the I and its image

contemplation versus interaction, exclusion versus inclusion
on the relation of real subject and image subject to the image


All too readily, we conceive of our relation to the image in terms of the relation to a painting, where a passive onlooker contemplates a still image, that is neatly separated form the space where the onlooker is situated: the familiar paradigm of the 'aesthetic contemplation'.

With conventional images, this approach is not problematic, but it turns out to be inappropriate as soon as we are dealing with panoramas, 'immersive images', virtual reality, not to mention 'interactive images'. And it is the question whether this paradigm applies not only to visual, but also to aural images - there are those who have the impression of being immersed in the surround sound of the cinema, or, somewhat less prosaic, of being swallowed, like Isolde, in Wagner's 'wogender Schwall' - or to the images in which the reader is immersed who stares motionless to the pages of his book, not to mention the dreams of the sleeper, who lies for dead under the blankets, whereas he experiences the wildest adventures in his dreams.

The example of the dream suggests that there are two instances that may relate to the image: the dreamer in the dream, and the dreamer in bed. And, also here it is not evident what may be the counterparts of this couple when reading a book, hearing music, or looking at a picture.

Reasons enough the write a text about the relation between the image - all kinds of images - and the two kinds of perceivers that we will learn to discern below. Since images are traditionally equated with visual images, we will first handle the visual image - although we will deal with more kinds of images than the paradigmatic two-dimensional still images. Next, we will apply the analysis to other kinds of images, although we will restrict ourselves to those who are most relevant to our subject: the aural image, the dream image, the imagined image, and the story (narrative). In the process, we will find not only expected similarities, but also meaningful differences. Only when we have a full survey of all the variants will we be in a proper position to formulate a general theory about the relation of between the image and its perceivers in a last paragraph, that is at the same time a summary.

This text is based on my book on the image, where the problem is dealt with exhaustively and in a broader context.


It will prove to be useful to dwell somewhat on the structure of the image itself. The visual image appears in a fragment of the real world: the image medium: the configuration of light in stained glass, a painted panel or canvas, printed paper, developed photo paper, or the visible three-dimensional surface of a three-dimensional sculpture in diverse materials.

That image medium is a real (light-)object in a real environment, which comprises not only the medium support (paper, canvas, panel, film projector and screen; bronze, marble, wood, silicone or epoxy, the bodies of actors), but also the surrounding reality that has nothing to do with the image: the wall on which the painting hangs, the theatre building around the scene. Where the medium extends, the real world is replaced with what we call the image space. Let us first examine how real space and image space are separated.

With two-dimensional image-media, there is either an explicit separation through a frame (painting, photo, film), or an undefined transition between the image medium that is read as the space surrounding the figure, and the real surface on which the figure is painted (think of Lascaux, or of graffiti). The place where the image medium extends is the medium field . Also three-dimensional image-media (sculptures, actors) can stand freely in really space, or be separated from it, minimally by a pedestal or a scene, maximally by a niche for sculpture, or a picture frame stage for actors.

The resort to a frame, a niche or a stage suggests that the separation between medium field and real world is also the separation of real space and image space - that the painting is a window, and the stage a peep box (with Diderot's invisible 'fourth wall'). In fact, the image space extends outside the frame and the peep box: not only upwards and backwards, to the left and to the right, but also forwards. With a still image, that is not evident, because we never get to see the space outside the frame, but with a moving image, it comes into view as soon as the camera moves. The paradigms of window or peep box suggest that the image space stops where the opening is cut in the wall. In fact, the room where Velazquez paints, extends in the space where the onlooker is located, although it is not visible there. The old trick of having the portrait look the viewer in the eyes, or - somewhat more sophisticated - having the royal couple mirrored in the background of the studio - acknowledges the existence of the invisible space before the frame, but is only a trick, since it suggests that its content would be visible.

The image space before the wall coincides with the real space where the onlooker finds himself within his real body. And that goes not only for the image space outside the frame and the stage, but also for the visible image space within it, since it contains the elements of the real world that are hidden by the image medium: the medium supports (the panel behind the layer of paint, the face behind the mask or the make up) as well as the real world as such (the wall behind the panel or the building behind the stage). That is all the more obvious when the three-dimensional image has no background or no platform of its own, like in Antony Gormley's 'Another Place', where the real world remains visible between and behind the sculptures. The paradigm of the image obfuscates not only that the image space extends before the window, but also behind it. It is evident, then, that there are two parallel worlds, and that the real body of the onlooker nor the medium supports are part of the image space. Although Velazquez would have us believe otherwise, the real king and the queen that come to judge the painting are not the king and the queen that appear as mirror images in the image space, and that is even less the case with the contemporary onlookers of Las Meninas: these ordinary mortals are not in the Alcazar, but in the Prado, in the room where the image medium is, and where the Alcazar appears in the image space.

Not only the paradigm of the window hinders a proper understanding of image space, also the spatial characteristics of the image medium continue to mislead us. For, next to the scenic variant of the medium field (defined by frame, niche or peep box), there is also the panoramic variant, where the medium field unfolds into a ring around the onlooker - two-dimensionally in the 'panorama', three-dimensionally in settings like Antonin Artaud's 'theatre de la cruauté'. Thereby, the 'fourth wall' extends laterally into a transparent zone cut out of a real space that is reduced to the cylinder where the onlooker is situated, like in a classic panorama or in 'immersive cinema' (360¨° cinema). A further step is the extension into a sphere around the viewer, like in a planetarium or in 'immersive full-dome' cinema, where what remains visible from the real world, is reduced to the floor and the body of the viewer. In a special variant - 'immersive imaging' - the medium field is extended over the six sides of a cube and over the body of the viewer, so that the real world is no longer visible at all; together with the body of the viewer, it has disappeared in the worm hole of the pupil. Next to the two-dimensional immersive image, where a third dimension is merely suggested on a spherical of cubic screen, there is also the three-dimensional one; a sculpture group like 'Another Place', where the viewer can walk among the sculptures, like among the miniature buildings of Madurodam, or in the theatre where the spectators enter the image space like in 'Sleep no more' van Punchdrunk (2011). Just like the image space of Las Meninas extends into the space before the wall, it also extends into the cylinder contained by the panorama. And that is especially the case when the third dimension is real, like with a sculpture group, where the impression of being part of the image space is even stronger, but nevertheless false: the body of the viewer is neither in the room where Velazquez is painting, nor in the landscape that surrounds him panoramicly or spherically, nor in the image space of the sculpture group. In these parallel worlds, there is not only a difference between the (image medium in) real space and the image space, but also between what we will call the real subject - the subject that perceives the real world as real - and what we will call image subject* - the subject that perceives the image as an image.


Apparently, the real subject is able to put between brackets everything that is visible, but does not belong to the medium field: not only the medium support and the frame itself, but above all what outside the frame is not only visible, but perceptible alltogether. To those excluded perceptions belongs the body in the first place, the perception of its inner life included (body, soul and spirit). Of the entire real world outside the frame, only the eye remains, which, together with the corollary brain modules, is the real substrate of the image subject, the counterpart of the image medium, the real substrate of the image space. Together with the real body, the real subject is left behind in the real world - excluded form the image space, rather than immersed in it.

