’s poem, De arte graphica (1668). 75 Photography News, 29 October 1875, cit. Edgar Yoxall Jones, Father of Art Photography: O.G. Rejlander 1813–1875 (Newton Abbot, Devon: David and Charles, 1973), 53. 76 The different names for the practice of silhouette portraiture are explained in ‘Shades and Shadow-Pictures: The Materials and Techniques of American Portrait Silhouettes’. Penley Knipe presents an in-depth study of the popularity of the silhouette in America and the various ways of making shadow drawing; http://aic.stanford.edu/sg/bpg/annual/v18/bp18-07.html (last accessed 4 August 2011). 77 See The History of Photography: From 1839 to the Present Day by Beaumont Newhall (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1964), and Seizing the Light: A History of Photography by Robert Hirsch (Boston, MA, and London: McGraw-Hill, 2000). 78 Newhall, The History of Photography, 12. 79 John Caspar Lavater, Essays on Physiognomy, trans. Thomas Holcroft (London: Ward, Locke and Bowden, Ltd), 11. 80 Lavater, Essays, 187. 81 There exists a whole set of problematics concerning photography’s indexical nature and its status with truth which is always subject to re-presentation and re-configuration.
Chapter 3: Iamblichus’s Receptacle of Light 1 2 3 4 5 6
Eunapius, Lives of the Philosophers and Sophists, Philostratus and Eunapius: Lives of the Sophists, trans. Wilmer Cave Wright (1921; London: William Heinemann; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1952), 365. Eunapius, Lives, 369. For a description of this episode, see Eunapius, Lives, 371. Referring to Iamblichus, Wright remarks, ‘his final appeal was to divination, and in his practice of theurgy he represents the decadence of Neo-Platonism’. See Wright, ‘Introduction’, Lives, 325. Eunapius, Lives, 371. In Clarke, Dillon and Herschel’s translation, φωταγωγία is translated as ‘evoking the light’.
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In her essay, ‘Fiat Lux, Fiat Ritus’, Sarah Iles Johnston translates φωταγωγία as ‘the leading on of light’. See Johnston, ‘Fiat Lux, Fiat Ritus’, The Presence of Light: Divine Radiance and Religious Experience, ed. Matthew Kapstein (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2004), 17. Georg Luck identifies photagogia as a synonym of theurgy along with other words such as ieratike techne or ‘priestly art’, theagogia or ‘evocation of a god’, theosophy, and erga eusebeias or ‘religious duty’. See Georg Luck, Ancient Pathways and Hidden Pursuits: Religion, Morals and Magic in the Ancient World (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2000), 112. John Sallis highlights the importance of the dual action of withdrawal and reception contained within the verbal cognate of chora: ‘The relevant allusion is to the sense of withdrawing yet receiving, drawing something into itself in its very withdrawing.’ See Sallis, Chorology, 118. Gregory Shaw, ‘Containing Ecstasy: The Strategies of Iamblichean Theurgy’, Dionysius XXI (December 2003), 59. In footnote 31, Shaw refers to the chora in the Timaeus and its verbal cognate chorein (χωρεîν). For the connection between chora and ἕδρα see Sallis, Chorology, 119. DM I.1, 4.10–12. Iamblichus includes the ‘traditions of the sages of Chaldaea’ and the ‘teachings of the prophets of Egypt’ as some of the ‘branches of knowledge’ from which he will address Porphyry’s challenges. Further on he mentions the ‘ancestral doctrines of the Assyrians’, and the philosophies of Plato and Pythagoras (DM I.2, 5.6–6.4). See also note 9 in De Mysteriis, 7. See Introduction to Iamblichus: De mysteriis, trans. Clarke, Dillon and Hershbell, xxvii–xxviii. See Introduction, Iamblichus: De mysteriis, xxix. Anne D. R. Sheppard, Studies on the 5th and 6th Essays of Proclus’ Commentary on the Republic (Göttingen: Vanderhoeck and Ruprecht, 1980), 150. E. R. Dodds, The Greeks and the Irrational (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1951), 286. Dodds, The Greeks and the Irrational, 287. The perception of Iamblichus as the corrupting force of Neoplatonism is shared by Wilmer Cave Wright, translator of The Works of Emperor Julian, who associates Iamblichus with the beginning of ‘the decadence of Neo-Platonism as a philosophy’. According to Wright, ‘Oriental superstition took the place of the severe spiritualism of Plotinus and his followers, and a philosophy that had been from the first markedly religious, is now expounded by theurgists and the devotees of strange oriental cults.’ Wilmer Cave Wright, ‘Introduction to Oration IV’, The Works of the Emperor Julian, trans. Wilmer Cave Wright, vol. 1 (London: William Heinemann, 1913), 348. Emma C. Clarke, Iamblichus’ De Mysteriis: A Manifesto of the Miraculous (Aldershot, Hampshire: Ashgate, 2001), 2. Shaw, Theurgy and the Soul, 5. See Shaw, ‘Living Light: Divine Embodiment in Western Philosophy’, Seeing with Different Eyes: Essays in Astrology and Divination, ed. Patrick Curry and Angela Voss (Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2007), 62. Shaw, ‘Living Light’, 62. Shaw, ‘Living Light’, 59–60. Shaw, Theurgy and the Soul, 52. ‘Introduction’, Iamblichus: De mysteriis, trans. Clarke, Dillon and Hershbell, xx. Shaw, Theurgy and the Soul, 5. For the distinction of the words in relation to the Chaldaean Oracles, see Dodds, The Greeks, 283–4. Shaw, Theurgy, 5. Polymnia Athanassiadi, ‘Dreams, Theurgy and Freelance Divination: The Testimony of Iamblichus’, The Journal of Roman Studies 83 (1993): 116. See Clarke, note 112, ‘Introduction’, Iamblichus: De mysteriis, xlix. The similarity to Zen Buddhism is striking in terms of the notion of satori or a flash of sudden enlightenment. Lewy, Chaldaean Oracles, 3–4. The noun (θεουργοί) first appears in fragment 153 of the Chaldaean Oracles. See Majercik, The Chaldean Oracles, 21. Georg Luck differentiates between theourgos and theologos; the latter would talk about the gods without performing miraculous deeds, whereas the theourgos ‘claimed to have certain powers over the gods’ and ‘had to prove his supernatural abilities now and then’. See Georg Luck, Arcana Mundi: Magic and the Occult, 4. Psellus, De aurea catena, cit. Lewy, Chaldaean Oracles, 312. Lewy writes: ‘Consequently the Platonism of the Chaldaeans claimed for itself the authority of an authentic self-interpretation of Plato, who speaks again, to a certain extent, in the Oracles of the Chaldaeans. On the ground of this “pre-established identity” between the Chaldaean and the Platonic teaching, the later Neoplatonists made the far-reaching undertaking to harmonize the two systems, and exalted theurgy to the position of the mystery-cult of the inner circle of their philosophic school.’ Lewy, Chaldaean Oracles, 312–13. Lewy, Chaldaean Oracles, 4. Lewy, Chaldaean Oracles, 6. For Iamblichus’s theory of embodiment, see Shaw, ‘Containing Ecstasies’ and Theurgy and the Soul, Part II. Shaw sums up the difference: ‘[W]hat Plotinus came to identify with as his own undescended soul, Iamblichus left as the property of the gods to be received – in ecstatic exchange – in theurgic ritual.’ See Shaw, ‘Containing Ecstasy’, 66. Shaw, ‘Containing Ecstasy’, 58. As Shaw explains: ‘This divine presence is connected with the soul’s “innate knowledge” (ἐμφυτος γνωσις) of the gods and exists prior to self-consciousness. For Iamblichus, this divine element reveals itself in our “essential desire” (ἐφέσις) for the Good, a desire which the Chaldean Oracles say is implanted in us by the Demiurge prior to our embodiment.’ See Shaw, ‘Containing Ecstasy’, 61. The importance that Plotinus attributes to self-inspection and intellectual contemplation is in many ways similar to Ch’an (Zen) Buddhism’s emphasis on inner contemplation and meditative concentration as a means to cultivate the mind’s ability to see one’s Buddha nature. Through meditation practices such as sitting still and observing thoughts arising to one’s mind, the Ch’an practitioner seeks to remove layers of delusions and self-attachment, similar to Plotinus’s sculptor who chisels away the excess material to reveal the beautiful face of the statue.
