Tekhnema 4 / "The Temporal Object"/ Spring 1998

Incidence of Instant and Flux on Temporal and Pictorial Objects, Listeners and Spectators

George Collins

I don’t like having to tell a story from beginning to end. I don’t want to be a storyteller. I want to show. Cinema is not the son of literature, but of painting. Fellini

In the shadow of Hegel, but at the same time – never only one shadow – noontide, the Augenblick of the shortest one. There is no better recap of our situation and task in philosophy and between the arts, to mention only two of the closured domains looking for a way out into the future.

To take just one example, there is the fact that while this paper was being written the Parisian viewing public was finally given the opportunity to see the "other" episodes (episodes lA and 1B have already been broadcast on television) of Jean-Luc Godard’s Histoire(s) du Cinéma, filmed in video and available on cassettes for a few lucky viewers. In Histoire(s), The Phenomenology of Spirit takes on the shape of a point by point alignment of those dream factories that Soviet and American cinema have proven to be, incarnated by the parallel destinies of Thalberg and Lenin, coming together in "an identical phantasm of absolute control over the senses and the minds of peoples, over bodies to be shaped and souls to be conditioned" (Antoine de Baecque, Cahiers du Cinéma, May 1997, p. 38). Hegel’s Napoleon is reincarnated as Alfred Hitchcock:

I incorporate Hitchcock into the Histoire(s) because I believe that at a certain epoch he had absolute control over the world. More so than Hitler, or Napoleon. No one before him was ever in such control over the public. This was the control of poetry. Hitchcock was a poet on a universal scale, unlike Rilke. He was the only poète maudit to encounter immense success. What is quite surprising with Hitchcock is that you don’t remember the plot of Notorious, nor why Janet Leigh goes to the Bates Motel. You remember the pair of glasses, or the windmill – that is what millions and millions of people remember. (Godard 1997, p. 12)


Then there are the sound and image tracks of Godard reading, typing, reciting poetry, declaring on countless occasions that we live in a post-cinema age. That cinema is something past, something epochal, even and especially when it now can "enter into the logic and the history of apparatuses it has always surpassed, owing to the immense potential it once had and still does" (Bellour 1994, p. 51). We can also see and hear Godard making a slight modification in the following quotation from Elie Faure:

That which each and every Dutch painter considers the subject of his painting, the cinema considers the element of its visions. Where all the others see facts, the cinema detects secret relationships which give to its supernatural sensitivity the earmarks of the real and transport onto the plane of a new creation everything it had taken from common creation. Given that those living in the time of cinema feel only indifferent to it, and that its strange vision flies over the heads of the crowd, it appears removed from the crowd, indeed placed in a position of permanent antagonism. Yet cinema speaks the language of the crowd, it is that of which cinema speaks and in the same stroke cinema speaks of itself, having inherited that language from which it has suffered so much, and which has enabled cinema to understand both the love and the hate before mastering its sentimental passions so as to be able better to accept the love and hate in its living fatality and to intermingle them with the other images of the world, to raise them all to the impartial power of its spirit. (Faure 1987, pp. 92-93)

Faure was speaking of Rembrandt; Godard’s move was to place Rembrandt in quotation marks and replace him with cinema, to speak the passage from one to the other, and their secret collusion. In the age of television, video, and the teletechnologies.


Two fragments from Nietzsche’s posthumous corpus, dating from 1887: "‘God’ as moment of culmination: existence an everlasting deification and undeification. By this very fact, not a culminating point of value, but only culminating points of power." The quotation marks on "God" call for another word, other words, according to the law of quotation marks.1 Nietzsche himself shows the law in operation in the following gloss on the fragment: "The only possibility of maintaining a meaning for the concept of "God" would be: God not as an acting force, but God as maximal state, epoch. Point in the evolution of the will to power: a point from which ulterior as much as interior [sic] evolution – the "up to that point" – could then be accounted for." (Nietzsche 1976, pp. 22 and 172) This time everything goes much faster: the second fragment, interpreting the first, is a teleiopoetic fragment. The quotation marks fall off as soon as they occur, and God himself enters on the scene: maximal state, epoch… point in the evolution of the will to power. The interpretation of this second fragment, as is the case everywhere in Nietzsche, is no easy undertaking. What might be meant by it is that the words that come in the stead of "God" are as formidable as God once was – idols perhaps, or indications of what came and is still to come in his wake.

This second fragment lends itself, of course, to other interpretations, many of which would prefer to ignore the law of quotation marks. One would consist in seeing Nietzsche trying out different words for "God" and, feeling dissatisfied with "maximal state" and "epoch," would have to wait, and hesitate, in the time of the ellipsis, before coming up with "point." Point as sheer synonym for God. Fixed, unmoving, and supremely alien to the flux of becoming. "Point" as yet another idol smashed by the hammer-tuning fork providing sparks and sounds in the twilight of the idols. A genealogy of the point: when you begin to feel "God" as a point, what is happening to you stems from the ancient pressure, authority, and terror of the flux, and the point is your refuge and downfall. "God" as the abstract punctuality of the point masks, marks, and calls up the specter of another point of view, that of the flux’s universal fluidity and extension.2

That is exactly the point, exactly the situation and the task inherent in the reversibility of this interpretation. If we all too human humans are retentionally finite, then the fluidity or extension of the flux can only be revealed, apprehended, repeated and transformed, in the experience of the "point." To conclude that the point is an abstraction, an "abstract punctuality" – a simple synonym for "God" and not a new, unheard-of and problematic occurrence of another word, is to miss the fluidity of the flux, to underestimate the importance, the agency (the temporality) of such an "abstraction"; it is ultimately to lapse back into "eternity." Consequently, the "point," along with what heretofore has been considered its eternal counterpart, are jettisoned as metaphysical constructs.

The horizon of the following essay is a comprehensive account or interpretation of Nietzsche’s three throws at "maintaining a sense" for "God" in light of the will to power. It is not by chance that the call for such an account be staged on a backdrop of precisely cinema and television as maximal states, epochs, points in the evolution of a will to power. Mentioning, using, questioning these three terms is to question them as indispensable elements in any interpretation of the will to power. In other words, they in turn will have to be put in quotation marks. How is one to apprehend something like a maximal state? For example, can the moment of the maximal state of cinema be determined? At the time of silent movies, or during the reign of Thalberg and Lenin? Or else in the age of Hitchcock’s worldwide domination? Is the age of the spread of the American way of life inscribed on its films throughout the world the same age as Hitchcock’s, or a subsequent one, the underlying one? Might Hitchcock only be an epiphenomenon in the process of its ineluctable advance?

What about the concept of "epoch"? How are we going to avoid speaking of epochs? To take a recent example, how are we to judge the following judgment of Jean-Luc Nancy? "There are perhaps few themes better able than the theme of "space" to present a kind of force or fecundity which immediately suggests the configuration of an epoch."3 There would then be an epoch of space, an epoch determined by the primacy of space? Perhaps following upon an epoch of time, which would have been determined by time, primordial time? An epoch which Heidegger, following up on Husserl’s attempt, would have failed to determine on philosophical grounds before moving on, hesitantly, to the question of a "coupling" of space and time? Could that be another epoch? Could it be ours, here and now? Another question: is the Derridean quasi-concept of spacing [espacement], which precludes any separation between space and time, to be determined epochally as what puts an end to any thought of coupling and gathering together? For the moment, I have chosen here to see how much mileage can be obtained from the concept of an epoch of time, the primacy of time over space, knowing very well that something else is happening to time and space, something of which Heidegger’s hesitation, Nancy’s decision, Derrida’s spacing, and my stubborn extension of primordial temporality are perhaps the intimations.

Let us return to the point. Once in quotation marks, does not "point" in turn call out to other words, upon which an entire side of contemporary Continental philosophy and reflection on art is hinged? The now as punctual present, Heidegger’s categorical judgment that the instant cannot be determined in the terms of vulgar time, Ricoeur and Louis Marin both insisting on the stakes involved in rigorously differentiating the punctual present now and the instant, Derrida’s seemingly age-old distinction between studium and punctum in the angle of spectatorial synthesis. Are these not all signs that go to suggest that the "point," the "epoch," the "maximal state" and the words marshaled in waiting on their thresholds, are every bit as crucial and formidable as Nietzsche’s "God"?

