A world with no horizon Diller /Scofidio
Il s’agit d’un article de catalogue pour une exposition qui eut lieu à Caen en 1994, organisée par le FRAC de Basse Normandie intitulée : Back to the front : Tourisms of war (Visite aux armées : Tourismes de guerre)
When the first act of a "post-modern" war opens with the destruction of a prestigious site, belonging to the world’s héritage, like Dubrovnik, or when one of the great museums of the world, thé Uffizi, is the target of a terrorist bombing, a new relationship between war and tourism is established. Tourism thus no longer feeds solely on the warring event : Verdun, or the D-Day beaches. It is no longer a soft, contemporary form of conquest and worldwide westernization. Tourism, rather, becomes an essential military objective. The tourism of war teams up with the war on tourism. But has not this been so since Verdun, at once an impérial walled city and a place, thronged by the worldly crowd who were personally invited by Petain at a crucial juncture in the battle, to "experience" live the assault, to see and to be seen (Proust) ? Things would be straightforward if museums and historic cities were, even in their symbolic form, only part of a nation’s wealth. There would be even more reason for destroying them, because that would be an attack on meaning itself, in its most elaborate capitalist form—that of value, of sign-value (Baudrillard). But a museum is never just a place where such values are capitalized. It is the site of a much more complex opération, where meaning is transmuted into ruin. The desire to make a ruin disappear (any picture hanging in a museum or the most beautiful of historic cities is necessarily a ruin), the desire to obliterate it and turn it into ashes, places us at the hub of postmodern politics, at the disappearance and vanishment of that which, in modern times, had taken the shape of subjectivity, of representation, of the world’s horizon.
1. If we reconsider the treatises on perspective and painting, starting in the modern epoch with Alberti’s Della Pittura, it is clear that following a methodological and constructive order, the placement of the horizon line precedes the positioning of the vanishing point—also called subject point by Viator. We also know that although the Greek craftsmen working for the Romans were the first to elaborate the material, transparent picture plane, they did not conceive of the space thus represented in a systematic way. They did not attempt to make the constructive lines (or vanishing lines) converge at a single point that would stand for their infiniteness (Panofsky). So they did not need a horizontal constructive line, but rather a vertical one, an axis, thus serving as a backbone for what experts call a herring-bone structure. This would imply, philosophically, that between the Ancients and the Moderns, the division comes between the preference for verticality and one for horizontality. It also implies that the Ancients were unable to deduce the existence of a subject as a new site of truth (Hegel on Descartes), starting from this geometric point that is valid for all the straight lines of the ground plane, ideally extended to infinity. Antiquity would not have made any projects contingent on a horizon line, just as it had ignored the subject of philosophy and infinity. But, the modern subject of representational painting straightaway has a horizon for action. Since in Quattrocento painting (if we go along with Alberti), the horizon line must be drawn immediately after the window of the picture-that square frame that outlines the forthcoming view- has been fictitiously opened and circumscribed. The horizon line is drawn parallel to the ground line, two-thirds above. The subject point is arbitrarily selected along this line. Thé subject, at its point, at the back of the picture, is thus held just by a thread, along which it could move. This subject, still altogether abstract, emerges within thé picture. This representational painting will always favor inclusion and immanence over mediaeval exclusion and transcendence. Once the subject point has been chosen, the vanishing lines may be drawn. And the ideal position of the spectator could be determined, in a sense, by symmetrical projection outside the picture from this subject point. The internal subject point thus precedes thé establishment of the external point of view, or what is commonly called the subject (spectator). The central consequence ofthis construction is that the subject point is always already there, within the drawing or the picture. It thus precedes any view. Therefore, it is not the viewing of this picture by an external subject that subjectivizes it.