39 Plotinus, Ennead I.6.9, trans. A. H. Armstrong, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1966), 259. 40 Majercik, The Chaldean Oracles, 30–1. On the role of the Connectors (συνοχεῖς) and the Teletarchs (τελετάρχαι) see Majercik, 10–12. It is important to bear in mind that although Iamblichus drew upon the Chaldaean Oracles as one of the sources for his theurgic system, there are differences between Chaldaean and Iamblichean theurgy. In the De Mysteriis, Iamblichus provides us with a list of epiphanies, ranging from the gods in the highest order, followed by the archangels, angels, daemons, heroes, archons and finally the souls. This is where he departs from the Oracles in his cosmogony – there are no references to the Connectors or Teletarchs. 41 Lewy, Chaldaean Oracles, 375. Lewy attributes the Chaldaean use of the term anagōgē to Platonic sources, including the Republic (521c), Phaedrus and Phaedo. 42 Lewy, Chaldaean Oracles, 368. 43 Majercik describes this experience as a ‘supra-rational state of unified intuition at the very highest levels of ascent.’ See Majercik, Chaldean Oracles, 33. 44 Sustasis refers to the conjunction of the theurgist with the god, the initial encounter between invoker and the invoked deity. See Lewy, Chaldaean Oracles, 228–38. 45 Majercik, Chaldean Oracles, 49. 46 See Majercik, Chaldean Oracles, 35–6. Andrew Smith suggests the presence of a vertical and horizontal theurgy in Iamblichus – horizontal or lower theurgy involves operations in the material world, including interactions with daemons, whereas vertical or higher theurgy brings about the union between the theurgist and the gods. See Andrew Smith, Porphyry’s Place in the Neoplatonic Tradition: A Study in Post-Plotinian Neoplatonism (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1974), in particular Chapter 6. 47 See Lewy, Chaldaean Oracles, 368. 48 Lewy, Chaldaean Oracles, 373. 49 Shaw, ‘Containing Ecstasy’, 58. 50 Porphyry, ‘The Epistle of Porphyry to the Egyptian Anebo’, Iamblichus, On the Mysteries of the Egyptians, Chaldeans, and Assyrians and Life of Pythagoras, trans. Thomas Taylor, vol. 7, The Thomas Taylor Series (Dorset: The Prometheus Trust, 2004), 13. 51 Eunapius writes: ‘Likewise the famous Iamblichus, as I have handed down in my account of his life, when a certain Egyptian invoked Apollo, and to the great amazement of those who saw the vision, Apollo came: “My friends,” said he, “cease to wonder; this is only the ghost of a gladiator.” So great a difference does it make whether one beholds a thing with the intelligence or the deceitful eyes of the flesh.’ Eunapius, Lives, 425. 52 For a discussion on Iamblichus’s use of the term gnosis, see Clarke, Iamblichus’ De Mysteriis, 28–9. 53 Lewy, Chaldaean Oracles, 229. 54 In Vajrayana Buddhism, the disciple is required to go through an initiation ritual, known as the abhisheka, which may take years of preparation, before she can receive the teachings from the master. Vajrayana practice cannot be disclosed to non-initiates. The transmissions from master to pupil are kept secretive. The secrecy serves to protect the power of the teachings, the practitioner as well as the non-initiate. For a more detailed explanation of Vajrayana practice, and the importance of secrecy, see Reginald A. Ray, Secret of the Vajra World: The Tantric Buddhism of Tibet (Boston: Shambhala, 2001), 113–16. 55 Birger A. Pearson, ‘Theurgic Tendencies in Gnosticism and Iamblichus’s Conception of Theurgy’, Neoplatonism and Gnosticism, ed. Richard T. Wallis (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1992), 259–60. 56 See Gregory Shaw, ‘Containing Ecstasy’, 60, and Emma C. Clarke, Iamblichus’ De Mysteriis, 93, n. 76. 57 Lewy, Chaldaean Oracles, 374. 58 Whereas Iamblichus proposes three levels of prayers, Proclus identifies five. These are ‘knowledge’ (γνῶσις), ‘attraction’ (οἰχείωσις), ‘contact’ (συναφή), ‘approaching’ (ἐμπελάσας) and ‘union’ (ἕνωσις). Proclus writes: ‘To a perfect and true prayer however, there is required in the first place, a knowledge of all the divine orders to which he who prays approaches. For no one will accede to the Gods in a proper manner, unless he has a knowledge of their peculiarities. Hence also the oracle admonishes, that a fire-heated conception has the first order in sacred worship. But in the second place, there is required a conformation of our life with that which is divine; and this accompanied with all purity, chastity, discipline, and order, through which our concerns being introduced to the Gods, we shall attract their beneficence, and our souls will become subject to them. In the third place, contact is necessary, according to which we touch the divine essence with the summit of our soul, and verge to a union with it. But there is yet farther required, an approximating adhesion: for thus the oracle calls it, when he says, the mortal approximating to fire will possess a light from the Gods. For this imparts to us a greater communion with, and a more manifest participation of the light of the Gods. In the last place, union succeeds [in] establishing the one of the soul in The One of the Gods, and causing our energy to become one with divine energy; according to which we are no longer ourselves, but are absorbed as it were in the Gods, abiding in divine light, and circularly comprehended by it. And this is the best end of true prayer, in order that the conversion of the soul may be conjoined with its permanency, and that every thing which proceeds from The One of the Gods, may again be established in The One, and the light which is in us may be comprehended in the light of the Gods’ (1.211B–1.212). Proclus, Commentary on the Timaeus of Plato, trans. Thomas Taylor, vol. 1 (Frome, Somerset: The Prometheus Trust, 1998), 198. 59 See Dodds, The Greeks, 284, and Lewy, Chaldaean Oracles, 229. 60 Lewy, Chaldaean Oracles, 229. 61 Johnston, ‘Fiat Lux, Fiat Ritus’, 11. 62 See Chapter 4. 63 Sallustius, Concerning the Gods and the Universe, ed. (with Prolegomena) and trans. Arthur Darby Nock (London: Cambridge University Press, 1926), xcviii. 64 Francesco Romano, ‘L’uso di dunamis nel De Mysteriis di Giamblico’, in Dunamis nel Neoplatonismo, ed. Francesco Romano and R. Loredana Cardullo (Firenze: La nouva Italia, 1996), 83. 65 Athanassiadi, ‘Dreams, Theurgy and Freelance Divination’, 120.
