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Book Title: Iconology: Image, Text, Ideology|
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The author of the book: W.J.T. Mitchell
Edition: University Of Chicago Press
Date of issue: July 15th 1987
ISBN 13: 9780226532295
Format files: PDF
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I've had a couple of chapters from this and Mitchell's -Picture Theory- as some of the primary theoretical texts for my dissertation for a while now, but I've been totally lame and haven't read through any significant amount of his work since then-- until lately, now that I've picked up this book and Pic Theory and have been working my way through every bit. I may have to leave some parts of Pic Theory out, b/c I really need to get to writing rather than reading, and Mitchell doesn't do anything with medieval texts like I'm working with-- but Mitchell has definitely gotten me on track with some productive angles on the skaldic ekphrases.
Mitchell engages primarily in ideology-critique of interart discourse from Romanticism on through contemporary criticism and philosophy (with some brief glances back at the Greeks, since they started everything anyway). Through close readings of texts on the relationships of the arts he demonstrates that the authors in question are often less concerned with understanding the nature and relationship of the various arts than with policing the boundaries between the arts and, by extension, the other oppositions with which the "visual vs verbal" is conflated (male vs female, voiced vs silent, see-er vs seen, even England vs France!!). The way in which he exposes and deconstructs the oppositions set up in Lessing's Laocoon in this book, and in works like Keats' Ode on a Grecian Urn in -Picture Theory-, are what initially got me interested in applying this approach to the Norse mythological poems I'm working on, since binary oppositions are a staple of myth-criticism. Of course, we have no theoretical discourse from the time on the relationships between the arts (though I'm keeping my eye open for medieval theory on that sort of thing which might have been available in medieval Iceland! Let me know if you have anything), so I'm having to be cautious so I don't go overboard (it can be easy to see a concern for Interart discourse which isn't really there)-- but I think it's worked out very well into an investigation of the cultural semantics of the ekphrastic performance. But that's just the first half of the dissertation.
In one of the first chapters Mitchell discusses Nelson Goodman's work on the difference between verbal signs and visual icons. Although Mitchell does put Goodman through some of the ideological critique that he will subject the others to, he seems very optimistic about Goodman's distinction between verbal signs as articulate and differentiated (what we expect since Saussere) and visual "signs" as undifferentiated and "dense"-- of course, this was written in 1985, and Mitchell has written on Goodman since then, so I'm interested to hear whether he still likes this division. It's the best I've run across, and leaves room for "leakage" across the ideological boundary between the two. I tend to lump verbal and visual together as all part of a Lacanian Symbolic Order, though I'm still enough of a baby in lacanian thought that I might have it totally wrong. In my field paper, where I develop the ekphrastic performance idea which I mentioned above, I tried describing the line itself (ie, the sort of line you draw with) as a manifestation of the Real, or of the Gap which is the "difference", the boundary between semiotic units. The Symbolic order is the intersubjective order (ie, the world of other individuals who have competing desires) where we have language (b/c without intersubjectivity there is no need for language)-- and I tend to think that part of the symbolic order, and part of having a (ie, belonging to a) language, is having the world divided up into significant, meaningful semiotic units. Though I think at some point I need to fall back and admit that embodied experience does some of the work as well... need to get back to my roots in existential/hermeneutic phenomenology. I've ignored that a bit lately as I've tried to get a grasp on the linguistic turn, but now that we seem to be going through a "pictorial turn" (as Mitchell suggests in Pic Theory), I should probably get back to Merleu-Ponty and Heidegger and Dreyfus.
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Read information about the authorWilliam J Thomas Mitchell is a professor of English and Art History at the University of Chicago. Editor of the journal Critical Inquiry.
His monographs, Iconology (1986) and Picture Theory (1994), focus on media theory and visual culture. He draws on ideas from Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx to demonstrate that, essentially, we must consider pictures to be living things. His collection of essays What Do Pictures Want? (2005) won the Modern Language Association's prestigious James Russell Lowell Prize in 2005. In a recent podcast interview Mitchell traces his interest in visual culture to early work on William Blake, and his then burgeoning interest in developing a science of images. In that same interview he discusses his ongoing efforts to rethink visual culture as a form of life and in light of digital media.
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