I shall focus on another point, another epoch, another maximal state. On an epoch determined in terms of the primacy of time, on painting as a maximal state of that epoch, and on instantaneousness as the point on which, at which painting both rose to preeminence and commenced its decline. Perhaps I am only on the slope leading up to cinema and its new epoch in television. "Up to those points." Slope or preceding summit, this is at any rate where I have found those two apparently passive figures of common experience, the listener and the spectator, who, within an epoch of the primacy of time, find themselves promoted to the surprising rank of its major figures, its primordial stakes. I would like to "paint the passage" (Montaigne), or to suggest a description of the climb "up to those points" or the slide back down – in this case too a passage – from what they were to what we, as listeners and spectators (in cinema and in television we are both, and to my mind this fusion, synthesis, or community of the senses has only just begun to be thought) have become, are becoming, and may become.

It is within the triangle Bergson/Husserl/Heidegger that the epoch of the primacy of time reaches its culmination. One of the major points in that triangle is when Husserl decides, at the beginning of his Lessons on the Phenomenology of Internal Time Consciousness to select as best example of what he calls the "temporal object" the audition of a melody, thus giving absolute priority to a listener but failing to maintain that necessary priority in a gradual slippage back to the much more traditional priority granted the spectator.4 In so doing, Husserl bestows on flowing time – on flux – an incontestable privilege not only over the totality of objects (all objects in space but all objects in time as well), but also over the instant which, nevertheless, will remain throughout his analysis the privileged access point to the flux of time.

Husserl, in a thoroughly authoritative gesture, ushers painting and sculpture out to an area of little use to his enterprise, just as the Julien Davenne of Truffaut’s La Chambre Verte does away with the commissioned bust of his departed wife, keeping in his private chapel, as the only adequate visual support and inscription of the memory of his dearly beloved, photographs (he nevertheless does keep a few painted portraits). This Husserl, the one who would descend into the furthermost reaches of the most intimate temporality (the French translation of "Internal Time Consciousness" gives "Intimate Time Consciousness" – I will come back to this below) has hitherto never found much favor with philosophers of art, who prefer to capitalize on another Husserl, the art lover, who sent a letter to Hoffmannsthal confessing his belief in a "close link" – an intimate one – between the aesthetic and phenomenological approaches to the world. This is the Husserl who, in Ideen I, used an engraving by Durer (The Knight, Death, and the Devil) to show how aesthetic perception presupposes a modification of the neutrality of consciousness.

What are we to think of these two Husserls, or rather, Husserl on these two slopes of his culminating idea of phenomenology? Why has the melody qua temporal object, which the Lessons establish at the height and depth of an authentic new concept, never hitherto been taken into account by philosophers of art? The answer to such a question would require a long and patient analysis of a huge critical corpus. The present paper is a first step along the way. Its answer would go something like this: Husserl was the first, in later stages of his career but already in the later stages of the Lessons, to give up the attempt to maintain the primacy of time, and his art philosophy commentators are only too happy to occupy the place left vacant by Husserl’s indecision on the question of the time/space divide. In their precipitation, these commentators renew implicitly with Lessing’s time-honored but seldom revisited distinction in thinking that since the visual arts are in the final analysis arts of space, the Husserl of the Lessons has nothing to offer.

If there is such a thing as the epoch of the primacy of time, its inaugural point might well be the moment when Diderot, Grimm, and Lessing, in the second half of the eighteenth century, decide (to acknowledge) the suspension of the three hundred year old primacy of poetry and narrative by staging the investiture of the tableau and its spectator with a new ontological status, preeminent with regard to all other art forms. This new status is characterized by a temporality condensed and concentrated in the moment of representation and the instant of vision (cf. Marin 1997) which, according to these eighteenth century theoreticians, will more effectively and more radically force conviction than the more extended, distended temporality of other art forms. We will see how the reign of the tableau can last hardly longer than the instant founding it, doomed with the instant to keep loosing ground to the temporality of flowing time characteristic of other forms of pictorial art which appear retrospectively as the precursors of the Husserlian melody, itself a historical concretization of industrial temporal objects such as cinema, television, video, and the multi-media.

Let us admit then that something of painting is bequeathed to cinema. Something essential, ontological – something from out of the depths of an epoch of time. Not just a series of simple pictorial occurrences in the form of quotations, biographical sagas, or circumstantial references. The heritage or the passage will have to be experienced and apprehended as a becoming between two points of culmination (or, according to an expression of Régis Debray, between two "standard-setting arts"), between, then, cinema, at the moment of its greatest force (but by this very fact also before and after, on the way up and on the way down), when it can appropriate, renovate, or abandon pictorial issues (problems, solutions, debates) themselves apprehended at the epochal time of the maximal state (but also before and afterwards). This all presupposes that the terms in use here, taken from one of Nietzsche’s own breakdowns of the will to power, still make sense, are still something more than the worn out vestiges of an onto-theological epoch from which we would have finally awoken. Above all, there is the presupposition that such terms are not fixed points, interruptions of time or timeless moments of eternity, but rather are intimately interwoven in the flux on which they depend. Thinkers who believe such conditions to be fulfilled are few and far between. Most of them would say this is all disguised theology. But there are others.

Amongst whom is Michael Fried. In 1967, in a context bestowing upon minimalism in the visual arts the status as the culminating point of modernism, Fried shocked the art world with the publication in Artforum, of the infamous "Art and Objecthood"5 which, immediately after it appeared and in the following three decades, met, both in America and in France, with a flurry of scathing attack, and also with a few balanced appraisals.6 The controversy centered on the question of the purity, the autonomy, the specificity of each particular art in the commerce of the arts. In other words, on the modernist project of an essentialization of each art form. The situation, the shock wave, has subsided. For many, Fried and modernism are now definitively consigned to oblivion – as things of the past. This is the moment for a philosophical consideration, a rereading of "Art and Objecthood," all the more necessary given the dimensions and the quality of the follow-up Fried has tacked on to it in the form of an immensely detailed and rigorous genealogy of the modernist project in painting: first, in 1980, Absorption and Theatricality, Painting and Beholder in the Age of Diderot, then in 1990, Courbet’s Realism, and last year the final volume of the trilogy: Manet’s Modernism.7 Fried has thus given himself sufficient time and space to show the heuristic value of the hypotheses set out in "Art and Objecthood," proving in what ways and at what times the process of the essentialization of painting actually took place, but also in what ways and when such a tendency to essentialization had to be suspended or found itself in a kind of historical eclipse (as is the case for Courbet’s realism), before coming back to the fore, in different guise, with the generation of Edouard Manet. The task of reconsidering such a work is therefore in front of us, in a much more complicated and crucial situation than in the context of minimalism’s future, now in the shadow of a Michael Fried standing guard over a territory of immense proportions, and in the shadow of questions coming to us from the time of cinema and its epochalization in the teletechnologies.


"Art and Objecthood" levels a single objection to minimalist works of art (Fried referred to the minimalist art of the sixties – work of artists such as Le Witt, Judd, Tony Smith, etc. – as literalist art). Such art is theatrical and, as such, represents a move backward from the advances of modernist arts. This theatricality is to be understood as fundamentally temporal (Fried inverses the proposition, saying that the temporality in question is "paradigmatically theatrical"). Theatrical temporality, or, as Fried would have it, temporal theatricality – we will see below the stakes involved in the possibility of this inversion – speaks to the time it takes for the spectator to apprehend the work, a duration stretched out into infinite time, a time incumbent upon, and under the responsibility of the spectator:

The literalist preoccupation with time – more precisely with the duration of the experience – is, I suggest, paradigmatically theatrical… as though the sense which, at bottom, theater addresses is a sense of temporality, of time both passing and to come, simultaneously approaching and receding, as if apprehended in an infinite perspective... (Fried 1968, p. 145)

To appreciate better the brunt of Fried’s argument, the following introduction to minimalism by Claire Stoullig for a French audience is enlightening:

...temporality will become one of the essential components of work in situ. The minimal object submits its perception to the phenomenological raising of consciousness of the spectator as a physical reality in space. This shift in the perception of the object toward its context is intensified by the manifestation, at this time [à cette époque], of new theatrical research in the form of happenings and performances, lived experiences of the spectator’s body on a site. (Art Studio n° 6).

