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"What is the role of aesthetic processes in the drawing of the boundaries between nature and culture, humans and things, the animate and inanimate? Structured around the aesthetic processes and effects of animation and mummification, Animism brings together artistic and theoretical perspectives that reflect on the boundary between subjects and objects, and the modern anxiety that accompanies the relation between 'persons' and 'things.'" "With works by: Agency, Grigory Alexandrov, Art & Language, Adam Avikianen, Marcel Broodthaers, Paul Chan, Tony Conrad, Didier Demorcy, Walt Disney, Lili Dujourie, Jimmie Durham, Eric Duvivier, Thomas A. Edison, Harun Farocki, Leâon Ferrari, Simryn Gill, Walon Green, Victor Grippo, Brion Gysin, Luis Jacob, Ken Jacobs, Darius James, Joachim Koester, Zacharias Kunuk, Louise Lawler, Lutz & Guggisberg, Len Lye, âEtienne-Jules Marey, Chris Marker & Alain Resnais, Mark Manders, Daria Martin, Angela Melitopoulos & Maurizio Lazzarato, Wesley Meuris, Henri Michaux, Santu Mofokeng,Vincent Monnikendam, Tom Nicholson, Otobong Nkanga, Reto Pulfer, Hans Richter, Fâelix-Louis Regnault, Jâozef Robakowski, Natascha Sadr Haghighian, Paul Sharits, Yutaka Sone, Jan éSvankmajer, David G. Tretiakoff, Rosemarie Trockel, Anne-Mie Van Kerckhoven, Dziga Vertov, Klaus Weber, Apichatpong Weerasethakul."--V. 1, p. 4 of cover.
Year:
2010
Publisher:
Sternberg Press
Language:
english
Pages:
259
File:
PDF, 6.91 MB
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A n im ism

With texts by: Irene Albers, Bart De Baere, Oksana Bulgakowa, Edwin Carels, Didier Demorcy, Brigid Doherty, Sergei Eisenstein,
Anselm Franke, Masato Fukushim a, Avery F. Gordon, Richard W illiam Hill, Darius Jam es, Gertrud Koch, Jo achim Koester, Maurizio
Lazzarato and Angela Melitopoulos, Bruno Latour, Vivian Liska, Henri Michaux, Santu Mofokeng, Philippe Pirotte, Florian Schneider,

C o nte m p o ra ry

B e rlin .

in B erlin, and the Free University

Cultures

of World

the House

Art, Antwerp

(M HKA), the Kunsthalle

of
Bern, the G e n e ra li Fo u n d atio n , V ie n n a ,

Animism is a collaboration between Extra City - K u n sth a l A n tw e rp e n , the Museum

Animism Volume I
Edited by Anselm Franke

11

Much Trouble in the Transportation of Souls,
or: The Sudden Disorganization of Boundaries
Anselm Franke

54

Theses on the Concept of the Digital Simulacrum
Florian Schneider

57

Biometry and Antibodies Modernizing
Animation/Animating Modernity
Edwin Carels

75

Execution of Czolgosz, with Panorama
of Auburn Prison (1901)
Avery F. Gordon

81

Chasing Shadows
Santu Mofokeng

86

Angels Without Wings.
A conversation between Bruno Latour and Anselm Franke

97

Machinic Animism
Angela Melitopoulos and Maurizio Lazzarato

111

On Wanting to be an Animal: Human-Animal
Metamorphoses in Nietzsche and Canetti
Gertrud Koch

113

Still More Changes
Henri Michaux

116

Disney as a Utopian Dreamer
Oksana Bulgakowa

118

Disney
Sergei Eisenstein

127

Animated Origins, Origins of Animation
Brigid Doherty

132

The Uprising of Things
Vivian Liska

134

The Dangers of Petrification, or “The Work of Art
and the Ages of Mineral Reproduction”
Richard William Hill

137

“Les lettres du blanc sur les bandes du vieux pillard”:
Raymond Roussel’s Animism of Language
Irene Albers

146

Assembly (Animism)
Agency

155

Animism meets Spiritualism:
Edward Tylor’s “Spirit Attack,” London 1872.
Erhard Schüttpelz

Contents

171

172

To Navigate, in a Genuine Way, in the Unknown
Necessitates an Attitude of ; Daring, but not
one of Recklessness (Movements Generated
from the Magical Passes of Carlos Castaneda)
Joachim Koester
“Uncle Snookum’s Astral Odditorium & Psychic
Haberdashery”: Sun Ra & The Occult
Darius James

179

On Atmosphere and a capital A
Bart De Baere

185

Anima’s Silent Repatriation: Reconsidering
Animism in the Contemporary World
Masato Fukushima

193

Vital Phantasy
Didier Demorcy

199

Animism and the Philosophy of Everyday Life
Michael Taussig

203

Absentminded Wandering through
an Indeterminate Maze of Intentionality
Philippe Pirotte

215

Passionate Choreographies Mediatized.
On Camels, Lions and their Domestication
among the ‘Isāwa in Morocco
Martin Zillinger

227

Exchanging Perspectives
The Transformation of Objects into Subjects
in Amerindian Ontologies
Eduardo Viveiros de Castro

244
250
253

Artist Biographies
Author Biographies
Acknowledgements

Contents

Preface

How does the conceptual distinction between “nature” and “culture,”
so typical of modernity, inform the perception of limits in artistic practice and visual culture? Animism interrogates two key processes in aesthetics—animation and conservation, movement and stasis—against
the backdrop of the anthropological term “animism” and its historical implications. For what is mere fiction in modern aesthetics, for
so-called “animist practices” is actual relations. What is commonly
referred to as the most “fictional” of imaginary productions—the animated universes of film, the effect of the “life-like” in artistic objects
and images, the creation of fantastic worlds in which objects are alive
and things can speak—then assumes a sudden “documentary” value,
by way of which the question of “relationality,” which also played a
significant role in recent art history, can assume a new qualitative dimension.
This project had begun to take shape in Antwerp in 2006. The
ongoing discussions were extended to Bern, Vienna, and Berlin, places where subsequent versions of the exhibition will be hosted in the
course of the next few years—one building upon the other. It is the
result of a collaborative effort between artists, writers, curators, and
institutions. It was shaped through other projects, exhibitions, and collaborations, and many have given us the opportunity to further discuss
the issues at stake in artistic and academic contexts during the process
of the development. We wish to thank all of those for the imprint they
left on the project.
The present publication accompanies the exhibition in Antwerp
and Bern. The publication does not document the exhibition, but rather translates it into the medium of a book. It seeks to lay a foundation
from which further questions can be asked. It shifts between different
registers and vocabularies, mainly, aesthetics and anthropology. The
vast majority of the contributions have been conceived in response to
the project, complemented by first-time translations of relevant texts.
We’d like to thank all artists, authors, organizers, and collaborators. We’d also like to thank Sternberg Press, the translators and copy
editors, and the graphic design studio NODE Berlin Oslo.
–The Curatorial Team

Preface

9

Much Trouble in the Transportation
of Souls, or The Sudden Disorganization
of Boundaries
Anselm Franke

For most people who are still familiar with the term “animism” and
hear it in the context of an exhibition, the word may bring to mind
images of fetishes, totems, representations of a spirit-populated nature, tribal art, pre-modern rituals, and savagery. These images have
forever left their imprint on the term. The expectations they trigger,
however, are not what this project concerns. Animism doesn’t exhibit
or discuss artifacts of cultural practices considered animist. Instead, it
uses the term and its baggage as an optical device, a mirror in which
the particular way modernity conceptualizes, implements, and transgresses boundaries can come into view.
The project interrogates the organization of these boundaries
through images, attempting to fill the space of a particular imaginary
and phantasy within the dominant aesthetic economy with a concurrent historical reality. It does so because an exhibition about animism
that upholds a direct signifying relation to its subject is doubly impossible: Animism is a practice of relating to entities in the environment,
and as such, these relations cannot be exhibited; they resist objectification. Putting artifacts in the place of the practice gives rise to a different
problem: Whatever way an object may have been animated in its original context, it ceases to be so in the confines of a museum and exhibition framework by means of a dialectical reversal inscribed into these
institutions, which de-animates animate entities and animates “dead”
objects. Instead, this exhibition attempts to imagine what a quasi-anthropological museum of the modern boundary practices might look
like. The exhibition sees animism as node, a knot that, when untied,
will help unpack the “riddle of modernity” in new ways, helping us to
understand modernity as a mode of classifying and mapping the world
by means of partitions, by a series of “Great Divides.”
The cultural particularity of modernity derives from the naturalization of these divisions and separations; that is, from their appearance
as distinctions a priori—as if natural and outside history—which pervade all levels of symbolic production, with far-reaching effects on aesthetics and language. The positivism of the modern description of the
world relies on the imagination of a negative, which is the result of the
same divisions, and becomes equally naturalized. It was through the
idea of animism that modernity conceived a good part of this negative,
condensing that imagination in one term. Of particular importance for
our project is to see this imaginary not merely as a fiction, but also a
fiction made real.
Animism is a term coined by nineteenth-century social scientists,
particularly the anthropologist Edward Tylor, who aimed to articulate
a theory on the origins of religion, and found it in what was to him the
Anselm Franke

11

“When men die, they enter
history. When statues die,
they enter art. This botany of
death is what we call culture.” Les Statues meurent
aussi, which was censored
for more than a decade, was
commissioned by the literary
review and publishing house,
Présence Africaine, which
was set up in 1947 in Paris
as a quarterly literary review
for emerging and important
African writers. Présence Africaine’s publications signaled
a new, post-colonial status
for French and francophone
thought, embracing the notion of négritude. Les Statues
meurent aussi strives to connect the death of the statue
with the rise in the commercialization of African art.
Chris Marker and Alain Resnais
Les Statues meurent aussi, 1953
Video (original: 16 mm), 30 min
Courtesy Argos Films and Présence Africaine

primordial mistake of primitive people who attributed life and personlike qualities to objects in their environment.1 Tylor’s theory was built
on the widespread assumption of the time that primitive people were
incapable of assessing the real value and properties of material objects.
Animism was explained by its incapacity to distinguish between object
and subject, reality and fiction, the inside and outside, which led to
the projection of human qualities onto objects. The concept was inscribed into an evolutionary scheme from the primitive to the civilized,
in which a few civilizations had evolved, while the rest of the world’s
people, described by Tylor as “tribes very low in the scale of humanity,” had remained animist, thus effectively constituting “relics” of an
archaic past. This evolutionary scheme would soon be taken up by psychology in its own terms, asserting that every human passes through an
animist stage in childhood, which is characterized by the projection of
its own interior world onto the outside.
The colonialist connotations of the term have led some to suggest that we abandon it once and for all. This has been necessary for
a related term, the “primitive.” But in animism, there is more at stake
than in the modern discourse on its primitive other, although they overlapped at crucial points. The challenge in using the concept today is to
maintain a perspective that does justice both to non-modern practices
that animism presumably characterized, and to premises of modernity
from which it originated. For this reason, one needs to bear the many
dimensions of the term in mind and allow them enter into a constellation akin to a montage.
The first dimension is the animism of the anthropologists of the
nineteenth century, like Tylor; the “old” animism of modernity, a category in which Western imagination and phantasy, politics, economy,
ideology, scientific assumptions, and subjectivities fuse. Between this
Animism

12

1 Edward Tylor, Primitive Culture, 2 vols., (London: John Murray, 1871).

2 Notably the frequent indigenous uprisings in Ecuador
since 1990, which evolve around
struggles for the legalization of
land holdings, and in which animism is posited as a social and
political alternative to neoliberal
economic reforms.

