The Power of the Image in the Work of Lídia Jorge

by Nazaré Torrão (Volume editor) José Cândido de Oliveira Martins (Volume editor)
©2023 Edited Collection VIII, 280 Pages


«A pioneering first in the English language. This is a wonderfully subtle, multifaceted study of the image in the work of one of Portugal’s greatest writers. Admirable for its depth of analysis and breadth of coverage, this is a real gift for new learners of Portuguese and established scholars alike.»
(Hilary Owen, University of Oxford)
«The present collection of essays, produced by some of the best scholars who have dealt with Lídia Jorge’s work, should be of great help to English readers not familiar with the original language of a compelling, engaging writer deeply concerned with the world she lives in and the future of us all.»
(Onésimo Teotónio Almeida, Brown University)
As Aristotle has written, the image is at the core of the soul’s language. Indeed, given its significant potential and capacity for revelation – heightened in a society dominated by visual culture – the image would seem to be key to reflecting, critically and creatively, on humanity and on history itself.
Lídia Jorge has asserted several times that her writing has always taken as its starting point a powerful and inspiring image, which concentrates the various meanings and reflections that she intends to explore while also dispersing these across her texts. Radiating from the initial image, Jorge manages to develop a gaze which is simultaneously critical, thorough and informative. Scholars point out that whenever language opens to universal images and mythologies capable of conveying visions of clarity, the subversive power of beauty is re-asserted. This power is confirmed and examined from different points of view and theories in this volume.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Part I From Looking to Seeing: The Potentiality of Images
  • 1 Theories of the Image in Lídia Jorge’s Fiction (ANA PAULA FERREIRA)
  • 2 Lídia Jorge and the Images Burning in the Thickness of Time (MARIA GRACIETE BESSE)
  • 3 Lídia Jorge or the Poetic Object as a Sight of the Incommensurable Image (SÓNIA RITA MELO)
  • Part II Images and Testimonies
  • 4 Chronicle of a Genre Foretold: The crónica’s Trajectory in Lídia Jorge’s Narrative (ISABEL CRISTINA RODRIGUES)
  • 5 For a New Ecology of Human Experience: Images of the Contemporary in Lídia Jorge’s crónicas (JOSÉ CÂNDIDO DE OLIVEIRA MARTINS)
  • 6  Exposing War Crimes: Verbal and Visual Layering in A Costa dos Murmúrios (OLIVIA GLAZE)
  • 7  The Sonic Ecology of a Falling Empire in “O Amor em Lobito Bay” (PATRÍCIA MARTINHO FERREIRA)
  • Part III From Cinema to Literature
  • 8  A Specular Game of Images: The Representation of the World and of Artistic Creation in O Jardim sem Limites by Lídia Jorge (ALEXANDRA GONÇALVES LOPES)
  • 9  The Image of a Still Moment That Escapes: O Jardim sem Limites of Lídia Jorge and the Cinema of Tarkovsky (CONCEIÇÃO BRANDÃO)
  • 10 Media, Landscape and Identity in O Cais das Merendas (NAZARÉ TORRÃO)
  • Part IV The Woman and Her Image
  • 11 Image, Body and Identity in A Noite das Mulheres Cantoras (MARIA ARAÚJO DA SILVA)
  • 12 Not Ave but Adeus, Maria, or Re-evaluating the Religious in Notícia da Cidade Silvestre (FRANKLIN NELSON)
  • Part V Personal Vews
  • 13 New Constellations (LÍDIA JORGE)
  • 14 Two Paths to Lídia Jorge (AUGUSTO SANTOS SILVA)
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index
  • Series Index


Introduction: Poetics of Image

1. Towards a theory of the image in contemporary literature

The text is the long roll of thunder that follows.

– Walter Benjamin

In the first instance, we must establish some very brief theoretical considerations around the complex, multifaceted concept of the image – pictorial, oneiric, literary, cinematographic, television, computational – in the context of contemporary culture and literature. Definitively, the image is something naturally multiform and omnipresent, indelibly marking one’s experience of the world we live in. The omnipresence of an image which is so ubiquitous that it becomes more or less banal, might even make it an alienating thing of domination in modern, commercialised societies, namely in the society of the spectacle (Guy Debord), in a culture saturated with simulations and simulacra (Jean Baudrillard, 1995, 1998).