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Luck, Ancient Pathways and Hidden Pursuits, 118. Majercik, The Chaldean Oracles, 105. Lewy, Chaldaean Oracles, 243, n. 57. See also Majercik, The Chaldean Oracles, 196. As Emma C. Clarke points out, it is unclear whether Iamblichus is referring to the help offered by the angels to the theurgist in alleviating the unbearable heat or whether he is merely describing their appearance as less aggravating than the manifestations of the gods and archangels. See Clarke, Iamblichus’ De Mysteriis, 107. 70 Proclus, ‘Excerpts from the Commentary of Proclus on the Chaldaean Oracles’, Iamblichus: The Exhortation to Philosophy, trans. Thomas Moore Johnson (Grand Rapids, MI: Phanes Press, 1988), 123. 71 See Iamblichus: De Mysteriis, 91, n. 125. 72 Such rituals often required the presence of a young boy who would act as the medium. 73 Lamps are not only used for divinatory purposes, they are also used for spell-casting, as in the ‘Fetching charm for an unmanageable woman’ (PGM VII. 593–619), which requires a lamp with seven wicks to be lit with olive oil. 74 See the glossary entry for ‘Lamps, not painted red’, in The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation, 336. 75 Dodds, The Greeks, 299. 76 Dodds, The Greeks, 299. 77 In ‘Fiat Lux, Fiat Ritus’, Johnston notes that Iamblichus disapproves of the divinatory method involving the use of artificial light projected into a bowl of water. The conjurer would then speak to the daemons or gods who have entered the water. One must note that in De Mysteriis, there is no explicit reference to the above practice; Iamblichus merely denounces apparitions in water and mirrors as false (DM II.10). Johnston’s interpretation probably took into account the lamp divination practices common in Iamblichus’s time. However, she does highlight an important point, Iamblichus’s main objection to these practices stems from the differences in the use of light. For Iamblichus, artificial light brings about false prophecies whereas natural light or sunlight leads to true divination. See Johnston, ‘Fiat Lux’, 17. 78 Johnston, ‘Fiat Lux’, 11. 79 Johnston, ‘Fiat Lux’, 11–12. 80 Shaw, Theurgy and the Soul, 53. Herein lies the difference between Iamblichean theurgy and the doctrines of the Chaldaeans, who sought after immortality through anagōgē. 81 John Finamore, Iamblichus and the Theory of the Vehicle of the Soul (Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1985), 146. Finamore writes: ‘When the vehicle is illuminated by the light from the soul’s leader-god, all external and internal stimuli to the vehicle cease; only images of the god are impressed upon it.’ 82 Shaw, Theurgy and the Soul, 222. 83 Johnston, ‘Fiat Lux’, 17. 84 Johnston, ‘Fiat Lux’, 17. 85 Proclus, Commentaire sur la République, Tome 1, IV.40.1–4. The English translation is mine. Proclus’s comments also echo fragment 142 of The Chaldaean Oracles: ‘And the gods say these things to the theurgists, for they say that although we are incorporeal, “… bodies have been attached to our self-revealed apparitions for your sakes …’” Majercik, The Chaldean Oracles, 103. 86 The projection of light on to a wall inscription also foreshadows the practice of catoptrical cryptography, the use of mirrors to reveal secret writings. See Wayne Shumaker’s discussion of the seventeenth-century Jesuit priest Gaspar Schott and his work Magia universalis. In one of the illustrations by Schott, words are projected on to a mirror. The secret message reflected on the mirror is then reversed with the aid of a lens and projected on to a wall. Shumaker, Natural Magic and Modern Science: Four Treatises 1590–1657 (Binghamton, NY: Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 1989), 132. 87 Shaw translates epitēdeiotēs as ‘fitness’ or ‘aptitude’. See Shaw, Theurgy, 86. See also note 1 in Jamblique, Les Mystères d’Egypte, 114. Des Places refers to both epitēdeia and chorein as technical terms. 88 Shaw, ‘Containing Ecstasy’, 60. 89 Majercik, The Chaldean Oracles, 49. 90 Majercik, Fragment 2, The Chaldean Oracles, 49. 91 Majercik, Fragment 2, The Chaldean Oracles, 49. 92 Shaw, Theurgy, 84. 93 See Shaw, ‘Containing Ecstasy’, 61. 94 Shaw, ‘Containing Ecstasy’, 61. 95 Shaw, ‘Containing Ecstasy’, 62. 96 Clarke, Iamblichus’ De Mysteriis, 103. 97 Finamore, ‘Iamblichus on Light and the Transparent’, The Divine Iamblichus, 60. 98 Clarke, Iamblichus, 104. 99 Ruth Majercik, ed., ‘Introduction’, The Chaldean Oracles: Text, Translation and Commentary (Leiden: Brill, 1989), 23. See also Clarke, Iamblichus’ De Mysteriis, 22, and Dodds, The Greeks, 291. Thomas McEvilley sees similarities between theurgy and tantric Buddhism, notably in the integration of the practitioner with a deity, thus the mortal practitioner is transformed into the divine. Thomas McEvilley, The Shape of Ancient Thought: Comparative Studies in Greek and Indian Philosophies (New York: Allworth Press, 2002), 591. 100Majercik, Chaldean Oracles, 105. 101Luck, Ancient Pathways, 124. 102Lewy, Chaldaean Oracles, 242. 103Lewy, Chaldaean Oracles, 240–2. See also Majercik, Chaldean Oracles, 196. 104Johnston, Hekate Soteira: A Study of Hekate’s Roles in the Chaldaean Oracles and Related Literature (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1989), 122–4. 105Johnston, Hekate Soteira, 122–3.
Chapter 4: Photographing the Divine: Philotheos of Batos
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St Nikodimos, who compiled the Philokalia in the eighteenth century, writes: ‘It is not clear at what date our holy father Philotheos flourished and died.’ The Philokalia: The Complete Text compiled by St. Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain and St. Makarios of Corinth, trans. and ed. G. E. H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard and Kallistos Ware, vol. 3 (London: Faber & Faber, 1984), 15. Georges Didi-Huberman, ‘Celui qui inventa le verbe “photographier”’, Phasmes: Essais sur l’Apparition (Paris: Les Editions de Minuit, 1998), 50. See Didi-Huberman, ‘Celui qui inventa’, 52. Didi-Huberman, ‘Celui qui inventa’, 52. In this chapter, all of the translations from French into English are my own. The Philokalia, vol. 1,14. The Jesus prayer consists of the following words: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me!’ For a detailed discussion of the Barlaam-Palamas debate, see the chapter entitled ‘Gregory Palamas, Theologian of Hesychasm’ in John Meyendorff, St. Gregory Palamas and Orthodox Spirituality, trans. Adele Fisk (New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1974), 75–119. St Gregory of Palamas, Triads II, 3 §7, quoted in Meyendorff, St. Gregory Palamas, 91. See Meyendorff, St. Gregory Palamas, 113. St Gregory of Palamas, Triads I, 3 §38, quoted in Meyendorff, St. Gregory Palamas, 112. Nikiphoros the Monk, ‘On Watchfulness and the Guarding of the Heart’, The Philokalia, vol. 4, 205–6. Meyendorff, John, ‘Introduction,’ Gregory Palamas: The Triads, ed. John Meyendorff, trans. Nicholas Gendle (New York: Paulist Press, 1983), 8. See also Didi-Huberman, ‘Celui qui inventa’, 52. St Gregory of Palamas, ‘Those Who Practise a Life of Stillness’, The Philokalia, vol. IV, 337. The Philokalia, vol. 4, 65. St Symeon the New Theologian, ‘The Three Methods of Prayer’, The Philokalia, vol. 4, 72–3. The Philokalia, vol. 4, 193. John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, trans. Colin Luibheid and Norman Russell (London: SPCK, 1982), 262– 70. See also Palamas, The Triads, 45. See Chapter 1 for a discussion on Parmenides and his descent into the underworld. Strabo, quoted in Peter Kingsley, In the Dark Places of Wisdom (London: Gerald Duckworth & Co. Ltd, 2001), 82. J. Lemâitre, ‘La contemplation chez les Orientaux chrétiens’, Dictionnaire de Spiritualité, vol. 2 (Paris: Beauchesne, 1953), col. 1854. La Philocalie, quoted in J. Lemâitre, ‘La contemplation’, col. 1854. St Philotheos