Logocentrism & Reverse Ekphrasis

I am fascinated by the correlation between Derrida and Ekphrasis, or the ability to explain or present an image through words.  For example, the above image is a picture of Derrida to orient the reader of this post to what I am going to explain.  In the book, Writing Space, by Bolter (2001), he states that “as we have seen in digital media and even in print, we get a reverse ekphrasis in which images are given the task of explaining words” (p. 56).  This is interesting because the media does inundate the public with images that we are supposed to interpret and understand.  Through television broadcasting, newsprint, and other writing spaces (like Facebook), we have become more familiar with this idea of image explaining words and probably do not even consciously think about what we are doing when we look at an image and come to a conclusion.

For Derrida, the idea of ekphrasis fits perfectly with logocentrism, or the idea that knowledge is found through words and arrives at a truth.  This idea characterizes Western culture because of our phonetic alphabet.  Derrida, himself, refers to logocentrism as the “metaphysics of phonetic writing.”  According to Bolter (2001), Krieger writes:

“In speaking of ekphrasis, or at least of the ekphrastic impulse, I have pointed to its source in the semiotic desire for the natural sign, the desire, that is, to have the world captured in the word…this desire to see the world in the word is what, after Derrida, we have come to term the logocentric desire.  It is this naive desire that leads us to prefer the immediacy of the picture to the mediation of the code in our search for a tangible, ‘real’ referent that would render the sign transparent” (p. 57).

Bolter (2001) continues saying, “if we connect this desire with Derrida’s logocentrism, then we could say that the desire comes into existence with the invention of writing itself” (p. 57).  Therefore, phonetic writing is the truth that explains the Western world as we know it.  Metaphors are of utmost importance because through metaphor we realize the ambiguity of writing and why it is vital for readers to take into account the world around them, or as Derrida would say, “to begin wherever we are.”  This process of beginning where we are (culturally and historically) and understanding metaphor allows readers to grasp the nuances and variances within cultures and arrive at various conclusions that we then have to analyze to arrive at a truth.  However, like Krieger says in the above quote, it is easier (or so we believe) to arrive at these conclusions when presented with an image.  The cliche, “a picture is worth a thousand words,” is applicable in reverse ekphrasis because it captures the desire to “see the world in a word,” or in this case, an image (p. 57).

Reverse Ekphrasis, therefore, is fascinating in regards to logocentrism because it is actually saying the exact opposite.  Instead of arriving at a truth through writing and metaphor, it arrives at truth through image presented as word.  According to Bolter (2001), “the breakout of the visual, the ekphrastic impulse, is at its most vigorous in the electronic writing space, where new media designers and authors are also redefining the balance between word and image” (p. 58).  It is then imperative that when redefining that balance, designers take into account the history of logocentrism and how it has defined our modern world.

Describing and presenting words through image is becoming more and more mainstream.  This shift from logocentrism to an image-centered world creates more stimulation for viewers/readers.  This influences many aspects of daily living but perhaps most importantly, it influences education and the need for educators to create a more stimulating curriculum to keep the interest of students.

Therefore, reverse ekphrasis, ekphrasis, and logocentrism are redefining how we view writing, reading, and the world of education.


2 Responses to “Logocentrism & Reverse Ekphrasis”

  1. Very interesting points — I certainly find Bolter’s use of ekphrasis useful. You add that being aware of this change of balance in meaning-making says something about what teachers should be doing in the classroom. I know the AP English test now has a visual rhetoric component as a matter of fact. But I wonder what changing the balance might look like in a classroom? Do you have some creative ideas along those lines?

    • I think that the balance is already starting to change. Students studying to be teachers have to take an Educational Technology class and there are also technology standards that have to be included in lessons. One of the major ways that visual rhetoric is playing a role in classrooms is through learning how to appropriately use sources from the internet. Also, students study posters along with texts and analyze those posters as though they were text. When I was in high school, I took an AP Language and AP U.S. History course that spent a lot of time discussing rhetoric and the ways it was changing. It was a fascinating class because it allowed us students to delve into the material from many different angles. Incorporating technology and various ways of presenting material are ways to help students become aware of the changing balance.

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