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Approches critiques de la pensée japonaise du xxe siècle

Livia Monnet

Logiques du dépassement de la modernité et de l'indécidabilité

Gödel, Escher, Barthes

Mathematics, Autobiography and Subjectivity in Karatani Kōjin

Livia Monnet

Texte intégral

  • 1 The title of this paper plays on Douglas Hofstadter’s besteller Gödel, Escher, Bach (1979). A diff (...)
  • 2 The impact of Karatani’s thought on Japanese literary studies and literary journalism since the 19 (...)
  • 3 For critiques of Karatani’s work see Miura Kenji, “Posutomodan to tennōsei”; Suzuki Sadami, “Kigen (...)

1A leading literary critic, cultural commentator and philosopher, Karatani Kōjin (1941-) was at the forefront of the debates on postmodernism and postmodernity in Japan in the 1980s.1 His book Nihon kindai bungaku no kigen (1980, English translation: Origins of Modern Japanese Literature, 1993), a classic critical analysis of the invention of a Western-type “modern” episteme in the first decades of the Meiji period (1868-1912) that played a crucial role in the establishment of “modern” Japanese literature, philosophy and the arts, not only established his reputation as Japans premier deconstructionist critic, but became virtually synonymous (to Karatani’s own surprise) with a home-grown variant of postmodern theory.2 In the major philosophical writings he has published since Origins, and which include Naisei to soko (Introspection and Retrospection, 1985), Tankyūi, ii, iii (Investigations, 1986, 1989, 1993–still serialized) and Rinri 21 (An Ethics for the 21st Century, 2000) Karatani’s primary aim has been “to question, unto the point of crisis, the foundations of (any given epistemological) object, including the absence of such foundations” (Karatani, Sekii 1995: 10). While “foundations” in Karatani’s thought designates mainly the historicity and the evolving immanent structure of certain conceptual assemblages, discursive formations and systems of thought, the mathematical foundations of philosophical thought as well as the repressing or forgetting of these historicities (see Karatani 1999a, de Bary 1989, 1993), the “objects” on which he has focused his attention and the methods of his philosophical inquiry have tended to vary considerably. Recently, for instance, he has written on the role of Okakura Tenshin in the construction of an aestheticized Japan, on philosophies of reason in the Edo period (1603-1867), the aestheticized Buddhism embraced by intellectuals in the Meiji and Taisho periods (1912-1926), as well as on the nationalistic-fascistic discourse on “overcoming modernity” in the 1930s and 1940s (1994, 1999a, 1999b). Karatani’s Kantian “transcritique” (Karatani 2000a, 2000b) has relied by turns on genealogical, phenomenological, Marxian and deconstructive strategies3

2This study contrasts Karatani’s essay “Kagami to shashin sochi” (“The Mirror and the Photographic Apparatus”, included in Inyu toshite no kenchiku (Architecture as Metaphor, 1983)) with Barthes’s well-known memoir-treatise on photography Camera Lucida (1981, English translation of La chambre claire, 1980) in an attempt to shed light on some of the former’s text intriguing features. I will contend that “The Mirror” may be regarded as “autobiographical” insofar as it presents a self-portrait of Karatani-as-other – this “other” being Kurt Gödel (1906-1978), the discoverer of the Incompleteness Theorem. Like Barthes’s Camera Lucida, Karatani’s text is an “autothanatography” (self-representation occasioned by, and written through and across the death of a close parent or friend) in the sense that it displaces and erases the mother in the same move. The Gödelian line of inquiry in “The Mirror and the Photographic Apparatus” – a deconstructive argument bent on proving photography’s undecidability – leads to paradoxical results, which on the one hand uncover a (proto)photographic vision in pre-Socratic philosophy, and on the other hand reinforce what Karatani is at pains to undermine, namely the phenomenological subject whose demise photography is said to have hastened. Above all, my reading of Karatani is meant to draw attention to the crucial importance of Gödel’s thinking, in particular Gödel’s Proof in Karatani’s œuvre – an aspect which has so far received only brief and superficial treatment (see Ikeda 1995, Nomura 1995).

Relational Selves, Relational Lives: Everybody’s Autobiography as Alice B. Toklas

  • 4 See Parret (1988), “‘Ma vie’ comme effet de discours,” La Licorne, 14:163. Quoted in Smith 1995: 6 (...)

3A recurring motif in autobiography theory and criticism since the advent of poststructuralism is the crucial role of alterity/the other in the constitution and the narrative of the autobiographical self/subject. In the Ear of the Other: Otobiography, Transference, Translation, Derrida describes the alterity that both endorses and prohibits the operation of hearing oneself speak-the subject’s narration of his/her life to himself/herself, the otobiography or “earbiography” of which (s)he is the “first, if not its only addressee and destination” (Derrida 1985:13)–as the ear of the other. This other ear is lodged within the labyrinth of the ear of the same, allowing its communication to come into presence as “life” (Derrida 1985:13-25). Herman Parret defines the autobiographical self as a discursive inter-subject constituted by others and by the discourses in/of which these others are subjects, “The autobiographical subject is above all inter-subject, co-subject: ‘my’ history, ‘my’ life is afforded me by others.”4 Since the subject and its life story are sites in which institutional and cultural discourses meet and through which they radiate their power, autobiography may be regarded as an intertext (Parret 1988: 169).

4In their introduction to Getting a Life, a recent volume of essays on everyday autobiographical practices in the US in the 1990s, Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson emphasize the fact that the production of autobiographical identity and subjectivity in texts such as medical histories, tv talk shows, newspaper want ads, e-mail exchanges, testimonies of aids patients and rape victims, and videos and cd-roms used by actors and rock stars for self-promotion, is a collective, collaborative process generated by social encounters that are often sites for contestation. The self is an arena of struggle, and one’s life story is not so much one’s own as a collage of culturally available, commodified bits and pieces of identities and narrative forms which the personal narrator joins and disjoins in excessive ways to create a history of the subject at a precise point in time and space (Smith and Watson 1996: 14, 17-18). What is important to remember about the creation of autobiographical subjects in late consumer capitalism, write Smith and Watson, is not only that these subjects move in and out of autobiographical subjectivity in everyday situations but that the narrative practices constituting their life stories are neither inherently liberatory nor inherently repressive (Smith and Watson 1996: 17).