The viewer subjectivizes the view only by discovering that he already had his place as subject—within the picture. In other words, the viewer becomes subject, in the sense of the Cartesian "Méditations » and of the whole modern philosophical tradition, only as an effect of an apparatus that marked a whole age : perspective a projection apparatus that Brunelleschi publicized in some of its most speculative aspects. Looking at the vanishing point, as a spectator, is to find oneself within the picture, in a masterful position, a priori. What matters here is the séries of methodological and ontological décisions : to decide that, henceforth, the world can be putforth given in a view (it is no longer the Text), that a quadrilateral drawn on a wall may have the quasi-substance of a glass window through which one might perceive this world ; to inscribe on this window the traces of this thing that might be over there (thus rendering it objective) ; to draw the horizon line on which the subject point will be placed ; to project "outward" the symmetrically obtained point of view ; to obtain thereby the distance points, rounding off the rationalization of the space thus represented. Our hypothesis consists of thinking that this methodological séries that has a professional application also has an ontological value. It has a value in the deduction of subjectivity’s conditions of possibility, a value that is not only philosophical but also anthropological and therefore political, legal, psychological, economical, etc. Our hypothesis would suggest that, in this domain, painters and architects have had an absolute precedence over physicists, surveyors, philosophers. If, henceforth, the subject always has a horizon (for his will, for example : he would not be able to make plans without a horizon for the project, etc.), this is because the horizon is his condition of possibility, and, as the Greek horizein suggests, his limits. The limit (finitude ?) precedes what it limits, namely, the expérience of the field thus opened up from that point of view. The experience of the modern subject thus tends to be exclusively horizontal, collapsing the transcendence of the gods onto the immanence of what is projected for the subject as traces on a transparent screen. This is what we call humanism, a primary form of immanentism. As we see in a series of portable perspectographs, from Dürer and his wicketgate to Greenaway (The Draughtsman’s Contract) the projective device always includes the telemetric sight. The target is nothing other than the thing over there, projecting itself as an object onto the orthonormal window of the perspectograph, by leaving points-traces the draughtsman must join together. There is no substantial différence between the eye behind the viewfinder and the target which is over there, but rather an ever possible reversibility. Accordingly, in modern combat, the aimer and the aimed-at belong necessarily to the sphere of subjectivity. Thé object aimed at by ego is an alter ego. Thé relation between the two is immediately intersubjective. The intersubjectivity is obviously not an immediate given, but a consequence of the projective apparatus. Therefore, intersubjectivity is not to be philosophically demonstrated on the basis of that indubitable fact, ego cogito (contrary to Descartes and Husserl). Before modern enemies engage in battle, they aim at one another and thus turn into subjects-objects for each other. So it is not the supposed common membership in the human race that renders fraternization possible, as at Verdun in 1916. There is no point here in presupposing a human sentiment that is innate. This sentiment is the consequence of a certain determination, of the times, of the surface of inscription—here it has the traits of the perspectival apparatus. The figure of the enemy is thus subordinate to the mental and technical apparatus by which it is conceived and perceived, by what Cassirer called a symbolic form.
2. A contrario, in their interminable wars, Amerindian communities regarded the other not as human (a category or being they each reserved themselves), but as a category beyond humanity, either phantom or animal (nit, to borrow Levi-Strauss’s term). The only being that was similar (hence human) was one who bore upon itself the same strokes of script on the body, the same scarifications, and the same slashes. Another vocabulary of scarifications or other markings on the body, did not make them alike (the formula, "They’re all human because they’re all written, even if the signs differ," would not have been acceptable, being rather Christian.) The identification of the markings of another tribe did not introduce that tribe into the tight circle humankind. This type of writing - for what is involved is undoubtedly writing, a differential system of marks and notches, incisions and excisions - collapsed the universality of readability and therefore of meaning to communal singularity. Writing did not offer acces to the universailty of meaning, since it was completely territorialized idiomatic, utterly non-vocalizable, and thus illegible in the strict sense of the word,so much so that the trace or the letter singularly imprisoned meaning, as in Michaux’s poetry. It is by some optical illusion that we think we can read these strokes, by giving them a status of graphic "symbols," open, indefinitely, to commentary. Their graphemes were not interchangeable but profoundly repetitive, invariable, and untranslatable from on graphic system to the next. We cannot show here how the progressive vocalization of these marks brought about a deterritorialization, a universalization of meaning, nor how a space was freed up, or rather produced ; how a space ceased to be for writing, and became a space for sight—a sight which was no longer that of reading. Paradoxically, while we systematically refer to "savages" in terms of orality (Debray), their experience was that of a body - the Earth – totally covered with letters (graphemes, notches, drawings etc.). "Savages" thus had no horizon, for the world (the Earth, bodies, calabashes) were not there to be seen, but to be read, in accordance with an ever renewed expérience of a course of reading, and, in an accessory sense, of writing, because thé stars have always been there, in the firmament, like an open book. It is this very first text—-the sky— which created the very first reader, and not some scribe authorizing himself to invent himself by writing, on the rocky wall of a cave.
