The One-Eyed Man and the One-Armed Man: Camera, Culture, and the State

John Tagg, ‘The One-Eyed Man and the One-Armed Man: Camera, Culture, and the State’, pp.1-49, in:
Tagg, J., 2009. The disciplinary frame: photographic truths and the capture of meaning. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis.


This carefully constructed room has an old name. It is a camera. A room, but a room with a purpose: the training of light, graphing it—quite literally, photo-graphing, subjecting light to the punctual rule of the room’s inbuilt geometrical law.

The camera is, then, a place to isolate and discipline light, like a room in Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon. And, like that room in the Panopticon, the cell of the camera has its utility both as a training machine and as a device for producing and preserving text.


This text appears first where light becomes substance, as a stain in the dirt on the wall—a stain on the wall’s surface without yet the power to impose distance and division. This stain, however, is already a graph that projects its cryptic structure into the eye that beholds it, capturing the palpitating organ in its depths and incarcerating it in an architecture of separation that leaves the eye hanging on an object now possessed and lost—so near and so far.


Where the machinery of scopic capture falters and the fetishism of the image no longer suffices, the endless substitutability of the photograph keeps the subject hanging on, suspended not just from the picture but from the circuitry of an entire apparatus: the camera, the picture, the mount, the file, the system of classification, the machinery of storage and retrieval, the unfolding space of the archive as the scene of a prolonged ritual of adjudication.

The camera has always been part of a larger assemblage, like a computer wired to its peripherals. This is how its machinery of capture works. To the magical capture of the image is harnessed the mechanics of subjection of a bureaucratic apparatus. The camera, with its inefficient chemical information-storage system, comes joined to the storage and retrieval system of the filing cabinet: the One-Eyed Man and the One-Armed Man, the two modalities of power that join in the technical-machinic enslavement of the modern State.


Meaning prevaricates now between two worlds. Their impossible juncture is masked by the invisible thickness of the frame, for the frame is one of those great, open public secrets about which it is better to say nothing, from which it is better to avert one’s eyes. This is power’s persistent alibi. It is knowing the secret that ensures our silence. That is why a politics of exposure or unmasking is doomed to failure.

Viewer, image, context—held together and apart, clamped in place by an apparatus less obvious than the engineering of the polished brass- and-wood devices that kept the criminal and the Bertillon-system camera operator in their respective places. Of course, they are not held there for long—not for longer than it takes. But that does not mean that, even in this instant, everything is secure. The camera is a box in Pandora’s hands. The apparatus is not entirely stable and does not always work.

And there is always the chance it will be interrupted, unsettled, undermined, sabotaged, or even smashed.


But how are we to get some purchase on those disruptive events that pull the plugs and break the circuit, or that flood the channels, eroding, evading, exceeding, or assaulting the barriers that define the limited fields of play in which the troubling mobility of images and the fluctuating attentions of viewers have come to be fixed?


Do we look for resistance in the irresolvability of textual systems or in the irreducible heterogeneity of the determining context? Or must we look for vulnerabilities in the joins of the frame?

How can we simultaneously account both for the assimilation of photography to a segmented and flexibly adaptive institutional order, and for those continual disturbances in the structures of this order that become particularly acute in the course of the nineteenth century with the dissemination of photography, driven as this was by intensified processes of commodification, disciplinary saturation, and archival accumulation, but also by an ambiguous popular dispersal?


Yet what is striking in the case of the dissenting art history of this period is that, whether for tactical reasons or not, all these different tracks came to be represented as converging somehow on the road of return to a singular site with a singular name: the social history of art.


What I deduce from these developments—from this fracturing and this dispersal—is not that there was an organizational failure or a loss of nerve, but that the recurrent concern of new art histories with the concepts of representation, production, power, pleasure, and identity could not be contained.

These concepts went on generating their own unanticipated, multiplying effects, and the resultant openness came to characterize what was interesting about the field of visual culture studies, before it too passed over into the world of textbooks and readers.


