My emblem for visibility is a mirror. With a mirror, you can see yourself reflected back. You are presented with a visual image. However, before you look in a mirror in the morning, you can describe how you feel in words, and how you think you might look. Then, when you see the image of yourself, you can adjust your words – the image might support your words, or might differ drastically from them. Another way of doing it, though, would be to just wake up and look in the mirror, without giving any thought to how you might appear. You see yourself and because of what you see, you describe it in related words. It lends to the question of whether you think about something and then actually see it, or if you see something and then find the words to describe it.
The idea of a mirror is also interesting because the images we see alter our perceptions and words. What would life be like without mirrors? Would we just rely on words? Would we base how we feel about ourselves and how others might feel about us based off of our thoughts, not necessarily our appearance? Would we find other ways to create images – see other people’s reactions to things we say or do? Do mirrors really matter? Or does inner image matter more? The neat thing about a mirror is that it literally takes an inner image and can make it outwardly appear. If you feel sad, you can see it reflected back at you in a mirror. However, if you use words to say you are happy, you can influence your reflection, or your image. But, whichever one you utilize first, holds a sort of weight – if you look sad, you might feel sadder. However if you tell yourself you are happy, then it will probably show on your face.
The idea of the mirror – this reflection of outer image and inner thought – is much like the E-lit piece which shows the outline of a tree, with the words describing it within its interior. We have the image portrayed to the world, and then the meaning behind it. Or maybe we have the meaning within and how that is reflected back into the world. Likewise, with the movie, we have a character who may feel a certain emotion because the author dictates him to feel this, or we may have a character that takes on a sort of life of his own and urges the author to describe him in a specific manner. With The New Yorker, we have an image that reflects a certain meaning, and we are asked to find the meaning that best encompasses the image. In all these cases, there is a sort of reflectivity of thought to image or image to thought. There is transference of focus; however, the meaning ultimately remains the same.
As I was thinking about visibility, I remembered flipping through my New Yorker magazine earlier this morning. At the back of the magazine, they present the reader with a cartoon and then urge the readers to think of the best caption for this picture. They call it the “Cartoon Caption Contest.” This is interesting, because in this case, there is the assumption that visual image came first. However, there is also this idea that the picture was created with a set phrase of words in mind, and the closest the entries come to this, influences their chances of winning. Or, maybe it is about creating words that, afterwards, when looked it, make a whole lot of sense in relation to the picture. The words you choose require a heightened sense and understanding of visibility to truly capture the image. Word choice further emphasizes an idea, an image. Words can make something more visual.
Another analogy of the idea of visibility can be seen in the movie Stranger than Fiction. This movie is about an author writing a story, and how the character comes to life, and starts to take on a life of his own. There is this question of whether author is creating words that the character follows or if the character is an image that takes on his own life and influences the words the writer creates. As an audience watching this movie, we are presented with somewhat simultaneous cues of author writing and the image of character acting. We can hear the author narrating, and at the same time, we see the character partaking in related behaviors. Much like in the E-lit piece, the audience has to decide which to follow first – verbal cues, or visual ones? They must also decide which is more salient and how the two interact.
This idea of meta-fiction present in Stranger than Fiction, I think, applies to the idea of visibility. When an author is aware that he or she is writing to an audience, and the audience is aware of this awareness, then the idea of word meaning and image construction becomes a focus of attention. As an author writes, he or she will focus on whether to start with the word or the image, and the reader becomes aware that the author is sculpting the text and will also focus on whether to cling onto word or image. Another interesting spin on this is illustrated in the movie mentioned above – the idea that a character is aware of the author. For my Advanced Senior Seminar in Fiction Writing, we had to do a quick free write in class where we illustrate this idea of meta-fiction. I think this illustrates the relationship between author and character. It also hints at how the audience views the character based off of what the author writes and how these words create visual images. It illustrates how imagery may be formed or crafted, and how the text itself is highly manipulated. Here is what I wrote:
It is always about control – gaining it, obtaining it, losing it, spotting it, leaning towards it, reaching for it, grasping it, losing it again.
There is a way in which you should live your life. And I decide it. There is something to be said in just doing and being and saying. But, unfortunately, I don’t give you this chance. My words cannot be trusted, but, at the same time, since they are quite literally all you have, they must be trusted.
