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Beautiful Theology

Signifying truth in more than words alone

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Words and Images 11

Dans un tableau, les mots sont de la même substance que les images.

In a picture, the words are made of the same substance as the images.

This image helps me immensely, especially in my review of the apparent spectrum from “purely glyphic” communication to “purely representational” communication. The ways that people typically treat words tends to minimize (if not ignore) the extent to which written language constitutes a special case of the more general phenomenon of visual communication. It’s as though the formlessness of spoken language were persisted in written language, and the tonelessness of written language were transposed to spoken language, toward the theoretical telos of a “pure language” in which meaning might be communicated without distracting “other” features. But (as this unit begins to suggest to me) there’s no communication without the “other” features; the decision about what counts as “pure” and what counts as an “other feature” (be it regional accent, timbre, typeface, type style, vocal pitch, the speed of pronunciation) depends not on intrinsic features of pure language, but on contextual contingencies.

At such points, my interpretation of Magritte seeps over into my recollection of Saussure — which provokes me to wonder how extensively Magritte interacted with Saussure’s work (Magritte was only fifteen years old at the time of Saussure’s death). Googling for pages that contain both “Magritte” and “Saussure” brought these pages to my attention — undoubtedly there’s more to follow up in this trajectory, if I had but the leisure to pursue the question.


Blogger Pascale Soleil said...

Ooo, intriguing!

I'll probably have more to say on this generally, but did you notice that phrase "sont de la même substance que"? It's an echo of the Nicene Creed: "étant d'une substance avec le Père"!!

So, another possible translation: "In a picture, words are of the same being as images." I think this could have a big impact on how you interpret this presentation.

Also, have you figured out what the rebus-word is in this picture?

(P.S. another typo in the caption: "lees")

February 15, 2007 11:36 AM  
Blogger Pascale Soleil said...

I suspect is says "abhomination"... but I'm not sure how the block/brick/box/sqare works.

February 15, 2007 11:43 AM  
Blogger Tom Matrullo said...

The image with its syllables/phonemes is annoying, no? I've tried plugging in words for face, mouth, nose, head, etc., with no luck making it "resolve" into some rebus-meaning.

Yet it is very suggestive - the "face" can be figure in French - suggesting the surface, exterior of a trope, while the box or container suggests interiority. The face is radically open, sans mouth or ear, the box is closed, offering no clue what it might contain, if anything.

'Ab' and 'no' offer numerous possible meanings, many of which point to absence, negation, awayness, fromness.

What I'm left with is a host of notions but none that put all the elements into a single intelligible word/meaning.

Perhaps M. is evincing the mutual interference of these parts of the "spectrum"?

February 20, 2007 7:28 AM  
Blogger AKMA said...

(Fixed the typo, Pascale — thanks!)

I'm pretty unimaginative; I just construed the letters as the beginning and middle of the alphabet.

A, B, a face, N, O, an oblong solid. . . .

I agree that the choice of a face and an apparent three-dimensional solid matter a great deal. The face involves questions of “recognition,” the kind of physiognomic knowledge that matters so much in research into brain functioning and differences in kinds of knowing. The box reintroduces the contrast between the flat picture and the occluded interpretive work by which we render it as solid (as in the frame a few pictures ago, where the image implies the existence of objects behind what the picture depicts.

February 24, 2007 10:11 AM  
Blogger AKMA said...

We talked about this frame in class today, and followed up the “allusion to the Nicene Creed” angle. With only a shade of information, not a rich base of data, we found that the Creed in French seemed to take two forms: one with the form d'une même substance, the other with de même nature, along with the étant dune substance example you cite.

March 29, 2007 3:17 PM  

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