What about the image subject? The image subject always looks from the periphery of the image space, also when we are dealing with a panoramic or a spherical medium, that cannot be perceived as a whole, but only scenically. The eye looks as it were through a keyhole into the visual image space, and is hence part of it, although it is not really emerged in it like the ear. When the visual appearance of the image subject wants to appear in the image, the image subject can only see it partially: its hands or feet, or the front of its body. Let us remind that we are talking of the appearance that belongs to the image subject, like the feet that appear on the screen when the camera is directed downwards, not about the appearance of a double, like a mirror image: that is viewed as if it were a third person. We are talking about an image subject that perceives not only the landscape through which it is riding, but also its hand on the steering wheel; or about that man who would stage himself as Casanova dancing with an automaton, and who would enter the visual image space with his hands reaching out to the puppet. These examples teach us that it is not always the real subject that is transformed into an image subject. It often has to undergo a metamorphosis. As a rule, it takes the place of the artist who made the image. But the artist can show the image from the point of view of a character. When the real subject is transformed into the image subject, it does more than merely change from time and place: it also embodies itself in another character. Here, we are dealing with immersion indeed, albeit a partial one in double respect: the image subject can only have a visual appearence - no audible one, let alone and inner one - and that only partially.

Just like the real subject situates itself in the real world, the image subject situates itself in the image space. That explains why the body that would fit the image subject has not necessarily the same size as the real subject. That is apparent from the fact that we do not consider the person on the passport photo a dwarf, nor the landscape on the postcard a miniature landscape. And that is because the image subject looks with the eye of the real subject, but not from within its body, which it left behind in the real world: it adjusts its size to that in the photo. That goes not only for the size, but also for the distance: the image subject see the figures on Las Meninas from a distance that is appropriate to their size on the painting, apart from the fact whether the real subject is looking a the three meter high painting in the Prado, or at a small reproduction in a book, or at a projection on a giant screen. Only when the image subject sees the real subject in the mirror do real subject and image subject coincide and are both subjects looking from the same place. In all the cases where the size of image space and real space do not coincide, the scale of the image subject and its distance from the appearances in the image space do not match those of the real subject. But only the real subject is aware of that, since the image subject is absorbed in the image space. Nevertheless, it is not easy to convince it of that truth: from the fact that the image space appears where the image medium is situated, it all too readily concludes by analogy that the image subject looks from where it looks - although it is impossible to explain, then, why a real subject that would look upwards to a giant poster of Dali's 'Christ of Saint John of the Cross' would nevertheless look down from heaven on the figure of Christ as an image subject, from a vantage point that would be situated far above and behind the real subject, and from within a body that would be far larger, but that, in the image space, would not differ from the vantage point which it would take and the scale which it would have when it looked at a small reproduction. What, in the case of Dali's picture, is merely a thought experiment, is a sheer fact in the film, where the scale of the images is changing continuously: whereas there is a constant change of distance and scale of the image subject, the place and the scale of the real subject remain constant. With panoramic and spherical medium fields, the radius is given. The length of the radius determines the scale of the crater that has to appear in the panorama and the corollary size of the image subject. Whereas zooming in or out is no problem with a scenic image, it is impossible with a panorama, unless it is in one direction with the opposite movement in the opposite side. In combination with the problem that a panorama is always scanned scenically - so that it would have to be determined in advance in which direction the image subject would have to look at the panorama - this explains why the image subject does not appear with its own appearance in a panoramic or spherical image.

That the image subject leaves the real body behind, takes and appropriate size, looks from an appropriate distance, takes, when necessary, another identity, and always changes from place and time, goes also for three-dimensional image image-media, with the proviso that the mostly variable perspective is no longer determined, like with a two-dimensional medium, so that the real subject, and hence the image subject, can freely approach the image from whatever vantage point. Even when the real subject in its real body looks at a crib on a drawer, the image subject in the image space has not the impression of looking at tiny human beings like a cyclops. Rather does it look from the heights with a bird's eye view, and, had it a body, that would have the same size in the image space as the figures in the crib. And even when the real subject looks from within its much smaller body to Michelangelo's giant David, the image subject has not at all the impression of being a dwarf looking up at a giant. Rather does it look from a lower vantage point to a figure on a pedestal, and from a body of approximately the same size. When the image subject wants to look at miniature sculptures from an eye-level view, it will have to take the appropriate position, and when it would like to walk between the figures, these would have to have the same size as the viewer, like in a tableau vivant.


Now that we have clearly distinguished real world and image world, real subject and image subject, we can study the relation between the image and both subjects. Traditionally it is assumed that the relation between image and viewer is or has to be purely contemplative. Nowadays, the focus is rather on interaction - understood as a circular, non-linear concatenation of action and reaction between image and subject - or on immersion - which implies that there are images from which the viewer is excluded. It is evident that we will have to clearly distinguish between interaction with the real or with the image subject, and immersion of the real or of the image subject.

Let us first examine the relation between image and image subject. When thinking of a still two-dimensional visual image, it seems all to plausible that this relation is purely contemplative. But this view is no longer tenable when the subject is moving in a visual image space among other visual appearances: the vantage point from which the image subject looks varies, and that has its bearings on how the world appears. With three-dimensional images, the movement is produced by the real subject that walks around in the medium field, and, since this is an interaction of the real subject with the image, we have to handle this below. With a two-dimensional scenic display, it is either a disembodied eye that moves in the image space, or a gaze that is embodied in a moving and acting character that often appears in the image, were it alone for its hands on the steering wheel. With a panoramic of spherical image, it is only the visual appearances that are able to move in the image space, whereas the image subject cannot change place, and cannot appear in the image. When the image subject moves in the image space, especially when it also appears within the image, the relation is no longer contemplative, but (inter)active. We know that the appearance is only visual, which implies that, in as far as the image subject has a will, it cannot but look as an outsider at its own actions. In that sense, the relation of the image subject to the image remains purely contemplative. It cannot influence what it does or how it appears: that forever remains the prerogative of the real subject that produces the image (mostly the artist).

Let us, next, examine the interaction with the real subject: in how far does the real subject interact with the image and vice versa.

It is evident, then, that there can be no interaction whatsoever between real subject and image. Otherwise than reality, which is multisensory, the visual image exists only in the visual dimension, in a world reduced to mere light: as already Narcissus knew all too well, you cannot touch a visual image, let alone hear or smell it, and since it has substance nor soul, however hard the real subject may try to address it, that will have no effect whatsoever on what appears in the image. On the other hand, the real subject can effectively interact with the only thing that is real in the visual image: the light, as it its captured in the image medium.

There is interaction with that light already during the pure perception of the visual image. For the real subject always perceives the visual world outside the frame, parts of its own body included, not to mention the other sensory dimensions of reality, since, otherwise than the image subject, the real subject is not a mere eye: it also hears, feels and smells not only the outside world, but also itself. Already for the pure constitution of an image, an active intervention of the real subject is needed: the putting between brackets of whatever does not belong to the image medium. This is facilitated through the darkening of the theatre, sitting in comfortable chairs, and what have you. Such negative interaction is turned into positive interaction, when the real subject enables the image subject to explore the image space when walking in the real space between three-dimensional images (sculptures, actors, or miniature buildings), or when the real subject has to use its keyboard to produce ever new two-dimensional perspectives on a three-dimensional space on a screen. This relation is no longer contemplative, although it is equally put between brackets, so that the image subject can contemplate the image undisturbed. Such putting between brackets is from the beginning obsolete when it is relegated to machines, as when the subject is driven around like in a dark ride.