5In How Our Lives Become Stories: Making Selves (1999), Paul John Eakin argues that the time is ripe for autobiography studies to discard “the (Western) myth of autonomous individualism” and to finally realize that most life stories dramatize the self’s relationality, the fact that all selfhood is relational. The dominant story in contemporary autobiographical practices is that of the “relational life”, or the “the story of a relational model of identity, developed collaboratively with others, often with family members” (Eakin 1999:68-69). Such relational lives are featured in forms of life writing that emphasize the impact on the autobiographer of either a particular social environment, such as a community, a village, or an extended family; or of key individuals such as parents, relatives, friends or lovers. While the stories of relational selves and relational lives are legion, and so variously hybrid, multivocal, richly textured and locally inflected that they cannot be brought under a common denominator (e.g.: Leslie Marmon Silko’s Storyteller (1981) and Henry Louis Gates’s Colored People: A Memoir (1994)), they also show that the relational dimension of self-experience is not necessarily the most desirable, or desired form of identity formation, being in some cases rejected by autobiographers. Eakin also draws attention to the fact that the plurality of selfhoods and identities depicted by contemporary autobiographers is nonetheless mostly experienced as a unitary subjectivity. The fictions of the embodied self evince a striking parallel, or confirmation of recent research in neurobiology, cognitive science, linguistics and philosophy that emphasizes the complexity of the brain events, the fact that an individual’s sense of self is anchored in the body-image, and that the history of selfhood, which unfolds on various registers or levels of experience, begins prior to the acquisition of language. Among the achievements of cognitive science that seem relevant for making sense of the experience of the subject in contemporary life writing are:

61) Gerald M. Edelman’s tngs, or Theory of Neural Group Selection, which involves a conception of the interdependence of self and memory as aspects of a higher-order consciousness providing a conceptual model of selfhood as distinct from a primary stage of consciousness that lacks any notion of personal self (Edelman 1989, 1992); 2) Israel Rosenfield’s claim that memories are perceptions embedded in present consciousness rather than images stored in the past, which can be altered by the context in which they occur and which are self-referential – referring not only to remembered events, persons or objects but also to the person who is remembering (Rosenfield 1988,1992); 3) Ulric Neisser’s model of five different selves, established on the basis of self-specifying information, and which include: the ecological self, or the self as related to the physical environment; the interpersonal self, or the self as engaged in immediate unreflective social interaction with other persons; the extended self, or the self existing outside the present moment; the private self, or the self of conscious experiences that are unknowable or unavailable to others; the conceptual self, or the self as constructed by drawing on conceptual models available in the individual’s culture (Neisser 1988; see also Eakin 10-46).

7The identity and subjectivity of the personal narrator in contemporary autobiographical practices, then, is always dialogically and socially defined, a product of cultural transactions and negotiations which is necessarily and inescapably structured by alterity. What I would like to retain from this view of autobiography is the fact that self-representation may be defined the other way round, as an alterity-centered “negative” representation, a making visible of the otherness or “not-I”-ness constituting the autobiographical self/I. I propose therefore that the story or portrait of the other in and through which the authorial self/the relational self of the personal narrator recognizes and defines itself as well as the representation of the alterity structuring the identity, agency, thought and life events of any self-contemplating subject in a narrative situation be regarded as a legitimate form of autobiographical discourse. Alterity in this case designates any alter-ego, double or doppelgänger of the self; the various aspects of the self instituted by self-specifying information, as in Ulrich Neisser’s model; the distancing or alienation of the self from itself, the self-as-not-self, the I-as-not-I–a subjectivity that is most itself as (an)other. Autobiography thus becomes “the other’s story” (Eakin 1999: 55), everybody’s autobiography as Alice B. Toklas. As Paul John Eakin puts it, “the space of autobiography, the space of the self, is literally occupied by the autobiography and self of the other” (Eakin 1955:61). Since the autobiographer’s others, not-I’s or alter-egos are also intertexts, and since autobiographical discourse as practice allowing for the self-definition of, and interchange and communication between individuals and/or communities is also an intertext, self-representation may also be redefined as the portrayal of any identity-shaping intertext in a self-portrait.

  • 5 The frequent use of representations derived from modern technologies of vision such as photography (...)

8In many contemporary life stories and personal narratives, the autobiographer’s other or double appears as a visual image–a photograph, a painting, a film still or a remembered scene from a movie: the real and imaginary photographs described in the opening sections of Marguerite Duras’bestselling autobiographical novel L’Amant (The Lover, 1984); the photographic reproductions of paintings of St. Augustine and his mother Monica included in Derrida’s ironic, arch-postmodernist “autothanatography”, or autobiography-as-the-story-of-his-dying-mother Esther (which is also an “autobiography” of the philosopher’s own circumcised penis) Circonfession (Circumfession, 1991, English translation 1993); Robbe-Grillet’s reconstruction of his fictional alter-ego Corinthe, who is featured in some of his films, in his hybrid autobiographical fictions Le Miroir qui revient (Returning Mirror, 1984) and Angélique, ou l’enchantement (Angélique or the Magic, 1987); the photographs of friends in Timothy Findley’s workbook-journal-autobiography Inside Memory (1990); the photograph of Art Spiegelman’s father Vladek in the now classic, two-volume comic book Maus (1986,1991) – an autobiography that tells Spiegelman’s life story through Vladek’s story of survival at and after Auschwitz; the photographs of the Laguna Pueblo reservation and of the Marmon family in Leslie Marmon’s Silko’s Storyteller. Such images of the autobiographical self as other, whose politics of selfrevelation-in-dissimulation also evokes the ironic pastiches of wellknown works of art and of historical personages, the figures in drag and imaginary actresses in the photographic self-portraits of Cindy Sherman (e.g. Untitled Film Stills (1977-1980) and History Portraits (1988-1990)) and Morimura Yasumasa (e.g. Sickness into Beauty (1996)) suggest that self-portraiture may indeed consist in the portrayal of the absence of the self, of that which is not-self or other in and to the self-that autobiography is founded on and flourishes on its own self-denial; and that the autobiographical subject’s construction, assuming and performing of self-presence/identity through the latter’s erasure or mise-en-abîme requires primarily visual media and visual representations.5

9In Karatani’s “The Mirror and the Photographic Apparatus” the representation of the authorial self and of its trenchant analyses of various philosophical and theoretical discourses coincides with the story of an alter-ego which is none other than Kurt Gödel, the celebrated discoverer of the incompleteness theorem. The self-portrait of Karatani-as Gödel is a composite theoretical construct in which the Gödelian not I appears now in the form of commentaries on and analogies to the incompleteness theorem and to the principle of undecidability posited by the latter, now as philosophical paradoxes, now as photographs. This web of visual and verbal intertexts not only points to the construction of the self as described above, namely as the contingent, contextually marked fiction resulting from an ongoing process of negotiation between various discursive communities, but simultaneously suggests that the space and time of mathematics can overlap with that of autobiography–indeed that mathematics is an eminently autobiographical discourse. In the autobiographical virtual space theorized and visualized in Karatani’s text, mathematical propositions are apt to produce fictions that may radically alter traditional distinctions between mathematics/science and imaginative/literary textuality. I will argue that it is in this sense that Karatanis philosophical texts-and in all likelihood all texts projecting mathematical undecidability as autobiographical fictions of the self’s others or counter-identity–can, and must be read as literature, if not as the fantastic discourse of SF.

The “Objective” Gaze of the Camera

10“The Mirror and the Photographic Apparatus” seems at first sight to adhere rigorously to its declared goal of instituting a phenomenological inquiry into (the history of) photography with the astonished gaze of someone who discovers this technology for the first time (Karatani 1989c: 157). Indeed not only does the text seem much more interested in the theory, aesthetics and epistemology of the photographic apparatus than in the technical aspects of the production of photographic images or in the social, cultural and political implications of the latter as visual medium, but it repeatedly evokes the strange, terrifying, heretofore unimaginable “objectivity,” brought about by the advent of this technology.