of Sinai, ‘Forty Texts on Watchfulness’, The Philokalia, vol. 3, 25. Philotheus of Sinai, ‘Forty Texts on Sobriety’, Writings from the Philokalia on Prayer of the Heart, trans. E. Kadlarbovsky and G. E. H. Palmer (London: Faber & Faber, 1951), 333. Philotheus of Sinai, Writings from the Philokalia, 323. Philotheus of Sinai, Writings from the Philokalia, 323. Note that the French verb ‘chasser’ has two meanings, ‘to hunt’ and ‘to chase’. Didi-Huberman, ‘Celui qui inventa’, 53. ‘Chasser’ in French means ‘to shoot’, ‘to hunt’ and to ‘chase away’. ‘Chasseur d’images’ is a common term which refers to the photographer who hunts after images. In particular, the figure of Henri Cartier-Bresson springs to mind, the epitome of the photographer-hunter. Cartier-Bresson coined the term ‘the decisive moment’ to describe the process of picture-taking, the instant when form and content become one. He introduced the notion in his book Images à la Sauvette, translated into English as The Decisive Moment. However, the French title places a stronger emphasis on the analogy between photography and hunting; the title literally means ‘images on the run’. Armed with his Leica camera, Cartier-Bresson personified the photographer as hunter, always on the lookout for the best photographic moment. Philotheus of Sinai, Writings from the Philokalia, 334. Barthes, Camera Lucida, 26–7. The counterpart to the punctum is the studium, which Barthes explains is the general knowledge obtained when viewing a photograph, the cultural information that is present in the image, the costume that the sitter wears, the street where the photograph is taken, and so forth. The ‘blind field’ is that which exists outside of the frame of the photograph. Barthes, Camera Lucida, 96. Barthes, Camera Lucida, 49. Barthes, Camera Lucida, 96. Barthes, Camera Lucida, 96. Philotheus of Sinai, Writings from the Philokalia, 326. Philotheus of Sinai, Writings from the Philokalia, 339. Didi-Huberman, ‘Celui qui inventa’, 53. Matthieu Boisvert, ‘A Comparison of the Early Forms of Buddhist and Christian Monastic Traditions’, BuddhistChristian Studies 12 (1992): 127. Didi-Huberman, ‘Celui qui inventa’, 51. Nikiphoros the Monk, ‘On Watchfulness and the Guarding of the Heart’, The Philokalia, 4: 194. It is interesting to note that in the French translation, we find the term photophanie instead of ‘illumination’: ‘Vous tous qui brûlez d’obtenir la grandiose et divine photophanie de Notre-Seigneur Jésus-Christ … Je vais vous exposer une science de vie éternelle.’ See Nikiphoros the Monk, quoted in Irénée Hauscherr, Noms du Christ et Voies d’Oraison, Orientalia Christiana Analecta 157 (1960): 274. Philotheus of Sinai, Writings from the Philokalia, 324. Didi-Huberman, ‘Celui qui inventa’, 54. Nicethas Stethatos, Un grand mystique byzantin: Syméon le Nouveau Théologien, trans. Gabriel Horn, Orientalia Christiana, 12.45 (Rome: Pontificium Institutum Orientalium Studiorum, 1928), 95. Didi-Huberman, ‘Celui qui inventa’, 56. St Gregory of Palamas, Triads II, 3 §36, quoted in Meyendorff, St. Gregory Palamas, 120.
Chapter 5: Marsilio Ficino: Light and Photosensitivity 1 2 3
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I am indebted to Howard Caygill for his suggestion of photosensitivity. See ‘Introduction’, Three Books on Life, ed. and trans. C. V. Kaske and J. R. Clark (Tempe: Arizona State University, 1998), 18–19. D. P. Walker, Spiritual and Demonic Magic: From Ficino to Campanella (London: Sutton Publishing, 2000), 23–4. According to Walker, Ficino liked to sing while playing his lyra, which is probably a lira da braccio. See Walker, Spiritual and Demonic Magic, 19. Walker, Spiritual and Demonic Magic, 73. Ficino differs from his predecessors such as Proclus and the Emperor Julian, who both participated in the cult of the sun, for Ficino takes a step further and combines solar worship with the maintenance of health and well-being, including the scholar’s diet and living habits. See Anca Vasiliu, ‘Les limites du diaphane chez Marsile Ficin’, Marsile Ficin: Les platonismes à la Renaissance, ed. Pierre Magnard (Paris: Librairie Philosophique J. Vrin, 2001), 105, and Paul Kristeller, The Philosophy of Marsilio Ficino, trans. Virginia Conant (New York: Columbia University Press, 1943), 94–5. See Sallis’s discussion on the imaging properties of the Good in Being and Logos, 405. See also Chapter 1 of this book. Derrida, ‘How to Avoid Speaking: Denials’, Derrida and Negative Theology, 102. See Andrea Rabassini, ‘“Amicus lucio.” Considerazioni sul tema della luce in Marsilio Ficino’, Marsilio Ficino: Fonti, Testi, Fortuna, ed. Sebastiano Gentile and Stéphane Toussaint (Rome: Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura, 2006), 258. Sylvain Matton, ‘En marge du De lumine: Splendeur et mélancolie chez Marsile Ficin’, Lumière et Cosmos: Courants occultes de la philosophie de la Nature, ed. Antoine Faivre, Geneviève Javary et al. (Paris: Albin Michel, 1981), 35. Matton writes: ‘En fait, la problématique ficinienne consiste essentiellement à définir la relation qu’entretient la lumière avec l’expérience intérieure de la vie spirituelle et contemplative, à analyser cette lumière en tant que voie et agent de la connaissance et, par suite, de la béatitude.’ (‘In fact the Ficinian problematic consists essentially of defining the relationship between light and the interior experience of one’s spiritual and contemplative life, to analyse this light as the path and agent leading to knowledge and thus to happiness.’) See Matton ‘En marge’, 34. All translation from French into English is mine. Ficino, ‘An Apologia Dealing with Medicine, Astrology, the Life of the World, and the Magi Who Greeted the Christ Child at His Birth’, Three Books on Life, 399. All translation in De lumine from French into English is mine. Ficino, De lumine, trans. Sylvain Matton, Lumière et Cosmos, 58. Ficino, De lumine, 61. Ficino, De lumine, 63. See Iamblichus, On the Mysteries, 157. Ficino, De lumine, 63. Ficino, De lumine, 64. Ficino, Liber de sole, trans. G. Cornelius, D. Costello, G. Tobyn, A. Voss and V. Wells, Marsilio Ficino, ed. Angela Voss (Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2006), 191. Ficino, ‘Orphica Comparatio solis ad Deum. Atque declaratio idearum’, The Letters of Marsilio Ficino, vol. V (London: Shepheard-Walwyn, 1994), 44. Ficino, ‘Orphica Comparatio’, 46. Ficino, ‘Orphica Comparatio’, 47. Ficino, ‘Orphica Comparatio’, 47. Marsilio Ficino and the Phaedran Charioteer; Commentarium in Phedrum, trans. Michael J. B. Allen, Chapter 11, 124. Ficino, De lumine, 66. Ficino, De lumine, 66. Ficino, De lumine, 63. Ficino, De lumine, 65. Ficino, Platonic Theology, Book XIII, Chapter V. Ficino, De lumine, 62. Ficino, De lumine, 66. Ficino, De lumine, cit. and trans. by Kristeller, Philosophy, 116. See Kristeller, Philosophy, 116. Ficino, De amore, Speech VI, Chapter VI, 115. Ficino, De amore, Speech VI, Chapter VI, 115. See note 45. De amore, 148. De amore, Speech VI, Chapter VI, 115. De amore, Speech VI, Chapter VI, 115. As Walker points out, Ficino regards spirit to be composed of a combination of light, fire and the quinta essentia of the heavens. See Walker, Spiritual and Demonic Magic, 8. Walker, Spiritual and Demonic Magic, 38–9. In her essay ‘Marsile Ficin et le Commentaire de Pléthon sur les Oracles Chaldaïques’, Brigitte Tambrun argues that the Ficinian spiritus or vehiculum does not derive from Porphyry or Proclus but from Iamblichus in De Mysteriis III.14. See Brigitte Tambrun, ‘Marsile Ficin et le Commentaire de Pléthon sur les Oracles Chaldaïques’, Accademia: Revue de la Societé Marsile Ficin 1 (1999). Ficino, Commentaria in Platonis Sophistam, Chapter 46 in Michael J. B. Allen, Icastes: Marsilio Ficino’s Interpretation of Plato’s Sophist: Five Studies and a Critical Edition with Translation (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1989), 270–2.