But the most conspicuous interaction is during the production of the image as such: when painting, sculpting or acting. During the creation of an image, there is a continuous interaction of the artist with the image as a medium: the artist as a real subject is the creator of the image that he at the same time contemplates as an image subject. The act of creation can be distributed over two specialists: as when a concept of Sol LeWitt is executed by other artists, or when actors play a written scenario. In some cases, a part of the execution is relegated to the real subject itself. That is the case with the many images where the real subject has to fill in the suggestion - in the first place of the third dimension with two-dimensional images. In other cases, it is purely instrumental actions like the handling of the projector, the insertion of slides, or the manipulation of the camera. More sophisticated is the manipulation of a joystick that activates pre-programmed sequences of images (also those of the adversary in a computer game), or the transmission of movements of head or legs when walking in an environment with VR-glasses. In another variant, a specialised producer provides the puppet, with which the real subject has to play - or to dance, like in Fellini's Casanova. With still other forms of productive interaction, it is sensors that activate pixels, so that the silhouette of the passers-by appear on the wall. The production of the images is not always relegated to automated or real producers: the consumer of the image can produce it himself, as when someone makes a drawing or plays a character for his own use - although that is not so evident, because when I stage myself before a mirror, I am cooperating with an automated producer again. Images are interactive in a second sense, hence, during all forms of production of the image - and not only when using electronic devices, joysticks or keyboards. That relation is not contemplative, but active, and it is, just like perceptive interaction, put between brackets: the artist that conjures up an image on his canvas, the gamer who intervenes in the actions of the image on his computer screen, or the person who admires himself in the mirror, are concentrating on the image, and put everything that contributes to its production between brackets. In so far as(parts of) the production can be relegated to specialists, such putting between brackets becomes obsolete, and with two-dimensional images even the taking of a perspective is monopolised by the artist. The real subject can then be deactivated completely, so that the image subject can fully concentrate on the contemplation of the image and the actions of its visual appearance in it.

Next to the interaction of the real subject with the image(medium) there is also the interaction of the image with the real subject.

To begin with, there is the whole series of interactions that remain restricted to changes in the real subject - and which remain contemplative in that the real subject does not proceed to action: from purely spiritual reactions like gettinginsight, over more 'psychic' ones like emotional reactions of all kinds, to 'somatic' ones like getting goosebumps or the catch in the throat. Otherwise than with perceptive of productive activity, the active body is not put between brackets here, but rather consciously perceived. That the real subject reacts to what there is to be seen in the image space, does not mean that it belongs to the image space, let alone that the appearances in the image would take notice of its presence. Nevertheless, artist are keen of having us believe the opposite by resorting to the old mimetic trick of eyes gazing at the onlooker. But, even though the Venus of Urbino or the Olympia are gazing at the real subject, it is nevertheless only the disembodied eye of the image subject that is present in their room: what the real subject thinks, feels or does in the real room where the picture is hanging, will forever escape their view. And, whether the real subject feels addressed by the Pantokrator looking down on him, or rather shows his middle finger, the divine eyes continue to gaze undisturbed into the space before them where there is nothing to be seen. However the real subject might react, it remains forever excluded from the image.


The extent to which this is the case would appear as soon as - in a reversal of the story of Narcissus - the boy in the image would not only gaze at the boy above the water, but would also try to touch it. Suppose its hand would be able to reach further than the surface of the water, the encounter would only reveal in all clarity that he is merely a light being without substance that would in vain try to penetrate the world where the real subject is a being in flesh and blood.

The reaction of the real subject to the image is no longer contemplative when it unfolds to action. In a first series of cases the action leads to new perceptions and hence makes and end to the perception of the image. That is the case when the image incites to purchase, to political action - or just to phantasising: to create new images. In a second series of reactions, the contemplative relation to the image is maintained, but extended with action of the real subject in the real world. Since time immemorial, man uses to pray in the sight of images of ancestors, ghost, saints and gods, like Saint Jerome below with Jesus on the cross:

bosch hieronymus

Many a monk has chastised himself in the face of the suffering Christ. And already the Greeks used to get aroused in the sight of the image of bodily beauty. The medium support can thereby be used as an instrument, like when the real subject approaches the ballet dancer no longer as the visual appearance of a character, but as tangible body. That action of the real subject in the real world and contemplative relation with the image are compatible, does not mean that the real subject is immersed in the image: rather does the image descend into the real world where it takes the place of a real appearance. That holds true even when the image subject appears in the image as a visual appearance: even when the actor sees his arms appear as those of Casanova in the image where also the automaton appears, the actor knows that the arms under the sleeves are his, and he feels that he does not dance with a clothed automaton, but with an actress of flesh and blood that plays the automaton - he is not immersed, hence, in, but rather excluded from the image produced by himself.

These forms of interaction in both directions must be distinguished form cases where the real subject interacts not only with the image, but also with other subjects. Such was already the case with cooperation during the production of the image. But a more spectacular example is the computer game, where images are used to enable a contest: from the imitated horses of chess, over playing football with three-dimensional players in table football or with two-dimensional figures on the computer screen, to the slaying of monsters in the guise of an imaginary warrior. As long as the real players continue to be clearly visible, the odds are low that the impression arises that two armies are confronting each other, rather than two chess players. That becomes more plausible when the real players disappear from view: the adversary may be replaced with a computer program that generates figures, and the players themselves with figures on the screen. It becomes even more probable when the image subject appears in the image with parts of its body, as when it sees its hands steering. But, just as the image subject in a film script contemplates its own adventures, also this image subject cannot act on its own: it only steers or fires when the real player before the screen presses the button. As an image subject, the real subject - the player - merely contemplates the moves that it has executed in the image. No matter the extent to which parts of the game or of the player may be turned into an image, the player as a real subject is never put between brackets: he rather continues to be the real subject of the proceedings. He interacts with his adversary in the first place, and merely uses the images as a means. Rather than the real subject, it is the image that is put between brackets here. Only seeming immersion also here. (See also 'Mimesis and play'.) The interaction between the players through the image must not be confused with the interaction of the players during the production of the image, that can be a form of interaction with co-workers in its turn (the artist who cut the chess pieces or who wrote the computer programs).


Time has come now to assess whether these findings on the visual image apply also to the aural image. Elsewhere we explain in detail what we have to understand by an 'aural image'. Suffice it here to sum up the most important categories: the rather recent domain of (mimetic) soundscapes (sounds from a forest, the underground, spaceships and what have you), the world of purely aural lyric poetry and drama (radio plays), and, of course, the world of mimetic music (aural images of singers - lamenting Ariannas - and dances - Beethovens scherzos).

With all these aural images the image medium consists of sounds that become audible in real space, amid an encompassing silence - the aural medium field. The necessity to separate such an aural medium field from the aural reality is not so urgent as with the visual image, since sounds are only heard when they are produced, so that it suffices to be silent to eliminate the real aural world. The aural medium field can unfold scenically before the real subject (orchestra, stereo-installation), panoramically (surround sound) or spherically around the real subject - just thing of Ivan Vyshnegradsky's 'Temple of Light', Skriabin's 'Prometheus' (1911), the 'Phillips Pavilion' by Varèse and Xenakis (1958), Stockhausens spherical auditorium in Osaka (1970) and Luigi Nono's concept for the Prometeo (1984). The medium field can be two-dimensional and merely suggest a third dimension (like with scenic stereo or panoramic surround sound, and all the spherical spaces mentioned above), or, in principle, three-dimensional (although I know only of real, non-mimetic soundscapes like the Simfoniya Gudkov (1922) by Arsenij Avraamov). With aural images, there are no audible medium supporst, but only visible ones: loudspeakers, singers and instruments. It is important to remind that the disposition of the visual medium supports in space is the visual equivalent of the disposition of the sounds in the medium field, but not of their disposition in the aural image space: the difference is minimal with three-dimensional disposition, already more important with stereo and surround sound, and fundamental with the advent of musical space.

