Aïm Deüelle Lüski: The Photographic Wound

Nitzan Lebovic
Assistant Professor of History
Apter Chair of Holocaust Studies and Ethical Values
Lehigh University

[1] Aïm Deüelle Lüski (b. 1951) is one of the best-known artist-philosophers in Israel. During the last two decades, Lüski has become a key representative of French poststructuralism in the Israeli public sphere; he has published hundreds of articles and a number of books, has exhibited his work in dozens of shows, and has given hundreds of interviews to the public media, almost all of them focused on topics identified with contemporary French philosophy. But Lüski does not closet himself in his study. He is a familiar figure—shaved head, bright blue eyes, dressed always in black—roaming the green plazas of Tel Aviv University, always on the lookout for an interesting conversation between classes. In short, Lüski has become a cult Socratic figure—but one who never trusts his own fame. He consistently refuses to take the role of a philosopher-king and has kept emphasizing over the years that the role of the artist-philosopher is—following his revered teacher Gilles Deleuze—"to shape the paradoxes that complicate the relation between language and world, and find a precise form of representation capable of expressing the irreducible nature of historical and linguistic reality" (Lüski 2011, 67).[1]

[2] Lüski's career began after studies in Paris under Michel Foucault, Claude Lévi-Strauss, and Gilles Deleuze between 1975 and 1980. Since 1983 he has worked as a lecturer at several different schools in Israel, among them Tel Aviv University and the art schools Camera Obscura, Bezalel, and Bet Berl, to name just a few. He has developed an uncompromising style of photography that has opened a new horizon of artistic thinking, and his distinctive political critique vigorously rejects the conventional Israeli discourse.

[3] His approach is distinctly Deleuzian. From a straightforward implementation of Deleuzian principles, he has shifted to a free and critical play on those principles, admitting that certain elements of the theory simply don't work in the Israeli context. In order to create a new language of representation, Lüski isolated a "pure" Hebrew, for which he claims revelatory ontological status.

[4] Lüski's ideas can be divided into a number of discrete elements:

  1. At the center of Lüski's investigation stands an appearance, a revelation: the sudden emergence of a connecting virtual network and a mechanism that connects subject and object to a shared, multiple world. Unlike traditional divisions of subject and object, this mechanism creates a new language of images and hence a new relation between the different plateaus. Most distinctly, Lüski adopts a doctrine of reduction, diminution, restriction of the world to cope with the inherent multiplicity of possible realities, rather than the transcendental expansion to the metaphysical. His is a revelation through reduction, then.
  2. Lüski identifies such a network with the estrangement or "deterritorialization" of collective imagery—more specifically, a deterritorialized Hebrew. He defines his network in terms of an inherent "absence of origin and land," speaking of a political context that forced Hebrew to function "as an empty revelation that sounds like a language" (Lüski 2011, 23). His language of images must start from the margins, from minor matters, rather than from the center.
  3. An alternative to the moment and its coercive force will be found in the creation of a "rhizome" at the oppressive heart of contemporary Hebrew. As the title of one of Lüski's recent books declares, there is an urgent need to form a "philosophy of the surface" as an answer to the totally politicized and nationalized demand for collective identification.
  4. Photography can provide the revelation of such a rhizomatic moment at the heart of Hebrew. Lüski's photography rips an opening in time itself, asking us to reimagine a language of images that escapes any cliché, norm, or a centrist bias. After three decades of work, Lüski's images should be discussed in the context of this highly sophisticated political-temporal effort.

I. The Abstract Machine

[5] Lüski's most recent work in Hebrew is a lucid theory of post-poststructuralist theory. It is a plea to his fellow artists to create art from the perspective of an absence, "to be in the middle of nowhere, in the interim space that has been freed from its dependency as an empty mediator in the midst of a self-fulfilling present" (Lüski 2011, 34). Simultaneously, this ontology of in-betweenness and Deleuzian deterritorialization "expresses how difficult it is for postmodern thinking to conceive, for itself, a precise affiliation with the plateau of absolute arbitrariness . . . [how difficult it is] to think of how the world is revealed, exposed, to the post-Kantian era, beyond the religious and the phenomenological. This is the difficulty of realizing the revelatory force of the outside reality, a reality that cannot appreciate the distinctions between good and evil, important and unimportant, worthy and unworthy" (14). This perspective has guided Lüski as he integrates the photographic image and the body, his own as well as any other. The camera becomes a mechanism that assembles, tears apart, and then reassembles the different parts of this reality, internal and external, creating a new diagram or amalgamation of body parts.