It goes without saying that I have taken unjustifiable liberties with Stoullig’s introduction, but the highlighted fact is nonetheless irrefutable: minimalists aim at the body of the spectator, and the temporality of this body can only end up subordinated to spatial parameters, to the time of a stroll in an installation or an unoccupied plot of land or a geographical site, or again, as we shall see, the temporality of the experience of a stretch of highway for a driver. Fried’s objection is that the spectator’s raised consciousness is first of all, and primordially, the hold or the grip of an instantaneous temporality on this consciousness. Fried is wary of a temporality without the hold, the power of arrest of the Augenblick.8 Without such a hold, without this instantaneous coincidence between the moment of representation and the instant of vision, the spectator is left in the lurch of an infinite duration, and ambitions, epochal painting (that painting which can recall for itself and for the spectator the epoch of its maximal state) comes to an end. This would be the generalized theatricalization of art. Such a threat – the same kind of threat we shall see Husserl confronting with respect to the role of imagination, and the same one Nietzsche experienced when he found himself obliged to break with Wagner before the rampant theatricalization of his art of the synthesis of arts – classes Fried not, as many of his critiques would have it among the phobics, but in close, dangerous, and unavoidable proximity to the Wagners and Baudelaires of the earth, the Thalbergs, the Lenins, the Hitchcocks, those who work with and are obsessed "by an identical phantasm of absolute control over the senses and the minds of peoples, over bodies to be shaped and souls to be conditioned," those for whom a certain form of despotism in the arts with regard to the spectator constitutes a risk to be run.

"Art and Objecthood" is articulated at the profoundest level around a temporality structured by the two pores of instantaneousness and flux. Modernist painting puts a stop to theater, which is itself structured around a temporality drawn out or flowing away in the reaction left to the initiative of the spectator, by calling upon and provoking instantaneous reception:

It is this continuous and entire presentness, amounting, as it were, to the perpetual creation of itself, that one experiences as a kind of instantaneousness: as though if only one were infinitely more acute [here is Fried putting quotation marks on "God"], a single infinitely brief instant would be long enough to see everything, to experience the work in all its depth and fullness, to be forever convinced by it. I want to claim that it is by virtue of their presentness and instantaneousness that modernist painting and sculpture defeat theater. (p. 146)

The pole of flux is analyzed then rejected (although with melancholy afterthoughts on the global victory of flowing time) by Fried, just as he will secondarize, in his analysis of the time of painting in the age of Diderot, Grimm’s "great machine" for the same motive: the great machine sweeps the spectator off into a giddy, disorienting and finally "spiritual" flux of time. In "Art and Objecthood" the example of the flux pole – the pole of theatricality – is a spin in an automobile as told by Tony Smith, who considers it a moment of personal revelation, revealing that painting has run its course and is incapable of offering him the matter and the emotion of a trip down a turnpike:

It was a dark night and there were no lights or shoulder markers, lines, railings, or anything at all except the dark pavement moving through the landscape of the flats, rimmed by hills in the distance, but punctuated by stacks, towers, fumes, and colored lights. This drive was a revealing experience. The road and much of the landscape was artificial, and yet it couldn’t be called a work of art. On the other hand, it did something for me that art had never done. (p. 131)


Smith’s description of his experience is for Fried the epitome of theatricality; the object (not necessarily an art object) is replaced by something, "for example, on the turnpike by the constant onrush of the road, the simultaneous recession of new reaches of dark pavement illuminated by the onrushing headlights." (p. 134) This is nothing other than the temporal flux in person, disengaged by the suspension of all reference to objects in the world. What occurs to Smith during this journey is less (as Didi-Huberman would have it) the intensification or dramatization of the world of objects than its suspension, its bracketing. It is the continuous flowing away of the flux of the turnpike which results, for the driver and his passengers, in this other attention (which Husserl will name "longitudinal intentionality") which up to that point was obfuscated by attention paid to the presence of objects. The fact that the experience takes place in the obscurity of night takes on an altogether different connotation for someone who would inspect the "obscure depths of the ultimate consciousness constitutive of the temporality of the lived experience" (Husserl). This is the place where shadows thicken.

For Fried, such an experience is theatrical, and the theatricality between the arts is the presence and the call to an experience of this kind. Fried’s "ontological" move is to describe it as a space (seventeen years later he will still be saying it is a space, "giddy, disorienting and ‘spiritual’"9) in which the spectator is finally, despite the giddiness and disorientation, rather comfortable, with all the time he needs to explore the region – no confrontation is possible in such a "spiritual" place (what words do Fried’s quotation marks call up? imaginary? temporal? groundless?), but only participation, exchange on equal terms, and an infinite interactivity. This is the space which would have conquered the world. "Art and Objecthood" ends thus. "We are all literalists most or all of our lives." At a more profound level, however, this space is derived from a specific temporality which is now the world’s stage director.


Is one to conclude that the time of cinema, or the time that comes after cinema, supposing there is one, would be the time of theatrical temporality?10 Fried answered in his 1967 paper that, despite the fact that cinema is the one art that "by its very nature, escapes theater entirely, automatically as it were," it can be only a refuge for those who will wage the war against theater. The warrior’s respite, though, is not his victory: Fried concludes therefore that "the cinema, even at its most experimental, is not a modernist art." In such a response, we meet up once again with the weakest part (but how to avoid being weak?) of Fried’s discourse, namely the modernist program of the separation of the arts, with on the one hand the often unspoken pretension of painting, in the words of Jacques Aumont, to "pose as the slightly condescending older brother of all the arts" and, on the other the ungainly pretension of cinema to be above any "artistic alliances that may present themselves." (Aumont 1993, p. 32)11

To anticipate on what will follow below and in future stages of this work, I would say that the situation in the time of cinema seems, perhaps, perfectly reversed with regard to the time of painting. Theatrical temporality did and has, to use Fried’s term, "defeated" the project of Diderot and the moment of Manet, and this is the temporality informing the time of cinema. However, according to Bernard Stiegler in this issue, cinema qua the setting into movement, sequence, and flux of the photographic pose constitutes a hold, a grip on spectatorial consciousness to the extent that the flux of images and sounds coincides with the flux of consciousness. In the time of cinema, the "flux" seizes, arrests, stops the spectator (Virilio would say that the speed of the flux stops him dead in his tracks – in his armchair). This term by term correspondence occasions a certain wariness or suspicion of the spontaneous beliefs maintained and fed by the continuous flux, whereas, in the time of painting, the worry was occasioned by the freedom of imagination free-floating in the infinite flux of theatricality which generated belief (Fried will come to call it "the supreme fiction") in the instantaneous reception of a work negating the spectator and his imaginary time.12


Absorption and Theatricality analyzes French painting from 1850 to 1885, from Chardin and Greuze to Gericault and David. The study begins with a homage to the great precursors of the painters of the period under scrutiny: Caravaggio, Poussin, Le Sueur, Georges de la Tour, Velazquez, Zurbaran, and Rembrandt. Fried gathers them up into the category of a "tradition of absorption which these artists would have expressed with an intensity and persuasiveness never subsequently surpassed." (Fried 1980, p. 43) Such a decline places them, as well as ourselves, in the shadow of Hegel, where the world manifests itself in the failures of the instant. This "tradition of absorption" is fundamentally articulated on the impossible but nevertheless necessary aim of instantaneousness, an aim which raises painting onto the pedestal of its moment of greatest prestige (but, as Stephen Melville bas convincingly shown,13 the word inscribed in broad letters on the pedestal and the moment must be placed in quotation marks, for it shares with theater its zone of pertinence – the word "tableau"). The "decline" of which Fried speaks is no other than the advent of another temporality, inextricably tied to instantaneousness like its most intimate other, and whose "play" will issue in the same skein of problems and aporias as the same play at work with the temporal object in Husserl.