3. To walk the D-Day beaches, to adopt the perspective of the attacker from the sea, for whom the horizon line is one of ridges some more fortified than others, or to adopt the stance of a defender of the Atlantic wall, holed up in his pillbox, as at Longues-sur-Mer, in Normandy, near Bayeux, protected by a simple slab of concrete resting on four elegant steel uprights, is to expérience, despite appearances, the reversibility of the points of view. If such are the points of view, it is because enemies share in common the same definition of space, the same geometric plane. This makes it possible to compare all points of view, and as such institute a common worid, a common objectivity, a common techno-rationality, even among the most incomparable (the Nazis and the Allies). Paradoxically, even if the lines of the horizontal assault are opposed, temporarily delimiting the space of the battle, it is this reality of the visible limit of the Earth which at once divides and links the enemies in their common membership in the sphere of subjectivity. They cannot have the same line (even in the "ideal" experience of the front, where a ridge line separates the two trenches), but as much as they each have a line, they belong to the same world of techno-scientific confrontation, the substratum of which, here, is sight. So it is not confrontation that draws together, creating a common site, as would the living caesura that is always engendered by difference (Hôlderlin). The modern space of confrontation, which prsupposes something public is quite republican (and this is aiready quite clear in the public square of the Italian city-states of the Renaissance and specifically in their depictions in painting), even if the confrontation is between parliamentary democracies and a totalitarian regime. Furthermore, these basic socio-political divergences did not prevent the establishment of battle museums, which, as soon as they were built to exhibit the ruins of battle, could not avoid making the enemies alike, i.e., into the same metaphysical substance.
The Museum is essentially republican.
The ideal sought in the museum in Caen is to show, by means of a film, the total mobilization of all the forces on both sides of the Channel-a mobilization without which these two horizon lines could not have been rendered concrete as the visible limits of the firing range. For the will is nothing without the horizon of its exercise. Whether the Arromanches Museum, set in the former combat zone, tends to attract a mixed public of veterans from both camps, followed by the inevitable rearguard of war tourists, or the Caen Museum holds more fascination for the victors and their offspring, coming here in search of a paradoxically universal horizon line, and in order to do so transform themselves like a post-Shoah sense of history (Peace), both remain in a state of common horizontality, the eruption of which is coextensive with that of Modern Times (Heidegger : What is a Thing ?.
4. In the end, and in time, the Arromanches Museum will become, like the memorial in the battle-field at Douaumont (near Verdun), a museum for peace. For it is a fact that contemporary battles, in which warring masses are pitted against one another in the utmost anonymity, are in fact places which host the collapse of all the values for which the combatants were meant to be fighting. As Patocka wrote about the "experience" of the front in the Great War, heroes in the battlefield cannot be but unknown, and soldiers permanently altered, surviving only in a fraternal state of suspension, beyond the ruined values of universal law, or blood, or soil. Thé contemporary battle is no longer the site of an experience (probably since Stendhal), but that of the collapse of subjective experience, in which all horizon lines vanish.
5. A hero can no longer etch his own trace on the battlefield (this even becomes the most dangerous thing of all, leaving a trace for a reconnaissance satellite to pick up, a smell for the combat dog, an echo for night radar, a gleam or a hint of heat for the infra-red sensor). In the 1930s, Brecht advised the inhabitants of "the country with no proletarians :" "Leave no traces." He wasn’t criticizing the appropriation of others, ofbodies, of things etc. ; rather, he was calling for the necessary break with thé old surface of inscription—the modern one, in effect -which is overly cluttered and obsessively saturated (the extraordinary extension of the patrimonial field). When the unknown hero is relieved of his age-old destination, he becomes a historical figure of mobilization for the masses, so as to give them form (the masses being a sort of quasi-matter). He no longer has any horizon, but something in a sense quite other than projective, a vanishing line (Deleuze), or better still, an area line (Deligny). Our modern war tourists are nostalgic for the horizon line, whereas the experience of the warrior was rather one of becoming-animal, or even of becoming-mineral. These tourists try to reconstruct a certain normalcy, which is nurtured by the dialectics of the two antagonistic horizons, because they are hoping for a return of meaning, precisely where it twas most lacking. But another analysis might be possible : the nostalgic expectation of the resurrection of meaning or of the horizon line might be mixed with an admiration for a place (the battle-field) where this meaning and this horizon have been sacrificed. After Georges Bataille, this could be taken as an expulsion and destruction which ennoble the sacrificial victim, or after Patocka, as metanoïa, a philosophical conversion beyond sense, not into psychiatry’s insanity, but rather toward the limit of reality, of fact, of datum, towards that which