Visual culture and battles for Algiers

My copy of Nicholas Mirzoeff‘s newly published Visual Culture Reader was waiting for me on my return from Cologne.  It’s the third edition of a classic resource, first compiled ten years ago, and it’s been comprehensively revised, with a number of specially commissioned essays.   You can download some of Nick’s own essays here, including discussions of Abu Ghraib and US counterinsurgency.




Chapter 1: “There are No Visual Media” W. J. T. Mitchell Chapter 2: “The (In)human condition: A Visual Essay” Ariella Azoulay Chapter 3: “Mapping Non-Conformity: Post-Bubble Urban Strategies” Teddy Cruz Chapter 4: “X-reality: Interview with the Virtual Cannibal” Beth Coleman Chapter 5: “On Software, or the Persistence of Visual Knowledge” Wendy Hui Kyong Chun Chapter 6: “Notes on the Photographic Image” Jacques Rancière Chapter 7: “Queer Faces: Photography and Subcultural Lives” J. Jack Halberstam Chapter 8: “Currents of Worldmaking in Contemporary Art” Terence E. Smith Chapter 9: “Sublimated with Mineral Fury: Prelim Notes on Sounding Pandemonium Asia” Sarat Maharaj Chapter 10: “The Sea and the Land: Biopower and Visuality after Katrina” Nicholas Mirzoeff


War and Violence

Chapter 11: “The Archaeology of Violence: The King’s Head” Zainab Bahrani Chapter 12: “The Actuarial Gaze: from 9-11 to Abu Ghraib” Allen Feldman Chapter 13: “American Military Imaginaries and Iraqi cities” Derek Gregory Chapter 14: “Zeroing In: Overheard Imagery, Infrastructure Ruins, and Datalands in Afghanistan and Iraq” Lisa Parks Chapter 15: “What Greg Roberts Saw: Visuality, Intelligibility, and Sovereignty – 36,000km Over the Equator.” Trevor Paglen Chapter 16: “Media and Martyrdom” Faisal Devji Chapter 17: “Live True Life or Die Trying” Naeem Mohaiemen Attention and Visualizing Economy Chapter 18: “Kino I, Kino World: Notes on the Cinematic Mode of Production” Jonathan L. Beller Chapter 19: “On Virtuosity” Paolo Virno Chapter 20: “Faking Globalization” Ackbar Abbas Chapter 21: “Creativity and the Problem of Free Labor” Andrew Ross Chapter 22: “It’s easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism” Mark Fisher Chapter 23: “Do It Yourself Geo-Politics” Brian Holmes


Bodies and Minds

Chapter 24: “Optics” René Descartes Chapter 25: “Blindness and Visual Culture: An Eye-Witness Account” Georgina Kleege Chapter 26: “Reduplicative Desires” Carol Mavor Chapter 27: “The Persistence of Vision” Donna Haraway Chapter 28: “The body and/in representation” Amelia Jones Chapter 29: “Mami Wata: A Transoceanic Water Spirit of Global Modernity” Henry Drewal Histories and Memories Chapter 30: “The Mobilized and Virtual Gaze in Modernity: Flâneur/Flâneuse” Anne Friedberg Chapter 31: “Tourism and Sacred Ground: The Space of Ground Zero” Marita Sturken Chapter 32: “Maps, Mother/Goddesses and Martyrdom in Modern India” Sumathi Ramaswamy Chapter 33: “Museums in Late Democracies” Dipesh Chakrabarty Chapter 34: “The Fact of Blackness” Frantz Fanon Chapter 35: “The Case of Blackness” Fred Moten (Post/De/Neo)Colonial Visualities Chapter 36: “Orientalism and the Exhibitionary Order” Timothy Mitchell Chapter 37: “The Colonial Harem” Malek Alloula Chapter 38: “Vodun Art, Social History and the Slave Trade” Suzanne Preston Blier Chapter 39: “Between Cult and Culture: Bamiyan, Islamic Iconoclasm and the Museum,” Finbarr Barry Flood Chapter 40: “The Postcolonial Constellation: Contemporary Art in a State of Permanent Transition.” Okwui Enwezor Chapter 41: “Urban Warfare: Walking Through Walls” Eyal Weizman