Photography... appeared to be equipped with a certain type of objectivity. It was the objectivity of a gaze that belonged to no one in particular. The destabilizing experience of this gaze had not been possible before the advent of the photographic camera (Karatani 1989c: 158).
Why is it that the photographic apparatus produces an effect of Gödelian undecidability? This effect is intimately related to the strange “objectivity” this apparatus has made present (Karatani 1989c: 165).

11The photographic apparatus is also posited as a philosophical category working to radically call into question phenomenological notions of subjectivity and the self, especially those of Hegel and Husserl. Such concepts, writes Karatani–indeed all phenomenological discourses grounded in self-consciousness–remain captive in the latter’s mirror-world without ever achieving the desubjectivized status inherent in photography.

We are still prisoners in the metaphorical mirror world of subjectivity. Photography achieves a radical destabilization of the perspectivism on which the subject-object dichotomy is founded... No matter how thoroughgoing, the logic of (phenomenological) introspection will never be able to see beyond the confines of the mirror... What the so-called objective contemplation of the self arrives at, is none other than a mirror reflection of ourselves. We are unable to step out of the mirror hall of consciousness to get a view of ourselves from “outside”, from a position completely severed from the self (Karatani 1989c: 159).

  • 6 Karatani’s insistence on the “objectivity” of photography clearly refers to the nineteenth-century (...)

12The observations of Karatani s amazed beholder of the mystery and sense of wonder that surrounded photography, and of the mythical potential that was ascribed to it in the heroic early decades of its history,6 resonate to an astonishing extent with the assumptions of the “sentimental” phenomenological exploration of photography of the “primitive” narrator-spectator in Barthes’s Camera Lucida.

Looking at certain photographs I wanted to be a primitive, without culture... In this investigation of photography, I borrowed something from phenomenology’s project and something from its language. But it was a vague, casual, even cynical phenomenology, so readily did it agree to distort or to evade its principles according to the whim of my analysis. First of all, I did not escape, or try to escape, from a paradox: on the one hand the desire to give a name to Photography’s essence and then to sketch an eidetic science of the Photograph; and on the other the intractable feeling that Photography is essentially (a contradiction in terms) only contingency, singularity, risk.... At the moment of reaching the essence of Photography in general, I branched off;... the anticipated essence of the Photograph could not, in my mind, be separated from the “pathos” of which, from the first glance, it consists... As Spectator I was interested in Photography only for “sentimental” reasons; I wanted to explore it not as a question (a theme) but as a wound; I see, I feel, hence I notice, I observe, and I think (Barthes 1981: 7, 20-21).

  • 7 See “The Mirror and the Photographic Apparatus” pp. 155, 158, 165; Camera Lucida, pp. 30-31, 32, 8 (...)

13Several other parallels between Karatani’s essay and Barthes’s treatise on photography can be pointed out: both texts emphasize the crucial role of the camera obscura in the emergence of perspectival painting and photography, and in the construction of a canon of theoretical, philosophical and aesthetic discourses on these two visual media; in both critics the photographic apparatus is associated with ghostly emanations, death, a shock effect and a transcendent gaze.7 In both “The Mirror and the Photographic Apparatus” and Camera Lucida there is a consistent, deliberate and stubborn blindness with respect to the “noeme” or “essence” of photography (Barthes)–a notion identified as “madness” by Barthes and defined as undecidability in Karatani.

The Mad Lookof Photography

14The truth, essence, or noeme of Photography, which Camera Lucida describes variously as “Death”. “That has-been,” “air”, “look”, “The Intractable” (Barthes 1981: 72, 77, 99, 107, 111) is revealed at the end of the text, to be, precisely, nothing. Object-as-nothing, absence. Nothing but, literally, “air.” And yet this absence, this void, is not empty, but full. It is filled with the existence of the photographed object, an object which, however, is no longer there except in the form of a layer of being peeled from it and captured by the photograph. The madness of photography is that of schizophrenia, the derangement of confusing reality with truth and perception with representation, of the sitter in the photograph staring back at you (Barthes 1981: 113). Photography is mad because is fakes absolute realism or perfect presence when in fact nothing is there but a supplement. It is mad because it makes the beholder (Spectator) of the photograph believe that it conveys something, a deeper meaning, which (s)he knows has never been there.

The noeme of photography is simple, banal; no depth: “that has been.”... The image, says phenomenology, is an object-as-nothing. Now, in the Photograph, what I posit is not only the absence of the object; it is also, by one and the same movement, on equal terms, the fact that this object has indeed existed and that it has been there where I see it. Here is where the madness is, for until this day no representation could assure me of the past of a thing except by intermediaries; but with the Photography, my certainty is immediate; no one in the world can undeceive me. The Photograph then becomes a bizarre medium, a new form of hallucination: false on the level of perception, true on the level of time: a temporal hallucination, so to speak, a modest, shared hallucination (on the one hand “it is not there,” on the other “but it has indeed been”): a mad image, chafed by realit. (Barthes 1981: 115).

  • 8 See the following passage:
    The photograph is literally an emanation of the referent. From a real bo (...)

15We can now see that the madness is neither in photography itself, nor in whatever constitutes its ontological core or noeme, but in the “cynical (and yet) sentimental phenomenology”–or rather, in the passionate lover’s discourse–of Camera Lucida’s narrator. To keep searching in histories of and theoretical essays on photography (Barthes cites Baudelaire, Nadar, Susan Sonntag and other theorists) and through piles of actual photographs for an elusive essence or truth one knows from the outset does not exist, is sheer madness. To revive the old myths surrounding photography–that it captures death-in-life, that it fixes on paper some mysterious emanations or rays from the referent/photographed object, which then just as mysteriously reach the beholder,8 that photography is not representation, but unmediated, raw reality magically fixed by the click of the camera, etc.–is mad. Camera Lucida is a mad book because it acknowledges and performs its madness with great virtuosity. It is a mad book also because, notwithstanding its amazement at the “magic” of and its speculations on the fugitive essence of photography, it deliberately refuses to look at photographs. With all its fetishistic descriptions of dozens of photographs, Barthes’text is not about photography, but about dreaming photographic dreams, dreams of photographs–only one of which is a revamped, delirious mythology of photography. This is what I call the mad, scandalous blindness of Camera Lucida-a blindness that is a scandal because it impudently confesses that its fictions have little to do with photography, and that it is a spectacle.

Ultimately–or at the limit–in order to see a photograph well, it is best to look away or close your eyes. “The necessary condition for an image is sight,” Janouch told Kafka; and Kafka smiled and replied: “We photograph things in order to drive them out of our minds. My stories are a way of shutting my eyes.” The photograph must be silent... Absolute subjectivity is achieved only in a state, an effort, of silence (shutting your eyes is to make the image speak in silence). The photograph touches me if I withdraw it from its usual blah-blah: “Technique,” “Reality,” “Reportage,” “Art,” etc: to say nothing, to shut my eyes, to allow the detail to rise of its own accord into affective consciousness (Barthes 1981: 55).

  • 9 Paul John Eakin examines both Camera Lucida and Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes as visually orien (...)