At the center of Harun Farocki’s video Transmission
is the touching of stone, as
he makes portraits of monuments all over the world
with which people interact
in performative exchanges
of sorts and with different
purposes, from the Vietnam
Memorial in Washington to
the Devil’s Footprint in the
Frauenkirche in Frankfurt.
In Ein Tag im Leben des
Endverbrauchers, Farocki
constructs the twenty-four
hours of a day of an average consumer through German advertising films from
forty years ago.

“old” animism and the cultural practices that it sought to describe
and classify, we find a gap marked by colonial subjugation, appropriation, and misrecognition. The practices at stake are ones that need to
be understood independently of their description by anthropologists,
although the two have, of course, become historically entangled. There
is also a “new animism,” which proclaims to have come closer to the
realities of the cultures in question, which seeks to take “animist” cultural practices seriously (and often struggles to come to terms with the
enduring assumptions underlying the old), considering forms of relational knowledge, and, above all, practices different from those predominant in modernity. This distinction between “old” animism and
“new” animism, between the animism Western anthropologists conceptualized and what they referred to, is mirrored in the relation of
so-called indigenous societies to the term: While many resent the use
of the term for its colonial connotations and accusations of savagery, it
is also increasingly utilized in political struggles of indigenous groups
within the political structures inherited from colonial modernity.2
And on yet another register, there is the animism within modernity’s image culture, as an aesthetic economy, and a way of imagining, which gives expression to collective desires and articulates commonsensical schemes, determining the possibilities of recognizing other
subjectivities, and how life processes can be conceptualized. On this
plane, it is important to distinguish between an economy of images
that is a symptomatic reaction to the effects of modernity, a compensatory displacement and transgression of the boundaries and fragmentation modernity inflicts, and the critical reflection of those very borders
in art. As this distinction can never be absolute, it must remain in question and permanently renewed. Throughout the book and the exhibition it accompanies, these different dimensions are put under scrutiny.
For the moderns, animism is a focal point where all differences are
conflated. This conflation makes for the negativity of animism, which
therefore breeds powerful images and anxieties: the absorption of differ-

Harun Farocki
Ein Tag im Leben der Endverbraucher, 1993
Video, 44 min
Courtesy the artist

Transmission, 2009
Video, 43 min
Courtesy the artist

ences is a womb-phantasy endowed with horrific as well as redemptive
qualities, strong enough, however, to yield ever-new separations, ever
new Great Divides. For the so-called animists, however, animism has
nothing to do with the conflation of differences, but with their negotiation in ways that, more recently, have also become of increasing importance for the former moderns. For the moderns, the animation of things
Anselm Franke

13

African Judaism and Christianity were enriched by writings not included in the Hebrew bible, such as The Book
of Jubilees. The Book of Jubi­
lees, also known as The Little
Genesis, is thought of having
been composed some time between 175 and 140 BCE, and
it is preserved in the Ethiopian language Ge’ez, which
is still the liturgical language
of the Ethiopian Orthodox
Church. From The Book of
Jubilees we learn that before
the Fall, animals were able
communicate with each other
in a “common tongue.” It
was only on their expulsion
from the Garden of Eden
that the mouths of cattle and
birds and of “everything that
walks or moves, were shut.”
The picture by an anonymous
Ethiopian painter invokes a
tradition of church-trained
artists who follow and actualize century-old conventions
to this date. The line that
separates the communion of
animals in the upper half of
the picture from the lower
half inevitably also calls forth
speculations and associations
about the mythical origins of
the modern divide between
culture and nature, between
the communion mediated
by social contracts and the
“state of nature” in which
every creature, in its struggle
for survival, is ultimately at
war with others.
Anonymous (geographical origin: Adis Abeba, Ethiopia)
Assembly of the animals, 1965–1975
Oil on linen
Courtesy the Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam

destroyed the subject, and only by the destruction of animism, and of
animated things, can the free subject of modernity be constituted.
What Makes Modernity Modern?
What does it mean to be modern? A categorical distinction between
nature and society, social scientists generally assume. Only they differentiate between facts, the universal laws of nature and matter, and
cultural symbolic meanings or social relations. The knowledge of the
indisputable, universal truths of nature is acquired through objectification, by distinguishing what is inherent to the object from what
Animism

14

Tom Nicholson’s Monu­
ment for the Flooding of
Royal Park is a work about
colonial Australian history, telling the story of the
expedition by the infamous
explorers Burke and Wills
who started in Melbourne
in 1860 to cross the interior of the continent for the
first time. Until today, the
numerous monuments that
were erected for these two
men continue to physically
impose themselves in public
space. Monument for the
Flooding of Royal Park is
a proposal for an imaginary monument referring
to a part of the history that
is usually left untold—the
death of the two explorers
through their misuse of a
particular plant, nardoo, a
desert fern prepared as food
by Aboriginals. Burke and
Wills failed to add an essential step in the preparation
of nardoo that would gradually lead to their death.
The proposed monument
consists of the temporary
flooding, and subsequent
growing of nardoo in Royal
Park in the center of Melbourne creating a red field
of nardoo plants.

Tom Nicholson
Monument for the flooding of
Royal Park, 2009
Inkjet prints
Courtesy the artist and Anna
Schwartz Gallery, Melbourne

3 Bruno Latour, We Have Never
Been Modern, trans. Catherine
Porter (Cambridge, MA: Harvard
University Press, 1993), 99–100.

belongs to the knowing subject and has been projected onto the ob­
ject. What is not objectified remains unreal and abstract. Only what
can be objectified has a right to be called “real”; everything else enters the realm of “culture,” the subject’s interior, or “mere” image,
representation, passion, fiction, fancy, fantasy. It is this dissociation
of the subjective from the realm of nature and things that simultaneously constitutes the self-possessing subject, liberated from the chains
of superstition, phantasy, and ignorance. The very act of division, the
gesture of separation, produces at once an objectified nature composed
of absolute facts and a free, detached subject: the modern, Cartesian
self. Modernity is modern insofar as the destruction of superstition and
its embodiments (exemplary in the figure of the fetish) resulted in the
establishment of a triumphal world of indisputable facts brought to
light by the power of reason applied in the sciences. As long as objects
were endowed and animated by social representations and subjective
projections, they annihilate the subject; only the destruction of those
ignorant ties emancipates the subject and raises it to the status of the
“free” modern self.
In his several books that engage with the modern divide between
nature and culture, Bruno Latour describes the historical scenarios that
can serve as a backdrop scenography to our understanding of the role
of animism in the constitution of modernity. The bifurcation of nature
and culture, and the subsequent purification of each domain (by way
of objectification), Latour asserts, make moderns “see double.” Every
modern must take sides, and perceive the world either from the side
of the object (where everything is fact), or of the subject (were everything is “made,” constructed), either from nature with its determinate,
indisputable, and eternal laws (to which science provides access), or
from the society of social agents who can construct their world freely
(in politics and culture); but each perspective sees the two domains
of nature and culture as absolutely separate, from mutually exclusive
points of view that one can not occupy at the same time without falling
“back” into animism and an archaic past. The modern idea of animism
must appear then as a necessary result springing from the separation
between nature and culture, as a category that allowed the moderns to
name those who did not make the same distinction, those who assigned
social roles to non-human things, and as a category that made them
imagine the collapse of the boundaries they had installed.
For Them, Nature and Society, signs and things, are virtually co­
extensive. For Us they should never be. Even though we might
still recognize in our own societies some fuzzy areas in madness,
children, animals, popular culture and women’s bodies (Donna
Haraway), we believe our duty is to extirpate ourselves from
those horrible mixtures.3
It is this extirpation, the ongoing separation and “purification” of the
two domains of subjects and objects, that characterizes the process and
progress of modernization as such, which received its canonical formulation by the thinkers of the Enlightenment and the positivist, rationalist sciences. “[The] Enlightenment’s program was the disenchantment
of the world. It wanted to dispel myths, to overthrow phantasy with
knowledge,” write Adorno and Horkheimer in Dialectics of Enlight­
Anselm Franke

15

enment. They continue: “The disenchantment of the world means the
extirpation of animism.” The price paid by the moderns for cutting off
their social ties to nature was that this nature, together with its social
representations, lost its meaning; what they gained was the belief in the
universality of their knowledge, and, above all, the freedom to manipulate and mobilize nature in ways unthinkable in pre-modern contexts.

Anne-Mie Van Kerckhoven
Stranger than Life, 2009–2010
Video stills
Courtesy the artist and Zeno X Gallery, Antwerp

The moderns, Latour tells us, are literally homeless as they live in a
contradictory world composed of a “unifying but senseless nature,”
while on the other, they experience a multiplicity of cultural representations “no longer entitled to rule objective reality.”
The world had been unified, and there remained only the task of
convincing a few last recalcitrant people who resisted moderniza­
tion—and if this failed, well, the leftovers could always be stored
among those “values” to be respected, such as cultural diversity,
tradition, inner religious feelings, madness, etc. In other words,
the leftovers would be gathered in a museum or a reserve or a
hospital and then be turned into more or less collective forms of
subjectivity. Their conservation did not threaten the unity of na­
ture since they would never be able to return to make a claim for
their objectivity and request a place in the only real world under
the only real sun.4
The Great Divides

Anne-Mie van Kerckhoven
has been working with the
image-space situated right
under the surface of the representations of women in
mass media, structured by
the relation between sex and
technology. Her imagery explores layers of deep memory
that bear the force to collectivize private interiority.
She investigates the dynamic
forces of language, and the
politics in the aesthetics of
ecstasy and the obscene.