In fact, in its broadest sense, the notion of the image (imago) might encompass connections as diverse as certain collective mythical or cultural-specific representations (including symbols, topoi), Freudian perspectives, Walter Benjamin’s “dialectical images”, and the “micrologies” of Theodor Adorno, amongst many other formulations, not forgetting the contributions of thinkers ranging from Saint Thomas, Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, C. S. Peirce and Ludwig Wittgenstein, to Nelson Goodman and Ernst Gombrich. We have the image-fact, image-fetish, image-witness, image-archive, image-appearance, image-montage, dialectic image, mediatic image, literary image, amongst other modes, such as Georges Didi-Huberman’s object of thought, to name just one.

In any case, in the present image culture, and as part of a broad semantic of the image, beyond the risk that the image could become an overly vague concept, it might also – indeed, it should also – raise some key questions regarding: the theoretical and philosophical proximity of the image; image, iconology and history of art; a typology of the image (mental, visual, literary, televisual, analogical, digital etc.); its relationship with reality (mimetic relationship) – models or simulacra, naturalism versus convention; modes of hermeneutic, semiotic readings of the image – image, cognitive approximations and psychological dispositions; image and perception processes; image, from iconic representation to phenomenological figuration; image, context and intentionality; image ambiguity (see the famous Wittgenstein drawing of the rabbit-duck, which prompts in Gombrich the idea of the image “seen as”); stylistic image as a literary trope (a figurative and rhetorical sense); image and symbolisation processes – amongst many other lines of enquiry, such is the transdisciplinary nature of the range of questions involved.

Evoking a well-known passage of James Joyce’s Ulysses, Didi-Huberman also maintains that an image is only alive when “looking at us, [it] forces us to truly look at it” (2011, p. 172). This posture can also be perfectly well applied to the writing of authors such as Lídia Jorge, whose literary images question us profoundly, oscillating between language and visuality, between the particular and the universal, between the visible and the invisible. At the same time, in a Benjaminian sense, inherent to this conception is an inevitable dialectic between the image that we see and the image that sees us, because, as we see it, “it is that image which takes charge of us” (Didi-Huberman, 2011, p. 159).

As Aristotle had already written, the image is at the core of the soul’s language: “Hence the soul never thinks without a mental image” (1957, p. 177). Indeed, given its significatory potential and capacity for revelation – heightened in a society dominated by visual culture – the image would seem to be key to reflecting, critically and creatively, on humanity and on History itself: “We need images to create history, especially in the age of photography and cinema. But we also need imagination to re-see these images, and thus, to re-think history” (cf. Didi-Huberman, 2010, p. 78).

In a more concrete perspective, we might even ask ourselves about the differences between the collections of images produced by different cultures, given how the image is not simply a specific type of sign, but also an actor on the stage of history (Mitchell, 1984, p. 504), in the sense that it participates in every phase of creation, working as part of a creative current which sees it participate with the external referent from which the writer departs and returns in their construction of the book, at the same time as they build a social reality forming part of the collective identity.

Centred on Lídia Jorge’s writing, and in accordance with the focus of this volume, Maria Graciete Besse, echoing an idea which also surfaces in statements and interviews with Lídia Jorge herself, points out how whenever language “opens up to universal images and mythologies” capable of transmitting “visions of clarity” (Delgado, 2021, p. 255), the “subversive power of beauty” is re-asserted. These powerful and reiterated images reveal themselves to be inseparable from an ethical vision of the world (cf. Besse, 2015, 2017) anchored in a conception of beauty as a tool for overcoming the world’s violence – that is, in the “subversive power of beauty” (cf. Torrão, 2020, p. 191).

According to this view, just as Didi-Huberman (2013, 2017) suggests, “Always, before the image, we are before time” (in Larsson, 2020, p. 69). This dialectic image has the power to challenge the beholder, making time explode (cf. Didi-Huberman, 2011). According to this view, the image merges time’s different dimensions, moving beyond a sense of mere illustration or mimetic representation of the referent. Rather, the image is presented as a laborious effort of memory, allowing the creation of what Benjamin, in relation to Charles Baudelaire, called a “crystal of time”, an image which glows in the aesthetic representation of history (cf. Didi-Huberman, 2017, p. 140). The past can thus be remarkably updated via the images which, in the present, recover it as an apparition with a dazzling aura.