The changes reconfiguring the field of visual culture and its historical representation—through the impact of new image-handling technologies, through the pervasiveness of product placements and marketing strategies, through the conflicting demands of the international museum culture and national touristic promotions, and through the social mandates of multiculturalism and consensus—have long overlaid and confused any pressure for change emanating from the so-called New Art History.


For how could one develop a notion of cultural politics, in the sense of the mutual implication of power and representation, without denying both the absolute interiority of the image and the radical exteriority of socially determined meaning?


The “politics of representation” thus coupled two concepts that began immediately, and interestingly, to undo each other.

Thus, from where I stood in the late 1970s, the remapping of the field of possibilities of contemporary “socialist” practice in photography went along with the trenchant attempt to realign the political reading of the history of the supposedly populist British documentary tradition.


By contrast with this drive to pluralize and specify photographies, one might say that the persistent bent of photographic criticism from François Arago to Oliver Wendell Holmes and from Charles Baudelaire to Walter Benjamin had always been toward the totalization of photography, treating it as a homogeneous technology or singular medium whose meaning and historical consequences were somehow already immanent.

Whether condemning photography’s alleged debasing effects or eulogizing its revolutionary productive potential, photographic criticism construed photography as a singular cultural force, for good or ill. The troubling openness and heterogeneity of the field of photographic meanings were thus repressed, along with the possibility of asking how such a protean pictorial technology could have come to be absorbed and contained, structured and organized, functionalized and given meaning within an array of specific, defined, but mutually excluding discursive and institutional frames.

Against the totalizations of photography’s critical interpretation, I therefore argued that the meaning and function of photographic practices could only be guaranteed and enforced within the in- secure boundaries of the discursive frames that separated them, defined them, and stratified them. From this perspective, photography could no longer be seen as a unified medium whose status and value were inherent within it.


Already, by the mid-nineteenth century, the proliferation of photographic production was exciting anxieties about how to control and regulate the torrent of images that market forces alone would not be moved to check.

On another plane, the troubling productivity of photography had also somehow to be reconciled with the discursive constraints of residual, established, and emergent institutions of knowledge.

In one sector, changes in equipment and process fostered the growth of camera clubs and an institutional tussle over the relation of photography to art, while in another, the same changes facilitated an appropriation of the photographic apparatus by the institutions of disciplinarity and disciplinary knowledge.

First, there was the technical difficulty that everywhere afflicted the utility of photographic records: It was no use accumulating records if the storage system did not make it possible to retrieve them, cross-reference them, or compare them.


In consequence, the effective incorporation of record photography in policing, medicine, psychiatry, engineering, social welfare, and the geographical survey depended on the development of a composite machine—a computer—in which the camera, with its less-than-efficient chemical coding system, was hooked up to that other great nineteenth-century machine, the upright  cabinet, which, when combined with the classificatory structure of the catalog, constituted a new information technology that would radically redirect the public and legislative functions of the archive.


The functionality of photography within this extended and professionally monitored archival machinery was still, however, liable to be undermined by the promiscuity and the dubious standing of the photograph.

his securing of the local functionality of instrumental photography had, however, the additional, unforeseen consequence that the photographic Weld began to be drawn out as a domain of coexistent but mutually excluding and irreconcilable photographies. This, I will stress again, is not a sociological argument. It is not a matter of the external social contexts in which photographic technologies were mobilized, instrumentalized, evaluated, and interpreted.

It is, rather, a matter of the unstable and contested discursive conditions under which the camera could be instituted as an instrument of knowledge, evidence, and record and under which the photograph could be constituted as a specific object of knowledge, an object of meaning, snugly fit and seemingly fully adequate to its frame.

The discursive framing of a plurality of photographies effectively shreds the notion of “the medium,” whether conceived as an opaque material generating its own proper conventions or as a transparent vehicle mediating the efficient communication of meaning. The materiality of photographic processes is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for their designation as a medium. The medium is not something that is simply given. It has to be constituted, and it has to be instituted.


A pluralized and unbounded terrain of mutually differentiating photographies thus begins to emerge toward the close of the nineteenth century, with each local practice claiming legitimacy from what is locally construed as proper to “the medium.”

