Dreams, x-rays, atomic radiation, and “invisible men” are phenomena that are visual in nature but unseen. Atomic Light (Shadow Optics) reveals these hidden interiors of cultural life, the “avisual” as it has emerged in the writings of Jorge Luis Borges and Jacques Derrida, Tanizaki Jun’ichirô and Sigmund Freud, and H. G. Wells and Ralph Ellison, and in the early cinema and the postwar Japanese films of Kobayashi Masaki, Teshigahara Hiroshi, Kore-eda Hirokazu, and Kurosawa Kiyoshi, all under the shadow cast by the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Akira Mizuta Lippit focuses on historical moments in which such modes of avisuality came into being—the arrival of cinema, which brought imagination to life; psychoanalysis, which exposed the psyche; the discovery of x-rays, which disclosed the inside of the body; and the “catastrophic light” of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which instituted an era of atomic discourses.
With a taut, poetic style, Lippit produces speculative readings of secret and shadow archives and visual structures or phenomenologies of the inside, charting the materiality of what both can and cannot be seen in the radioactive light of the twentieth century.
Akira Mizuta Lippit is professor of cinema, comparative literature, and Japanese culture at the University of Southern California. He is the author of Electric Animal: Toward a Rhetoric of Wildlife (Minnesota, 2000).