I look at you and I want to tell you everything that is wrong with your appearance. Your shoes are too dirty, your hair sticking out along the sides. Your teeth are a bit too yellow and you have this funny gap between two of them that your tongue occasionally slithers in and out of. I notice the coffee stain by the pocket on your shorts and the sweat stains gathered beneath your arm pits. Instead, though, I lie. I tell others that you are a good person with a good heart and even though you may do something wrong here or there, you will, ultimately, make the right choice. Otherwise, I would have to kill you. Because that is the way of things.
I decide when you will eat, what you will eat, if you will get sick, if you will love. Will the guy be a good guy, the right guy, does such a guy even exist? You have no say in your outcome. I control you. Isn’t that sad?
I feel like it is only fair, though, to provide you with a couple basic definitions, for I will soon throw you into a world in which your future is dark and unclear. You will not even know the color of your socks until you have them on your feet. One is going to be blue and the other green and pink with stripes. The least I can do is describe to you some of the laws. These of course, you have no say over. Maybe I am attempting to prepare you for a world in which you have no control. Or maybe I am just doing this to justify myself.
If you are going to lie, do it honestly. Admit to the fact you are lying and don’t let the lie deceive you as the liar. To be a liar, however, is all too common. It is to be a part of the trend. You look in a store window and you see lies all over the place. It might be a blue lie, or a green lie, or a lie that has a cute bow tied around the neckline. This lie could take many forms, but at its core, beneath all the color and glamour, it is, simply a lie. There is nothing original about it, nothing unique, nothing to be valued. You see a liar, run far away. And fast. Liars stink, like mildew under a sink or mold on a chunk of cheddar cheese.
Honesty is nonexistent in today’s world. If you meet an honest person, hold on to them, because they are really worth something special. Honest people are rare, like clean bathrooms and unwrinkled paper. Honest people might as well be labeled antiques.
You are, without a doubt, a hypocrite, if you think you are not one.
On a Final Message:
Don’t trust me. I am unreliable and though I pretend to like you, at times you disgust me and make me cry and throw up and want to smash books out windows. Other times I laugh at you, mock you, and think you are so incredibly stupid. Sometimes, though these times are less common, I admire you and think you are a fine person, indeed. And the worst times – those are when I start to wonder if maybe you are really me.
The use of transparency in this E-lit further emphasizes the idea of visibility. Starting with the “word tree”, this fades over time, and we have the image of letters falling like leaves. However, once we click on those leaves, they, too fade, and then we once again have the image of a tree, but now it is planted in a ground of words. Once we click on this image, though, we are once again back to the falling leaves. There is this idea that words, just like images, fade over time – their visibility does not last. However, what does last is our ability to use our imagination and how we choose to remember something, how we wish to change it.
Transparency here allows us to create our own images and words instead of just relying on the ones we are given. The idea of transparency also implies a sort of quickness – that images or words cannot last long, that they can soon fade. If this is the case, then it is all that more important to continue to make them visible, to fight for them to stay. Letters can form words, just like leaves can form trees – but both are transparent in the sense that they can be broken up into smaller units. They do not hold permanent weight. Therefore, it is up to audience to create this weight, this visibility. Imagination and visibility are transparent – they are subject to manipulation, they can be sculpted differently depending on the person, they are not tangible and long-lasting. However, what is long-lasting is the idea that we always have the power to imagine, even if the word or the image changes.
There is this definite symbiotic relationship between image and words. They need each other and could not exist without the other. However the formation of both is interesting. The E-lit I chose illustrates this idea of visibility – the dependence of visual image on words and vice versa. This piece is entitled “The Sweet Old Etcetera” by Alison Clifford. In this work, we are first given a sentence that is formed sideways, as if it is reaching upwards toward the sky. Once you click on the sentence, four more branches of words reach upwards from the original branch. Therefore, we have a core of words with four outgrowths on top of it. If you click on one of the four upper branches, two smaller branches of words emerge from the top of that particular branch. You can click on the other three branches, and the same thing will happen. Now when you click on the whole image, the tree fades away and letters start falling from the sky. Looking at these falling letters floating through the sky of white, you see they form the word leaf. The letters no longer form full words, just like the leaves are no longer part of the entire tree. However, from these parts you can get a sense of the greater whole. You can tell the letters spell the words leaf, just like you know that a leaf at some point was a part of something larger and grander. If you click on the leaves, they gradually disappear and instead, we are presented once again with the image of the “word tree”, except now it is planted in a ground of words and letters. The leaves have fallen to create a floor of words. The cycle of life, and the cycle of words, is being epitomized.