Fried’s endnotes are always the most fruitful place to look for the lineaments of the temporality at work in the "tradition of absorption." Note 88 of page 43 discusses the famous thesis of Svetlana Alpers, who suspends the history of world painting to concentrate on the situation of painting in Holland, just as Fried refuses to extend the field of his investigation beyond the sole case of France. (The modernist program of a division of the arts thus would seem to include a geo-political consequence.) The note reads as follows:

Svetlana Alpers elucidates what she sees as a realistic representational mode in seventeenth-century painting which combines "an attention to imitation or description with a suspension of narrative action." From the perspective of this chapter it becomes clear that the suspension of narrative action that Professor Alpers discerns in paintings by Caravaggio, Velazquez, Rembrandt, and Vermeer is in most of those cases a function of an emphasis on the representation of absorption, and that that emphasis was indeed linked with a new realism. (p. 194)

Alpers is right – one is always right in the shadow of Hegel – that once the imperative of narrative bas been suspended, description can be launched like a slow row boat on one of those "Sundays of life" which Dutch painting so artfully depicts. But Fried maintains that it is more a question of absorption. What is absorption? This first volume of the trilogy defines it as the principle means by which a painter will be able to remove his painting from the space and world of the beholder. The personages depicted by the painter will be absorbed to such extent in what they are doing, in activities or states (maximal states of absorption become thinkable) like sleep, blindness, or the intense concentration on an absorbing activity, that the beholder will be convinced that he does not count in the painting and ultimately, that he does not even exist.

The nature and quality of absorption depends on whether you are on the side of the work, or in the perspective of the beholder, and in each case its strategies are diverse. With Chardin, for example, the spectator is simply forgotten, there is no longer the slightest trace of a theatrical relation to his presence. But starting with some paintings by Greuze (thus before the first major moment in the great painting of the period between 1750 and 1755) absorption is faced with the task of becoming more dramatic, more precise, more devastating. In order to continue honoring the "tradition of absorption," in which the timid attempts of Chardin proved too weak to solve the sudden problem of the spectator in front of the painting. This problem, according to Fried, becomes increasingly critical in this period, growing in disquieting presence, weight and insistence, to such a point that it will now be necessary to counteract that presence in the painting, against the spectator’s new will to presence, against his newfound consciousness of his prerogatives and his right of inspection, by the production of an intimate sense of his insignificance, and the short shrift good painting will give him and his alienating and alienated gaze.14 This more precise, better armed aim requires, if the spectator is to capitulate (if he is to be, in the end, decapitated), a task of remembrance, recapitulation, and refurbishing, at all the levels of the field of painting (including teaching, critique, etc.) of the great twin-headed tradition of the hierarchy of genres and the superiority of history painting (which, with the niceties of rococo, had long since fallen from grace with painters and academicians). This movement back to original greatness, this effort of memory and strategy, is traced out by Fried in the second chapter of his work, "Toward a Supreme Fiction."

In their classical versions the sister doctrines [the hierarchy of genres and the supremacy of history painting] had been grounded in the conviction, derived from Aristotle and stated forcefully by Alberti, that the art of painting at its highest consisted in the representation of significant human action, and with their reactivation shortly before 1750 that conviction too became important once more. (p. 73)

Why then was the absorption of Chardin's personage all of a sudden no longer sufficient? What did Diderot have to sound the alarm and call out for a revolution in painting? Fried incriminates a sole and unique adversary responsible for the decline of ambitions painting, a sole and unique tendency provoking and gathering up by the danger of collapse it constitutes, the conjoined forces of pictorial thought and practice in France: the rococo movement. Reading Fried, one believes this mobilization to be general, the enemy inside already and clearly identified. The rococo appears at this moment in Fried as the first pictorial draft of what the sissy opera of Wagner will be for Nietzsche: the rococo is intimate, decorative, facile, and above all ready to go to no ends to obtain the attention of the spectator, stooping programmatically into the purest theatricality.

Yet the rococo movement was only the visible tip of this mounting theatricality – a minuscule point in the will to power – and the last manifestation to date of a much more profound tendency in the face of which essential painting, painting designed to be instantaneous, would have to mobilize its remaining forces. The finest characterization of this tectonic change is found in a text by Grimm on the "great machines," a text cited by Fried (and reread later in New York by Frank Stella in a plead for an opening up of the instant):

I have always disliked enormous constructions [les grandes machines] in painting and poetry. If it is true that in imitating nature the arts have no other aim than to move and to please, one must admit that the artist strays from his aim as often as he undertakes epic poems, painted ceilings, immense galleries, in a word, those complicated works that throughout the ages have received such injudicious praise. Simplicity of subject and unity of action are not only what is most difficult when it comes to genius and invention, but also what is most indispensable as regards overall effect. Our mind cannot embrace many objects or many situations at the same time. It gets lost in that infinity of details with which you believe you enrich your work. It wants to be struck at first glance by a certain ensemble, without hindrance and in a strong manner. If you miss this first instant, you will obtain nothing but those reasoned and tranquil praises that constitute the satire and the despair of genius… As for myself, I frankly admit that I have never seen a gallery or ceiling nor read an epic poem without a certain weariness and without feeling a diminution of that vivacity with which we receive impressions of beauty. (pp. 88-89)

These "great machines" risk at every moment sweeping the spectator away into the flux of their distended temporality (the machines) and in that of their freedom of imagination (the spectators). In order to pinpoint, arrest, stop the spectator in his tracks – to maintain a grip on him – it becomes necessary to renounce time conceived as succession and design the space of the painting as one unique moment which will produce the strongest, the most "vivacious" effect on him. Should the painter not renounce the temporal flux (by choosing the most discrete element, the most compact particle of the space of the painting: the most critical moment), he will plunge into the murky depths of oblivion, dispersion, distraction, those of the arbitrary character of the arrests and spurts of the imagination. The moment-effect couple (the vivacity of the effect is directly proportional to the indivisibility of the experience’s moment) functions as an arrest on imaginary temporalization.

Grimm’s text announces and acknowledges first of all the radical division taking place at this time, not between painting and poetry (the doctrine of ut pictura poesis has now lost its binding forces) but between arts with more impact on the spectator and arts with less. Secondarily, it announces the end of painting in general, that is, those forms of art which the Renaissance, the Baroque, and the Rococo could place in the same category: easel painting, architectural decorative painting, painted shields, frescos, ceilings, galleries – in a word, "painting" with broad environmental ambitions. Painting in space. Now, in the advent of the divide, painting in the proper sense of the term will be easel painting, portable, autonomous, and with especially determinate ambitions turned toward the spectator. Painting in the time of the instant.

The rococo appears in historical perspective as little more than the tail of a comet of far larger proportions than those delimited by Fried. The "great machines" include, but now excluded from, the sphere of essential painting, the sixteenth century mannerist efforts toward a reunification of the arts and Le Bernin’s composti in the seventeenth century. The reactions and revolutionary projects of Fried’s eighteenth century can be seen as a throwback to Caravaggio’s project to play off the specific temporality of his paintings (aiming, in the case of his Medusa, at the head of the spectator) against the spatial ambitions of the mannerists.

Grimm, Diderot, and Fried are telling the story of the birth, the invention of the tableau. Shaftesbury was the first to give it a definition.15 Instantaneousness is essential to the definition; the word, the thing, and the concept thus defined will find in the recently discovered potential of instantaneousness the principle of its authority and prestige, and a practically limitless expressive power:

Diderot attributed to the human soul an integral-ness and an instantaneousness which he specifically likened to those of painting. His aim in the passage [from the Lettre sur les sourds et muets] was to call attention to the disparity between one’s psycho-physical condition – one’s presence to oneself – at a given moment and the representation of that condition or presence in verbal language, which is to say by a number of signs that succeed one another in time.... Diderot found in the fully realized tableau an external, "objective" equivalent for his own sense of himself as an integral yet continuously changing being, and that his insistence that the art of painting satisfy the most exigent requirements of unity and instantaneousness may in part be understood as an insistence that it generate objects capable of measuring up to that equivalence – of confronting him on equal terms. (p. 91)16

Although most art historians now agree that Diderot and Grimm share with Lessing the paternity of this new and ambitions definition of painting – it would seem to be the case here as well, with the division between painting in space and painting in time, and above all the importance given to verbal language which cannot but lose the coincidence or equivalence between soul and tableau – there is nevertheless an important difference between the German and French approaches to the question. Fried gives short shrift to Lessing (mentioning him only twice throughout the first volume of the trilogy) and it might seem that this is owing to the franco-centric approach of the author. But there is a more important reason. Lessing’s doctrine of the "right moment" for painting hinges on the necessity for painting to renounce any temporal ambition, and to content itself with a dependence on the imagination of the spectator. In other words, Lessing maintains the primacy of poetry (the primacy of its successive narrativity) by imposing on painting the sacrifice of temporality. Diderot and Grimm, on the other hand, harbor much more ambitions designs for painting, ambitions which imply a direct attack on imagination in a complete reorganization and reorientation of the aims and new potential of painting which now has nothing more to renounce, but an entire new territory to explore, conquer, and control. This field opens with the passage from the moment of representation, as sole concession of space to time, to the instant of vision as the suspension of space. Thus Lessing, unlike Diderot and Grimm, gives too much up to the spectator by choosing to remain in the space of the "moment," whereas the French come up with a politics of the Augenblick – the instant of vision – which annuls the classical prestige of the imagination as the queen of the faculties while bestowing on painting an unheard-of prestige as the objective equivalent of the sole.

