Tomáš Jirsa Ehem. Short Term Fellow

Tomáš Jirsa
Januar - Februar 2015


Tomáš Jirsa is a postdoctoral researcher and lecturer at the Institute of Czech and Comparative Literature of the Faculty of Arts at Charles University in Prague. Before he picked up this position in 2012, he had already taught several courses at Charles University, beginning in 2009. In 2008, Tomáš Jirsa became part of a PhD programme in Philology at the Department of Czech Literature and Literary Criticism at Charles University. There, he pursued his dissertation project entitled “Physiognomy of Writing: In the Folds of Literary Ornament”, which he finished in 2012 (see publications). He has been awarded with various scholarships, comprising of a research stay at Université Paris Sorbonne Paris IV and at the University of California, Los Angeles. Tomáš Jirsa translated numerous works of French writing authors into Czech, for example Marc Augé, Jan Hendrik van den Berg, Vincent Pinel and Roland Barthes. He held several positions in relation to film funding, e.g. as coordinator of the European Social Fund project “Creation and Implementation of incentives – Promoting Professional Development of Students of the Department of Theatre, Film and Media Studies”. Currently, he also works as a coordinator of the European Social Fund project “FIND” (Film Industry Internship Project).

IKKM Forschungsprojekt

Mediality of the Broken Frame: Affective Patterns and Their Survival in Image and Text

At first glance, the act of framing – at least in the contemporary aesthetic discourse – might be seen as a strongly isolating, separative and totalizing operation. Besides the fact that it distinguishes an image from its surroundings and therefore affirms the identity of a viewer standing outside the allegedly autonomous depicted world, it also proves a necessity of a spatio- temporal fixation. To put it briefly, the deictic and representational motion of the image is – whether one deals with cinema, photography or painting – stopped. Nevertheless, all constructions are exposed to the external as well as the internal pressures and corrosions, so even in the most solid framework a fissure might occur and then the world enclosed by the frame starts to stream out. Therefore my project strives to answer the following questions: What happens when the frame breaks? Is the world inside the frame going to open itself towards the exterior or, on the contrary, it will absorb the beholder’s space and radically transform their role of a looking subject? And in fact, what kind of language should be used to accurately explain such an event along with its consequences?

In continuity with the scheduled programme Framing / Sewing I want to focus on the aesthetic relational operations performed by works of art, especially literature and visual arts, which substantially not only depict, represent or treat the act of framing but mainly conceptualize and theorize it it. On the one hand, the accent will be put on different ways of shifting, a breaking through the textual and visual frame along with their creative deformation one could call – inspired by George Didi-Huberman’s concept of “disfiguration” and the term “deframing” coined by Pascal Bonitzer – a disframing. On the other hand, my project will deal with the dialectically opposed process of reframing, i.e. the act during which a beholder is absorbed in image or text and becomes its integral part thanks to the affective operations and the aesthetic contamination. However, in contrast with the multiplied or simultaneous screens in the experimental cinema, a projection of digital images in galleries and Vjing, this dialectics of disframing – reframing does not need to be manifested explicitly. The broken frame along with the related operations will be rather traced as a peculiar latent effect of thinking of the work of art, the work of art which – as Gilles Deleuze puts it – thinks through the affects and percepts. Yet this non-obviousness by no means reduces the effect of the broken frame: its mediality will be perceived as a strongly reflectional and affective operation (Van Alphen) which not only affects the subject but it also transforms it in an operational element. A man as “an affecting and affected resonant centre” then retroactively transforms, modifies and shapes the world of image and text.

How can one analyze and think such aesthetic operations? Works of art often have a specific quality to offer via its language, images and gestures their own theoretical figures. These figures, endowed with cultural memory, knowledge and affects disclose their aesthetic space, but they also aim to other forms of art and different ways of reflection. Far from being purely subjective or intuitive, they fit suitably the main condition of sewing which is “joining together that which is different”. Theoretical figures blur the boundaries across the cultural contexts, poetics and historical frames and could be easily compared to Mieke Bal’s “travelling concepts” connecting disparate disciplines. Their uniqueness however does not consist in the fact that they are esentially interdisciplinary and intermedial but in the way they perform a dynamic figural process passing through particular works of art and they point out an affinity between language and senses, the discursive and aesthetic practices. As such, they enable an encounter of verbal with sensual, meaning with emotions, discursive with non-discursive.

