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« History Lecture Series Recommendations | Main | Culture and Scale-Free Networks »

April 16, 2003

Idolatry Redux


I know you’ll be glad to hear that the “mainstream” press is slowly but surely following the lead of 2Blowhards. In the Wall Street Journal of April 16, David Freedberg (a professor of art history at Columbia University) makes many of the same points as my posting of January 6, Idolatry. (You can read the original in all its glory here.)

J. Delay, Toppling Saddam, 2003

To wit, the fascination with the toppling of a heroic statue of Saddam Hussein last week reflects the fact that—as modern as we like to think ourselves—our appreciation of art has chiefly to do with very primitive notions about the links between images and reality. In other words, people all around the world reacted to the toppling of the statue as if it were the toppling of Saddam Himself.

According to Professor Freedberg:

For years it has been fashionable to claim that the modern multiplication of images by photography, by the computer, and now on the Web, have drained images of their force. The German cultural critic Walter Benjamin once implied that in the age of mechanical reproduction images lose the aura they had when they were at the center of religion and ritual.

Susan Sontag implied this too in a famous essay on photography. Not surprisingly, especially in the light of the strength of our reactions to images of atrocity, even when multiplied by the million, she has revised her views. She too has come to recognize something about images that we all know in our bones: that statues, like pictures and photographs, become compelling because of our inesacapable tendency to invest images of people (and sometimes things too) with the lives of those they represent.

Hey, what can I say? Another example of great minds running in similar paths. Of course, some of us run a little faster...



posted by Friedrich at April 16, 2003


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