I'm currently taking a fourth year Cultural Studies course called: Text and Image. The title itself seems relatively basic, something rather 'too simple' for a fourth year class. It wasn't until I had Zsuzsa as a professor that I really felt like I was challenged (for once) in Cultural Studies. Year after year, the same texts seem to keep popping up, but in this course, think all the abstract concepts have grounded themselves a little more. 

There is potential instability with the introduction of text to an image. This largely refers to the malleability of the image, as it is - 'defenseless' often times in the pairing with a text. The content text provides causes this instability and it more or less haunts an image. There is so much word play and semantics involved - but these notions and discussions that come out of Magritte's paintings and Michel Foucault's work really forces one to look critically at the relationship between text and image. 

Accompanying surrealism is the delicate balance between unreal and impossible. Unreal referring to the distortion of reality and impossible, referring to the fact that it has a real referent but is reassembled into something impossible. (ex. Magritte's painting of the trees where they become the shape of the leaves itself, but cannot exist in its perfection and referential quality.) This meeting of language and image presents the possibility of the impossible on the surface of the painting. 

A famous painting by Magritte offers the same intellectual grounds for discovery: Ceci N'est Pas une Pipe. "Ceci" in French means "this", which can refer to many things but it is always positing relation. The resemblance of the pipe and the word "pipe" are very different. The former being a logical and analogous representation of a pipe, whereas the word is an arbitrary representation of a pipe. Foucault's second principle is the equivalence between the fact of resemblance and affirmation of a representative bond (signified and signifier). There are representative bonds by resemblance and representative bonds by referent.  They are different by nature. 

By resemblance indicates an affirmation of what it is/representation, and the bond is strong. It is because the image re-affirms itself and there is no gap in between the image and the actual subject (similar to how a passport photo re-affirms your identity, there is no gap). It is self-referential and can legitimize and authorize itself. This is the bond between an image and reality.

By referent on the other hand, it is about absence. The bond is weak because it is arbitrary. There is nothing inherent about a text as it is dependent on culture, language, etc. Text is composed of sign systems that Saussure describes as arbitrary in nature because of its contingent nature. There is distance between these sign systems and the actual referent.

The playfulness of "Ceci N'est Pas une Pipe" comes from the relationship between the image and the text. The image says: I am IT. It is an affirmation of its presence because the image resembles it. Without resemblance, the image would be meaningless. In this case, the image is NOT defenseless because it creates doubt and raises questions to the text. It almost serves as a contradiction to the weak bond that is the textual referent. 

Writing this out helps me process what's been discussed in lecture and seminar. Phew, excited for next week! 

Cheers,
Jess.

 


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