Reading pictures: the impossible dream?
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ABSTRACT. In this paper I chart the seismic shift that has occurred over the past three decades in attitudes towards the interpretation of visual images. My strategy implies the argument that the reading of visual images would appear to be an inevitability given the accelerating change of attitudes towards pictures as containers of determinate knowledge. French critical theorists (Foucault, Barthes, Derrida et. al.) dominated debate on interpretation of text and image in the 1980s, where my survey begins. Michel Foucault dismissed the image (in Madness and Civilization 1959/1988) as a fascinating site for the madness of dreams but one standing outside of reasoned interpretation because of an inherent excess of meaning and deeply hidden attributes and allusions. Generally, however, when images were discussed using identifiable interpretive strategies in the 1980s the framework was a variant of semiotic analysis (Marin, Eco and Barthes - who famously, diverges from this mode in Camera Lucida). I use W. J. T. Mitchell's Iconology: Image, Text, Ideology 1986 as a focal text from the 1980s and follow this with two of his publications on images, one from 1995 and another from 2005 to demonstrate the dramatic shift in the approach to pictures across almost three decades. Around these focal texts by Mitchell I reference other texts and trends that culminate in the more recent proliferation of texts related to visual studies and the re-emergence of aesthetics. Keywords: image analysis and interpretation, pictures and theory, visual studies, pictorial turn
Analysis and Metaphysics
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