16The major blindness or craziness in Camera Lucida, however, is not the fact that it pretends to reinvent the history and theory of photography, as well as the photographs by André Kertész, Robert Mapplethorpe, R. Avedon, Nadar, Alexander Gardner, James van der Zee and others it describes with its eyes shut, but that it is a self-denying autobiographical text about Barthes’s love for his mother which manages both to disguise this love as a “photometaphysical” dream and to drive the mother out of the text.9 By means of a series of deft rhetorical, philosophical and phototextual operations the son’s book transforms the mother–already absent and immeasurably distant because she is dead and because she is presented to us only through photographs which are not reproduced in the text–into the Mother, a philosophical and psychoanalytic concept which then becomes the absent noeme of photography.

The Desire for Autobiophotography or Roland Barthes by Roland's Mother

17Sections 25 through 32 of Camera Lucida describe in great detail the grief of Barthes’autobiographical narrator at his mother’s death; his vain attempts to capture the “essence of her identity” (Barthes 1981: 66) by contemplating her photographs; and finally his exultation over his discovery of what he believes to be this essence in an old photograph of his mother at age five, which he calls the Winter Garden Photograph. The successive stages in the transformation of the mother from an elusive dream figure in faded photographs into the concrete image of a girl of five which in its turn becomes the Mother principle in Freud (and implicitly in Jung) and in various religions, and which finally is allowed to crystallize into the noeme of photography, are depicted in unequivocal terms. The outcome of this process can be easily imagined: the mother, absent and immaterial to begin with, is projected as a signifier for femininity in general, for fertility, the Mother of God, Earth, oedipal attachment and the preoedipal maternal space, only to emerge in the end as the very locus of absence and invisibility. The sons mourning resurrects the mother, not as a distinct individual with a distinct history, but as aporia, as a void or a gaping absence.

And no more than I would reduce my family to the Family, would I reduce my mother to the Mother.... Commenting on Freud (Moses and Monotheism), J.J. Goux explains that Judaism rejected the image in order to protect itself from the risk of worshipping the Mother, and that Christianity, by making possible the representation of the maternal feminine, transcended the rigor of the Law for the sake of the Image-Repertoire. Although growing up in a religion-without-images where the Mother is not worshipped (Protestantism) but doubtless formed culturally by Catholic art, when I confronted the Winter Garden Photograph I gave myself up to the Image, to the Image-Repertoire.... In the Mother there was a radiant, irreducible core: my mother.... (Barthes 1981: 74-75).
Something like an essence of the Photograph floated in this particular picture, I therefore decided to “derive” all Photography (its “nature”) from the only photograph which assuredly existed for me, and to take it somehow as a guide for my last investigation... The Winter Garden Photograph was my Ariadne, not because it would help me discover a secret thing (monster or treasure), but because it would tell me what constituted that thread which drew me toward Photography (Barthes 1981: 73).

18With characteristic masculinist overconfidence, the text not only reduces the mother to an empty sign, a sign of emptiness and invisibility but appropriates for the narrator the place of the mother as matrix of creativity and femininity. Once again we seem to encounter here the common male fantasy of the self-generating male intellect and of its exclusive ownership of the production and reproduction of femininity and female talent.

Ultimately I experienced her, strong as she had been, my inner law, my feminine child... I who had not procreated, I had, in her very illness, engendered my mother (Barthes 1981: 72).

  • 10 See also the following passage:
    Now Freud says of the maternal body that “there is no other place o (...)

19The representational space of photography, then, is not so much coextensive with the maternal body, and its elusive “essence” not so much identical with the sign-of-the-mother-a claim for which Camera Lucida marshals strong evidence10–as it is about the son’s/male self-recognition in or through the (photographic) image of the mother. Barthes’text projects an odd self-portrait-a collage of actual photographs and textual snapshots of disparate moments in the history and theory of photography. This self-portrait clearly shows that the self is always already alterity, a plurality of socially constructed, relational selves that are held together by the illusion of an inner core or of “something like an essence”, an other than or to itself, the product of collective imaginings. It also reveals that photography is in a certain sense always about the history, travails and doubts of the (autobiographer’s) plural selfhood, the ambiguities and uncertainties of identity and gender, the uneasiness of male fantasy as it continues to pose as universal aesthetic norm. Barthes’s essay thus suggests that the undecidability or différence of both photography and the self-portrait/autobiography resides in their participating in a signifying economy of the image-of-the-self-as-other. While undeniably anchored in the body as “the site of (self)-narration and (as) the site of ascription for subjectivity” (Kirby 1991: 71), and in the body-image as that which “unifies and coordinates postural, tactile, kinesthetic, and visual sensations so that these are experienced as the sensations... of a single identity (Grosz 1994: 83), this undecidable signifying economy is predicated, as I indicated above, on the erasure of the mother.

I want to outline the loved face by thought, to make it into a unique field of intense observation; I want to enlarge this face in order to see it better, to understand it better, to know its truth... I believe that by enlarging the detail “in series” (each shot engendering smaller details than at the preceding stage), I will finally reach my mother’s very being. What Marey and Muybridge have done as operators I myself want to do as spectator. I decompose, I enlarge, and, so to speak, I retard, in order to have time to know at last. The Photograph justifies this desire, even if it does not satisfy it: I can have the fond hope of discovering truth only because Photography’s noeme is precisely that-has-been, and because I live in the illusion that it suffices to clean the surface of the image in order to accede to what is behind... (Barthes 1981: 99-100).

  • 11 Barthes’s lover’s discourse clearly delights in the portrayal of the homoerotic sensuality of the (...)
  • 12 The references to the writings of Proust and Michelet as “third forms” that confound the distincti (...)
  • 13 For an analysis of Barthes’s reflections on the “third form” and its realization in Camera Lucida (...)

20Before moving on to Karatani’s own vision of the noeme of photography I would like to call attention to a double triangular configuration sustaining Camera Lucida s delirious maternal discourse, or (dis)avowal of love for and appropriation of the (m)other to build a mythology of photography that is itself a deft disguise for homoerotic fantasies:11 I am thinking here of the fact that Barthes considered this text an experiment in what he called a “third form” (une tierce forme), a genre that incorporates the rhetoric, style, imagery and strategies of representation of both the novel and the essay but is identical with neither; and to the fact that Proust and Michelet, evoked in Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes, The Rustle of Language and other texts as authors whose writings blur and/or transcend the “discriminatory law of genres,” also appear in Camera Lucida (Barthes 1981:43,63,65).12 This eccentric didactic treatise combining traits of the mystery novel with the autobiography of Barthes’emotional and intellectual life with respect to photography undoubtedly belongs to the most successful among this writer’s attempts to overcome the “uneasiness of... a subject torn between two languages, one expressive, the other critical.” (Barthes 1981:8).13 As we will see, Karatani’s “The Mirror and the Photographic Apparatus” stages its own “third form” as an “autobiographical discourse” mediating between the sober “objective” language of the philosophical essay and of mathematical propositions on the one hand, and the expressive language of an imaginative, genre-crossing literary criticism on the other hand, and which engages critically with Gödel and Benjamin as its own Prousts and Michelets or not-I’s.

New and Not-so-new Undecidabilities, or the Pre-Socratic Paradox as “Motion Picture”

  • 14 For recent discussions of Gödel’s theorem see Casti 1990: 371-391; Herrnstein Smith and Plotnitzky (...)
  • 15 Zeno’s paradox of the flying arrow states that the arrow cannot be flying even though it seems it (...)
  • 16 Russell’s solution to the paradox of class membership was the theory of types, whose value has bee (...)
  • 17 A fascinating reading of the mathematical figures, structures and principles of construction in Es (...)