Understood thus, images, in their multifaceted intensity indicative of the undeniable power of literature, should be read as passages (in the sense that Benjamin used the term in his The Arcades Project) which offer us a more thorough reading of the world, within a vision of hope (cf. Esquirol, 2020) – a perspective which is not unfamiliar to the literary critics who have focused their attention on Lídia Jorge (cf. Ferreira, 2009). Indeed, in the Portuguese author’s literary writing, there are some truly fertile images – images coming from a broad and varied cartography of historical and cultural memory (cf. Martins, 2018; Medeiros, 2020).

In line with this thinking, and as Ana Paula Ferreira explores within this book, in discussing Lídia Jorge’s fiction writing, we might talk about a theory or poetics of the image. In a philosophical sense, this poetics of the image exceeds mere mimetic reflection of the referent, assuming its gnoseological power, as a particular form of knowledge. It is not limited to Roland Barthes’ studium (2010, p. 25) – culturally perceptible content, like a scene captured in a photograph. Rather, when the image (or photograph) reaches a distinctive and artistic level which exceeds the intelligible, it prompts discomfort in the spectator in the form of punctum (cf. Barthes, 2010, p. 26).

In a philosophical and post-structuralist reflection, and taking back up the Barthes (1990) dichotomy already mentioned, Jean-Luc Nancy and Jacques Rancière propose a theory of the artistic image which goes well beyond the function of representation. For Nancy (2005, pp. 4 and 8), the particularity of the image (be it verbal, visual or aural) resides in its strength, well beyond what is possibly representable, the image forces our attention and envelops it, far exceeding the object apparently being represented, in a condensed energy which points towards something else. In Rancière’s case, more than a likeness, the artistic image leads to discrepancy and dissemination in the eye of the beholder. For this thinker, we might speak of three types of image: the “naked image”, the “ostensive image” and the “metamorphic image” (cf. Rancière, 2009, pp. 22–23). This last type alludes to the real indirectly, all the while hindering any more immediate analogy (Rancière, 2009, p. 25). Definitively, this conception of the image distances itself from mere representation, just as it also avoids simple transparency and utility.

As proposed by William Mitchell (1984, p. 504), and pertinently commented on by Patrícia Martinho Ferreira, images can be “actor[s]‌ on the historical stage”; in an acoustic perspective, even sounds can be conceived of as verbal and mental images – a conception which is useful for thinking about certain of Lídia Jorge’s sound-images in the Angolan scenario of Lobito Bay, during the war which brought the Portuguese empire in Africa to its end.

As maintained by Susan Sontag (1997, p. 1), “to collect photographs is to collect the world”. Like the literary word, images – like those taken during the period of the end of the Portuguese empire, exposing the horrors of that colonial violence – have the undeniable capacity to witness. Together with verbal discourse, somewhat traumatic images (rooted in both individual memory and collective memory) – images which are also often propagated by the media, in historical-cultural discourses of trauma (Meek, 2010) – turn out to be essential on account of their memorialist nature and function, and, indeed, as an act of witnessing and of committing oneself to an explicit effort in post-memory, bringing together the literary and the visual, the autobiographical and the artistic (cf. Felman and Laub, 1992, p. 204). Definitively, in the case of the Portuguese colonial empire’s violence, citizens cannot remain indifferent to the images (war photography), above all during the era of the conflict which marked the painful end of the colonial relationship (cf. Medeiros, 2022). In constructing a moral discourse within the contemporary public sphere, the same happens in relation to depictions of other traumatic moments in contemporary History, with images of war crimes prompting the intense shock of dramatic recognition, as in the unspeakable horror of the Holocaust (cf. Zelizer, 1998).

One particular chapter of images in contemporary writing refers to female representation, with a revision of the role and voice of women in private and public life, before and after the 25 April revolution of 1974. Writing thus takes on the express role of critical revision, putting new images of the female body and sexuality at centre stage – in the face of the values and restrictions of a conservative and patriarchal society which severely limited women’s absolute liberty. As such, many female writers create female characters who, under the symbolic designation of Antigone’s daughters (cf. Owen and Pazos-Alonso, 2010, pp. 178 ss.), reveal a critical distance from the dominant codes, in images of explicit rupture with the world view of a particular cultural legacy. Indeed, in the context of Portuguese literature, images constructed around the figure of the father are particularly interesting (cf. Rothwell, 2007). In short, an absolute need for an awakening – the need for an act of critical revision (re-vision) – writing as re-vision (cf. Rich, 1972), makes itself felt, with Lídia Jorge’s oeuvre proving to be exemplary in this context. More concretely, what becomes palpable is a need for the re-vision of certain images and conceptions of a past dominated by a masculine culture, so that, consequently, the woman of the present day might come to identify with her identity and might daringly assert new gender-based images, as part of a new cultural history of humanity:

