Mitchell, W.J. Thomas 1986. Iconology: Image, Text, Ideology. Chicago; London: The University of Chicago Press.

It is one thing ... to apprehend directly an image as image, and another thing ho shape ideas regarding the nature of images in general.
Jean-Paul Sartre, Imagination (1962)
Any attempt to grasp "the idea of imagery" is fated to wrestle with the problem of recursive thinking, for the very idea of an "idea" si bound up with the notion of imagery. "Idea" comes from the Greek verb "to see," and is frequently linked with the notion of the "eidolon," the "visible image" that is fundamental to ancient optics and theories of perception. A sensible way to avoid the temptation of thinking about images in terms of images would be to replace the word "idea" in discussion of imagery wit hsome other term like "concept" or "notion," or to stipulate at the outset that the term "idea" is to be understood as something quite different from imagery or pictures. This is the strategy of the Platonic tradition, which distinguishes the eidos from the eidolon by conceiving of the former as a "surpasensible reality of "forms, types, or species," the latter as a sensible impression that provides a mere "likeness" (eikon) or "semblance" (phantasma) of the eidos. (Mitchell 1986: 5)
Damn, this is good.
1. I should perhaps consult Sartre's Imagination if and when I take up the topic of somatoception (e.g. imaginations of bodily forms).
2. The etymology of "idea" is good to know. Also, in this light Platon's cave story makes more sense in terms of images - the shadows in this case would be the "ideas".
3. "suprasensible reality" is an awesome notion, because it is exactly what "supraindividual realities" like the semiosphere are - beyond the sensible.
For modern criticism, language and imagery have become enigmas, problems to be explained, prison-houses which lock the understanding away from the world. The commonplace of modern studies of images, in fact, is that they must be understood as a kind of language; instead of providing a transparent window on the world, images are now regarded as the sort of sign that presents a deceptive appearance of naturalness and transparence concealing an opaque, distorting, arbitrary mechanism of representation, a process of ideological mystification. (Mitchell 1986: 8)
This sounds to me like "the crisis of representation" discourse, but then again I have tried my best to avoid common ("trampled in mud") problems of both language and imagery, because both are something different from my own object of interest - the body. Both language and image are outcomes or results of bodily activity that can refer back to bodily activity but there is a distance - that of objectification or externalization - which removes it from the immediate interest of nonverbalists. That is to say, both language and imagery "present a deceptive appearance of naturalness".
Images are not just a particular kind of sign, but something like an actor on the historical stage, a presence or character endowed with legendary status, a history that parallels and participates in the storues we tell ourselves about our own evolution from creatures "made in the image" of a creator, to creatures who make themselves and their world in their own image. (Mitchell 1986: 9)
Wikipedia says that Mitchell "draws on ideas from Sigmund Freud and Karl Marx to demonstrate that, essentially, we must consider pictures to be living things." My question is: does this amount to "image organicism" alongside word, text, language, culture, etc. organicisms? Thinking of "image" as "something like an actor" would imbue it with the normal capacities an "actor" (in the sociological, not dramaturgical sense) should have. The main one is that of volition or free will and this is where things get weird, because images are then - like memes in some discourses - viewed like "parasites" that use humans (especially our semiotic capacity) as a means to proliferate.
If images are a family, however, it may be possible to construct some sense of their genealogy. If we begin by looking, not for some universal definition of the term, but at those places where images have differentiated themselves from one another on the basis of boundaries between different institutional discourses, we come up with a family tree something like the following:
  • Image - likeness, resemblance, similitude
    • Graphic - pictures, statues, designs
    • Optical - mirrors, projections
    • Perceptual - sense data, "species", appearances
    • Mental - dreams, memories, ideas, fantasmata
    • Verbal - metaphors, descriptions
Each branch of this family tree designates a type of imagery that is central to the discourse of some intellectual discipline: mental imagery belongs to psychology and epistemology; optical imagery to physics; graphic, sculptural, and architectural imagery to the art historian; verbal imagery to the literary critic, perceptual images occupy a kind of border region where physiologists, neurologists, psychologists, art historians, and students of optics find themselves colaborating with philosophers and literary critics. (Mitchell 1986: 9-10)
Very useful. The latter bit called to mind Austin's Sense and Sensibilia (because of the notion of "sense data"). And "verbal imagery" as the playground of the literary critic makes a good lot of sense. Especially because "body language in literature" seems to follow this exact distinction between descriptions (what I call concourse) and metaphors, or, to be more exact, "metaforms" in Danesi's sense (e.g. "grasping an idea").
And this power is called "likeness," "image," and "species" and is designated by many other names. ... This species produces every action in the world, for it acts on sense, on the intellect, and on all matter of the world for the generation of things.
