Image and Freedom
Freedom can be a theme in images, or it can become manifest in pictorial practices. But beyond that, is there an inner relation between images and freedom? Do they impede or enable one another?
As a critique of metaphors and ideology, philosophical iconic criticism is usually about the freedom potential of discursive knowledge and well-informed action. It corresponds to an individualistic liberalism, for which the other only comes into consideration as a limit to my freedom. According to the stoic-intellectualist conception, the subject is capable of withdrawing from that which determines and limits it in the world and of acting out of this distance in an unfettered way with regard to it.
How is such freedom possible at all in view of closed causal relations? Is our image of ourselves, according to which we are causally effective in the world because of our free will, mere semblance? Kant’s answer—that freedom understood as autonomy, which moves us into the space of practical norms, escapes the determinism of nature—frees us from this question at the cost of suggesting, in the end, an iconoclastic self-understanding.
Criticizing the iconoclasm of the Kantian conception of autonomy is the point of intervention for an aesthetic expansion of the concept of freedom. Individuals no longer have to unite with others under the laws of freedom because they oppose one another in expressive freedom, in which they grant each other space in a convivial way. Freedom can be understood interactively as play, and in its artistic representation, necessity seems to disappear.
A functionalization of the aesthetic for social and political freedom underestimates, however, its metaphysical problems. If freedom depends on an adequate consciousness of freedom—this was Hegel’s objection—then we should understand artworks as forms of consciousness that make the institutionalization of freedom possible by going beyond it. Art (like religion and philosophy) brings us into a free relation to everyday and historical praxis itself since it models and invites actions that are not purposeful.
Twentieth-century philosophy introduces constitutive semantic and phenomenological differences that understand the image as amphibiously subject to a doubling of the medium and object of the image, of presence and absence. This iconic difference can be read anthropologically as a characteristic of freedom. But in what relation does such an anthropologically understood space of freedom stand to the challenges of extreme and traumatic political and in view of the advances in explaining causal relations in science? Is such a concept of freedom up to these challenges? Do attempts at reorientation have repercussions for image theory?
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Instructor: Brigitte Hilmer. With inputs from Malika Maskarinec and Ralph Ubl
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