The photographic apparatus, as I have said, is in effect a composite device in which the bureaucratic administrative technologies of the archive were coupled to the mechanics of identificatory capture built into the operating system of the picturing machine. This was the platform for the assemblage’s utility to sovereignty and to the State: the camera and the filing cabinet—the One-Eyed Man and the One-Armed Man, as Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari describe them— conjoining magical capture and legislative subjection as the axiomatic processes of technical machinic enslavement in the modern nation-state.


[citing Foucault]

The very techniques of documentation and documentary accumulation and the entry of the individual into their field were locked into a history of disciplinary practice and knowledge that emerged piecemeal across the workings of new apparatuses—the police, hospitals, schools, insane asylums, prisons, departments of immigration, planning, public health and sanitation—each of which sought to exert a new and fine-grained measure of control over bodies and spaces. The effectivity of these new apparatuses was thus bound up with a specific strategy of representation.


What the plan for the Panopticon described was an edifice of vision as yet empty of subjects. Its value seemed to lie precisely in this emptiness, which promised to make it highly adaptable as a machine for harnessing bodies and for producing compliance by self-regulation. Its emptying of specific content also emphasized its function as a model: a working model of a transparent society, a community of the consensual norm, a utilitarian utopia.

The Panopticon was not, however, a purely visual apparatus. Leaving aside the question of its built-in sound tubes, it functioned not only as a technology of observation and a kind of personal trainer or exercise machine but also as a truth machine—a machine for producing documentation, an archive, a machinery of knowledge, necessarily incorporating a system of information storage and retrieval, in short, a discourse machine.

It hardly needs adding that the Panopticon, even in its periodic and partial application as an institutional template, was never a State Apparatus in Althusser’s sense of the term. For all its claim to model a utilitarian utopia, the Panopticon was an assemblage—a pragmatic adaptation of locally developed techniques and technologies. It developed not as a function of the needs of State power, as an expression of class interest, or as a reflex of an economic process but, rather, as a combination of more or less cumbersome machineries selected for the utility of their effects.

The Panopticon was a combinatory of specific technologies generating a particular physics of power and a particular regimen of knowledge. It was a material apparatus, not a totalizing concept. Moreover, where its mechanisms were put into effect, its workings were never inexorable. The bodies it harnessed could never be entirely made subject to or subdued beneath its performative demands. It was actively resisted and undermined by counterpowers, evasions, and perverse reinvestments.


It generated an excess of meanings that could not be curtailed by its technology of sense. And it continued to be cut across by desires that could not be subsumed within its utilitarian rationality.

Panopticism and disciplinarity thus do not describe a remorseless and exhaustive system, but neither are they general metaphors. They are the concerted effects of specific material apparatuses and techniques, and as such, they offer a delimited framework in which to think about the “general politics” of truth in the burgeoning archives of late nineteenth-century photographic documentation.

[Tagg differentiates between the Panopticon and panopticonism]

From its inception, the discursive event is imbricated in power and bound to the generation of power effects by the constitutive constraints that institute domains of meaning and subjection.


Discipline inverted the structures of sovereign power and, against the notion of the possessive individual on which the liberal notion of the State was founded, turned on subjection and the production of docile subjects.


The State is a particular historical configuration that operates, in historically differentiated ways, as what Deleuze and Guattari have called a mechanism of capture and expulsion, powerfully striving to construct a systematic, unified, centered, and homogeneous territory. Yet we have also seen that the State—even the State that has incorporated within itself the techniques and technologies of social discipline—cannot unify or extend itself as it strives to do. It can never saturate the realm of discourse or the social field it produces. It can never reduce discursivity or sociality to an exhaustive functionalism, as Althusser imagined in his theory of Ideological State Apparatuses.

