MITCHELL Cloning terror

Henrik Gustafsson writes with an interesting supplement to my previous post on Image Wars. Last year Nomadikon, the Bergen Center for Visual Culture, convened an online discussion around ‘Image Wars’, centring on W.J.T. Mitchell’s argument in Cloning Terror: the war of images, 9/11 to the present (there’s a short extract from the opening chapter over at Berfrois here).

There are extended contributions from:

Toby MillerImperial Wars

Mikkel Bolt RasmussenThe Spectacle of State Terror and Fear

Jill CasidThe Imperative Mood

Chris Hables GrayImage War in the Age of Digital (Re)Production

Max LiljeforsNotes on ‘Image Wars’

Joanna ZylinskaLife in the battlefield of vision

And excellent untitled contributions from Marita Sturken, Jill Bennett, Iain Chambers and Kari Andén-Papadopoulos.  

There’s also a rich response (‘Image War’) from Mitchell himself:

W.J.T. Mitchell… this might be the place to make clear my own sense of limits, by insisting that the notion of image war, of a war of images, is itself an image, a metaphor, and perhaps a metapicture—that is, a second-order picture of the way that pictures operate.   A war of images is not literally a war.  Images do not go into battle and kill each other; human beings do. Images do not plan invasions, massacre populations, and shatter bodies.  That requires people.  Images are more like animals than humans, in this respect.  Animals fight and kill each other, but the mass mobilization of violence known as war seems a uniquely human institution, unless we anthropomorphize the natural behavior of certain species such as warrior ants, or the learned behavior of the war horse, image of the heroic cavalry of pre-modern warfare.  Images are “agents” of war in the sense that a “secret agent” works for a foreign power, or an “agency” is an instrument of a state.  Images are thus like machines, extensions and agents of human powers.  Which is to say that they can go out of control, go “rogue,” and be turned against their creators.   If images are agents, then, perhaps they should be thought of as double agents, capable of switching sides, capable of being “flipped” by acts of clever detournement, appropriation, and seizure for purposes quite antithetical to the intentions of their creators.   (Think here of George W. Bush’s “Mission Accomplished” photo op; or the trophy photos taken at Abu Ghraib prison).    My attribution of agency and affect and desire to images, as Max Liljefors notes, “runs the risk” of “mystifying pictures,” but I don’t think we can track the volatile lives of images without running this risk.   We cannot, in my view, utterly destroy the mystification of images, their tendency to take on the status of totems, fetishes, and idols.  In fact, the fantasy of a sovereign iconoclastic power, one that would annihilate falsely mystified images once and for all simply winds up mimicking the idolatry that it seeks to displace.

You can read the whole thing here.