When the aural medium field is scenic, it is situated before the real subject that is located with its real body in real space. It isnot evident that there is a real aural space around the real subject, since it is normally silent there. The real aural space manifests itself only when sounds are produced like coughing or shuffling chairs, although it is filtered away by the real subject. With a panoramic setting, themedium field surrounds the body of the real subject, and with a spherical setting also the space above and below. In all those medium fields, aural space with the concomitant aural image subject unfolds.


As for the aural image, the real subject can put between brackets everything that does not belong to the aural image space. But there is not really a problem here, because real space is mostly eliminated through simple observance of silence. On the other hand, the medium supports are rather conspicuous here, although they are not audible, but visible: the instruments and the musicians, the scene and the concert hall. Ideally, they are excluded through closing the eyes, as not only devotees of music, but also many musicians do, or by neutralising sight through staring, like with daydreaming. We know meanwhile that not only the real audible and visible environment is excluded from aural space, but, except for the ear, also the entire visible and tangible body, with all its sensory impressions, the inner ones included. From the entire real world outside the aural medium field, only the ear is left, which, together with the corollary brain modules, is the real substrate of the aural image subject.

In a scenic disposition, the aural image subject is situated at the periphery of the image space. Since it hears sounds only in front of it, it can no longer appearin the image space with its aural appearance. Sounds have no front or rear, so that sound can only be the appearance of the image subject when it resounds where the real subject hears - and that is impossible with scenic disposition. When the real subject hears its own voice in the space before it, it can only interpret it as the voice of a double - like an echo. Just like the visual image subject, the disembodied image subject situates itself at the appropriate distance from the aural appearances in the image, and it also takes the appropriate shape. Sounds a such do not have a spatial extension, although they belong to sound sources that are big or small - of which pitch is a good indication (the rustle of mice versus the drone of elephants). That does not prevent them from having a scale that is indicated through the volume; when one whisper sounds louder than another, it is ascribed to a larger whisperer. That is why the softly speaking voices, like those in the Hyperion of the Prometeo, or softly singing voices that nevertheless resound loudly, like the Mitternacht in Mahler's Third Symphony, appear to be big. But, apart from such relative loudness, loud sounds appear to be near, and soft sounds to be far away, and with crescendo, sounding object seem to come nearer while, with decrescendo, they seem to recede (Borodin's steppes, Respighi's 'Pini di Roma', or Messiaens 'Eglise éternelle'). That goes also for the image subject in panoramic and spherical dispositions, with the sole difference that the image subject can only be located in the centre of the image space, at the same place where the real subject is situated in the middle of the image-media (the scale of which determines the distance to the image subject). Otherwise than with the visual panorama, which can only be scanned scenically, the aural panorama can be heard as a whole; in the aural image space, the sounding objects organise themselves around this centre in the periphery, in all directions and at diverse distances from the image subject - especially when it is one single sound that resounds from all directions in a reverberating space, so that it seems as if the entire space has become a sounding aether (e.g. Phil Niblock). Otherwise than with visual space, there is full immersion here, especially when musical space unfolds, so that space extends to the height and the depth (see Prometeo). In the centre, the aural image subject can become audible. It suffices to have its speaking or singing resound there, through surround sound or placing a loudspeaker, or by having the real subject perform the voice of a character, like Zarathustra speaking 'Aber ich lebe in meinem eignen Lichte, ich trinke die Flammen in mich zurück, die aus mir brechen.' It is conceivable that other sounds may be heard in the periphery of the centre where the voice of the image subject resound s - like in a soundscape in which the image subject in the centre would have resound the voice of Saint Francis, and the singing of his birds in the periphery. Not only parts of the aural appearance would be audible here, like with the visual appearance, but the integral aural appearances. Otherwise than with the visual image, immersion would be complete in a double respect: central and integral - albeit within the aural dimension.

Although it is merely a theoretical possibility, the above would also hold true for three-dimensional aural image-media (image-media where the sounds resound at the place where they are situated in the image space), on the understanding that the perspective would no longer be fixed like with a two-dimensional image medium (scenic, panoramic of spherical). Although the real subject could hear the miniature rendering of the sounds of a zoo from tiny loudspeakers at the place where the animals are supposed to be, in the image space the image subject would perceive that space from the height, and, seen from real space, have a body that would fit the scale of the animals in the zoo. In order to hear the sounds as they would be heard from the ground level, the image subject would have to approach it from ear-height. Ands in order to be able to move among the birdsong resounding from loudspeakers in the trees of a park, they should have a loudness appropriate to their visual size, which would automatically be the case in a purely aural 'immersive theatre of voices'.


After having discerned real world an image space, real subject and image subject also in the aural image, we can proceed to examining in how far what we contended about the relation between visual image, real subject and image subject also applies to the aural image.

Let us first examine the relation between aural image and aural image subject. When thinking of the recording of the sounds of a train, the voices of actors, the lamenting of Arianna, it seems all too plausible to claim that there is no interaction between image subject and image - that we are dealing with a contemplative relation. But, also here, the thesis is no longer tenable when the aural image subject is moving in aural space (for instance when riding through a subway tunnel) - although this does not affect the appearance of the sounds, but only their orientation and their loudness. Only with three-dimensional image-media would the real subject have to enable the movement of the image subject through moving between the sound sources, but that would be an interaction with the real subject, which will be dealt with below. With two-dimensional rendering (scenic, panoramic of spherical), it is a disembodied ear that moves in the image space, either in that the image subject changes its position in relation to the place where the sounds resound (which is only possible with a scenic disposition and with the equivalents of close up or zooming in or out), or in that the sounds in the image space are moving with respect to the image subject (panoramic and spherical disposition). But in all cases, there is interaction of the image subject with the (appearances in) the image space - although this interaction is contemplative in that the image subject can only passively contemplately its aural appearance.

Let us, next, examine the interaction between real subject and image: how the real subject interacts with the image and the image with the real subject.

Here also, the subject cannot interact with the image, but only with what is real in it; the sound as it is produced by the medium supports.

The real subject interacts already with the aural image when listening to it. For, although it is relatively easy to put the real aural world between brackets, the eye is not so easily neutralised: it cannot help to look at the disposition of the loudspeakers and the spectacle of the musicians. Already to the pure constitution of the aural image, an active intervention of the real subject is needed (unless it is facilitated by the darkening of the room, like with Georg F. Haas ''In Vain'. Such negative interaction - putting between brackets - would become positive when the image subject would walk around through the body of the real subject in a hypothetical real space between the loudspeakers of a soundscape. How the real subject can effectively interact with the image via the medium, however, is only fully evident during the production of the aural image: whereas with the still visual image the production is only visible in the studio, but not in the museum or in thee cinema, the aural image cannot be separated from its production. The man who operates the wind machine, the performer who recites a lyrical poem, or the woman who sings the lamento d'Arianna: they are all at the same time real subject that produces an aural image, and image subject that listens to the aural image. In al these cases there is interaction of the real subject with the image (medium). But it is put between brackets; the performer or the musician who produce the aural image, concentrate on the image. The relegation of the production to specialists releases the image subject from every productive (and with two-dimensional aural images also of every perceptive) effort, so that it can remain inactive and devote itself entirely on the contemplation of the image. Rather than with immersion, we are dealing herewith two kinds of expulsion of the real subject.