lends them meaning. These tourists might be in quest of what is most authentic (without being able to attain it)- the trace of the socio-political values which have collapsed in this place while active nihilism has triumphed over every endeavor, giving nse to an unrecognizable community, a community without community or negative community, defined by Nancy as the difference or division of voices. A community which does not work, which is made up of singular elements, catching glimpses of one another, or rather catching sight of one another, in a space which does not exist prior to them, but is defined with their help, without any horizon because it is articulated in a thousand ways. It is clear that no museography is currently capable of managing, much less elucidating this sort of shift. On the contrary, by means of educational devices, the endeavors of museography strive to reassure that meaning has not been unsettled, just as they claim, in the Peronne Mémorial, for example, that the experience of the front was indeed like that of earlier wars, because the private correspondence of the soldiers sounds the same. It matters little that, a few years later, when Freud dealt with case after case of "war neurosis," he upset his economic doctrine of the psychic apparatus by introducing thé notion, running counter to nature, of the death-drive, suggesting thereby the power of the repetitive, or even of the eternal return, against the horizon of the project. Nor does it matter that in his Being and Time, Heidegger would elaborate the concept of a being-for-death, or Benjamin, that of an end to narrative and consequently to experience in The Narrator and in Experience and Poverty. If pseudo-continuities are thus postulated, it is because history, for the Museum, is always a dream, and because only critical awakening (Benjamin) brings about historical discontinuities and breaks. The French also have excellent reasons for leaning towards the longue durée (Ah ! thé beauty of the longue durée of climates) rather than toward certain resurfacings that are painful for the national memory. Soft and sweet, passive amnesia might well become a therapy recommended by Renan in person (What is a Nation ?).
6. So museums of mass war are institutions in which the tourist comes to appropriate the built remains and the traces (by using all the devices put at his disposal by this new version of the war industry called the cultural industry), while ironically,the soldier, if he were not a novice, would do anything to ensure his disappearance, leaving no trace. Leaving no trace should be understood in still another way. Not thinking possible to leave any, because any trace would be inauthentic and misleading, this brings up a misunderstanding. It has to do with the truth of battle, the authenticity of that experience and the relation between the two. As with any contemporary event, the response to it admits no Pirandellian "to each his own truth," which remains very much in the perspectival mode (even in the Nietzschean sense). Not that the points of view of both parties cannot be compared, but if some of them might still have a point of view—or the fiction of an over-view for a well-informed général staff- others were no longer in the position of having one. Here a break must be made with the whole problematic involving points of view, horizons, projects, perspective, the common world as a geometric plane, where all points of view are once and for all comparable. Here we must take leave of modernity and représentation. So the différence does not lie between an ill -informed soldier’s restricted - because tightly territorialized - point of view and a panoramic overview, which is fictitiously, totally, informed about all the elements of the battle. In fact, for the actor, thé soldier, the bursts of warring events eradicate each and every time any desire to grasp a subject for thought, so much does thé psychic surface. Consciousness under fire has to be constantly protected against assaults from without, thereby becoming a simple, but absolutely vital excitement-proof screen. The combatant is in the situation of Baudelaire’s modern man : no longer able to produce a narrative of what he has lived through because he is unable to transform what has happened to him into traces that can be interiorized and thereafter remembered. In other words : unable to think. The truth of the event is obviously not in a communique from staff headquarters either, nor in a historiography familiar with only these archives, but more likely in a nocturnal literature whose point of departure is the recognition of the impossibility of witnessing a lived experience, in spite or because of the apparent multiplicity of testimonies. Can we not therefore consider the host of diurnal testimonies written about Verdun in the decade that followed as so many personal attempts at psychic reconstruction ? One must then mourn the lived experience, an expérience Which would lead to an extreme poverty of testimony, and even to silence. Silence alone authenticates the disaster of what is lived through. The trace alone (literary, pictorial or cinematographic) institutes being by supplementing the absence of the lived experience. This rapport with the trace is obviously not prohibited to the public, should it agree not to appropriate what would become an object of consumption, but rather to inhabit it, in the manner of the true collector who, according to Benjamin, ventures inside the things he acquires in order to grasp their enigma. A rule for this literature, that we find in Duhamel on Verdun : "For anything that touches on Verdun in 1916, no, no, there is no poetry, no oblivion, no transfigurative indulgence of hell."