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Allen, Icastes, 180. Allen, Icastes, 180. Rabassini, ‘“Amicus lucio”’, 262. Ficino, De lumine, 72. De lumine, 59. De lumine, 59. Liber de sole, 191. Kristeller, Philosophy, 255. Anca Vasiliu, ‘Les limites du diaphane chez Marsile Ficin’, Marsile Ficin: Les Platonismes à la Renaissance (Paris: Librairie Philosophique J. Vrin, 2001), 108–9. Georges Didi-Huberman, ‘Éloge du diaphane’, Phasmes: Essais sur l’Apparition (Paris: Les Éditions de Minuit, 1998), 108. David C. Lindberg, Theories of Vision from Al-Kindi to Kepler (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1976), 7. See also Vasiliu, ‘Les limites’, 111. De lumine, 63. Ficino writes: ‘Ajoute à tout cela que personne ne définit positivement la lumière, mais que nous disputons toujours de ce qu’elle n’est pas: elle n’est pas la couleur, ni le diaphane, ni une image des réalités célestes qui serait absolumment une image car il n’appartient pas à l’image de produire de nouvelles images non plus que la connaissance imaginative ni encore des substances. Ainsi donc, nous ne connaissons la lumière, tout comme Dieu, que par des négations et des similitudes.’ (‘What’s more, no one can concretely define light, but we always fight over what it is not; it is not colour, nor the diaphanous, nor an image of celestial realities that would absolutely be an image, for it is not up to the image to produce new images, no more than imaginative knowledge nor even substances. Thus, we can only know light, just as the way we can only know God, through negations and similarities.’) Ficino, De lumine, 67. Ficino, De lumine, 61. Ficino, De lumine, 61. ‘[E]lle [la lumière] est complètement incorporelle et la cause d’images semblablement incorporelles; elle n’est enfin soumise à aucune dimension, aucune division ni aucun mélange. C’est pourquoi il est clair qu’elle ne peut tirer son origine première d’une masse, d’une forme ou d’une vertu corporelles.’ (‘[I]t [light] is completely incorporeal and the cause of similarly incorporeal images; it is by no means subject to any dimension, division or mixture. This is the reason why it is clear that light cannot derive its primary origin from a corporeal mass, form, or virtue.’) Ficino, De lumine, 61. Ficino, De lumine, 60. ‘C’est la raison pour laquelle il est utile de séparer cette lumière sublunaire des ténèbres, et cette lumière céleste de la matière, puis de s’élever jusqu’à la lumière supra-céleste, et de nouveau de la lumière rationnelle jusqu’à la lumière intellectuelle, de celle-ci jusqu’à la lumière intelligible, de celle-ci, dans la mesure de nos forces, jusqu’à la lumière divine, de telle sorte que, conduits par la face révélée, c’est-à-dire par l’esprit du Seigneur, nous nous transformions graduellement, de clarté en clarté, en la même image.’ (‘For this reason, it is useful to separate that sublunary light of shadows from that celestial light of matter, then rise to the supra-celestial light and once again, move from the light of reason to the light of the intellect. From there onwards, ascend towards the intelligible light, and from there, to the best of one’s ability, rise all the way to the divine light, in such a manner that, led by the revealed face, that is, the spirit of the Lord, we gradually transform ourselves from brightness to brightness, into the same image.’) Ficino, De lumine, 61. See David C. Lindberg, ‘Laying the Foundations of Geometrical Optics: Maurolico, Kepler and the Medieval Tradition’, The Discourse of Light from the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment, David C. Lindbergh and Geoffrey Cantor (Papers read at Clark Library Seminar, 24 April 1982) (Los Angeles: William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, 1985), 13–16. Ficino, De lumine, 69. Ficino, Liber de sole, 210. Ficino, Liber de sole, 196. See Apologia at the end of De vita. Ficino asserts that he ‘is not approving magic and images but recounting them in the course of an interpretation of Plotinus’. He continues: ‘Nor do I affirm here a single word about profane magic which depends upon the worship of daemons, but I mention natural magic, which, by natural things, seeks to obtain the services of the celestials for the prosperous health of our bodies. This power, it seems, must be granted to minds which use it legitimately, as medicine and agriculture are justly granted, and all the more so as that activity which joins heavenly things to earthly is more perfect.’ Ficino, Three Books on Life, 397. See Yates, Giordano Bruno, Walker, Spiritual Magic, Copenhaver, ‘Scholastic Philosophy’ and Weill-Parot, ‘Pénombre Ficinienne’. The last in particular discusses the debate between Paola Zambelli and Brian Copenhaver on the origins of Ficino’s magic. Walker attributes the sections on talismanic magic to the influence of Plotinus’s Ennead IV and the Asclepius. Walker, Spiritual Magic, 41. Plotinus: ‘I think, therefore, that those ancient sages, who sought to secure the presence of divine beings by the erection of shrines and statues, showed insight into the nature of the All; they perceived that, though this Soul is everywhere tractable, its presence will be secured all the more readily when an appropriate receptacle is elaborated, a place especially capable of receiving some portion or phase of it, something reproducing it, or representing it and serving like a mirror to catch an image of it.’ Plotinus, Ennead IV.3.11, 270 (trans. Stephen MacKenna, 4th edn, revised by S. Page, London: Faber & Faber, 1969). See Picatrix, Book II, 7.2 (131). Copenhaver, ‘Scholastic Philosophy’, 78 (550). Ficino, De vita, III.18, Three Books on Life, 343. The phrase ‘electae ratione materiae’ which appears in De vita. III is highlighted by Copenhaver in ‘Scholastic Philosophy’ as well as by Nicolas Weill-Parot in ‘Pénombre Ficinienne’. See Copenhaver ‘Scholastic Philosophy’, 63,
and Weill-Parot ‘Pénombre Ficinienne’, 80–1. 71 Ficino writes: ‘When saffron seeks the heart, dilates the spirit, and provokes laughter, it is not only the occult power of the Sun, which is doing this in a wondrous way; but the very nature of saffron – subtle, diffusible, aromatic, and clear – also conduces to the same end.’ Ficino, De vita III.12, Three Books, 303. 72 Angela Voss, ‘Introduction’, Marsilio Ficino, 42. 73 Ficino, De vita I.20, Three Books, 149. 74 Ficino writes: ‘At least we are used to speaking of light as a trace of universal light, offering itself to our eyes in a certain proportion; or indeed, as a vital spirit between the soul of the world and the body – but we have already said enough about this in the Theologia.’ Ficino, Liber de sole, 191. 75 Ficino, De vita III.14, Three Books, 309. 76 Ficino, De vita III.14, Three Books, 311. 77 Ficino, De vita III.17, Three Books, 333. 78 Ficino, De vita III.20, Three Books, 351. 79 Ficino, De vita III.16, Three Books, 323. 80 Ficino, De vita. III.16, Three Books, 325. 81 Ficino, Liber de sole, 211.
