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Beautiful Theology

Signifying truth in more than words alone

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Words and Images 10

Les mots qui servent à désigner deux objets différents ne montrent pas ce qui peut séparer ces objets l’un de l’autre.

Words that are used to designate two different objects don’t indicate what may separate those objects from one another. (In case you’re curious, the written units on the blob read “person character losing their memory” and “woman’s body.”)

In other words, the words in question don’t bear an intrinsic connection to the things they represent. If you know the word “wombat” refers to an Australian marsupial, you don’t necessarily know anything about what the word “brickbat” refers to.

This makes one of the small, possibly obvious points that cumulatively erodes the kind of presumed difference between words and images that undergirds the mystified approach to language that impedes clear thinking about meaning-making.



Blogger Pascale Soleil said...

At the risk of becoming annoying with my differing translation...

"Personnage perdant la memoire" is more closely translated "character losing (his/her) memory" — where "character" is like a fictional character in a play or a book.

It's interesting that indefinite (un/une) or definite articles (la/le) are omitted from both examples, which is not typical French usage. This has a way of universalizing or rendering extra abstract the given examples (beyond a normal reading).

I'm also curious why you chose the word "distinguish" rather than the more direct "separate." Given the illustration, which seems to show the two items actually connected in some amorphous way, the more literal term provides a greater cognitive contrast. "Words that are used to designate two different objects don't indicate what may separate those objects from one another."

It seems to me that Magritte is pointing to the oddity that you can refer to very disparate things by using words, and that because they are labeled with words they have an odd kind of linguistic connection, they belong to the shared language-field. I am almost tempted to see the "blob" as a speech-balloon.

Your example in English may have different implications because both words contain "bat," whereas in Magritte's example there's no verbal overlap at all in the label; they're even differing grammatical constructs. (One item is a fictional losing an intangible, the other a very concrete but depersonalized biological. I gotta wonder about the psychology of these particular choices!)

Last nit: you have a typo in your caption ("cews").

February 14, 2007 10:56 PM  
Blogger AKMA said...

No, no — corrections are part of the point of doing this in public! And just think — you’re helping prevent my committing this folly in print sometime hereafter. My French is trop rouillé after years of only sporadic use.

I’ll change “person” to “character” right away; you’re right, no question.

Why “distinguish”? I suspect that one part of my judgment wanted not simply to resort to a cognate — but your point about the illustration counts against my alternative. “Separate” permits both senses (spatial and characteristic) nicely. I’ll adopt your proposed translation as a friendly revision.

You bring out an aspect of the illustration that I hadn’t considered before, the “linguistic connection” that engenders an apparent occult association. Maybe I’m bootlegging my own semiotics into this frame, or maybe the context of the other units inclines me still to adhere to my interpretation; but your proposal seems sound to me, too.

And thanks for the corrections, both in translation and proofreading!

February 15, 2007 7:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the loss of memoire can also be relevant to the "language field," as Pascal puts it, in that the loss of memory can be precisely where language vanishes, and with it the distinctions between objects that it represents when it is not lost. That words do not distinguish how objects are separated, if this is due to the fact they are words, suggests that the field of language which presents us with distinctions is itself a blanket of amnesia, obliterating the very separations it wishes us to remember.

This is compounded by the use of "personnage": If this is a fictional construct, then what sort of "memoire" did it have to begin with, and what is the difference if (s)he loses it?

Clearly nothing should be less difficult to distinguish than the erasure of a nonexistent memory from a fiction on the "one hand," and the body of a woman on "the other."

February 16, 2007 11:59 AM  

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