‘Camera Obscura: Of Ideology’ by Sarah Kofman

Published by Cornell University Press in 1988.

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Marx, Freud, Nietzsche―in vastly different ways all three employed the metaphor of the camera obscura in their work. In this classic book―at last available in an English translation―the distinguished French philosopher Sarah Kofman offers an extended reflection on this metaphor. She contrasts the mechanical function of the camera obscura as a kind of copy machine, rendering a mirror-image of the work, with its use in the writings of master thinkers.

In her opening chapter on Marx, Kofman provides a reading of inversion as necessary to the ideological process. She then explores the metaphor of the camera obscura in Freud’s description of the unconscious. For Nietzsche the camera obscura is a “metaphor for forgetting.” Kofman asks here whether the “magical apparatus” of the camera obscura, rather than bringing about clarity, serves some thinkers as fetish. Camera Obscura is a powerful discussion of a metaphor that dominates contemporary theory from philosophy to film.

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