Thursday, 19 April 2007

Conference: The Language of Images

It's been a few weeks since I was in Connecticut at the Language of Images conference: so now seems as good a time as any to post reflections. The most important idea I took from the conference is that I need to clarify that my area of interest is around written texts incorporating images in a literal sense – I'm discussing novels with actual images rather than descriptive prose. I was surprised to find that many discussions around "images in fiction" were about written descriptions of images (think Picture of Dorian Gray). Ekphrasis: a rhetorical device by which one art form describes another art form. I was also surprised by how many speakers did not show examples from the illustrated books they discussed. One paper compared W.G. Sebald's The Emigrants with Penelope Lively's The Photograph but without any images of the books it was unclear until half way through question time that The Emigrants has reproductions of photographs printed in the text but The Photograph does not - it has a written description of a photograph. Often 'photographs' were discussed, but not necessarily a specific photograph or in terms of the relationship to the surrounding text.

Feedback from my paper: I presented a way to discuss the typo/graphic elements in Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by using literary terms. The response was an interest in how a designer would react to these elements, how I would use design rhetoric to describe them. An interesting exercise might be to review the same book from the perspective of a design critic and the perspective of a literary critic. Sebald's work will lend itself well to this exercise, as my first reaction to seeing his book was 'these photos are awful'; I was considering their aesthetic quality as individual images rather than their contribution to a narrative whole. Also need to look at the distinction between inter and intra text, semiotic analysis (sigh) uses these terms in quite specific ways.

Keynote: Karen Jacobs, 'The Archeology of the Image'
Postmodern archival text: post 1950s written text including public/private documents/ephemera. W.G. Sebald. Also Eco's Mysterious Flame?
Foucault discusses using archival documents as descriptive rather than interpretive.
You plot a map, but also a narrative.
"The paranoid reader": the more you look the more you think everything is connected.
Panel E: Literary Illustrations
Kirsty Bell: Claims illustration always follows text, as an illustration is an artist's interpretation of text (or idea?)
David Spector
: Talked about "pre-illustration", when an illustration inspires text, he convincingly argued an illustration from Thomas Bewick's A History of British Birds inspired the description of Thornfield mansion in Jane Eyre.
Panel C: Text and Image in Fiction I
Maha Meraay: discusses Sebald's work as a mosaic, comprehension of word and image is not through one to one relationships but by the bigger picture, the image is a function of the whole.
Pascale Tollance: describes the writer as a maker of images, but with words.

Keynote: Liliane Louvel
Captioning is reductive, captioning an image reduces the potential readings. Reading is active while viewing is passive (?). Notion of a 'pictoral third': in between text and image is a dynamic moment, synesthesia, when an image appears in a reader's head (their "inner screen") the pictoral 3rd hovers between image and text - a written description of an image hangs as a floating 3rd image, because the image in a reader's head will never be the same as the image in a writer's head.

Sean McGlade: Giving voice to memory is like giving voice to an image, perhaps why memoirs include photographs. These photographs are often more inspiration than illustration (for the writer or reader?) A photograph can show what is significant more than what is true? Once an ekphrastic analysis is complete, it becomes an artwork in itself.
Isabell Gadoin: Sebald works in genres that usually have images - memoir, travel narrative. Text and image compete but do not repeat.

If the "word is made flesh" through typography, what is the image made?
What does "graphic" mean in a literary sense? Look at Hillis Miller


Yokster said...

Hey Zoe,
Wow, a conference in Conneticut! That sounds great, and seems that you've had some good thought provoking experiences!

So, now I have a bit more time, I thought I should frequent people's blogs and attempt to do my kinda agitations...

I had to read a few posts back to get a sense of where you're at with your research... at first I'm very impressed with your exposure of your research/knowledge through different mediums. My critique of research, esp in academia, is that it tends to stay within the confines of conferences and journals. So the fact that you're on radio and mainstream mags is really great. Good on you!

