His texts (eg The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Immortality and The Joke) are among the most translated Czech works in the world. The novel Immortality (1988), from which we extract an essayist text on “imagology”, is the last title he wrote in Czech. At the same time, however, it is the first novel in which Czech themes do not appear. This time, Kundera turned his attention to the West and began to analyze its dark sides (until now, the Western reader might have thought that he was mainly talking about totalitarianism behind the Iron Curtain). Using concepts such as “imagology” (the power of images which has replaced the power of ideology in the West is yet equally manipulative and destructive), in the opinion of some critics, Kundera achieved his advanced romantic and philosophical dimension. For our purpose, we take into account the idea of imagology which, despite the abyss of almost thirty-five years, is still alive and can take on increasingly threatening forms and impacts.
The politician depends on the journalist. But who do journalists depend on? To those who pay them. And those who pay are the ad agencies that buy newspapers instead of TV time for their ads. At first glance, it seems that they will not hesitate to contact all the newspapers which sell well, in order to increase the sales of the proposed product. But that’s a naive view of things. Product sales are lower than we think. Just look at communist countries: you can’t say that millions of Lenin paintings displayed everywhere you go could increase the love of Lenin. The Communist Party’s publicity agencies (the so-called agitation and propaganda departments) have long since forgotten the practical purpose of their activities (to make the Communist system loved) and have become their own purpose: they have created their language, their formulas , their aesthetics (the leaders of these agencies once had absolute power over the art of their countries), their idea of the way of life they cultivate, disseminate and impose on poor nations.
Do you argue that advertising and propaganda are incomparable because one serves commerce and the other ideology? You do not understand anything. About a hundred years ago in Russia, persecuted Marxists began meeting secretly in small circles to study Marx’s Manifesto; simplified the content of this simple ideology to spread it in other circles, whose members, simplifying it even more, transmitted and spread it, so that when Marxism became known and powerful on the planet, there remained only a set of six or seven slogans, so loosely related that it is difficult to call it an ideology. And precisely because what remains of Marx no longer forms a logical system of ideas, but only a series of images and suggestive slogans (a smiling worker with a hammer, black, white and yellow holding the hands of his brother, a dove of peace soaring from the sky and so on), one can rightly speak of the gradual, general and planetary transformation of ideology into imagology.
Imagology! Who invented this great neologism before? Me or Paul? After all, it doesn’t matter. Above all, the word will finally allow us to bring together under one roof what goes by so many names: advertising agencies; adviser to a statesman on so-called communication; designers who design the shape of cars and exercise equipment; clothing fashion designer; barbers; show business stars dictate the standard of physical beauty that governs all branches of imagology.
The imagologists, however, existed before they created their powerful institutions as we know them today. Hitler also had his personal imagologist, who stood in front of him, patiently showing him gestures to make in a speech to fascinate the crowd. However, if the imagologist had given an interview to journalists at the time, in which he amused the Germans with how Hitler could not move his hands, he would not have survived more than half a day in his indiscretion. Today, however, the imagologist not only does not hide his activity, but often even speaks for his statesmen, tells the public what he taught them and taught them how they will behave according to his instructions, what formulas they will use and what link to carry. And let’s not be surprised by its self-confidence: imagology has won a historic victory over ideology in recent decades.
All ideologies lost: their dogmas ended up being exposed as illusions and people stopped taking them seriously. The Communists, for example, believed that the proletariat would become more and more impoverished in the course of capitalist development, and when one day it turned out that the workers were going to work by car all over Europe, they wanted to shout that reality was cheating. Reality was stronger than ideology. And it is in this sense that imagology won out: imagology is stronger than reality, which, after all, is no longer what it was for a man for my grandmother, who lived in a Moravian village and still knew everything from his own experience: how to bake bread, build a house how he kills a pig and smokes it, what he puts in the duvet, what the pastor and teacher think from the world, she met the whole village every day and knew how many murders had been committed in the area during the last ten years; she had, so to speak, personal control over reality, so that no one could tell her that Moravian agriculture was flourishing when there was nothing to eat at home. My neighbor in Paris spends his time in the office, where he sits for eight hours opposite another official, then gets in the car, goes home, turns on the television, and when the broadcaster informs him of a poll of opinion that most French people have decided are most secure from their homeland in Europe (I recently read such a poll), will gladly open a bottle of champagne and only ever know about three robberies and two murders were committed in his street that day.
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Opinion polls are a crucial tool of imagological power which, thanks to them, lives in perfect harmony with the people. Imagologue bombards people with questions: how is the French economy doing? will there be a war? is there racism in France? is racism a good or a bad thing? who is the greatest writer of all time? is Hungary in Europe or Polynesia? Which of the statesmen in the world is the sexiest? And because reality is less and less traveled terrain for today’s man and, moreover, justly unloved, affirmations have become a kind of higher reality, or let’s put it another way: they have become true. Opinion polls are a permanent parliament whose task is to create the truth, the most democratic truth that has ever existed. Because it will never contradict the parliament of truth, the power of imagologists will always live in truth, and although I know that all human is fleeting, I cannot imagine what could break this power.
To compare ideology and imagology, I would like to add this: ideologies were like huge wheels behind the scenes, which turned and set in motion wars, revolutions, reforms. The imagological wheels turn and history has no effect. The ideologies fought each other and each of them was able to fill the entire epoch with its thought. Imagology itself organizes a peaceful rotation of its systems to the frantic rhythm of the seasons. In the words of Paul: Ideologies belonged to history, while the reign of imagology begins where history leaves off.
The word change, so dear to our Europe, has taken on a new meaning: it does not mean a new stage of continuous development (in the sense of Vico, Hegel or Marx), but a displacement from place to place, from one side to the other other, back, left, front (as tailors inventing a new cut for the new season understand). If the imagologists decided that in the gym club where Agnès goes, all the walls would be covered with a huge mirror, it is not because the practitioner needs to observe himself during the exercise, but because the mirror became a lucky number in roulette imagology at that time. If, at the time of writing, everyone has decided that Martin Heidegger should be considered a confused and dusty sheep, it is not because his thought has been surpassed by other philosophers, but because he became an unfortunate figure of image roulette at the time, antiideal. Imagologists create systems of ideals and anti-ideals, systems which are short-lived and each of which is quickly replaced by a different system, but which influence our behavior, our political opinions and our aesthetic tastes, the color of carpets and book selection as powerfully as the ideologues. ‘systems once controlled us. .
After these remarks, I can return to the beginning of the reflection. The politician depends on the journalist. Who do journalists report to? In imagology. An imagologist is a man of convictions and principles: he asks a journalist for his newspaper (television channel, radio) to conform to the imagological system of the moment. And this is what imagologists check from time to time when they decide to support this or that newspaper.
(Milan Kundera – Immortality. Brno: Atlantis 1990. ISBN: 18-010-93)
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