jean-francais lyotard - plastic space and political space

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Jean-Francais Lyotard - Plastic Space And Political Space


Plastic Space and Political Space

Jean-Francois Lyotard The interesting thing about political posters is that they expiicitiy establish a relationship between the organization of society and the plastic surface (6cran). Through these posters we should be able to establish a correlation between the effective treatment of the plastic surface and the desired treatment of social space. We propose the following hypothesis: beneath the articulated signification and iconic meaning, the poster's plastic form (plastique) has its own value as a symptom of a political unconscious. Given this hypothesis, the localization of this symptom can be sought through Freudian categories. Our aim, then, is to elaborate a critique of ideology. First of all we will distinguish textual and figural space. Graphic (or phonic) units have no value in and of themselves according to the plastic force of their form or rhythmic impact on the reader's eye or body, but only by being opposed within a system (e.g., the alphabet, if we accept the letter as a unit). This play on opposition is rule-bound, and breaking the rules leads to the effects of signification jamming. The system assumes a spatial cutting-up (d6coupage) (here visual; vocal in the case of speech) according to invariant intervals which allow for fast recognition. This cutting-up is textuality.


Space IS, on the contrary, treated figurally when the norm of the intervals defining the textuai units is transgressed, giving currency to another order of meaning. This definition is intentionally negative, it is particularly important to beware of identifying figural and perceptual space, since even the organization of the field and perceptual profiles can be transgressed, and this transgression make them appear a contrario as textual elements. There are thus "written" figures. Similarly, the graphic signifier and/or signified of a text, properiy speaking, can be deconstructed in such a way as to heavily invest it with figuraiity Freud's analysis in Chapter VI of the Interpretation of Dreams shows that this sort of transgression is the work of desire insofar as it is a repressed drive The transgression proceeds through work, not discourse. The poster combines images and letters and the work of desire can be followed on both. Reckless deconstructions, obeying the demands of ([the] death) instinct, recombine new recognizable aggregates (according to the principies of reality and Eros) The sociai space the apprehension of which by poiiticians we seek to diagnose, through an analysis of posters, is what Marx, in the introduction to the 1857 edition of the Critique of Political Economy, called the empirical space of intuitions and representations. This space IS not that of the system which supports it and hides in it, but that In which social relations are lived, in which ciass struggie unfoids. The poster belongs to this space insofar as it is an object of intuitions and representations But even in its most "naive" forms, the poster constitutes a specific object in the midst of other objects occupying that space: an "art'-object, if one wishes; an object which mirrors other objects; an empty space (non-piace, u-topia) where situations given elsewhere in iived social space become manifest. Now the way in which this recovery (reprise) takes piace plasticaiiy is crucial for diagnosing the politicai unconscious in play in the poster. It is a process of simple representation (corresponding to simple reversal, described in The German Ideology as an ideologicai relation) or, more precisely, doubie reversal or even overthrowing. The poster of the Russian Revolution (1920) (fig. 2) is divided into three-quarters figures and one-quarter text: "May 1st," "The Saturday Workers of All the Russias." The scene represents a man striking an iron bar held on an anvil by a woman with the aid of a pair of fongs. On the left, a man holds a pickaxe in his handat rest, it seems staring toward the locomotive and flags in the background sky. The factories in the background resemble a stage set; nothing allows us to affirm that these people are at work. The scene itself takes place outdoors; the flags and banners give it a festive air and the sense of a joyous hubbub. The look of the central figure (red shirt, black pants) holding the sledgehammer is fixed on the center of the picture: the anvii. The railroad tracks converge toward the same point. This nexus of lines is the reason why the picture's plastic form knots and unknots, where our look is inevitably rooted, like at the center of a spider web, so as to