2 3 4
5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17
Here I use the word ‘ἴχνος’ as it appears in the Timaeus (53b). In the Platonic text, the word is used to describe the elements inside the chora – fire, earth, air and water. It is interesting to note that the plural form – ‘ἴχνη’ also refers to votive offerings bearing images of footprints which signify the arrival of the gods. Thus the notion of divine imprint and impression is contained within this word. These photographed ‘things’ which belong to the sensible realm are enumerated by Derrida in the essay, recalling the discussion in the Sophist on the classification of the different types of productions. Derrida, ‘Demeure, Athènes’, 49. Derrida, Athens, Still Remains, 29. Pseudo-Magrîtî, Das Ziel des Weisen, I, Arabischer Text, hrsgb. V. Hellmut Ritter, Studien der Bibliothek Warburg, XII (Leipzig, 1933), 188, cit. Henry Corbin, Man of Light, 18. Here is the passage as it appears in Corbin’s text, L’homme de lumière dans le soufisme iranien (Chambery: Editions Présence, 1971), 36: ‘Lorsque je voulus mettre au jour la science du mystère et de la modalité de la Création, je rencontrai une voûte souterraine remplie de ténèbres et de vents. Je n’y voyais rien à cause de l’obscurité, et ne pouvais y maintenir de lampe à cause de l’impétuosité des vents. Alors voici que pendant mon sommeil une personne se montra à moi sous une forme de la plus grande beauté. Elle me dit : Prends une lampe et place-la dans un verre qui la protège des vents; alors elle t’éclairera malgré eux. Entre ensuite dans la chambre souterraine; creuse en son centre et extrais de là certaine image théurgique modelée selon les règles de l’Art. Lorsque tu auras extrait cette Image, les vents cesseront de parcourir cette chambre souterraine. Creuse alors au quatre coins de celle-ci: tu mettras au jour la science des mystères de la Création, des causes de la Nature, des origines et des modalités des choses. Alors je lui dis: Qui donc es-tu? Elle me répondit: Je suis ta Nature Parfaite. Si tu veux me voir, appelle-moi par mon nom.’ Corbin, Man of Light, 18. ‘Il rêve, il rêve beaucoup, Socrate, il déchiffre ses rêves.’ Derrida, ‘Demeure, Athènes’, 58. Derrida, ‘Demeure, Athènes’, 51 and 59. Derrida, ‘Demeure, Athènes’, 51. Derrida, Athens, Still Remains, 33. Derrida, ‘Demeure, Athènes’, 51. Derrida, Athens, Still Remains, 33. Plato, Plato in Twelve Volumes, trans. Harold North Fowler, vol. 1 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1966). Derrida, ‘Demeure, Athènes’ 50. Derrida, Athens, Still Remains 29. Derrida, ‘Demeure, Athènes’, 50. Derrida, Athens, Still Remains, 29. Derrida, ‘Demeure, Athènes’, 50. Derrida, Athens, Still Remains, 29. Although the differences suggested by each of the prepositions are minute, it can be argued that, nonetheless, these variations do create subtle changes in terms of the meaning of the word dispositif-retard. (This term is translated as ‘delay mechanism’ in Athens, Still Remains.) Dispositif à retard implies an intention, that the delaying mechanism is designed as a function of the trigger or shutter-release; dispositif en retard suggests a trigger which is late and dispositif de retard, a trigger which falls behind and is delayed. Derrida, ‘Demeure, Athènes’, 51. Derrida, Athens, Still Remains, 33. See Sallis, The Verge of Philosophy, 85. Fred Ritchin notes the difference between analogue, which he defines as ‘an initial static recording of continuous tones to be viewed as a whole’, and digital, made up of ‘discrete and malleable records of the visible that can and will be linked, transmitted, recontextualized, and fabricated’. He describes the latter as ‘a meta-image, a map of squares, each capable of being individually modified and on the screen, able to serve as a pathway elsewhere’. See Fred Ritchen, After Photography (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2009), 141. This stillness reminds one of the practice of hêsychia during incubation, when one is required to lie still and silent in the cave. See Kingsley, In the Dark Places of Wisdom, 181–6. For the significance of the verb hestanai (to stand still) in the Platonic dialogues, see Michael Allen Williams, The Immovable Race: A Gnostic Designation and the Theme of Stability in Late Antiquity (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1985), Chapter 2. Williams refers to Festugière’s reading of the passage in the Symposium (220c–d), the latter noting the frequent appearance of the word hestanai, describing it as a technical term. See Williams, The Immovable Race, 92–3 and Festugière, Contemplation et vie contemplative selon Platon (Paris: Librairie Philosophique J. Vrin, 1936), 69–70, note 5.
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Index abode (ἕδρα) here, here, here, here, here acheiropoietoi here aetherial vehicle here, here, here–here, here, here see also luminous vehicle Allen, Michael J. B. here, here, here anagōgē Chaldaean here, here, here different systems of here–here, here lamblichean here, here, here–here light collection here, here, here, here see also photagogia preparation for here–here, here, here see also under soul, purification of see also ascent; soul, ascension of; withdrawal, as condition for anagōgē angels manifestations of here, here, here, here role in theurgic ascent here–here, here solar properties of here, here aperture here, here–here, here, here, here, here–here, here see also camera Apollo here–here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here Aristotle here–here, here, here ascent in Ficino’s work here, here in Platonic cave here, here, here, here, here, here–here Plotinian here, here–here, here–here Proclus on here, here theurgic see anagōgē astral medicine here, here, here–here see also talismanic magic Athens here, here, here, here atopos (ατοπος) here, here see also chora; Good augeiodēs pneumatos (αύγοειδοῦς πνεύματος) see luminous vehicle autophanes see image Barthes, Roland here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here–here, here, here Batchen, Geoffrey here, here–here, here–here, here, here, here–here, here Bayard, Hippolyte here, here beginnings ἀρχή here–here, here, here of philosophy here of photography here, here, here, here in Timaeus here, here–here, here, here–here, here Benjamin, Walter here, here, here black light here–here blindness in allegory of the cave here, here, here, here and the Good here, here, here healing of here in Phaedo here, here, here and photography here risk of here, here, here, here, here–here, here, here, here–here and the sun here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here see also Good brightness as divine manifestation here, here, here, here, here, here of first light here of the philosopher here, here, here in spells here, here of sun here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here see also light; luminosity Buddhism here, here, here, here, here, here, here camera as cave here, here, here chamber here, here, here and human soul here, here origin of here in Rejlander’s work here–here technologies of here, here, here–here theurgist as here, here, here types of here, here see also aperture; shutter speed; cave, allegory of camera lens here, here, here, here, here camera obscura here, here, here, here, here camera shutter here, here, here, here see also shutter speed Cartier-Bresson, Henri here catoptrics here cave allegory of here, here–here, here, here, here, here, here, here as camera here, here, here, here divided line and here–here, here–here in divination here in Ghâyat-al-Hakîm here–here, here in Proclus’s commentary here–here as site of incubation here, here–here, here–here, here
celestial forces here, here, here, here Chaldaean Oracles here, here–here, here–here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here chalepon (χαλεπόν) here, here, here, here–here, here–here, here, here–here, here, here, here, here chora (χώρα) as abode here, here, here, here action of withdrawal and reception in here, here, here, here, here dreamlike state of here, here, here–here formlessness of here, here, here, here, here, here, here movement of impression and erasure in here, here, here, here, here photography and here–here, here, here, here, here–here, here, here, here, here as receptacle see receptacle, chora as in Republic here, here, here, here terminology of here–here, here, here, here, here, here as triton genos here, here–here, here, here–here, here, here, here see also chalepon; chorein; Plato, Timaeus; third kind chorein (χωρεîν) here, here, here, here, here, here–here, here, here, here, here Clarke, Emma C. here–here, here–here, here–here, here Claude glass here concealment here–here, here, here contemplation here, here, here, here–here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here Copenhaver, Brian P. here, here Corbin, Henry here–here, here, here Corinthian maiden, story of the here–here Cornford, F. M. here, here, here–here, here, here, here, here, here Corpus Hermeticum here, here, here, here, here, here daemons