Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Picture Theory: Essays on Verbal and Visual Representation. - book reviews

by Brian Wallis

One of the great themes in Western culture is the contest between word and image. From Leonardo's Paragone through Lessing's Laocoon to the writings of Barthes and Derrida, theorists have struggled to define the different properties of verbal and visual descriptive systems. Seeking ways of distinguishing these systems, some have attempted to disentangle texts from pictures while others have admitted that the two are inextricable. But for many recent critics, this dualistic method of creating categories and granting greater or lesser value to one or the other is itself historically specific, linked to the classificatory modes of modernist ideology. In much postmodern theory about representation, the earlier polarized thinking about words and images has been replaced by a more relativistic approach--one that has resulted in radically decentered and antiformalistic reconsiderations of, among other things, the meaning of realism, authorship and identity. Thus, despite the extensive literature on representation in recent critical theory, the issue is rarely stated--as it is in W.J.T. Mitchell's Picture Theory--in terms of the old word-image dualism. But Mitchell makes a strong case for the argument that this dichotomy is worth revisiting.

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