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Sign of a sign of a sign

Here’s something interesting.

Jonathan Culler in his book Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction says:

Traditionally, Western philosophy has distinguished “reality” from “appearance,” things themselves from representations of them, and thought from signs that express it. Signs or representations, in this view, are but a way to get at reality, truth, or ideas, and they should be as transparent as possible; they should not get in the way, should not affect or infect the thought or truth they represent. In this framework, speech has seemed the immediate manifestation or presence of thought, while writing, which operates in the absence of the speaker, has been treated as an artificial and derivative representation of speech, a potentially misleading sign of a sign (11).

When considering written text as a “potentially misleading sign of a sign” the possibilities for manipulation of truths become apparent. If combining text with interdependent images, those possibilities multiply.

How much can an image be said to be truthful? Is an image a sign of a sign of a sign? As mentioned in a previous blog entry, Aristotle posited that insubstantial Forms of the mind are the most ‘real’ reality. The spoken word creates the world  we know, an imperfect world due to human intention and the inherent weaknesses in written language. Perhaps images give us a tool set greater than text alone in our capacity to explore these Forms, free of the limitations of language, free to move through all the potentialities of the visual.

In categorising art there are a number of lenses and methodologies that the art theorist may make use of, built upon over hundreds of years. Can we use one of these lenses to develop a sliding scale of ‘truthfulness’ of comics? How would we assign values to such a scale? Perhaps beginning at complete abstraction and moving through to photographic realism? Is a photographed portrait more truthful than a painting of the same subject? Consider that a photograph is one  moment in time, whereas a painting, taken over a longer period, may contain a more nuanced interpretation of the subject. Any definitive answer becomes subject to the specifics of the image in question. What signs, working in which combination, to what effect. Semiotics, Phenomenology, Deconstruction, Structuralism, Formalism. All methodologies for interrogating images and their many varied signs. Looks like I have some homework to do.