[6] For most of his artistic career Lüski has built his own cameras, shaping them to mimic a body part or some other organic form. But their images have been the opposite of a traditional organic unity.


Lemons Camera


"2 Lemons - Lemons Camera, Concave View"


"2 Lemons - Lemons Camera, Convex View"

[7] The physical appearance of Lüski's cameras and the images he produces with them possess an inherent and an immanent vitality that place the artist at the beginning point of every photographic production. Still, the artist does not appear here as a subject confronting reality, but rather as part of the reality the camera itself is grasping, arranging, and re-producing. An emphasis on the mechanism would appear to violate the dictum "The painter himself must enter into the canvas before painting, " Deleuze's comment on Francis Bacon that Michael Karmp dwells on in the introduction to this issue. But the presence of the artist on the canvas makes her part of her own imaginary world, to begin with. Lüski cleaves to this credo by creating a new photographic device; A camera with multiple apertures produces images that do not resemble the familiar monocular world or even our binocular take. Instead it deconstructs the world and reconstructs it, reconfiguring even the photographer's own body.

[8] To unlock Lüski's images, one has to feel his way through the multiple perspectives and different sources of light burning on the page, all of which are accompanied by an amalgamation of elements spread over the sheet, taking a new form in the gap between what's there and what's here. As Deleuze and Guattari explain the opening pages of A Thousand Plateaus (1980), the principle of multiplicity is basic to their book and essential to their concepts of the rhizome and the assemblage. Multiplicity is an ontological principle: "Multiplicities are rhizomatic. . . . There is no unity to serve as a pivot in the object, or to divide in the subject. . . . A multiplicity has neither subject nor object, only determination, magnitude, and dimensions that cannot increase in number without the multiplicity changing in nature" (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, 8).

[9] Ariella Azoulay, a well-known Israeli theoretician and political activist, has written about Lüski's images in Image Leftovers: Photography in Dark Times, "The relationship between the body of the camera and the body of the photographer reshapes an indirect visual space in which multiple—and not necessarily momentary—traces of movement in space and time are preserved" (Azoulay, 2012).[2] Lüski's cameras, Azoulay observed, "link the discussion of photography through its products—photographs—to the device itself, to the dispositive in the Foucauldian sense, to the question of the instrument in art, the condition for the emergence of an image, its limits, the excess and lack it entails, what it could yield to, the various modes of its writing, and a whole constellation of conditions and possibilities of space, gaze and knowledge" (Ibid). The structures of these cameras, always with multiple apertures exposing the same film, allow the light to meet the film from different angles, leading to an internal struggle that disturbs our notion of a coherent form of outside reality, a realistic image.


the image of revelation: cake camera

II. Deterritorialization in Hebrew

[10] Lüski's images explore the political as a mechanism that controls our innermost language. In both philosophy and photography Lüski tries to obey—in Hebrew—Deleuze's plea for multiplicity, contingency, and deterritorialization: "A contingency is apparent in modern Hebrew, its dislocation from the earlier 'root,' and its later echoes—now blocking the earlier layer—which allow the speaker to sink into the intheological.[3] . . . [Hebrew] is trapped in the loud silence that has existed since the destruction of the Second Temple, in the spirit that was not denied or suppressed but preserved in its purity as the 'holy language,' in the midst of an open dialogue between the final and the infinite" (Lüski 2011, 122). According to Lüski, Hebrew was forced "to serve the political effort of occupying Palestinian lands, where it was obliged to function as a political language, clumsy and constrained. . . . It was at that moment that [the Hebrew] language was denied its ancient right to think from the margins . . . and forced to move from the margins to the center" (28–29). As will be shown below, this denial of the margins forced a coercive system that must to be de-territorialized. By exposing Hebrew as a 'silenced language' since the destruction and exile Lüski advocates a new relation between images and words. A contemporary Hebrew must re-open the gap, the absence, the wound, that is eclipsed at its core.