Next tot the interaction of the real subject with the image (medium), there is also the interaction of the image with the real subject.

To begin with, there is the whole series of reactions that remain restricted to internal - spiritual, psychic and somatic - changes and hence continue to be contemplative. Otherwise than with perceptive or productive activity, the activity is not put between brackets here, but rather experienced deliberately. It is clear, however, that the real subject does not thereby become a player in the image space: it is not addressed by the lamenting Arianna, let alone that it feels prompted to comfort her. Just like with the gaze of visual images, addressing the listener, especially in lyrical poetry can arise the - nevertheless false - illusion that the real subject is integrated in the aural image space: think of a Commendatore that would not address don Giovanni but yourself. Or, to try another reversal than that of Narcissus in the visual image, we could image how, in a surround setting, the voice of Euridice would address us as if we were Orpheus, and how we would hear her voice approach and become silent until, eventually, the sound of a kiss would resound at the place where our lips are. That our lips would nevertheless feel nothing, would make it abundantly clear how Eurydice is only a being without substance that, as a purely aural appearance, would in vain try to penetrate the world where the real subject is a visible body of flesh and blood.

The reaction of the real subject to the image is no longer contemplative when it proceeds to action. In a first series of cases, this leads to new perceptions and hence to the suspension of the perception of the image. That is the case when the music inspires revolutionary action, or when it inspires fantasising - and hence the producing of new images. In a second series of cases, the image subject continues to contemplate the image, while the real subject proceeds with an activity with its real body in the real world that is compatible with it: as when the image subject would listen to a speech of Hitler, while his right arm could not help coming in erection; or when it would listen to an erotic voice, while the real body in the real world would indulge in masturbation. That is all the more probable when the medium support in the real world is gratifying in its own right, as when the real subject would no longer regard the body of the singer as the body of a character, but as the body of the singer (Onassis wit his Casta Diva). Here, the contemplative approach of the aural image by the image subject goes hand in hand with active interaction of the real subject with the real world. Also here, the activity of the real body is not put between brackets: it rather effortlessly fuses with the perception of the image by the image subject. And also here, despite all interaction, the action of the real subject does not become part of the image, but continues to happen in a parallel real world, so that there is no immersion whatsoever.

In the case of aural images there is - apart from addressing the listener - another special case of interaction of the image with the real subject: the activation of the real body through the presence of movement conjuring signs in spoken text (speech choirs) and (mimetic) music. The aural image subject has no physical body and cannot proceed to speaking, singing or dancing together - which remains the privilege of the real subject. The real subject can thereby restrict itself to feeling the mere impulse to speak, sing or dance, but, more often, it proceeds to the execution of the real thing with its tangible body in the real world. There are two possibilities, then: either the real subject proceeds with reciting, singing or playing, and hence with producing a double of the aural images that incited them to recite, play or sing; or they proceed with dancing; and are thus turned into visual images (still with mimetic music). Each image producing real subject is at the same time the contemplative admirer of the image thus produced. Despite all this reciprocal interaction, there is no immersion here, although there can arise an intense feeling of group bonding through reciprocal identification of all the image subjects, which can easily be mistaken for immersion in the image - and which is also responsible for the phenomenon of what we elsewhere called sympathetic mimesis: the feeling that it is our own soul that appears in the music. Real immersion of the real body is only possible in a non-mimetic soundscape, like Arsenij Avraamov's Simfoniya Gudkov (1922), or in the soundscape of motorcyclists on the highway, or in the chanting of slogans.

And, finally, there is also the interaction with the image as a means of playing a game, but the aural image is here merely a kind of appendix to the visual image.

We cannot conclude our analysis without reminding of another phenomenon that is characteristic of the aural image. When we remind that the aural appearance that belongs to the aural subject can appear in the image in its totality, we also understand the 'oceanic experience' of the image subject when it hears a long sustained sound in which overtones becomes audible, which cannot fail to have musical space unfold in the vertical dimension, especially when this happens in a reverberating space that is then completely filled with that sound, so that it seems as if the audible body is no longer an isolated sound that is heard in the centre of the aural space, whether or not resounding amidst other sounds. That is especially the case when the singers produce their own aural appearance that expands in space from the centre, like in Stockhausens 'Stimmung', but also when musicians produces such a sound in an echoing space like with Phil Niblock. We are dealing here not so much with immersion of the aural image subject in surrounding aural appearances, but with an all encompassing expansion of the aural body. That reminds us of the fact that immersion is merely a special variant of the relation of the subject to the image space: next to that space in which the subject is located in the middle of other aural appearances, there is also the space that coincides with the appearance of the subject. The subject and its appearance are no longer immersed here like in an ocean, rather does it expand in an all-pervading aether.


Visual en aural images are often combined into audiovisual images: theatre, film, video games... Although I cannot see what is behind me, I can hear it, and the car that moves from the front to the back remains audible although it disappears from view. That is why a scenic visual space is often combined with a panoramic aural space (exemplary in the cinema with surround sound). This can lead to the some discordance: whereas the visual appearance disappears from view where the medium fields ends, the aural appearance continues to move backwards without concomitant visual appearance. A similar discordance occurs when both dimensions do not have the same scale: as when the waterfalls on a giant visual screen is rendered by a small surround installation, or the other way round .

The image subject that perceives the audiovisual image can appear in the audiovisual image without or with its visual or aural appearance. Discordance may arise when the audiovisual medium field is scenic: a mother that, as an image subject, would reach with her hands to the baby in the image while talking to it, would not hear her voice before the screen, but on the same height as her hands in the image - and then not experience it as her own voice. Only a combination of scenic visual and aural panoramic medium field would do. On the other hand, the audiovisual medium enables a differential incarnation in the image: the more convincing aural appearance as a speaker before the screen makes the less convincing appearance of the hands in the image obsolete. The immersion of the appearance of the image subject is partial here not only in comparison with the real world, but also in comparison with the audiovisual image medium.

As for the relation between image subject and image, with two-dimensional filmthe image subject takes a place that is the appropriate to the (here mostly moving) image. Also the transition ofrom one sensory dimension to another is governed by changes in the structure of the image - think of the off stage singing of Alfredo in Verdi's Traviata. And, also here, there is only real interaction when the image subject appears visually and/or aurally in the image, although the image subject continues to purely contemplatively perceive its adventures in the audiovisual image space.

Here also, the real body of the real subject can interact with the image medium and hence indirectly with the image. That is already the case with the pure perception of a three-dimensional audiovisual image in which the viewer can walk around, like in 'Sleep no more' of Punchdrunk (2011); or when it is the real subject that determines the transition from one sensory dimension to another (as when it would open the door to see the person it heard). There is nothing special to mention about productive interaction with the image, and about interaction of the image with the real subject, like that between real musicians and the hologram of a lead singer. Special attention should be given to the aparte, scorned by Diderot: the addressing of real subjects in the theatre by the actor, who thereby demonstrates that he is no character, but an actor, and in the same breath stresses that the image subjects are real subjects in the theatre. The image on the scene is thereby unmasked as an image - Brecht's V-Effekt - which, paradoxically enough, merely enhances the seductive power of the image, as opposed to the contrary effect of having the image subject gaze at or address the real subject, that only threatens to eventually destroy the convincing power.


