Joshua Gonsalves: ikon contra modernity: genealogies of the moving image in Tarkovsky and Malevich

Joshua Gonsalves

November 14, 2013 6:00 pm

“Pliancy and weakness are signs of the freshness of being. What has grown hard will therefore never triumph . . .” {stalker}

If ikon-theology can be defined as an eastern Christian theory of the image born in the middle east (Edessa, Syria), consolidated in Byzantium, and consummated in mother Russia, this tradition is yet another elaboration of a conflictual history of image-making founded in this region. The questions ikon-theological theoretical wars have produced are not, in other words, depassé and continue to resonate in the different political theologies of the image presently at play in the three religions of the book.

Yet can we rigorously define the ikon, if the word ‘iconic’ has reduced us to a world where Justin Bieber is as iconic as Christ? It was the theological incarnation of god-in-the-human that grounded the theoretical possibility of materializing the divine as a painted human figure on a wooden panel, and it is the historical enactment of this incarnational logic that we will investigate in this seminar. Ikons of Jesus and Mary (a version of which Mohammad prevented from being destroyed alongside other idols) are, for example, central to a tradition of ikon-theology that raises new and complex problems once resituated in pre-and soviet-era Russia contexts by the persecuted cultural productions of Malevich and Tarkovsky.

What, then, are the consequences of the contradictory re-elaboration of the icon in and against the modernist art system? How iconoclastic is modernism after all? Boris Groys will help us investigate the motivations behind Malevich’s repurposing of the icon in a revolutionary soviet context where art seems on the verge of incarnating life as suprematism, constructivism, productionism, and eventually socialist realism. How, we will move on to ask, does Tarkovsky subsequently intervene in history in Andrei Rublev (1966) by making moving images of the icon painter, Andrei Rublev, in a soviet context—the Khrushchev thaw —when a political renewal of the icon-as-cinema—or, as ikonokino—remains viable? Finally, how can inquiries into present-day reincarnations of ikon-theology contribute to a re-mapping of the iconoclastic and iconophilic tendencies at work in current political conflicts?

The return of Malevich’s suprematist ikon in Tarkovsky’s stalker (1979) will emerge as an exemplary place for analyzing how image-making and image-destroying function as political interventions in the name of transformative events. Theoretical writings that will enable us to work through film & video works (Tarkovsky, Godard & Laibach) that interrogate the incarnational image [icon] in its metamorphic relationship to the historical errancy of desire will include: žižek on Malevich/Tarkovsky, father Florenksy, futurist ikon-theoretician on “what the ikon wants?”, laruelle on incarnational insurrection (future Christ), Badiou on the event, cinema, art, and truth, Tarkovsky on Tarkovsky, and Malevich’s cinemarchitectural theories. All agree, as we will see, on one thing:

“I have only one desire . . .  I want to see.”

Joshua David Gonsalves is an assistant professor in the English department at AUB, where he teaches romantic poetry, literature & visual culture as well as critical theory, cultural criticism, and film studies. He has previously taught in the USA (New York University/rice University) and Canada (Dalhousie University). Dr. Gonsalves is presently revising Keats goes global: close reading and the geopolitics of cultural production for publication while completing a genealogy of the cinema as a cultural mode for visualizing geopolitical conflict: biopolitics, anglophilia & the un-seeing of war. His research and teaching interests have recently led him to question how ikon theology, theory, and practice return in the modern era. Indeed, they return in swarms, paradoxically repressed at the very level of the surface in the iconoclastic/ikonophilic forms of modernism and art cinema, philosophy (i.e., Badiou), and geopolitics. A related project is the production of a docudrama surrounding the possibility of commissioning an icon of his beloved husky-shepherd, Cyberia.