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The Power of the Image

Emotion, Expression, Explanation


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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Expression and the Body

← 214 | 215 → Expression and the Body


Ian W. King

This chapter devotes itself to exploring the richness and potential of expression. However, rather than follow the more familiar route of language, we will here explore bodily expression. I will suggest that our bodies, our facility for movement, together with the clothes we wear, provide rich potential in understanding the nature of expression in people-based contexts. The approach I take draws heavily from phenomenology and in particular from the ideas and writings of French phenomenologist Maurice Merleau-Ponty. However, let me start with a definition of “expression”.

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) refers to “expression” as “The process of making known one’s thoughts or feelings”. This entry’s assessment is interesting and worth deconstructing into three parts in order to provide a suitable introduction to our examination here. Firstly, this description amplifies expression for people as a process. Yet, in order to grasp this meaning, we need to think about it in terms of an “event”; or something that will develop over time. Secondly, the OED entry continues with the words: “making known”, and for me this assessment suggests expression can include both verbal and non-verbal forms of communication. Thus opening up the opportunity for the body and other non-verbal based contributions to either complement language or alternatively produce independent contributions. However, this generates a further question: who is our audience? Which then leads us to consider the third element of the OED assessment – making known thoughts or feelings? This third part to the OED...

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