21The notion of undecidability proposed in “The Mirror and the Photographic Apparatus” is clearly based on an analogy with Gödel’s undecidables. First formulated in “Über formal unentscheidbare Satze der principia Mathematica und verwandter Systeme” (On Formally Undecidable Propositions of Principia Mathematica and Related Systems), a relatively short paper which was published in 1931 and which became a milestone in the history of logic and mathematics, Godel’s famous incompleteness theorem or Gödels’s Proof states that for every consistent formalization of arithmetic, there exist arithmetic truths that cannot be proved within that formal system. In other words, any given formal system of axioms and rules, if it is consistent and large enough to contain arithmetic, must comprise some statements that are neither provable nor disprovable within that system. The truth of such statements is undecidable by standard procedures, which in effect means that the set or system containing these propositions is incomplete. To put it differently, Gödel showed that it is impossible to provide a meta-mathematical proof of the consistency of a system comprehensive enough to contain the whole of arithmetic. He also showed that the Principia Mathematica, Alfred North Whitehead and Bertrand Russell’s monumental treatise on mathematical logic and the foundations of mathematics, or any other system that can accommodate arithmetic, is essentially incomplete insofar as there will always be true arithmetical statements that cannot be derived from the system.14 Analogies with Godel’s concept of undecidability have been deployed by a host of postclassical theorists including Derrida and Paul de Man. One of the most interesting consequences of what has been called the logic of undecidability–the logic according to which the truth or falsity of certain statements can never be established by means available to the system to which such statements belong–is the fact that all general metaphysical propositions, including those concerning the philosophical foundations of mathematics, physics or other sciences, or of literature and of philosophy itself, may be regarded as undecidable. As Barbara Herrnstein Smith and Arkady Plotnitzky have pointed out, such propositions can never be claimed true as general propositions, not even by a classical criterion of truth. This, however, does not erase the differences between these propositions and the particular metaphysical assumptions to which they correspond: in specific situations such differences may be decidable and sometimes decisive (Herrnstein Smith and Plotnitzky 1995: 384-385). It is on this type of logic that Karatani relies in describing the effect of the photographic apparatus as one which “interrupts your habitual intercourse with the world, placing you on a meta-or transcendent level with relation to the latter while at the same time firmly planting you in the thick of reality” (Karatani 1989c: 165). This simultaneous participation in a metaphysical conceptual and/or a transcendent perceptual level as well as in an empirical reality is also detectable, asserts Karatani, in the reaction of a person who listens for the first time to his/her voice recorded on tape: the voice is identified by the listener as unmistakably his or hers, and at the same as strange, unrecognizable, even other-worldly (Karatani 1989c: 165). This definition of undecidability is so strikingly reminiscent of what Barthes describes as the “temporal hallucination” brought about by photography–the perception that the photograph captures both the absence and the presence of the object, both its metaphysical nature and its empirical materiality, the fact that “it has been there, and yet immediately separated, (that) it has been absolutely, irrefutably present, and already deferred” (Barthes 1981: 77)–that one cannot but wonder anew at Karatani’s omission of Barthes from his own reflections on photography. Whatever the reasons for this omission, there can be no doubt that Karatani’s undecidability and Barthes’s madness (sic!) are twin notions conceived independently of one another; and that the noeme of photography–if we abide by the ontological categories of Barthes’s delirious lover’s discourse in Camera Lucida-is not so much an ineffable, elusive, “intractable” That-has-been (Barthes 1981: 77), but mad undecidability itself. Now the same mad logic allows Karatani to establish analogies between the photographic apparatus and philosophical paradoxes such as the Liar’s Paradox, Zeno’s paradoxes of the flying arrow and of Achilles and the tortoise, and Russell’s Paradox of class membership,15 or between photography and the work of the well-known Dutch graphic artist Maurits Cornelis Escher (1898-1972) (Karatani 1989c: 160-61, 163-64). While it could be argued that solutions have been proposed to some of the paradoxes evoked by Karatani,16 or that the fascination of the most intriguing among Escher’s graphic works (I am thinking here, for instance, of “Convex and Concave,”(1955), “The Print Gallery”(1956), “Up and Down”(1947), “House of Stairs”(1951), “Ascending and Descending”(1960) and “The Waterfall”(1961)) is less their undecidability than the profoundly destabilizing impact of their contradictory perspectival planes or curved perspectival lines, of the representation of non-contiguous worlds through mirror effects and of flat non-spatial figures as three-dimensional structures,17 several interesting implications emerge from the analogies mentioned above. First, the analogical procedure in “The Photographic Apparatus,” like Barthes’autobiographical “maternal discourse” in Camera Lucida, is itself photographic. The text takes snapshots of various discourses seemingly related to the photographic apparatus in terms of undecidability, zooms in on, decomposes, cuts and reassembles in a collage details from such discourses, foregrounds the photographic vision or dynamics of these fragments, what Barthes calls the “shared hallucination (of) the unheard-of identification of reality with truth, (of the) it is not there, (with the) it has indeed been” (Barthes 1981: 113, 115). In the following passage the hallucinatory absent presence or present absence of photographic vision is illustrated by the analogy between the “the phantasm of another person” (maboroshi no mō hitori) in the childrens game of counting described by the critic Miura Masashi, the photographer and the Cretan Epimenides in the Liar’s Paradox.

Another ancient philosophical paradox that may be likened to the photographic apparatus in terms of undecidability is the Liar’s Paradox. In this well-known paradox the Cretan Epimenides claims that all Cretans are liars. (In an essay discussing a children’s game in which the number of counted children always exceeds by one the number of actual participants in the game) Miura Masashi writes that what is uncanny in this game is the very act of counting people.
Among the children taking part in the game there always has to be one who both counts and is counted, who is a counting subject and a counted object at the same time. It is for this reason that the game has an uncanny effect on viewers. The realization that I am not only an anonymous member in a succession of counted objects but also a counting human subject is dizzying (“The Phantasm of Another Person”).
...If we substitute the terms of the Liar’s Paradox for those in Miura’s discussion, we will arrive at the proposition that the Cretan Epimenides is just one such uncanny, spectral subject-in-excess, the phantom double of the counting child... What is arresting in Miura’s argument is the fact that... the photographer is also described as a phantasmal observer (maboroshi no mo hitori) somehow exceeding the number of present persons. Unmistakably present, existing in reality and at the same time invisible, the photographer is a mysterious figure. But why is it that photography produces an effect of Gödelian undecidability? (Karatani 1989c: 163-165).

  • 18 The analysis of movement by the camera was developed from the 1870s onward by Muybridge and Eakins (...)

22Concomitantly with its foregrounding of the photographic vision underlying ancient philosophical paradoxes, the analogical discourse in “The Mirror and the Photographic Apparatus” also calls attention to the fact that some of these paradoxes-in particular those of the flying arrow and of Achilles and the tortoise–constitute a remarkable precedent of modem techniques of photographing movement. Thus the movement in the various versions of Zeno’s paradoxes is “photographed,” or decomposed in “snapshots” capturing the paradoxical logic in action in a manner anticipating the analysis of motion in the photographic experiments conducted by Edward Muybridge, Thomas Eakins and Etienne Jules Marey in the 1880s and 1890s.18

  • 19 See William L. Reese, Dictionary of Philosophy and Religion, p. 852.

