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Meaning and Motoricity

Essays on Image and Time

Kristof Nyiri

There is an intrinsic connection between the notions of image and time. Visual images can strike us as incomplete, as ambiguous, unless they are moving ones, happening in time. However, time cannot be conceptualized except by metaphors, and so ultimately by images, of movement in space. The philosophy of images and the philosophy of time are interdependent. This book argues for the reality of time and for visual images as natural carriers of meaning. The experience of the passage of time, of the reality of time, is embodied and made visible in the bodily gestures of time, and indeed in all our gestures. Meaning, both emotional and cognitive, is grounded in the motor dimension. By implication, no meaningful philosophy of time can neglect the aspect of motor imagery.
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← 6 | 7 →Preface


Pictures and pictorial meaning did rarely become philosophical topics before the twentieth century. The reason has quite clearly to do with technology, namely with the technology of communication. Prior to 1400, European culture was not familiar with any technologies for duplicating pictures, an exact pictorial representation of reality was impossible before the age of photography, to deal with images was much more cumbersome than to deal with texts, philosophers communicated in words about words. In the twentieth century however there emerged, within a few decades, satisfactory answers to the fundamental questions of the philosophy of images – answers, to be sure, still today largely rejected by the philosophical community. I believe the definitive work done here is that by Ernst Gombrich. The journey he travelled from the 1960s to the end of the 1970s is telling. In his Art and Illusion (1960) he highlighted the role of conventions in pictorial representation. In his 1969 paper “The Evidence of Images” he still stressed that images without words are not unequivocal: discussing Dürer’s woodcut “Death and the Lands-knecht” (1510) he pointed out that here the artist himself seems to have felt necessary to support the pictorial message by a rhymed text – “Vnd thu stetz noch gnaden werben/Als soltestu all stund sterben” (“Always seek for grace/As if you might die any moment”). By 1978 however, in his essay “Image and Code”, Gombrich came to argue for the idea that images might be self-evident natural signs.

By contrast, since the two fundamental...

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