traverse all the lines which diverge from it. Let us follow line A vertically (fig 2). It contains "May 'st," the anvii, a hand and sledgehammer Line B, the raiiroad track, obliquely followed, establishes the picture's depth, allowing me to pene*rate it, or, inversely, expels me toward that other expanse of spacethe text Line A shows planes of color white hand, red shirt, black pants and anvil, a fiery red object to be hammered, red "1st," black letters: "the Workers," etc. There is an image-text symmetry here, a passage from one to the other via the piastic eiement of coior, color which reinforces the general unity of the poster. Note the interesting placement of "1st." From the formal viewpoint, this eiement works as a "iyricai" verticai vector which organizes the entire poster and gives it all its meaning. The vertical creates the stage (nght-ieft, front-rear) on which actors are able to move about, play "In human representation, the horizontai corresponds to the iine or piane on which man stands" (Kandmsky). If we take the separation of image and text literally, it is clear that "1st" functions in another sense than a simpie aid to the scene's plastic compostion (fig. 3). " 1 " taken by itseif assumes a symbolic role. It no longer merely indicates a "directional" vector but the deep meaning of the poster. It supports and grounds the entire scene, symbolizing the opening of a new erathe sociaiist era Or, more fundamentally, what IS originary, matncai: history's source point; the founding act; what separates what was from what is yet to come. The anvil is in this case the initial fixed base where nascent socialism is forged, where it draws Its strength. Sociaiist ideology draws its force and sense from myths, here through Vulcan who transmits his suggestive power thorugh the overexposed eiements of iron and fire But, inverseiy, myth piunges ideoiogy into an abyss, if one is not careful, the connoted elements can crack to pieces, iet themseives be invaded by meanings issuing from eisewhere which destablize the unwieldy and "exact" presence of ideoiogy. The presence of "1st" on the anvii is ambivalent. It has a dreamlike quaiity insofar as it is a graphic and chromatic eiement But through its legibility and meaning, it fixes the image of the anvil which is excessively polysemic ("the image, place of resistance to meaning in the name of a certain mythics of life," says Barthes). The text in this case is our most solid point of contact, veneering its meaning on the figure, fixing it: it is a question of the Saturday Worker. The text informs our view. This poster is addressed to the Russian workers of 1920, not to us. It is not surprising that the text's "anchoring" (Barthes) function is less important for us and that we be more aware of the image's polysemy. Image and text lock me in a "reading" game from which all contemplation is absent. It is at the level of this game that we wouid be able to disclose the Utopia. The passage from image to text, nowhere indicated as referent in the poster, would be of an Utopian nature.


Reading becomes enriched in passing from text to image. New pulsations of meaning ftoresce; new circuits of singifiers are disclosed. The image which is presented to me is truly fantastic. The scene, like in the theater or a dream, shows me workers who are not workers The text is here comparable to a stage apron, "the invisible limit where the spectator's look strikes a barrier which halts and returns it (the first reversal) to the spectacle's recepient, that is, to himself insofar as he IS the source of the iook" (A. Green, Un oeil en trop). With that smali difference, the stage apron is constituted as text, a text which preciudes all narrative, ail diaiogue. The figures here are mute, have only a dream-like depth. Without this text, the figures, presented in their silence and immobility, would surely anguish the spectator. The text is the order, the written commentary of a henceforth reassuring image which one recites to oneselfan image into which I can resolutely project myself. The eye, then, can itself be captured by the invisibie, "written form" of the perspective, more fictive and illusory than ever, and which makes It penetrate the allurement-space (espace-leurre),\he depth of the scena The vertical, the "silent line" (Kandinsky), and the horizontal, the oblique, are not taken in their own right They are captured, reified in the gestures and attitudes of the players who evolve on the stage. The eye is caputred by that "written" "form" of the poster which presents itseif as figure-desire, as action to be realized. This organization of a fantasmatic scene, needed to induce the viewer's desire, to make him take his desire for reality (the other of piay), this "visible" of the poster does not refer to the visible of a real object but to an invisibie situated eisewhere. An invisibie which is neither of the order of the reality of the poster nor the reality of which it speaks. Like in More's Utopia, all contacts with reality are broken, and reality survives only in "overexposed" traces: sledgehammer, tongs, anvil, railroad tracks. These elements are divested of their proper functions, connoted on the one hand, but reinvested on the other with all their mythicai attraction. The viewer's desire enters into play and is constit