This eighteenth century politics of the Augenblick thus implies the inauguration, not only of painting as the queen of the arts, but of a new domain (the English term "spectatordom" names it) and a new practice ("spectatorship"), both of which, during the short reign of the instant within a fortress besieged by the scattered forces of painting’s other, appear more and more distinctly as the veritable subjects and stakes of the arts. Painting’s intentionality is no longer an aim at something, but at someone:

What is called for, in other words, is at one and the same time the creation of a new sort of object – the fully realized tableau – and the constitution of a new sort of beholder – a new "subject" – whose innermost nature would consist precisely in the conviction of his absence from the scene of representation. It should be noted, too, that the call for the constitution of this new sort of beholder envisioned a narrowing, a heightening, and an abstraction [Fr. résumer] of the functions traditionally associated with beholding: a narrowing in that an entire universe of sources of interest and delight was now conceived to be, if not irrelevant to the experiencing of pictures, at any rate secondary in importance to the crucial issue of theatricality; a heightening in that the concern with theatricality signaled the attainment of an unprecedented level of cognitive acuteness with regard to the detection of proscribed actions and effects; and an abstracting in that the activity of beholding was now imagined to have found its rightest occasion and most intense satisfaction in its engagement with the fully realized tableau. (p. 104)


Every proposition of this passage is to be understood, in light of these newly invented aims, in an exercise of systematic inversion. The call for a new sort of beholder is simultaneously the recognition of his arrival on the scene. If his innermost nature resides in the conviction of his absence, the outermost significance of such an aim and conviction lies in a new consciousness of his presence. One must envisage the spectator’s sources of interest and delight growing broader and more varied, more conscious and hear him demanding more and more – this is to understand genealogically the underpinnings of this will to concentrate (everything) on the instant. No doubt the generally heightened awareness of actions and effects called for innovation, but proscription is only one of the first stages of experimentation and exploitation of the dark continent of the spectator. As for the "abstracting," it is true that painting has abstracted from what is on the horizon and in the wings – just down the road, like the Derridian hedgehog who, on its way across the turnpike, suddenly sensing imminent risk, does exactly what concern for survival would forbid: it contracts and rolls up around its intrinsic characteristics, displaying its quills and their autonomous power, waiting to confront the danger.17

The instant is nothing without the flux from which it is abstracted. It would seem, however, that the flux can run on forever, a non-dramatic continuum. The contrast is striking between the extreme concentration, the absorption, of painting in its new tasks and dangers, and the tranquillity appearing on the surface of the temporal continuum of the great machines, and on the surface of their kinds of paintings. The spectator is free to go where he pleases in this open-ended painting. Openness, as the primary virtue of the temporality of the great machine. To describe it thus is to discover to what extent the visual arts today appear under its sway, to use the term of constraint. No more instant, no more despotism, no more confrontation. There is no possible objection to such a conclusion. (Who could possibly take issue with Beuys’s pronouncement that the spectator makes the art work?) The flux flows on, carrying off the world. Towards openness. In this perspective, Fried is a resistant, a nostalgic and reactionay thurifer, or a fundamentally religious mind waylaid in the history of art.

Diderot must himself proceed to widen out the instant: "I said that the artist had only an instant; but that instant can coexist with traces of the one that preceded it and with signs of the one that will follow. Iphigenia has not yet been slaughtered, but I see approaching the sacrificer bearing the large basin that will receive her blood, and this accessory makes me shudder." (Pensées détachées, quoted in Fried 1980, p. 214) This closely resembles Shaftesbury’s operations of "repeal" and "anticipation" as well as Husserl’s retentions and pretensions. The indivisibility of the instant is being strained to the limit of its identity, but the boundary between the little and the great machine is still intact; the instant is being made to absorb increasingly more of what it must repel, and the pressure being exerted on it by the flux appears as intense as that of the hold of the instant on the spectator. The question of absorption is in the final analysis a question that must be couched in terms of temporality: once the aim of painting had become the absorption of the spectator, it is the instant that begins to be increasingly absorbed by its other, loosing at each step along the way its exclusive hold on him.

The following note represents in its most condensed form the issue of whether or not the couple absorption and theatricality must ultimately be interpreted in terms of the temporal couple of instant and flux. The note comes after the following remark by Fried: "the demand that pictorial unity be made instantaneously apprehensible found natural expression in the almost universal tendency among anti-Rococo critics and theorists to define the essence of painting in terms of instantaneousness as such." (p. 91) The first, for our purposes most important part of the note, reads as follows:

A vivid instance of this... occurs in Caylus’s Tableaux tirés de l’Iliade. Caylus remarks that among modern epic poets Camoëns is more original than Tasso or Ariosto, but adds: "However, his poem presents more images than tableaux, that is to say, more descriptions than interesting actions... And in a note he expands on this distinction": "A tableau, accurately speaking, is the representation of a moment in an action.... An image, on the contrary, is often too insubstantial to be painted in the various moments that it presents, and is essentially nothing but a description." This word is often used without much precision, as is the word tableau. Thus a tableau paints only an instant, whereas an image paints several successive instants. A tableau, if I may say so, is a product of genius, whereas an image is a product of intellect). Here the presumed instantaneousness [my emphasis, GC] of painting becomes the basis for a literary distinction of some interest.

Two exceptions to the tendency of Diderot’s contemporaries to define painting as essentially instantaneous should be noted. In his Lettre sur l'exposition des ouvrages de peinture, sculpture, etc., de l'année 1747, Abbé Le Blanc quotes at length from an earlier writer, Abbé de Saint-Réel, to support his contention that there exists an implicit contradiction between the fixity and unchangingness of painting and the representation of bodies in motion, and that painters ought therefore to restrict themselves to the representation of nature "in a sort of repose, or, if I am allowed the expression, in a slow action"… Le Blanc’s position would appear to have had much to commend it to those who valued absorption, inasmuch as the persuasive representation of absorptive states and activities necessarily involved creating the illusion that those states and activities were sustained for a certain length of time (cf. my discussion of Chardin’s genre paintings in chapter one). But his views were attacked vigorously by Baillet de Saint-Julien... and to the best of my knowledge were not restated by Le Blanc or any other French critic. The advent in the mid-1750s of the young Greuze, who from the outset managed to combine absorptive values and effects with the specification of a single moment in an action, would have helped at once to make the theoretical issue moot and to affirm the definition of painting as essentially instantaneous. (pp. 215-16)

Let us follow out the argument. First the judgment of Diderot and his contemporaries: a good painting is instantaneous in its effect. Next, a series of references that point to the impossibility of such an effect, resulting in a series of distinctions – tableau and image, genius and intellect – which witness the widening out of the instant just short of its dissolution. Then a new series of references removing us further yet from the dramatization and tension of this "presumed" instantaneousness, toward a space and time of a pastoral or bucolic nature (we will see this again in Fried’s final chapter), longer, slower, more extended in time. This would all appear, from a strictly temporal point of view – that of the play of two irreducible elements in volatile equilibrium, in a maximal state of tension – totally irreconcilable. This is precisely the moment for Fried to take leave of this point of view in claiming that the play of instant and flux is grounded in "ontological" absorption. Surprisingly, Fried will entrust Chardin with the mission of getting behind time.

