Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Image and text, part two: words are lines, too

... aren't they? Image and text are very closely related ... made of lines placed at precise intervals, the hand holding, perhaps, the same pen with the same grip, forming a letter or a blossom, a word or a horizon ... very much the same. And yet, Freud wrote, in Civilization and Its Discontents, that "it is precisely communities [or elements in a book or on a page, I would add] with adjoining territories, and related to each other in other ways as well, who are engaged in constant feuds and in ridiculing each other .... I gave this phenomenon the name of 'the narcissism of minor differences' .... We can now see that it is a convenient and realtively harmless satisfaction of the inclination to aggression, by means of which cohesion between the members of the community is made easier" (London: W.W. Norton, 1989, translated by James Strachey, p. 72).

It sounds as though admitting "same-ness" would actually diminish the possible cohesion within a group, because it might mean the loss of the individual, the self ... wait ... wouldn't that make it easier to bond?  Well, Freud says no ... I think he is suggesting here that small, "harmless," controlled aggression can actually increase the thing that is equally "harmless," that bit of narcissism that allows us to feel ... just a bit different. No two soldiers or schoolchildren can ever be mistaken for one another, no matter how tailored the uniforms. In fact, the uniforms (like the similarities in the faces in that I mentioned on 4/26, the faces of the Amsterdam Musketeers) actually help us see the distinct expressions of a person's face.  If we realize that people are, in these 'minor" ways, different, we ultimately come to respect them, I think.

So it must be with image and text.  The "narcissism of minor differences" can enrich us.  Since each is composed of lines, what lines can we draw between them? What lines within each reach out to the other?

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