Emotion, Expression, Explanation
Soldier and Saviour: Visual Propaganda, Serial Narrativity, and the Case of the Kid in Upper 4
James J. Kimble
Two decades after W. J. T. Mitchell’s “pictorial turn”, scholars continue to consider the complex question of whether or not still images can constitute narratives. One side of the debate emphasizes what appears to be a narrative trajectory in some images. Complementing the centuries-old concept of the punctum temporis, or pregnant moment, scholars such as Pierre Fresnault-Deruelle discuss the parameters of narrativité, arguably “present in all figurative paintings”. Gunther Kress and Theo van Leeuwen offer a detailed analysis of such narrative imagery, suggesting that a given depiction’s linear vectors can foster “narrative patterns” that offer “unfolding actions and events, processes of change, [or] transitory spatial arrangements.” In the view of these theorists, there is little question that some still images can (and do) relate narratives to viewers.1
Scholars who take up the other side of the debate are not so sure. Wendy Steiner, for example, points to “the special resistance of pictorial art to narrativity” when she suggests that still images in and of themselves have little relationship to narratives – at least as literary theory has traditionally conceptualized the concept of a narrative. Similarly, Áron Kibédi Varga contends that unless a still image is yoked to a prior narrative that is familiar to the viewer (such as when a Christian work of art illustrates a parable), it does not, on its own, constitute an independent narrative. “Pictures”, he concludes, “cannot tell verbal tales exactly.” While still images can augment existing narratives, these...
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