Achilles, running swiftly cannot catch the tortoise, crawling slowly, for in order to do so he would have to reach the end of an infinite series, and an infinite series has no end. If Achilles is, at the start, 100 yards behind the tortoise and covers the 100 yards while the tortoise is crawling ten, then while Achilles approaches infinitely closely, he can never reach the slowly crawling tortoise. Nor can he do so even by increasing his speed, so long as the tortoise remains in motion. The conclusion, then, holds that the commonsense world is fraught with contradiction.19

  • 20 The issue of the mimetic capacity of photography was debated throughout the nineteenth century and (...)
  • 21 Like Barrow, Casti and other Gödel enthusiasts, Karatani makes stronger claims for the implication (...)
  • 22 Compare the following statement:
    Of course (the initial discourse on) the frightening objectivity o (...)

23If Zeno’s paradoxes dissect movement in a photographic or protographic manner, the implication is that photographic vision and photographic thinking is at least as ancient as pre-Socratic philosophy. In that case the “objectivity” of photography could not, as Karatani’s text asserts, have been new. Nor was this objectivity, if we judge by the precedent of Zeno’s paradoxes, particularly frightening, strange or uncanny since these paradoxes capture an attempt to conceptualize infinity rather than any ghostly emanations of the objects represented in movement. What the photographic analogical discourse, or sequence of verbal snapshots of various instances of the application of the logic of undecidability in “The Mirror and the Photographic Apparatus” ultimately suggests is that photography can be considered undecidable only insofar as it is posited as a consistent philosophy or formal system, like arithmetic in Gödel’s incompleteness theorem. Such an assumption, needless to say, can be maintained only if the political, cultural and social uses and identity of photography as a visual art are glossed over. Another precondition for upholding the logic of undecidability in the case of the photographic apparatus is to take at face value (or pretend to do so) the discourse on the absolute objectivity and truthfulness of photography as mimetic reproduction, or mirror of reality/nature. Overlooking the long history of the contestation of the mimetic paradigm,20 Karatani attributes mythic objectivity to photography with as much a show of wonder and innocence as Barthes. The result is of course an ahistorical metalanguage or metalogic of undecidability which not only is not present in Gödel’s theorem,21 but which at the same time self-reflexively reiterates and reinforces its own metaphysical assumptions.22 In other words, “The Mirror and the Photographic Apparatus” demonstrates, not so much that photography is undecidable, but that undecidability is indeed a property of general metaphysical propositions only. Just like the autobiographical lover’s discourse in Camera Lucida, the blind self-reflexive metalogic in Karatani’s essay fails to pursue the implications of one of its most interesting insights: that concerning the photograph of the (m)other embedded in the very structure of the unconscious, the self and self-identity.

The (M)other of Incompleteness

24After asserting that the photographic apparatus has contributed to a revival of interest in the paradoxes of pre-Socratic philosophy, Karatani goes on to quote a well-known passage in Walter Benjamin’s “Kleine Geschichte der Photographie” (“Short History of Photography,” 1931):

It is after all another nature that speaks to the camera than to the eye, other primarily in the sense that a space informed by human consciousness gives way to a space informed by the unconscious. Whereas it is usual, for example, that someone gives himself an account of the way people walk, if only in general terms, he certainly no longer knows their position during the fraction of second of “stepping out.” Photography, with its devices of slow motion and enlargement, reveals it to him. It is through photography that he first discovers the existence of the optical unconscious, just as he discovers the instinctual unconscious through psychoanalysis (Benjamin 1979: 243).

  • 23 For recent discussions of Freud’s use of photographic and cinematic discourses see Avital Ronell, (...)

25The last sentence in this classic quote, writes Karatani, is highly significant in that it suggests that that which made possible the knowledge and insights of psychoanalysis was the photographic apparatus. Photography “pierces” (tsukinukeru) the self-enclosed, narcissistic mirror world of phenomenology and other philosophies of subjectivity, and opens up the space of the unconscious (Karatani 1989c: 161-62). Though Karatani does not elaborate any further than this, I want to dwell a little longer on his observation on the links between photography and psychoanalysis. In Words of Light, a recent study of the language of photography in the work of Walter Benjamin, Eduardo Cadava points out that the implication of Benjamin’s famous definition of the optical unconscious is that photography reveals that our sight is blind, that when we see or look at something we are unconscious of what our sight cannot see. In linking the possibility of sight to the optical unconscious, Benjamin follows the precedent of Freud, who often uses analogies drawn from photography and the cinema in his theorization of the transformation of unconscious thought processes into conscious ones (Cadava 1997: 97-98)23 In The Interpretation of Dreams, General Theory of Neuroses and other writings, Freud claims that, just as only some negatives are selected for positive development into photographic images, not all unconscious mental processes become conscious thoughts. As in photography, an image forms itself in the psyche and passes into consciousness in a critical moment. This image, however, is not a direct transcription of the unconscious, but one which indicates that the passage between the latter and consciousness is facilitated by various paths (Freud 1953-1974, 5: 610-611, 16: 294-295). Cadava also points out that in both Benjamin and Freud the psyche is implicitly or explicitly likened to a camera and its content to a photograph. If both the psyche and the photographic apparatus are machines for the production of images, the images produced are not just any image but images of our-selves. Benjamin, comments Cadava insightfully, insists that we are most ourselves when we are not ourselves, but an image or photograph that may never be brought before our gaze, and which reveals both sight and memory for the first time (Cadava 1997:99-100). Such self-portraits are described by Benjamin as follows:

Concerning the mémoire involontaire: its images do not only come without being called up; rather, they are images which we have never seen before we remember them. This can be seen most distinctly in those images in which–just like in some dreams–we ourselves can be seen. We stand in front of ourselves, the way we might have stood somewhere in a prehistoric past, but never before our gaze. And it is in fact the most important images, those developed in the darkroom of the lived moment, that we get to see. One might say that our most profound moments have been furnished, like those cigarette packages, with a little image, a photograph of ourselves. And that “whole life” which, as we often hear, passes before the dying or people in danger of dying, is composed precisely of those tiny images (Benjamin 1972, 2: 1064, quoted in Cadava 1997: 100).

  • 24 The photograph of Kafka is described in Gesammelte Schriften 4: 260-61, quoted in Cadava 1997: 107 (...)

26The actual self-portrait is to Benjamin always the image of someone else, an other who is a double of one’s self. This is confirmed by the photograph described in Benjamins autobiography Berliner Kindheit um Neunzehnhundert (Childhood in Berlin around 1900,1934) as a self-portrait, and which is actually a portrait of Franz Kafka at age five. If, as Barthes writes, “the photograph is the advent of myself as other” (Barthes 1981:12), and if the subject’s venturing into the space of photography is concomitant with the loss of identity/the self, it is not surprising, reflects Cadava, that the figures of Benjamin and Kafka evoked in Childhood in Berlin “deconstitute one another in their relation”–a relation that can return “neither Kafka nor Benjamin to himself because the other is already in him” (Cadava 1997:115). What makes the self-portrait of Benjamin as Kafka in Childhood in Berlin so memorable is not only the representation of alterity-as-loss-of-identity, but also the fact that Kafka’s mother, imagined by Benjamin off-stage as the figure petrified by the child Kafka’s gaze, is associated with the condition of the possibility of the image in general, with a camera as well as with a medusalike figure.24 Cadava suggests that the mother in Benjamin’s autobiography is identified with the material foundation of the process of figuration, “a mechanism for reproduction” which is “already a reproduction of what makes reproduction possible” (Cadava 1997:118).

