Ulrich Meurer


research project
philocracy: Politics of Friendship in US-American Visual Culture
The project examines how (moving) images represent and produce the concept of a ‘governance of friends’ in the United States from the introduction of the daguerreotype to silent cinema. It analyzes instances of American visual history not as depictions of socio-political reality, but as agents of the imaginary or utopian notion of philocracy – a specific loosely structured, heterarchical assemblage of political elements. While Gilles Deleuze, in his references to American culture and literature, considers philocracy as the United States’ historically unrealized or ‘metastable’ founding ideal, it nevertheless continues to shape cultural imagination from Whitman to contemporary arts, politics, and media. In order to trace the concept’s manifestations, the project concentrates on case studies, e.g., on the collective potential of photographic processes, the composite portraits (and Civil War coverage) by M. Brady, the societal impact of pre-cinematic apparatuses like Edison’s Kinetoscope, or the political substructures of early narrative and experimental cinema.
The project’s key term, philocracy, synthesizes concepts of various authors from Maurice Blanchot to Deleuze. In contrast to the common idea of friendship as a bond between two individuals, they describe the friend or brother as a central figure of thought in debates about democracy since the late 18th century. As a provisional basis for the analysis of historical images, one can deduce several interrelated features of philocracy: 1) its relations are not mere connections between the elements of a group or set, but external and independent from them; 2) hierarchy is eliminated, all components are arranged horizontally; 3) dynastic and blood relations are rejected, oedipal family structures are replaced by a voluntary ‘oath,’ experimental relation