Friday, January 21, 2011

Diagrams and Figures as Images

Lately, I have been interested in thinking about how we use diagrams to portray information or concepts. Although it would not be my first choice of object for analysis, Charles Kostelnick's "Melting Pot Ideology--Statistical Atlases of the US" and Andrea Lange's  "Envisioning Domesticity, Locating Identity: Constructing Victorian Middle Class through Images of Home" are the kind of things I'm thinking about. First off, both of these essays illustrate Burke's epigraph to this class: "a way of seeing is a way of not seeing." One way we can understand this statement is in terms of the ideology that any presentation of information (visual, verbal, or both) hides its ideology.

However, the thing that I am interested in right now is the way that the visual and verbal interact to portray information, particularly on the conceptual level. Images are used for many different purposes but when writing a paper or giving a presentation they are usually used as illustration. Claiming that it 'illustrates' the point, as if it were an objective reality also hides the pictures ideology. But, that is not primarily what I want to think about here. I want to ask after how representing concepts in different ways, just as we would claim that using different words does, allows us to think about things in a different manner. For instance, in my class last semester we used (ad nauseum) Greimascian rectangles to image (i don't want to say represent) or 'imagine' science fiction texts in different ways. We talked a lot about how the text cannot be reduced to the image, but that the GR gave us something more to work with and indeed it allowed us to think of things in a different way--the thought process was no longer 'linear' but spatial. Lacan also is famous for using strange visual elements to get across a point.

As we began to use these Greimascian rectangles liberally and after the class ended, I started to think about the rhetorical purpose of their use. What I came up with is that these diagrams, much like literature's engagement with linguistics, allows the analysis the illusion of 'objectivity'. This is the same kind of rhetoric used by Hegel and Marx--History as a Science--dialectical materialism--oooh, so science-y! so complex!

You see that I'm poking a little fun at this. . .I apologize for it. On one hand, I see the use of Greimas as a powerful tool (and this is also how Phil described it), but on the other, the use of these things seemed to a claim on the rigor of literary analysis.

 The second example of visual conceptual diagrams (i just now defined what I was talking about) comes from Roberto Bolano's 2666 (though he also engages in this in another novel, The Savage Detectives). The context of the story is this: A philosophy professor, named Amalfitano, one day begins to doodle geometric shapes with philosopher's names on them. Here is one of the images:

From Blographia Literaria

 Keeping in mind that the professor is just mindlessly doodling, we could just understand these as meaningless, as jokes, but what I couldn't help wondering is how doing something like this might change forever the way we think about these certain philosophers and the possibility of this intertextuality. The blog where I got this image from argues that Bolano is interested in making us search for these authors and their relationships:
"All books, all literature exists in Bolaño because any book, even ones which may or probably do not have a physical existence, can be searched for, and the act of searching creates something which is equivalent to the weight of existence. The ability to search for anything on the internet means that everything is in the internet, even if it only exists in your search string; the page showing no results is still a form of existence of what you were looking for. What you are searching for is created the instant you search for it" (From Blographia).

Thus, it is possible that just playing around with visual relations between texts and figures that we may be spurred onto interesting connections and searches for meaning. I guess what I am trying to get in this post is how the visual allows us to re-think things conceptually--a giant topic that I think I'd like to explore more.

No comments:

Post a Comment