Visual images surround us every day: from selfies and Instagram to YouTube and animated gifs, we often communicate through pictures and video. This course focuses in part on visual literacy—learning to “read” images as well as text, and understand how both communicate meaning and shape our understanding of ourselves and others. We will explore the visual image not simply as a way to illustrate text and thereby bring it to life, but as a source of knowledge in its own right. We will consider how and why visual representations convey meaning, and how they intersect with written or spoken words.
Thinking critically about the visual also leads us to thinking about how knowledge is produced and understood; we will consider such social constructions as the many visual metaphors we use to talk about understanding (e.g., “seeing” something is true, gaining “insights” or understanding through “the mind’s eye”). Taking up these and other topics in our analyses of works including photographs, films, and graphic novels alongside texts in prose, we will study how the visual, like textual language, can reflect and shape social dynamics.
Some questions we will discuss include:
- How do words and images convey meaning differently, and what effects does each have on our interpretation of the world around us?
- How might the field of the visual perpetuate or undermine power hierarchies? E.g., what is the nature of the power relationship between those who are “seen” and those who do the “seeing?”
- With the internet and social media we are making ourselves more visible and knowable, but at what cost?
- Can a film or graphic novel shape what we know about the world differently than a text-based work? Are there some things that images are better at expressing than words, or vice versa?
- How much of our self-conception comes from how others see us? Is Jean-Jacques Rousseau right to say we live “outside ourselves,” in the opinions of others?
- Does talking about knowledge in terms of visual metaphors blind us to other possible ways of knowing?
We will investigate these and other questions through studying, among other works, Plato’s allegory of the cave in The Republic, Blake’s melding of words and pictures in his poetry, Foucault’s argument that we are living in a “panopticon” of continual surveillance in Discipline and Punish, Hitchcock’s depiction of the voyeur detective in Vertigo, and what the visual elements in Karasik and Mazzuchelli’s graphic novel adaptation of Auster’s novel City of Glass can add to the original text.
Tap here for the 2016 ‘Seeing and Knowing’ timetable overview (when the lectures/seminars are scheduled)
Please click the link below for a list of books with ISBN numbers. If you choose to order the books on your own rather than getting them from the bookstore, be sure to get the same editions as on this list.
Sophocles, Oedipus the King
Hildegard von Bingen, Selected Writings, and Margarethe von Trotta, Vision: From the Life of Hildegard von Bingen (film)
William Shakespeare, The Tempest
Galileo Galilei, selections
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, A Discourse on Inequality
William Blake, Songs of Innocence and Experience (poetry & engravings)
Charles Darwin, selections from Voyage of the Beagle and other texts
Sigmund Freud, The Uncanny and selections from Interpretation of Dreams
E.T.A. Hoffmann, “The Sandman”
German short stories, probably including Heinrich von Kleist, “The Earthquake in Chile” and Arthur Schnitzler, Lieutenant Gustl
Selected films from the Weimar period (possibly Wiene, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari; Lang, Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler; Grune, The Street)
Vertov, Man With a Movie Camera (film)
Bertolt Brecht, Galileo (play)
Angela Carter, The Bloody Chamber, with a few fairy tales
David Dabydeen, Slave Song, plus other poems
Michel Foucault, selections on the “Panopticon” from Discipline and Punish
Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”
Alfred Hitchcock, Vertigo (film)
Toni Morrison, Jazz
Blake Hausman, Riding the Trail of Tears
A few machinima (movies filmed in digital space), from http://www.timetravellertm.com/episodes/
W.G. Sebald, Austerlitz
Alison Bechdel, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic (graphic novel), plus selections from Scott McCloud Understanding Comics and Nick Sousanis, Unflattening (Nick Sousanis will give a guest lecture for us!)
Paul Auster, City of Glass
Paul Karasik & David Mazzuchelli, City of Glass (graphic novel adaptation of Auster’s novel)
Updated July 12, 2016
Comic Book, by Carlo Cariño, from The Noun Project