Next to audiovisual, there are also tactilovisual images, like stuffed animals.

Let us begin with the analysis of the combined medium field, which is far more problematic than with audiovisual images. To begin with, tactile perception supposes proximity of the body of the real subject, so that the visual field is narrowed accordingly. As a rule, tactilovisual images consist of a single object (mostly animal or man). As long as the tactilovisual object is approached from a distance, it appears in a real space, surrounded by a visual image space that gradually merges with that real space - think of the stuffed animal on the child's bed. Only after approaching does the tactile image space come into reach. The tactilovisual image subject uses not only the eye of the real body, but also the touching hand, and, when embracing the stuffed animal, also the feeling skin. Otherwise than the eye, which situates what it experiences in space, the touch situates what it feels in the place where it feels. That entails that the image subject has a double location here: the place - the point - from which the eye sees, and the place - the surface - where the hand feels. The eye sees the hand, but the hand does not feel the eye: that is why the tactile subject is subsumed under the visual subject, which looks down from the central siege to the branch in the periphery. Ideally, the visual perception of the feeling hand has to be put between brackets, so that the tactilovisual subject would only see the puppet, and not the visual appearance of the feeling hand, that is part of the real subject, the perception of which has to be put between brackets. And that goes not only for the visual appearance of the hand, but also of its tactile appearance. For, although the real subject does only touch the puppet and not itself, it nevertheless feels its own hand; the feeling hand is touched herself, so that it cannot feel without feeling itself, otherwise than the eye that does not become visible when seeing.

That raises the question in how far the image subject can appear in the image space with its tactiolovisual body. Suppose that the automaton of Casanova were a tactile image, a robot in a silicone envelope; that it were not Donald Sutherland who danced with the automaton, but the real Casanova; that the image subject was not us who looked through Fellini's camera, but Casanova himself seeing his own arms and hands performing. No longer would Casanova have to put the parts of his body that appear in the tactilovisual image space between brackets: he would rather use them as an image medium. From the visual point of view, the body is split into the invisible part that continues to belong to the real subject, and the part that functions as the visual appearance of the image subject - its arms and hands. From a tactile point of view, the real body is split in the part that feels the floor and the clothes, that continues to belong to the real subject, and the part that is experienced as the appearance of the image subject: the part that feels the sleeves and the skin of the automaton, and that therewith also appears in the image as the feeling hand. The tactiovisual medium field runs straight through the body of Casanova. The image subject and the concomitant tactilovisual appearance is immersed in the image and interacts tactilovisually with it, although, here also, it continues to passively contemplate its performance in tactilovisual image space. The immersion is partial in both domains: only those parts of the body that remain visible for the actor, and the parts of the skin that feel the automaton appear in the image.

This above analysis shows clearly that there can be no difference here between the location and the scale of real body and image subject, for the simple reason that the former is the medium support of the latter. That the own body is used as medium support for the production if the self appearance in the image, does not necessarily mean that the body in the image has to have the same identity as that of the real subject - our Casanova could as well play 'don Giovanni in donna Anna's room'. Whereas with the panoramic or spherical visual and aural image, there can only be a difference in location, with the tactilovisual image there can be not difference is scale either. That is why stuffed animals use to be adapted to the scale of the body of the child.

After this analysis, we are well prepared to study the relation between real subject and the image. The real Casanova with his real body is the producer of the image in which the hand of the image Casanova interact with the automaton - comparable with the hand in a hand puppet, with the sole difference that not a puppet, but the own body is used as medium support. There is interaction of the real body with the image, but no immersion, since that interaction is put between brackets, and hence excluded form the image space, where Casanova as an image subject contemplates the interaction of his appearance with the automaton. And such exclusion could extend to the relegation of perceptive and productive action by the real body of specialised producers, although we then would have to invent a scenario where a passive Casanova would be approached by an active tactilovisual robot.

In both cases, the tactilovisual image would interact with the real body of Casanova - provoke reactions there, that could lead to the cessation of the commerce with the tactilovisual image, or to the combination of activity of the real body in the real world with the contemplation of the tactilovisual image - the child that falls asleep during cuddling his stuffed animal.

It will not have escaped the reader's attention that, otherwise than the visual appearance of the image subject, which can appear on another location than the body of real subject, the tactile appearance of the image subject can only appear where the real subject feels, just like the aural appearance of the image subject can only appear in the place where the real image subject hears. A film in which we would see Casanova dancing from his own perspective, combined with datagloves that would simulate the tactile impression of touching the body of the automaton, would bring no solace, since we would feel the touch not in the place where Casanova saw his hand in the image, but in our own hand, so that there would be a flagrant discordance.

Although it is conceivable that many image subjects perform the same scenario with (a series of duplicates of) the same automaton, the fact that only the own body can be used as image medium makes this kind of image more appropriate to self-satisfaction than to the satisfaction of a a broader public. That is especially the case with the mediumless image, that can only exist as unique example:


Let us, next, turn to the study not of perceptible images (unmediated mimesis), but of the pure -mediumless - images that appear during sleep or during daydreaming: dream images and fantasies (mediated mimesis).

Dream images do not have an image medium: there is no part of the real world, like a painted surface or an audible sound, in which an original appears, and there is a fortiori no medium field. The dream subject - which, as a real substrate, does not even dispose of senses - has direct access to sensory images produced by the brain. There is no counterpart here of what we call the real subject - except then the sleeping dreamer in bed. Since dream images have no image medium, the dream space and the concomitant dream subject are situated nowhere - not even in the head of the real subjects, like the shamans knew, and like we tend to forget when we place electrodes on the skulls of the sleepers. Although the dream subject no longer perceives through the senses, its images pertain to all the sensory domains, the inner ones included. The dream subject is hence embodied in a complete image body.

Although it is impossible to asses the location and the size of the imagined dream world and the dream subject, in the dream the image subject is situated in the proper place between the other dream images, and it views them from the proper perspective and from within a body of the proper size. And, since the dream is a creation of the dreamer himself, the dream subject can freely move in the dream space: its location or its movements are no longer prescribed by artists or through the limitations imposed by the image medium. And that holds true not only of the movements, but also of the actions, which as a rule are those of the real subject, and hence are performed with the body that the dreamer has in the real world - wherein the dream differs in principle from all images produced by a third party. For, misled as we are by the hampered visibility of the own body for the own eye, we all too readily suppose that the image subject takes the place of the artist or of the character in the image through which the author is looking - whereby we overlook the possibility that the image can appear in the image with its own image and thus stage itself for itself - possibility that already comes in view with the het aural image, but that can only extend to all the sensory domains in the dream. In the dream there is full interaction between the body of the dream subject and the other appearances in all the sensory domains. Which does not prevent the dream subject from only being able to contemplatively witness the actions of its appearance in the dream - which is all too evident when it has to wake up to stop unwanted developments in the dream. Only in the dream, hence, is there complete immersion of the image subject in the image space, and has the dream subject as a rule the same identity as the real subject that is sleeping in the bed.