here, here, here, here–here, here, here, here, here, here, here Daguerre, Louis Jacques Mandé here, here, here, here, here, here–here daguerreotype here, here, here, here, here, here, here darkness here, here, here in cave allegory here–here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here incubation here light and here, here, here, here in Sufi mysticism here darkroom, photographic here, here, here death memory of here of Socrates here–here, here see also encaustic painting Demiurge here–here, here, here, here, here, here–here, here, here Derrida, Jacques here, here, here–here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here–here, here, here, here, here, here–here, here, here–here, here, here–here, here, here, here, here, here–here, here, here, here, here development, film here, here, here, here dianoia here, here, here, here diaphanis here, here–here, here Didi-Huberman, Georges here, here–here, here, here, here, here divination in Greek Magical Papyri here, here–here, here role of liver in here in theurgy here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here divine union Ficino on here Proclus on here–here as theosis here, here, here, here in theurgy here–here, here, here–here, here–here, here, here, here, here, here see also henōsis Dobrotolubiye here see also Philokalia Dodds, E. R. here–here, here doubling here, here, here–here, here–here, here, here doxa (δόξα) here, here, here, here dream here, here, here–here, here, here of the chora here, here, here–here daydream here dream-vision (enupnion) here in Greek Magical Papyri here images here–here in incubation ritual here, here–here of photography here, here–here, here dunamis here see also light, dynamic properties of; photagogia eidos (είδος) here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here eikasia here, here, here–here, here, here–here ekmageion (ἐκμαγεῖον) here, here, here–here ekstasis here, here, here–here, here, here, here Elkins, James here, here emptiness here, here, here, here see also sūnyatā encaustic painting here–here epiphanies here, here, here, here, here see also anagōgē; angels, manifestations of; image, in autophanes episteme here, here, here–here, here, here epitēdeiotēs (ἐπιτηδειότης) here–here, here, here, here, here see also soul, fitness of erasure and chora here, here in divine union here, here–here and inscription (dual movement of) here–here and Socrates here–here, here Eunapius here–here, here exposure (of light) and aetherial vehicle here–here
and the divine here in photographic process here, here, here, here–here in talismanic magic here see also overexposure Festugière, A. J. here, here Ficino, Marsilio here, here, here, here, here, here, here–here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here–here, here, here, here, here, here De amore here, here, here–here De lumine here–here, here–here, here, here–here, here, here, here Liber de sole here, here, here, here–here, here, here–here, here Phaedrus commentary here Quid sit lumen here, here–here, here, here, here Sophist commentary here, here–here, here Theologia Platonica here, here, here, here De vita libri tres here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here–here, here, here, here Frizot, Michel here, here film (photographic) here, here, here, here, here–here fire here, here, here–here, here in allegory of the cave here–here, here, here, here chora and here, here, here intelligible here, here, here, here, here Pliny on here, here in stars here, here talismanic magic and here, here, here in theurgic ascent here, here, here, here–here in Timaeus here, here, here, here, here fulguration here see also light, flashing of generosity here, here, here, here–here, here, here Gernsheim, Helmut here, here, here–here Ghâyat Al-Hakîm see Picatrix glass here, here, here, here see also diaphanis gold here, here, here, here, here, here Good, the here, here, here–here, here–here, here, here, here, here chora and here, here–here doubling of here–here Ficino on here–here, here, here generosity of here, here–here image-making properties of here, here–here, here place of here, here Proclus on here–here, here sun and here–here, here, here, here in theurgy here, here, here Greek Magical Papyri here, here–here, here–here, here Gregory of Palamas, Saint here–here, here, here–here, here heat here, here–here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here Hekate here, here heliograph here, here–here, here–here heliotrope here, here–here, here, here henōsis (ἕνωσις) here, here, here, here, here, here see also divine union, theurgy Hesychasm here, here, here hêsychia here, here, here–here, here homoiōsis theō here, here, here, here humours here, here, here hupodochê (ὑποδοχή) see receptacle Iamblichus here, here–here, here–here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here–here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here–here, here, here, here–here image here–here, here, here, here, here, here in autophanes here–here, here–here, here in cave allegory here, here, here, here–here, here–here, here, here, here–here, here, here, here of the chora here, here, here, here–here of the divine here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here dream here–here, here, here–here of the Good here, here, here, here–here, here–here, here–here, here Hesychasm and here–here, here, here the ineffable and here, here, here light and here–here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here–here, here in line simile here–here, here–here magic and here, here miraculous here, here see also acheiropoietoi in negative theology here in Phaedo here–here photographic here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here–here, here, here, here, here in portraiture here, here, here–here see also Corinthian maiden, story of the solar here, here spirit and here, here–here talismans (imagines) here, here, here, here–here see also talismanic magic see also phantasmata incubation here, here–here, here–here, here ineffable, the here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here intelligible, the here, here, here–here, here, here in Chaldaean Oracles here, here distinct from the sensible here, here, here, here, here
chora and here, here, here, here fire of here, here first principle of here Good and here–here, here, here, here human soul and here, here see also soul, embodiment of light of here, here, here, here, here, here stars as copies of here, here John Climacus, Saint here, here Johnston, Sarah L. here–here, here, here, here Julian, Emperor here, here kenosis here, here, here see also chorein Kingsley, Peter here–here, here, here Kristeller, Paul Oskar here, here–here lamp ritual here, here–here, here, here–here, here, here, here Lavater, John Caspar here Lewy, Hans here, here, here, here, here light in cave allegory here, here, here–here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here collection of here, here, here–here, here, here, here, here, here, here see also photagogia divine here, here, here, here–here, here, here–here, here, here–here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here–here, here, here, here, here–here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here–here, here downward movement of here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here dynamic characteristics of here, here, here–here, here, here first light see lux flashes of here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here see also fulguration friend of (amico lucis) here of the Good here, here, here, here, here, here, here, hidden and visible here, here, here, here–here incorporeal nature of here, here, here, here in invocation and spells here, here–here, here, here–here, here see also Greek Magical Papyri; lamp ritual; spells as mediator here, here, here–here, here occult properties of here physical properties of here, here–here, here, here–here, here, here primordial here, here, here, here–here, here speed of here–here, here stars and here, here, here, here as third kind here, here–here, here, here see also anagōgē; black light; diaphanis; exposure (of light); Good; overexposure; photagogia; spiritus; sun line, divided here, here, here–here, here–here, here, here Luck, Georg here, here, here, here luminosity here, here, here, here, here, here, here luminous vehicle here–here, here, here, here–here, here, here, here lux here–here as distinct from lumen here–here see also light, primordial magic here, here, here, here–here, here, here–here, here corrupting influence of here in Ficino’s work here, here–here, here, here, here see also talismanic magic as goētia here, here, here–here photography and here, here, here, here, here Proclus on here–here, here see also Greek Magical Papyri; spells Majercik, Ruth here, here, here Mandylion of Edyssa see acheiropoietoi Matton, Sylvain here, here memory here, here–here, here–here, here–here, here, here–here, here of death here of God here, here ‘mirror of memory’ here punctum and here–here mirror here, here, here, here–here, here, here, here chora as here concave here, here, here–here in divination ritual here, here, here indicator of light dynamism here–here, here inside camera here as metaphor of photography here, here in Republic here–here, here–here spiritus and here–here in Timaeus here–here, here Mount Sinai here, here, here, here, here mysticism here, here, here, here–here, here, here napkin here–here, here–here see also ekmageion negative (film) here, here, here, here, here, here First Negative, The here–here negative theology here, here, here Neoplatonism here, here, here, here, here–here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here nepsis here, here Niépce, Nicéphore here, here, here, here–here, here–here Nikiphoros the Monk, Saint here, here, here, here noesis here, here, here, here
