Re-enchantment   /   Fall 2015   /    Re-enchantment

Re-enchantment and Iconoclasm in an Age of Images

Anna Marazuela Kim

Detail from a projection by Zhang Xinyu and Liang Hong of the tallest Buddha in Bamyan Valley, Afghanistan, June 2015. The Bamyan Buddhas were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001; © Zhang Xinyu/Xinhua Press/Corbis.

Images are a particularly strong form of enchantment. They captivate us by means of a mysterious double effect, oscillating between visual immediacy and their clear status as illusion. At least since antiquity, the nearly magical, delusional potential of images has been an issue of serious concern. (Perhaps it was so even in the caves of Lascaux, where images of bison sprang to life, animated by prehistoric fire). Before modern societies were captivated by motion pictures, then television, then the ever-expanding array of iPhones, iPads, and computers that now capture our gaze, Plato likened our human condition to imprisonment in a cave of flickering images (eidola): a shadow world of appearances removed from the sunlit reality of the world of true Forms that lay outside.1 In this primal image, Plato seems to have anticipated a significant feature of our contemporary milieu: the thoroughgoing mediation of information and experience through images and image-rendering screens.

Philosophy, Plato argued, was the only means of escape from the delusional enchantment of the image-world. Disenchantment, which could be achieved only through exposure to the potentially blinding light outside the cave, was vital to the welfare of the citizens trapped within.

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