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Beautiful Theology

Signifying truth in more than words alone

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Visual Explanations part three

If the preceding chapters dealt with the grammatical rhetoric of visual communication, this chapter concerns composition and imagination. From the epigraph and its accompanying diagram at the bottom of p. 121, I’m enchanted by this chapter. It amplifies the non-functionalist aspect of Tufte’s information-aesthetic; he espouses no ascetical Bauhaus modernism, but delights in the effulgent semiotic abundance of these intricate confections of text, image, and the resonances and echoes and allusions that weave among them.

(Regarding the illustration on p. 124 — I hesitate to challenge the majestic authority of Sir Kenneth Clark, but isn’t the sun in the illustration rising in the East? Must it not be so, especially with the high-church associations of Pugin’s Gothic Revival?)

My fascination with Tufte’s category of confections corresponds to my advocacy of allegorical — or more specifically, “figurative” — biblical interpretation. Just as Tufte’s attention to visual grammar brings rigor and intelligible criteria to fantastic concoctions of images, so attention to the grammar of theological interpretation provides an infrastructure of criteria to lend stability and coherence to figurative reading (especially when these are pursued with attention to the non-verbal dimensions of interpretive practice). The practice of figurative thinking and expression doesn’t entail a retrograde submission to a leaden past, as Mark Tansey’s postmodern confections demonstrate; indeed, it is the modern “absence of reference” that casts figurative modes as a tangle of dangerous chaos.

[More later]

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