4 Bruno Latour, War of the
Worlds: What about Peace?, trans.
Charlotte Bigg (Chicago: Prickly
Paradigm Press, 2002), 9.

The Great Divide is what separates modern and premodern societies,
positing civilization on one side of the abyss, and the primitive and archaic on the other.
In order to understand the Great Divide between Us and Them
we have to go back to that other Great Divide between humans
and nonhumans […]. In effect, the first is the exportation of the
second.5
That the internal (nature / culture) and the external (modern/pre-modern) Great Divide were mirroring each other would also mean that they
were upheld by largely the same techniques: The people who found
themselves on the other side of the external Great Divide would be subject to the same protocols of objectification as a nature rendered objecAnimism

16

5 Bruno Latour, We Have Never
Been Modern, 97.

tive in the laboratory. The resulting quest for symmetry is what gave
birth to modern anthropology, which had to qualify itself within the
ruling milieu of the rationalist, positivistic sciences. Tylor’s conception
of animism therefore was firmly based in an objectivist rationalism:
Since the people and culture in question did not make the same categorical distinction between nature and culture, since they treated objects as if they possessed the capacity for perception, communication,
and agency, Tylor could conceive of animism as a “belief,” as an epistemological error, and could locate his primitive “origin” of religion
there. Nonetheless, there needed to be a supplement, since the cultures
Many of Klaus Weber’s
in question were still human, which meant they could not be objectified
works are reflections on the
in similar ways to objects of nature. Since Western ontology itself and
nodes between bodily perits dualism were far from being in question at this point, however, the
ception (nature) and states
cultures on the other side of the Great Divide had to be inscribed into
of mind (culture), for which
he frequently turns to the
an evolutionary scheme; they had to become “pre-modern.” Thus, Tyborders between human and lor located his animists among the “lower races,” and “savages.” But
vegetative and animal life.
this evolutionary scheme was not his invention; the “backwardness”
He explores bio-chemical
aspects of social life and sub- of non-modern cultures had been a common conception as early as the
sixteenth century in the context of the emergence of Western moderverts normative perceptions
as well as understandings of nity and mercantilist capitalism. All that Tylor did was clothe it in a sciart by transferring them into entific narrative. Animism was thus progressively inscribed in a set of
the registers of other-thanimaginary oppositions that enforced and legitimized Western imperial
human forms of life, and
modernity, constituting a spatial-geographic “outside,” and a primiinscribes them into systems
tive, evolutionary “past.”
of intoxication. Double
Animism, much like the category of the “primitive,” was thus not
Cactus is a piece consisting
of two San Pedro (Trichocer­ so much a description of a social order of a past archaic or present
eus pachanoi) plants, which
primitive form of culture, but an expression of the need and desire to
contain mescaline, grafted
find them. The modern conception of animism says much less about
together at the top end, thus
those it presumably described objectively, than about modernity and
reversing the very direction
of grows. Mescaline was first the distinctions that upheld its cosmography. Animism and the primisynthesized in 1919, and is
tive were much sought for mirrors, by means of which modernity could
best known through the Peaffirm itself in the image of alterity. In the heyday of European coloyote cactus, which was used
nialism, the invention of a non-existent unity of the animist primitive
in ancient Mexico and is a
along an imaginary historical arrow of progress constituted a key to
vital part of the ceremonies
legitimizing the actual subjugation of the colonized as much as it was
of today’s Native American
Church.
necessary to provide the moderns with an image that could confirm
their identity. It mattered little whether the denigration was reversed
and instead idealized as a “paradisic state of nature” (which can switch
at any moment into the state of nature as the brutal struggle for survival beyond any social contracts), as compensation for the evils of modernity, or liberation from the constraints of civilization.
The Space of Death and the Theater of Negativity
Klaus Weber
Doppelkaktus, 2006
2 grafted San Pedro cactuses,
blued iron, mirror
Courtesy the artist

As much as that image of animist primitives and their savagery unified
the “rest” on the modern’s side of the Great Divide, it inflicted terror
on those locked inside of it. Imaginary appropriation licensed real subjugation; the objectivist “tyranny of the signifier” that had enthroned
enlightened reason would enact the savagery it had imputed to its Others. The flipside of the disenchanted, static, enlightened realm of objective facts is equally imaginary, that darkness as of yet untouched by the
light of reason. The regime of positivist signification sees its opposite in
Anselm Franke

17

“wildness,” just as the bifurcation of nature and culture finds its negation in animism. The result, in both cases, is the creation of a space of
negativity. “Wildness challenges the unity of the symbol, the transcendent totalization binding the image to that which it represents. Wildness
pries open this unity and in its place creates slippage. […] Wildness is the
death space of signification,”6 writes anthropologist Michael Taussig:
This space of death has a long and rich culture. It is where the
social imagination has populated its metamorphizing images of
evil and the underworld: in the Western tradition Homer, Virgil,
the Bible, Dante, Hieronymos Bosch, the Inquisition, Rimbaud,
Conrad’s heart of darkness; in northwest Amazonian tradition,
zones of vision, communication between terrestrial and super­
natural beings, putrification, death, rebirth, and genesis, perhaps
in the rivers and land of maternal milk bathed eternally in the
subtle green light of coca leaves. With European conquest and
colonization, these spaces of death blend into a common pool of
key signifiers binding the transforming culture of the conquerer
with that of the conquered. But the signifiers are strategically out
of joint with what they signify. “If confusion is the sign of the
times,” wrote Artaud, “I see at the root of this confusion a rup­
ture between things and words, between things and the ideas and
signs that are their representation.”7
In his seminal study of the rubber boom in the Putuyamo region in
Amazonas, Taussig describes how, through the arrival of the colonial
regime and capitalist exploitation, this imaginary death space was systematically turned into a reality. It is this passage from the imaginary to
reality, the process through which images turn into operational maps
by means of which we understand, rule and ultimately, create a world
that this project, in seeking to explore the imaginary and the historicity
of animism, must focus on.
In the death space created at the modern colonial frontier, the imagery (the social representations and the connections they uphold with
the world) of the destroyed society and its cosmography fuses with
the imagery of the conquering world, creating restless hybrids through
which, in discontinuity, continuity and memory are preserved.
The imagery brought to the colonial space of death by the Europeans has its own distinct European genealogy. The extirpation of
animisms in the colonial world was preceded by the extirpation of animisms within the West: The imagination of the death space has been
shaped by the struggle for Christianization, by images of martyrdom
and the experiences of the witch hunt and the Inquisition, which produced a “theater of negativity”, in which the European imaginary of
evil was born. This theater would find ceaseless continuitation in the
Enlightenment and secular modernity, in the progressive exorcisms of
all states of mind that resisted the Christian, and later, the modern discontinuity between humans and nature.
Within Europe, the division of the modern cosmography into an
imaginary black and white, night and light, was enacted as a progressive frontier. The boundary of the modern world generated an imagery
at its internal margins correlative to the colonial death space, but yet
articulated in more familiar morphologies of the “night of the world” –
Animism

18

6 Michael Taussig, Shamanism, Colonialism, and the Wild
Man: A Study in Terror and Healing (Chicago: University Of Chicago Press, 1987), 219.

7 Michael Taussig, Shamanism, Colonialism, and the Wild
Man, 10.

what much later would become the “unconscious”. This space is populated by dismembered bodies, by fragmentation, scenarios of disintegration, and the like, providing a monstrous mirror to objectification,
discipline, mechanistic fragmentation, and political terror. The unreal,
delirious, diabolic night of darkness created by the empire of enlightened reason, however, was always also a space of transformation and
transgressive fantasies, as Taussig describes in the work mentioned
above; a space of heightened, even delirious animations and sensuous,
mimetic ecstasies. Both aspects shaped the imaginary that would later
find its conceptual expression in the concept of animism.
The Modern Boundary Replicated

These works on paper
consist of pages from the
Vatican daily Osservatore
Romano featuring articles
on modern life and morality overlaid with old images
of the Apocalypse, the Last
Judgment and the Expulsion from Eden as well as
engravings of the Inquisition. The horrors of hell
interpreted by the Old
Masters become here the
illustration of ecclesiastical news. Ferrari’s collages
refer to the historical role of
Christian institutions in the
colonizing of the Americas
and the continuity of terror
in later forms of suppression such as the military
dictatorships.
8 Michel Foucault, History of
Madness (London: Routledge,
2006), xxix.

The logic of the Great Divide would find another correlate in the exemplary institution of modernity, the asylum and psychiatry, and the
fantasy of animism as the conflation of the modern distinctions would
once again be a key accusation that sustained the power of the institutional machine. Michel Foucault wrote a history of this Great Divide,
separating the normal from the pathological, reason from unreason in
modernity. There are, in his exposé in the History of Madness, several
clues to the working of the modern boundary regime. He attempts to
write the history of madness starting from the point not of the later
imaginary of indifference, but where madness and reason were still unseparated, where the experience of madness was not yet differentiated,
not yet marked by a boundary that cut it off. He attempts to return to
the gesture of partition, the caesura that creates the distance between
reason and unreason in the first place, the original grip by which reason
confined unreason in order to wrest its secrets, its truth, away from it.
We could write a history of limits—of those obscure gestures,
necessarily forgotten as soon as they are accomplished, through
which a culture rejects something which for it will be the exteri­
or; and throughout its history, this hollowed out void, this white
space by means of which it isolates itself, identifies it as clearly
as its values. For these values are received, and maintained in the
continuity of history; but in the region of which we could speak,
it makes its essential choices, operating the division which gives a
culture the face of its positivity.8
What is most relevant in Foucault’s description for the present context
is that there arises in it an explanation how the logic of partition creates the space of silence of an exchange being brought to a halt, that is
being filled by the monological discourses and institutions congruent to
the division; he asserts that these discourses and institutions are indeed
the result of the primary partition, spanning and administering the very
abyss that made them possible. The partition lines of the Great Divides,
it seems, must be replicated on different scales without which their
management and overall organization would not hold together: They
must run through the interior of each subject, through the body, the
family, the nation, through modern culture at large, and finally, through
humankind. This replication on various scales helps us see more clearly
that none of the scissions remain absolutely static; indeed, they must be
Anselm Franke

19

Animism

20

León Ferrari
L’Osservatore Romano, 2001–2007
Collages on paper
Courtesy the artist

