Imagining the Image 2014/15: Post-Visual Culture?

Research Master’s Seminar, second semester, 9 ECTS

Imagining the Image is a biannual seminar in the context of VU University’s research master’s programme VAMA (Critical Studies in Art and Culture). Each edition of this seminar focuses on a specific body of theory that can help us to conceptualize and problematize the image, and the changing status and role of images in contemporary culture.

The 2014/15 edition (which takes place in de second semester) is subtitled “Post-Visual Culture?” The central question is: to which extent do we (still) inhabit what could feasible be characterized as a visual culture? In his book 24/7, Jonathan Crary argues that to “be preoccupied with the aesthetic properties of digital imagery … is to evade the subordination of the image to a broad field of non-visual operations and requirements.”

Of course, the suspicion that the images that surround us are insufficient, and serve to disguise the true workings of society, of the economy, of technology, predates the digital age. Crary himself has written on Guy Debord’s notion of the spectacle, which is based on a Marxist analysis of commodity fetishism; the spectacle is an “inversion of life,” and its representations seal our alienation. Subsequently, a variety of theorists focused less on the image-as-illusion than on the image as code, and on the increasing “codification” of images in the digital realm—from Jean Baudrillard’s fetishism of the code and Vilém Flusser’s “coded surfaces” to Boris Groys’s “performing” of digital code.

In today’s digital regime, theorists’ and artists’ interest in various forms of data visualization suggests a kind of arms race between Crary’s “non-visual operations” and the tools that could “re-image” the invisible. As Friedrich Kittler once put it: “Computer graphics would deserve the name only if they could render to vision what appears unseen…” In this course, we will study historical and contemporary cultural and media theory, well as artistic practices, in order to come to terms with our post-visual or proto-visual culture.

The seminar runs from the first week of February through May. In preparation, one or two encounters with artists or theorists may take place this fall. If you are interested in participating, contact