30 June 2005

Why/How the post below this one is wrong

Just recently, I spent a week reading the entire draft manuscript of Rebecca's book, Art for a Modern India: 1947-1980. The book articulates and analyzes the effort by Indian artists to grapple with the paradox that is a 'Modern India'. Having read the book I can say that Rebecca is wrong to equate so easily art with literature. Myself, I would be very willing to conflate what I do as a political theorist with what someone does who works with literature: we both read, explicate, analyze, and theorize texts. Rebecca and other art historians often do this as well, and in many ways paintings and other art can be read as texts.

However, Rebecca also works with architecture, and from reading her book, I'm convinced that there is something very much distinct about how we read something with three dimensions. Her book—perhaps too much in this draft form—reads very differently in the architecture sections than in the painting sections. It makes it clear, at least to me, that reading is not always reading, and that some people are more adept at working in three dimensions than others. Many film theorists are excellent at this, but while I very much enjoy working critically with the television genre, I have to confess that I almost always turn it into a text.


Rebecca said...

Yes, I can see how making architecture parallel the space of a text might do both forms injustice or damage. Perhaps we are too quick to assume similarities among forms that seem physically the same—whether philosophy and literature (both on the page) or architecture and film (both three-dimensional in some ways). Perhaps this whole text/image/culture distinction is unhelpful and we need to cut the pie differently. Architecture, for example, paired with drama.

Jack said...

Ok. Here's the 30 second comment:

Part of what makes you read architecture and all the other stuff as text is because we, as academics especially, are all involved in the interpretation game. Interpretation takes symbols and signs as it's fundamental building blocks. Without them there is nothing to interpret. Language use is the first arena in which we as human beings begin to learn the skills and practices of interpretation. Years of lonely study in institutions of higher learning only broaden and deepen a skill that is at the core of human habitation of a complex linguistic environment. So, given that we're all interpreting stuff all the time, it seems rather likely that we would tend to read things like architecture and paintings and performance and even ritual as texts and apply the interpretive skills that come from the linguistic realm. You can partially blame it on people like Saussure who really kicked off the 20th century fetish of language and structure and interpretation. I'm with Sam that we shouldn't be so easily treating all these various areas of intellectual endeavor as "text" and fruitfully subject to textual forms of interpretation. But, this fad too will come to pass, as all academic fads have done in the past.