Introduction: Imagistic Information

Jim Roberts

Enculturation, Vol. 2, No. 1, Fall 1998

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The Esper scanner should provide Deckard with all the information that he needs to track down the replicants he seeks to destroy in Ridley Scott's Bladerunner. Analyzing a photo dropped by one replicant, Deckard enhances the image on his in-home Epser scanner, an image enlarger and detailer. Moving though the image and deeper into it, Deckard finds what he believes is a clue of unmistakable truth, a replicant-snake scale. Going for truth, Deckard does not immediately recognize the inherent power of the image: he sees it only as a knowledge container.

There are two initial effects of Deckard's approach to this (and other) image(s). First, by assuming that the image contains meaing, he "believes" and "trusts" it. He soon discovers, though, that this photo, emblematic of all images, misleads. Thus, another effect of this power of the image is that its dimensions and material can be falsified and manipulated. Because the image does not imitate a referent but allows it to come forth from the real, and because it is not a plastic phantom but a dynamic principle (a matrix, a phenomenon), it is endowed with powers that demand to be deployed and reflected; and, it is from this limit that the cinema is able to act as a mode of becoming rather than a mode of being.

What does the image do, then, if it does not mean? What is its economy? In asking such questions, we address (and perhaps risk) the potential of the image. Metzian psycho-semiotic models understand the image as a representation, and Metz explicitly calls his a project "to disengage the cinema from the imaginary and win it for the symbolic, in the hope of extending the later by a new province" (Imaginary Signifier 3). This theoretical parlance assigns cinema to a not-real function, one that references the real. Concurrently, this theoretical move rejects or subordinates any experience with the image: Metz claims that he must distance himself from his own "love of the cinema" in order to reflect accurately on the image. The encounter with the image is precisely that which deserves critical reflection. As the reception of the material image, as corporeal investment with the image, the body becomes a crucial site for us to inquire into the operations of the image.

In her book Thinking In Pictures, Dr. Temple Grandin articulates how she, as an autistic, engages the images she 'sees' in a manner that allows her to turn this encounter into her work with livestock handling devices. The manner in which Grandin thinks in images in order to become an-other, to comport herself for all sorts of uses in animal behavioral science is articulated in similar fashion in the articles collected in this issue of Enculturation. Moving from image to body, the essays here map a terrain of using images to move beyond them. Just as the Esper scan shows how images distort dimensions and content, Grandin's encounter with images is an imaging beyond images. The Esper scan's truth is that there is no truth: Grandin's rhetoric shows that there is no being, only becoming. And, perhaps no single topic in recent techno-cultural, rhetorical, or filmic discourse has received as much attention as (something generically referred to as) " the body."

Throughout, the following essays render specific filmic bodies and discuss the rhetorical matrices that give rise to them. This issue of Enculturation is not about the meanings but the movements of and our encounters with images. The questions asked of the image change along with the techno scientific understanding of the operations of the cinema and its images. "What does an image do?" is the type of question (rather than "What does the image mean?", a common query in the theoretical history of cinema studies) that Temple Grandin asks of her imagistic thought. To get a full understanding of these ideas concerning the cinema it is necessary for each of the authors to introduce a location or site that can be used as a reference point throughout each article. The essays gathered in this issue were selected because the represent what is so exciting about recent developments in writing about film history and theory: the move from staunch theoretical jargon to a field on which analysis and description alternate. Employing philosophical, critical, and theoretical imperatives from across fields, these essays all contribute to a fuller understanding of just what it is that cinema studies can undertake. Two of the essays, by David Blakesley and Nina Zimnik, take advantage of the hypertextual abilities of on-line publication; the essays by Jeff Karnicky and Patricia Pisters (which ends abruptly but, in this ending, encourages the reader to continue its work) draw on philosophies of Georges Bataille and Gilles Deleuze respectively. The contributions by Marsha Gordon, Iain Thomson, and Laura Rascaroli focus on single films and filmmakers, and Thomas Deane Tucker's contribution makes a number of theoretical moves that offer new perspectives on film and film-making. What this mix is able to do is present various avenues of critical and theoretical analysis that cannot be accomplished by casually "applying" theory to (onto) film. Even the two reviews included do not operate as reviews as much as the descriptive analysis described above. Film is affirmational, and the approaches to it should contribute to unpacking the challenging issues presented.

Copyright © Enculturation 1998

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