19.102 visualization and narrative

From: Humanist Discussion List (D. Gants for W. McCarty) <dgants_at_ROGERS.COM>
Date: Fri, 17 Jun 2005 20:58:16 -0300

              Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 19, No. 102.
      Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                    Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

        Date: Fri, 17 Jun 2005 20:50:44 -0300
        From: "Humanist Discussion List (D. Gants for W. McCarty)"
        Subject: visualization and narrative
        In-Reply-To: <a06210203bed4e8049bc8@[]>

From: Adrian Miles <adrian.miles_at_rmit.edu.au>
Date: Wed, 15 Jun 2005 06:17:59 +1000

Around the 14/6/05 Humanist Discussion List (D. Gants for W. McCarty)
mentioned about 19.098 visualization and narrative that:

> Personally, I tend to agree with the sentiment expressed by Gerda and Eric: a
> word says more than thousand pictures. 'More' meaning that the successful use
> of a word - be it as a command uttered, be it as an instruction or information
> received - demands conceptual clarity and explicitness (in an ideal world,
> admitted ...). By contrast, visual and spatial metaphors tend to obscure
> complexity and disguise their philosophical frame of reference because we
> perceive them as an absolute given and seldomly for what they are: ana-logical
> constructs.

I mean this in the friendlist possible way, and while I take the
above as the beginning point my comments are very general.

I am always struck, and I guess bemused, by the textual
concentrations found on this list. As any designer can describe (or
any decent architect detail through their reflective iterative design
process) it is a nonsense to think that a word says more than a
picture, or vice versa.

The terms validated above, such as "clarity" and "explicitness"
presume an enormous amount about knowledge, experience, and the
intersection of both. Many people are able to read visual arguments
as analogical structures, they've been trained in such traditions and
practices. What gets obscured (regularly) is the misunderstandings
between visual and a textual frames of reference. This happens at
what could be described as different levels of granularity -
designers I work with are shocked when they realise that the writers
they work with don't actually know how to read typography (that that
ascender there expresses ideas about weight and flight that really
doesn't go with what you want your words to do). Similarly the
writers are shocked that the designers will spend an eternity
worrying over leading, kerning and faces, when really it is just some
words on a white page and it is the 'meaning' of the words that

At larger scales the same errors or epistemological arguments beset
discussions about arguments that images might make (for example in
documentary or graphic narratives) versus the 'rigour' or 'clarity'
of text. It is trivial for a picture to have clarity. It is trivial
for text to have clarity. Luckily though we have poetry and song, and
painting and cinema. Now many seem to think that when we 'write'
poetry is absent. Nonsense, though I guess if you've *never* used a
pun in your writing, or alliteration, I guess it might be the case :-)

(An aside, I ask my students to complete the following rhyme:
"What rhymes with shop and you buy at the butchers?"
they all reply "chop" (i usually repeat this to get the rhythm happening)
"What do you do at a green light"
"Stop" is the automatic reply. Most don't realise they would have
just lost their driving licence exam. :-))

The point is simply that there is a material substrate to language
which is analogical and which overrides reason and the rational
("clarity" ). It is trivial to demonstrate. It is an error to assume
that text is 'safe' from this while images are 'fraught' by this,
this reveals an anxiety about images that really should have no place
in computing humanities but in my experience tends to dominate.

As Paul Carter explores in his recent "Materialist Thinking", both
text and image (and other materialist practices) are active
legitimate knowledge practices and it is a tragedy (as Barbara
Maria-Stafford partially describes - references below) that the
distance between them is as large as it is.

Stafford, Barbara Maria. Good Looking: Essays on the Virtue of
Images. Cambridge (MA): The MIT Press, 1998
Stafford, Barbara Maria. Visual Analogy: Consciousness as the Art of
Connecting. Cambridge (MA): The MIT Press, 1999.

Adrian Miles
Received on Fri Jun 17 2005 - 20:13:28 EDT

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.2.0 : Fri Jun 17 2005 - 20:13:28 EDT