Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Language and Images

Although I often suggest that visuality does not adhere to the same signifying principles of language (i.e., orality, literacy, textuality), I concede that moving images are often constructed and interpreted via a system of representation influenced by language. Images may not inherently exist as such (although many would disagree), but our perception of them is shaped by our use of language. Images may include language or complement language, and even though they require language so as to enable perceivers to interpret them and form meaning, images nor their elements intrinsically function as representative system of meaning. While images and language (i.e., letters, words) are not analogous to one another, it's clear that they need one another. That necessity assumes a relationship that can only be comprehended within the structures of language.

Despite not exploring this relationship specifically, David Abram nevertheless elucidates the connection between language and perception --which in my mind is closely linked to understand images-- in his book, Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World. Images may not be a language, but one particular passage struck me as utterly essential as we seek to gain more knowledge of the elusive relationship between perception, language, and that which language signifies. Abram's note of the expression of language (or images) is particularly intriguing. Try substituting image/s for language and you'll see what I mean:

"The enigma that is language, constituted as much by silence as by sounds, is not an inert or static structure, but an evolving bodily field. It is like a vast, living fabric continually being woven by those who speak. Merleau-Ponty here distinguishes sharply between genuine, expressive speech and speech that merely repeats established formulas. The latter is hardly 'speech' at all; it does not really carry meaning in the weave of its words but relies solely upon the memory of meanings that once lived there. It does not alter the already existing structures of language, but rather treats the language as a finished institution. Nevertheless, those preexisting structures must at some moment have been created, and this can only have been effected by active, expressive speech. Indeed, all truly meaningful speech is inherently creative, using established words in ways they have never quite been used before, and thus altering, ever so slightly, the whole webwork of the language. Wild, living speech takes up, from within, the interconnected matrix of the language and gestures with it, subjecting the whole structure to a 'coherent deformation.'

At the heart of any language, then, is the poetic productivity of expressive speech. A living language is continually being made and remade, woven out of silence of those who speak... And this silence is that of our wordless participations, of our perceptual immersion in the depths of an animate, expressive world."

Heavy stuff.


Austintation said...

Sort of channels what really struck me with my last few "experiences" in DV/HD--Miami Vice, The New World, and of course, Inland Empire. I know Lynch has gushed about how DV has overwhelmed him with an experience of rejuvenation and I recall Thoret's SoS article where he talked about how Mann's film captured "A flash of lightning that stripes the sky, a palm tree that bends under the weight of the wind and an incandescent night that Mann’s camera relentlessly pursues convey the feeling of a hallucinatory film where man and nature dissolve in each other, quivering with the same tragic breath." I think some of our greatest contemporary filmmakers are allowing themselves to experience a renaissance of expressionist malleability because the medium as opposed to being exposed (fuck off, Greenaway) in a sense of operatic contingency and encompassment is actually being liberated of such a once-inevitable artificiality. It's kind of sexy, if you know what I mean. Ah...sort of rambling.

Anyway, that last paragraph--oh, man--post that to some book lovers and, whew, put on some "Street Fighting Man"...well, you get the point.

"Indeed, all truly meaningful speech is inherently creative, using established words in ways they have never quite been used before, and thus altering, ever so slightly, the whole webwork of the language."

The only part I sort of disagree on (gah, the whole "truly" throws it off)

Edward Copeland said...

I've always wondered if you can tell by Woody Allen's expression at the end of Hannah and Her Sisters what his character makes of the announcement of Dianne Wiest's pregnancy. Does he think it's a miracle, since he had been declared sterile? Does he think she's cheating on him or does he just not care and is delighted no matter what the truth is?