It should be clear from Bacon's account that the image is not simply a particular kind of sign but a fundamental principle of what Michel Foucault would call "the order of things." The image is the general notion, ramified in various specific similitudes (conventia, aemulatio, analogy, sympathy) that holds the world together with "figures of knowledge." (Mitchell 1986: 11)
This is also how this discourse is related to concourse: whenevery I read a description of bodily behaviour in literature and let it "sink in" so to say, what happens is that the world call forth an "image" (in my mind) of the described bodily behaviour. In this sense imagery is the "semantic domain" of concursive passages (descriptions).
Discussions of poetic imagery generally rely on a theory of the mental image improvised out of the shreds of seventeenth-century notions of the mind; discussions of mental imagery depend in turn upon rather limited acquaintance with graptic imagery, often proceeding on the questionable assumption that there are certain kinds of images (photographs, mirror images) that provide a direct, unmediated copy of what they represent... (Mitchell 1986: 12)
It sounds like Mitchell has "figured me out" long before I even existed.
1."Poetic imagery" is indeed a large part of the study of body language in literature - namely, it was preceded by "gesture in poetry" discourse.
2. My previous approximation that descriptions "call forth an "image" (in my mind)" may very well be what Mitchell criticizes as a composition of "seventeenth-century notions of the mind". My only defence here is that I rely on Mead, who in turn relied on Wundt. And...
3. The bit about "a direct, unmediated copy" sounds like a critique against my broad statement that "verbal concourse is recoded, visual concourse is recorded". That is, verbal descriptions of bodily behaviour are mediated by language and "recoded" to suit the text - there is "mental processing" done by the human mediator; with photographs of human bodies, the behaviour is merely "recorded" - "captured in pixels", so to say. Of course recording is also mediated and there are various permutations that can occur - from resolution to lighting to whatever, but the behaviour itself does not seem to change, whereas languaging may make the behaviour ambiguous or even unintelligible, make it connote something or other, etc. There is also the question of function, e.g. verbal concourse is necessarily within a text, but what are pictures used for? (my ignorance of visual theory comes into play). More on this in the footnote:
I will have more to say about the fallacy of the "copy theory" of mental imagery in what follows. For the present, it might be helpful to note that both critics and proponents of mental imagery have fallen into this fallacy whin it serves the purposes of their arguments. Proponents of mental imagery see the copy theory as a guarantee of the cognitive efficacy of mental images; true ideas are regarded as faithful copies that "reflect" the objects they represent. Opponents have used this doctrine as a straw man for debunking mental images, or for claiming that mental images must be quite unlike "real images" which (so the argument goes) "resemble" what they represent. For a good introduction to the debate between modern iconophiles and iconophobes in psychology, see Imagery, ed. Ned Block (Cambrudge: MIT Press, 1981). The best critique of the copy theory is provided by Nelson Goodman in Languages of Art (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1976), discussed below in chapter 2. (Mitchell 1986: 12)
Due to my lack of knowledge in this regard I don't have anything significant to add. I cannot dismiss "mental imagery" just yet, because what else would I then call the visual "thoughts" every one of us has? (and which is purportedly tied neurologically with our visual center in the brain - are we to dismiss "seeing" altogether because of some abstruse philosophical quarrel?).
The mental and verbal images on the right side of our diagram, for instance, would seem to be images only in some doubtful, metaphoric sense. People may report experiencing images in their heads while reading or dreaming, but we have only their word for this; there is no way (so the argument goes) to check up on this objectively. And even if we trust the reports of mental imagery, it seems clear that they must be different from real, material pictures. Mental images don't seem to be stable and permanent the way real images are, and they vary from one person to the next: if I say "green" some listeners may see green in their mind's eye, but some may see a word, or nothing at all. And mental images don't seem to be exclusively visual the way real pictures are; they involve all the senses. Verbal imagery, moreover, can involve all the senses, or it may involve no sensory component at all, sometimes suggesting nothing more than a recurrent abstract idea like justice or grace or evil. It is no wonder that literary scholars get very nervous when people start taking the notion of verbal imagery too literally. And it is hardly surprising that one of the main thrusts of modern psychology and philosophy has been to discredit the notion of both mental and verbal imagery. (Mitchell 1986: 13)
My first thought was: so, let's turn back to physicalism/behaviorism and deny consciousness altogether? Yes: (1) the content of mental processes cannot be verified objectively; (2) they vary from person to person because we are not machines with a carbon-copy programming; and (3) our minds operate with every modality, not just the visual or verbal. Should we still dismiss mental imagery? In a footnote Mitchell adds: "Mental imagery has, however, been making a comeback." and then links this with psychology's dissipation with behaviorism. I wouldn't be surprised if there was a whole branch of ToM (theory of mind) that deals with mental imagery. Haha, wikipedia definition of "mental representation" is "hypothetical internal cognitive symbol that represents external reality" (personal pun). Ooh, the visual episodes when falling asleep are called hypnagogic imagery. Okay, so it's a controversial isse, I'll leave it at that atm.