21

negotiated and replicated permanently. Finally, their logic becomes implicit within the cognitive mapping of the world (“an obscure gesture,”
which constitutes the positive and negative, the social implicit and the
explicit), and in order to describe them without operating within their
registers, one must return to the point before the scission, before the
de-coupling of elements such as body and mind, subject and object, humans and nonhumans, reason and unreason in order to think their entanglement and unity. In this lies the potential significance of animism
beyond its symptomatic, pathologized articulation as a transgressive
phantasy where differences conflate. For there are, in the practices referred to as animist, indeed relations that constitute experiences of difference not marked by the proliferating Great Divides.
Foucault’s history of the separation that gave rise to the modern
institution of psychiatry also entails an aspect relevant to the question
of relationality and difference. The relation established by the modern
discourses to the absolute differences they postulate is monological:
psychiatry speaks about madness, not with madness. Madness is objectified; what the psychiatrist speaks is the language of objective facts,
which can no longer account for subjective experiences. Indeed, key
symptoms of modern pathologies are a response to such objectification,
which is experienced as the threat of petrification and immobilization.
The boundaries of all Great Divides stir not only scientific interest,
but are populated by anxieties in the form of images, figures, the threat
of mimetic infections, in which the order of rationality is always put
at risk, and defended by an extension of its rule. The modern subject,
in its laboratory situations deprived of dialogic relatedness, becomes
armored in defense of its unity, and this defense is symptomatically
displaced into the border-imagery. The anxiety about the border itself
is what defines the morphology and symbolic economy of its images—
and these images become templates for the inscription of otherness.
The threat of machinic dismemberment is displaced into the anxiety
of the body given over to the fluid and fragmentary, and to emergent
relational subjectivities, against which the subject builds up an “armor
of anaesthetization” (Susan Buck-Morrs) that upholds its unity in a
reiterated gesture of defense. These “Others” are the symptomatic articulation of the rationalist boundaries; they encompass in the interior
the so-called unconscious, the sensuous, emotional, and sexual, and in
the exterior, the racial other, the subaltern.
Whelped in the Great Divides, the principal Others to Man, in­
cluding his “posts,” are well documented in ontological breeding
registries in both past and present Western cultures: gods, ma­
chines, animals, monsters, creepy crawlies, women, servants and
slaves, and noncitizens in general. Outside of the security check­
point of bright reason, outside the apparatuses of reproduction of
the sacred image of the same, these “others” have a remarkable
capacity to induce panic in the centers of power and self-certain­
ty. Terrors are regularly expressed in hyperphilias and hyperpho­
bias, and examples of this are no richer than in the panics roused
by the Great Divide between animals (lapdogs) and machines
(laptops) in the early twenty-first century C.E. Technophilias and
technophobias vie with organophilias and organophobias, and
taking sides is not left to chance.9
Animism

22

León Ferrari
L’Osservatore Romano, 2001 –
2007
Collages on paper
Courtesy the artist

9 Donna Haraway, When Species Meet (Minneapolis: University
of Minnesota Press, 2008), 10.

Jan Švankmajer is internationally known for his
animation films, among the
best-known are his version
of Lewis Caroll’s Alice’s
Adventures in Wonderland
from 1988. Švankmajer’s
surreal, Kafkaesque, nightmarish and yet humorous
journeys into the unconscious are populated by
things and hybrid figures
that lead uncanny lives of
their own. In parallel to his
filmmaking, Švankmajer
has always produced artworks and objects, ranging
from drawing and collage,
to sculptures, ceramics
and tactile objects, which
equally inhabit the borderlines of familiar physiognomic worlds.

Jan Švankmajer
The Power of a Request, 1990
Mixed media
Courtesy Athanor – Film Production Company, Llc

Life
The backdrop against which to understand the nineteenth-century conception of animism is ultimately the partition of life from non-life, and
its many offsprings and differentiations. The distinction between life
and non-life is perhaps the most fundamental one in modernity, explicitly as well as implicitly qualifying its notions of objectivity and the
laws of nature, the divisions between subjects and objects, material and
immaterial, human and non-human. It is, at the same time, the most
unstable of divisions, having an instability that finds its expression in
bioethical debates, technophobias, and the gothic imaginary and unique
importance the experience of the “uncanny” holds in modern aesthetics
as a borderline condition in which the inanimate turns out as animate
and vice versa; and which, in Freud’s canonical interpretation, has consequently been explained as a “return” of animistic convictions.

10 Giorgio Agamben, The Open:
Man and Animal (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2004), 13.

For anyone undertaking a genealogical study of the concept of
“life” in our culture, one of the first and most instructive obser­
vations to be made is that the concept never gets defined as such.
And yet, this things that remains indeterminate gets articulated
and divided time and again, through a series of caesurae and op­
positions that invest it with a decisive strategic function in do­
mains as apparently distant as philosophy, theology, politics, and
–only later– medicine and biology. That is to say, everything hap­
pens as if, in our culture, life were what cannot be defined, yet,
precisely for this reason, must be ceaselessly articulated and divided.10
In our culture, man has always been thought of as the articula­
tion and conjunction of a body and a soul, of a living thing and a
Anselm Franke

23

Daria Martin
Soft Materials, 2004
16 mm film, 10 min 30 sec
Courtesy Maureen Paley, London

Animism

24

Soft Materials by Daria
Martin shows an encounter between machines and
humans. This video work
was shot in the Artificial
Intelligence Lab at the
University of Zurich where
scientists research “embodied artificial intelligence.”
What looks like an extraordinary choreography is a
laboratory process through
which the robots acquire
new functions by interacting with human bodies.
The woman and the men
in the laboratory are highly
trained in movement and
body awareness. These performers shed skins of soft
fabric, bearing their joints
like the frank structure of
a machine, and then, naked, they perform a series
of dances with the robots.
Creating intimate relationships that are in turn tender,
funny and eerie, they bend
flexible human fantasy
around tough materials.
The film provokes speculative responses around the
notorious question of “man
and machine,” the animate
and the inanimate, blurring
traditional borders between
technological and human
media through seductive
and unexpected sensual and
mimetic interactions.
11 Giorgio Agamben, The
Open: Man and Animal, 16.

12 William McDougall, Body
and Mind: A History and A
Defense of Animism, (M.B.
Methuen, 1911), 3.

logos of a natural (or animal) element and a supernatural or social
or divine element. We must learn instead to think of man as what
results from the incongruity of these two elements, and investigate
not the metaphysical mystery of conjunction, but rather the prac­
tical and political mystery of separation. What is man, if he is al­
ways the place -and, at the same time, the result - of ceaseless divi­
sions and caesurae? It is more urgent to work on these divisions,
to ask in what way - within man - has man been separated from
non-man, and the animal from the human, than it is to take posi­
tions on the great issues, on so-called human rights and values.11
The segmentations of life have a common background in what has
dominated European Christian debates for centuries: the question over
the character and composition of the soul (in Latin, anima, from which
the word animism is derived), which was seen variously as an entity
distinct from the body or as its animating principle, or both at the same
time. Radically simplifying the quarrels over the nature of souls, what
is tantamount to the milieu of rationalist positivism in the nineteenth
century was its gradual disappearance from center stage in an evolving modernity. The soul could not be objectified since it had no apparent material reality that conformed to its latest metaphysical designs.
When the anatomists during the Enlightenment opened up the body,
there was no evidence of it. The soul could not be objectified, and thus
it retracted into the realm of the subjective interior, and was secularized
in the notion of the psyche and self. As a consequence, the very definition of “life” was put at stake—for the “hard” sciences, life had to be
explained without making reference to an immaterial force (which the
vitalists were still defending through concepts such as the élan vital),
it had to be explained through mechanical, biochemical processes and
their inherent laws alone. It is against this background of (often vulgar)
materialism that one must understand the characterization of animist
relations to matter and “objects” as a “belief” and an epistemological
“mistake” that had no objective claim to reality, disregarding the experiential dimensions of those relations and the questions they may pose.
But to describe the primitive ghost-soul as either matter or spirit
is misleading; if these terms are to be applied to it, we must de­
scribe it as a material spirit. This is, of course, a contradiction in
terms, which we can resolve by recognizing that the peoples who
believe in the ghost-soul have not achieved the comparatively
modern distinction between material and immaterial or spiritual
existents.12
Images, Media, and the Return of the Repressed
Nineteenth-century rationalist science frequently referred to the soul
as an image:
It is a thin, unsubstantial human image, in its nature a sort of
vapour, film or shadow; the cause of life and thought in the in­
dividual it animates; independently possessing the personal con­
sciousness and volition of its corporeal owner, past or present;
Anselm Franke

25

capable of leaving the body far behind, to flash swiftly from place
to place; mostly impalpable and invisible, yet also manifesting
physical power, and especially appearing to men waking or asleep
as a phantasm separate from the body of which it bears the like­
ness; continuing to exist and appear to men after the death of
that body; able to enter into, possess and act in the bodies of oth­
er men, of animals, and even things.13
This is a description that, with minor alterations, would be applicable
in almost all its features to the photographic and cinematographic image. Though substantial, the photographic image, too, moves through
time and space, appears as a phantasma bearing likeness, continues to
exist after death, and has a certain physical and mediumistic power
to “possess” other bodies, as any observation of a crowd in a cinema
suffices to show. Is there a relation, and if so, of what kind, between
the Great Divides and modern technological media? Is there a relation between the “disenchantment” of the world, the retraction of the
soul to subjective interiority, and the objectivist stance? The canonical
accounts of the industrialized, rationalized modern world frequently
come to that conclusion. Is there, however, a connection, or even a
similar process happening to images, regarding their status in modernity, and their technologies?
According to Bruno Latour, the division of nature and culture, and
the subsequent purification of the two domains of subjects on the one
side, and things on the other, is only possible by a repression of the
middle ground, the mediation that connects subjects with objects in
multiple forms. “Everything happens in the middle, everything passes
between the two, everything happens by way of mediation, translation and networks, but this space does not exist, it has no place. It is
unthinkable, the unconscious of the moderns.”14 Objectification, that
is, the purification of the domains of subjects and things, of life and
non-life, is made possible by suppressing mediation, symbolic meanings, and images: the moderns “had in common a hatred of intermediaries and a desire for an immediate world, emptied of its mediators.”15
Latour accounts for these mediators and their networks in his ethnography of science, tracing the tools, technologies, and chains of reference that create new associations between humans and things borne
from modernity’s laboratories. Latour’s mediators are always graphs—
modes of inscription that make things talk, and through which a reference can be mobilized.
There is another, more general aspect, however, to the realm of mediation and associations. Images—in all their aggregate conditions, as
sign, work of art, inscription, or picture that acts as a mediation to access something else; as social representations, symbols, schemes; from
their role in cognition, the sensuous body and mimetic exchange, to the
image as an object that, as a mediator, acquires an agency of its own—
are what any relation presupposes, since we have no direct access to
the world. Images, whether merely mental or materialized, are, by definition, boundaries: conjunction and disjunction at the same time, creation of a difference, and creation of a relation. They organize, uphold,
cross, transgress, affirm, or undermine boundaries. The particularity of
the Great Divides, however, makes the image in modernity the subject
of a particular economy, of a split, a schizophrenic regime. For the imAnimism

26

13 Edward Tylor, Primitive
Culture, vol. 1, 429.

14 Bruno Latour, We Have Never
Been Modern, 37.

15 Bruno Latour, We Have Never
Been Modern, 143

Victor Grippo
Tiempo, 1991
Potatoes, zinc and copper electrodes, electric wires, digital
clock, painted wooden base,
glass vitrine and text
Courtesy Alexander and Bonin,
New York

Victor Grippo was a major
figure in Argentinian art
in the second half of the
twentieth century, a period characterized by the
military dictatorship and
poverty. Grippo’s work instilled a political resonance
in domestic items such as
tables, and he maintained
an alchemical interest in
workaday materials and
natural objects. Among
the materials he frequently
worked with were potatoes.
“The potato-battery related
to the generative energy
of a native foodstuff that
became the staple food of
the poor the world over, in
a certain sense the constitutive matter of the world.”
16 Bruno Latour and Peter
Weibel, eds., ICONOCLASH:
Beyond the Image Wars in
Science, Religion and Art (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT,
2002), 16.

