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In 1992 W. J. T. Mitchell argued for a "pictorial turn" in the humanities, registering a renewed interest in and prevalence of pictures and images in what had been understood as an age of simulation, or an increasingly extensive and diverse visual culture. However, in what is often characterized as a society of the "spectacle" we still do not know exactly what pictures or images are, what their relation to language is, how they operate on observers and the world, how their history is to be understood, and what is to be done with or about them. In this seminal collection of essays, the first to be devoted to the "pictorial turn", theorists from across the humanities and social sciences, representing the disciplines of art history, philosophy, geography, media studies, visual studies and anthropology, are brought together with a paleontologist and practising artists to consider amongst other things the relation between pictures and images, the power of landscape, the nature of political images, the status of images in the natural sciences, the "life" of images, and the pictorial uncanny. With these topics in mind, picture theory and iconology exceed in scope the objects of visual culture conventionally understood. This book was published as a special issue of Culture, Theory and Critique.
What precisely, W. J. T. Mitchell asks, are pictures (and theories of pictures) doing now, in the late twentieth century, when the power of the visual is said to be greater than ever before, and the "pictorial turn" supplants the "linguistic turn" in the study of culture? This book by one of America's leading theorists of visual representation offers a rich account of the interplay between the visible and the readable across culture, from literature to visual art to the mass media.
In examining the impact of the modern poster, I investigate the status of the image in Berlin modernism. To a great extent, the implementation of poster art as an advertising tool is arguably part of a larger trend towards the visual in Wilhelmine Berlin. Poster art serves as an invaluable artifact through which to evaluate the relationship between the image, public and modernization, as the ascent of the visual is paired with the means by which the public was recognized as a subject worthy of address and was able to act independently of the state, specifically through the city's modern economy.
With few exceptions, the scholarship on religion in late antiquity has emphasized its tendencies toward transcendence, abstraction, and spirit at the expense of matter. In The Corporeal Imagination, Patricia Cox Miller argues instead that ancient Christianity took a material turn between the fourth and seventh centuries. During this period, Miller contends, there occurred a major shift in the ways in which the human being was oriented in relation to the divine, a shift that reconfigured the relationship between materiality and meaning in a positive direction. The Corporeal Imagination is a groundbreaking investigation into the theological poetics of material substance in late ancient Christian texts. From hagiographies to literary descriptions of sacred paintings to treatises on relics and theurgy, Miller examines a wide variety of ancient texts to reveal how Christian writers increasingly described the matter of the world as invested with divine power. By appealing to the reader's sensory imagination, Christian texts endowed phenomena like relics, saints' bodies in hagiography, and saints' presence in icons with a visual and tactile presence. The book draws on a variety of contemporary theoretical models to elucidate the significance of all these materials in ancient religious life and imagination.
Why do we have such extraordinarily powerful responses toward the images and pictures we see in everyday life? Why do we behave as if pictures were alive, possessing the power to influence us, to demand things from us, to persuade us, seduce us, or even lead us astray? According to W. J. T. Mitchell, we need to reckon with images not just as inert objects that convey meaning but as animated beings with desires, needs, appetites, demands, and drives of their own. What Do Pictures Want? explores this idea and highlights Mitchell's innovative and profoundly influential thinking on picture theory and the lives and loves of images. Ranging across the visual arts, literature, and mass media, Mitchell applies characteristically brilliant and wry analyses to Byzantine icons and cyberpunk films, racial stereotypes and public monuments, ancient idols and modern clones, offensive images and found objects, American photography and aboriginal painting. Opening new vistas in iconology and the emergent field of visual culture, he also considers the importance of Dolly the Sheep—who, as a clone, fulfills the ancient dream of creating a living image—and the destruction of the World Trade Center on 9/11, which, among other things, signifies a new and virulent form of iconoclasm. What Do Pictures Want? offers an immensely rich and suggestive account of the interplay between the visible and the readable. A work by one of our leading theorists of visual representation, it will be a touchstone for art historians, literary critics, anthropologists, and philosophers alike. “A treasury of episodes—generally overlooked by art history and visual studies—that turn on images that ‘walk by themselves’ and exert their own power over the living.”—Norman Bryson, Artforum
The phrase “War on Terror” has quietly been retired from official usage, but it persists in the American psyche, and our understanding of it is hardly complete. Nor will it be, W. J. T Mitchell argues, without a grasp of the images that it spawned, and that spawned it. Exploring the role of verbal and visual images in the War on Terror, Mitchell finds a conflict whose shaky metaphoric and imaginary conception has created its own reality. At the same time, Mitchell locates in the concept of clones and cloning an anxiety about new forms of image-making that has amplified the political effects of the War on Terror. Cloning and terror, he argues, share an uncanny structural resemblance, shuttling back and forth between imaginary and real, metaphoric and literal manifestations. In Mitchell’s startling analysis, cloning terror emerges as the inevitable metaphor for the way in which the War on Terror has not only helped recruit more fighters to the jihadist cause but undermined the American constitution with “faith-based” foreign and domestic policies. Bringing together the hooded prisoners of Abu Ghraib with the cloned stormtroopers of the Star Wars saga, Mitchell draws attention to the figures of faceless anonymity that stalk the ever-shifting and unlocatable “fronts” of the War on Terror. A striking new investigation of the role of images from our foremost scholar of iconology, Cloning Terror will expand our understanding of the visual legacy of a new kind of war and reframe our understanding of contemporary biopower and biopolitics.
The Distorting Mirror analyzes the multiple and complex ways in which urban Chinese subjects saw themselves interacting with the new visual culture that emerged during the turbulent period between the 1880s and the 1930s. The media and visual forms examined include lithography, photography, advertising, film, and theatrical performances. Urbanites actively engaged with and enjoyed this visual culture, which was largely driven by the subjective desire for the empty promises of modernity--promises comprised of such abstract and fleeting concepts as new, exciting, and fashionable. Detailing and analyzing the trajectories of development of various visual representations, Laikwan Pang emphasizes their interactions. In doing so, she demonstrates that visual modernity was not only a combination of independent cultural phenomena, but also a partially coherent sociocultural discourse whose influences were seen in different and collective parts of the culture. The work begins with an overall historical account and theorization of a new lithographic pictorial culture developing at the end of the nineteenth century and an examination of modernity's obsession with the investigation of the real. Subsequent chapters treat the fascination with the image of the female body in the new visual culture; entertainment venues in which this culture unfolded and was performed; how urbanites came to terms with and interacted with the new reality; and the production and reception of images, the dynamics between these two being a theme explored throughout the book. Modernity, as the author shows, can be seen as spectacle. At the same time, she demonstrates that, although the excessiveness of this spectaclecaptivated the modern subject, it did not completely overwhelm or immobilize those who engaged with it. After all, she argues, they participated in and performed with this ephemeral visual culture in an attempt to come to terms with their own new, modern self.

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