Image Time

Carp photo — CL

According to German philosopher Vilém Flusser (1983), the space and time peculiar to the image is none other than the world of magic, a world in which everything is repeated and in which everything participates in a significant context. Such a world, he says, is structurally different from the linear world of history in which nothing is repeated and in which everything has causes and will have consequences.

Flusser tells us that the significance of images is on the surface. As our gaze wanders over the surface it follows a path formed, on the one hand, by the structure of the image and, on the other hand, by the observer’s intentions. “One’s gaze takes in one element after another and produces temporal relationships between them. It can return to an element of the image it has already seen, and ‘before’ can come ‘after’. The time reconstructed by this kind of image scanning is an eternal recurrence of the same process.”

Flusser refers to the ‘principle of similarity’, which in the field of magic falls under the category of sympathetic magic. One classic example of this mode of thought is that of the cock and the sunrise. In the historical world sunrise is the cause of the cock’s crowing; in the magical one, sunrise signifies crowing and crowing signifies sunrise. The sequential orientation of consequence is open to different arrangements. According to Flusser, this ‘circulating time’ is the time of magicomythical existence.