With Chardin, the instant lasts. This "lasting instant" is the hingepin that permits absorption to become "ontological," that is, the ultimate founding instance for the play of instant and flux. How is one to conceive of the duration of an instant? How, precisely, to imagine an instant lasting anywhere else than in the imagination and sustained attention of the beholder? Here is Fried’s response:

By a technical feat that virtually defies analysis... [Chardin and Vermeer] come close to translating literal duration, the actual passage of time as one stands before the canvas, into a purely pictorial effect: as if the very stability and unchangingness of the painted image are perceived by the beholder not as material properties that could not be otherwise but as manifestations of an absorptive state – the image’s absorption in itself, so to speak – that only happens to subsist. (p. 50)

Fried wants a play between absorption and flux, but the substitution ends up ascribing to the instant of absorption the attributes of eternity. No more flux.

Something similar occurs in the final chapter of Absorption and Theatricality. The first two chapters devoted themselves to the dramatic conception of absorption, that is, the negation of the beholder in front of the canvas. Now the beholder will be drawn into the canvas: the pastoral conception of absorption. Just as between Chardin and Greuze the strategy regarding the beholder had to become increasingly complex, that is, had to take on more and more of the temporality of the great machines, so now the new strategy of absorption constitutes a break in the boundary between the little machine and the great one. Let us look, for example, at Vernet’s Landscape with Waterfall and Figures (1768). Fried recognizes the problem, "the tension and the contradiction" or, better, the play between on the one hand "a forthright mode of decorative integration, capable of being taken in at a glance" (in the time of painting, the unity of the tableau is necessarily derived from its capacity to be perceived instantaneously) and, on the other, "a network of relationships among multiple disparate centers of interest whose separation from and connection with one another within an imaginary space can be apprehended only in time." (p. 134) Objects proliferate in this painting, and "each one competes with all the others for the beholder’s attention." Perspectival unity is fractured; scale and distance relationships could be taken in in a single glance. The tree, however, is, according to Fried, on the side of instantaneous unity. One might conclude that this tree has quite a lot to hold together in this work in which the temporality of the great machine has very nearly invaded the totality of the classical scene of representation. Watermelons on a tomato plant. Fried, however, once again concludes that the place of this painting is in the tradition of absorption. The spectator has physically entered the scene, and in a state of passive receptivity which "becomes the vehicle of an apprehension of the fundamental beneficence of the world; the subject’s awareness of the passage of time may be abolished." This unexpected result is rather spectacular: in seeking to defeat theatricality at one of its most invasive moments, Fried has defeated the passage of time itself. Time has in turn been absorbed into painting, as long as the penetration of the beholder into this universe lasts. Once again, we are in the presence of either a pictorial eternity, or a kind of absolute flux without duration or succession.


What exactly is a temporal object? An object which is not in time, but which owes its mode of presentation and constitution to flowing time – its only objectivity is its very duration. "By temporal objects in the specific sense we understand objects that are not only unities in time but that also contain temporal extension in themselves." (Husserl 1991, p. 24) In the wake of such a definition, one of an entity which would be more, or less, than an entity in time, there must come examples, in order to proceed to a first general survey of what such a new card may be able to do by way of redistribution of worldly entities. But examples are always occasions of dissension in the ranks of philosophers. Gérard Granel believes that the best example of the temporal object, for Husserl, is the melody:

In the Lessons, the example given is that of a "melody." The movement of a musical phrase, although taken from the perceived world, is what best corresponds to the notion of "Zeitobjekte." For it does not contain the objective fixation of the moment of unity or the moment of the "same," as does the house or the table (respectively chosen by Kant in the second analogy of experience and by Husserl in Ideen I) whose identity covers and masks the temporality. There is as it were a tied game in music between the same and the other. The ear has less world than the eye. Thus the melody is an example with obvious philosophical signification: in it the moment of identity is ceaselessly carried along on the waves of its constitution, while the flux simultaneously never ceases to deploy its identity. The melody is the truce of metaphysical opposites, matter remaining in form and form in matter; consequently consciousness remaining in temporality and temporality remaining in consciousness. (Granel 1968, p. 57)

Such a truce cannot last, if only because temporality cannot remain in consciousness. The temporal object is already a controversial issue, and the debate is over examples.

Paul Ricoeur rejects the choice of a melody, writing that Husserl himself rejected it in order to concentrate on the sound of the melody (Ricoeur 1988, p. 282, note 9). Other commentators have radicalized further the question of the example. Bernard Besnier chooses on one page his own stroll through on open market in Paris, on another, the sight of a car passing in front of his window, on yet another, the contemplation of the shelves of his library. Jean-Marc Mouillie considers, in Husserl’s example, that it is not only the melody which deserves to be called a temporal object, but the sheet music and the instrument used to play it as well (Mouillie 1994, p. 175). From one point of view, cannot all objects be considered temporal objects? If the heart of this matter lies in being able to uncover an immanent temporality (by bracketing transcendent objects), should we not conclude with Besnier that

Before this more profoundly immanent dimension, the case of temporally distributed objects (as the sound which lasts to the extent that I experience it thus) and the case of those objects which are not (as the shelves or this table) equivalent: they are objects constituted (i.e. appearing) as transcendent. In theory, then, the properly immanent temporality is that of lived experiences themselves, and not the objects apprehended in these experiences. (Besnier 1994, p. 345)

The stakes of this question of the exemplarity of the melody as temporal object are high. To retain aims as the only truly temporal objects is to grant to consciousness an overriding status, or a shelter, with respect to the objective world. This is to remain in a metaphysics of subjectivity. The intimacy in the French translation of the title of the Lessons, however, is far more "shocking" and "absurd" (these are the adjectives Husserl uses to confess his uneasiness with the notion of a self-constitution of the flux) than what this philosophy of consciousness leaves us with after having undone the specificity of the temporal object. Husserl’s attempt (even if it finally failed), the value of what he attempted to bring off in "descending into the innermost reaches of intimate time consciousness," lies in having uncovered an intimacy, not in the sense of a fusion of consciousness with "pure" temporality, but an intimacy empowered to recoop the object which constitutes it. Even if Husserl eventually lost hold of his aim, the grip of certain temporal objects must be maintained.18 Let us recall once again the case of painting (or photography). It is clearly not a temporal object, but its aim is, for painting solicits a temporalized gaze. We have seen, however, that the essence of painting has, at certain moments in its history, stood in volatile, ever-moving opposition (which after Fried will have to be reworked in a non-oppositional logic) to the temporalization of the gaze. The whole question of a passage, or a legacy, from painting to cinema, concerns the temporal nature of the cinematographic object achieved technologically by the setting into movement of stills and the synthesis of image and sound tracks accompanying it. The temporalized gaze now has an intimate objective counterpart. Would this be the ultimate triumph of the great machine? The answer is similar to the one given in the second half of the eighteenth century, and once again in Manet’s time, and more recently during the minimalist controversy. That answer is yes, as long as cinema remains a simple question of entertainment, rest, and relaxation, and it is difficult to see, if all objects are temporal, how any disquiet or unrest – any wariness – about cinema could arise. The answer is no as soon as cinema, qua the first major industrial temporal object – a great machine intimately attuned to the consciousness of peoples – becomes an educational, cultural, territorial and spiritual issue the terms of which could very well be expressed in the style of The Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology, or in those of Grimm and Diderot. Or in terms of a politics of memory. Whatever the style or terminology, I contend that they must all negotiate with the incidences in memory of instantaneousness.

Husserl presents the temporal object at three stages or levels of manifestation: primary memory, secondary memory, and image consciousness. I would like to present in schematic fashion the three fundamental gestures Husserl must make in order for the temporal object to appear in the force and integrity of its new characteristics, and in so doing I will demonstrate the incidence of what I have been calling, for want of a better word, the play of instant and flux.

The first gesture is the most radical of all, the one which encompasses and gives rise to the others, and which is the finest expression of the maximal philosophical state of an epoch of the primacy of time. (In considering Fried’s corpus as a genealogy of the time of painting, in offering a temporal interpretation of theatricality, and in restoring instantaneousness to its rightful place as the condition of possibility of absorption, I have assumed that an epoch granting primacy is not only thinkable, but practicable in precisely those gestures under scrutiny here.) Husserl’s task is to disentangle time from its interlacings with space; all spatial metaphors must be suspended. This means, for example, that the fundamental concept of phenomenology, the lived experience [le vécu], sets itself out and off from all worldly or transcendent objects by radically excluding all spatial dimensions. The lived experience is thoroughly temporal. Husserl does not aim at unified objects, but the modification in the appearing of objects as they change, in the course and the flux of their modification. "The tone itself is the same, but the tone ‘in the manner in which’ it appears is continually different." (Husserl 1991, p. 27) Husserl challenges time to appear in person, and for such an appearance all spatial dimension must be reduced. In the same stroke, a critical question arises: what of the unity and the identity of lived experiences, these "things" which persist while changing: only a thing can be identified as one.