Re-vision – the act of looking back, of seeing with fresh eyes, of entering an old text from a new critical direction – is for us more than a chapter in cultural history: it is an act of survival. Until we can understand the assumptions in which we are drenched we cannot know ourselves. And this drive to self-knowledge, for woman, is more than a search for identity: it is part of her refusal of the self-destructiveness of male-dominated society. A radical critique of literature, feminist in its impulse, would take the work first of all as a clue to how we live, how we have been living, how we have been led to imagine ourselves, how our language has trapped as well as liberated us; and how we can begin to see – and therefore live – afresh. (Rich, 1972, p. 18)

Basing ourselves in Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology of perception (Merleau-Ponty, 1999, pp. 104, 157 et passim), what we see is always seen through a particular lens – tangible and tactile – in a movement between before and within, passing from retinal impressions to interpretation. It is precisely in this sense of a visual immanence that certain literary images, using their power as they regard us, trap us as a visual wound, truly becoming the auratic images that Benjamin spoke of (1991, 2006).

Rooted in the perceptible, without being purely sensorial or merely memory-based, with its critical function, and in the form of a condensed representation, the dialectic image has a unique cognitive power to see beyond – a capacity for revelation, a truth value; in a word, it is the image as incision, as a tear in the landscape of human imagination and creativity (cf. Didi-Huberman, 2013, p. 185). Quite unlike the mediatic image of the present era, the literary image burns (Benjamin), it restores the naivete of one’s gaze over things, it is a powerful illumination or apparition – a unique way of reading the world.

2. Critical perspectives on the multiple images of Lídia Jorge’s literary writing

That is the task which falls to art and to the artist: to give hope and faith.

– Andrei Tarkovsky

This book came about following the “O poder da imagem na obra de Lídia Jorge” [“Power of the Image in the Work of Lídia Jorge”] conference, which took place on 15 and 16 September 2021, at the University of Geneva as part of the official inauguration of the Chair created in the author’s name and honour. The final two chapters are a text by Lídia Jorge herself – a taste of the author’s own voice, therefore – in which she recognises the power of the literary image, recalling various key images from the work of other Lusophone authors, and the text of the then-minister of foreign affairs, which presents Lídia Jorge’s work in terms of an analysis of the image of the country that this transmits. The contributions presented at this academic event were grouped into four thematic areas:

I From Looking to Seeing: The Potentiality of Images

In a number of interviews, Lídia Jorge has asserted that her writing has always taken as its starting point a powerful and inspiring image which at the same time concentrates in itself the various senses and reflections that she intends to explore while also dispersing these throughout the work. Envisioning the initial image, Lídia Jorge manages to develop a gaze which is simultaneously critical, thorough and a source of knowledge. In the three chapters in this section, the image is thus studied in the author’s work as a Jorgian poetics (Ana Paula Ferreira), as a memorialistic and ethical-political dimension (Graciete Besse), as a re-reading of the universe’s creation, revising the role of women and of the author’s situation in the patriarchal society in which she was born and raised (Sónia Melo). The call to attention that the image represents for the reader (punctum, Barthes) thus brings about contemplation and reflection (studium).

Basing herself in a theory or poetics of the image in Lídia Jorge’s fictional writing, Ana Paula Ferreira defends a concept of the artistic image, exploring its power in the writing of Lídia Jorge, from its first and provocative mental apparition to its literary expression, discovering a simultaneously gnoseological and redemptive potential (cf. Ferreira, 2009, pp. 42 and 45). This also means that Lídia Jorge’s writing distances us from a simplistic conception of the image as a referential reflection. In the aesthetic-philosophical sense proposed by Barthes, Nancy and Rancière, the poetics of the image constitutes an essential part of the author’s literary project.

Meandering between history and philosophy, this is just what is explored in the narratives A Instrumentalina [Instrumentalina], Combateremos a Sombra [We Will Fight the Shadows] and A Noite das Mulheres Cantoras [The Night of the Singing Women], as well as A Costa dos Murmúrios [The Murmuring Coast]. A variety of images populate the author’s fictional universe and are frequently embedded in memory, enriched by reflections on their own construction, and explained by Lídia Jorge’s fictional discourse. In their capacity to bear witness to reality, the image and art are thus essential to this author’s fictional poetics.

