“It is a commonplace of modern cultural criticism“ – states W. J. T. Mitchell – “that images have a power in our world undreamed of by the ancient idolaters. And it seems equally evident that the question of the nature of imagery has been second only to the problem of language“. Although that nature is far from being clearly understood, the sheer force and multitude of contemporary images (as well as their controversial relation to the linguistic sign) pervade current notions of the visual, its theoretical basis, strategic use, social & political impact, or potential of knowledge ...
Against this background, the first part of the course will address several fundamental issues of the image: we will explore it as a specific type of sign which can both represent and replace physical/mental “reality,” but also as a form of expression or visual event in its own right. Following this, the seminar focuses on the functioning of images in selected cultural fields. It analyses their epistemological capacity for the production of (scientific) knowledge; their ability – e.g. as historical source material – to display, translate or reconstruct the past; and finally their entanglement with political representations of power and equality.
While the first section covers a comprehensive spectrum of theoretical reflections from Plato to the present, the subsequent examples will concentrate on photography, film and electronic media. Dealing with modern “technoimages” and their role in a limited set of discourses, the concrete case studies will, however, constantly return to essential questions of pictorial signification (including the differences and varying intersections between image and writing, between the iconic and the graphic) and of visual experience as “informational excess”.
Beyond illuminating the subject from these two angles and thereby delineating the many historical shifts and (inter-) media transformations of images, the course aims at deepening the participants’ critical awareness of their own reception and production of imagery. Since the “increasing impact of images on our culture” has become a veritable catchword, and since their dissemination goes hand in hand with the development of technical media, it is essential to re-examine our current idea of the image, the text, and their academic use – for instance by providing an opportunity for the students to create their own image-complexes.