Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Artif[r]acture: Virulent Pictures, Graphic Narrative and the Ideology of the Visual

Academic journal article Mosaic (Winnipeg)

Artif[r]acture: Virulent Pictures, Graphic Narrative and the Ideology of the Visual

Article excerpt

In a heretofore alphabet-dominated textual arena, words are giving way to pictures: from America Online[C] and USA Today[TM] to the Internet and The NBC Nightly News[R]. territories once dominated by printed and spoken words are becoming more and more the home of diverse, seductive and, at times, dictatorial images. In the last decade, Microsoft Corporation's development of a graphic-user "Windows" environment, an operating system which derives in large part from one popularized by the Apple Macintosh, has accelerated this evolution. Indeed, the exponential growth of the Internet (in particular, its graphic-friendly segment known as the World Wide Web with software like Mosaic[R] and Netscape[TM] signals a small strategic victory in the war between word and image.

"War," however, may invoke the wrong metaphorical matrix. Perhaps it is more apt to think of this process as the "contamination" of word by image. In this scenario, picture an innocent, isolated, pristine alphabet infected with virulent visual elements born from, borne by infectious, digitized image-laden bodies. Slipping from the terminology of war to that of disease, we more clearly align ourselves within a pathogen sensitive, post-Darwinian logic cognizant of a growing symmetry between realms/bodies technological and biological. The etymological entanglements to be found in an examination of the term "computer virus" have much to say about the increasing fit of "big" with "techno." What I cast as the war of word and image, then, may also be seen as a regional skirmish in a broader campaign between digital and somatic organisms.

So it is only for rhetorical reasons that I want to sustain a binary tension between word and image, for I read it as a foregone conclusion that the days of the illuminated manuscript have returned--medievalists take note! Yet the current cyber-injected offspring of the Gutenberg Bible and Egyptian hieroglyph available on numerous Internet off-ramps are more cagey, more sophisticated. Diverse images move and metamorphose, eliciting and soliciting our desire, leaving words to scurry behind, filling in the gaps and needs of our word-addicted Reason. One might argue at this juncture that Philosophy is nothing more and nothing less than the collective attempt to regulate the Babel-like chaos of word-dominated discourse. As we move from words to picture, however, Philosophy as we know it does not provide us with the critical tools necessary for our encounter with the oscillating dynamics of Image. Hermeneutic troubles clearly loom ahead.

Allow me to elaborate: without doubt, pictures and words access and develop distinct neural sites within our psyche. One noted critical interrogator who has struggled down this path is Michel Foucault. In his landmark study of European madhouses--this, too, is not without some importance--he has this to say about word and image:

Between word and image, between what is depicted by language and what is

uttered by plastic form, the unity begins to dissolve; a single and identical

meaning is not immediately common to them. And if it is true that the image

still has the function of speaking, of transmitting something

consubstantial with

language, we must recognize that it already no longer says the same thing; and

that by its own plastic values painting (animation) engages in an experiment

that will take it farther and farther from language, whatever the superficial

identity of the theme.


Foucault sketches here a portrait of language and image at odds in a context where they are conceptually, if not literally, contiguous, and wherein their proximity to each other, their relationship (if one can speak of such a thing) is ever evolving. I believe it safe to venture the following view: not content to limit its hegemony to cinema and television, images encroach increasingly upon previously printed-word dominated media to the point where one recognizes a manifest shift in the textual order of things, to allude to Foucault once again. …

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