occult here, here Ficino on here, here, here ochēma here, here see also aetherial vehicle; luminous vehicle overexposure in divine union here, here, here, here, here–here in photographic process here, here Parmenides here, here, here–here, here phantasmata (φαντάσματα) here, here–here, here, here Philokalia, The here, here, here, here–here, here Philotheos of Batos, Saint here, here, here–here, here–here, here, here, here, here Phôlarchos here, here phôs here, here, here photagogia (φωταγωγία) here–here, here, here, here, here, here, here, definition of here, here energy in here, here luminous vehicle and here, here–here modes of light collection here, here, here role in anagōgē here, here, here, here, here in theurgy here–here, here, here, here, here transfigurations of here photosensitivity here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here–here, here–here physiognomy here physionotrace here–here Picatrix here, here, here pistis here, here–here, here Plato here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here–here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here Phaedo here–here, here–here, here–here, here, here–here, here, here Republic here, here, here–here, here–here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here–here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here–here, here Seventh Letter here Sophist here–here, here–here, here, here–here, here, here, here Symposium here, here, here Timaeus here, here–here, here, here, here, here–here, here–here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here–here, here, here–here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here–here, here Platonism here, here, here, here, here Pliny the Elder here, here, here Plotinus here, here, here, here, here–here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here–here Porphyry here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here–here, here, here, here, here, here–here prayer here defined by Proclus here, here–here in Gnosticism here in Hesychasm here, here–here, here, here, here Iamblichean feat here in incubation here levels of here–here, here–here spiritus and here in theurgy here, here, here–here, here Price, Mary here, here, here, here Proclus here, here–here, here, here, here–here on the Chaldaean Oracles here, here On the Priestly Art According to the Greeks here–here, here on the Republic here–here, here, here, here, here on the Timaeus here, here, here–here Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite here, here Pythagoras here, here, here receptacle (hupodochê) here, here–here, here, here–here, here, here–here chora as here–here, here–here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here theurgist as here, here–here, here–here Rejlander, Oscar Gustave here–here Sallis, John here, here, here, here–here, here–here, here–here, here, here, here–here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here Scruton, Roger here–here, here sensible, the see intelligible, distinct from sensible shadows here, here, here–here in autophanes here Ficino on here, here, here–here, here–here, here in Platonic cave here–here, here, here–here, here–here, here in portraiture here–here, here Proclus on here–here, here simile of the line and here, here–here tracing of here–here see also Corinthian maiden, story of the; skiagraphy Shaw, Gregory here, here, here, here, here, here–here, here, here, here, here, here shutter speed here, here, here, here see also camera shutter; time, in photography simulacra here, here, here, here–here, here skiagraphy here, here see also under shadows, tracing of soul here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here–here, here–here aetherial vehicle and interaction with here–here appearing in epiphanies here–here, here, here ascension of here–here, here, here, here, here, here, here–here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here–here see also anagōgē of the deceased here divine here, here, here–here divine illumination of here, here, here
embodiment of here, here, here, here, here, here eye of here, here, here in Ficino’s work here, here, here fitness of here–here, here see also epitēdeiotēs in Hesychast prayer here–here photagogia and here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here photosensitivity and here, here, here, here, here purification of here, here, here, here, here, here, here salvation for here–here spiritus and here–here as triple demon here vehicle of see aetherial vehicle; luminous vehicle; ochēma as vessel here, here, here see also receptacle withdrawal of here–here, here see also chorein of the world here, here, here see also kenosis spells here–here, here–here, here, here–here, here see also Greek Magical Papyri; lamp ritual steganography here–here stillness here, here–here, here, here, here, here see also hêsychia Sufi mysticism here–here sun here, here, here, here, here in cave allegory here, here, here, here, here–here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here–here chora and here, here Ficino on here, here, here, here, here–here, here, here, here, here, here, here–here, here, here see also Ficino, De lumine, Liber de sole, Phaedrus commentary; talismanic magic Good and here, here, here–here, here, here–here, here, here–here midnight here see also Apollo; Parmenides; Sufi mysticism photography and here, here, here, here, here place of here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here–here Philotheos and here, here, here, here, here Proclus on here–here, here–here, here solar daemons here solar eclipse here, here, here, here, here solar food here, here, here, here solar objects here, here, here, here solar regime here, here, here–here in theurgy here, here, here, here, here visible and hidden here, here–here see also blindness; brightness; photosensitivity sūnyatā here, here sustasis (σύστασις) here definition of here, here Symeon the New Theologian, Saint here–here, here, here sympatheia here–here, here, here, here Synesius of Cyrene here, here Tagg, John here–here, here, here–here, here Talbot, William Henry Fox here, here, here, here, here–here talismanic magic here, here, here, here, here–here, here see also Ficino, De vita libri tres; image, talismans technê here, here theosis here, here, here see also homoiōsis theō therapeia here, here, here, here theurgist here–here, here, here, here, here in anagōgē here, here–here, here, here–here, here, here as camera here definition of the term theourgos here–here preparation for ekstasis here, here, here, here, here, here–here, here, here, here as receptacle here–here transformation of body here, here–here, here, here–here, here, here the two Julians here–here use of god-invoking techniques here–here see also chorein; epitēdeiotēs; photagogia; sustasis theurgy here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here–here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here difference between Iamblichean and Chaldaean here, here, here, here as distinct from magic (goētia) here, here influence of Chaldaean on Iamblichean here–here salvific potential of here–here, here, here, here, here–here see also soul, salvation for see also anagōgē; theurgist third kind see triton genos time here, here, here, here in photography here–here see also shutter speed trace here–here, here concept of (in photography) here, here, here, here as drawing here–here see also physionotrace ἴχνη in the chora here, here, here, here transparency light and here, here, here–here see also diaphanis of luminous vehicle here, here of the photograph here, here triton genos here, here, here–here, here–here, here–here, here, here–here, here–here, here, here truth here, here, here–here, here, here, here–here, here–here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here Veronica’s veil, legend of here–here, here see also acheiropoietoi Walker, D. P. here, here, here, here, here, here, here
watchfulness here, here see also nepsis water here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here–here, here, here, here, here, here wax here, here, here, here, here, here–here, here see also encaustic painting withdrawal here, here, here of chora here, here, here as condition for anagōgē here, here, here–here, here in Hesychast prayer here–here and the sun here, here, here, here see also chorein wonderment here–here, here
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