- Image Science: Iconology, Visual Culture, and Media Aesthetics by W.J.T. Mitchell
by W.J.T. Mitchell. University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL, U.S.A., 2015. 264pp., illus. Trade, eBook. ISBN: 978-0-226-23133-4; ISBN: 978-0-226-23150-1.
A new book/reader by renowned visual studies scholar—or, as he says, “iconologist”—W.J.T. Mitchell, Image Science is a collection of essays written over a full decade. Half of the essays, 8 of 16 in total, were written as speeches given at conferences, making their printed appearances unique, while the rest have been republished two or three times.
The reader follows the idea of systematic visual discourse or dialectics, which the author himself calls “triangulation” of media aesthetics, semiotics and psychology, as grounded in a previous trilogy: Iconology: Image, Text, Ideology (1986), Picture Theory (1994) and What Do Pictures Want? (2005). Image Science even has a dialectical subtitle, Iconology, Visual Culture, and Media Aesthetics, but curiously enough, it is divided in two major sections, covering the last two areas named in the subtitle, visual culture and media aesthetics. The third part of this dialectical trilogy of image analysis—iconology—is the actual topic of the whole book, which denies a purist and orthodox Greenbergian art-historical notion of the visual medium (in singular) and advocates the plurality of media.
The first chapter presents a vivid debate in criticism of art history, spreading a layout for the new interdisciplinary approach, as announced in the subtitle. The second and third chapters introduce image science as a discipline with its general concepts. Semiotic analysis of image and text in the next section is followed by an elaboration of “imageXtext.” The seventh chapter clarifies one of the most interesting confusions of contemporary media theories, based on confusion of William J. Mitchell and W.J.T. Mitchell’s accounts of the digital versus the analogue. Here the author does not fall into the abyss of fatalism but rather continues his characteristic dialectological way of thinking. The chapter “Migrating Images” compresses a theory of migrating concepts combined with postcolonial theory in visual studies, distinguishing three types of objects projecting objectivism in the place of objectivity—idol, totem and fetishism—in only a few pages. In the final chapter of the first part, “World Pictures,” Mitchell demonstrates proper visual science analysis of disparate concepts used as images of globalization—globe, sphere, planet, cosmos, world, Earth or terra, etc.—sounding a bit overly simple. This triviality is resolved in the chapters of the second part, where the whole visual media is denied on the basis of McLuhan’s theory of the medium. Besides McLuhan’s, Mitchell’s media theory relies much on Kittler, especially his Gramophone, Film, Typewriter. Entering media space, Mitchell also deals with media activism and ground activism, for example that of the Occupy movement and mediated images of violence that conclude the book.
Throughout the reader, Mitchell reanalyzes concepts of the wide field of image science such as imageXtext, metaimages, supercopies, objectivity versus objectivism, media taxonomy, media sensory ratio, rhetoric senses and synesthesia, but also nonmedia ones such as occupation, summing up previous writings. Gathering Mitchell’s concentrated essays on topics of a wide area in which visual culture and media studies overlap, the book is commendable as an elementary reading in new issues and challenges of art history but also as an introduction to disciplines of visual studies, image science and media studies to all newcomers in the field. The whole edition has a sufficient amount of repetition (including the identical table on dialectical formations occurring on pages 122 and 46) that students can memorize main thought-lines. Still, in developing further some of his thesis forming the field of analysis in visual studies, it is always useful to return to Mitchell’s own clarifications and re/definitions.