27Just as in Camera Lucida, then, that which resides at the core of the self, identity and personal history in Benjamin’s writings on photography and in his autobiographical writings is a photograph of the not-self, of the other in one’s self, of the loss of identity in/as alterity. It is now possible to see that Karatani’s terse, snapshot-like observation that Benjamin’s reflections on the optical unconscious suggest that it was photography which made possible psychoanalysis, anticipates Cadava’s interpretation of Benjamin and Freud in the sense that it implicitly visualizes the psyche as camera and identifies the unconscious origins of all photographs. What distinguishes Karatani’s view from that of Benjamin, Freud and their contemporary interpreters, however, is his insistence on photography’s radical questioning of phenomenological/transcendental conceptions of consciousness and subjectivity. My analysis so far has made clear that that which “The Mirror and the Photographic Apparatus” posits as the transcendental viewpoint afforded by photography, and which maintains the latter in a condition of undecidability, is precisely the disembodied perspective of the transcendental ego supposedly displaced by the photographic apparatus. Like Barthes and Benjamin, Karatani uncovers a photograph of a double, a not-self or a distancing alterity at the heart of his own authorial self, of the psyche and of photography in general. This unconscious photographic image, Karatani’s own “advent of himself as an other,” is a snapshot of undecidability itself–or rather of Gödel’s incompleteness theorem, which is viewed as the origin, icon and index of undecidability. Karatani’s autobiographical confession in “The Mirror and the Photographic Apparatus”–if the essay may be said to suggest such a discourse at all–is one of the displacement of the mother as dynamics and reproduction of the process of representation and reproduction by a perpetual male ambivalence about the “truth” of identity, sociality and culture.

  • 25 The reference is to Benjamin’s recreation of the past/interpretation of modernity in Passagen-Werk (...)

28A third view poised between phenomenologies of the self and Benjamin’s attempts to recover the latter’s elusive signifier from the folds of modernity through verbal photographs of auratic commodities,25 “The Mirror’”s “autobiographical” discourse also points to what may be called the infinite deferral of self-representation at the heart of subjectivity, the self’s tendency to conceal its insubstantiality and dependence on others for self-definition through dramas and masquerades about what it never was and what it will never be–the horror informing Escher’s impossible waterfalls, mirror worlds and figures climbing upside-down stairs. Predicated on the suppression of the mother as well as of the body, Karatani’s mathematical “autobiography-as-the-other’s (Gödel’s, Benjamin’s, Freud’s, Zeno’s, Russell’s...)–story”–one which may be also be found, with different inflections or “others”, in “Language, Number, Money” (“Gengo, kazu, kahei”), in Introspection and Retrospection and in “The Problem of Formalization” (“Keishika no mondai”) in Inyu toshite no kenchiku (Architecture as Metaphor, 1983)–opens onto an optical unconscious that, its promise of expansive vistas notwithstanding, can be quite desolate indeed.



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1 The title of this paper plays on Douglas Hofstadter’s besteller Gödel, Escher, Bach (1979). A different, considerably longer Japanese version of this essay appears in Monnet 1997. Research for this study has received support from the Japan Foundation and the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada. I would like to thank Ikegami Toshihiko, and Joe Murphy and Tom Lamarre for their helpful comments on this essay.

2 The impact of Karatani’s thought on Japanese literary studies and literary journalism since the 1980s is too vast a topic to be adequately surveyed here. Among recent studies with a distinctively “Karatanian” deconstructive flavor I will mention Komori Yōichi, Kōzō toshite no katari and Kindai bungaku no seiritsu: Shisō to buntai no mosaku; Nakagawa Shigemi, “Modanizumu wa zamameku;” and Suga Hidemi, Nihon kindai bungaku no tanjō.

3 For critiques of Karatani’s work see Miura Kenji, “Posutomodan to tennōsei”; Suzuki Sadami, “Kigenron no kansei”, in Gendai bungaku no shisō; and Brett de Bary 1989, 1993.

4 See Parret (1988), “‘Ma vie’ comme effet de discours,” La Licorne, 14:163. Quoted in Smith 1995: 64, translation by Smith. The title of this section of the essay refers to a chapter in Paul John Eakin’s How Our Lives Become Stories: Making Selves (1999, see below), and to Gertrude Stein’s famous “autobiographies-of/as-the-other”, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933) and Everybody’s Autobiography (1937).

5 The frequent use of representations derived from modern technologies of vision such as photography, the cinema and the computer in autobiographies and personal narratives has been signalled by many critics. For recent studies and surveys see Timothy Dow Adams, “Life Writing and Light Writing: Autobiography and Photography”; and the essays included in Autobiography, Photography, Narrative, a special issue of Modern Fiction Studies 40.3 (Fall 1994) edited by Adams; Dana Ashbury, ed. The Self as Subject: Visual Diaries by 14 Photographers; Toeda Hirokazu, “Asakusa kurenaidan no eigasei,” Rebecca Egger, “Deaf Ears and Dark Continents: Dorothy Richardson’s Cinematic Epistemology”.
Recent critical essays on Derrida’s Circumfession are Robbins 1995 and Rorty 1995. For an analysis of Robbe-Grillet’s autobiographies Le Mirroir qui revient and Angélique ou l'enchantement, see Ann Jefferson, “Autobiography as Intertext: Barthes, Sarraute, Robbe-Grillet.” Studies of the self-portrait-in-drag/self-portrait-as-other of Cindy Sherman and Morimura Yasumasa see Jones 1997; Krauss 1993; Cruz 1993; Bronfen 1995; and Bryson 1996 and Chino 1996.

6 Karatani’s insistence on the “objectivity” of photography clearly refers to the nineteenth-century myth concerning this technology’s capacity of unmediated reproduction of nature. See also below.

7 See “The Mirror and the Photographic Apparatus” pp. 155, 158, 165; Camera Lucida, pp. 30-31, 32, 80-81, 90.

8 See the following passage:
The photograph is literally an emanation of the referent. From a real body, which was there, proceed radiations which ultimately touch me, who am here; the duration of the transmission is insignificant; the photograph of the missing being, as Sontag says, touches me like the delayed rays of the scar. A sort of umbilical cord links the body of the photographed thing to my gaze: light, though impalpable, is here a carnal medium, a skin I share with anyone who has been photographed. (Barthes 1981: 80-81)

9 Paul John Eakin examines both Camera Lucida and Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes as visually oriented autobiographies. See Eakin 1992:3-39. For other analyses of the mother-centered autobiographical discourse in Camera Lucida see Knight 1997 and Showcross 1997:70-80.

10 See also the following passage:
Now Freud says of the maternal body that “there is no other place of which one can say with so much certainty that one has already been there.” Such then would be the essence of the landscape (photographs of landscape)... heimlich, awakening in me the Mother (and never the disturbing Mother) (Barthes 1981: 40).