Husserl’s solution is called retention and "longitudinal" intentionality. At the moment I hear the melody, the "now" of the what I am doing cannot be reduced or contracted into a moment or a point. Qua lived experience, it is widened on retaining the just past moment (the preceding moment) and harboring within itself the anticipation of the imminent "moment" to come. Ricoeur recaps nicely the nature of this "priceless discovery":

Husserl’s improbable wager is to have sought in the "now" a particular type of intentionality that is not directed toward a transcendent correlate but toward the now that has "just" expired. The entire advantage of this "now" is that it retains the now in such a way as to engender out of the now-point of the phrase presently passing away what Granel calls "the big now" of the sound in its whole duration. (Ricoeur 1988, p. 28)

Once space has been suspended, Husserl must disengage the continuity and the originary unity of temporal extension. He cannot allow a transition between present and past, but must obtain a dynamic interlacing. That which, of the past, is retained is what, of the future, is anticipated. This distends the punctual impression (the "now" of perception), dilates it into the "big now" of which we have been asking (but also showing, in the case of the time of painting) to what extent it does not retain, after all, après coup, the characteristics of a widened instant.

The second of Husserl's gestures is what he does and does not do to be done with what he calls the "dogma" of the instantaneousness of consciousness. The point, the punctual present moment is still too spatial. With the introduction of time into it, that is, the flowing away (in both directions) of flux, it widens out, and its unity and indivisibility explodes. Primordial time – the time toward which Husserl will descend – is not a series of instants, or a synthesis of units. Vain is the pretension to look to isolate in the flux of time some moment of time. Then it would become an objectal moment – a moment of space.

In the first of his Logical Investigations, Husserl had nevertheless counted on the instantaneousness of lived experiences. He had to radically reduce language to maintain the interior life of the subject at a safe distance from the spacing and contamination that language would represent. "The existence of psychic acts can perfectly well do without words, for such acts are at the same instant lived by ourselves." (Husserl 1961, p. 42) We know however – but I believe we know this a little too quickly, too easily – how Derrida played off the retention of the Lessons against the instantaneousness of the first Investigation, by recalling (with and against Husserl) the constitutive impossibility of ever isolating an instant qua now or point: the instant is nothing without the flux which gives it grounding and hold. And it would seem that we are still pretty much at the same point: no more instant.

Yet the instant insists in Husserl, (as well as in Derrida19). The matter of time in the suspension of an objectivity appears at certain moments in Husserl’s analysis as a "creative instant," the "living source-point of being" (Husserl). Husserlian time "is set in movement in the circle of the instant – an instant which is no longer a part of time but its donation." (Mouillie, p. 207) Can an instant be conceived without instantaneousness, an instant perhaps in the sense of the Hegelian Jetzt, or the Greek nun, "which encapsulate in the speculative core both that which retention rejects, that is, the isolated and isolatable present, and the result achieved: an omnipresent instant." (ibid., p. 176) Such an instant is certainly an abstraction, an ideal limit, but what is to be remarked is what constrains Husserl to recur to it despite the fact it never appears in the ever modifying flux. It is always in a secondary intentional act of recollection or expectation, by which I give myself (again) my lived experience, that I call up one or a series of the instants of the flux. In other words, the instant is impossible, it is nothing at all, or little more than an ideal limit, but in the experience of an après-coup, which throughout this paper has been an après-flux, a doubling up, a return to and a repetition of the flux, that the instant reveals itself as a privileged means of its apprehension. (This is the essential consequence to be drawn from R. Bernet’s incredible conclusion that the instant is originally unconscious. [Bernet, 1994, p. 287].)

The third of Husserl’s gestures takes place at the second and third stages of his analysis of the temporal object – secondary memory and the image consciousness, and concerns the way in which Husserl deals with the question of the imagination. Space will here allow only a very rough outline. The crucial and dangerous aspects of the imagination in Husserl’s philosophy are well known.20 Imagination is crucial to the phenomenological undertaking, as in the following declaration from Ideen I: "‘feigning’ makes up the vital element of phenomenology as of every other eidetic science... feigning is the source from which the cognition of ‘eternal truths’ is fed." (Husserl 1982, p. 161) In the work of separation and disentanglement from the evidences of the natural attitude that phenomenology must accomplish, imagination plays a crucial role, and even more so in the task of furnishing examples necessary to eidetic variation.

As crucial and irreplaceable as it may be, Husserl remains wary of its potential and threats. The imagination constantly threatens to derealize duration, and lose the necessary contact with the living present, widened in retention and sole guarantee of linkage to the real. Consequently, Husserl’s wary of imagination. As the faculty of the free inspection of the temporal object, free in the speed and other modalities of the selections it operates, Husserl must keep a tight reign on imagination. This is the Husserl closest to the Wagners, the Thalbergs, the Lenins and the Grimms. His problem and theirs will have been to capitalize on the effects of Smith’s trip down a turnpike on the consciousness of the listener and spectator, while shaping ever more ambitiously (despotically) the forms that link them to effective reality. In Husserlian terms, this is the problem of image consciousness, or presentifications of absence. From the Investigations to the Lessons. Husserl will continue to radicalize his analysis of temporality as the fundamental plane of these effects and the theater of their control. During the period of his work, image consciousness will lose more and more ground to analyses in terms of reproduction, that is, in terms of memory. Memory supplants imagination. Memory, as retention and recollection, is in the stages leading up to the Lessons and culminating therein, more decisive than imagination. The freedom of movement of the latter is assigned and limited to the field of the "it once was," to tradition, the immense archive of the already-there.


The opositional couple instant/eternity is metaphysical. Granted. Undoubtedly the two halves of the pair indissociably appertain to metaphysics. Changing the second term of the pair as a consequence of the widening out of the first is perhaps a pure game for philosophers unable to mourn the end of metaphysics.

Or perhaps the very idea of such a change, with the immense amount of work it will entail, might foreshadow a change in epoch. Let us glance once again at the old couple, this time in surprisingly modern garb. What else does the absolute flux of coincidence between the flux of consciousness and the flux of industrial temporal objects look like if not some monstrous eternity? The realization of time according to Hegel? Let us recur to Godard’s substitution game to see if we might not be able to capture the form of the most recent of Hegel’s shadows. In the following passage, in which Ricoeur has placed the expression "in time" in quotation marks, let us call on another word, real time, to take its place.

The place of a phenomenon in real time refers to the totality of the flux of time considered as a form. So we discover once again Kant’s paradox that real time does not flow. And it is this constitution that gives meaning to the expression "to happen in real time." What the preposition "in" designates is precisely the fixity of the temporal position, distinct from the degree of distanciation of the lived contents. (p. 253)

The great machine, after waiting in the wings for the little one to contaminate itself with its temporal effects, has widened out into a mega-machine whose temporality is that of an immanent eternity. Contamination, and chance, will have to come from "now" on in (its) points, moments, instants.