17 Michael Taussig, Defacement:
Public Secrecy and the Labor of the
Negative (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999), 43.

age in modernity is never allowed to embody the function of a mediator per se, organizing both processes of subjectification and objectification in ever-fragile constellations.
Images, too, must take sides: as neutral windows adequately representing the objective world (by way of divine or machinic inscription producing an uncontaminated mimetic accuracy that reduces the
deceptive to a minimum), or as mere subjective representations, with
no claim to an objective world; that is, in the last instance, as an animistic mirror of sorts, a projection of interiority onto the outer world,
reduced to the picture plane. The status of photography provides perfect evidence of this ever-shifting status: Either the photograph is seen
as a merely machinic product, over which consequently no right of authorship can be claimed (as was the case in the early days of photography), or it is seen as the expression of a subject (as made constitutive
at a later stage). The machine in this instance either records the world
neutrally, objectively, or it is the willful instrument of a subject’s intention, although surely such division can only be maintained conceptually, never in practice. In each case, the turning point, the infrastructure
of a complex chain of mediations, is blended out.
We are digging for the origin of an absolute—not a relative—
distinction between truth and falsity, between a pure world, ab­
solutely emptied of human-made intermediaries and a disgusting
world composed of impure but fascinating human-made media­
tors.16
The schizophrenia derived from the repression of mediation in its own
right finds its ultimate articulation in iconoclasm and anti-fetishism,
two distinctively modern stances to which Latour has also devoted significant work. It is in these figures that the link between the fate of the
soul and the fate of the image under the rule of objectivism are linked:
that is, when images are endowed with souls.
On the level of pictures, the fetish is the embodiment par excellence
of a forbidden hybridity, of the “horrible mixture” outlined above. It
represents what for modernity is an impossibility, at least conceptually: a fact that is also constructed, made. The fetish is the figure of an
image-object subjectively made and falsely endowed with an objective
reality, an agency, a subjectivity and life of its own. In order for it to
be real, no human hand is allowed to have touched it. The desire for
an unmediated, non-relational access to nature and truth calls for the
destruction of false images. In the face of the fetishistic power of imagery, the moderns shift between an omnipotence and impotence that
replicates their relation to nature: either “they make everything,” or
“everything is made and they can do nothing” (Latour). The destruction of the accused images breeds only ever-new imagery; and worse,
in the last instance, it is only in the act of destruction that the image
gains the power of which it is being accused. The “very act of critique
often adds to the power of the critiqued.”17 In modernity, there is always either too much or too little to an image. Either they are nothing
or everything. Worse, in their strong belief in the power of the fetish,
so much so that it demands destruction, the moderns turn into fetishists of a higher order: The fetishist knows well that fetishes are madeup, constructed, relational, and mediated. The urge of the enlightened
Anselm Franke

27

Art & Language
Map of the Sahara Desert after Lewis Carroll, 1967
Ink on graph paper
Courtesy the artist and Lisson Gallery, London
Private Collection, Nantes

Animism

28

The work by Art & Language refers to Lewis Carroll’s perhaps best-known
poem, The Hunting of
the Snark, which evolves
around an empty map of
an ocean. In Map of the
Sahara Desert after Lewis
Carroll (1967), Art & Language transform Carroll’s
map of the ocean into a
map of a desert—a map,
that is, with the exception of cardinal points and
scale, empty, thus creating
a short-circuit between the
internal and external signrelations. And as much as
the systematizing demonstration of the coordination
among sign-relations leaves
us in permanent oscillation
between its various registers, the iconoclastic emptiness of Map of the Sahara
Desert after Lewis Carroll
breeds new images, inevitably inviting the imagination to populate a blank
territory.
18 Theodor Adorno and Max
Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment, trans. Edmund Jephcott
(Stanford: Stanford University
Press, 2002), 5.

19 Theodor Adorno and Max
Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment, 6.

anti-fetishist to destroy the fetish re-institutes a paradoxical belief. The
facticity and rationality that inhabits the world in which fetishism has
been destroyed is replaced by a new fetish, ever more powerful than
the previous one: objectivity, a form of knowing that is absolute and
non-relational, bracketed off from history and social context. Inscribing these facts once again into the historicity of knowing and science,
Latour brings the fetishistic “heart of darkness,” which Europeans had
so successfully placed in their imaginary of the Other, back home again.
“But the myths which fell victim to the Enlightenment were themselves
its product.”18
In modern technologies of mimetic reproduction, the borderline
condition of all modern imagery finds its ultimate technological expression. The destruction of images and the repression of mediators
not only produces the paradoxical reversal where the power of images
is proliferated in the act of their destruction, but also yields unprecedented desires for the production of new images, in which the experiential dimension of modernity is expressed, confirmed, and overcome.
The technological media are themselves the product not merely of a
technological advance, but of these desires that are the direct outcome
of the logic of the divides. Modern imagery—as with any set of images—constitutes a meridian point of simultaneous association and dissociation in which objectification and subjectification blend, although
this blending happens only in constellatory flashes, preparing a rescission, which re-inscribes them on either side of the divides. This meridian point is a political battlefield; it holds both dystopian and utopian
potential. It is a site of constant dialectical reversals, of intense unrest,
nervousness, and anxiety. The image becomes at once the very site of
the “horrible mixture” and its decomposition.
The key to understanding the knot at the meridian point of modern imagery is the experiential dimension of modernity. Industrialization and rationalization produced a segmentation and fragmentation of the senses, mirroring the effect of the “disenchantment” that
objectification and modern iconoclasm had on our perception of the
world. The band that holds time and space together breaks, and with
it, symbolic unity, resulting in a generalized condition of social disembeddedness. Alienation is the concept that describes the experience of
the modern objectified world and the splitting of that experience into
isolated categories such as agency, object and observer, self and nonself. Social alienation is the price of modernity, as well as being the precondition and symptom of modern power relations:
Human beings purchase the increase in their power with the es­
trangement from that over which it is exerted. Enlightenment
stands in the same relationship to things as the dictator to hu­
man beings. He knows them to the extent that he can manipulate
them.19
Not only is domination paid for with the estrangement of human
beings from the dominated objects, but the relationships of hu­
man beings, including the relationship of humans to themselves,
have themselves been bewitched by the objectification of the
mind. Individuals shrink to the nodal points of conventional
reactions and the modes of operations objectively expected of
Anselm Franke

29

What are the techniques of
isolation? […] a common
denominator of those tech­
niques was the visualisation
of the object. […] So any
method of creating an image
of someone or something […]
begins with pointing a spot­
light at the object. It becomes
brighter than its surround­
ings, more detailed, easier to
observe. […] you can ex­
change the spotlight in vice/
virtue with a camera, or a mi­
croscope but the mechanism
stays the same. […] I found
a photo of a prison yard. It
was lying upside down. The
spotlight was pointing at the
sky and first I thought the
image depicted a stage. Then
I turned it 180 degrees and
found it was a prison. […] I
used the photo as a blueprint
for the drawing. For the ani­
mation I choose a centrifu­
gal spin, as it’s a common
scientific method of isolating
cells from each other. […] the
presentation involves a video
beam with which the draw­
ing is projected onto the pa­
per. It utilizes the technique
of the light-beam as is used
in the prison yard and on
stage. The artwork is part of
the very same system that it’s
criticizing.
– Natascha Sadr Haghighian

Natascha Sadr Haghighian
vice/virtue, 2001
Digital video projection, 1 min 5 sec
Courtesy Johann König, Berlin

them. Animism had endowed things with souls; industrialism
makes souls into things.20
Unification through objectification takes the form of extinction coupled with conservation. Extinction because the conceptual denial of
otherness inscribed real others into the continuum of objects, and if the
destructive force thus unleashed did not result in direct or indirect genocides, it nevertheless destroyed the subjectivities (and cosmographies)
Animism

30

20 Theodor Adorno and Max
Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment, 21.

in question (if not once and for all). The simultaneous conservation
in institutions of modern knowledge, such as museums, archives, and
exhibitions, did not run counter to this destruction; it merely gave it
an adequate expression, through which the power of inscription could
become manifest.
Life and Death on Display

Wesley Meuris’ series of
designed cages for animals
are derived from the artist’s
engagement with zoological
classifications, taxonomies
and systems of knowledge.
As architectural propositions, they turn these meditations on scientific classification into a question of
relationality: What is the
mode of knowing we have
about the object on display, and what creates the
spectatorial enjoyment of
seeing animals in captivity?
Since the cages are empty,
however, the scene of such
reflection is transferred to
the imagination: We have
to give shape to the animal
in question in our minds,
using the enclosed architectural habitat as an inversed
script that gives shape to a
life-form, thus engaging in a
form of spectatorial empathy that displays like these
normally foreclose.

This is where an exhibition about animism must begin. It must use the
concept of animism as the mirror of modernity that it was from the
outset, while at the same time disempower the relations that the powerful imaginary of the term upheld. The projection and exportation of
animism onto the imagined Heart of Darkness out there, at the other
side of the Great Divides, must be reversed, and similar to the concept
of fetishism, animism must be “brought back home.” The economy of
the imaginary of the Great Divides must become visible in the modern
imaginary, so that the relations enforced by the foreclosing of relations
can come to the fore. And insofar as the position of animism in the
geography of the Great Divides links the question of life and non-life
with that of the object and the subject, it must focus on the dialectics of
objectification (mummification, petrification, reification, and so forth)
and animation in modern imagery.
A powerful, if somewhat sentimental root-image situating the dispositifs of objectification within which such a dialectics unfolds is the
butterfly—symbol of the psyche, of life undergoing metamorphosis. In
order for the butterfly to become an object within a static taxonomy,
and for it to enter the material base of such taxonomy; that is, the archive, exhibition, and so forth, it must be conserved. Its fixation requires mummification, and it is “installed” at its place within the grid
of the taxonomy (the modern cosmography) by the needle that pins
it to the display. The needle is a figure for the act of objectifying signification. If this requires actual killing, there are also various forms

Wesley Meuris
Cage for Pelodiscus sinensis, 2005
wood, glass-tiles, glass, water,
lighting and ventilation
Public collection, Alcobendas,
Madrid

Anselm Franke

31

The piece Drawings and
Correspondence by Tom
Nicholson evolves around
a particular drawing and its
history. The drawing is found
on photographs taken of an
ethnographic display at the
Melbourne Zoo in the 1880s,
inside a mia mia. It is supposedly an “authentic” native
work. The research into the
micro-history of the drawing and its shifting symbolic
meanings open a panorama
of Australian colonial history
and the dispositifs that uphold its continuity.

