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The Power of the Image

Emotion, Expression, Explanation

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Edited By András Benedek and Kristof Nyiri

We think primarily in images, and only secondarily in words, while both the image and the word are preceded by the bodily, the visceral, the muscular. This holds even for mathematical thinking. It is the entire motor system, including facial expressions and bodily gestures, that underlies not just emotions but also abstract thought. Communication, too, is a primordially visual task, spoken and written language only gradually supplementing and even supplanting the pictorial. Writing liberates, but also enslaves; after centuries of a dominantly verbal culture, today the ease of producing and accessing digital images amounts to a homecoming of the visual, with the almost limitless online availability of our textual heritage completing the educational revolution of the 21st century.
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Trace, Writing, Diagram: Reflections on Spatiality, Intuition, Graphical Practices and Thinking

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Sybille Krämer

If there is a crucial dichotomy in the human sciences, it is that between word and image, between representation and presentation, between the discursive and iconic forms of the symbolic. Our speaking of a “linguistic” turn or an “iconic” or “pictorial” turn confirms and strengthens this conceptual dichotomy. However there exists a sizable class of representational tools which challenge this binary ordering of the symbolic: consider writing, tables, graphs, diagrams or maps. They arise as a conjunction of language and image; let us call this class the “diagrammatic”. Diagrammatics’ smallest common denominator arises from the interaction between point, line and plane. “Saying” and “showing” work together in the diagrammatic to create an “operative iconicity”.1 These graphical representations open up a field of both aesthetic and epistemic experience. They are not only a medium for the representation of the objects of knowledge, but also at the same time an instrument through which those very objects can be generated and explored. Knowledge is not only represented, transmitted and disseminated through the diagrammatic; it is produced and expanded by it.

This paper will describe the role that the diagrammatic plays for thinking and understanding, and how it realizes its part. Our assumption is that the cognitive function associated with the diagrammatic exists in order to allow imperceptible theoretical objects to become visible and tactile. Intuition – what Kant calls “Anschauung” – and thought become so closely tied in the diagrammatic, that it allows us to undertake the...

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