What is an image?

Abe Kōbō, photographer (Image from Takano 1994)

I’m curious about what Abe would think of Barthes’ conception of photography as theatre: “Photography is a kind of primitive theater, a kind of Tableau Vivant, a figuration of the motionless and made-up face beneath which we see the dead” (Barthes 1981: 31-32).

Image not just something passively received, but a performance, an interplay of affects, between seer and seen.

Lamenting that I could not be present to see Abe’s performances — missing the immediacy of the theatre. All I have are texts, and where texts do not apply, all I have are images.

And yet, Abe says his plays themselves are “images.” What does Abe mean by “image”?

As Erika Fischer-Lichte argues, “performances epitomize the state of in-betweenness. These states give rise to performances, because they take place through the bodily co-presence of those who perform and those who look on. Whatever the performers do affects the participating spectators; and whatever the spectators do affects the performers and other spectator.” (Online journal, See sources)

Bodily affect of performance, which for Abe is the bodily affect of ‘image’. Abe points to the complexity of the ‘image’, which extends its tendril-like fingers out beyond the visual into other levels of human interaction.

dramatic language = language of action: -ing form

On the one hand, when one concentrates on the dialogue, he is doing something akin to reading a novel. Yet really to experience drama, it is necessary for the audience to watch the stage where the movements of the actors are ephemeral. There are two ways that drama can affect the reader or the audience. One involves the actor’s words and the other his body to express some meaning as an “-ing” form. In this sense drama is dance as well as music, for dance can also be music using the human body. I am very much interested in drama and as a result I ask physiological things from the actors. (Hardin and Kobo 1974: 445)


Barthes, Roland. 1981. Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography. Trans. Richard Howard. New York: Hill and Wang.

Fischer-Lichte, Erika. 2010. Interweaving Cultures in Performance: Different States of In-between. Interweaving Performance Cultures (August 11, 2010), http://journal.interweaving-performance-cultures.com/2010/08/interweaving-cultures-in-performance/.

Hardin, Nancy S., and Abé Kobo. 1974. An Interview with Abé Kobo. Contemporary Literature 15 (4) (Autumn): 439-56.

Takano, Toshimi, and Shōichi Saeki. 1994. Abe Kōbō, eds. Toshimi Takano, Shōichi Saeki. Tōkyō: Shinchōsha.

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One Response to What is an image?

  1. Pingback: Performance of Stillness | sound + projections + words + bodies

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