Tom Nicholson
Drawings and correspondence, 2009
Charcoal drawings and off-set printed artist’s book, excerpt
Courtesy the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery, Melbourne

of “social death,” which leave biological life intact while depriving
the subject/object in question of the Umwelt (Jakob von Uexküll) that
constitutes its life, of the web that constitutes its being in relationality.
This is the objectification of life we find in the ethnographic displays
during the era of the grand world fairs, and such are the enclosures of
the zoo. They are displays of objectification because they enclose and
isolate—yet another phenotype of the disciplinary institutions and enclosures described by Michel Foucault as the engines of modern power—and because they foreclose the possibility of dialogic relationships,
and deliver the object on display to consumption and spectacle clothed
in educational terms.
The entire discipline of anthropology, it has been claimed, is implicated in an objectification in which extinction (cultures doomed to
Animism

32

21 Edward Curtis, The North
American Indian, Introduction,
1907
22 For further elaboration on
the myth of the camera stealing
the soul, see The Museum of the
Stealing of Souls, http://stealingsouls.org/.
23 See Bruno Latour, Peter
Weibel eds., ICONOCLASH.
24 Roland Barthes, Camera
Lucida: Reflections on Photography, trans. Richard Howard (New
York: Hill and Wang, 1981), 13–14.
25 Jacques Derrida, Specters
of Marx, the State of the Debt, the
Work of Mourning, & the New International, trans. Peggy Kamuf,
(London: Routledge, 1994), 6.

In Mother Dao the Turtle­
like, the viewer sees how
the colonial machinery was
implanted in the Dutch
West Indies between 1912
and about 1932. More than
260,000 meters of 35mm
documentary nitrate film
footage from the Dutch film
archives served as Monnikendam’s source material.
The documentary starts
with a shortened version of
the legend of the inhabitants of Nias, an isle to the
West of Sumatra. It was
told that the earth was created by Mother Dao, who
“collected the dirt off her
body and kneaded it on
her knee into a ball. This
was the world. Later, she
became pregnant, without a man, and gave birth
to a boy and a girl. They
were the first people. They
lived in a fertile world.”
Much of the footage used

disappear as civilization and modern progress inevitably progress) and
conservation are merely the flipsides of one and the same coin, creating what Paul Ricoeur has envisioned as an “imaginary museum” of
mankind. The intimacy of extinction and documentary inscription and
conservation characterizes ethnographic film as well as photography—
as famously illustrated by the case of photographer Edward Curtis and
his pictures of North American native cultures, which he thought were
at the brink of extinction, a “vanishing race.” “The information that
is to be gathered [...] respecting the mode of life of one of the great
races of mankind, must be collected at once or the opportunity will be
lost.”21 The pictures themselves express the borderline, simultaneously
reaching out and upholding it—the border between “us” and “them,”
and between an imagined past, a present mastered by modernity, and
a future that holds no more place for “them.” The pictures become, in
an uncanny sense, the borders themselves.
Curtis’s pictures have frequently been invoked in debates over the
myth of the camera stealing the soul.22 This myth, ascribed to natives
world-wide, once again links image with soul, and is an expression
of the modern belief in the continuity, as well as the rupture, between
magic and technology—an instance, once more, of the modern “belief
in belief,” a blindness to the world-producing power of relational practices, which already structures the “fetishism” discourse.23
On another, general register, the connection between photography
and death, the “uncanny” status of photography in that it transcends
the boundaries of time and space, absence and presence, life and nonlife, has been subject to intense debates that need no reiteration in detail
here. Earlier, I noted that modern technological images are themselves
a meridian point of sorts in regards to the separation of object and
subject, a transgression or even dissolution of that very division; and
that, nevertheless, this dissolution upholds, confirms, and re-does the
scission, having to dissolve the tension in the direction of either pole.
However, the technological image cannot be wholly “subjectified.” It is
not, and cannot be, neutral with respect to the two poles of the subject
and object, life and non-life, since it is itself the inscription of an objectification. Roland Barthes gives an account of this when he says:
In terms of image-repertoire, the Photograph (the one I intend)
represents that very subtle moment when, to tell the truth, I am
neither subject nor object but a subject who feels he is becoming
an object: I then experience a micro-version of death (of paren­
thesis): I am truly becoming a specter.24
Of specters, we know that they are halfway between life and death, disembodied souls roaming the sphere of the living, bound to return. They
are alive only in relation to the deprivation of life, having been withdrawn from the status of a subject across various registers—a “thing,”
as Derrida invoked with Hamlet,25 but a thing that is real only in the
Lacanian sense. Specters inhabit the space of death, the space of negativity, of the un-cohered, thus being denied entry into a circle that
binds together a community of the living, and dissociates it from its
outsides.
Museums and photography, as two examples of modern dispositifs of the conservation of “life,” are haunted, afflicted by the specters
Anselm Franke

33

of objectification, by the return of animism, which here takes the form
of the “uncanny” return of a repressed life turned into a spectacle. This
“hauntedness” is a key to the ways in which media and institutions
built the modern social imaginary—in circumscribed confines, giving
way to the desires to overcome alienation, the desires for the re-animation of a de-animated, de-mobilized world, thus re-populating the
deadened, disenchanted, objectified world with its monstrous images
of hybrids and phantasies of returns and speed-deliriums. And in so
doing, ever-actualizing the imaginary of animism as the Heart of Darkness, ripe with anxieties and fears of regression, which demand evermore re-assuring objectifications and enclosures: No photographic image without its spectral quality, and no museum in which one is not
invited to contemplate the skeleton of a dinosaur coming back to life.
The node in which objectification—the fixation, conservation, and
mummification of life—meets the transgressive desires for re-animation, re-creation, mobilization, and transformation, however, finds its
ultimate technological expression in film, and what André Bazin has
famously referred to as its “mummy complex.” The “mummy complex,” it is often assumed, refers to a universal of art: the desire to provide a defense against the passing of time, and, ultimately, death. The
symbolic victory over death is supposedly a “basic psychological need
in man.”26 However, we should not be too quick to agree, and instead,
should return to the question of psychology and art at a later point.
It is cinema, however, that gives ultimate expression to “the great
Frankensteinian dream of the nineteenth century: the recreation of life,
the symbolic triumph over death.”27 In the cinematic synthesization of
movement creating an illusion of life, the negative returns animated,
redeemed in phantasmagoric and symptomatic form: images, souls,
states of mediality. Having lost the right for a claim to reality, they assume the form of hybrids between life and non-life, fiction and reality. Cinema, from its outset, is populated by zombies, Frankensteins
and man-machine hybrids, and mummies deserting their graves. Every coming-alive of the dead—or, in other terms, every re-subjectification of a “dead” object—however, is a confirmation of the “proper”
boundary that keeps them firmly apart: The Frankensteinian dream
does not undo the subject-object dichotomy; rather, it qualifies it. It
is the symptom of a bourgeois hegemonic perspective that has internalized the logic of the divide and turns the tension, the antagonism
between rigor mortis and phantasmagoric animation into an aesthetic
economy endlessly reiterated. The Frankensteinian dream is congruous
to the structure of the commodity, and rather then overcoming its paradigms, it channels the anxieties it produces by providing a phantasmagoric displacement of relations that have previously been displaced.
Art occupies a special position within the modern geography
marked by the Great Divides. It shares many of the characteristics of
the status of images described above, but midway between subject and
object, it is dissolved into the direction of the fictional, imaginary, and
subjective, where it fuels hopes for re-instituting the sovereignty of experience. The modern institution of art acquires its relative autonomy thus; for the price of being rendered politically inconsequential,
its effects must remain in the realm of interiority and the imagination.
Much of the history of modern art can be aligned with a contestation
of that very boundary drawn around its legitimate place—the overAnimism

34

to be shown in the Netherlands as an illustration
of the beneficial effect of
the Dutch presence in the
East Indies. Monnikendam
lifts the original travelogue
and colonial documentary
out of its original context,
showing the extent of the
capitalist exploitation of the
native’s bodies, and reversing the relations inscribed
in these images.

Vincent Monnikendam
Mother Dao, The Turtlelike, 1995
Film transferred to video,
87 min 36 sec
Courtesy the artist

26 André Bazin, What is Cinema? vol. 1. trans, Hugh Gray
(Berkeley and Los Angeles, California: University of California
Press, 1967), 9.
27 Noël Burch, Life to Those
Shadows (Berkeley and Los Angeles, California: University of
California Press, 1990), 12.

Louise Lawler’s All Those
Eyes shows the brightly
lit Jeff Koons sculpture of
Michael Jackson with his
chimp Bubbles, and the
Pink Panther in the foreground. From another photograph of the same scene
but taken from a different
angle, we realize the setting
is not a museum hall, but a
private storage room. If the
viewer assumes a subject,
it is that of the collector,
whose relation and proximity to objects contends
with the “value” invoked
by the authorship of the
work. Lawler leads us into
a mirror cabinet not merely
of gazes, but also of what
Karl Marx has famously
referred to as the phantasmatic “fetish” character of
the commodity, the capitalist animation of things.