In this E-lit, the visual screen is presented in black and white – the color of text on paper. The words, themselves, illustrate the visual image of a tree, of life, of leaves falling, of rebirth. However, this E-lit also uses these words, to form the literal image that they are trying to portray. The words are sculpted in a way to visually portray their meaning – they hint at growth, Spring, lightness, nature. This is making the audience chose whether the word came first, or the image, for we are being presented with both simultaneously. Did we read the word Spring and think of a tree growing, or did we see the tree growing and think of Spring?
My whole life, I have written. It is the one I could not stop. It is a part of who I am. I can’t turn off the thinking, the imagining. I am always jotting down words, creating images. Or I am being inspired by images, and then jotting down the words that come to mind. It has always been about creating things – taking letters and forming words and stringing those words together to create sentences and paragraphs and worlds. I love that you can create something out of nothing, how a word can create a picture or a picture can be described by words. Sometimes words can’t do an image justice or sometimes words can leave you breathless in a way that an image cannot.
I wrote this on the “About Me” section on my other blog:
Ever since I was young, there has been one thing I can’t not do. That has been writing. I look around me, I look within me, I breathe in these thoughts, these ideas. They brew inside of me. And then, eventually, after they sit for a while, I let them out and into the world. I let them give life to someone else. In this way, writing, for me, is like breathing. I can’t stop. I never want to stop. It is the one constant in my life, the one thing I have always been able to say I could do. I can’t always change what others say, how others act. I can’t always change the world around me. But, I have the power to write, to think, to breathe – to change my own self, to give myself life.
Calvino, himself, was a writer. He comments on two types of imaginative processes regarding visibility. He talks about what starts first – image or verbal expression? How do they work together? They feed off of one another, but which starts first, and is this process different for different people? The first process he mentions is how creativity may start with a word and eventually that word turns into a visual image. The other process, though, may start with a visual image and then morph into verbal expression.
Calvino mentions that this idea of what comes first – image or word – is much like the common question of whether the chicken comes first or the egg does. He argues that for most people, the visual imagine tends to precede the verbal construction. He says that when it comes to his own writing: “The first thing that comes to my mind is an image that for some reason strikes me as charged with meaning, even if I cannot formulate this meaning in discursive or conceptual terms…it is images themselves that develop their own implicit potentialities, the story they carry within them” (88-89). Calvino goes on to describe how the image creates descriptive written words and that then the words take on their own images. He says that eventually the “writing guides the story toward the most felicitous verbal expression, and the visual imagination has no choice but to tag along” (89).
Grounding this idea of visibility in books I have read, the first thing that came to mind was Harry Potter. I know this sounds a bit juvenile, but I grew up with the books and have many fond memories of being curled up in bed with a new book sprawled out in my lap. I would lock my door so no one would bother me. There was a definite process to reading a new Harry Potter book. And, sadly, this process will no longer come into play.
However, I think this series really gets at the idea of visibility. J.K. Rowling creates a world that forces us to use our imagination, because this world is not real. We don’t really have any real life images to base it off of. However, at the same time, she has the book take place in a real life country – England. She does ground it enough that we can see images of it in our mind. Therefore, we have this idea that her words create an image, but also that these images, lead our own minds to go astray and think different words and thoughts and create further images. We imagine what Hogwarts looks like, what Harry, Ron, and Hermione wear, how they walk, how they interact. And up until the movie, these images existed purely in our imaginations.
In interviews, J.K. Rowling talks about how the ideas came to mind, how it was both images and words, characters and setting. There is this idea that both written word and visual image were of high importance in the creation of these tales. And now, with the movie, we can literally see how written text created visual imagery.