Some More Forethoughts for a Study of Body-Image and Self-Image

How do images become externalized? Although a genealogy of this transformation might resound with illuminating institutional contexts and far-reaching echoes in concepts such as ‘body-image’ and ‘self-image’ (if a self is assumed to imagine its body, then what imagines the self?), one point of departure that might reveal just how strange is the idea of an external image is quickly to consider the status of the image in Spinoza.

Initially Spinoza analyzes images and the imagination that produces them in the context of a critique of ideology (of error in physics, metaphysic, and religion). Yet, Spinoza does not consign images solely to error, nor does he deny their being the natural configuration of our life-world. Instead, images and the affections of which they are images become the very object of the third kind of knowledge that orients us towards beatitude.

Spinoza defines images as “the affections of the human body whose ideas set forth external bodies as if they were present to us, although they do not reproduce the shape of things. And when the mind regards bodies in this way, we shall say that it imagines.” An image is not a reproduction or representation that one might make or produce of an external body. Rather in image is a way of being affected by an external body that involves together the nature of one’s body and the external body.

To make present – this is not necessarily the temporal designation of memory, to make present the past which is nothing but to make present those bodies by which the human body has been affected. Rather, it is the very structure of the present, presence, and presenceing. An image is a temporalizing structure. Since for Spinoza affections of the human body are affects or moods, we might compare the affections together with the ideas of those affects that are images and imaginings with Heidegger’s equiprimordial structure of disclosedness as attunement and understanding.

Heidegger identifies three characteristics of attunement wherein moods disclose thrownness, Being-in-the-world as a whole, and an existential openness to the world by which encounters within-the-world can ‘matter’ to it. This latter characteristic implies for Heidegger a circumspective concern that has the character of “becoming affected in some way.” To be touched by anything or have a sense for something “in such a way that what touches them shows itself in an affect” is only possible for a kind of being that is in and attuned to the world.

An image as the sort of affection that has significance in disclosure, or for Spinoza that has significance in the involvement together of the natures of this body and that body, then, is neither a thing nor an image of a thing. It is even less a relation between these bodies as the splitting them off from each other. Images are at once the disclosure of the world and the disclosure of that kind of being in the world that is its disclosedness. Images are the present that has the characteristic of ‘together with.’

Although, the body and mind parallelism might not hold up in an analysis of Dasein, the absence of subject and object distinction in Spinoza is perhaps conducive to this comparison. For, in Heidegger and in Spinoza there is an openness, a not being closed off, that replaces a thought of the in-between that, though it might be close to this togetherness, still separates. The openness in an image that is not an internal depiction of an external reality – even less it is an external depiction of some inner reality – comes before those designations of internal and external.

Which is why it is so strange that image immediately means an external image – a photograph or a painting, yes, but even more immediately an advertisement, a television screen, a window through which is still visible at night some lonely light.

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