Louise Lawler
All Those Eyes, 1989
Gelatin silver print,
Courtesy of the artist and Metro Pictures

coming of the stigma of the fictional (leading to yet another genealogy in line with the Frankensteinian dream, the dream of total representation and a “cosmic, fourth dimension,” represented by the quest
for the Gesamtkunstwerk, the synaesthetic total work of art), and the
crossing of the boundary between art and life. This is the point of origin from which the numerous contestations of modern dichotomies in
the modernist project stem, and to date, always return.
There is a magic circle being drawn around the institution of art
that renders it exceptional while inscribing it into the logic of separation. Objects of art always magically confirm their status as art. It can
thus be explained how Sigmund Freud arrived at the conclusion that
in art, modernity preserved a place for animism, for in art, we have
retained an animistic relation to pictures and objects alike. The regression to “earlier states” (historically and subjectively) and the conflation
of differences between fiction and reality, the self and the world; all
this becomes possible as long as it is institutionally framed and cannot
make claims to objective reality, in which case it would likely be rendered pathological, but at least cease to be “art” in the modern sense of
the word—the form of art that, according to Adorno, was made possible by the secularization of the Enlightenment. What would elsewhere
appear as outright regression can serve cultural advancement within
these institutional confines, under the condition that it is bracketed off
from everything else.
Insofar as aesthetic resistance to social rationalization (cultural
modernity versus social modernity) takes the form of a dialectics, its
attack on the latter remains bound to its own myths. This can be confirmed by a most schematic survey of the role animism plays in the
modernist imaginary: a reconciliatory and transformative force in the
face of alienation, a phantastic horizon for a better, utopian, animated modernity. From the Romantics to the Russian Avant-Garde, from
Primitivist Modernism via the Surrealists to Psychedelia, animism frequently appears on a (troubled) quasi-mystical horizon in which it was
Anselm Franke

35

inscribed by the modernist myths, variously as a displaced key or a
transgressive phantasy, an engine that fuels the imaginary of a liberation, of an “outside” to modern enclosures and identities. But the animism in question remains the phantasy of otherness, a romantic antidote; and if one border is transgressed or even undone in a stroke, others are erected or fortified in the very same act.
Insofar as aesthetic resistance in the modernist predicament was
modeled on an opposition to the objectifying, partitioning stance of
modernity, it remained difficult for the adversaries to act outside the
modernist myths. When the Surrealists staged their anti-colonial exhibition “La Verité sur les colonies” in 1931, to show that Europeans
had fetishes too, they succeeded less in bringing the Heart of Darkness
home, than in continuing to enhance the myth of “childish,” regressive
“relics,” working towards a conflation of the Other by way of an alleged “unconscious.” The institutions capable of exhibiting the fetish
of the moderns have yet to be invented. Symmetry between modernity
and its Others is never possible so long as one stays within the former’s
dialectical confines. The resolutely anti-modern, as Latour asserts, only
confirm the modern’s own myths dialectically: They indeed believe that
the moderns have rationalized and disenchanted the world, that it is, in
fact, populated by soulless zombies.

Paul Sharits
Transcription, 1990
Felt pen on paper
Courtesy private collection and
M HKA, Antwerp

In 1981 Paul Sharits sent to
Josef Robakowski the sheet
of a film score, suggesting
him to use it to shoot a film.
Eventually, the film was made
in 2004, in memory of the
American structuralist with
whom Robakowski collaborated at the end of the 1970s.
Sharits based its structure
upon close synchronicity
between musical and visual
layers. During the screening
subsequent tones of Frederic
Chopin’s Mazurka op. 68 nr.
4 are accompanied on the
screen by eight corresponding colors.

In his video work Untitled
(After St. Caravaggio), Paul
Chan’s refers to the genre
of the still life, denying the
nature morte of stillness and
immobility by exploding the
composition as the figs and
their leaves, the grapes, and,
finally, the basket itself levitate into air.
Paul Chan
Untitled (after St. Caravaggio), 2003–2006
Digital video projection, 2 min 58 sec
Courtesy Greene Naftali, New York

36

Poet and painter Henri
Michaux experimented with
drawing under the influence
of various psychoactive substances, above all mescaline.
He asserted that the effect
of the drug was “so wholly
visual that they are vehicles
of the purely mental, of the
abstract,” further explaining
that “mescaline diminishes
the imagination. It castrates,
desensualizes the image. It
makes images that are 100
percent pure. Laboratory experiments.”
Although Michaux asserted that the experience of
mescaline “eludes form,”
that “it cannot be seen,”
he agreed to collaborate
on a film commissioned in
1963 by the Swiss pharmaceutical company Sandoz
(best known for synthesizing LSD in 1938) in order
to demonstrate the hallu­
cinogenic effects of mescaline. It is the only venture in
film by Michaux. In charge
of the filmic translation of
Michaux’s pre­scriptions was
director Eric Du­vivier whose
other films include an adaptation of Max Ernst’s col­lage
novel La femme 100 têtes.

Henri Michaux and Eric Duvivier
Images du monde visionnaire, 1963
Video, 38 min
Courtesy the artists and Novartis AG

37

The photographs from
Bialowieza Forest depict a
location that through history has been greatly infused
with myths and metaphors.
The forest dates back to 8000
BCE and is the only remaining example of the original
lowland forest that once
covered much of Europe.
Situated in Eastern Poland it
contains a great diversity of
plants, animals and insects,
as well as thousands of species of fungi and vascular
plants, many of these elsewhere extinct. Over the years
the forest has been described
in literature and travel accounts as a sylvan Arcadia,
an asylum, a pristine Eden, a
sacred grove and a dark and
alien impenetrable wilderness. This work can be seen
as a continuation of Joachim
Koester’s practice in which
an imaginary site is paradoxically investigated through its
material reality.

Joachim Koester
Bialowieza Forest, 2001
Laminated photographs
Courtesy Musée des Arts Contemporains de la
Communauté française de Belgique, Grand-Hornu

They take on the courageous task of saving what can be saved:
souls, minds, emotions, interpersonal relations, the symbolic di­
mension, human warmth, local specificities, hermeneutics, that
margins and the peripheries.”28

Animism

38

28 Bruno Latour, We Have Never
Been Modern, 123.

Art and Psychology

Tony Conrad
Egypt 2000, 1986
Digital video projection, 13 min
Courtesy Galerie Daniel
Buchholz, Cologne

The First Intermediate Pe­
riod, around 2000 BC, was
the occasion for a remark­
able constellation of innova­
tions in Egyptian thought
and civil order. For the first
time both men and women
won rights of private own­
ership, of marriage, and of
entry to the afterlife (with a
proper burial). Remarkably,
individuals began reflect­
ing in writing on the world
around them, and the first
introspective literature ap­
peared. Egypt 2000 invokes
this mixed space of gender,
identity, and death, from
which it literalizes the visual
seduction of the viewer.
– Tony Conrad
29 Sigmund Freud, Totem and
Taboo, trans. James Srachey
(London: Routledge and Kegan
Paul, 1950), 64.

All social representations, insofar as they bear a mythical structure, are
to be explained by psychology. In canonical art history, the question of
animism and the boundary between life and non-life is therefore discussed under the parameters of psychological universals. Art, it is understood, derives from the need to resist time and triumph over death.
The desire to bring time to a standstill, to conserve and fix, is as much
at the root of art, as is the desire to animate, to re-create life, to gain access to the forces of creation. These psychological universals are inextricably linked to motion and stasis, and their negotiation and dynamics in works of art. This scenography is populated by mythical figures,
captured, for instance, in the animating gaze of sculptors Pygmalion
and Daedalus, on the one hand, and the chthonic monster Medusa,
whose gaze petrified life, on the other. Anthropomorphic projection
and visualization, objects that appear to “return one’s gaze,” works
of art that assume a subjectivity of sorts, or instances of “the uncanny” in which something inanimate seems to “come back” to life, are
all perfectly familiar cases that do not present a real challenge to the
discipline of art history as long as the primary boundary between reality and fiction is upheld. The question of “life” poses itself as “mere”
symbolic production, always in terms of the “life-like,” and has consequences not for the “real” world, but for the reality of the subjectivity
of perception and its “primitive roots,” for which Freud gave the canonical description in relation to animism when he asserted:
The projection outwards of internal perceptions is a primitive
mechanism, to which, for instance, our sense perceptions are sub­
ject and which therefore normally plays a very large part in deter­
mining the form taken by our external world. Under conditions
whose nature has not been sufficiently established, internal per­
ceptions of emotional and intellective processes can be projected
outwards in the same way as sense projections; they are thus em­
ployed for building up the external world, through they should by
rights remain part of the internal world. […][O]wing to the pro­
jection outwards of internal perceptions, primitive men arrived at
a picture of the external world which we, with our intensified con­
scious perception, have now to translate back into psychology.29
Any journey into the animist universe of the unconscious must therefore remain a confirmation of this split between the real and the unreal,
as long as the unconscious remains unconscious, as long as its existence
is assumed as a fact, rather than as a production resulting from a particular boundary-regime. The anti-psychological stance within modernist art history has struggled with this logic as long and insofar as it
remained tied to gestures of transgression. The paradigm of psychology as laid out by Freud led to another symptomatic genealogy—that
of ecstasy. Once again, it is inextricably linked to the imaginary of animism (in this book, the question of ecstasy, animism, and aesthetics is
discussed in an exemplary way through Sergei Eisenstein’s analysis of
the art of Walt Disney). In states of ecstasy and intoxication, the very
boundary that separates the self from the world is undone, and interiority is exteriorized. The trip is a figure of transgression in which
Anselm Franke

39

re-mobilization, re-animation, re-enchantment and metamorphosis are
brought about by an unleashing of the boundaries that confine the
subjectivity of perception, providing an immediate experience of the
world-making power of images, transforming a mute world into dialogic excess. This “dialogue” temporarily unleashes experiences of mediality, in which subject and object appear as mutually constitutive and
keep changing sites. The ecstatic undoing of the boundaries of the subject through intoxication, extreme physical states, eroticism, or spiritual ecstasies represents a major resource for modernist art.
There is, however, a different trajectory, perhaps more fruitful for
a re-evaluation of animism; one that is less caught up in the logic of the
symptomatic and compensatory transgression, and the dialectical confirmation of the modern’s own myths. This different trajectory makes
clear that the modernist cultural response to the objectifying stance
derives from a similar set of configurations. An influential part of the
modernist iconography is directly derived from the rationalization of
the movements of the living body, and the objectifying “inscription of
life.” This link is discussed in the frame of situating modern animation
in the present book by the exhibition’s co-curator Edwin Carels. The
physiological motion studies of Étienne Jules-Marey and Eadweard
Muybridge gave expression to the experiential dimension of the modern fragmentation of time and space. Such “expression,” however, was
not their primary aim; instead, their target was a rationalization of the
economy of the working body to achieve increased efficiency in production—these “inscriptions of life” served as the blueprint for Taylorism, the theory of management that analyzes and synthesizes workflows. Not merely the decomposition of the visual field characteristic
of modernist iconography, cinema also passed through this applied science that would have the most profound impact on the body and the
human sensorium.

Felix-Louis Regnault was
a physician who applied
chronophotography to study
culture specific human locomotion and produced what
is widely recognized as the
first “ethnographic footage” at the Paris Exposition
Ethnographique de l’Afrique
Occidentale in 1895. He attempted to create a scientific
index of race, suggesting in
1900 that all museums collect
“moving artifacts” of human
behavior to study and exhibit.
All savage people make re­
course to gesture to express
themselves; their language is
so poor that it does not suf­
fice to make them understood
[…].With primitive man, ges­
ture precedes speech [...].The
gestures the savages make are
in general the same every­
where, because these move­
ments are natural reflexes
rather than conventions like
language.

