About Image and Presence

Images increasingly saturate our world, making present to us what is distant or obscure. Yet the power of images also arises from what they do not make present―from a type of absence they do not dispel. Joining a growing multidisciplinary conversation that rejects an understanding of images as lifeless objects, this book offers a theological meditation on the ways images convey presence into our world. Just as Christ negates himself in order to manifest the invisible God, images, Natalie Carnes contends, negate themselves to give more than they literally or materially are. Her Christological reflections bring iconoclasm and iconophilia into productive relation, suggesting that they need not oppose one another.

Investigating such images as the biblical golden calf and paintings of the Virgin Mary, Carnes explores how to distinguish between iconoclasms that maintain fidelity to their theological intentions and those that lead to visual temptation. Offering ecumenical reflections on issues that have long divided Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox traditions, Image and Presence provokes a fundamental reconsideration of images and of the global image crises of our time.

A sophisticated and important book, Image and Presence makes a notable contribution to our understanding of what images are and the work that they do. Learned, elegant, and beautifully structured, its great virtue is to engage Christian-theological and secular-theoretical conceptions of the image in a way that deepens both and flattens neither.
— Paul Griffiths, Duke University

Christians of many epochs—glutted with images, shocked by them—have resorted to the iconoclast’s hammer or its successor, the authoritarianism of empty space. Natalie Carnes proposes a better way to live through our senses.
— Mark D. Jordan, Harvard University

Bold in conception and subtle in its execution, this is a major contribution to the discussion of image as and in theology.
— Judith Wolfe, University of St. Andrews

a timely and powerful meditation…
— C. Christopher Smith, Englewood Review of Books

Carnes’s book points to a subtler way of exploring the tensions between God’s presence in, and transcendence over, the world.
— Ben Myer, Picks for theology books, Christian Century

Carnes engages theologically with culture at a level much deeper than the standard fare of using ancient theologian X to solve modern problem Y. She deftly interweaves art theory, sociology, literature, and contemporary philosophy into her reflections.
— Robert Saler, Christian Century