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Backwards Up Niagara Falls: Space/Time, Image/Text and the Biases of Information
Unformatted Document Text:  9 physical structure, its representational content, and the mental processes of decoding: painting consists of forms displayed in space, the forms represent bodies in space, and their decoding by the viewer is assumed to be instantaneous – it has no duration. Now, this homology is very hard to maintain in the face of counter examples from the visual arts and from literature, as Mitchell’s masterly deconstruction reveals: in fact its maintenance requires a return to the strictures of my first point – that any such examples are treated as exceptional, as either extraneous accidents or dangerous acts of treachery. Which leads to the third point: that the argument from necessity becomes an argument from desire. Paintings should only be spatial, poems temporal. As Mitchell points out, along with Noël Carroll (1988) in his discussion of the specificity thesis in cinema, such a move reveals the ideological function of the ontological distinction. For if media are naturally and necessarily (i.e. automatically) spatial or temporal, why do such essential characteristics have to be policed and protected by the strictures and recommendations of critics? Ultimately such distinctions usually serve an exclusionary purpose: not to describe a naturally occurring difference but to use nature as a cover for the enforcement of a cultural hierarchy. In Lessing’s case (according to Mitchell) this hierarchy makes time superior to space and yet threatened by it; more precisely, it sets the spoken and written word above the visual image in a common iconoclastic move that attempts to preserve thought from infection by the illusionistic capacities of pictorial representation. Space here becomes the a priori of the exterior world, against which time, the a priori dimension of inner consciousness and thought, must be protected. In other words the hierarchical distinction between verbal and pictorial representation parallels the distinction between time and space, which in turn parallels the distinction between mind and world. Obeying what Derrida calls ‘the logic of supplement’ (1976: 141- 164), space, as the organizing framework of exteriority, appears as surplus to time and is also thereby a potential threat to its sovereignty, signifying its radical incompleteness. What is

Authors: Frosh, Paul.
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9
physical structure, its representational content, and the mental processes of decoding: painting
consists of forms displayed in space, the forms represent bodies in space, and their decoding
by the viewer is assumed to be instantaneous – it has no duration. Now, this homology is very
hard to maintain in the face of counter examples from the visual arts and from literature, as
Mitchell’s masterly deconstruction reveals: in fact its maintenance requires a return to the
strictures of my first point – that any such examples are treated as exceptional, as either
extraneous accidents or dangerous acts of treachery.
Which leads to the third point: that the argument from necessity becomes an argument
from desire. Paintings should only be spatial, poems temporal. As Mitchell points out, along
with Noël Carroll (1988) in his discussion of the specificity thesis in cinema, such a move
reveals the ideological function of the ontological distinction. For if media are naturally and
necessarily (i.e. automatically) spatial or temporal, why do such essential characteristics have
to be policed and protected by the strictures and recommendations of critics? Ultimately such
distinctions usually serve an exclusionary purpose: not to describe a naturally occurring
difference but to use nature as a cover for the enforcement of a cultural hierarchy. In
Lessing’s case (according to Mitchell) this hierarchy makes time superior to space and yet
threatened by it; more precisely, it sets the spoken and written word above the visual image in
a common iconoclastic move that attempts to preserve thought from infection by the
illusionistic capacities of pictorial representation. Space here becomes the a priori of the
exterior world, against which time, the a priori dimension of inner consciousness and thought,
must be protected.
In other words the hierarchical distinction between verbal and pictorial representation
parallels the distinction between time and space, which in turn parallels the distinction
between mind and world. Obeying what Derrida calls ‘the logic of supplement’ (1976: 141-
164), space, as the organizing framework of exteriority, appears as surplus to time and is also
thereby a potential threat to its sovereignty, signifying its radical incompleteness. What is


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