Scissors Light1


If we take a prehistoric throwing stone in hand, we notice that it is still easy to hold and throw. Nevertheless, it can also serve to demonstrate that over the course of history, the progress of technology has created increasingly more efficient means for the same end. On a straight trajectory, we can trace the refinement of tools, leading from a shaped stone to forged metal, to gunpowder, to the steam engine, to laser technology. Once the first step has been taken, the chain of innovations seems set.
      However, if we look at a prehistoric image, a drawing, we immediately ask ourselves whether we can also trace such clear progress from that point on. That is to say, perhaps the first cave drawing already indicates the last possibility that the refugee from paradise has in formulating an agonal relationship to a reality which his latest descendant are still trying to get beyond. All further pictorial compositions are, it is said, already contained in this first sketch! Neither the illusionistic panel painting nor photography nor computer animation could be regarded as progress in this context, they would be merely additional differentiations of a basically unchanging relationship. The movement linking the different phases does not run in a linear fashion—like the one from the hand axe to the laser beam—but rather is circular. At any point of this circle the fabulist can cite good reasons why this is the beginning, or indeed the end, of the development. And any deception about this is a necessary deception.
Two opposing developmental models thus face one another: whereas, in the linear model, the more advanced stage is clearly distinguishable from the less advanced stage, such a differentiation in the circular model can only be made on a superficial level, if at all. Whereas in the natural sciences and technology we can have daily innovation, it seems we never make any progress at all in the field of cultural articulations.
      And yet, it is possible from this never-changing point to say something about the technological arrow that flies away and beyond its blinding target. Distinguishing the two forms of development has led to the fact that scissors and light don’t rhyme with children, but the overlooked field beyond the space for the survival of the species grows with the functionalizing of its blindest urges: even those who believe in the possibility of surpassing the speed of light consider the circle the ultima ratio of movement through time. The self-proclaimed creator of worlds can reach the starting point of his journey, which he began on foot, in a spaceship or finally per data stream. But he can also reach the starting point by intentionally leading his steps astray, through an, as it were, unavoidable mistake. The plan changes with every moment that is necessary for its realization, until finally, at a far away point that seems nonetheless familiar, the question of what at all has happened so far comes up. Between the first part of the path that one remembers, and the final part that is currently under discussion, there seems to be a wall through which the anonymous guard must pass without, by so doing, articulating a will or perceiving any resistance.


What does the nursery rhyme say? For the moment of a moment, circle and arrow interlock: there is a view into another time—but not without a short ex-discourse: if we want to think through the possibility of an illusionistic doubling of the real all the way to an indistinguishability of original and copy, the weak point becomes evident if we use the example of an anachronistic medium that is analogue down to its microstructure. Not in spite of, but because of the implied historic labyrinth. In front of a warning sign, distress becomes a virtue. Especially here, on the defined sidetrack, the motifs and limits of an imitable world can be addressed beyond their technical nature. The point here is also distinguishing a children’s world from an adult world: in the former, mimesis is considered the life principle of a pantheistically infused reality, in the latter, mimesis means a threat and clouding of a reality which is said to be the recognition of the seriousness of life. Where this distinction is stripped of laziness, abstruse strategies appear from the historical entanglement that construct things which can be narrated as if from a cornucopia: everything can be done so that at the separating line between play and seriousness, eternity and transience, the question about the actual quality of a simulatable world creates friction. Painting appears, for example, as basic research on an illusionistic handling of the phenomena called reality, which determines the access to what is a picture from Lascaux to MoMA: a mirror consisting of numbers that replaces supporting walls.


Either reality is threatening, or it can be defused, cushioned, manipulated, cancelled by simulation. Either children know about the dangers of sharp and burning things, or their play already knows the finesse of a continuous pretend-as-if. On the way to a knowledge that must be finally doubtable in a Socratic— i.e., self-referential—manner, we must identify the absurd points where a given narrative does not seem to make any progress, in spite of the coherent linkage of recognizable elements. These points of pausing enable a necessary loss of context through which the illusionist process closes (without, however, questioning the illusionist principle) the gaps which the narratable, but not the way in which it can be narrated, reveals. On the one hand, the gap is supposed to be the limiting factor which shows the construction to be inevitable in order to once again produce the illusion of a functioning narrative progress—on the other hand, the gap already represents the open space through which the simulated narrative can be continued in every thinkable direction. So from which point are the tools of the grown-ups dangerous for the playing children? As soon as a gap closes in the structure of rhymes! As soon as we are all Cretans! What remains is a picture that says: if not now, then now! No movement is possible! Happy or poor turtle? Which border does the quasi-divine beholder wish to cross after he has already replaced the quasidivine creator? Or is the frantic flight from Plato’s cave just a flight into vagueness, and thus downright impossible, after all?
      At which point simulation excludes the reverse effect that retrospectively transforms reality into a good or bad dream depends on how, when, and if at all the child becomes an adult. The change takes place, at the very latest, with an unmistakable injury. At that moment the two separate paths— circle or arrow, aesthetic perfection or technological progress—cross once more in a decisive manner: the artist believes to stand on the side of science and scholarship, and thinks of himself as politically effective. For the whole! Just for a moment! The technologically outdated basic research at the weak point of a developmental principle that promises knowledge through imitation has resulted in a paralysis of oppositions—as the goal of all scientific and scholarly efforts according to all the rules (of art). The Gordian knot, too, is the result of loops! After the spheres’ short contact they separate once again, but the contact leaves behind an afterimage of the cave illumination between scissors and wick, which reveals the illusion of a perfect universe not as an end, but rather the beginning, of the effort to find its exit. Although everything looks better and better technically, even just the possibility of a natural limit to the process of improvement causes us to doubt a reality in which calculable access is everything. After the short Leonardo dream everybody goes their own way once again. Only the children must—and this has always been so—recognize the danger that might be inherent in some attractions, until even the last victim of self-adulation can take advantage of the rhymed wisdom and the fragile link.

Halcyon Days, Cologne 2013, p. 380

[1] This refers to the German nursery rhyme: “Messer Schere Feuer Licht, sind für kleine Kinder nicht,” which might be translated as “Knife, scissors, light, and flames, have no place in children’s games.”