Reference matter

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1 See Jacques Derrida 1989, pp. 29-31. On the question of the punctuation of philosophical texts I must refer the reader to Michel Servière's Le sujet de l'art, L'Harmattan, Paris, 1997, and to Eric Blondel's "Les guillements de Nietzsche" in Nietzsche aujourd'hui, Tome 2: Passion, 10/18, Paris, 1973.
2 This is the interpretation of the fragment offered by Barbara Stiegler, in a yet to be published article on "The Death of God in the Light of Dionysos." I would like to express here my gratitude and dept to this original piece of work.
3 J. L. Nancy in Les Cahiers philosophiques de Strasbourg, n°. 1, March 1994, p. 149. Nancy quotes an article by Foucault entitled "Des Espaces Atures": "The present-day epoch would rather be an epoch of space. We are in an epoch of the simultaneous, in the epoch of juxtaposition, the near and the far, of what is adjoining, dispersed. We are living at a moment when, I believe the world is experienced less as a great life developing in time than as a network connecting points and interlacing its skein." Cf. "Quelques remarques à propos d'une époque de l'espace" by Philippe Beck in Alter, n°. 4, 1996, from which the Foucault quote is taken. Cf. also, by Nancy, "Espace contre Temps" in Le Poids des pensée, éditions Le Griffon d'argille, 1991.
4 Ricoeur recaps the stakes of this slippage "It is still within an eidetics that we can perceive the difference between a gaze directed at what is constituted throughout the phases of running-off, and a gaze that has shifted to the flux." (Ricoeur 1998, p. 42) The question then becomes: will an eidetics of heard objects not be essentially different from one of visual objects? Beginning in Husserl, the question reaches all the way to the time of cinema and its synthesis of sound and image tracks.
5 Fried, 1968.
6 Fried has gathered up the fair and unfair appraisals into a single note of his Manet's Modernism, pp. 610-612.
7 The three volumes are published by the University of Chicago Press.
8 I say "wary" with respect to what Georges Didi-Huberman writes of Fried's "Art and Objecthood." For this author, Fried experiences "horror" (p. 40) or worry (p. 88) over this temporality. Or, if this can be said, something worse yet: "Fried feels profoundly upset, ill at ease to the point of anguish - at the same time set at a distance, as though a void were imposing itself between two persons, and feeling invaded by [the closed mouth of Tony Smith's sculptures], as though the void had filled him up - that is, had abandoned him." (Didi-Huberman 1992, pp. 89-90) Apart from the fact that such a description of a maximal state is fairly close to what Fried describes as the annihilation of the spectator, it should be said here that there must certainly be a way of interpreting anguish in more directly political terms than this one, considering that the communication between a spectator and an art work is a political question as well as a psychoanalytic one. I nevertheless remain in total agreement with the following programmatic remark of the author: "There is no question of choosing between what we see (with its exclusive consequence in a discourse which arrests it, namely, tautology). There is, there is only to be wary of what is between. That is to say to attempt to think the contradictory oscillation in its movement of flux and reflux from its central point, its point of worry, this suspension, this between-the-two." (p. 51)
9 Fried 1984, p. 32 and note pp. 541-2.
10 Close to the final draft of this paper, my friend Agnès Godard has brought my attention to the opinion of Henri Alekan, as expressed in his book "Des Lumières et des Ombres" (La Librairie du Collectionneur, 1991): "It follows that the creative act of light in cinema can in no case plagiarize the painters, but only seek inspiration from them; their static images are destined to enter out "self" through a long approach of unlimited duration, whereas with film-makers, our emotions are provoked by the instantaneousness of the ephemeral image." (p. 180)
11 On the passage from painting to cinema, the reader should consult Aumont's important trilogy: L'?il interminable, Librairie Séguier, 1989; L'image, Nathan, 1990; and Le Visage au Cinéma, éditions de l'étoile, 1992. The second part of the trilogy has now appeared in English translation by Claire Pajackowska: The Image, British Film Institute, London, 1997.
12 In the end, a legitimate chiasmus between the time of painting and the time of cinema would entail yet another question, which would take the following form: does Stiegler's plead for a widespread and thorough exploration and exploitation of the new possibilities of discretization and analysis of images and sounds have anything to do with the instantaneous temporality of the time of painting? There are two parts to the question: firstly, is the time of painting really this play (or dialectic) of instant and flux which seems so insistent, despite Fried's efforts to subsume it in his category of absorption (which will appear in the final analysis a spatial category) in the beginning and culminating stages of his genealogy, and secondly, do the solutions proposed by Stiegler in any way amount to a technological restaging of the instant of reception? The answer to the first part of the question is yes, as I will show here, and confirm in Husserl, whereas the second part will hopefully remain open for discussion.
13 Melville, 1981.
14 The theme or the problematic of the alienation of the gaze never seems problematic to Fried. He is a little like Lacan's peasant who staunchly believed that a bad look could dry up his cows' milk. Rosalind Krauss (one of the most interesting, and ambitious, of the anti-Friedians) has written a book on this and other themes: The Optical Unconscious (MIT Press, 1993), which, along with those of Susan Buck-Morss in her Dialectics of Seeing: Walter Benjamin and the Arcades Project (also published by MIT press) I will take up elsewhere. Here, suffice it to recall her interpretation of Fried's alienated regard. Krauss, recalling the final sentence of "Art and Objecthood" ("presentness is grace"), almost falls off her chair. Nothing in the glorious past of Michael Fried had forewarned her of such a radical slippage from Enlightenment reason, exemplified in the quote from Jonathan Edwards that heads the article: "It is certain with me that the world exists anew every moment, that the existence of things every moment ceases and is every moment renewed... we every moment see the same proof of God as we should have seen if we had seen Him create the world at first." Was this the same Michael that had such solid things to say on modernism, up to that point? Krauss then recalls a conversation about Frank Stella, in which Fried reports Stella's answer in the question: "Who is the greatest living American?" None other than Ted Williams, capable of seeing more clearly and faster than anyone else the stitches on the baseball hurled at 90 miles an hour toward home plate. The home run results from the instantaneousness of his vision. Therein lies his incomparable genius. For Krauss, this was her baptism of fire into the team of the modernists, Michael's team, Frank's, and Clement Greenberg's. The speed of the pure optical image. With no time left for its purely carnal support. Sight had been reduced to the blinding instantaneousness of an abstract stage with neither precedent nor follow-up (see chapter one of The Optical Unconscious, pp. 6 and +). Louis Marin offers a less amusing and less polemical hypothesis on the alienation of the gaze, in Détruire la peinture (1997, pp. 153-4).
15 "With the word 'Tablature' (for which we have yet no name in English, besides the general one of "picture") we denote, according to the original word Tabula, a work not only distinct from a mere portraiture, but from all those wilder sorts of painting which are in a manner absolute and independent; such as the paintings in fresco upon the walls, the ceilings, the staircases, the cupolas, and other remarkable places either of churches or palaces." (quoted in Fried 1980, p. 89)
16 In light of these developments on the rise of painting to preeminence, the influence of the philosophy of Descartes must be taken into account. A fine starting-off point would be the essay by Jean Wahl, Du role de l'idée d'instant dans la philosophie de Descartes, Paris, Descartes et Cie, 1994.
17 Cf. J. Derrida, "Que cos'è la poesia" in Points de suspension, ed. by E. Weber, trans. Peggy Kamuf and others, Stanford University Press, 1995, p. 297.
18 Cf. Mouillie 1994, p. 175, for another version of the thesis that "all objects are temporal."
19 Derrida, who has done more than anyone to destabilize if not disqualify the instant as insular and indivisible present (and thus Rosalind Krauss can call for war on "the politics of the Augenblick" with arms forged in the Derridean critique of the instant in Husserl) expresses himself in an altogether different fashion concerning an instant other than the deconstructed one, an instant as access point to the work of art for the passive and liable spectators that, with Baudelaire, we all are: "And then there is for Baudelaire the order and the memory which precipitates, beyond present perception, the absolute speed of the instant (the time of the clin d'?il which buried the gaze in a flutter of the eyelids, the instant named Augenblick or wink, blink, and that which sinks in the twinkling of an eye. The failure to maintain contact with the presence of the gaze outside the abyss in which it buried itself is neither accident nor weakness, but figures the very chance of the work." (Mémoires d'aveugle, p. 69) On L'instant de ma mort by Blanchot, I refer the reader to Derrida's "Demeure" in Passions de la littérature, Galilée, 1997, pp. 13-73, and in the same collection, on a curious and unique attempt by Schoenberg to seize the instant in music, the section entitled "Ertwartung - Spectrographie d'un instant" in Marie-Louise Mallet's contribution: "Ombres d'Eurydice," ibid., pp. 283-290.
20 On the question of imagination in phenomenology, the reader may consult L'imagination selon Husserl by Maria Saraiva, La Haye, Nijhoff, 1970; the fine and stimulating fourth issue of the journal Alter: Espace et Imagination; the works of John Sallis, notably "L'espacement de l'imagination: Husserl et la phénoménologie de l'imagination" in Husserl, eds. Eliane Escoubas and Marc Richir, Jérome Millon, Grenoble, 1989.