Beautiful Theology: 2/11/07 - 2/18/07 .comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

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.

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.