ONCE UPON A TIME • Susan Sontag & Karl Marx


“… Photography … is mainly a social rite, a defense against anxiety, and a tool of power… As photographs give people an imaginary possession of a past that is unreal, they also help people to take possession of space in which they are insecure… Taking photographs has set up a chronic voyeuristic relation to the world which levels the meaning of all events… Photographing is essentially an act of non-intervention… To take a picture is to have an interest in things as they are, ….. to be in complicity with whatever makes a subject interesting, worth photographing… Photography implies that we know about the world if we accept it as the camera records it. But this is the opposite of understanding, which starts from not accepting the world as it looks. All possibility of understanding is rooted in the ability to say no. Strictly speaking, one never understands anything from a photograph… Industrial societies turn their citizens into image-junkies; it is the most irresistible form of mental pollution… In the past a discontent with reality expressed itself as a longing for another world. In modern society, a discontent with reality express itself forcefully and most hauntingly by the longing to reproduce this one. As if only by looking at reality in the form of an object – through the fix of the photograph – is it really real, that is, surreal… Poetry’s commitment to concreteness and to the autonomy of the poem’s language parallels photography’s commitment to pure seeing. Both imply discontinuity, disarticulated forms and compensatory unity; wrenching things from their context (to see them in a fresh way), bringing things together elliptically, according to the imperious but often arbitrary demands of subjectivity… A capitalist society requires a culture based on images… The production of images also furnishes a ruling ideology. Social change is replaced by a change in images. The freedom to consume a plurality of images and goods is equated with freedom itself. The narrowing of free political choice to free economic consumption requires the unlimited production and consumption of images… Whatever the moral claims made on behalf of photography, its main effect is to convert the world into a department store or museum –without walls in which every subject is depreciated into an article of consumption, promoted into an item for aesthetic appreciation… ”

Susan Sontag – On Photography - (1977, New York)

“… In estranging from man 1 nature, and 2 himself, his own active functions, his life activity, estranged labor estranges the species from man. It changes for him the life of the species into a means of individual life. First it estranges the life of the species and individual life, and secondly it makes individual life in its abstract form the purpose of the life of the species, likewise in its abstract and estranged form… For labor, life activity, productive life itself, appears to man in the first place merely as a means of satisfying a need – the need to maintain physical existence. Yet the productive life is the life of the species. It is life-engendering life. The whole character of a species, its species-character, is contained in the character of its life activity; and free, conscious activity is man’s species-character. Life itself appears only as a means to life… Estranged labor turns thus: 3 Man’s species-being, both nature and his spiritual species-property, into a being alien to him, into a means of his individual existence. It estranges from man his own body, as well as external nature and his spiritual aspect, his human aspect.      4 An immediate consequence of the fact that man is estranged from the product of his labor, from his life activity, from his species-being, is the estrangement of man from man. When man confronts himself, he confronts the other man.

Karl Marx – 1844 Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts
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