7. From "Leave no trace," via "Writing alone authentically institutes the trace of the event," a bundle of themes takes shape in which "There are events without trace"represents the most enigmatic strand. If the horizon line is the condition enabling a subject to be pointed out, subjectivizing everything that will be framed by the perspectival apparatus, transforming the thing into an object, then the other, the enemy, is aiways another "myself." Modern warfare thus acknowledges him a legal status (the Geneva Convention). But from the moment when all rights are withdrawn from this other, when it is de-nationalized by instituting, as thé Nazis did, a status of second-class citizen, to the point where all that was left to this citizen -in an altogether temporary sense—was his biological existence and his manpower (Arendt), then it could not be regarded as an enemy against whom one would wage war. For the savage politics conducted in the very heart of modernity (Lyotard), the horizon is no longer the idéal limit of a project. The Nazi empire of rootedness in blood and soil, strictiy continental and incapable of fighting at sea, had no use for the horizon. For the Nazis, Jews and Gypsies were not enemies in the strict sense of the word. Rather they were lice. As such, they were radically de-subjectivized and, it goes without saying, they were not dialecticized (as in Hegel between master and slave, or in Marx, between classes). This prompts a questioning of the thesis that holds Nazism as dependent on, if not fulfillment, of the modern metaphysics of the subject (Nancy, Lacoue-Labarthe). This re-intrusion of the savage into the modern is the mark of an epochal change in philosophy and anthropology alike : the post-modern, for lack of a better term. What is invariably at stake is the trace, to leave none behind, to leave no trace of the crime, to exterminate by means of systematic disappearance, to destroy the common conditions of experience, to render the contemporary event unbelievable. All these points lead us to think that the real issue involves the emergence of a new surface of inscription, whose support is no longer the body nor the window that could be penetrated with a gaze, according to the random etymology of thé word perspective : "penetrating reason." A new age whose act of birth is a mass murder by programmed extermination, by the politics of obliteration, and by the aesthetics of disappearance (Virilio).
8. A museum which attempts to record mass crime thereby ceases to be a museum of war. And tourism rightly enough, prefers to revisit the sites—the D-Day beaches - where, classically so to speak, meaning was brutally sacrificed or suspended. Because the politics of the obliterating traces (from extermination to the obliteration of the traces of extermination) was not a war. Neither the Jews nor the Gypsies were organized as armies (save for that last-ditch moment during the uprising in the Warsaw ghetto, or in the Resistance). The politics of obliteration had nothing in common with the wars between savage communities ; their function was probably to constantly regenerate difference between them, in such a way that no central State could federate them (Clastres, Abensour). At thé Caen Mémorial, when the film on the confrontation and its preparation (its effectiveness is akin to the "aesthetics of shock," to use Benjamin’s expression),is boldly torn in the centre—the screen splits and lets images of peace corne through the gap —it opens up a new space, which altogether blurs the imagery ot war. But this obliteration of confrontation is deceptive. Conflict is not dialectically surpassed by the restfulness of beaches finally restored to their previous calm. A new worldwide horizon line is not imposed (the "New World Order"). This peace which has no content- apart from the merchandise that invades this Memorial—is not merely threatened by ever reburgeoning peripheral wars but, under the spectral banner of "human rights," the clearly perceived interests of nations aiways re-emerge- a sort of postmodern gunboat politics. Moreover, another division persists in the West, another (red) line- a bar that could not be confused with Hôlderlin’s caesura, nor with that primacy of différence which has permeated continental philosophy ever since. This is a fracture that separates a legitimized and legitimizing western tradition (from the pre-Socratics to modern science) and a hidden, repressed and even foreclosed tradition—the Jewish or Judaeo-Christian tradition in the strict sense of the term (Arendt). This bar is drawn horizontally oniy to satisfy the needs of museography. Perhaps it should be broken or zigzag shaped, like the bar of the wing dedicated to German Judaism in the Berlin History Muséum ? But can the French politics of so-called "intégration"— a republican project undermined by the "brown" program of radical exclusion— permit the elaboration of another philosophy of history that is ultimately unrepresentable ?