٠ Nietzsche and Photography’s ability to kill ٠

museum_07© Thomas Meyer, Untitled, from the series New Museum in Berlin

In part II of Untimely Meditations (1873), Nietzsche speaks about the malady of history and culture and how paying reverence to them restrains our ability to be free. Nietzsche suggests that the only two antidotes against this disease are: being unhistorical or being suprahistorical, the former meaning that we opt for forgetfulness; the latter meaning that we cease to be haunted by the weight of the becoming and start walking towards stable and eternal things, like art.

I’d like to concentrate on this idea of forgetfulness as a way to rebel against authoritarian preconceived ideas of education, law and good-behavior. Nietzsche suggests that forgetfulness is linked to happiness and honesty and gives examples of animals parading joyfully through the landscapes. Though the use of such nouns is very dubious in the context of a-historical animals, it’s relevant that his use of the “animal equation” could be replaced by the use of the “photographic equation”, as an automaton.

If human-existence, as the ability to be and exist in the present (the Dasein), is an uninterrupted state of “that-as-been”, then photography could serve us a medium that is consistently killing the present. Obsessed with history, with the horror of the fleeing moment, she reacts by immediately bringing the past into the present.

“That he lives best who has no respect for existence” is one of Nietzsche’s statement with which I fully agree. It’s not as if we have to always be oblivious of the historical context, but that we chose not to let knowledge be more important than life itself. He says the instrumentality attributed to history gives way to fanaticism and foolhardiness, and I’ll add it gives way to people being unable to build on their own individual identity, for they buy into the illusion of the unity of the collective identity.

museum_15© Thomas Meyer, Untitled, from the series New Museum in Berlin

“Monumental history is the masquerade costume in which their hatred of the great and powerful of their own age is disguised as satiated admiration for the great and powerful of past ages, and muflled in which they invert the real meaning of that mode of regarding history into its opposite; whether they are aware of it or not, they act as though their motto were: let the dead bury the living.” (p.72)

This nietzschian concept of history makes me go back to the question of the creative power of photography (particularly of documentary and street photography). Isn’t it possible that the camera, as a prosthesis, accentuates the differences between the inner and the outer? Isn’t it possible that the camera unhinges our instincts? Doesn’t photography promotes the appearance of things, instead of their desired liberation of the representational status.

Nietzsche makes a good point in opposing history to art: “for it is only in love, only when shaded by the illusion produced by love, that is to say in the unconditional faith in right and perfection, that man is creative. Anything that constrains a man to love less than unconditionally has severed the roots of his strength: he will wither away, that is to say become dishonest. I n producing this effect, history is the antithesis of art: and only if history can endure to be transformed into a work of art will it perhaps be able to preserve instincts or even evoke them.” (p.95)

museum_05© Thomas Meyer, Untitled, from the series New Museum in Berlin

Documentary photography has always been quite foreigner to be, when I’m in the place of the photographer. I have no instinct to capture and have always struggled with the act itself stealing my ability to be present in the moment. Not only does Nietzsche’s account of the dangers of the so called “historical relevance” strengthens the parallels between the inauthentic being and photography’s inauthenticity, but he goes on to suggest that the act of collecting (and thus the archival impulse so dear to the contemporary art world) arises from the subject’s detachment for “the fresh life of the present”, which degenerates into “a restless raking together of everything that has ever existed.” (p.75)

The fragility of the individual identity, when confronted with the overwhelming impact of nature and life themselves, retreats into the predator mode, shooting pictures, collecting objects, hierarchizing things obsessively as if by doing that he could find his/her place (and class) in society. 

Nietzsche concludes: This is a parable for each one of us: he must organize the chaos within him by thinking back to his real needs. His honesty, the strength and truthfulness of his character, must at some time or other rebel against a state of things in which he only repeats what he has heard, learns what is already known, imitates what already exists; he will then begin to grasp that culture can be something other than a decoration ofliJe, that is to say at bottom no more than dissimulation.”(p.123)

text by Sofia Silva

NIETZSCHE, F. (1997), Untimely Meditations. Cambridge University Press

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