Looking at an HSBC ad campaign while reading D.N. Roddowick on “the figural”
I am at the Midtown New York Public Library. I am reading the first chapter of D.N. Roddowick’s Reading the Figural. His concept of a ‘figural’ seems to be one of those post-modern philosophy place-holder terms for everything and nothing… ‘emergence’ ‘becoming’ ‘excess’ ‘the eternal return’… there are a lot of references to a new understanding of “visual culture,” “death drive,” dream theory, and a post-semiology framework (without frame or work, I suppose… Roddowick compares semiology to Newtonian physics failing to conceptualize relativistic thought). …The book is light on examples. I find writers like this clearly intelligent and studious, but I am never entirely certain they aren’t hacks. It is uncomfortable… either they aren’t saying anything, or I am not understanding, both of which are a little insulting. But I really like all the same people… Lyotard, Barthes, even Deleuze sometimes… so I am still reading and looking.
Roddowick quoting Lyotard:
The figural is unrepresentable, beneath or behind representation, because it operates in an other space ‘that does not give itself to be seen or thought; it is indicated in a literal fashion, fugitive at the heart of discourse and perception, as that which troubles them. It is the proper space of desire, the stakes in the struggle that painters and poets have ceaselessly launched against the return of the Ego and the text. [p8]
It is everything.
What I call the figural is not synonymous with a figure or even the figurative. It is no more proper to the plastic than to the linguistic arts. It is not governed by the opposition of word to image; spatially and temporally, it is not bound to the logic of binary oppositions. Ever permutable—a fractured, fracturing, or fractal space, ruled by time and difference—it knows nothing of the concept of identity. The figural is not an aesthetic concept, nor does it recognize a distinction between the forms of ‘high’ and ‘low’ culture. It describes the logic of mass culture itself; or rather a culture of the mass.
It is nothing.
But I am interested in the premise as given in the Preface: that in order to understand contemporary imagistic culture, we have to re-think the opposition of image to language… that we are long overdue for re-thinking Lessing’s opposition of the simultaneous arts and the successive. With the rise of ‘digital culture’ we really really need to critically deal with cinema. Roddowick relates an epiphany, when he first witnessed early MTV broadcasting and how fluidly text was spatialized and space was textualized in the productions of early non-linear digital editing and effects . I am fairly certain that a host of previous examples can be found in animation, but I, too, remember the astonishment of the new form that was photographic, electric, and abstract.