November 4, 2012


Admittedly, I found some of the theory this week to be a bit dense and difficult to work through. Nonetheless, I still found the Metapictures piece interesting to reflect upon, particularly the pictures it focused on, such as Saul Steinberg's The Spiral. I'm intrigued by the idea that an image can be a sort of second-order commentary upon itself without recourse to language or any other non-pictoral discourse. The Spiral certainly does seem to meet this description. Very shortly after seeing it for the first time I felt as if this work was trying to say something about it's own nature, though I wasn't entirely certain as to what. The analysis offered within the text interpreted it as a sort of two-way timeline in which the countryside on the exterior or the man in the interior is the genesis of the scene. This was roughly tantamount to my own reading, though I found myself asking what the piece would be saying (or we would interpret it as saying) about itself according to either interpretation, though I couldn't come to any one conclusion even on the basis of two perspectives. Unlike the "dialectical images," the spiral is perhaps unique in the sense that it can be read as a unity whereas the other images must be read in a necessarily conflicting fashion.

1 comment:

tgraban said...

Richard, I see and understand your dilemma. Steinberg's illustration may well lack the number of interpretations (or even interpretive exigencies) that the other dialectal images have, at least when viewed through Mitchell's analytic lens.

However, can we really say that the second-order commentary occurs without recourse to language or other discourse? Is that possible, given our role as viewers who assign meaning to the symbols in the illustration? (I'm still thinking that through ....) It seems we cannot comfortably say that (for Mitchell) the commentary is fully contained in the illustration, right?

So, you inspired me to run a kind of test on Steinberg's illustration--I call it the "Las Meninas" test, although I'm pretty sure that Mitchell does not hold up "Las Meninas" as a concrete standard or type. For him, it was more of a case than anything else.

Here are some realizations we came to in class (through Mitchell's text) about "Las Meninas," and if any of them could also be true of Steinberg's "Spiral," then maybe it is possible to see what that image promotes commentary about:

--"Las Meninas" involves the viewer in its commentary, and obscures the roles of objects, subjects, viewers, and artist (Foucault calls it a "classical representation of a Classical representation")
--this representation reflects the ideology of Velazquez (the "real" artist) and also of a probable critical transition between Classical art forms and newer (Modern) art forms
--"Las Meninas" calls attention to the perspective of who is being drawn and who is drawing but also of how those roles are blended or changed
--"Las Meninas" calls attention to the ways in which its own genre (classical representation of Classical art) can be depicted--perhaps even disrupted, undermined, reinforced, etc.
--any attention we pay to any of these things requires first that we acknowledge a theoretical space between outside/inside perspectives, and second that we acknowledge our compulsion to fill that space
--"Las Meninas" inspires commentary on the changing of a tradition.

And if "The Spiral" fails the above test, then try running it by these--my favorite metaphors in Mitchell's chapter:

1) metapictures serve as whole theories of knowledge (i.e., metapictures contain or at least promote whole epistemologies); and
2) metapictures represent an "encyclopedic labyrinth of reflections" (on the relation between genre, medium, viewer, subject, etc.

That may not change things for you, but you inspired me to think more about the interpretive goals of metapictures.

-Dr. G

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