Technology at the Meridian Point
It was Walter Benjamin who conceived of these two registers of modernity together, for Taylorism and the related emergence of a variety
of physiological and psychological tests placed technology at a meridian point in which subject and object were no longer separated,
but subjected to management, giving rise to new forms of subjectivities. Benjamin maintained a perspective that saw more than merely a
dystopian dimension in these configurations that linked subjectivity
and technology. He proclaimed the necessity of inversing the Taylorsystem, and changing it from a system of optimizing subordination to
the machine into one of creative invention: If a subject was tested for
its specific aptitudes that found no application within the given system, these applications and professions would have to be invented.
His thinking of technology in relation to the subject bears the characteristics of a profane form of ecstasy; it rejects the psychological essentialism attached to the critique of modern technology from the outset.
And, indeed, the physiological and psychological tests were a blueprint for thinking the animation of subjects through their actualization
by means of technological inscriptions. Nor has the question of their
creative use, in times where the paradigm of the test has been univerAnimism

40

Félix-Louis Regnault
Hommes nègres, marche, undated, Duplicate on flexible
transparent film
Courtesy Cinémathèque
Française, Paris

Poet and painter Brion
Gysin, the inventor of the
Cut-up technique and a
major source of inspiration
for the Beat generation, was
a life-long promoter of the
Sufi trance master musicians,
to whom he was was introduced by Moroccan painter
Mohamed Hamri. Gysin
and Hamrin opened the restaurant The 1001 Nights in
Tangier (which closed 1958),
where the musicians would
regularly perform.

Brion Gysin
Untitled (Man in the desert), undated
Chinese ink, felt pen and watercolor on paper
Courtesy Galerie de France, Paris

30 See: Miriam Bratu Hansen,
“Benjamin and Cinema: Not a
One-Way Street,” in Critical Inquiry 25, (University of California
Press, 1999): 306–345; and Miriam Bratu Hansen: “Of Mice and
Ducks: Benjamin and Adorno on
Disney,” South Atlantic Quarterly,
92 (1993): 27–61.

salized in the form of digitized profiling, lost any of its actuality since.
This is a form of technologically aided animation through subjectification, which presents a different paradigm from the compensatory,
symptomatic one of the Frankensteinian dream and aesthetic economy
of animation it gave rise to.
“In the cinema, people whom nothing moves or touches any longer learn to cry again.” In his work on technology and the cinema,
Walter Benjamin conceived of a possible emancipatory potential of
the mass media, envisioning a process inverse to the inscriptions of
Marey: from image/technology to physiological mo­tion and experience. Benjamin insisted that technology has to be transformed from a
means of mastering nature into a medium for “mastering the interplay
between hu­man beings and nature.” “The expropriation of the human
senses that cul­minates in imperialist warfare, fascism can be countered
only on the terrain of technology itself, by means of per­ceptual technologies that allow for a figurative, mimetic engagement with technology at large, as a productive force and social reality.” Yet rather than
redeeming experience at the price of “rationality,” he made the registers of human embodied experience the measure of technology and
media, with a view on new forms of collectivity and transformed relations between nature and humanity. The very impulse to theorize technology is part of Benjamin’s techno-utopian politics, through which he
seeks to re-imagine the aesthetic in response to the technically changed
sensorium.30
Benjamin conceived of the body as a medium in the service of imagining new forms of subjectivity. Negotiating the historical confrontation between the human sensorium and technology as an alien, and
alienating regime requires learning from forms of bodily innervation.
Innervation is understood as the conversion of affective energy into
somatic, motoric form; such as the transformation of the experience of
Anselm Franke

41

an image into physiological motion and emotion; where bodily sensation and technologically-produced images constitute not irreconcilable
counterparts, but an integral “body-” and “image-space.” Benjamin
invested cinema with the power of innervation, by means of which the
technological apparatus can be brought to social, public consciousness as the “physis” of a transformed collectivity, which has its “organs” in technology. Experimenting with psychotropic substances,
such as hashish, was for Benjamin one way of subject­ing the experience of innervation to auto-experiments and self-regulation. Unlike
several of his contemporaries and successors who experimented with
drugs, Benjamin treated the effects of intoxication as symptoms and
ef­fects rather than metaphysical truths. The experience of intoxication
destabilizes the boundaries of the self, and transforms the parameters
of time-space perception as well as the relation between people and
things, exhibit­ing a structural affinity with the synaesthetic effects of
the cinematic experience at the intersection of the physi­ological and
psychological.
“Innervation,” in Benjamin’s terms, was ultimately linked to his
notion of a collective sphere of imagery, in which, by means of constellatory flashes—the dialectics of seeing, profane illumination—he conceived of a sphere of “absolute neutrality” with respect to the notions
of subject and object. What Benjamin conceived of, in other words, is
a politics of the meridian point, the dissolution of modernity’s notorious “seeing double” by means of a “stereoscopic vision” that brings
the two domains of subjects and objects into the dialectical constellation in which they came to be historically productive, and by means
of which they gave birth to the modern world. In this attempt, he preceded Bruno Latour, who proclaimed the need for a “symmetric” anthropology of modernity. He refers explicitly to anthropology for it is
the only discipline that is used to thinking together the most diverse
boundary practices in one great whole (the cosmographies of the “others,” for whom nature and culture and so forth are not distinct), a virtue that no other discipline, by way of their implication in the modern
logic of division, is capable.

Animism

42

Ken Jacobs
Capitalism: Slavery, 2006
Digital video projection, 3 min
Courtesy the artist

Ken Jacobs is a filmmaker
who works as a quasi-archeologist of the effect media
and technology had on the
human sensorium. He equally
takes into consideration the
modes of production and
forms of power congruent
with technological media and
their history.
Capitalism: Slavery pictures a
stereograph image of a cotton
plantation, whose animation
by means of digital technology endows these images with
a spectral presence – brought
back to life, but still mute.

We Have Never Been Modern
An anthropology of the modern world; that is, a comprehensive, synthetic view of the organization of its boundary-practices, becomes possible only once we have come to realize that “we have never been
modern.”

31 Bruno Latour, We Have Never
Been Modern, 39.

“The Romanticism of the
nineteenth century already
contains this fantasy that we
now confuse with scientific
reality.” The work of French
caricaturist J. J. Grandville,
who satirized the ambitions
and pretensions of modern
man in his illustrations of
the 1830s and 40s by way
of personified animals and
plants was a favored source
for Marcel Broodthaers. He
appropriated Grandville’s
satirical images in two slide
projections of 1966 and
1968. The 1968 projection Caricatures-Grandville
juxtaposed slides of satirical drawings by Grandville
and Daumier, among others, with photographs of the
1968 student demonstrations.

Century after century, colonial empire after colonial empire, the
poor premodern collectives were accused of making a horrible
mishmash of things and humans, of objects and signs, while their
accusers finally separated them totally—to remix them at once on
a scale unknown until now.31
The practice of modernity, Latour asserts, is diametrically opposed to
its conceptualization and self-description. While accusing other collectives of the mishmash they make between categories whose distinction for us holds sacred values, they set up a practice that intertwined
culture and nature on a previous unknown scale. The “official” version of modernity is but a mode of classification that allows one to
do the opposite of what one says. Modernity also made an absolute
split between theory and practice, between de facto practices and their
juridical, conceptual framework. The conceptual register of modernity keeps on erecting borders, purifies fields of knowledge, insists
on disciplines, and so forth; while in their practices, they work on
creating assemblages, “hybrids,” or “collectives” that conceptual machines can not simply account for. This allowed the moderns to mobilize nature without due democratic discussion on the impact of this
mobilization, without mediation and representation of “things,” thus
producing an unprecedented amount of new “hybrids,” of “quasiobjects,” of chains of associations in which subjects and objects are
mutually constitutive, which contain both subjective and objective
aspects, and span the divide between culture and nature in multiple
ways. It is only with the proliferation of these “hybrids,” overwhelming us in the form of the ecological crisis, that protocols of strict division, of “purification,” gradually lose ground and cease to be opera-

Marcel Broodthaers
Grandville, 1967
Slideshow, 80 slides
Courtesy Estate Marcel Broodthaers, Brussels

Anselm Franke

43

tional, thus enforcing a re-evaluation of modernity, and an inscription of all that it bracketed off—the unified nature of non-relational
facts—back into history.
The essential point of this modern Constitution is that it renders
the work of mediation that assembles hybrids invisible, unthink­
able, unrepresentable. Does this lack of representation limit the
work of mediation in any way? No, for the modern world would
immediately cease to function. Like all other collectives it lives
on that blending. On the contrary (and here comes the beauty of
the mechanism to light), the modern Constitution allows the ex­
panded proliferation of the hybrids whose existence, whose very
possibility, it denies.32
According to Latour, science, by way of its construction of “indisputable” facts, holds democratic politics in an iron grip, limiting the collective concerns that can be negotiated to human affairs alone, while
bracketing off all other agencies that participate, and indeed hold together, the “common world.” To bring the sciences back into politics,
Latour calls for a “parliament of things,” in which the work of the sciences is not the presentation of objective facts that supposedly “speak
for themselves” and end all other debate by suppressing the necessary
mediation that makes them “speak” in the first place, but rather the
“socialization of nonhumans,” their enrollment and subsequent mediation in a social realm extended to “things.”
Is Bruno Latour suggesting yet another “return” to animism, a
form of political order that is based on a dubious animation of things?
Is the “parliament of things” not a regressive fiction reminiscent of the
animated universes of Walt Disney, where everything comes to life and
things act like people, or to one of the techno-utopian fantasies of a
Charles Fourier?
Before my readers begin to get a disquieting impression that they
are being pulled into a fable where animals, viruses, stars, and
magic are going to start chattering away like magpies or prin­
cesses, let me emphasize that we are in no way dealing with a
novelty that would be shocking to common sense. […] I am pro­
posing, very reasonably, to make this mythic contradiction [between mute fact things and speaking facts] comprehensible by
restoring all the difficulties that a human encounters in speaking
to humans about nonhumans with their participation. […] I do
not claim that things speak “on their own,” since no beings, not
even humans, speak on their own, but always through something
or someone else. I have not required human subjects to share the
right of speech of which they are so justly proud with galaxies,
neurons, cells, viruses, plants and glaciers.33
Latour calls for a parliamentary model—composed of “spokespeople,”
mediators, and mediums—that accounts for the enrolment of nonhumans in the constitution of the common world. For the modern imagination, this is nothing short of a horror scenario. Not only does Latour
ascribe things agency, but with their agency, he lets them get so close to
subjects that the subject becomes virtually unimaginable other than in
Animism

44

Jean-Ignace-Isidore Gérard
(1803–1847), better known
by the name of his comedian
grandfather, Grandville, is
synonymous today with the
twin methods of the personified animal and the “bestialized” human in modern
illustration. In his satirical
caricatures of the 1820s and
ea