I competely empathise with your dillema about the 'headache' of defining your research question. Its always been the conundrum for me too, and its important to have a good supervisor who can guide you in 'shaping' your research questions as you go along. Just forget defining it till the last minute (which had happened with mine!). I don't think the quality of the PhD is determined by 'how good your research question is'. Balls. In fact, I think most PhD says something that is simple, or rather obvious. Again, its the criticality of how you did the research that counts.

Okay here comes the agitation bit. I think you've made a good observation from your recent post on how you have considered integration of images literally. I also think you're asking good questions on the meaning of 'images'. We graphic designers have a different literacy where we consider a multiple of things to be an 'image'. I think to make note of this is really important because it is the language of your practice.

If the phenomenon of integrating graphic elements in novels is new, does this mean that the roles are blurring between designing/writing or designer/writer? Then say we embrace the blurring (because that's always more fun), what kind of hybrid practice/outcomes results from this? Is this the practice you would like to do?

One of the concerns (and this can be completely unfounded) is for your research to simply remain an 'analysis' of all the rich examples you have around you... (and I'm completely biased as well in saying this - because an analysis of other people's work is equally valid as doctorate research). But to me, as a practice-led research, I think you have to do a project (of a blurred writer/designer kinda thing) and understand what it is and what it means through the experience of doing...

I'm only saying this because that's where I've learnt the most from my PhD, and that's where I am confident of where the knowledge comes from, from having made the implicit, explicit. From transitioning from theory to practice, and then generating theory again.

I'm happy to talk more!

Zoe said...

Hey Yoko,
Great to hear from you! As usual, your comments are absolutely spot on. The main criticism/concern that was raised during my doctoral assessment was that my research risks being a taxonomic project rather than a theory or knowledge generating venture. I am actually getting myself into the 'practice' part of the research at the moment. I have a course that I'm teaching through the Centre for New Writing at UTS coming up in a couple of months -- it's a six hour course where I will be workshopping different ways to write "up to and out of" photographs and ephemera. I'm going to spend the next couple of weeks playing with an existing piece of writing -- using some of the visual 'strategies' I've identified by analysing a series of novels with integrated graphic elements. I'm not sure exactly how this is going to work, I'm just going to start playing and reflecting and hope it leads me somewhere interesting! Are you still at your RMIT address? Love to hear what you're up to...

Yokster said...

Hi Zoe,
The project sounds really interesting, and it doesn't matter what outcomes you get, it will all make sense in the end. That's the thing about research which is quite different to designing in a client-based sense - there's no way you can tell the client 'er... I don't know what I'm doing this for but I'm sure it will turn out okay!'. Doing research, I felt like I needed to de-program myself out of that mindset...

Hey, did Neal tell you about the Design Island conference? It's next weekend in Hobart and most of us from here are all going. Its like our GRC but probably more informal since there will other people there too, and the idea is to talk about research, design etc. I can tell you more if you're interested...?

So, at the moment I'm getting my presentation ready for that conference, which is a gentle way to ease back into my PhD brain again (I thought I lost it somewhere on the tube between Tooting Broadway and Liverpool Street!) Hopefully, the presentation and feedback I receive will be the crux of the presentation for my examination in June. Eeek!

Alongside that, I'm trying to re-read my exegesis as if it was someone else's and try and critique it. Basically, I'm trying to see what questions the examiners might have of it... and I'm still stuck on chapter 1! Loads of stuff to still think about...


Zoe said...

I did hear about the Design Island conference, it sounds fantastic but unfortunately I'm tied in teaching and penniless after my trip to the States (even with a stronger Australian dollar it stings!) I look forward to the feedback from it.

I'm enjoying starting to 'do' a little more with my research and 'think' a little less (not that the two are ever mutually exclusive, and in many ways I 'think' better when I'm testing the thinking by 'doing'). I've found the distinction between being a designer and being a researcher a really difficult one to grapple with. The two roles are at cross purposes in that the design profession is working primarily for a design outcome and design research (in my case) is searching for an articulation of process and motivation. Maybe worth a post...

tango from the margin said...

Hello, Zoe
I would be very interested in the paper about Penelope Lively's The Photograph, the paper you mentioned in your post. Can I can find it on a website or sth ? I am interested in any paper on Penelope Lively in fact...
Thank you

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