Maria Graciete Besse focuses her attention on the power and meaning of the images which burn in the temporal density of Lídia Jorge’s writing. In doing so, she problematises the concept of the image, using the thinking of Benjamin as a singular and dialectical mode of thought which releases an aura, crossing the past with the present, in a dynamic relationship between the observer and the observed, with the epistemological dimension of the images in this author’s writing showing itself to be indissociable from an ethical-political weight, as well as from the very dimension of aesthetic beauty.

In this hermeneutical framing, Besse highlights the central images of three novels – images which, in the first case study, explore the mythical and epiphanic dimensions of the archaic and mysterious in O Dia dos Prodígios [The Day of the Prodigies]. In the second, her focus shifts to images which develop the lucid irony by which the processes of colonial violence in A Costa dos Murmúrios are demystified, countering a crystalised memory and making audible the “murmuring fracture of various silences” (Ribeiro, 2004, p. 375), thus incorporating a “self-reflexive historiographical metafictional” aspect (cf. Hutcheon, 1991). And in relation to the novel Estuário [Estuary], images form part of the novel’s creative and redemptive urgency, via the prophetic power of literary creation, as emphasised by W. Benjamin (1991) and his prediction of catastrophe (cf. Löwy, 2005).

For Sónia Rita Melo, the poetry of O Livro das Tréguas [The Book of Truces] – consisting of fifty poems arranged in five parts, or frames – is presented as vision of a uniquely powerful image. For Melo, the pause that the poetry’s truce represents, is the equivalent of Barthes’ notion of the punctum in an image – an occurrence in the image which grabs one’s attention – as a kind of truce in the studium. Lídia Jorge herself emphasised in an interview that poetry should be “the maximum intensity in the minimum of words”, aligned with the movement and rhythm of images which appear before us.

Indeed, it is in view of this conception that the author’s poems present themselves as metaphorical and allegorical images which question us, tackling some of the present moment’s most burning issues, namely a series of subjects connected to the human condition: from a perspective concerned with respect for nature, to a defence of women’s place in society, the emergency of divine fire or transcendentality, or, even, a proposal of a new human ecology for today’s world. These and other places in Lídia Jorge’s poetry – expressed in thought-provoking images – prove to be increasingly pertinent in a world undergoing rapid change, be that in terms of its Nature, be it as part of a path to a post-human scenario.

II Images and Testimonies


VIII, 280
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2023 (October)
Lídia Jorge Image in literature Contemporary Portuguese Literature
Oxford, Berlin, Bruxelles, Chennai, Lausanne, New York, 2023. VIII, 280 pp.

Biographical notes

Nazaré Torrão (Volume editor) José Cândido de Oliveira Martins (Volume editor)

Nazaré Torrão is a lecturer at the University of Geneva. She holds a PhD in comparative literature (literary space and national identity) and is a researcher in contemporary literature from Portugal, Mozambique and Angola. She is Director of the Lídia Jorge Chair, Camões Institute and University of Geneva, and editor of the electronic journal Língua-lugar: Literatura, História, Estudos Culturais. José Cândido de Oliveira Martins is Associate Professor at the Catholic University of Portugal. He holds a PhD in Humanities (theory of literature) and is a researcher in Literature and Culture Studies at the Research Center for Philosophical and Humanistic Studies. He is the editor of several books on themes of Portuguese and comparative literature. In recent years he has served as the editor of Plataforma 9 and a member of the board of the AIL (International Lusitanists Association).


Title: The Power of the Image in the Work of Lídia Jorge
book preview page numper 1
book preview page numper 2
book preview page numper 3
book preview page numper 4
book preview page numper 5
book preview page numper 6
book preview page numper 7
book preview page numper 8
book preview page numper 9
book preview page numper 10
book preview page numper 11
book preview page numper 12
book preview page numper 13
book preview page numper 14
book preview page numper 15
book preview page numper 16
book preview page numper 17
book preview page numper 18
book preview page numper 19
book preview page numper 20
book preview page numper 21
book preview page numper 22
book preview page numper 23
book preview page numper 24
book preview page numper 25
book preview page numper 26
book preview page numper 27
book preview page numper 28
book preview page numper 29
book preview page numper 30
book preview page numper 31
book preview page numper 32
book preview page numper 33
book preview page numper 34
book preview page numper 35
book preview page numper 36
book preview page numper 37
book preview page numper 38
book preview page numper 39
book preview page numper 40
290 pages