Essay by Michele Manzini

First of all, before the struggle was formally declared, two kinds of knowledge and two languages found themselves opposed with regard to their reciprocal and exclusive relationship with the truth: tragic knowledge, the language of myths and stories, and philosophical knowledge.
We are in the fifth century BC and the field of the dispute is Greece.
Tragedy proposes the cognitive experience of dissent, disruption, precariousness, and the impermanence of existence.
Against this idea was a powerful adversary: Plato and his philosophical knowledge; he managed to blacken and undermine his antagonist. Plato’s victory was the foundation of philosophy and the negation of knowledge being found in poetic and narrative fiction.

It was Nietzsche who later re-proposed the terms of that battle by stating that it was necessary to go back thousands of years, to the struggle by Heraclitus and Empedocles against the philosopher Plato, in order to discover a form of thought similar to that which he was trying to define by suggesting appearance as the thing in itself.
Plato won the dispute. However he left it to the future to define the precise terms of the struggle, terms which were to turn up with uncertain results at various times and in various places in the history of thought. It be found, for example, in Vico’s proposal of a “poetic logic”, one able to guarantee the “truth of fiction”.
It was seen again in Hölderlin’s Empedocles, permeated with the feeling that in the relationship between man and nature there was no solution or reconciliation.
It flared up again in The Castle by one of the great protagonists of our century: Kafka. In fact Kafka is the “man of the struggle”, the person who leads a battle against the invisible logic of the Castle in the name of the reasons of life, of a truth that is not closed and immutable but receptive of what is possible.

Today, one of the aspects of the crisis of modernity is the ending of dialectic; Bodei saw this as the end of a philosophical thought that was still able to organize both polemos and logos. This ending has generated conciliating philosophies such as hermeneutics, which resolve the dialogic conflict; deconstructionism, which pulverizes the conflict; or weak thought, which makes it evanescent. This ending has also led to philosophies which have emphasized the conflict, but have deprived it of all reason, as in Foucault’s thought.
In a word: logos without polemos or polemos without logos.

The suppression of conflict and otherness lowers the future’s outlook and anticipations.
So the future presents itself, not as an enigma, but as something immutable which delivers us back to the present.
Man today is a man who lives only in the present.

I know that we can, all the same, build houses, places, and breeding grounds, and that we can plan a landscape. But in all those places where the horizon is analogous to that of inert things, then we can have no other enthusiasm unless that of possession or of a conciliating vision.
The realm is that of the “delicate monster” of boredom, of that boundless apathy that I could call melancholy. Here Dürer’s angel has her wings folded. She cannot rise in flight because, if it is true that a being unfettered by things is lightness, it is also true that this lightness is literally unbearable.
The gesture of a hand caught forever in a ray of light in an interior by Vermeer where nothing can ever happen, or Hamlet’s eternal mourning as he refuses to confront the death of his father in a positive manner, deny any possibility of movement for a thought that is formed through an infinity of forms which are also dissonant with each other.

The enjoyment of an image is an important passage in experiencing reality, but its partiality can be overcome within the conflicting dimension of a figure.
The figure is the process of “another thought” with respect to that of classical philosophy, a thought that passes through literary “images” and concepts and that holds together two “half truths”: the greatest abstraction of the concepts and the great strength of myths, unreasoning, analogies, and images.
As Musil has said, the figure dwells between these two worlds.

I create figures.
Figures are an attempt at making a form and which I contrast with the fascination of images which, even though laden with truth, shine and then vanish without becoming knowledge.
My figures contain polemos in themselves, in the sense that they contain in themselves instability, conflict and otherness without dissolving or resolving it.
This logos advances laden with unresolved tensions. Its horizon is populated by many, even infinite, possible forms; it is receptive in the same way as the destiny of tragic heroes in the face of the “many forms taken on by the divine”, forms which are the terrible yet stupendous richness offered to modern people.

Verona, 2008.


