chapter  17
Information, Crisis, Catastrophe
Pages 14

The major category of television is time. Time is television's basis, its principle of structuration, as well as its persistent reference. The insistence of the temporal attribute may indeed be a characteristic of all systems of imaging enabled by mechanical or electronic reproduction. For Roland Barthes, the noeme of photography is the tense it inevitably signifies-the "Ihat-has-been" which ensures both the reality and the "pastness" of the object "photographed:') The principal gesture of photography would be that of embalming (hence Barthes' reference to Andre Bazin). In fixing or immobilizing its object, transforming the subject of its portraiture into dead matter, photography is always haunted by death and historicity. The temporal dimension of television, on the other hand, would seem to be that of an insistent "present-ness" -a "Ihis-is-going-on" rather than a "Ihat-hasbeen;' a celebration of the instantaneous. In its own way, however, television maintains an intimate relation with the ideas of death and referentiality Barthes finds so inescapable in his analysis of the photograph. Yet, television deals not with the weight of the dead past but with the potential trauma and explosiveness of the present. And the ultimate drama of the instantaneous-catastrophe-constitutes the very limit of its discourse.