On Ranciere’s The Future of the Image

So I finished this a few minutes ago. I was, and am, frustrated about it–I wanted it to be much more than it ended up being.

Ranciere begins the book with a discussion of the image. This is my first major frustration, because I’m not really sure what the image is made of, or makes up. In working through the first chapter, I’ve come to combine both Ranciere’s explanation of the image and the definition that other “contemporary authors” give into a kind of working idea of the image. In my interpretation, the image is a kind of floating name that is given to a set of functions: it mediates how interpretation operates, it combines phenomenon, and it provides reference for an infinite number of other things that could be presented with, as a part of, or as the image itself. That’s not a very accessible definition, but it’s the best that I can do in this situation.

To be frank, I found most of this book to be very annoying. Ranciere makes bifurcation after bifurcation, explaining them in a sentence or two, and then moves on to another example. It is rare that we are presented with an argument with any depth. That said, when we get depth, it’s amazing; the last chapter, titled “Are Some Things Unrepresentable?” asks that very question, and answers it with a resounding no, as far as I understood.

What I ended up taking from The Future of the Image is a framework for understanding the relationship between the image and the word, and on top of that, a way of thinking about comic books. Comics are, in many ways, a product of the early 20th century and the art forms developed during that time period. Ranciere gets close to a theory of comics in “Sentence, Image, History” and “The Surface of Design,” speaking in several places about the Futurist artists that began pasting words and sentences on their canvas, literally inscribing the world with meaning, creating new forms of representation around the conjunction of  image and word.

As a full text, I didn’t enjoy The Future of the Image. It is fragmented, and some chapters are miles above the others in quality. What is best, however, is that Ranciere gives us brilliant little moments, like his analysis of mimesis, that beg to be read, re-read, and then applied to a hundred different things.

To end, I’ll just throw some quotes up here so I can refer back to them later.

This equivalence of the graphic and the visual creates the link between the poet’s types and the engineer’s. It visualizes the idea which haunts both of them–that of a common physical surface where signs, forms, and acts become equal. – p. 99

The mystery is the little theatrical machine that manufactures analogy, which makes it possible to recognize the poet’s thought in the feet of the dancer, the fold of a stole, the opening of a fan, the sparkle of a chandelier, or the unexpected movement of a standing bear. – p. 57

What precisely does ‘without a common term of measurement’ mean? With respect to what idea of measurement and what ideas of community? Perhaps there are several kinds of incommensurability. Perhaps each of them is itself the bringing into play of a certain form of community. – p.35

 

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