What constricts the State, however, is not just a matter of the struggle for State power; least of all is it a matter of the State’s supposed internal “checks and balances.” It is, rather, that, intrinsically and extrinsically, the State, as a discursive formation, always has to operate in a Weld of heterogeneous machineries of force and machineries of discourse that it does not determine, that it cannot eradicate, and that it cannot subdue; machineries that it may try to reduce, subordinate, or absorb but that are always simultaneously inadequate to and in excess of its purposes, falling short and overproducing in relation to the fixity the State would give them.

The State may continuously elaborate its mechanics of capture, colonization, territorialization, overcoding, and appropriation, but it can never realize itself as a global principle or a totality: It can never produce the society toward which it strives; it can never call a halt to the play of power and discursivity or reduce them to its territorial principle of sovereignty.

It is not, then, that the State is an instrument of society or even against society. It is rather that — as a configuration of force in a field it never saturates — the State is constantly striving to produce the impossible, to stabilize the field of sociality as a delimited domain, as a society.

The violent attempt by the State to fix a territory as a ground with- out dispute is thrown into relief by its encounter with the eruption of new technologies of meaning and power—new technologies, that is, of sense and subjection.

What we see then is a flurry of activity as the technologies are annexed to existing frames, their meaning specified and their productivity curtailed—not uniformly but locally, unevenly, and discontinuously across an array of discursive spaces. What then emerges is a motley field of differences, identities, borders, and exclusions across which the potential for proliferation of the new technologies is triaged, quarantined, reduced, and displaced by the gridding of a segmented field.

This exclusion of proliferation yields utility, meaning, pleasure, profit, and power—but it is never fully fixed. The instability of local frames and of the hierarchy of segregation, the countereffects of one frame on another, and the pressure of the remainder cannot be entirely erased but return to undermine the integrity of the order instituted in the discursive regimen of the State.


[Ref Zizek on the mode of enjoyment or ‘way of life’ required for the state to persist]


Appropriated, combined, hybridized, and generalized, such disciplinary machines [as the panopticon] enabled the State to extend and transform its mode of operation and its practices of power, intervening at levels of resolution and regularity never before attained by State apparatuses, disciplining and subjecting the bodies of the populace, driving toward an imagined saturation of the social field that, at the same time, constantly reactivated State power by generating ever more complex and demanding “social problems.” This was the regimen of surveillance and social discipline but also of social welfare. It was a regimen within which the State sought to colonize sociality and thus to produce a society. This does not mean, however, that disciplinarity was the expression of some will to power, that it ever attained the homogeneity it projected, or that it precluded the simultaneous mobilization of machineries of power entirely at odds with the techniques of discipline, including technologies of spectacle and sovereign power that can hardly be seen as disappearing with the fall of absolutism.


[it is] clear that the instrumentalization of photography as a means of surveillance, record, and evidence in the disciplinary institutions and new government departments of the last quarter of the nineteenth century does not exhaust the question of the encounter between the reconstituted State, technologies of documentation, and practices of photographic record.


Half a century later, in the midst of the crisis of social cohesion of the 1930s, the liberal state, beset to the right and left by the competing state forms of fascism and communism, would seek to appropriate photography again, as a means of public communication and popular education and, above all, as a new language of citizen formation—a spectacular rhetoric of recruitment mobilized to resecure identification with the representation of community on which the functioning of the paternalistic liberal state depended.


Surveillance, disciplinary documentation, spectacle, recruitment, censorship, and copyright: What we have here, as I have argued, is an array of sometimes linked but never congruent sites that raise questions about the relation of the State to the development, deployment, framing, and enforcement of new cultural technologies and new institutions of meaning.

Yet we can only make progress with these questions if we are able to find ways to think about and theorize the development and operation of cultural technologies, the structure of the State and its relation to the institutions of culture, forms of rhetoric and structures of identifuication, the effects on the social body of the appropriation and mobilization of new technologies and new rhetorics, and the character and locus of State power, its relation to other formations of power, and its inevitable vulnerability to resistance and simple malfunction.


[…] the State form is said to depend on the absorption and institutionalization of notions of sovereignty, territoriality, legitimacy, and representation and on the installment of specific and distinct legislative, executive, judicial, and coercive State apparatuses.


