The theory in art thread has once again ballooned to unacceptable lengths, so I’m going to post Caro’s last comment here in an effort to start again from zero. Also it’s a really interesting comment:
Theory is not about art – it’s about language (Derrida’s primordial writing). Theory is always reading. CLOSE reading. Closer than anybody has ever read before (which is why everybody thinks it’s not reading at all.) You have a tendency to see my desire for a challenge to Theory as an opposition between language and not-language, whereas what I’m hoping for is something that is less oppositional and more nuanced. Language through a different, visual frame. A different way of conceptualizing language, that is less “linguistic”, but still recognizably semiotic. What happens when you make the questions too much about something other than that slippery semiotic frame is you move out of epistemology and into ontology.
You commented that’s exactly what the visual image does — but that’s not Theory. Theory axiomatically denies that there is any ontology that is not always already epistemology first. You can make the dialectic move to elide those binaries — but you can also make the dialectic move to synthesize the binary of visual and verbal rather than collapsing it.
So I don’t want an alternate Theory, informed by Theory, of how art works. I want to know whether a rigorous stipulation of the epistemology of art would change the way Theory conceptualizes the epistem-ontology of language. It probably won’t be a strict semiotics, because of the openness of the visual sign — but it can be a strict epistemology. And art tends to think of itself and be thought of as ontological.
I’m thinking of Sean’s point about his “visual reading protocols” and how different they are from prose reading. So what is the linguistics of visual reading? That’s still a very linguistic question — but one that really explodes the reliance of semiotics on the linguistic sign. But it still needs to be formalist semiotics, or it’s not theory. Theory’s formalist semiotics claims that the sign can be both verbal and visual, but the structure is derived from the workings of the verbal signs, because as Bert said, the syntagm of nature isn’t as ordered. That’s the oversimplification that I think comics challenges so powerfully, and you guys both said that contemporary art assumes it…