III. The Philosophy of the Surface

[11] One way to expose the wound is apparent in Lüski's political and a "virtual" philosophy; it shifts between the philosophy of the dispositif and the assemblage, much like the "abstract machine" and the operation of deterritorialization.[4] In other words, the philosophy of the surface moves between the mechanism of operating forces and the absolute contingency of aesthetic correlation. Paul Patton explains in Deleuze and the Political (2000) that Deleuze and Guattari's first instinct was to estrange and escape clichés and norms in what they called "the social machine." Next to that machine lies another, the "megamachine of the state, itself formed by the movement of deterritorialization which substitutes abstract signs for the signs of the earth and makes the land into an object of property" (92). For that purpose, Deleuze and Guattari analyzed the social machine as what "forms a surface on which the forces and agents of production are distributed and surplus appropriated" (89). This is the same machine responsible for territorialization and collectivization. Lüski found in the camera the abstract machine that could oppose the surplus, that allowed him to integrate plurality in the heart of the virtual.

[12] Guided by the shape of the abstract machine—a camera in this case—a new world is created on the surface of the film, a system of thinking and simultaneously the very material that captures falling light. The relation between the subject (the photographer) and his reality is fragmented and translated into a contingent struggle within the operative mechanism itself. The struggle is conducted in light and shades, but it reshapes—often reverses—the relation of light and shades we identify with reality. Peter Hallward (2006) describes the virtual as "what constitutes the plane of immanence, in which the actual object dissolves" (36). It is there, where different rays of light meet and clash, that marks are left and the immanent relation is shaped. It is in that moment that the political explodes into view, like a volcano that erupts out of the immanent plateau of language and cognition.

[13] Lüski's refugee camp camera is an excellent point in case. It "exposes the question of the threshold" through its own materials and fabrication, both of which are borrowed from people "forced to live as the descendants of one of the violent categories of political language—'refugees'—and obliges us to wonder about our ability to see them as something other than 'refugees'" (Azoulay, 2012). The images produced by such cameras expose the inherent limitations of our political language, incapable of grasping outside reality, above all the reality for which we are responsible. Can we see those refugees for what they really are, beyond the mist? Does such a reality even exist? The question itself makes us deterritorialize our own preconceptions of space and time, and their relation to our contemporary sense of identification/recognition. This is quite different from pursuing the legislation and clichés Deleuze identified as quintessentially Western (1962).


Clay Camera

IV. A Wound in the Midst of Time

[14] Injecting chaos into the heart of language abruptly exposes the conditions of possibility and their limitations. This is true of the language of inside and outside, subject and object, Muslim and Jew, virtual and real. Lüski's photography demonstrates the inherent instability of a unified perspective and the requirement, behind it, of following the traditional metaphysics that divide subject from object. In Pure Immanence: Essays on a Life (1995), Deleuze insisted that "what we call virtual is not something that lacks reality but something that is engaged in a process of actualization . . . a wound" (31). This wound exists even before one's own sense of a subjective relation to it: "My wound existed before me," wrote Deleuze, and one might compare that to the artist's existence on the canvas before he starts the artistic creation.

[15] Artistic creation as an ontological entity preceding any act of cognitive perception opens what Deleuze—and Lüski following him—called "an index of a multiplicity" (30). The fragmentation of reality as a unified plateau was accompanied by pain. Pain, the wound, the artist's torn organ, shaped the relation between the subject and the outside world. In other words, Lüski's camera is both the agent realizing the wound and its immanent revelation: "There is a big difference between the virtuals that define the immanence of the transcendental field and the possible forms that actualize them and transform them into something transcendent" (32). Deleuze insisted that "the philosopher of the future is both artist and doctor—in one word, legislator" (66), but Lüski's photos make sure we see only the wound without its cure, only the organ but not even that. Rather, we know it should be there, as part of a new imagistic tissue that testifies to an endless multiplicity, contingency, and openness. The wound is infinitely open and bleeding; it never ceases to remind us of its presence. Lüski's understanding of the artist-philosopher suggests the deepest and most sincere observation regarding the contemporary language of his thinking, or of Hebrew in general. The wound has no cure; Hebrew can never be both the language of a legislator and of a dancer at the same time. Rather, it is there with all its absence, dark matter that constructs the universe without being apparent.