Imagination for Aristotle is the power of reproducing these impressions in the absence of sensory stimulation by the objects, and it is given the name of "phantasia" (derived from the word for light) because "sight is the most highly developed sense" and serves as the model for all the others. (Mitchell 1986: 14; footnote 13)
This is relevant for a completely unrelated discussion (offtopic). Zamyatin's We occurs in a glass city and the events occur around the elimination of fantasy in order to make people "like tractors". In this sense it is almost ironic that the etymology of "phantasy" comes from "light". There are sevelar interesting quotes concerning sunlight that should be considered, in this light (pun?).
...an image cannot be seen as such without a paradoxical trick of consciousness, an ability to see something as "there" and "not there" at the same time. When a duck responds to a decoy, or when the birds peck at the grapes in the legendary paintings of Zeuxis, they are not seeing images: they are seeing other ducks, or real grapes - the things themselves, and not images of the things. (Mitchell 1986: 17)
The case of "this is not a pipe" and also Lotman's formula of art: "I know that it is what it depicts, but I clearly see that it is not what it depicts". It then seems that Mitchell's issue with images is something like "why can't the pigeon go to the cinema?"
Ideas, images, "what the mind thinks" (or what it "thinks in") are no more "in" the mind than the words on this page are "on" it prior to being printed there. (Mitchell 1986: 18; footnote 16)
Wat? What the f*** do you think a mind is? Wiki warned that Mitchell draws on Freud so I'm suspicious that there is some kind of a rinky-dink conception of mind lurking here. Or it could be that I just don't understand this dialect of philosophese. This text is beginning to annoy me - if it weren't a seminar text I'd ragequit right now.
Wittgenstein may say that "we could perfectly well ... replace every process of imagining by a process of looking at an object or any painting, drawing, or modelling; and every process of speaking to oneself by speaking aloud or by writing," but this "replacement" could (nd does) move in the other direction as well. We could just as easily replace what we call "the physical manipulation of signs" (painting, writing, speaking) with locutions such as "thinking on paper, out loud, in images, etc." (Mitchell 1986: 19)
This seemingly touches autocommunication. I have the habit of "thinking in writing" - this blog is a testament of that.
In contrast to mental imagery, verbal images seem immune to the charge of being unknowable metaphysical entities locked away in a private, subjective space. Texts and speech-acts are, after all, not simply affairs of "consciousness," but are public expressions that belong right out there with all the other kinds of material representations we create - pictures, statues, graphs, maps, etc. We don't have to say that a descriptive paragraph is exactly like a picture to see that they do have similar functions as public symbols that project states of affairs about which we can reach rough, provisional agreements. (Mitchell 1986: 20)
I'd like to agree, but I'm not exactly sure what "projecing states of affairs" and "rough provisional agreements" are about.
Literal language is generally understood (by literary critics) as straight, unadorned, unpicturesque expression, free of verbal images and figures of speech. Figurative language, on the other hand, is what we ordinarily mean when we talk about verbal imagery. The phrase, "verbal imagery," in other words, seems to be a metaphor for metaphor itself! Small wonder that many literary critics have suggested retiring the term from critical usage. (Mitchell 1986: 21)
This may also be why this is the first occasion when I meet the notion of "verbal imagery".
Derrida's answer to the question, "What is an image?" would undoubtedly be: "Nothing but another kind of writing, a kind ag graphic sign that dissembles itself as a direct transcript of that which it represents, or of the way things look, or of what they essentially are." This sort of suspicion of the image seems only appropriate in a time when the very view from one's window, much less the scenes played out in everyday life and in various media of representation, seem to require constant interpretive vigilance. Everything - nature, politics, sex, other people - comes to us now as an image, preinscribed with a speciousness that is nothing but the Aristotelian "species" under a cloud of suspicion. (Mitchell 1986: 30)
It's starting to look as if this might be the type of text that "beats readers into submission". Is that an actual quote by Derrida or is Mitchell using him as a mouthpiece? I have no idea what is meant by "interpretive vigilance" and "preinscription of speciousness". These notions may have very specific meanings that I'm not aware of, maybe they were just constructed on the spot in the spirit of Derrida - I have no idea and I quit.


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