More specifically, an example of such figures might be demonstrated on the Rococo ornament emerging in modern visual art and literature in a “surviving” form of a wallpaper pattern, not as a mere decoration but as a lively creature. This rococo ornament refuses to yield to its carrier – the frame, it leaves the borders of the picture and invades its core to become an autonomous aesthetic object. In these images something takes place that contests the conception of ornament till nowadays prevailing in the Western aesthetic discourse. Its definition has been brought about by Immanuel Kant in his Critique of Judgment (1790) via the notion of parergon which signifies not only a non-functional embellishment but also a decorative supplement that does not participate on the whole structure of the work of art. But the ornaments in Rococo recall rather a conception of another radical philosopher, Jacques Derrida. In his view, parergon stands for something strongly „atopical“, an element which is not a work of art itself but does not exist beyond it; which is neither inside, nor outside. Thus, as the Derridean parergon, the Rococo ornament dissolves the alleged boundaries between the interior and exterior, disrupt the hierarchical opposition of the visual center and the decorative periphery, and last but not least, it calls into question that commonly received difference between the „main“ matter and the „added“ element.

So at this time, the relation between reality and ornament is turned over, the real world filled with nature and living beings is no more a source of mimesis, and, as Frank Ankersmit puts it, „Rococo ornament invades reality by ornament: the objects of representation adapt themselves to ornament.“ To explain this invasion, we must refer to another connoisseur of the Rococo art, Karsten Harries who shows this era as a period of transition between the ancient art, devoted to representation, and the modern art, which leaves all classic mimetic order behind and opens the way to abstraction instead. According to him, this fundamental event occured when the frame, which was keeping the distance between the fictional world and the actual world, had broken. As we can see on many engravings from this period, the original frame – whose function was to represent the carrier – is growing into an auto-referential frame that attracts the beholder’s attention and activates a playful deconstruction of the depicted world. Thus the broken frame – representing and self-commenting – might be considered as a metaphorical onset of the modern art.

One of the modern “incarnations” of this ornament might be demonstrated by peculiar wallpaper patterns, so often observed by fevering or hallucinating characters in novels (Andrei Bely, Bruno Schulz, Vladimir Nabokov) and movies (Ingmar Bergman). It needs to be stressed that it is by no means a depiction or representation of nature, but a pattern in terms of a nonmimetic abstraction, a design, a linear condensation that does not represent natural forms but evokes and suggests their motion and their vivacity. Moreover, the wallpaper ornament lacks a fixed frame. Therefore, the pattern can leave the wall surface and exceed to the surrounding space of the interior, only to blend with its universe. Besides that, by this very absence of frame, the wallpaper pattern may absorb the viewer into its realm, that is into a proliferated and confusing ornamental zone. The fissure of the Rococo frame, as well as the nonmimetic, self-referential and abstract nature of the wallpaper pattern lead us to an affective and aesthetic phenomenon that will be captured and developed by modern literature and contemporary visual arts. The outlined dialectics of disframing – reframing thus allows not only a quest for the surviving affective patterns across the centuries, but also to observe the peculiar thinking of art.

If the challenge of the media philosophy and of the negative media theory lies – as Dieter Mersch puts it – in “making the medial visible” and in searching for “showing itself”, it becomes obvious that what is at stake, rather than content and message of texts and images, is the way the beholder creates and performs them. Therefore, I suggest that the very tracing of the theoretical figures – produced by an interaction between the aesthetic and affective operations of the work of art and its viewer – might enrich the thinking of mediality. Another question I would like to deal with is how to “reframe” a literary text in order to see it not only through its verbal message, composition and theme, but rather as an archi-textural and performative space blending different medias, languages and gestures.



Fyziognomie psaní. V Záhybech literárního ornament (Physiognomy of Writing: In the Folds of Literary Ornament). Prague: Fiilozofická fakulta UK v Praze, 2012.


“From Perfumed Moustaches to Ornaments of Language. The Physiognomy of Writing in Kafka’s The Trial. In: Central Europe, 1/12, London, 2014 (in print).
“’And a face appeared on the wallpaper’: Broken rococo frame and its visual-textual outcome” (in Czech). In: Výtvarná výchova 54, 2014 (in print).
“Schizophrenia and/of writing. Under Blanche T.’s lace of words” (in Czech). In: Svět literatury 47, XXIII, 2013, pp. 12-28.
“Anti-Ornament”. In: Heslář české avantgardy. Estetické koncepty a proměny uměleckých postupů v letech 1908-1958. Prague: Fiilozofická fakulta, 2012, pp.81-92.
“Physiognomy of Writing: French Literary Thinking and its Visual Inspiration.” In: Slovo a smysl 15, 2011, pp. 98-112.
“Dialogue as a Mode of Existence in the work of Richard Weinar” (in Czech). In: Česká literature 56, 2008, pp. 75-102.
“On Snooping, Intervention and Desire in Texts of Witold Gombrowicz”. Souvislosti 3, Prague, 2007, pp. 124-132.