Totally different is the interaction between the dream image and the real subject. The dream is created without perceptive activity of the senses and without productive activity of the body of the real subject - through brain modules or 'the unconscious' as a kind of inner third party or 'deeper I'. The real subject with its real body is totally excluded from the image. Since the real subject is sleeping, and since especially during the dream sleep the access to perception and motility is blocked, there can be no talk here of reactions of the real subject, let alone of a combination of dreaming and action in the real world. Granted, the dream often appears on occasion of the intrusion of a real perceptions - just think of an erection - or, conversely, dream images may incite to real action, as when the dreamer threatens to fall in the abyss or when the fear of the burglar is so intense that the real subject calls for help and wakes up. In both cases, dream and perception go hand in hand, until the real subject wakes up and the dream comes to an end. Precisely because the dream entails no productive activity, and excludes interaction with the real world, it is the very paradigm not only of the immersive, but also of the ideal contemplative image: pure contemplation of pure representation, and complete and reciprocal interaction of image body and dream image.

This analysis holds grosso modo also for the daydream. With hallucinations, there is either a kind of 'medium field' or of a place where the mediumless image appears, like in the grotto of Lourdes, or of a seamless combination with perception of the real world .


Nearly related to the dream image are the images that are conjured up in narrative literature. We have to distinguish here between the conjured up images that are perceived by the image subject, and the image conjuring (spoken or written) words that are heard or read by the real subject.

Much of the above on dream images applies also to conjured up images: the image space encompasses all sensory dimensions, the inner ones included (the feelings of the characters, their intentions, their dreams, see Castorp). But there is a twofold difference. To begin with, the body is not really asleep: it is only neutralised in that it concentrates on reading and the execution of the instructions of the author, more or less like in a daydream. There is a real world again: the real body that looks in the book in the real world, or the listening body like in 'The reader'. But above all, the image are no longer the creations of the dreamer, but rather those of the author or the narrator: the reader or the listener are merely the executor of his instructions. Just like with perceptible images that are produced by a third party, the image subject can only take the point of view of the artist - here: the narrator. It does so mostly as a disembodied image subject, although it may also become embodied and than act in the image space, namely when the author himself hides in one of his characters (exemplary in the I-novel, but also in the novel that is narrated by one of the characters, like Robinson Crusoe, yes, even in the you-novel, where the author invites the reader to imagine himself as the character whose actions he narrates). Just like in the dream, the image subject can interact with all the characters in the image space in all the sensory dimensions. His immersion in the image is, hence, complete. That does not prevent the image subject from merely passively contemplating his all-encompassing interactions in the image space: these are always dictated by the author.

As for the interaction between the real subject and the story, the reader is a co-producer of the imagined story in that he executes the instructions of the author. The story is a kind of score that contains instructions about what images to conjure up. The creative input of the real subject consists in filling in the suggestions of the narrator. Although it is conceivable that we create visual images for our own consumption, telling a story to oneself is not evident: rather than giving instructions to oneself, it is more evident to imagine them directly, like in daydreaming. It is conceivable, however, that an author offers alternative versions of his story (like in Brecht's Jasager und Neinsager), or that a story is written in cooperation with the reader ('interactive novel'), but, as opposed to the visual image (think of computer games), it is not common. In any case, he contribution of the reader to the creation of the images is rather restricted. The activity of the real subject consists in reading and executing the instructions of the author, an activity that is contemporary to the representation of the story, but is put between brackets. Also here, the real world is excluded from the image space, and there is no immersion of the real reader in the image.

Next, there is the effect of the story on the real subject. Also here, that can consist of 'spiritual', 'psychic' of 'somatic' effects, or of real actions or intentions, in as far as the story is not the starting point of daydreaming - and hence of the production of new images. Either the reactions of the real subject disturb the production of the image in that the subject has to stop reading, or it is possible to combine the reaction with reading, so that the perception of the real body has not to be put between brackets, but can be consciously perceived and enjoyed. Also here is the subject therefore not immersed in the story: the feelings are feelings of a real subject that remains outside the image. The real subject has not the impression of being present in Madam Bovary's carriage, although it can react to what the image subject experience there. That goes also when the image subject appears in the image with its body and soul: the real subject has not the impression of being Robinson - although it can identify with that image subject or other characters in the story. When the reaction of the real subject extends to actions that are no longer compatible with reading, the cohabitation of image subject and real subject is disturbed. Reading, which implies that the reader is holding a book, is far more problematic here than listening to a narrator, especially since the listener is no longer alone, like the reader - although the presence of the narrator can be more promising, as is testified by the actions of ''The reader', or by the child that is cuddled by the father when Polyphemus enters the cave where Odysseus and his men are hiding - which makes it abundantly clear that there is no immersion of the real subject whatsoever.

Next to the interaction with the images, there is also the interaction with the image medium: the place where the real world is no longer perceived as such, but rather as a series of image conjuring signs. Here, the medium field is the domain where the real world is put between brackets - the page of the book as the black hole in which the world disappears, or like a worm hole that enables access to a parallel world. Otherwise than with visual or aural images, the interaction with his medium can in line with the interaction with the image, because, as a rule, there is no relation whatsoever between the signs and their meaning: otherwise than with the bodies of actors, singers or narrators, letters are not precisely appropriate to commerce of whatever kind.


Let us, by way of conclusion, take up the central ideas again.

In matters of the image, it matters to discern two subjects; the image subject that relates to the image, and the real subject that relates to the real world. With perceptible images (unmediated mimesis) the image subject has access to a monosensorial or plurisensorial image space through the corollary senses. With imagined images, the image subject does not dispose of any sense, but nevertheless has access to an image space in all sensory domains, the inner senses included. Next, there is the real subject that disposes of a complete body ('soul' and 'spirit' included). That real body is put between brackets by the image subject. With perceptible images, that is realised through selective perception and putting between brackets what does not appear within the medium field, with the dream through blocking perception and action during REM-sleep; with daydreams and stories through the adoption of the 'representative modus'.

The image subject can appear in the image - depending on the sensory domains covered by the image. The visual image subject can thereby appear only partially (hands and front of the body), the aural integrally (voice, sound of movement and action), the tactile in theory integrally, but in practice mostly partially (e.g. only the hands). With plurisensorial images (audiovisual, tactilovisual), the immersion is more encompassing, but it can never be integral, lest the image would no longer be an image, but would coincide with reality. Only with mediumless and mediated images, all the sensory domains are covered, so that the image subject can enter the image space not only as an outer appearance, but also as an inner one ('soul', 'spirit'). Just like the disembodied image subject, also the image subject that is embodied in the image space can have the same identity as the real subject (Casanova who enacts himself as Casanova), but just as well that of a character (Casanova who plays don Juan).

Location and scale of image subject and real subject may diverge. Only with scenic visual and aural images can the image subject have another place than the real subject: with panoramic and spherical images it has the same location as the real subject, and that is from the beginning the case with tactile images. With scenic images, the scale of the image subject can effortlessly be adapted to that of the image medium, which can be varied ad libitum, but withpanoramic en spherical image media, it is the length of the radius that determines the scale of the appearances and therewith that of the image subject. With tactile media, the image medium and the image subject can only have one scale: that of the real subject. Scale and location coincide here: the real body is used as an image medium. There are no problems concerning location and scale with imagined images: these are nowhere, so that the place and the scale of the appearance that would belong tot the image subject are naturally adapted to those of the other appearances.


Image subject as well as real subject can interact with the image. When talking about a 'contemplative subject' or 'an interactive image', it is important to remind that both can have a double meaning.

