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Backwards Up Niagara Falls: Space/Time, Image/Text and the Biases of Information
Unformatted Document Text:  12 impression of a single scene in which time was not fixed but transitory and in which several actions took place at the same time. In the fifth century this method was rapidly displaced by a method emphasizing unity of time and space and in the fourth century a single action represented in a picture became dominant. (110) There are two contradictory ways of reading this type of analysis and its relation to the ‘medium specificity’ thesis, both of which bring out the tension between a ‘historical’ or ‘materialist’ Innis and an ‘ontological’ or ‘essentialist’ one. The first is that Innis seems to provide a refreshingly de-ontologized and historically sensitive account of the spatial and temporal biases of pictures and words within specific media ecologies. Pictorial representation can be heavily influenced by ‘the ear and the concern with time’, manifested in the development of representational techniques that are narrational or temporally flexible. In that sense Innis’ analysis is freed from the charge of iconophobia that can be leveled at thinkers who denigrate, with whatever degree of crudity or profundity, ‘spatial’ pictorial representation in opposition to ‘temporal’ verbal texts. Having said this, Innis’ discussion of the transitions in ancient Athenian vase decoration can be read in a very different way. For Innis pictorial representation is in many ways a side show: it is subject to the dominant ‘biases’ within a particular culture and media environment. These are determined by the fundamental opposition between speech and writing. What makes Athenian pictorial representation between 900 and 700 BC time-biased is the enduring dominance of the oral tradition. And what spatializes pictorial representation over the fifth and fourth centuries BC, reducing temporal progression to a single action within one scene, is the transference from the spoken to the written word (109) in the same period. This key distinction between time and space, oral and written, is not simply a dichotomy, of course, but also an ontological valorization of time and speech and their

Authors: Frosh, Paul.
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impression of a single scene in which time was not fixed but transitory
and in which several actions took place at the same time. In the fifth
century this method was rapidly displaced by a method emphasizing
unity of time and space and in the fourth century a single action
represented in a picture became dominant. (110)
There are two contradictory ways of reading this type of analysis and its relation to the
‘medium specificity’ thesis, both of which bring out the tension between a ‘historical’ or
‘materialist’ Innis and an ‘ontological’ or ‘essentialist’ one. The first is that Innis seems to
provide a refreshingly de-ontologized and historically sensitive account of the spatial and
temporal biases of pictures and words within specific media ecologies. Pictorial
representation can be heavily influenced by ‘the ear and the concern with time’, manifested in
the development of representational techniques that are narrational or temporally flexible. In
that sense Innis’ analysis is freed from the charge of iconophobia that can be leveled at
thinkers who denigrate, with whatever degree of crudity or profundity, ‘spatial’ pictorial
representation in opposition to ‘temporal’ verbal texts.
Having said this, Innis’ discussion of the transitions in ancient Athenian vase decoration
can be read in a very different way. For Innis pictorial representation is in many ways a side
show: it is subject to the dominant ‘biases’ within a particular culture and media environment.
These are determined by the fundamental opposition between speech and writing. What
makes Athenian pictorial representation between 900 and 700 BC time-biased is the enduring
dominance of the oral tradition. And what spatializes pictorial representation over the fifth
and fourth centuries BC, reducing temporal progression to a single action within one scene, is
the transference from the spoken to the written word (109) in the same period.
This key distinction between time and space, oral and written, is not simply a
dichotomy, of course, but also an ontological valorization of time and speech and their


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