11 Barthes’s lover’s discourse clearly delights in the portrayal of the homoerotic sensuality of the dance of the protagonist and the beautiful automaton in the final scenes of Fellini’s film Casanova, p. 116. Homoerotic overtones may also be detected in the sensuous description of Nadar’s portrait of Savorgnan de Brazza and Robert Mapplethorpes’s arresting double portrait of Phil Glas and Bob Wilson, pp. 51-52. A recent study of the inscription of homosexuality in Incidents, The Empire of Signs, Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes and other Barthesian texts is Kandiyoti 1997.

12 The references to the writings of Proust and Michelet as “third forms” that confound the distinctions between genres such as the novel, the essay, autobiography, and philosophical and/or scientific écriture may be found in “Michelet, Today,” and “Longtemps je me suis couché de bonne heure” in The Rustle of Language, See also Michelet and The Pleasure of the Text.

13 For an analysis of Barthes’s reflections on the “third form” and its realization in Camera Lucida see Showcross 1997: 68-74.

14 For recent discussions of Gödel’s theorem see Casti 1990: 371-391; Herrnstein Smith and Plotnitzky 1995: 384-386; and Gillott and Kumar 1995: 245-250. A clear and succinct explanation of Gödel’s Proof may be found in Nagel and Newman 1986.

15 Zeno’s paradox of the flying arrow states that the arrow cannot be flying even though it seems it is flying: if the arrow is moving it must either be moving in a place where it is, or in a place where it is not. It cannot be moving in a place where it is, or it would not be there; and it cannot be moving in a place where it is not, for it is not there.
Russell’s Paradox of class membership distinguishes between classes which are members of themselves and those which are not. The class of pencils is not a member of itself, since the class is not a pencil; the class of all countable things and the one of all comprehensible things, however, would appear to be countable or comprehensible, respectively. This implies that some classes are members of themselves. The question that arises is about the class of all classes not members of themselves: is this class a member of itself, or is it not? If it is a member of itself, then it cannot belong to those classes which are not members of themselves. But if it is not a member of itself; then it is a member of the classes not members of themselves, and so it is a member of itself after all. In the Liar’s Paradox Epimenides, the Cretan, claims that all Cretans are liars. On the paradox of Achilles and the tortoise see below.

16 Russell’s solution to the paradox of class membership was the theory of types, whose value has been disputed. Stated simply, the theory holds that no class is a member of itself. The Liar’s Paradox was solved by the English philosopher P. F. Strawson through reference to a performative view of truth. Since saying that a sentence is true constitutes a performative act of agreeing with the sentence, it is like saying “ditto.” In this case, however, there is no original sentence to which one can say “ditto.” Hence the paradox disappears.

17 A fascinating reading of the mathematical figures, structures and principles of construction in Escher’s work is Bruno Ernst, “The Vision of a Mathematician.”

18 The analysis of movement by the camera was developed from the 1870s onward by Muybridge and Eakins in the United States, Marey in France and Ottomar Anschütz in Germany. In 1884-85 Muybridge photographed various movements of human characters and animals with a battery consisting of 24 cameras equipped with an electromagnetic system that tripped the shutters in front of the lens of each camera in succession and which at the same time operated a timing device. The experiments resulted in some 100,000 images from which 781 plates were selected for an expensive publication entitled Animal Locomotion (1887). Smaller editions of this series were published in 1889 and 1901. Marey experimented with chronophotographs, or timed images of sequential movements on the same plate for which he used a rotating slit shutter.

19 See William L. Reese, Dictionary of Philosophy and Religion, p. 852.

20 The issue of the mimetic capacity of photography was debated throughout the nineteenth century and has reached considerable sophistication in twentieth-century theorists such as Siegfried Krakauer, André Bazin, Susan Sontag and Rosalind Krauss. While doubts about the supposed objectivity and neutrality of the medium were expressed already in the nineteenth century, it is in the twentieth century that the argument on photography as interpretation/codification and/or indexical trace/imprint of the real was developed (Arnheim, Damisch, Bourdieu, Barthes, Baudry). For surveys see Dubois 1990: 21-53; Adams 1994: 463-467; Rosenblum 1997: 14-37, 208-243, 296-335.

21 Like Barrow, Casti and other Gödel enthusiasts, Karatani makes stronger claims for the implications of Gödel’s theorem than the latter’s discoverer himself. While Gödel argued that knowledge could always be expanded by developing new axiomatic systems, and that incompleteness in any theory represented a challenge, Barrow and Casti insist that the incompleteness theorem eliminates the possibility of scientific certainty and places serious limits on human understanding. See Barrow 1991: 183-85, 262-270; and Casti 1990: 372-73. For a critical view of these interpretations and a reassessment of Gödel’s result as a liberation from formalism, a theory calling for a closer acquaintance with reality rather than a more complete reproduction of the latter in mathematical models and systems, see Gillott and Kumar 1995: 247-49. An accessible and informative recent overview of Gödel’s achievement which also examines the latter’s impact on the development of computer science, can be found in De Pauli Schimanovich and Weibel 1997. On the implications of Gödel’s work for philosophy, and Gödel’s own philosophical thinking see Wang 1996.

22 Compare the following statement:
Of course (the initial discourse on) the frightening objectivity of photography was... soon forgotten, and the latter became a device for reinforcing both the ideology of objectivity and the philosophy of subjectivity (“The Mirror and the Photographic Apparatus”, p. 159).

23 For recent discussions of Freud’s use of photographic and cinematic discourses see Avital Ronell, The Telephone Book, and Dubois, L’acte photographique.

24 The photograph of Kafka is described in Gesammelte Schriften 4: 260-61, quoted in Cadava 1997: 107-109.

25 The reference is to Benjamin’s recreation of the past/interpretation of modernity in Passagen-Werk through a historicist-Marxian-surrealist-psychoanalytic method that retrieves odd shards of memory, radiant objects and fetishized commodities from the dream world of nineteenth century arcades, exhibition halls and panoramas. The montage of dialectical images (dialektische Bilder) in this enigmatic work is informed by a photographic-cinematic vision and a visually-oriented language. See Cadava 1997: 63-69. See also Buck-Morse 1995, Part III, 8; and Missac 1995: 90-123.


Professeur agrégé au Département de littérature comparée et au Centre d’études de l’Asie de l’Est de l’Université de Montréal. Elle est l’auteur de plusieurs livres et de nombreux articles sur la littérature et le ciméma japonais contemporains, qui ont été publiés dans Japan Forum, Asienstudien, Hihyō Kūkan, Kokubungaku et autres revues scientifiques. Ses recherches actuelles portent sur l’autobiographie et l’autofiction dans la culture visuelle et les nouveaux médias à la fin du XXe siècle, les relations entre cinéma, littérature et la culture moderniste de l’ero-guro-nansensu (érotique, grotesque, non-sens) dans le Japon des années 1920-1930. Spécialiste en études féministes et en études queer, elle s’intéresse aussi aux questions de la mémoire, du corps et de l’épistémologie des sens dans le cyberart et le net-art, ainsi que dans les littératures et cinémas contemporains non occidentaux.

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