[discussion on various ways and questions to define the ‘state’]


For Deleuze and Guattari, by contrast, the State does not evolve from the non-State. The two social forms are radically discontinuous. The society of the non-State is not a society that is not yet capable, economically or politically, of developing a State. It is, rather, a society that has developed specific mechanisms and institutions that are capable // of warding off the state.

Even the State, as it strives to exert a monopoly of force and to unify itself internally, has to operate in a field it cannot exhaust or reduce to an identity through its apparatuses of capture.

On one side, the One-Eyed Man, on the other, the One-Armed Man: the embodiments of two forms of capture—the machinic enslavement of magical capture and the machinery of subjection and subjectification of law and the contract—both of which survive in the modern nation-state as models of realization for an axiomatic of flows combining new technical machinic enslavement with social subjection.

The force of Deleuze and Guattari’s argument is that it multiplies forms of power, so that it is no longer possible to see the State as a homogeneous field of power relations saturating the territory of sociality. The State has to deal with its own internal war machines—its internal exteriority—just as it has to operate in a diversified field of power vectors in which the social form of the State is in constant interaction, internally and externally, with nomadic societies, non-State societies, autonomous urban societies, and worldwide machines or ecumenical organizations.

Each vector implies a different modality of rule, a different mode of operation, a different style of violence, a different way to occupy and organize space, a different structuring of work, and a different conception of knowledge. Yet none is capable of fully constituting a society.

At the same time, however, Deleuze and Guattari’s taxonomy of power is not exempt from its own form of essentialism and its own guilty Hegelianism. State and war machine are consistently singled out from among the five forms of social organization and held up in contrast to each other.


In effect, however, the formation of the sovereign State not only exacerbated warfare between States—as a continuation of interstate politics by other means—but also established perpetual war- fare as the condition of internal peace, since the State, as embodiment of public right, predicated its status on an appropriation of lawful violence that demanded a constant state of internal war to secure its monopoly of force against all forms of transgression, secession, resistance, indifference, and dissent.


Military threat and the drive to modernization compelled a strategic innovation in which the State—as Foucault has shown—sought to appropriate the very discourse of those whom it had defeated: a subterranean discourse of enmity, injustice, and the perpetual war of retribution; the discourse of a subject that has positioned itself outside the history of the State as told by the State itself; the discourse of another claim to right; the discourse of an ethno-cultural people as nation, as bearer of a destiny that is not that of reason, as embodiment of the force of the body and all that flows in it and through it and from it. What opened for the State, therefore, was another kind of body politics: the politics of blood and tongue—the politics of nation and culture.


This was the moment when culture emerged as concept, formation, and machine.


It was not the machinery of civilization and cultivation—in Germany, the machinery of all that was known in the best circles under the name of Bildung. It was, rather, an incorporative machinery: a machinery of capture and of identification that took power as coregent with the instruments of justice and the disciplinary regime, the One-Eyed Man and the One-Armed Man, each with its own form of violence, its own form of capture, and its own form of meaning.

At the opening of the nineteenth century, the name for this machinery still retained its relative novelty and had not yet become a dead metaphor.


[discussion of the emergence of the term ‘culture’, Bildung, Hegel and Hobbes]


If culture in the sense of Bildung was the primer, then culture in the sense of Cultur was the effective means of capture: the sphere of realization in which a populace would be recruited as citizens of a new State that itself embodied the inherent rationality of history.

Culture’s task was the creation of a citizenry adequate to the modern State, not by calling them out in the name of an abstract humanity and reason but by raising to consciousness a rationality supposed to be immanent within them and embodied in the continuity of indigenous custom, tradition, and belief.

Conceived as a means to capture a population for modernization and predicated on the reality of German underdevelopment, the concept of culture emerged in the first decades of the nineteenth century as a discursive machinery for recruitment and mobilization that would reconcile rationalization and belief while simultaneously displacing the threat of destruction and revolution. To discipline and sovereign right, we must add this third machinery—the Third Man in the room who will also soon seek to make the camera his own.