[16] Lüski's wounded language of images is also a deeply pessimistic comment on Hebrew. As he clarifies in his texts, his images investigate our sense of reality, or the unreal, shaped within language. In the images Lüski makes, key concepts in Hebrew are revealed with all their negative force: In his recent analysis of the book of Amos, Lüski declares that he follows Deleuze, Foucault, Derrida and Lacan in his "deconstruction of the biblical text" especially in the context of the "cleavage" or the "impossible." (2009, 8) A long tradition of reading the Biblical prophecy, especially the late apocalyptic one, shaped a philosophical core in Hebrew that was suppressed in modernity. Now, after Deleuze, a new opportunity has opened: "The prophet opposes the demand—the existence of the law,—to the impossible sense of human awe... The Prophets assert the existence of the impossible." (Ibid) Following Deleuze's analyses of Nietzsche and Artaud, Lüski concluded in his "Victory of Catastrophe, the Philosophy of the Dead God": "the Bible testifies...[in order] to negate and deny the catastrophic occurrences... [It is the] total destruction that enables the reappearance of an open, transgressive, rich text...the creation of memory of a language without a people." (Ibid, 8)

Ball Camera

Ball Camera, Bauhaus, Jerusalem 2010

[17] Here is his plea for a strict deterritorialization, a Nietzschean critique of tradition and the realization of a new kind of thinking: "Thinking," said Deleuze, "would...mean discovering, inventing new possibilities of life" (1983, 101). As Patton (2000) observed, such a moment of reconsideration stands for "the indeterminate conjunction which subtends all relations, 'and' comes to stand for that which is in-between any two things brought into relation with each other. It becomes an axiom of Deleuze and Guattari's political philosophy that new 'becomings,' events or beings always emerge from this 'in-between'" (10). Lüski's ability to shape a new language of images is loyal—semantically—to the internal mechanism of Hebrew since the destruction of the two temples and the exilic existence of Jews outside the land of Israel, and outside their own sacred language. An innovative look at the present must start from the cleavage, the absence of essence, and from deterritorialization.

view the exhibition »


[1] All translations from Hebrew are mine.

[2] A shorter version of Azoulay's essay was published in the journal Aperture, in 2010.

[3] Lüski defined the intheological as "the ability to think of faith as a disjoining thought, one which creates a different type of exception, beyond all understanding. This type of theology, which is not negative, is revived as a way of life within the political, the artistic, the philosophical, where the subject rediscovers the remains of the self . . . between the act and the purely incidental." See the paper Lüski presented to the Minerva Humanities Center, Tel Aviv University, January, 2010: http://mhc.tau.ac.il/lexspace/?p=511

[4] Paul Patton explained the close relation between dispositif and assemblage and "the abstract machine which inhabits the assemblage like its virtul double." "the constitutive function of the movements of deterritorialisation is in turn directed by the abstract machine." P. 44.


Azoulay, Ariella. "Images Leftovers." An introduction to the retrospective of Aim Deuelle Lüski at the Bat- Yam Museum. Planned for Spring, 2012.

—- "Aim Deuelle Lüski: Cameras for a Dark Time," in Aperture 200 (2010), pp. 2-5.

Deleuze, Gilles. 1983. Nietzsche and Philosophy. Trans. Hugh Tomlinson. New York: Columbia University Press.

Deleuze, Gilles. 1995. Pure Immanence: Essays on a Life. Trans. Anne Boyman. New York: Zone.

Deleueze, Gilles and Félix Guattari. 1987. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Hallward, Peter. 2006. Out of this World: Deleuze and the Philosophy of Creation. London: Verso.

Lüski, Aïm Deüelle. 2009. Amos' Sophia. A Dissertation Proposal submitted to the School of Jewish Studies, Tel Aviv University.

—- 2009. "The Victory of Catastrophe: The Philosophy of the Dead God." Unpublished Seminar Paper, Presented at the French Institute of Tel Aviv (Institut Francaise de Tel Aviv).

—- 2011. [Post]Modern Philosophy on Its Own Terms. Tel Aviv: Misrad HaBitachin.

Patton, Paul. 2000. Deleuze and the Political. London: Routledge.