Chapter 42: “U.S. Operating Systems at Midcentury: The Intertwining of Race and UNIX” Tara McPherson Chapter 43: “Rethinking the Digital Age” Faye Ginsburg Chapter 44: “The Unworkable Interface” Alex Galloway Chapter 45: “On the Superiority of the Analog” Brian Massumi Chapter 46: “Race 2.0: Neoliberal Colorblindness in the Age of Participatory Media” Lisa Nakamura Chapter 47: “Imagination, Multimodality and Embodied Interaction: A Discussion of Sound and Movement in Two Cases of Laboratory and Clinical Magnetic Resonance Imaging” Lisa Cartwright and Morana Alac

In human geography – and beyond – the go-to site for matters visual is Gillian Rose‘s visual/method/culture, and her excellent Visual methodologies: an introduction to researching with visual materials (Sage, 2011) is already in its third edition too.

But Nick’s work also speaks directly to geography (at least with a little g, which is the sort I prefer).  Readers probably already know his most recent book, The Right to Look: a counterhistory of visuality (Duke, 2011), but this summer he produced a remarkable ‘digital extension’ of one of its chapters in conjunction with the Alliance for Networking Visual Culture called “We are all children of Algeria”: visuality and countervisuality 1954-2011 that plays with the idea of what I suppose we could call ‘spatial stories’.

In a revealing interview Nick explains why he chose to use a new open access authoring platform – Scalar – rather than his blog:

Blogging is a format that expands how it’s possible to write and think in relation to the contemporary. It makes a form over time. Scalar allows me to share a wide range of North African and European cinema, newsreel footage, guerrilla documentary and photography with the reader in a way that is obviously not possible in print.  Unlike a blog, or at least one using an off-the shelf template, I have a great deal of freedom as to the look, layout and design of each “page,” which can vary from one to the next.  More than that, it allows me to explore a more complex form of narrative in which multiple threads (or “paths” as Scalar calls them) can be developed. This opens up a new set of possibilities for comparative and cross-cultural work that have only just begun to explore in digital humanities work but which I think are among its most fruitful possibilities.

Much to think about there for me: as I noted in a previous post on Targeting and technologies of history, I’m really drawn to the visual experimentations taking place at USC – like Vectors, which showcased some of Caren Kaplan‘s work and which was also involved in Nick’s collaboration.

In “We are all children of Algeria”, then, Nick uses the metaphor of the march to tell a story about revolution and decolonization in Algeria from the outbreak of the revolution in 1954, and to illuminate affinities and connections between the post-war revolutions and the Arab uprisings that began in December 2010.

There is a march! A demonstration as they say in England, a manifestation in French. The Arabic is مسيرة. What is it? It is a means to put our bodies in space, where they are not intended to be and to make a claim. It moves, it demonstrates, it shows: it is militant research…

It asks: how can we “see” Algeria, its decolonization and revolution? Following the lead of Frantz Fanon, it takes the point of view of the child, meaning both children as such, the colonized “child” of  the parent nation, and the “infant” revolution that emerged. 

The Zapatistas say that everything they do is “walking,” a journey that has no final destination. This walking is done here by means of text, media and to-camera videos. This format, allowing as it does for a set of intersecting and interfacing threads to compose the whole, is better suited to reclaiming and exploring these histories than the linear text-based narrative.

So it is both a story about Algeria as such and a way to understand the interface of decolonization and globalization. Whether or not you work “on” or about Algeria, there is an “Algeria” in your work, meaning that there is a place where the incomplete or failed processes of decolonization and the formation of independent developing-world nations intersect with the power of financial globalization. We need to occupy that place, not erase it.
And, yes, Pontecorvo’s Battle for Algiers has a pivotal place in the march (page 5 of the Main Route).

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