Essay by Michele Manzini

Pliny related the famous trompe l’oeil competition between the two Greek painters Zeuxis and Parrhasius.
Zeuxis painted grapes that attracted the birds, while Parrhasius painted drapery that was so realistic that it fooled Zeuxis who, to his great embarrassment, lost the competition.
In fact, Zeuxis had been able to fool birds, but Parrhasius had fooled even Zeuxis, a great artist.
What attracted the animal did not attract the artist who, instead, like all of us, was fooled by what lies behind the image.
And so a perfect illusion is not possible, and even if it were it would not give an answer to the needs of reality which cannot be represented and continues to impel us to go beyond its own image.

In Proust’s matinée in the home of the Princesse de Guermantes, he understands that a face, a thing, an event are inanimate when they are frozen in a relationship of resemblance and identity with the immanence of reality.
Faces, things, and events come alive through mutation, metamorphosis, and transformation.
Proust decides to narrate this change in order to arrive at figures full of the light and shade which make up that truth which cannot be seen in the facts of everyday reality.
This is the plane where fiction intersects with reality: the plane of its truth.
In this confluence of two seas, as Corbin has remarked, “the middle world” is made visible, a world in which what usually seems inanimate comes alive.

My work is made in the conviction that fiction contains a part of the truth which, in some way and in some place, intersects with reality. Only in this process of transfiguration can we grasp the unity of a human face and push ourselves into the interstices of reality.
This is the function of masks which not only hide but reveal.
In Greek tragedy masks were never used to hide the character but to give it a truth that the naked face could not uphold. The truth of a mask always comes up against the truth of the face it covers.

Right from the start, the term “deceit” was the object of a great dispute with enormous implications for Western thought.
Parmenides was the first to define the term by contrasting tragic knowledge, and thus the language of myths and stories, with philosophical knowledge.
For him there were two possible ways for accessing reality: the way of truth of a noetic nature, and another, phenomenal and sensible, way that can be followed only by organizing discussion into a “fictional order” and, therefore, through “deceit” which belongs to poetry, myths, and tales.

Tragedy flourished and deceit became knowledge.
This was Gorgias’s “righteous fiction“.
It was to be the tragic experience that discovered in events the contradictions that determined them, in a situation full of contradictions , contrasts, reason, and madness.
So for tragic thought “knowledge” is a language, a logos, that in its order is able to grasp human destiny as uncontrollable change.
A formidable adversary reacted to this thought: Plato won the dispute and would change the course of Western thought.
But when Nietzsche tried so many years later to propose once again “the appearance of a thing as the thing itself“, he said that it was necessary to go back “millennia” in order to find a similar figural inspiration, and he suggested Heraclitus and Empedocles as a counter to Plato.
Years later, Hölderlin was to find the beginning of modern times in that struggle.
The tremendous figure of Hölderlin’s Empedocles coincided with the discovery of tragedy: as knowledge and as form containing in itself the constituent splitting of the only harmony possible.

On of the themes that my work is certainly concerned with is that of the subject’s old privilege of seeing and of self-awareness.
This is a question of redefining the old supremacy of the subject in a representation which gives full power to the Cartesian self by revealing that our gaze is not only embodied in the subject.
The subject controls the object which is ordered and put into focus as an image by the viewer, according to a viewpoint familiar from Renaissance treatises on perspective.
But the subject is also in the image.
The subject is also looked on by the object and is pervaded by its light and its cultural and symbolic reserves.

We could talk about art’s conventions, representational schemes or cultural codes; but in my work photography “mediates” the gaze/object for the subject and, at the same time, protects it from the glare of the objects.
So photography becomes the place for meditation and allows, by way of the game of deceit and masks, access to what is symbolic, to memory, narrative, and metaphor.
Only in this way can the subject observe the object in its greatest luminosity.
If it were not like this, to look without a screen would mean being blinded by the gaze of the objects and touched by reality.
This is one of the functions of my photography: to negotiate the conflict of the gaze.