In a first meaning we are talking about interaction of the i mage subject with the image. A first kind of interaction is the adaptation of scale, location, and in many instances also of the perspective that is appropriate to the image. A second kind of interaction is that of the appearance of the image subject that enters the image space where it interacts with the other appearances in the image. That interaction is more encompassing when the image covers more than one sensory domain: it is minimal with monosensorial images, and maximal with mental images (dream, story). But however encompassing the interaction of image subject and/or image body with the other appearances in the image may be, the image subject always passively contemplates its actions in the image.

In a second meaning, we are talking about interaction of the image with the real subject in its real body. In a first series of interactions, t he real subject interacts with the image(medium) . That is the case with all the actions that enable the perception of the images: negative ones like putting between brackets of the perception of medium supports and environment, the real body included, but also positive ones, like the scanning of the image: eye-movements, movements of the head, walking around in visual or aural images; pushing, moving back and forward or stroking with tactile images, and so on. This perceptive activity can entirely or partially be relegated to the artist, so that the real subject can restrict itself to pure contemplation. Second, there is the activity needed for the production of the image. The production can be performed by the real subject that belongs to the image subject: that is the case with all production for one's own use. Or it can totally or partially be relegated to artist. With images that have to be performed (theatre, film, music, stories), the performance can be the task of the real subject that belongs to the image subject (narrative), or be relegated to specialised performers: reciters, actors or musicians. The production can totally or partially be relegated to automated producers: from mirrors, over sensors that produce or activate more or less encompassing parts of the image, to computer programs. With all these forms of cooperation, there is interaction between co-producers: interactive versus solo production - but before being interaction with the image, that is in the firs place interaction with co-producers. although the image can be produced individually or cooperatively - interactively - there is always interaction of the real subject with the image. All images are interactive , hence, in the productive sense - and what nowadays is called 'interactive', is merely a particular form of interaction. When the real subject (producer) is also image subject (consumer), the productive activity is put between brackets. That is obsole when the productive activity is totally or partially relegated to artists, so that the image subject can devote itself to the contemplation of the image undisturbed, so that there is no longer interaction with the image, so that it appears to be non-interative - contemplative. In that respect the dream is the paradigm of the non-interactive image. In a second series, the image interacts with the real subject. The (spiritual, psychic or somatic) reaction of the real subject remains contemplative, as long as it does not proceed to action. But, also then, his activity can be compatible with the contemplative relation of the image subject with the image (e.g. self-castigation or self-satisfaction). In other cases, the relation with the image is suspended. Both kinds of interaction can be combined when an aural image induces the real subject to produce a similar aural image through singing or playing together, or to complete it with to an audiovisual image through producing the concomitant visual appearance. The image subject continues to passively contemplate the image, although the real subject proceeds to the production of duplicates in interaction with other producers.

All these forms of interaction between image and real subject must be clearly distinguished from interaction with other real subjects, like the interaction during cooperation in the production of the image. A more spectacular example is the interaction between players of a game, where images are used to enable the game altogether: from the chess piece to the images on a computer screen. In its turn, the interaction between the players should not be confused with the interaction of each player with the image during its production, which can, in its turn, be a form of interaction with co-producers (that made the chess pieces or wrote the computer programs).

As opposed to the propensity to put the interaction of the real subject between brackets or to relegate it to artists in view of the undisturbed contemplation of the image, there is the converse propensity to have the real subject that belongs to the image subject interact with the image. Such productive activity disturbs the contemplative relation of the image subject, but enhances the charm of activities that accompany the relation to the image - enjoying the productive activity ('creativity'), especially when it is cooperative, and hence group binding, like with singing or playing together. In other cases, activities can be enjoyed that would be impossible without relying on images: from erotic gratification to competitive pleasure (games). In all cases, the image is used as a means of realising other goals that enjoying the image as such.


After having examined the interaction between real subject and image subject on the one hand, and the image on the other, we can investigate in how far the contemplative or interactive subjects are excluded from the image, or in how far they are included in it - immersed in it.

Immersion of the image subject in the image is possible, albeit in varying extent. In terms of sensory domains, it can cover from one to several domains with perceptible images, and all domains with imagined images. And, next to the immersion of the disembodied, purely experiencing subject, there is also the immersion of (a part of) the concomitant appearance(s). With the scenic image, the image subject is referred to the margin of the image space, where the aural image subject cannot appear in an aural embodiment, and the visual only with its front side. With panoramic and spherical images, the image subject is located in the centre of the image space, where the visual image subject cannot appear visually, whereas the aural image subject can be integrally and centrally immersed. Already with the tactile component of the tactilovisual image, it appears that the image subject is not always a point in a surrounding space: it can also take the shape of a surface, or even of a volume enclosed by a surface. To the tactile subject, immersion can only mean being touched everywhere, like with literal immersion in water, and to the inner senses only expansion ('filled with joy'): the removal of the enclosure through that surface. Immersion, then, turns out to be a mere variant of two other forms of inclusion: being enclosed and expanding.

Impossible in principle is immersion (inclusion, expansion) of the real body in the image. However much the real subject may be involved in creating the image, however much it may use its own body as a medium support, it will never be part of the image. Quite the contrary: the more active the real subject, to more its activity has to be put between brackets if the image subject wants to contemplate the image undisturbed. It is precisely to avoid such putting between brackets, that a second kind of exclusion is so popular: the relegation of the production to specialised artists. That the impression of being immersed is nevertheless so insistent, is due to the fact that artists, in an effort to create the illusion that the image is real, often have an appearance in the image look at or talk to the real subject. An impression of immersion can also arise when the image space is confounded with the medium field; when it is not scenic, but panoramic, spherical, or when it is fully three-dimensional, like in a sculpture group like Gormley's 'Another place' (or a real soundscape), the real subject is surrounded by the medium field indeed - but being in the centre of a medium field is not the same as being in the centre of the image space. The impression of immersion can equally arise when a real body is immersed in appearances that belong to the real world, but nevertless are considered to be images, because they are exhibited (whether or not in a place where normally images are shown): think of Gormley's mist installation of Gormley (2007), James Turrell's light spaces, or Christo's 'Big air Package' in Oberhausen, or of a non-mimetic soundscapes like Arsenij Avraamov's Simfoniya Gudkov (1922). In alt these cases, were are not dealing with images in image space, but with real appearances in real space, not different in essence from the immersion in the wealth of a flowering meadow in a blossoming orchard, or from the drone of a horde of motorcyclists on the highway - if not from the literal submersion in water.

There equally is no immersion when image conjuring signs incite declamators, singers or musicians to recite, sing or play together: although they produce an image in image space, their real reciting, singing or playing bodies are left behind in the real world. Granted, a genuine sense of belonging, of being immersed in the group in a metaphorical sense, is often the correlate of such collective activity, but being involved in a group is quite different from being immersed in the image space. And that goes also when real singing of dancing is replaced with identification of the real subject with the aural image (Isolde(s 'Wogender Schwall').


This text shows that the many efforts to revitalise the image through interaction or immersion, have led to the discovery of new kinds of gratification on the one hand, but threaten to disturb the bliss of a purely contemplative relation to the image.. Progress in the domain of the image: once more a mere centrifugal move...

© Stefan Beyst, december 2013.
* not to confound with Husserl's 'Bildsubjekt' van Husserl, where it refers to what is to be seen in the image.

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